Wednesday, September 17, 2014


To Blake the point at which regeneration could begin was the point of self-annihilation. Each person has within himself the desire for self-preservation. We feed this desire with layers of protective shielding. The possibility of self-annihilation is frightening.
This armor insulating us from threat may be called the Selfhood, the false reasoning power. We learn to build ourselves up by tearing others down; we learn to blame others for our shortcomings; we learn to claim as our own what we have been freely given by God. A Selfhood grows within us and distorts our ability to perceive clearly or allow the imagination to be expressed in us and through us. 

New York Public Library
Copy C, Plate 44
As Blake sat down to write Jerusalem he felt the need to ask that the Savior annihilate the Selfhood within him. To Blake the Imagination was equivalent to the Holy Spirit or the Christ within man. He intended that his poetry not come from himself as a individual, or from his Selfhood, but from the Imagination being expressed through him. If he expressed in his poetry his selfish, self-protective nature, then the ability to be a channel for the flow of the Spirit through him would  be blocked.

Through his struggles with understanding the internal facets of himself and how they inhibited his ability to maintain a clear channel for the expression of the Imagination, Blake learned that he could not use force to free himself to write. He needed to open pathways by being receptive to the positive contributions which could came to him even from the least promising sources.

Blake developed the realization that to rid himself of the inhibitions that his Selfhood presented he had to befriend it. He had to invite it into consciousness and determine what it said to him. He found that the power the Selfhood exercised over him was removed when he brought the Selfhood in, rather than giving it an external existence.

Annihilation of the Selfhood is a recurring process because the Selfhood grows again as the psyche accumulates more injuries and sees more choas around him. The solution is always to annihilate it by incorporating it. This process  may seem simple and straightforward but Blake presents the challenge and terror which he found it to be.

Jerusalem, Plate 5, (E 147)
"Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish'd at me.
Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. the Human Imagination        
O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!
Guide thou my hand which trembles exceedingly upon the rock of ages,"

Milton, Plate 14 [15], (E 108)
"When will the Resurrection come; to deliver the sleeping body
From corruptibility: O when Lord Jesus wilt thou come?
Tarry no longer; for my soul lies at the gates of death.
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave.       
I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!
I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death,
Lest the Last Judgment come & find me unannihilate
And I be siez'd & giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood"

Milton, Plate 32 [35], (E 135)
"Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore       
What is Eternal & what Changeable? & what Annihilable!

The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself
Affection or Love becomes a State, when divided from Imagination
The Memory is a State always, & the Reason is a State
Created to be Annihilated & a new Ratio Created                  
Whatever can be Created can be Annihilated Forms cannot"

Milton, Plate 38 [43], (E 139)
"In the Eastern porch of Satans Universe Milton stood & said

Satan! my Spectre! I know my power thee to annihilate
And be a greater in thy place, & be thy Tabernacle               
A covering for thee to do thy will, till one greater comes
And smites me as I smote thee & becomes my covering.
Such are the Laws of thy false Heavns! but Laws of Eternity
Are not such: know thou: I come to Self Annihilation
Such are the Laws of Eternity that each shall mutually     
Annihilate himself for others good, as I for thee[.]
Thy purpose & the purpose of thy Priests & of thy Churches
Is to impress on men the fear of death; to teach
Trembling & fear, terror, constriction; abject selfishness
Mine is to teach Men to despise death & to go on            
In fearless majesty annihilating Self, laughing to scorn
Thy Laws & terrors, shaking down thy Synagogues as webs
I come to discover before Heavn & Hell the Self righteousness
In all its Hypocritic turpitude, opening to every eye
These wonders of Satans holiness shewing to the Earth     
The Idol Virtues of the Natural Heart, & Satans Seat
Explore in all its Selfish Natural Virtue & put off
In Self annihilation all that is not of God alone:
To put off Self & all I have ever & ever Amen"

Milton, Plate 40 [46], (E 141)
"I see thee strive upon the Brooks of Arnon. there a dread
And awful Man I see, oercoverd with the mantle of years.   
I behold Los & Urizen. I behold Orc & Tharmas;
The Four Zoa's of Albion & thy Spirit with them striving
In Self annihilation giving thy life to thy enemies
Are those who contemn Religion & seek to annihilate it
Become in their Femin[in]e portions the causes & promoters
Of these Religions, how is this thing? this Newtonian Phantasm
This Voltaire & Rousseau: this Hume & Gibbon & Bolingbroke
This Natural Religion! this impossible absurdity
Is Ololon the cause of this? O where shall I hide my face
These tears fall for the little-ones: the Children of Jerusalem  
Lest they be annihilated in thy annihilation."

Milton, Plate 40 [46], (E 142)
 "Obey thou the Words of the Inspired Man
All that can be annihilated must be annihilated   

That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery
There is a Negation, & there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal           
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination."

Jerusalem, Plate 7, (E 150)
"Los answer'd. Altho' I know not this! I know far worse than this:
I know that Albion hath divided me, and that thou O my Spectre,
Hast just cause to be irritated: but look stedfastly upon me:
Comfort thyself in my strength the time will arrive,
When all Albions injuries shall cease, and when we shall         
Embrace him tenfold bright, rising from his tomb in immortality.
They have divided themselves by Wrath. they must be united by
Pity: let us therefore take example & warning O my Spectre,
O that I could abstain from wrath! O that the Lamb
Of God would look upon me and pity me in my fury.                
In anguish of regeneration! in terrors of self annihilation:
Pity must join together those whom wrath has torn in sunder,
And the Religion of Generation which was meant for the destruction
Of Jerusalem, become her covering, till the time of the End.
O holy Generation! [Image] of regeneration!
O point of mutual forgiveness between Enemies!
Birthplace of the Lamb of God incomprehensible!"


Vincent said...

Coincidentally, Ellie, I've been planning a post with the title "A proper sense of self", where this concept is contrasted with another: a damaged sense of self.

There is certainly an overlap in the meanings of "self" as used by Blake and the meaning I shall attach to it in my essay.

For example, your own words indicate the overlap when you say "the Selfhood grows again as the psyche accumulates more injuries". That's an angle which I was not particularly going to address. If the psyche is injured I agree that the damage we do to ourselves arises mostly from the defensive layers we may adopt.

So then I shall have to investigate what you mean by this: "The solution is always to annihilate it by incorporating it".

Clearly this self-annihilation is envisaged and experienced as something terrifying, and I would not argue with Blake at all, because no two people are alike, in relation to Self. It is something constructed and modified over a lifetime, partly chosen and partly given to us by Fate.

I won't be in a position to dispute with Blake on this matter because I have no idea how the process I think of as "Repairing a damaged self" works in practice. I merely observe the process as it has taken place and continues to take place in me, over most of my life, painfully and slowly except recently when wonderful breakthroughs have occurred.

The problem for a writer, of course, whether that writer is you or Blake or I, is to conduct an investigation, aided by words, which will expose a universal truth, that "this is what it is like to be a human being, striving to release one's true nature from the contingent flaws that beset this world of creation."

ellie said...

Thanks for the insightful comment.

What Jung calls Self, the fully realized and integrated human being, is called by Blake the Identity. Blake's Selfhood acts to prevent the Identity from being expressed. The natural and conventional way to try to deal with the enemy of our progress is to oppose it. Following the example of Jesus, Blake advocated overcoming evil with good. Blake's first inclination had probably been to expose evil for what it was and wipe it out with superior force. But he learned that he only gave evil a foothold in himself by adopting the same tactics as his enemy.

In much of Blake's writing Urizen was his enemy. In himself and in his culture reason attempted to dominate. Blake developed Los as the primary opposition to Urizen in the world in which we live. Los is the agent of Urthona who provides man's connection to the Eternal. In the book Milton, Urizen and Milton (who was the field in which the conflict was played out) struggled on the banks of the Arnon. In this particular account of self-annihilation, Milton, molds a human body for Urizen out of the red clay.

Milton, PLATE 19 [21], (E 121)
"And he also darkend his brows: freezing dark rocks between
The footsteps. and infixing deep the feet in marble beds:
That Milton labourd with his journey, & his feet bled sore
Upon the clay now chang'd to marble; also Urizen rose,
And met him on the shores of Arnon; & by the streams of the brooks

Silent they met, and silent strove among the streams, of Arnon
Even to Mahanaim, when with cold hand Urizen stoop'd down
And took up water from the river Jordan: pouring on
To Miltons brain the icy fluid from his broad cold palm.
But Milton took of the red clay of Succoth, moulding it with care
Between his palms: and filling up the furrows of many years
Beginning at the feet of Urizen, and on the bones
Creating new flesh on the Demon cold, and building him,
As with new clay a Human form in the Valley of Beth Peor."

I shouldn't say, "The solution is always to annihilate it by incorporating it". But perhaps I can say that three other alternatives create worse problems than they solve. Allowing the false self to have control, forcing it into the unconscious, or fighting it directly, can each stymie the soul's development and create havoc in the outer world.

I look forward to 'A Proper Sense of Self.'

Vincent said...

Instead of writing that post on "A Proper Sense of Self", at least for now, I've put down some thoughts in private correspondence with a friend, who struggles with discovering & expressing his Identity; mainly it seems to me because he identifies himself with Urizen, & lacks any conscious awareness of Los.

In describing a real-life situation to you, I'm getting for the first time a practical sense of how Blake uses his mythical names!

The private correspondence I refer to has helped me acknowledge to myself what has held me back, and understand a series of miracles happening now, whereby I find myself taking possession of my Identity, wearing it as a well-tailored set of clothes, going forth shining in confidence, & seeing it reflected in others. These are early days, but already I see something new in my life & long overdue. Not easy to express.

ellie said...

It is glorious to see that you have opened yourself to a greater experience of the fullness and have received confirmation.