William Blake (1757-1827ce) is widely recognized as the earliest and wildest of the English Romantic poets. He mastered the literary and visual arts as a professional engraver and classically trained painter. During a golden age of European civilization, he studied literature, philosophy, and the classics on his own initiative. Blake also lived in a world of political and cultural transition. A corrupt aristocracy and a newly rich industrialist class manipulated national affairs to suit their own business, by means of public policy, courts, and the established church. But they held their position tenuously as violent political radicalism, inspired by the American and French Revolutions, threatened to overwhelm the country in a torrent of blood. Blake looked forward to that prospect.
Blake's place in the canon of English poetry is undisputed today, but for well over a century his work was simply too difficult for Christian commentators to approach. He drew upon mythic elements of Christianity, the occult systems of Swedenborg and others, and the legends of northern Europe, as well as inventing a whole pantheon of his own gods and goddesses (he called them "emanations"), rehashing them at will in order to articulate a bold and dizzying vision of the human being's relationship with oneself, one's peers and one's world. He believed the sacred and infinite could be experienced in this life, here and now and by one's own power, not in an after-life or at the dispensation of a controller-god. Blake also described visions in which he would see the dead, or angels and devils. His contemporary critics gave superficial praise to Blake's less provocative works, and ignored as best they could his more fiery "prophecies" suggesting the destruction of church and empire. Later critics would write him off as a schizophrenic, or claim that his "visions" and "fancies" were hallucinations or delusions. Blake's work would only come into its own during the modernist cultural revolution of the twentieth century of the common era, when he would influence artists like William Butler Yeats, Aldous Huxley, and Jim Morrison.1 In other words, as the influence of Christianity over our culture waned, Blake was re-discovered as an important thinker for those who craved to stimulate their spiritual impulse, but who were uninterested in myths.
He was arguably the most innovative artist in the English language. When prevailing genres chafed him, he integrated poetry, philosophy, calligraphy, graphic design, and painting to render his vision;2 and when existing technology disappointed him, he invented his own mechanical technique, "illuminated printing", to commit everything to a material form. As a person he was also remarkable: a freethinker, a recreational nudist, a radical federalist, tried for sedition (and acquitted) — Blake delighted in flouting political establishment and cultural mores. As a young man, he watched with rapture the fires of democratic revolution spread across two continents, and hoped that this event would free people to enjoy their own pursuits and respect one another's differences without being judged by a repressive church or an oppressive state; and when the revolutions failed to make changes as radical as he'd hoped, he sought the cause in men's psychology — in the little god-dictator that the church and state had fostered at the center of our self-conceptions.
If any thinker can be said to really anticipate the real spirit of Satanism, it's Blake. He celebrated worldly pleasures and encouraged people to find meaning and satisfaction in their present lives. He saw devils and demons as symbols of this psychological and spiritual liberation, and God as a figure of artificial constraints that were about to be outgrown. But his psycho-mythological system, drawn piecemeal from so many influences, can be difficult for the casual reader to understand. There are a few good sources that can help put the different elements and figures into perspective,3 but this makes for an imposing reading list, and many who might otherwise be stimulated by Blake's works might be discouraged from slogging through the stack of books that might be necessary to get the most out of it all. So, I decided to put together this "Satanist's Introduction" to the works of Blake; I want to highlight some key parts of his works that might be of particular interest to Satanists, while putting into perspective some of Blake's symbols that might put off or mislead the Satanic reader.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
This little book, published in 1790, is definitely the modern Satanist's gateway to the world of Blake.4 It is an announcement, in prose, of his philosophical conception of human vitality as the center of life. After a brief poetic "argument" to set the prophetic tone of the discussion to follow, the main body of the work opens with "The Voice of the Devil", who announces three defiant propositions, the "Contraries" of theistic dualism:
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses....
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight. (34)
Blake's Devil also explains the repression from which all past religions and philosophies have derived:
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
And being restraind it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire. (ibid.)
In Blake's vocabulary, "energy" means the power or profundity of our emotions, and their vivid expression in the products of our imagination. "Reason", on the other hand, refers to the rationing of personal energy. An exclusive focus on this faculty tends to make the world less like a place we can make our own, and more like a fundamentally entropic sysem in which positive human action is futile.
The world as "reason" reveals it (at least "reason" as it was meant at that time) is a place in which human goals, ideals, and fantasies are utterly in conflict with the prevailing order underlying reality. Thus, we are told we ought to restrain our desires in order to be able to get by in a world whose order is pre-given. In Blake's era, as in our own, science was often used as a pretense for repudiating the beauty or worth of something; it claimed to reveal things to be "only" or "just" what they are. For example, 18th century materialism suggested that man was just an animal, a "worm of sixty winters" as Blake puts it. This way of doing science didn't undermine religious authority; it actually strengthened it. It portrayed human beings as automata that needed a higher God to create and sustain them, and it situated the human being in a world fundamentally indifferent to him, while at the same time fostering his craving for something more. It also encouraged complacency in the face of tyranny; just as we are expected to modify our behavior to conform to "reality" (conceived as the lowest common denominator in nature), so too should we submit to traditional authorities and hierarchies.
For Blake, this attitude was condescending and hateful. Reason can play a positive role when it allows us to economize at the limits of our powers, but it finds its source in those powers themselves, and their goals and ideals. It is our own desires, fantasies, ideals, interests, and objectives that ultimately legitimate any "rational" decision; it is in our nature to transfigure the world in which we find ourselves. There is no "only" or "merely" to this so far as Blake was concerned. To his mind, the fundamental similarity between humans and other animals didn't mean that humans were just animals; it means that everything great about the human being is an animal property. This doesn't denigrate humans; it makes animals more exhalted. Even the beasts may have their own worlds of experience, comparable at least in principle to those of humans: Blake asks us to consider, "How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way,/Is an immense world of delight, enclos'd by your senses five?" (35) Blake rejected the dualism that set a abstract immaterial soul of pure logic into a mechanistic world-system that blindly ground humans to nothing like a mill grinds corn. This is why Blake's attack on prevailing intellectual traditions necessarily brings him into conflict with his century's notion of "reason".
The rest of the Marriage consists of a number of "Memorable Fancies", in which Blake imagines himself conversing with demons, angels, and prophets.5 Blake describes himself as "walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity." (35) He insists that the gods and spirits of priests and prophets are derived from the poetic visions of poets, and that "All deities reside in the human breast." (38) He suggests that Isaiah and Ezekiel were moved by a poetic inspiration, rather than a literal voice of God, and compares them to Diogenes, the original performance artist, and to First Nations peoples who use physically demanding rituals to alter their consciousness. (38-39) He tells us that God consists only in the actions of existing creatures (40), and that "worship" means honoring human genius. (43) In one especially mischievous passage, Blake describes hell as a pleasant riverbank with a harper who sings by moonlight to celebrate the faculty of doubt. Heaven, though, is a house of chained monkeys eternally raping and devouring one another, their sanctimony but a transparent pretense failing to mask the basic, cynical incivility of their bishoprics and magistratures. (41-42) In another passage, a devil and an angel debate theology — and in the end, the angel converts to become a devil. (43-44) Blake also offers several pages of "Proverbs of Hell", many of which will appeal to Satanists:
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
A dead body. revenges not injuries.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword. are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
The cistern contains: the fountain overflows.
As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
Exuberance is Beauty.
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. (35-38)
The whole of the book is dedicated to "[expunging] the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul". Blake says that when this notion is properly abandoned, "the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt./This will pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment." (39) Blake implies that the Marriage is a "Bible of Hell: which the world shall have whether they will or no." (44)
The heroes of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are the devils; the angels are hypocrites, in major need of being taught to enjoy life rather than to constrain it. But the "diabolical" character of Marriage has confused a lot of scholars, who are tempted to suggest that Blake is being ironic. If the name of the book is the "marriage" of Heaven and Hell, then surely the angels can't be all bad? Besides, Blake says that life exists in the tension of equally necessary contraries, so surely the angels must be the necessary counterpoint to the devils? But these scholars misunderstand the real thrust of Blake's point, and end up whitewashing him. We can get a better appreciation for what's going on here if we consider Blake's doctrine of "contraries" and of the "negative". The angels and devils in Marriage don't represent two contrary terms; rather, the devils alone celebrate contrariety, diversity, and the enjoyment of life, whereas the angels defend negation, repression, and traditionalism.
The Doctrine of Contraries and of the Negative; Three Classes of People
The underlying point of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is the doctrine of contraries that Blake introduces here.
Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the ative springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell. (34)
That is why Blake calls for a "marriage" of Heaven and Hell: he believes that both the "good" (reason) and the "evil" (passion) are necessary parts of life, and their tension within an individual spirit form the condition of personal excellence. This is not a doctrine of moderation or the "golden mean": reason and energy are not extreme poles of a spectrum in which we find ourselves in the middle of. Rather, reason is the "bound or outward circumference" of energy; it is simply the point, wherever that may be, at which our passion fails us. Reason means recognizing your real limits; energy means exceeding false limits.
The doctrine of contraries and of the negative is further elaborated in the later "prophetic" works, especially Milton. In this work, Blake describes the ghost of Puritan poet John Milton entering his body through his big toe, and guiding him on a psychological vision-quest. The main content of this vision quest is the importance of contraries and the threat of the repressive negative.
Reason is just as necessary as passion. The problem is when reason "usurps its place" — when reason becomes reductive, constraining our energy according to preconceived notions about good and evil instead of guiding our "evil" energy to its fullest growth. When this happens, reason ceases to be in contrary tension with energy, and comes to negate it instead. This means that, although contraries are opposites in one sense, they also have a third, mutual opposite: the negative. Contraries exist in tension, but don't contradict or exclude one another. "Contraries are Positives," Blake writes (backwards) on a plate in his epic Milton; "A Negative is not a Contrary". (129) A "negative" is the denial of one or both contrary terms; it is repression. Contrariety occurs along humanity's dynamic dimensions: imagination/reason, vigor/repose, wrath/pity. To oppose this dynamism, as the angels in Marriage do, is not to be contrary; it is to be negative. Inspiration (imagination and reason both) vs. stupidity, life (vigor and repose) vs. death, sincerity (wrath or pity) vs. hypocrisy — these are not contraries. Each latter is the negation of the vibrant diversity, the beautiful contrareity, of its respective former.
For Blake, to be equally capable of imagination and reason is a blessed state; but stupidity is the negation of both. To be equally capable of vigour and repose is blessed; but death is the negation of both. To be equally capable of wrath and pity is blessed; but hypocrisy is the negation of both. The Marriage's angels, like their earthly spokesmen, advocate that we should be rational but not enjoy our fantasies; that we should be meek and mild, never brusque or sensual; and that we should be ruled by pity, that wrath or hatred are sins. For Blake, by denying contraries, the angels are really preaching stupidity, death, and hypocrisy. They are not at all a part of what one celebrates when one celebrates the mutual possibilities and diversity of contraries.
So we can see now the mistake of those academics who think Blake is only pretending to be hard on angels. In the Marriage, it is devils who stand up to celebrate contrariety. The angels, however, represent artificial constraints. It's worth noting that, when one angel becomes convinced of the truth of Blake's ideas, he becomes a devil. This suggests that when Heaven and Hell are "wed", it won't mean angels and devils living in harmony; that would mean that repression coexisted with spiritual freedom, which is absurd. All the angels will have to become devils!
Blake's most famous work, Songs of Innocence and Experience, is itself an example of contraries. The main theme of this work is that innocence is not naïve inexperience, but rather an ongoing affirmation of life; and experience is not sinful loss of innocence, but rather life itself, the world in which we learn our lessons and take our pick of delights. When we confuse these states with stupidity and jadedness, we come to repress our desires and stultify our powers.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is about the reciprocal importance of contraries as social and cultural forces. In one passage, Blake introduces the idea of a conflict between creative geniuses and their contemporaries, which he defines in terms of contrariety:
[O]ne portion of being, is the Prolific. the other, the Devouring: to the devourer it seems as if the producer was in his chains, but it is not so, he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole.
But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer as a sea recieved the excess of his delights. ...
These two classes of men are always upon earth, & they should be enemies; whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence. (40)
The prolific are the poets and artists that Blake described as creating the gods (38), but they are also godlike in their own respect: "Some will say, Is not God alone the Prolific? I answer, God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or Men." (40) "God" only creates insofar as the prolific create. Creation is a divine activity, and by using one's imaginations, one becomes divine. It is clear that the only Gods Blake thinks are worth talking about are you and me, here and now, united in celebrating our visionary power or "Poetic Genius," the imagination. To celebrate God is to do exactly what one does in celebrating society, be it local or universal: to pay honour to the greatest among us.6
A pair of contraries, and their negation, form a triad. In Milton, Blake refers to "three Classes of Men [who] take their fix'd destinations/They are the Two Contraries & the Reasoning Negative." (98) These three classes are named "The Elect", "The Redeem'd", and "The Reprobate". (100) Two of these correspond with the two classes given above; one is a new introduction.
These names are a play of diabolical irony: "elect" is a pejorative for Blake, and "reprobate" is an honorary title. The elect represent the negative; they are the self-elect, self-righteous, self-appointed guardians and judges of public and private virtue. They are the ones who try to "reconcile" the prolific and the devouring, and who therefore "[seek] to destroy existence". Their figurehead is Jehova, whom Blake also calls "Satan" (a term Blake uses with the traditional connotation of being the enemy of life — in Blake's mythology, Satan is not a devil, but God himself, enemy of the devils). Blake also calls this character "Urizen", which is believed to be a play on "your reason", ie. reductive hyperrationalism, and on the word "horizon", ie. the "bound or outer circumference" of energy, taken on a life of its own.7 The sin of the elect is what Blake calls "selfhood", meaning solipsism and hypocritical self-deceit.
The redeemed, what Blake calls the "devouring" in Marriage, represent the vast majority of people, living under the yoke of the elect's moral concepts, but finding vicarious liberation in the art and vitality of the third class, the reprobate. This group, which Blake calls the "prolific" in Marriage, consists of iconoclasts and creative geniuses. The reprobate are always at odds with the redeemed, but this is the condition of their creativity. These two classes are enemies, but their mutual antagonism is the engine of cultural development and personal achievement. They need each other. Their real adversaries are the elect, who pose as teachers and holy guides, founders of servile religious customs and self-appointed censors of morals.
Blake's Christianity: An Apology
Blake considered himself a lover of Christ and a hater of Satan. But he also considered himself a lover of devils and a hater of the Jehovah figurehead.8 He advocated luscious indulgence in sensual pleasures and the destruction of moral codes. Obviously, his idea of what "Christian" means is a little different from what's being sold in church sermons and political speeches. Is there any way to reconcile this seeming contradiction?
Blake didn't consider Jesus to have any credible claim to miraculous birth. He denied immaculate conception, and suggested that Jesus was conceived in adultery. This makes Jesus the product of an enlightened household: to Blake's mind, it meant that Joseph had learned not to treat Mary's experience as a sin that negated her innocence (her figurative virginity — a quality Blake attributes even to whores if they want it). Blake also didn't comment on any of Jesus's other alleged miracles, but refers lightheartedly to him in passing as a "wine bibber". But if there was nothing especially miraculous about Jesus, what's Blake's attraction?
A clue to Blake's understanding of the Christ myth can be found in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. A devil and an angel are engaged in debate — the passage is worth quoting at length:
[The devil says:] The worship of God is. Honouring his gifts in other men each according to his genius. and loving the greatest men best, those who envy or calumniate great men hate God, for there is no other God.
The Angel hearing this became almost blue but mastering himself he grew yellow, & at last white pink & smiling, and then replied,
Thou Idolater, is not God One? & is not he visible in Jesus Christ? and has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of ten commandments and are not all other men fools, sinners, & nothings?
The Devil answer'd; bray a fool in a mortar with wheat. yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him: if Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how he he has given his sanction to the law of ten commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbaths God? murder those who were murderd because of him? turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray'd for his disciples, and when he bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments: Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse: not from rules. (43)
This is obviously an idiosyncratic interpretation of the New Testament, but that's beside the point: we're not interested in whether Blake's reading was correct, only with how it fit into his iconic system. Blake's respect for Jesus comes not from his status as an alleged moral teacher, but rather from the fact that Blake saw Jesus as unburdening people from empty moral formalisms and undermining the authority of state, empire, and temple.
Because of this "anarchic" or antinomian understanding of Jesus, Blake makes Jesus into a mythic figure. In his prophetic works Milton and Jerusalem, Jesus is transfigured from a historical figure to a philosophical function: Jesus comes to represent a state of absolute tolerance of different forms of enjoyment, characterized by both "love and wrath" alike (180): a state of tolerance, a constant celebration and mutual frustration which spurs on new approaches to communication and culture. This dynamic state emerges from our endeavour to put into perspective our own faults and the faults of others, a prerequisite for a free society. A moral tyrant can only demand adherence to a single, limited, solipsistic, negative conception of perfection, a "Thou Shalt Not". The "reprobate", however, can discover new forms of perfection every day. This is christhood, and as far as Blake was concerned, it's not something that Jesus has an exclusive claim to.
It seems that, although Blake may have thought of himself as a "Christian", he didn't mean to imply that he believed the doctrines normally associated with Christianity. It was a personally evocative term that didn't condition Blake's clear perception of the stupidity of the religion called by that name. It needn't prevent us from claiming Blake as a de facto Satanist — and, considering The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, about as close to a de jure Satanist as you can find before 1966!
One more aspect of Blake's "theology", such as it is, is worth mentioning. As discussed above, although Christ features prominently in Blake's mythology as a positive archetype, God/Urizen is a negative one. The place you'd normally expect to find God — the supreme person, the being from which Jesus emanates — is occupied in Blake's system by a character called Albion. Albion is a key figure in Blake's second epic, Jerusalem, but appears elsewhere in his writings as well. "Albion" is a traditional name for England, and Blake uses it as a metaphor for the state of his culture and, generally, the state of Western civilization. Blake describes Albion as a "Giant"; this is a deliberate allusion to the "giants" of Norse and Greek mythology (the jötunar or titanes) who fight against the conventional gods. This is Blake's way of tacitly connecting Albion's power with that of the devils in Marriage. Blake didn't believe in any God to judge sins or absolve sinners; he believed that it was up to human beings to understand the problems destroying their culture, and to redeem themselves by learning to celebrate difference and conflict.
I hope that I've been able to highlight some aspects of Blake that are fundamentally Satanic. To sum up:
1. Blake believed that human beings invent gods in their art, and this means that the holy spark is in humans, not in mythic characters themselves.
2. Humans exercise their divine powers when they create art, and they celebrate their divinity when they indulge in sensual pleasure.
3. Blake believed that civilization can only thrive when there is a sustained critique of the morals and opinions that the common man takes for granted, a critique that will always necessarily unnerve the great mass of humanity but which nevertheless fascinates them because it gives them a vicarious glimpse of real freedom. So the majority is drawn to consume the iconoclastic outpouring of a spiritually emancipated elite, simultaneously their enemy and their complement.
4. Lasting social evils, however, are created by fundamentalist repression, which is self-righteous hatred masquerading as paternal love.
All of these propositions are found within the covers of The Satanic Bible, and together they define the core dogmas of modern Satanism. And we need not let Blake's avowed Christianity dissuade us from claiming him as a forebear; — for, whereas Blake said fondly of the poet Milton "he was ... of the Devils party without knowing it", our friend Blake was of the Devil's party and he did know it: he considered devils to be the perfect symbol of the rebellious hellfire that fuels the dynamic genius. And this, of course, is the same motif that Anton Szandor LaVey drew upon when he founded a Church the likes of which the world had never seen.
On all of these counts, Blake can only be described as a true de facto Satanist of the most reprobate character!
- Yeats included elements of Blake's mythology into the iconography of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Aldous Huxley referred to a line from Blake ("If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite.") in a book describing his experience with mescalin. In the early enthusiasm for synthetic narcotics, Huxley naïvely believed that drugs could "cleanse" his vision of the world, and he entitled his book The Doors of Perception. Jim Morrison was influenced by Huxley's work and sought lasting inspiration in the same source passage, calling his band The Doors. Suffice it to say, Blake's perception of the infinite in all things was not the product of drugs, but of his native passion, intellect, and imagination. His printing method did involve etching metal plates with acid — perhaps these proto-hippies thought they could accomplish what he did using a different "acid". [back]
- The best source of Blake's writings is The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, edited by David V. Erdman and published by Anchor Books in 1988. The William Blake Archive is an excellent on-line source, and includes the full text of Erdman's volume. [back]
- Such as Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry (Princeton University Press, 1947). Frye, a pioneer of critical interpretation of the Bible as a mythic text in spite of being an ordained Unitarian minister, has been described as the most "Blakean" of twentieth century Blake commentators. [back]
- You can get a pocket edition of this book, with full color facsimiles of Blake's "illuminated prints" from hand-etched and hand-inked plates, from Dover Publications for less than $10 USD. All my quotes, however, come from The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, cited above in footnote 2. The textual differences are superficial. [back]
- The term "memorable fancy" is a parody of Emanuel Swedenborg's "memorable relations", episodic visions in which Swedenborg claimed the cultural and domestic life of angels had been revealed to him; the most famous of these "relations" was named Heaven and Hell. Blake and his wife were involved in the Swedenborgian Church in 1789, but ended their membership soon after. Some scholars, such as JG Davies (The Theology of William Blake, North Haven, CT: Archon, 1966) or Gholamreza Sabri-Tabrizi (The 'Heaven' and 'Hell' of William Blake, New York: International, 1973), have misunderstood Blake's Marriage to be nothing but a satire on Swedenborg, or have thought that it derives its meaning from an understanding of Swedenborg's writings. It is my opinion that all the Marriage owes to Swedenborg is an opportunity for some ironic humor, and that the real point of the "Marriage" is easily gleaned by anyone who reads it. In this respect, the relationship is comparable with that of LaVey's Satanic Bible to the New Age movement that preceded it. [back]
- Some scholars have misinterpreted this aspect of Blake's thought. For example, in reference to the lines in Marriage where Blake maintains that "all deities reside in the human breast", one scholar writes: "Their obvious meaning seems to be that God is nothing more than man, and as such they have been interpreted by many of Blake's critics. But in other passages Blake made it plain that, while emphasizing the immanence of God, he did not lose transcendence." (JG Davies, op. cit. p. 87) In defence of his proposal that Blake's godhead is "transcendent", this scholar quotes a number of passages out of context. It is apparent, however, that the whole line of reasoning this scholar puts forward, suffers from exactly the kind of reductionism Blake most hated. He explicitly denied the existence of a transcendent god, by saying that God "only" is in existing beings; not "also" is, as a transcendent god would have to be. (Marriage, 40) There is no God other than visionary human beings. (43) God is only in each of us. This scholar's choice of words, in saying that the "apparent meaning" of these statements is that God is "nothing more than" man, is clearly a rationalization (in the Blakean sense) that unduly dismisses the divine spark that Blake sees as burning in man's animal breast. This point, which is so difficult for a professor, would be obvious to a Satanist. When we declare ourselves our own gods, that doesn't make our gods "nothing more than" human: it makes us, humans, nothing less than gods. [back]
- Blake's most famous painting is probably "The Ancient of Days", from his book Europe: A Prophecy. This picture portrays a white-bearded man descending from heaven with a giant compass in order to delineate the world. Most people think this is supposed to represent God as an architect, but in fact the figure represents Urizen; his compass is a tool of reductive intellectualism, dividing the world up into neatly circumscribed categories and concepts that leave no room for imagination and which fail to do justice to the spontaneity and organic diversity of life. Blake used it as the frontispiece to his book Europe: A Prophecy, which portrays the French Revolution as a fiery demon (Blake named it "Orc", and this is the figure portrayed in another famous image, "Glad Day") striving against the forces of Church and State, represented by Urizen. So many Christians see the painting as an exhalted image of their god — but for Blake, the architect was a villain! [back]
- In a fit of flippance in one short poem, Blake calls Jehovah "Old Nobodaddy" — ie., nobody-daddy, the non-existent "God the Father". [back]