Humanity and divinity 

God is not an object but a mode of thought, by Rod Tweedy

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The “mutual interchange” of the divine and the human in Blake’s work is one of its most characteristic and challenging, as well as moving, aspects. Because of this convergence, Blake maintained that to be truly god-like one has to be as human as possible. “Awake! Awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!” (Jerusalem 4:6):

I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine:
Fibres of love from man to man thro Albions pleasant land.

In all the dark Atlantic vale down from the hills of Surrey

A black water accumulates, return Albion! Return!

Thy brethren call thee, and thy fathers, and thy sons,
Thy nurses and thy mothers, thy sisters and thy daughters

Weep at thy souls disease, and the Divine Vision is darkend …

I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! We are One; forgiving all Evil; Not seeking recompense!

(Jer 45:7–20)

“I am not a God afar off”: this statement beautifully and movingly distinguishes the true nature of divinity in the universe from the remote abstractions worshipped by the Urizenic left hemisphere in its desperate bid to become hardened and mighty. Blake’s “God” does not exist in the head, as an idea or concept of holiness, and is certainly not a god of omniscience and omnipotence—the tell-tale traces of the egoic ‘Power God’ of the left brain (Symons). Instead, it is a God which exists within, like a mustard seed, growing in the earth and “within your bosoms”. The plural is instructive: this god is not a “thing” (to worship) but is experienced only through our relationships, through the “betweenness” of things, which is why Blake draws attention to the living relations which constitute its mode of being, the forms through which it is manifest: the fathers and sons and nurses and mothers and sisters and daughters, which constitute its gravity.


The Afar Off Triangle God: symbol of the alienated Left Hemisphere/Urizen

This “God” is not an isosceles triangle, or a luminescent oscillating radiation, but “a brother and a friend”. It is not to be found either outwards (as in Druidic Sun worship) or upwards (in the “Newtonian Voids” that Urizen calls home, Mil 37:46). “What is Above is Within”, notes Blake in Jerusalem: “tho it appears Without it is Within” (Jer 71 6–19). Blake’s God is realised in and through the bonds through which humanity itself emerges, these “fibres of love”: the divinity is this mode of attention we give to another, “from man to man”, living on and through the empathic and imaginative communions that connect and move us. “No man is an island”, as Donne magnificently put it in his Meditation XVII, exploring the nature of human “involvement” in one another, and the more we disconnect from the main and the more we set ourselves up against each other, the more we in fact diminish ourselves and cut ourselves off, isolating ourselves in pockets of hardened self-righteousness.

Blake’s God is one so wholly different from those we have been brought up to conceptualise about that it requires some readjustment to realise that this sense of interrelatedness is in fact where the presence of divinity resides. Blake forces us down to the ground: to “the hills of Surrey”, to “the dark Atlantic vale”, because it is here—only in the here and now, and between ourselves—where living things can find it. For Blake the more particular something was, the more real it was: the astonishing allusions to specific topological features of London or actual locations, people, and contemporary events in Blake’s longer poems are not attempts at being unnecessarily obscure or idiosyncratic but vital struggles to keep his feet on the ground, to suggest where vision is to be found: which is within both one’s own immediate body and one’s surrounding relations (wider body). “I am in you and you in me”: if this sounds like love, it is: Blake’s God is the ground which makes love—the interpenetration between apparently discrete objects in space—possible. Blake refers to this capacity of the universe, or aspect of it, as “Universal Love”, the constant unconditional giving of itself (Jer 34:7); it is this “Universal Love” which the Urizenic ego is also terrified of and which it seeks to belittle and limit. The infinite nature of this love is also a manifestation of the difference between outer and inner: the realisation that humans are, to Urizen’s surprise, so much bigger on the inside.


“the realisation that humans are, to Urizen’s surprise, so much bigger on the inside”

For Blake the true divinity within the world is therefore only realised, or activated, when we activate our own humanity. It exists “In loves and tears of brothers, sisters, sons, fathers, and friends/Which if Man ceases to behold, he ceases to exist” (Jer 34:12–19). For him, this mutual embrace and exchange between humans was heaven, and there was no other heaven:

When in Eternity Man converses with Man they enter Into each others Bosom (which are Universes of delight) In mutual interchange  (Jer 88:3–5)

Blake referred to this sense of mutual interconnection and imaginative divinity variously as “Jesus”, “The Human Imagination”, “the Divine Body”, or “the True Vine of Eternity”. It doesn’t really matter what word we use for it: it is important, in this sense, not to get hung up on the signifier, or indeed upon the cross. Jesus was, for Blake, perhaps the most forceful and vivid instantiation of this sense of total free imagination, of right-hemispheric interrelatedness and transcendence, one based upon the recognition of the need to forgive each other (the only alternative being “to accuse”, the literal meaning of the Hebrew word “Satan”, or diábolos in Greek). But to forgive another requires letting go of the ego, and many people understandably find this hard to do as it goes against all the Urizenic programming.

Blake doesn’t minimise this psychological step and indeed gives eloquent voice to it (“O Lord what can I do! My Selfhood cruel/Marches against thee”; Jer 96:8–9). To the individual who has identified for so long with this egoic “Selfhood”, letting go seems like death for it—“Self Annihilation”. But nothing dies, and letting go and forgiving is the only thing that can release the individual from his or her isolation and self-ossification. And each time such forgiveness happens, Blake notes, eternity suddenly, briefly, opens up: “This is Friendship & Brotherhood without it Man Is Not” (Jer 96:14).


Humanity is at the centre of this exchange, the Sulam Yaakov upon which Jacob beholds “the angels of God ascending and descending”

The left brain only sees the world in terms of mutual use and consumption (classical Darwinism), but in fact a far greater and much deeper exchange is constantly taking place: the constant sacrifice of Being in order for the individual to live, and the constant sacrifice of the Individual in order that divinity and awareness is brought into this world. Humanity is at the centre of this exchange, the Sulam Yaakov upon which Jacob beholds “the angels of God ascending and descending” (Genesis 28:12). And not only ascending and descending but moving laterally, between individuals, a constant transmission of giving and receiving upon which we live and which constitutes the ground of our being as social animals. Crabb Robinson recorded a conversation that he had with Blake in 1825, in which he asked the poet what he thought about the supposed divinity of Jesus Christ. Blake replied: “‘He is the only God’. But then he added—‘And so am I and so are you’.”

Roderick Tweedy completed his education at Oxford University in 1997, researching the poet Shelley’s interest in contemporary science and natural philosophy. He is a former Secretary and trustee of the Blake Society, and has written a number of articles and reviews on Romanticism and the English Romantics. The excerpt above is taken from his book The God of the Left Hemisphere: Blake, Bolte Taylor and the Myth of Creation (2012).

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