Purity and Danger, by Mary Douglas

Holy Orders: The Reason for Religion’s Obsession with Classifying and Dividing

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I believe that ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created. The more we know about primitive religions the more clearly it appears that in their symbolic structures there is scope for meditation on the great mysteries of religion and philosophy. Reflection on dirt involves reflection on the relation of order to disorder, being to non-being, form to formlessness, life to death.

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Opening the Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley

William Blake, Mescaline, and the end of Time

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Huxley cited his fascination with Blake as a primary factor in his decision to take mescaline, which he hoped would help him transcend the self and see the world without the usual filters on reality: “the drug would admit me at least for a few hours, into the kind of inner world described by Blake.” His book of the experience, The Doors of Perception, is itself eye-opening: one of the most careful and precise deconstructions of “normal” perception ever written: “The function of the brain and nervous system is in the main eliminative”, he observed, “leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful”. The drug allowed him to see that what we normally call “reality” is in fact the product of a massive filtering out of reality, a systematic closing of the doors, leaving only the programs of measurement (“ratio-ing”) and utility – reality as it would necessarily appear “to an animal obsessed with survival.”

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Blake’s Jerusalem as Visionary Theatre, by Susanne M. Sklar

Entering the Divine Body, the Human Imagination

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William Blake created Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion between 1804 and 1820. Since its conception this epic poem, compromised of one hundred illuminated plates divided into four chapters, has baffled many good readers. In 1811 Robert Southey thought it was “perfectly mad”; in 1978 W. J. T. Mitchell called it “some species of antiform” whose “narrative goes nowhere”; Robert Essick more recently wondered if “it is more than a curiosity shop with some treasures hidden amidst the clutter?” Many reasonable readers think the poem makes no sense.

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