Blake’s City of Golgonooza in Jerusalem: Metaphor and Mandala, by James Bogan

The City as Psyche

The geography of William Blake’s illuminated epic poem Jerusalem is organized around four principal cities: London, Babylon, Golgonooza, and Jerusalem. Three of the four are familiar enough, but the arcane city of Golgonooza is likely to seem, to an unsuspecting reader, as unapproachable as some legendary Forbidden City.

mandala-map from plate 12 of Jerusalem

Access to the luminous spaces of Blake’s unique, yet traditional, city can be facilitated in two ways: First, the nature of Golgonooza will be clarified by comparison to the other major cities of the poem; and second, a guided tour into the city will be given in a detailed reading of the mandala-map left by Blake on plates 12 and 13 of Jerusalem.

Each of the four chapters of Jerusalem emphasizes one of the cities, but not to the exclusion of the others. In the first chapter Golgonooza is described in two ways (J 12-13). The second chapter features London in Los’s walk to London Stone (J 31) and as a character speaking (J 38). The third chapter is concerned primarily with the evils of Babylon. Blake “behold[s] Babylon in the opening Streets of London” (J 74). The tortures of Stonehenge are identified with the atrocities of Babylonian human sacrifice (166-69). In the fourth chapter Jerusalem is in the forefront. Los sings a vision of her (J 86), and all the “Human Forms” (J 99) redeemed at the end of the poem are identified as Jerusalem in a grand vision. The vision itself is a sign of being in Jerusalem’s realm.

Eternal cities: London, Babylon, Jerusalem. Each is in each, and all are part of Golgonooza


Expanding Outwards: Psychogeography 

Blake’s house, South Molton Street

London, 1804-1820, is the space/time location from which Blake perceived his visions in Jerusalem: “I write in South Molton Street what I both see and hear / in regions of Humanity, in London’s opening streets” (J 38).

The sights that Blake saw when he walked down Oxford Street included deep glimpses into places not listed in a London guidebook, since he records and draws spiritual places revealed to the visionary’s eye. Blake knew the world as humanly alive: “Cities are Men” (J 38).

Indeed London is himself a character in Jerusalem: “My Streets are my Ideas of Imagination … /My Houses are thoughts: my Inhabitants, Affections, /The children of my thoughts walking within my blood vessels” (J 38). London, like an individual, is capable of sacrifice: ” ‘I give myself . . . for Albion,’ / So spoke London, immortal Guardian” (J 38). London is not always so strong and appears differently in sorrow: “I see London, blind and age-bent, begging thro’ the Streets /Of Babylon, led by a child; his tears run down his beard. . . . The Corner of Broad Street weeps; Poland Street languishes” (J 84). Blake interprets the city feelingly, affectively, whether in its strength or woe.

London in Jerusalem and Jerusalem in London

When Blake encounters what Kenneth Johnston calls the effects of “a religion based on mystery, an economy based on militarism, in short the British Empire, as he saw it,” (Johnston, ‘Blake’s Cities: Romantic Forms of Urban Renewal’)  the poet is in Babylon.

Babylon, for Blake, is enslavement by material necessity. It is the world of experience, cut off from the insight of innocence. Anyone in Babylon is in captivity, like the Jews under Nebuchadnezzar. While they were exiled from their home and temple, those in Blake’s Babylon are exiled from inspiration and the forgiveness of sin.

Glass Satanic Mills: the “merchandise of Babylon”

In Revelation a long list of the “merchandise of Babylon” concludes with: “slaves, and souls of men” (18:12-13). This condition of slavery characterizes Babylon:

The Walls of Babylon are Souls of Men, her Gates the Groans

Of Nations, her Towers are the Miseries of once happy Families,

Her Streets are paved with Destruction, her houses built with Death,

Her Palaces with Hell & the Grave, her Synagogues with Torments

Of ever-hardening Despair, squar’d & polish’d with cruel skill. (J 24)

“Babylon, for Blake, is enslavement by material necessity.”

This city, whose streets are lined with “Trees of Malice” (J 13), is negation given allegorical identity. Rahab, Whore of Babylon, is the empress of its dismal existence. The metaphor Blake uses to describe Babylon may have been inspired by a passage in Mallet’s Northern Antiquities, in which the hall of Hela (Death) is described: “She possesses a habitation protected by exceedingly high walls and strongly barred gates. Her hall is called Elvindir; Hunger is her table; Starvation, her knife; Delay, her man; Slowness, her maid; Precipice, her threshold; Care, her bed; and Burning Anguish forms the hangings of her Apartments.”

In contrast to the death-centered world of Babylon is the life-sustaining city of Golgonooza. Notice the difference in its furnishings:

The stones [of Golgonooza] are pity, and the bricks well-wrought affections

Enamel’d with love & kindness, & the tiles graven gold,

Labour of merciful hands: the beams and rafters are forgiveness:

The mortar & cement of the work tears of honesty: the nails

And screws & iron braces are well wrought blandishments

And well contrived words, firm fixing, never forgotten.

Always comforting the remembrance: the floors humility:

The ceilings, devotion: the hearths thanksgiving. (J 12)

“Always comforting the remembrance”: where the wealth of London is really to be found. (Illustration from ‘Almost A Third Of Londoners Are Living In Poverty’ 2015 report, The Huffington Post UK)

Golgonooza, an antidote to Babylon, is a human habitation. It is homely. While it is often referred to as the “City of Art,” it should be remembered that its foundation is consciously deployed human warmth and love. It is a spiritual place that exists in London surrounded by the miseries of Babylon. The dimensions are man-sized, simple, and sturdy.

“It is a spiritual place that exists in London surrounded by the miseries of Babylon”. One of the most remarkable instantiations of Golgonooza is The Dragon Cafe, set up by the wonderful, and Blakean, Sarah Wheeler in Southwark. As its website notes, “The Dragon Café is the flagship project of Mental Fight Club. As such, it aims to be an open, welcoming group which puts on exciting, well-organised and inspirational creative events and programmes as well as simply being a place to be. It is a highly effective antidote to the loneliness and isolation which is so often prevalent in those who have been affected by mental illness.”

Golgonooza is dynamic, a place of “becoming” (J 12). Los, its founder, builder and watchman, is engaged in a “terrible eternal labour” (J 12) in his efforts to keep the Divine Vision alive in a world sold out to Babylonian interests.

Golgonooza is “the urban form of Jerusalem in the fallen world,” as Kenneth Johnston points out. It is “the Spiritual Fourfold London” (J 53) which Los builds on the banks of the Thames. The outlandish name “Golgonooza” is not a kind of cheese. H. M. Margoliouth suggests “New Golgotha” as a gloss for this coinage. Its meaning is indicated in this line: “Is that Calvary and Golgotha/ Becoming a building of pity and compassion?” (J 12). Christ’s crucifixion on the hill of Golgotha was the center of vengeance, but the dramatic turn of forgiveness there is alive in Golgonooza.

Jerusalem: “a City, yet a Woman”

Jerusalem is “a City, yet a Woman” in Blake’s epics (FZ ix: 222). Etymologically, Jerusalem means the “height of peace,” and it is in the root of the word, more than any coordinates on a map, where it is to be found. Golgonooza is a place within Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the Eternal City whereas Golgonooza is within Time, being built by Los towards Eternity. The positive qualities of Golgonooza are congruent with those of Jerusalem. The style of metaphor used to describe Golgonooza is continued with Jerusalem. “Gates of Thanksgiving . . . Windows of Praise . . . Clouds of Blessing, Cherubims of Tender- mercy” (J 24) are the means by which Blake recognizes “the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).

The four cities are interrelated. In the process of assimilating London to Golgonooza, there is a struggle with the devastating influences of Babylon. Drawing the laborers of Golgonooza on is the hope of Jerusalem restored. The relation of Babylon to Jerusalem is negation, but that of Golgonooza to Jerusalem is one of growing correspondence. Frye puts it this way: “The construction of a character or identity out of life is part of the attempt of Albion to emerge from time into eternity as one Man who is also a City of God. Thus the imagination exists immortally not only as a person but as part of a growing and consolidating city, the Golgonooza which when complete will be the emanation or total created achievement of Albion, Jerusalem.”

The Rough Guide to Blake’s Golgonooza

The domains of Jerusalem range over Biblical, English and, in particular, London topography, but in mapping the terrain of Golgonooza, Blake moves into another world. His description of Golgonooza and environs (J 12-13) is a multi-dimensional mandala-map, which charts the interior universe of the psyche.

Bloom claims that Blake “forces his reader into a kind of cartography which is not in itself imaginative. Ezekiel and the poet of Revelation force their readers into similar mental acrobatics, and perhaps this kind of vision demands a foray into the ‘mystical mathematics of the City of Heaven.’ ”

“Golgonooza is a multi-dimensional mandala-map, which charts the interior universe of the psyche”

The perception of Golgonooza as a mandala-pattern is not new, but a guided tour of its minute particulars is in order, if only to elucidate the imaginative space Blake has created for us to explore and to justify the demands he makes on the reader for “mental acrobatics.” On the one hand there is the “homely” apprehensible description of Golgonooza with its “ceilings of devotion” and “hearths [of] thanksgiving” (J 12); but following shortly is a bewildering, fourfold, fourgated city guarded by 64,000 nymphs, fairies, genii, and gnomes. A directory of London streets will not suffice to approach this “great city” (J 13). Rather, being familiarized with what a mandala is and what it is for will be helpful preparation for entrance through one of its gates.

Mappae mundi are always as much psychological as physical: what do you leave off? Where do you put the centre? As Oscar Wilde once noted, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.”

The work of Carl Jung and other modern investigators of the human psyche will help in providing roadmaps into the esoteric city, which is based on Revelation (4:6-10 and 21:1-27), Ezekiel (Chs. 1 and 10), and Blake’s own inner experience. The following explications are drawn from the discoveries of modern depth psychology, which are actually re-discoveries of archetypal processes. Once again, the prophetic accuracy of Blake’s profound vision is corroborated.

“Golgonooza is similar to many Tibetan and Hindu mandalas”

” ‘Mandala’ means a circle, more especially a magic circle … with a distinct tendency towards quadrapite structure.” Frequently there is a “squaring of the circle, taking the form of a circle in a square or vice-versa,” Jung points out. At the center of Golgonooza is Los’s Palace encircled by a moat of fire. The city is four-gated and walled, like the New Jerusalem, and has the mandala property of symmetry.

Golgonooza is similar to many Tibetan and Hindu mandalas in which “the correspondence between the ground plan of the royal city and basic pattern of the mandala, together with the emblems which decorate it, leave no doubt that the mandala was thought of as a palace,” as Giuseppe Tucci explains. Jose Arguelles lists another of the “basic properties of the mandala” as its orientation by cardinal points.  Since Golgonooza is not painted on a two dimensional surface, Blake suggests a shape out of solid geometry: a sphere. The cardinal points are: west-circumference, south-zenith, north-nadir, and east-center (J 12). To imagine such interdependent intricacy requires some effort, but Blake is like the Lama whom Jung describes making a “mental image which can be built up only . . . through the power of imagination.” And Golgonooza, if it is to be understood, needs to be visualized, just as the mandala is not considered living until it is interiorized and discovered in your “own body.”

Depicting the fourfold Gologonnoza as a third-dimensional globe on a two dimensional sheet as a single vision object. Dimensions, like gateways, open as we expand our imaginations to perceive and walk through them.


Golgonooza is your own Body

But what is such a mandala as Golgonooza supposed to do? What is it for? Los’s work in Jerusalem is to help cure Albion’s “dread disease” (J 45), and the mandala is a specific for the disintegration that has beset Albion.

Los makes the mandala-city of Golgonooza as an attempt at healing; it is like “the ritual drawings made by certain North and South American tribes to represent the various phases of the creation of the universe … these mandalas are usually constructed in connection with the curing disease,” as Mircea Eliade observes.

Jung states that “we know from experience that the protective circle, the mandala, is the traditional antidote for chaotic states of mind … they mostly appear in connection with chaotic psychic states of disorientation or panic. They have the purpose of reducing the confusion to order.”  At the beginning of Jerusalem Albion is indeed disoriented and suicidal. The building of Golgonooza may be described (in words Jung used to refer to a mandala) as an “attempt to abolish the separation between the conscious mind [Albion] and the unconscious [Jerusalem], the real source of life, and to bring about a reunion of the individual with the native soil of his inherited, instinctive make up.

Blake’s Golgonooza is both a map of a reintegrated and interconnected psyche, and a model for a city. This is because cities are themselves forms of psyches, as Jungian analyst James Hillman notes: ‘The next step is to realize that the city, where the body lives and moves, and where the relational network is woven, is also psyche. City strongly affects psyche. Better said: city ‘is’ psyche.” And for Blake, brains are also sort of cities, full of windows, streets, doorways, and portals.

“Loss of instinct is the source of endless terror and confusion.” Jung’s words aptly diagnose Albion’s malady. The psychologist’s remedy is to have the individual’s “attention, or better said, interest … brought back to an inner, sacred domain, which is the source and goal of the soul and which contains the unity of life and consciousness. The unity once possessed has been lost, and must now be found again,” and the mandala is a means to that recovery.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “a bold attempt … to see and put together apparently irreconcilable opposites and bridge over apparently hopeless splits”

Jung notes that making a mandala “often represent[s a] very bold attempt … to see and put together apparently irreconcilable opposites and bridge over apparently hopeless splits. Even the attempt in this direction usually has a healing effect.” Coming early as it does in Jerusalem, the building of the Golgonooza mandala stands as a bastion of dynamic order amidst the widespread collapse in Albion’s soul.

The mandala works its healing powers on the one who creates it and secondarily on the one who remakes it by studying it, something of what Blake had in mind when he wrote “Prayer is the Study of Art” (Laocoön).

Giuseppe Tucci maintains that the mandala “represents, in complex and symbolical fashion, the drama of disintegration and reintegration … which if wisely read will induce a liberating psychological experience.” As the reader creates and contemplates the mental image of Golgonooza with the “instructions” Blake has provided, his senses are led to a state beyond the senses. This is the anagogical use of the mandala wherein the reader is uplifted to a realm where energy and vision are infused. “The Mandala is essentially a vehicle for concentrating the mind so that it may pass beyond its usual fetters,” as Arguelles points out. Thus Blake constructs an engine for the bursting of “mind- forg’d manacles” in the reader and thereby for Albion himself.


The Celebration of the City

City of Man, City of God: In this 14th century tapestry, John of Patmos watches the descent of the New Jerusalem from god. Unlike almost every other Romantic poet, Blake celebrates the City rather than the Countryside as the true locus of divine activity in the world. Thus he speaks of the “Spiritual Fourfold London” as being “a Human awful wonder of God”. As David Fallon notes, “Blake is London’s revolutionary prophet. He spent almost all of his life in the city, which was both the inspiration for his visionary poetry and artworks and a recurrent subject in them. Blake’s way of seeing London was uniquely imaginative, visionary, and transformative: his works communicate his sense that the streets of London open out into Eternity.”

Having delineated the purpose of Golgonooza, it is now appropriate to make a journey into the city itself. On the outskirts, the reader encounters the infernal regions that surround Golgonooza “above, beneath, on all sides” (J 13). This hell of “ice,” “earthquake,” “anxiety,” “darkness” (J 13) is a chaos that spawns “inhabitants … self-righteous conglomerating against the Divine Vision” (J 13).

It is a pestilential place, infected with Albion’s disease. The quality of life here is depicted in Bosch’s pictures of hell or on plate 51 of Jerusalem, which shows three figures in dark torment.

“Plate 51 of Jerusalem, which shows three figures in dark torment”. Cities can be places of enslavement and hell-like misery, or places of liberation and inspiration: in either case, they are psychological and mythical rather than material or natural places or states.

Eliade says that outside the sacred circle of the mandala dwell “evil spirits and demons, forces of chaos … maleficent forces … ‘spirits of the desert’ who attempt to return ‘forms’ to the amorphous state from which they originated.” The Lake of Udan Adan outside Golgonooza fits Tucci’s description of the domain outside the mandala that is an indefinite, “confused and indistinct mass, whirling about in the depths of the subconscious.”

The Cabalistic ‘Tree of Life’, or 32 Mystical Paths of Wisdom. The Tree of Life also represents the Human Body itself (‘Adam Kadmon’), with a ‘left’ side and a ‘right’ side. The “paths” and pathways remind us that all spiritual geographies have their roots in human cities.

To defend against these forces the ancient magic practice is to draw a spell-binding circle. Jung reminds us that “the same procedure has been used since olden times to set a place apart as holy and inviolable … a protected temenos, a taboo area where [one is] able to meet the unconscious.” The walled city of Golgonooza is such a temenos.

Each gate of the city is at one of the cardinal points, facing an area Tucci describes as “all that lies outside our consciousness which is beyond our control … always rioting about in a dark, confused struggle.” Protecting the periphery of Los’s city are 64,000 genii of fire in the East; 64,000 gnomes of the earth in the North; 64,000 nymphs of the water in the West; and 64,000 fairies of the air in the South. The living powers of the elements are organized as a defense, combining all the energy of the sun, mountains, ocean, and wind. Although Golgonooza is surrounded by hostile forces, it is impregnable with such a guard, in such numbers. The “64,000” denotes maximum completeness in cabalistic lore. The number “32” is the sum of the “ten self-contained numbers and the twenty-two basic letters” of the Hebrew alphabet, as Jung has explained. Any multiple of “32,” therefore, indicates a complete set, so “64,000” must be a really complete set of gnomes, etc.

“Generally, the gates of a mandala are protected by some guardian of terrifying aspect,” Tucci explains. Along with the guard of elemental beings, each of the gates is presided over by a guardian, symbolic of great power.

One of the Winged lions from Babylon’s city gates (Gate of Ishtar)

The North gate has “four sculptur’d Bulls,” who contain the strength and endurance of the earth. The South gate “has four Lions terrible, living,” whose power is ferocious. The West gate has “four Cherubim” of celestial intensity, and in the East are “wheels” of “enormous” mechanical force (J 12, 13). These Guardians are Blakean equivalents to the “four living creatures” that Ezekiel saw in his big vision by the river Chebar.

“The guardians of the doors”: two cherubim or ‘lamassu’ guarding the entrances to sacred or protected spaces. A lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird wings. Blake often referred to these kids of fierce, protective structures in the brain, as for instance in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, where he mentions “the cherub with his flaming sword” being “hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life”, so we can finally expand our perception.

Eliade explains that the “guardians of the doors” have a part to play beyond defending “consciousness from the disintegrating forces … they have an offensive mission – in order to lay hold upon the fluid and mysterious world of the unconscious … the struggle (must be carried) into the enemy’s camp and hence to the forces to be combatted. The guardians of the doors and the terrible divinities emphasize the initiatory character of entrance into a mandala.” The powers associated with the bulls, lions, cherubim, and wheels must be faced before access to the interior of the city can be gained. Still there are many entrances to Golgonooza. Each of the gates opens to Eden, Beulah, Generation, and Ulro. Damon concludes that “the imagination opens into all phases of existence, except for the western gate, which is closed until the ‘last day.’ ” Arguelles adds that “from whichever point a Mandala is entered, a path opens that leads to the eternal center.”

Once inside, the walled city is distinguished by the radiant quality of its citizens and its appointments. The houses are all buildings of “pity and compassion” (J 12). Even the utensils and garments are “fourfold,” reflecting the spirit of the artisans who made them with their hands. The residents are Sons and Daughters of Los, “everyone a translucent Wonder, a Universe within” (J 14). Walt Whitman visited this place in a dream:

I dream’d in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth,

I dream’d that was the new city of Friends,

Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love, it led the rest,

It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,

And in all their looks and words. (Leaves of Grass)

Encircling the center of Golgonooza is “a moat of fire” (J 13), which, it would seem, forbids access, but which, in other mandalas, “represents consciousness that must burn ignorance, dispelling the darkness of error and leading us to that cognition which we are seeking,” as Tucci says.

“Luban, Los’s Palace, and Enitharmon’s Looms”

Within the circle of fire stand Luban, Los’s Palace, and Enitharmon’s Looms. We have reached “the irradiating point of primordial energy.” Kathleen Raine remarks that “it is interesting to know what image occupies the center of the mandala, this being the most significant statement. Blake places in the center a symbol of divine generative power from which manifested being opens. In the inner sanctum of Golgonooza stand the golden looms of the female and ‘furnace of beryll’ of the male … the center in which eternity issues into time.”

Luban is the gate through which spectres “take refuge in Human lineaments” (M 28), which Damon identifies as “the vagina, the Gate of Golgonooza which opens into this world.” Raine sees Blake’s mandala as resembling “very closely the classical Tibetan Buddhist pattern, at whose center there is, in many examples, a generative symbol, often a dorje or thunderbolt, surrounded by fire, and in others the God and his shakti or (in Blake’s terms) emanation, in sacred sexual union. This is the meaning of Blake’s looms and furnaces, the generative center of this emblem of divine manifestation.” It is the business of a mandala to precipitate a birth into a new world, or to focus the energies of another world into our world. “Mandalas are birth-places, vessels of birth in the most literal sense,” says Jung. Raine finds at the center of Golgonooza that “the Son, the Divine Humanity, is generated in the soul of man.”

The Daughters of Los in their Loom (from Jerusalem)

As long as we are in the midst of Buddhist terminology, it might as well be noted that Los, the watchman and leader of Golgonooza, is a bodhisattva. He is dedicated to helping men on the path to the Great City of Liberation. He has vowed to save all living beings and has sacrificed himself into the strictures of time and space to ransom the captive Albion. The prime work that Los and his sons and daughters effect in the pulsing city of Golgonooza “is to give forms to all uncreated things, particularly three-fold man,” on his way to four-fold wholeness, Damon notes. “They labour for life and love regardless of anyone” (J 59). Also contained in Los’s city is:

In Mahayana Buddhism a bodhisattva is someone who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings

All that has existed in the space of six thousand years.

Permanent and not lost, not lost nor vanish’d, and every little act,

Word, work, and wish that has existed, all remaining still . . .

One hair nor particle of dust not one can pass away. (J 13-14)

Los is the custodian of creation and in Golgonooza it is maintained. Frye says it well: “Nothing that the heroes, martyrs, prophets and poets of the past have done for it has been wasted; no anonymous and unrecognized contribution to it has been overlooked. In it is conserved all that the good man has done, and in it is completed all that he hoped and intended to do.”

The description of Golgonooza is not the only fourfold vision in Jerusalem. The fourfold city of man is the center of energy anchored in the first chapter, and answering back to its wonders is the vision of the fourfold man, Albion, in the final pages of the book. Curiously, Blake did not illustrate either vision; both are portrayed only in words. Indeed the illumination which accompanies the ecstatic vision of Albion with four faces and four bows on plate 98 is of humble minute particulars of his glorious body.

Lively little creatures are drawn: a snail, a frog, a moth, a spider, and a worm. Blake has deliberately avoided drawing the visions of Golgonooza and of the fourfold Albion. That work is left to the reader, who is called upon to create these images in his own multi-dimensional mind. Thus, two of the most significant “pictures” of the poem have been left to us to complete and, in so doing, participate in the building of Golgonooza and the rejuvenation of Albion.

This is an edited version of Blake’s City of Golgonooza in Jerusalem: Metaphor and Mandala by James Bogan (Colby Quarterly). To read the full article please click here.

‘Golgonooza’ by Andrea McLean, © 2015

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