Blake and the Zodiac, by Rod Tweedy

Here Comes the Sun King: Forging the Template of Solar Consciousness

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Introduction: The Forms and the Archetypes of Being

There’s a fascinating tradition of thought that links early formulations of the twelve aspects or ‘faces’ of the Zodiac with Plato’s esoteric theory of the Forms, the fundamental geometries and patterns which generate our world, and which casts an intriguing light on the original meaning of the Zodiacal Signs and their significance.

Plato theorised that the world was made of or structured through the movements of five geometric “solids”:  the tetrahedron, octahedron, hexahedron, icosahedron, and dodecahedron. These underlying structures or patterns were also thought to represent the basic elements which he supposed formed all matter in the universe through their various combinations: fire, air, earth, air, water, plus the universe itself (the mysterious fifth element of ‘aether’).

The Platonic ‘Faces’ of God 

Here already we get a sense that the same patterns and principles recur throughout everything – in mathematical geometries and in physical elements, in bodies, minds, buildings, and biologies – and that these underlying structures were fundamentally linked, or “isomorphic” (isos “equal”, and morphe “form” or “shape” – therefore a structure-preserving mapping between two structures of the same type).


The 12-sided Archetype of Being: Plato’s tetrahedron

Thus Plato assigned the tetrahedron (pyramid shape), with its sharp points and edges, to the element fire; the hexahedron (or cube), with its four-square regularity, to earth, and the other solids composed from triangles (the octahedron and the icosahedron) to air and to water, respectively. The one remaining regular polyhedron, the dodecahedron, with 12 pentagonal “faces”, Plato assigned to the heavens with its 12 constellations.

Because of Plato’s systematic development of a theory of the universe based on the five regular polyhedra, they became known as the Platonic solids. It is the fifth ‘solid’ that is of special interest and relevance to astrology and the Zodiac. For of the fifth Platonic solid, the dodecahedron, Plato obscurely remarked that “the god used [it] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven” (Timaeus). The dodecahedron with its twelve sides can be seen as representing the universe with the twelve zodiac signs corresponding to the twelve aspects or “faces” of the dodecahedron.

In his remarkable lecture ‘On Cosmology‘ (1983), the Jungian psychologist James Hillman discusses the Platonic solids, noting that they consist of the four basic shapes/elements plus one other which represents, he says, “the whole – the twelve – and these have a movement of twelve animals on them.” Similarly, in his influential book Process and Reality, the eminent philosopher and mathematician A.N. Whitehead notes that “the movements of these animal figures affect the soul as transitions of emotion”.

These twelve underlying structures or “faces” of existence therefore seem to have been understood as both geometric and biological (the “zoas” or “zodiac”, signifying “living creatures” and the basis of biological, as well as spatial, form). Indeed, what Plato saw as the twelve “faces” of the dodecahedron bears some striking similarities with the twelve “faces” of the zoas or “living creatures” that Ezekiel also saw in the “heavens” and which John the Divine described in the book of Revelation as constituting the basic movement or “chariot”  (“Wheels”) of God – the zodiacal wheel, composed of multiple inner wheels or faces. 

Mystic Wheel (The Vision of Ezekiel) by Fra Angelico (1451-2). The prophet Ezekiel is shown (bottom left), with St Gregory the Great (bottom right) in a mountainous landscape with the river Chobar running between them. In the top left of the panel is a text from the first book of Ezekiel outlining the prophet’s vision, which is shown below. Ezekiel leans back, his hands raised in surprise. His vision included four animalia who, ‘had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel’, (Ezekiel 1, v. 16). It is this wheel within a wheel which is shown here with a flaming circumference.

The Wheel of Being

The Zodiac signs themselves in large part refer to animals or stages of animal evolution and equilibrium, and in particular – as Whitehead acutely points out –  to affective cycles or structures which condition this evolution, or cosmic movement. The constellations of the Zodiac do not refer to “stars” as such, but rather to these invisible or concealed structures, these deep patterns within all living Being, which are so deep that the ancients saw them as written into or inscribed within the very fabric of the world around them.

The Living Wheels: the force that moves the stars moves us: they are living forms

They saw that as seasons followed or accompanied certain structures and progressions, and certain structures and progressions followed seasons, they did so because of an underlying affective or spiritual journey or pattern they were making, or taking. The processes, or processions, of seeding, growing, dying, rebirthing – all of which affected living things spiritually, physiologically, physiognomically, and psychologically – were not only movements of planets and polyhedra but also “transitions of emotion”, as Whitehead notes. The position of the planets aligned with and corresponded to these fundamental stages of biological and animate life – of the life of “living creatures”. And it is these structures that Man also encounters through life as well, and has to deal with, which is why the Signs of the Zodiac inform and underwrite the 12 “Labours” of Hercules (see The Labours of Hercules: An Astrological Interpretation by Alice Bailey).

The 12 Labours of Hercules (mosaic, 3rd century AD). These “labours” or stages of transition involved Hercules encountering the Nemean lion, the Lernaean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, the Ceryneian Hind, the Stymphalian birds, the Girdle of Hippolyta, the Augean stables (Augeas is the early Greek name for Capricorn), the Cretan Bull, and the Mares of Diomedes. As a number of commentators have pointed out, the labours have strong connections to the constellations encountered by the transit of the sun through the year. Many are associated with the Zodiacal animals and often have an association with one constellation. As a whole, these stages on his journey represent the passage of the sun (personified as Hercules) through the year and the Zodiac. Hercules’s adventures start at the Zodiac constellation of Cancer (the constellation Hydra has its head near it), in which the sun’s solstice occurs, and passes through each Zodiac sign in the order the sun passes through them.

This deeper affective or archetypal aspect to the dodecahedron Zodiac helps perhaps explain astrologer, and friend of William Blake, John Varley’s belief that forms and physiognomies are fundamentally interrelated (see his 1828 book A Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy). 

These key signs and structures were woven not only into the ancient myths and stories (such as those of the solar heroes Hercules and Mithras), and not only into the earliest written philosophy and mathematics (such as Plato), but also into the very buildings and constellations of their cities. As one commentator notes, “the ancient Greeks honoured the twelve signs of the zodiac in the sacred host of the Dodecatheoi, the twelve gods whose temples were placed in the twelve equally divided sections which radiated out from the centre of the city of Athens. Their popular worship shrouded the secret correspondences of sets of twelves observed in a multitude of natural and cultural phenomena. There were twelve hours of the day and night, twelve months in the year, twelve units in various measurements and weights, twelve labours, columns of sacred temples, and the twelve days between the winter solstice and the first day of the new year which marked a return to chaos and the subsequent rebirth of order. The many derivatives of the basic term dodecatheoi in the Greek suggest a fundamental twelve-part division discernible in many facets of human life. The number twelve itself was seen as symbolic of cosmic order, archetypally represented for much of the ancient world by the twelve points through which the zodiac revolves” (Symbols of the Eternal Doctrine: From Shamballa to Paradise, by Helen Valborg).

“A fundamental twelve-part division discernible in many facets of human life” (from top: wall painting of the 12 Olympian gods, by Giulio Romano, 1525–1535; Christ in the Centre of the Zodiac, Dekoulou Monastery, Greece, 16th century; the Dodecatheoi of the Babylonian clock). The division of the ecliptic into the zodiacal signs originates in Babylonian astronomy during the first half of the 1st millennium BC, at the same time Plato was exploring the twelve faces or “constellations’ of the dodecahedron in his Timaeus. From Babylon we not only get the Zodiacal calendar and the division of the solar year into 12 “months”, but also the division of the day into twelve “hours”, and the division of the hour into sixty “minutes” (the number of seconds in a minute, and minutes in an hour, comes from the base-60 numeral system of ancient Mesopotamia). That is to say, this Zodiacal structure is still how we navigate our place in both space and time. These astrological signs form a celestial coordinate system which shaped not only the universe but our actual psyches. They altered how we see, and therefore experience, space and time: as lineal and cyclical, for example – rather than, say, as an infinite and momentary Now.

Plato therefore spoke of the twelve signs (gods or theoi) as modes of manifestation of the single creative force which governs the universe, calling them the Gates of Heaven. The zodiac itself was associated with the Demiurge and the primordial Eros or the will to create. This is rather similar to the theme found in many cultures of the twelve fruits borne on the Tree of Life or the twelve tribal progenitors (the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples of Jesus). Metaphysically, the twelve divisions through which the sun seems to orbit have been seen for millennia as corresponding to the twelve degrees or stages in the continuous action of the active principle upon the passive.

Ezekiel’s Wheels by William Blake

This cosmic creation, within the division of twelve, involves vital combinations of numbers such as twice five plus two and three times four. It also involves depth and breadth of action on three and more dimensions, yielding the fifth and final of Plato’s regular solids, the dodecahedron. Just as the symbolism of each sign in the zodiac springs from the number it bears in the series, so the twelve pentagonal faces of the dodecahedron express the point, the line, the plane and, in their totality, all the geometric solids. Thus the dodecahedron, which Plato called the supreme spiritual metaphor for the One and the many, is a paradigmatic model to serve as the archetypal framework for every possible manifestation.


In arcane philosophy the hierarchy of creative powers is divided into seven, whose components four and three, when multiplied, equal twelve: the four bodies and three faculties of Brahma (the four elements and three gunas), thus yielding the twelve orders of the zodiac expressed three-dimensionally in the dodecahedron. (‘The Dodecahedron‘, from the Theosophy Trust).

The Stars and Urizen

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The emblem of the Lyncean Academy. The name ‘Lincei’ (lynx) was taken from Giambattista della Porta’s book Magia Naturalis (‘Natural Magic’), which had an illustration of the fabled cat on the cover. Galileo was inducted to the exclusive academy in 1611, and became its intellectual centre.

For Blake, as for Carl Jung a century later, these powerful and deep astrological or zodiacal ‘signs’ were projections from the occult (literally meaning ‘concealed’ or ‘covered over’) imaginative foundations, or human “unconscious” in Jung’s terms. The night sky, which seems so removed and remote, is in these systems of thought the alienated or dissociated (split off) portion of our cosmic oneness, which fell (into inner and outer, ‘up’ and ‘down’) when consciousness shifted in the Babylonian epoch  from the previously intuitive and immediate (right hemisphere, or the ‘Master’, in McGilchrist’s model) to the rationalising and linear ‘Emissary’, the Solar Logos, which drives and dominates the left hemisphere view of reality.

This is why Urizenic astronomers such as Galileo put the “Solar” at the centre of their psyches, or cosmographies. Galileo was part of a secret society called the Lyncean Academy, which originally consisted of just five men, clearly a significant number for those with an interest in geometry and the stars, and all of them had interests in the occult, natural magic, and alchemy (see The God of the Left Hemisphere, p. 96-98). The occult Lynceans or ‘Lynxes’ (as they were called), such as Galileo, saw in the sun an emblem of their occult divine ‘Light’ and Solar Logos, as did the earlier Egyptians and Gnostics. The secret society was founded by Federico Cesi, a young and extremely wealthy Italian nobleman who was a great admirer of Galileo’s interest in the heliocentric model. One can see why Galileo’s research would attract the attention of Cesi.

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Andreas Cellarius’s illustration of the Copernican system, from the Harmonia Macrocosmica (1660). Note the zodiacal circus on the outer circle. Galileo’s heliocentric universe was always intended to be a ‘magical’ one.

As Michael White writes in his classic (2007) biography of Galileo, “Galileo maintained very strong associations with Cesi and the other enthusiasts of the Lynxes. Immediately after dining with Federico Cesi in early April, when he met the other members of the academy, Galileo was invited to become the sixth member of their group. He accepted the invitation without hesitation, and in the membership book he wrote proudly: ‘I Galileo Galilei Lyncean son of Vincenzo, Florentine, age forty-eight years, in Rome. Written in my own hand on 25 April of the year of grace 1611’. The popular notion that Galileo believed in the heliocentric model for purely “rational” or scientific reasons, is a myth, promulgated by those who had similarly occult reasons for believing in the Solar Logos (or “Lucifer”, the Apollonian Prince of Light, as this entity or “social consciousness” is often referred to in the secret texts).

As Blake notes, “the stars belong to Urizen”, which explains why so many hyper left-hemispheric thinkers (Plato, Galleo, Hawking, Newton, Kepler) were and are so fascinated by the vast repetitive cycles of their minds, that is to say, of the invisible mechanisms of the “stars”. As Damon notes, in Blake’s work “the Stars symbolize Reason”, and constitute the visible machinery of Urizenic processes and laws: “they are assigned to Urizen” (Damon, p. 386). 


Types and Archetypes

Screen Shot 2021-06-06 at 08.51.06This correlation, or perhaps “alignment” would be a more appropriate word, between the rationalising processes of the brain and the fascination with and study of the stars and solar movements, was one made by both Blake and Jung. As Laurens van der Post notes, “astrology for Jung had little to do with the stars as such, and their direct involvement in the fate of man. It was a projected form of psychology, an attempt of antiquity, by way of the instinctive attitude, of seeking for a new truth in its reflection in the mirror of the world about us.” 

This involves almost a literal projection of deeper inner zoas or ‘types’ onto the vast canvas of the sky, onto the map of the heavens now seemingly “above” us – rather like a magic lantern show, emanating from the projector within our souls, our imaginative or “instinctive” (as Jung says) centres, and its breath-taking and symbolic scenes a mighty phantasmagoria, yet still only a small portion of the soul that is beaming itself throughout all things.

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“a mighty phantasmagoria”: what our unconscious looks like. (Image: the constellations with astrological signs of the zodiac, from Andreas Cellarius’s Atlas Coelestis: Harmonia Macrocosmica seu Atlas Universalis,1660)

But the projection, or reflection, in a sense also happens both ways. The Latin for “Circle”, as in the Zodiacal Circle, is “Circus”, so the Zodiacal Circus is what we’re in. That is to say, the “Zodiac” is a hint that the world has fallen into, or taken the shape of, this world – the world we currently see in, and with, and through, our post-Zodiacal eyes – one which is both bound and bounded by the ‘animal’ (zoa) archetypes and types.

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“The ‘God’ or centre of such a rationalising World is the Sun, the Solar Logos” (Image: ‘Satan in his Original Glory’ by William Blake). Blake constantly associated the figure of Satan both with the Sun or the solar consciousness that represents Urizenic, left-hemispheric thinking (as both Jung and Edinger also acknowledge), and also with the rationalising, ‘conscious’ Ego: “he is the Great Selfhood Satan: Worshipd as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth”. “I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun—I saw him on Primrose hill”, Blake once told Crabb Robinson, driving home the demonic nature of the God of popular religion and science. “He said ‘Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?‘ ’No’ I said ‘that (and Blake pointed to the sky) that is the Greek Apollo—He is Satan.”

It is a peculiarly embodied, affective, animal dimension or conception of being – one ruled or patterned through the main archetypes or phases of biological life, or the fundamental zoas, which run through all things like ore though a mine, or wine through water – defining them, and forming them. The model or matrix of the ‘Zodiac’ is in that sense the DNA behind DNA. And as Blake notes, the ‘God’ or centre of such a rationalising World is the Sun, the Solar Logos, and the beings located within the gravitational and psychological contours within that framework see themselves as “creatures”, or animals.

‘This World” (the “Fall into Division”, or “The Creation” as it’s sometimes called) is a world seemingly therefore driven by sex and death, “The World of Generation”, as Blake disparagingly calls it, the state of the Darwinian struggle for life, “devouring & devoured” (Europe), “the Generation of decay & death”, where “Life lives upon death & by devouring appetite all things subsist on one another”. It is this world that the Zodiac rules over, and serves to define.

The purpose of the invention of the Zodiac, in the early Babylonian, Sumerian and Greek cultures (in which the newly dominant left hemisphere suddenly emerged and took control of the human brain and therefore body), was to define this new world, to become its basic operating system, and to encourage humans to think that they were part of it rather than it being a part of them, as Blake insists. The point of it was to shut out Eternity, and replace it with a left-hemisphere or “rationalised” version of it, as even Plato acknowledges in his Timaeus (see The God of the Left Hemisphere, pp. 25-27).

The Zodiac, which literally means “circle of animals” (zōdiacus), is therefore a zone or belt in space projected onto the celestial sphere through which, from our viewpoint, the planets move. The word ‘zodiac’ is related to the words zoo, and zoological, and indeed zoa (Greek zôia, plural of zôion, or ‘animal’) – from which Blake derived his central archetype of ‘The Four Zoas’, the fundamental powers or living systems that drive and influence who we are.

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The narratives that still drive our lives

Záō or zṓon literally means “living” – a living creature (literally, “something alive”), though in the Bible, the term zṓon (“living creature”) is often mistranslated as “beast” (rather than “living being” or “living creature”). Interestingly, our word “influence” originally derives from and is rooted in this astrological framework, appropriately denoting the effect of this Zodiacal system on our psychological and physiological lives (it is technically an astrological term meaning “streaming ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character or destiny of men”, or an “emanation from the stars affecting one’s fate”). These embedded structures or ‘zoas’ are also, as Jung notes, our underlying drives – drives which literally “drive” the wheels of the Chariot, or Merkebah, through its various forms or “living creatures”. 

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Freud’s Chariot: The painting shows the merkabah as it appears in Dante’s Purgatorio. The merkabah is the wheeled car surrounded by the four living creatures, which first appears in the first chapter of Ezekiel. It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of the merkabah for Blake. Harold Bloom writes: “The central image of Blake, from whenever he first formulated his mythology, is Ezekiel’s, the Merkabah, Divine Chariot or form of God in motion. The Living Creatures or Four Zoas are Ezekiel’s and not initially Blake’s, a priority of invention that Blake’s critics, in their search for more esoteric sources, sometimes evade.”

And as van der Post notes in his study of Jung’s interpretation of astrology, “it was not only an ancient effort at developing a psychology of its own by projection on to the stars and their courses. It was also an effort to relate and read the meaning and character of man in terms of the quality of time. Astrology, for Jung, as any study of the real zodiac would show, had nothing to do with real astronomy. The stars and planets were used only as mirrors to reflect inner psychological patterns.” That is to say, one of the main by-products of the Zodiacal frame of reference was to bind us to linear Time, to bind us within Time, through making us believe that this is what Time is. In that sense, the Zodiac is one of the chief “mind-forg’d manacles”. It is no coincidence that Ezekiel saw his vision of the “Wheels” of God when he was in Babylon, “in the land of the Chaldeans’”, as he writes, and in captivity. In the Babylonian framework, it is a vision of the celestial machinery – the spine of Urizen.

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The “mind-forg’d manacles”. The purpose of the Babylonian state of mind, or Zodiacal model of the universe, was to keep us trapped within these endless repetitive cycles: revolving around the vast solar cycle, or chain of Apollo.


The Zodiac Man

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‘Zodiac Man’, from John Somer’s Astronomical Calendar (c. 1387)

The idea behind the Zodiac Man goes back thousands of years to Babylonia where man was considered to be a body that corresponded to the heavenly bodies. Over the millennia, some have always incorporated the entire universe into their bodies and psyches. Thus, part of the Medieval worldview was the idea that man was a microcosm (“a little world”) which reflected the macrocosm of the Ptolemaic universe. As the Earth was divided into regions influenced by the planets, similarly the body of man was divided into “regions” governed by signs of the Zodiac. Astrological signs were thought to influence the body and its health, and sketches of the “Zodiac Man” are common in medical treatises of the Middle Ages.

The concept of man as microcosm is thought to originate with the ancient Babylonians. The Egyptians and the Mayans had analogues, and ancient Mithraic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Vedic traditions also contain similar concepts. Microcosmic ideas are fleshed out in the works of Plato (4th-c. BCE), but the first use of the term “microcosmos” in Western philosophy appears later, briefly, in Aristotle’s Physics. Sometimes depicted in writings and drawings from ancient classical, medieval, and modern times, the Zodiac Man (Homo Signorum or “Man of Signs”) represents a roughly consistent correlation of zodiacal names with body parts.

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Blake’s Zodiacal Man

If Urizen equates with “the God of This World”, the Apollonian, rationalising Demiurge who is placed at the centre of the mind in the modern Galilean universe, then the 12 “Signs” of the Zodiac are his “Sons”.  As Damon notes in his entry on “Urizen’s Sons” in his excellent A Blake Dictionary: “They are the signs of the Zodiac … after whose names Urizen built the twelve halls of his palace [ = ‘Houses’ of the Zodiac] and erected the altar with twelve steps. They create the stars of heaven ‘like a golden chain to bind the Body of Man to heaven from falling into the Abyss’. With the daughters of Urizen (the Head, the Heart and the Loins – Eleth, Uveth, and Ona) they rule the astronomical heavens and the seasons”.

In Urizen’s palace, ‘three Central Domes after the Names of his three daughters were encompass’d by the twelve bright halls [of his sons]” (FZ ii:174]. That is to say, this is both a vertical and horizontal topography: the three dimensions of cognitive, affective, and sexual being, plus the spatial circle of time. As Blake suggests, the formation of the universe in its current manifestation was both a dreadful “Fall” (into division, into self-alienation of the Zodiacal Man, now turned inside out and upside down, so he now feels that he is revolving around an estranged “Centre”, and “part” of Nature, rather than Nature being “part” of him) and a Stabilization. It limited the fall into even further opacity and non-existence (contraction). 


Stonehenge and the New Solar Religion 

Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 20.01.58This stage of psychological development, or fall, occurred or coincided with the emergence of “Druid” structures and ways of seeing, and Blake sees in Stonehenge the representation, in massive stone form, of the projection of this new cosmos – or rather, the original template or projector for the projections.

As Harold Bloom remarks, in Blake’s Apocalypse, “the Zodiac forms the pillars of the serpent-temple”, the fixed order of the stars “that attempts tyrannically to regulate the life of man”. In Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion Blake strikingly records this process of “regulation” and cognitive stabilisation that followed, or accompanied, this dramatic psychic shift:

Placed in the order of the stars, when the five senses whelmed

In deluge o’er the earth-born man: then bound the flexile eyes

Into two stationary orbs concentrating all things:

The ever-varying spiral ascents to the heaven of heavens

Were bended downward, and the nostril’s golden gates shut,

Turned outward, barred and petrified against the infinite.

Thought changed the infinite to a serpent; that which pitieth

To a devouring flame; and man fled from its face and hid

In forests of night; then all the eternal forests were divided

Into earths rolling in circles of space, that like an ocean rushed

And overwhelmed all except this finite wall of flesh.

Then was the serpent temple formed, image of (the) infinite

Shut up in finite revolutions, and man became an Angel;

Heaven a mighty circle turning; God a tyrant crowned.

Thought changed the infinite to a serpent” – this is the key line in terms of the construction of Zodiacal perception: of humans hurtling around empty space, “a mighty circle turning”, with Apollo – the new Sun King of this damned world – at its beating heart. 

For as Frye notes, “there are in Blake, as in Swedenborg, two suns, one alive and unfallen, the source of life and light, and one dead, a ‘phantasy of evil Man’. The later is the zodiacal sun, symbolising the fallen conception of eternity as indefinite or endless recurrence. The image for this is the circle; and the serpent in a circular form with its tail in its mouth is therefore a perfect symbol of the zodiac, being so employed by the Druids.”

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“the twelve stones on Aaron’s breastplate”

He continues: “The precious stones with which the Covering Cherub or unfallen serpent is traditionally adorned then become zodiacal signs [ie the zodiacal ‘birthstones’]. In the priestly cult of Judaism the twelve stones on Aaron’s breastplate, according to Josephus, represent the zodiac; and the twelve sons of Jacob are connected with a zodiacal myth. This zodiacal pattern, which is frequent in Blake, always has the sinister significance of the unending cyclic repetition of time.”

The 12 Stones on Aaron’s breastplate therefore allude to the 12 tribes of Israel, the twelve Sons of Jacob, and the 12 Zodiacal Signs: all are isomorphic replications of the same underlying pattern, which is how reality appears to fallen (Urizenic) perception. The tradition that each of the twelve stones is associated with the time of birth of one of the twelve sons of Jacob is a clue to this deeper connection.

As one commentator remarks: “The colors associated with the four ‘cornerstone’ constellations are the best established. They are that the Lion is red, the Scorpion is black, the Water Bearer is blue, and the Bull is white.”

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And as Ann Dickinson Beal notes in her excellent study, ‘Can Such an Eye Judge of the Stars’: A Study of Star Imagery in William Blake’s Poetry, “the twelve Gods of Ulro who are identified as Satan (Milton 37.60) are seen in the night sky as the twelve signs of the Zodiac. In Blake’s prophetic language they connect with the circle of destiny, the sphere of the fixed stars which Urizen draws around the Universe and from which he looks out in envy and despair.” As she observes, Blake’s Jerusalem depicts “the starry wheels of Albion’s twelve sons, who are under the tyrannical rule of the Reasoning Spectre or Urizen, revolving as the constellations of the Zodiac above the seven furnaces of Los”:

The revolution of their wheels, which structures all according to an unending circle of opposition and annihilation, attracts both the soul (Jerusalem) and the body, the natural world (Vala). Accordingly, these wheels become the foundation of both religion and science, yet they are delusions because they measure the void that closes up the light of the Eternal Sun into the stars of the constellations.


The twelve Gods of Ulro, who are united in Satan who is the God of this world, are Gods of Abstract Religious Laws. To Blake, they are quite literally the Gods of this world because it is the worship of the abstracting reasoning faculty that has created the world that we live in. Thus the starry wheels of abstraction are the raison d’etre of the Covering Cherub that shadows the heavens.


As the starry wheels of the Zodiac reflect the abstract mind that revolves within us and reduces all to a void of doubt, despair, and death, shrinking Man himself “Into a little root a fathom long” (Jerusalem 77.7), the forty-eight constellations that move across the heavens with the Zodiac are the Polypus, “Forty-eight deformed Human Wonders of the Almighty” (Milton 37.54). They are the vegetated man that results from the grinding wheels of abstraction, a body with no thought or vision. The starry wheels separate the mind from the body but pull the body along with them in their revolutions into the void.

Screen Shot 2021-06-06 at 10.04.55The constellations of the northern sky are said by Blake to be ruled by Orion, a star configuration appearing throughout Blake’s poetry as the binding of man into the restrictive cycles of the Circle of Destiny. Likewise, the southern constellations are said to be ruled by Ophiuchus, a constellation that appeared in America as a symbol of the fall of man into the serpentine cycles of the natural world. “In all these constellations”, Beal notes, “the darkness behind the stars are the Polypus of the body of man that is pulled by the Priests that are the stars themselves, the heads of the Polypus, into the abstracting revolutions of the wheels of the Zodiac. This image reflects what the abstract reasoning power has done to the human body, its energies, its thought, its affections and its vision”.

The human body is basically all about energy – indeed the whole of the universe is basically all about energy, so the question then becomes, what drives this energy – what are the structures and forms through which this energy is manifest, and what “influences” them. All living creatures self-organise – indeed for Blake, “Form” is a dynamic – not a static or abstract (as in the Platonic schema) thing – indeed not even a “thing” – the Human Body is not a thing but a dynamo, a concretisation and distillation of vast cosmic processes and imaginative creativity. It is in this context that “zoas” derive so much of their importance, as embodied archetypes of consciousness. Throughout cultures, there have been attempts to recognise, systematise, and identify these deep correlations between inner and outer. 

As H. Stanley Redgrove observed in his article on Blake and Varley for the Occult Review, “the Galenical quadripartite classification of temperaments, namely into the phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic and sanguine, is naturally adopted, this corresponding to the traditional classification of the twelve signs of the Zodiac into four groups of three each, termed the watery, fiery, earthy and aerial triplicity respectively.” This again suggests that the idea of emotions (Luvah) might be at the heart of these signs and significances – a link between motion and emotion, as constellated through the key affective structures that all living creatures (or ‘zoas’) must embody in this dimension, and deal with, in their journey or solar cycle of self-realisation.

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Blake therefore uses the Zoas as a means of presenting the aspects of the psyche which he sees internally and recognizes as the structure of the human mind, and he does this in ways that strikingly prefigure Jung’s later exploration of the “fourfold” mind, and the role that living archetypes play in it. In his penetrating study of Jung’s work, for example, van der Post writes of the collective unconscious and archetypes of Jung as the patterns of the mind which organize its form and put to use the psyche’s energy:

He [Jung] revealed how in this collective unconscious of the individual man were infinite resources of energy, organized in definite patterns. Each of these patterns had at its disposal its own form of energy and somewhere located, as it were, in the center, between the unconscious and the conscious, there was a master pattern to which all the others subscribed and all their other energies could be joined in one transcendental orbit. He called these patterns, first of all, ‘primordial images,’ … but later changed to ‘archetypes,’ an idea rediscovered from Saint Augustine, and before him from Hermes Trimegistus, who proclaimed in the Poimandres, ‘You have seen in your mind the archetypal image!’ 

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That is to say, the basic stuff of the world – mental as well as material – is Energy; the Zoas are ways to organise or structure this. There are a number of basic patterns, or forms, for this – e.g. its polar/contrary/dialectic nature (Gemini, Libra), its affective drives to sacrifice itself for others (the Lamb), or to conquer and dominate others (the Bull), its own fluid and evolving nature (Aquarius), and so on. What Plato – already reeling into hyper left-hemispheric dissociation – sees as fixed geometrical Solids, or abstract, un-living forms – Ezekiel recognises as being rooted in the much deeper ’aspects’ or faces, of God, the divine energy of Being. It is these Faces or Zoas that fundamentally Form all things:

Four Universes round the Mundane Egg remain Chaotic

One to the North, named Urthona: One to the South, named Urizen:

One to the East, named Luvah: One to the West, named Tharmas

They are the Four Zoa’s that stood around the Throne Divine! (Blake, Milton).

In Jerusalem, however, we learn the Zoas have lost their original abilities and exemplify the opposite characteristics:

They [the Four Zoas] saw their Wheels rising up poisonous against Albion

Urizen, cold & scientific: Luvah, pitying & weeping

Tharmas, indolent & sullen: Urthona, doubting & despairing

Victims to one another & dreadfully plotting against each other

To prevent Albion walking about in the Four Complexions.

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What Solar Consciousness does to the “Master”, the Human Imagination

Blake’s fourfold vision of the fourfold vision factory, the human brain, evokes the visualisation of the Human Mind being divided both laterally or vertically (into left and right hemisphere: the “cold & scientific” Urizen on the one hand, or hemisphere, and the “doubting and despairing” right hemisphere on the other); and also divided or structured horizontally between the Conscious (above) and Unconscious (below), to form the basic Cross on which “Jesus” (the Human imagination, sacrificed to the new ascendent Solar Logos) is crucified. The result of this self-division is that the unconscious becomes, like the bodily Tharmas, “indolent & sullen” (rather as Freud sees the contemporary id), and Luvah becomes – like the conscious patient in therapy – pitying and self-divided (“when Luvah assum’d the World of Urizen to the South”).

This cruciform also aligns with, and correlates with (in its fallen form) the two opposing solstices, and the two opposing equinoxes, in whose endless dialectics all matter is built or generated, or perceived. Or to put this another way: we don’t see reality how it is, we see it how we are.

It is not a coincidence, in other words, that these “primordial images” (as Jung calls them) are projected – onto the night sky – like a huge ciné reel – depicting the inverse, outside-in, self-divided nature of this new ‘psyche’ on a magnificent and bewildering scale. What we call normal consciousness is the naturalised form of this radical psychotic consciousness. The cycle of the Zodiac repeatedly shows us our own psychic history and our entrapment within its endless solar journey.

What lies beyond them? As Damon acutely writes: “Before Ezekiel, the huge statues of the guardians of the Assyrian palace gates were sculptured with the face of a man, the head of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the body of an ox.” That is, these immensely powerful Zoas are also gateways or guardians, deep protective Forms – rather like the Covering Cherub (whose 12 previous stones, we’ve already seen, decorate Aaron’s “breastplate”), who stands guard to the entrance of Eden. Does the Zodiac, therefore, present a similar challenge and serve a similar function? – to keep us all locked into this heliocentric, naturalising, solar consciousness “universe” (i.e., way of thinking).

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The Zodiac: To Keep Us Out? “The huge statues of the guardians of the Assyrian palace gates were sculptured with the face of a man, the head of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the body of an ox.” (Guardian gate sculpture from the Palace of Assyrian king Sargon II at Dur-Sharruken).

“The activities of the Zoas during the Last Judgment are detailed in The Four Zoas”, notes Damon, suggesting precisely this sort of apocalyptic (literally “un-covering”) function. Before they begin their operations, their spiritual forms appear around the Throne: ‘four Wonders of the Almighty,/ incomprehensible, pervading all, amidst & round about,/ Fourfold, each in the other reflected: they are named Life’s in Eternity./ Four Starry Universes going forward from Eternity to Eternity’.” Note the words Blake uses – “Wonders”, “Almighty”, and their “incomprehensible” nature – a remarkable word for Blake – who so often seemed be able to ‘comprehend’ the incomprehensible – to use.

At the start of The Four Zoas Blake writes: 

[What] are the Natures of those Living Creatures the Heavenly Father only

[Knoweth] no Individual [Knoweth nor] Can know in all Eternity

Might this suggest that these Zoas – like they say of God – are the origins of Containment – the condition which make our comprehension possible, and which therefore originate beyond it? Like the cup and its capaciousness?  That they constitute the original ‘Houses’ or mansions, of containment – of the Zodiac. 

These are not Stars, or Signs, or Platonic Abstract Forms, or Geometrical Shapes. These are living Forms. Living Creatures. This is what the universe is made of: deep patterns and organisation Beings. Relations, not Ratios. And their heart, Blake now reveals, is both human, and humane, inter-involved: 

Four Mighty Ones are in every Man;

a Perfect Unity

Cannot Exist. but from the Universal

Brotherhood of Eden

The Universal Man. To Whom be

Glory Evermore Amen

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Rod Tweedy, PhD, is the author of The God of the Left Hemisphere: Blake, Bolte Taylor and the Myth of Creation (Karnac, 2012), a study of Blake’s work in the light of modern neuroscience; the editor of The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness (Karnac, 2016), and the editor of The Divided Therapist: Hemispheric Difference and Contemporary Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2020). He is also an active supporter of Veterans for Peace UK and and the user-led mental health organisation, Mental Fight Club.

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