Boehme and Blake: The Alchemy of Perception

Heaven and Hell: The Human Imagination and the Transformation of Reality 

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Introduction

jacob-boehme-dossier“Paracelsus & Behmen appear’d to me”, Blake once confided in a letter to his friend and fellow artist John Flaxman, “before the American Revolution”Blake’s remark reveals that Boheme – or “Behmen”, as Blake here refers to the German mystic, theologian, and “shoemaker Antichrist” (as one critic splendidly described him, in reference to both his profession and his unorthodox spiritual views) – was a key figure even in his formative years, shaping and transforming the way he saw the world. This post explores the nature of that transformation – and indeed explores the nature of transformation itself, a vital alchemical principle and realisation about the peculiarly fluid, evolving, and self-realising nature of reality and the psyche.

Blake was born in 1757, and since the “American Revolution” didn’t start until 1775 (and the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776), this means that Boehme began to exert his influence on Blake even when he was still a teenager. This deep influence (another key alchemical concept, meaning “in-flow“, and specifically “the flowing in of ethereal fluid affecting human destiny”) lasted his whole life. As Damon notes, “Boehme’s writings affected Blake profoundly, a fact generally overlooked, because Boehme is hard reading. Struggling to record his discoveries, he used the vocabulary of Scripture, astrology (although he was a Copernican), and Paracelsus, thus initiating the school which interpreted alchemy mystically; and at times he was driven to invent terms of his own, which he called ‘the Language of Nature,’ and which we might call subjective philology.”

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Damon’s A Blake Dictionary, one of the most insightful and helpful introductions to Blake ever written.

Indeed, Damon has provided one of the most succinct and illuminating summaries of the key aspects of Boehme’s work and its bearing on Blake’s own complex system of mythology and way of thinking. His observations are useful in laying the foundation for the later exploration and comparison of the visions of both writers that this article will focus on:

What influenced Blake most in these difficult writings was Boehme’s analysis of the psyche and the interaction of its parts. There are, he saw, three worlds. First of all is the Dark Fire-World, which he called Hell and which has since been named the Subconscious. It contains all the basic impulses—all the deadly sins. Although evil, these are the sources of life itself.

Above is the Light World (Heaven). As the evil instincts rise, a certain divine spark transmutes them from Evil to Good. The Deadly Sins become the Virtues: selfishness becomes generosity, lust becomes love, and so on.

These two worlds, Hell and Heaven, are essential to each other; they exist simultaneously in God. Thus there is the Opposition of Contraries in God himself, without which there could be no life.

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Freher’s remarkable illustration for Boehme’s principle of the “three worlds”. So much is contained within it. Note how the intersection of the dark and light creates an Eye (the vesica piscis). Also note those stunning creatures swimming in the deep, a beautiful convergence of the submarine and the subconscious, operating on both levels simultaneously. How the fiery anger of the dragons generates and in fact underlies the light and energetic luminescence of the dove. The only unfortunate aspect of Freher’s images are their rather static geometry: for Boehme, as for Blake (and later Hegel), these “three worlds” are in reality massively dynamic, intersecting forces and processes, constantly regenerating and regurgitating reality. Perhaps imagine the sound that this image would make (as sound, for Boehme, was one of the vital aspects of God – apprehended through resonance, reverberation, the spoken Word, breathing, and music).

The third World is the Outer World of Nature. This is a mere “outbirth” of the others, a projection of Man. Boehme has much to say about this “astral” world with its starry wheels, which place Man under the rule of physical laws; but these laws of cause and effect are actually an expression of the spiritual realities underlying them. The human body is part of Nature; the soul within gives it form. Nature is Law; God is Liberty.

The problem of salvation is that of keeping a harmonious balance of the parts. The Fall occurred as a lack of balance, specifically the ambition of Lucifer to dominate the Heart of God (Jesus).

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The frontispiece to Blake’s great reworking and development of Boehme’s ideas about “Heaven” and “Hell”. Heaven and Hell are contraries, necessary polarities of the divine energy. The orthodox and the religious misunderstand this, the polar nature of reality, and constantly demonise one and idealise the other – a bit like trying to demonise magnetism. They do this because they are rooted in hyper-left brain rationality (Urizen), which hates sensuous bodily existence (judged as ‘bad’, as compared to its pure, solar, holy programming) and promulgates notions of Good and Evil in order to divide reality, emphasis Judgmentalism, and facilitate social control (the rule of the Upper over the Lower).

Boehme’s discovery of the Three Worlds solved for Blake the question how a God of Love could create a place of everlasting punishment for his children. God is good; all things that proceed from him are good in essence, nor can that essence ever be corrupted. Therefore “Hell,” which is of God (and this point bothered Boehme) must be good; and the Life Force proceeding from it (the libido, Blake’s “Energy”) cannot be “evil,” and far from being everlasting pain, is “Eternal Delight.” Everything that lives is holy.

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Therefore, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake used the words “Heaven” and “Hell,” “Good” and “Evil,” as mere technical terms, without moral meaning of any sort. Boehme had seen clearly but had misunderstood what he saw. His Dark World is indeed the source of life; its flames appear to be “torment and insanity” only to the short-sighted Angels. Boehme’s Light World is Blake’s restraining force, or “Reason” (the superego), which is not creative, and if not itself restrained may easily become a destructive tyrant.

The three worlds correspond to Milton’s (Hell, Heaven, and Earth is the order in which he presents them), also to Swedenborg’s; but both sages overlooked the dynamic relationship of the two and retained the old moral values; for which Blake twitted Milton (MHH 5–6) and reproved Swedenborg (Mil 22:50–54).

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Boehme placed the Imagination as man’s central power; it is the creative force. All things are generated out of the Imagination. He constantly attacks “Reason,” which is wholly unable to compete with the directness of actual perception, or Vision.

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The activity of the Contraries produces motion in the two Worlds: a contraction, followed by expansion and rotation; their opposed contact produces the divine spark. Urizen’s initial activities are this same contraction, expansion, and rotation (Ur 3:38, 37, 18), though without producing a spark, only a conflagration.

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Another Blakish point: Boehme constantly (and particularly in the Aurora) identified the joy of children with the joy of heaven. (Damon, A Blake Dictionary).

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Imaging the Structure of Consciousness: Both Boehme and Blake provide structural models or Images for these vast, implicit, and invisible powers and processes that constantly shape reality – including the way we see that reality. Blake’s and Freher’s models of the psyche (ie models of God) can be seen as direct antecedents of later models, such as those provided by Jung and Freud. Interestingly, Freud analyzes the human psyche in terms of three fundamental processes or “elements”, which he called the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego. Jung also grasps this underlying trinitarian structure (Hegel’s principle of dynamic synthesis) but, like Blake, ultimate preferred a four-fold structure to describe consciousness. As John Michael Greer notes, Jungian theory “considers most threefold patterns to be unbalanced, and considers fourfold symmetry to be a sign of psychological wholeness.”

This post seeks to lay the visions of both writers side by side, so that the insights of one might act as a catalyst for the other (just as Boehme’s original works acted as a catalyst for Blake’s early thought processes). In this way, the illuminations of one vision act on and help to transform the other – rather like the gleams of the pewter dish that gave rise to Boehme’s original vision into the nature of Being in 1600. As Damon remarks of this remarkable and life-transformative experience, “a ray reflected from a polished metal dish filled him with the light of God and opened to him the mysteries of the universe”. Of this revelatory moment, which apparently only lasted fifteen minutes (at least in terms of quotidian or fallen ‘time’), Boehme himself recalled:

“I saw and knew the Being of all Beings, the Byss (the ground or original foundation), and Abyss (that which is without ground, or bottomless and fathomless); also the birth or eternal generation of the holy Trinity; the descent, and original of this world, and of all creatures, through the divine wisdom; I knew and saw in myself all the three worlds ….” [I.e., the divine; the dark or fiery; and the visible or ‘external’ world]

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The Eyes in the Chariot: title page of Boehme’s Aurora superimposed over Blake’s The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne.

The following passages from Boehme are chosen not only for their great beauty and profundity but also because of their similarity to some of Blake’s most famous and striking observations.

This juxtaposition of vision thereby hopes to convey a sense of the historical context and lineage for such unusual and mysterious insights, as being part of a far deeper spiritual tradition than that accessed by or marketed through the orthodox churches and sciences of our societies, with their crude and literal theories of “Heaven and Hell”, their equally crude and mechanical theories of “evolution” or self-realisation, and their ubiquitous and relentless subjugation to Vernunft – to the starry, limiting, and deceiving Mills of Rationality.

Seeing Blake next to Boehme necessarily emphasises their correspondences (a very Boehmian term) rather than their differences – and I hope this will be useful for the contemporary reader. But what is remarkable about Blake’s use of Boehme – as with his equally radical reinterpretations of Milton, the Bible, Swedenborg, and many other writers and traditions – is what he makes of them. In particular, it again suggests how remarkably ‘modern’ and adept Blake is in what he choses to accept or reject from his sources. Gone, for instance, are the rather strange and problematic, antiquated references to “bitterness” and “dryness” as key principles of Boehme’s work, or his doctrine of “signatures”, “Tincture”, and the role of “Sophia”. Blake profoundly updates and upgrades Boehme’s vision, expunging the errors and revealing what was hid within.

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As Boehme scholar Andrew Weeks notes, “Boehme’s mystical speculation seems to anticipate psychoanalysis. The dark-world and the light-world can be compared to the id and the ego.” Indeed, Boehme’s speculations on these dynamic, multiple, interpenetrating domains – superbly illustrated by Freher in the editions Blake saw and admired – strikingly resemble modern formulations of the structure of the psyche, such as those by Freud and Jung (above). For Boehme (as for Blake) these principles operated on all levels of reality – not only internally but also externally, in the growth and realisation of all Forms.

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The Visionary Moment: Gleams without Words

“Sitting one day in his room his eyes fell upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendor that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundations of things” (R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness)

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Details of an eighteenth-century pewter dish. You wonder what Boehme saw when he looked into the dish and some revelation gleamed its insights into him. What do you see in it? The dark side of a moon? The same pattern or process in the parts as in the whole?  How an earthly dish resembles a moon, both reflecting geometries? Do you see a white swan – or perhaps a pelican? – arising from the deep? In alchemy, the White Swan state or stage occurs when “when the alchemist begins to experience the inner world as being light filled – the initial inner brightness which is often erroneously mistaken for true illumination. This is merely a first conscious encounter with the etheric world, and in comparison with physical sense experience is for many souls so overpowering as to be pictured as bright white light. The alchemical tradition recognised this and symbolised this stage as the White Swan. The swan is a bird which is rarely seen in flight, but rather swimming upon lake or river, gracefully moving on the surface of water- in soul terms, on the soul’s surface, its etheric interface with the physical” (The Birds in Alchemy, by Adam McLean)

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Boehme’s Text and Blake’s Images

The Serpent of Doubt: Rationality, Adam, and the Rejection of the Transcendent Function

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The Temptation and Fall of Eve, by William Blake (1808). Note the lightning flashes, a key symbol for Boehme: “The ‘flash’ (Blitz) separates the dark world from the light world.” As with physical lightning, these are significant discharges of energy from one plane to another, which signal a balance or imbalance – part of the restless underlying activity of the psychic universe (God). In Boehme’s system of the 7 stages of manifestation, this relates to the third stage – “tension” or what he calls “bitterness”, a sort of aching within all Being when it becomes aware of its own self-division and separation: “For between harshness [attraction] and bitterness [repulsion] fire is generated”. It’s the desire of the moth for the star, or for the rational soul for the divine source – except that the rational soul doesn’t understand that it is its own rationality that’s the cause of its sense of separation from it in the first place. In a sense, this restless “bitterness” underlies and drives all Being – from the anxious activities of DNA to the perpetual meiosis and mitosis of cell division – a sort of dreadful angst within all things: “But it finding no rest, and being so continually generated from beneath, it is as a turning wheel, which turneth anxiously and terribly with the twinkling flash furiously, and so the flash is changed into a pricking [stinging] fire, which yet is no burning fire, but like the spark struck from a stone” (Boehme)

Boehme: ”For it is lamentable, that since the fall of Adam, we should be so continually cheated and befooled by the devil to think that we are not the children of God, nor of his essence.

He continually putteth the monstrous shape or form into our thoughts, as he did into our mother Eve, which she gazed too much upon, and by her representing it in her imagination, she became a child of the world, wholly naked and vain, and void of understanding.

But do not suffer the lying spirit, the old serpent, to darken our mind, who is the inventor of a thousand tricks … When he seeth that he cannot catch man, by making him doubtful of the mercy of God, then he maketh him careless, so that he accounteth all as nothing.

[For] the earthly Adam knoweth nothing of the Divine heavenly Adam, and therefore there is strife in man, and man is contrary to himself … seeing that we are dead in Adam to the divine essence.

And albeit that reason suggesteth doubts (whereby a sinner is terrified, and stands amazed and astonished at the anger of God), yet let the will only in all simplicity and unfeigned sincerity directly cast itself into the mercy of God, and wholly lie down and shroud itself in the suffering and death of Christ, and surrender itself to God through Christ … you must be born again (that is, we must wholly disclaim and depart from our own reason, and come again into resignation and self-denial … and, as it were, stupefy or mortify our reason).

Therefore I put you in mind as a friend, and exhort you not to hearken after the vain babbling and prating of reason, or to be moved at the proud censure and judgement of the same, so as thereby to condemn or despise the gifts of any man, for he that doth so, contemneth the spirit of God.

It is written, the Natural Man receives not the Things of the Spirit, nor the Mystery of the Kingdom of God, they are Foolishness unto him, neither can he know them … For a Man’s own Reason, without the Light of God, cannot come into the Ground [of them], it is impossible; let his Wit be ever so high and subtle, it apprehends but as it were the Shadow of it in a Glass.

Outward [Rational] Life has no higher understanding and can reach no further than that thing wherein it dwells, namely the Stars and four Elements.

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Satan Calling up his Legions, by William Blake (c. 1800-1805). This scene is not set in “hell”, as traditionally conceived, but in Boehme’s state of Anger, a necessary aspect of God (God, in Boehme’s world, is divided between Anger and Mercy, Left and Right, Heaven and Hell). Adam may be the naturalising rationality that forgets its God and succumbs to the serpents of Doubt, but Satan is the real driving force behind this process – a monstrous, devouring Ego that uses rationalising judgmentalism to secure its position within the Brain. But what really drives him, as both Boehme and Blake realised, is anger – the fury of the jilted lover, the lost programme, the pain of separation. Hence the flames, his internal state. But since separation is a necessary aspect or stage of realisation, Satan is in many ways justified: what he must learn to do is harness the fire and use it to propel him towards God, which is love. The angry God part is a very deep part of Being: ie why do we get angry? (ie why does Being get angry with itself?) Boehme even calls it “the tree of anger”: “for God calleth himself also an angry zealous God; which is not so to be understood, that God is angry in himself, but in the spirit of the creation or creature which kindleth itself”. Our anger – God’s anger – is one of the hardest things to overcome – that is, to transmute.

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Hell: It’s hard to think of an image that more closely resembles popular ideas of Hell. This is in fact a close up of that entity so beloved of the left brain, and of all left brain religions (Apollo, Horus, Mithras, Druidism) – the Sun, the archetype of the Solar or Egoic Consciousness, as Jung notes. Out of its barbaric furnace, the Earth has – over aeons – transformed its murderous fiery heat into a source of beautiful full-spectrum atmosphere and the conditions for life (Boehme’s stage 3 evolving into stage 4), which of course is utterly impossible within the lifeless, devouring, H-bomb sun above – the entity that most religious people pray to. Images (above): a 200,000 mile long filament of solar material that erupted on the sun in 2013, ripping through the sun’s atmosphere and leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. (Below): the coronal mass ejection of 2012, seen as it was exploding outward into space. An image of the Earth has been inserted to provide scale.

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The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun: ‘The Devil is Come Down’, and The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, by William Blake (c. 1805). This is the ultimate state of what Boehme calls “Anguish”, the third Stage of the process of creation and separation, linked with anger, fire, and hell.

That self-reason (which being void of God’s spirit, is only taught and instructed from the bare letter,) doth cavil, taunt, deride, and despise whatsoever doth not punctually agree and conform to the canons and institutions of the Universities and high schools, which I do not wonder at, for it is from without, and God’s spirit is from within … its understanding is from the stars, and ’tis nothing else but a counterfeit shadow of fancy in comparison of the divine wisdom.

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The Angry Angel: The Left Hemisphere Emissary

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Satan Arousing the Rebel Angel, by Blake (1808). As Milton’s Satan eloquently declares, summing up the whole stance of the rationalising ego and its Fall: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”. The prime motivation of the left hemisphere – the luminous “Emissary” which has now become an oppressive tyrant – is “power“, as McGilchrist acutely notes (“dominion”, in Biblical terms). It would rather be miserable, separate, suicidal – but in charge of its misery – than serving, or accepting that it is not God, but is subject to God (to the “Master”, in McGilchrist’s metaphor). In Boehme’s terms, he is still trapped in the 3rd level or state of evolution, anguish.

”What then moved the devil to be angry and evil? … [H]e saw that he was a prince, standing in the first Principle, and so despised the birth of the Heart of God, and the soft and very lovely influence thereof, and meant to be a very potent and terrible lord in the first Principle, and would work in the strength of the fire; he despised the meekness of the Heart of God.

The fiery Darkness is is called Hell, or God’s Anger, wherein the Devils dwell … when the  will breaks off from the unity, and will live after its own desire, as the Devils have done … And the Soul comes to be damned thus, when the fiery will breaks itself off from the Love and Unity of God, and enters into its own Natural Propriety, that is, into its Evil properties. [A]nd this is the hellish Fire, and the Anger of God, when it is made manifest, as may be seen in Lucifer.

Now understand right what the ground of Fire is, namely Cold from the Compression, and Heat from the Anguish … Wherefore then doth God suffer such strife and contention to be in this time? The life itself standeth in strife, that it may be made manifest, sensible, and palpable, and that the wisdom may be made separable and known.

For God calleth himself also an angry zealous God; which is not so to be understood, that God is angry in himself, but in the spirit of the creation or creature which kindleth itself; and then God burnt in the first Principle therein, and the spirit of the creation or creature sufferers pain, and not God.

This is as was mentioned before; the harshness is the prima materia, or first matter, which is strong, and very eagerly and earnestly attractive, that is Sal [the alchemical notion of “Salt” described  by Boehme elsewhere as “the sharp Magnetical Desire of Nature”; Sal wants – it earnestly wants – hence is the source or correlate of ‘attraction’]: The bitterness is in the strong attracting, for the spirit sharpeneth itself in the strong attracting, so that it becometh wholly aching [anxious or vexed].

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Blake’s “Tyger” is in many ways a remarkable instantiation and bringing to life of Boehme’s ideas about the underlying energy of the universe being linked to “fire”, “darkness”, and “hell” (hence Blake’s otherwise rather puzzling links in the poem between the tiger and night, burning, fire, and furnaces, and his dialectical opposition between the “Tyger” and the “Lamb”, as necessary contraries of being). Darkness and fire here, as so often in Blake, are not seen negatively (as if they were “bad” – a religious misunderstanding of such contraries), but if anything are the source of life and light. As he notes in his very Boehmian work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence, and now seem to live in it in chains, are in truth the causes of its life and the sources of all activity”. These titanic fires and forces (as with the subterranean energies of the Id, which they closely resemble) only become destructive for humans when they are repressed or perverted. Anger or anguish, for instance, is a natural if mistaken response to the realisation that one is separate from what one loves – that one part of being is seemingly separate from another, which it desires but is often frustrated by. Once you realise that what you are desiring is actually “God” and that you are already “God’, this energy becomes transmuted into love and forgiveness (“mercy”): hell becomes heaven, in Boehme’s words.

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Which is the Way: the Left or the Right? Anger or Mercy? Hell or Heaven? Judgment or Forgiveness?

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The Vision of the Last Judgment, by Blake (1808). The scene shows a Last Judgment scene, an image Blake repeatedly returned to in his life, showing not a single event but a constant dynamic. Figures on the left perpetually fall, driven headlong (that is, but their own form of consciousness: rationality and judgmentalism); those on the right forever ascend, seeking the divine. No one is damned; both sides are necessary stages of manifestation, and the one can suddenly transform into the other.

“I judge none, and to condemn any is a false and idle arrogancy, and vain prating; the spirit of God Himself judgeth all things; if that be in us, what need we care for prating, I much rather rejoice at the gifts of my brethren; if they have had other manner of gifts to hold forth than I, should I therefore judge them? Doth any herb, flower, our tree say until the other, thou art sour and dark, I will not stand by thee? Have they not all one mother whence they grow?

Heaven and Hell are within one another … He is in his own essence and substance a twofold man.

God is in heaven, and the heaven is in man … the Union of the Deity and Humanity is very clear.

When the light ascends, one spirit sees the other; and when the sweet spring-water in the light penetrates all the other spirits, then one tastes the other; then all the spirits come alive, and the force of life generates everything; and in the same force, one smells the other, and through this surging and penetrating one feels the other, and everything is a cordial loving, a friendly seeing, sweet smelling, love-feeling, blissful kissing, eating, drinking of one another, and love-strolling. [cf Blake: “Embraces are Comminglings: from the Head even to the Feet: And not a pompous High Priest entering by a Secret Place.”]

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The Day of Judgement, by Blake (1805). God is torn between ‘anger’ (left hand side) and ‘mercy’ or love (right hand side) – as we all are. As Waterfield notes: “The wrath of God is symbolised by His left hand while the quality of mercy and love, with which it is intimately bound up, is called His right hand” – hence, in traditional topographies, Jesus “sits” at his right hand – i.e., is the merciful or loving side of this complex energy. In Kabbala, the Sephirothic Tree of Life (again representing stages of manifestation) is similarly divided or structured, with its left pillar denoting God’s severity or anger and the right pillar his mercy. The bilateral pillars also represent different kinds of values or electric charges, again suggesting the presence of these deep forces within all things – note how Blake’s Judgement scenes often resemble stomachs or reproductive organs, physical as well as imaginative states and processes.   

This is the blessed bride who takes delight in the bridegroom, wherein is love, joy, and bliss; light and clarity; fragrant small and an amiable and sweet taste. Oh and eternal! How can a celestial creature take the full measure of its joy! Oh love and bliss! You have no end. One sees no end to you; your depth is without measure; you are everywhere but in the grim devils that have corrupted you within themselves.

Thus our flesh before the fall was heavenly, out of the heavenly limbus … a kind of transparent crystalline material property, in spiritual flesh and blood … for man shall be then wholly like the spiritual world, which as yet is hidden.

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It’s also interesting in this respect that the Human Brain is profoundly divided into Left and Right, each with their own cognitive and emotional worlds, and each delivering a different reality. The left brain, strongly associated with the rationalising and egoic processes of Blake’s ‘Urizen’ and ‘Satan’, is also strongly identified with anger, as McGilchrist notes: “Anger is robustly connected with left frontal activation. Aggression is motivating and dopamine plays a crucial role in the rewards it offers.” The right hemisphere, by contrast, is strongly connected with empathy and the more merciful and inter-relational side – with mercy: “Self-awareness, empathy, identification with others, and more generally inter-subjective processes, are largely dependent upon … right hemisphere processes” (Decety and Chaminade, 2003)

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In many spiritual systems, such as Kabbalah and the Hermetic tradition, the knowledge that the contrary processes of anger and mercy, repulsion and attraction, dark and light, are related to the microcosmic processes within the human body (and specifically the human brain) is frequently alluded to. As Blake puts it, adapting these ideas in part from Boehme, “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.” In his exploration of the Kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzirah, for instance, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan notes that in this mystical tradition, “Wisdom (Chakhmah, depicted in the image above as stage 2 of manifestation) is associated with the nonverbal right hemisphere of the brain, while Understanding (Binah, depicted as stage 3) is associated with the verbal left hemisphere.” The Sephirotic Tree of Life is often depicted in the form of a human body (as with da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and Blake’s reference to Adam Kadmon, as well as of course to “the Human Form Divine”), with the left and right sides corresponding to and reflecting powerful principles and stages of creation.

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Nature as the Re-presentation or Similitude of Reality

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‘Adam’ is the state that emerges when the rationalising left brain processes have taken over the mind and it no longer has access to God, or to the divine (is no longer able to see a world in a grain of sand). It signifies the rejection of the transcendent function, and the eclipse of the right hemisphere, as Jordan Peterson notes: “In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan decides that he can do without the transcendent—he can do without God. That’s why he foments rebellion. The immediate consequence, from Milton’s perspective, was that as soon as Satan decided that what he knew was sufficient, and that he could do without the transcendent—which you might think about as the domain outside of what you know—immediately, he was in hell.” The Adam programme converts Presence into Re-presentation, into the world of apparently separate material Objects in space, or “Nature” as it’s commonly known.

“For God, who is a spirit, and also a being, hath manifested Himself by the external world in a similitude, that the spirit might see itself in the being essentially, and not only, but that the creature likewise might contemplate and behold the being of God in the figure, and know it.

What then is the body of man?  It is the visible world; and image and quintessence, or compound of all that the world is; and the visible world is a manifestation of the inward spiritual world, come out of the eternal light, and out of the eternal darkness, out of the spiritual compaction or connection; and it is also an image or figure of eternity, whereby eternity hath made itself visible; where self-will and resigned will, viz. evil and good, work one with the other. [cf Blake: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”]

His first image stood in paradise, in the angelical world, but he lusted after the external world (that is, after the astral and elemental world), which hath swallowed up and covered the previous image of the internal heaven, and ruleth now in the similitude as in its own property. 

We, human as we are, live in the four elements and we ourselves consist of the properties of the four elements. In us these elements are present in a figurative manner: but outside us they exist in a nonfigurative manner, but the elements are one and the same; and so it is with the person of Christ. The whole Angelical world (which is the second principle) is His bodily being or personal essence.

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The rationalising Adam programme effectively turns man inside out. He forgets that the world is the projected Imagination of which he is a part (here we see his inner microcosm or vision being pulled out of him by Rahab, Vala, and Tirzah, denoting the new dominance of the Imaginative by the Natural and the loss of the Divine Vision). As Blake writes, “in your own Bosom you bear your Heaven/ And Earth, & all you behold, tho it appears Without it is Within / In your Imagination of which this World of Mortality is but a Shadow”. Thus “Reality was Forgot & the Vanities of Time & Space only Rememberd & calld Reality”. As Boehme notes, Nature is a ‘similitude’ or externalised aspect of projection of God, “an image or likeness proceeded from God’s being”. Being part of and subject to ‘Time’ in this world, these images appear to be temporal, but are manifestations of something permanent and indeed eternal: “This world of Imagination is the World of Eternity it is the Divine bosom into which we shall all go after
the death of the Vegetated body  This World is Infinite & Eternal whereas the world of Generation or Vegetation is Finite & [for a small moment] Temporal   There Exist in that Eternal World the Permanent Realities of Every Thing which we see are reflected in this Vegetable Glass of Nature”.

The true Divine Chaos, wherein all things lie, namely a Divine Imagination, in which the Ideas of Angels and Souls have been seen from Eternity, in a Divine Type and Resemblance; yet not then as Creatures, but in resemblance, as when a man beholds his face in a Glass therefore the Angelical and human Idea flowed forth from the wisdom, and was formed into an Image … a Subject and Resemblance of the infinite and unreachable Unity [which] forms and models the Divine understanding in the Wisdom; for the Wisdom is the Passive [the imprints, the patterns], and the Spirit of God is the Active, or Life in her [i.e., is the imprinter or imager of the pattern], as the Soul in the Body.

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Changing Angels into Dragons: Alchemy and the ‘Trans’ nature of God 

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The Number of the Beast is 666, by Blake (c. 1805). This image seems to vividly capture the whole ‘trans’ or transformational aspect to Reality – indeed, seems to capture it in mid-process. Alchemy was all about studying these processes, and the dominant myths of our culture centre on these changing states – the fall of Satan from luminous angel to demonic Dragon; the expulsion from Eden, the slow journey from captivity to freedom, the eternal quests involving struggle, suffering, and potential healing that permanently change the quester, the transformation of the material world into increasingly complex and self-realising arrangements, the constant division and then reintegration of being, the perpetual dynamics and dialectics both within the psyche and without it, the story of the redemption of consciousness, from anger, isolation, and slavery to love. Here Blake shows the “dragon”-like aspect of God or reality, though the figure seems to be morphing into multiple stages – ram, dragon, bat, sheep, human. Such transformation and transmutation is possible because reality is ultimately plastic (or esemplastic, as Coleridge would say), that is to say, it is ultimately an imaginative process, in which images or forms are constantly being formed and reformed, in relation to the level or stage of psyche forming them. 

“The human dragon must be devoured by the love of Christ, and changed into an angelical image. This dragon (viz., the fiery nature) must be changed with its own will into a love fire, and forego his natural right; but he is unwilling to do it;  but he in such a change or transmutation looketh for an own self-power, and yet findeth none, and therefore he beginneth to doubt of grace.

Therefore, O child of man, consider what thou art in this time; esteem not so slightly or poorly of thyself, but consider that you remain in Paradise, and put not out the divine light in you; or else you must hereafter remain in the original source of anger or wrath in the valley of darkness; and your noble image, outside of God, will be turned into a serpent and dragon.

For you must know, that as soon as the divine light went out in the devils, they lost their beauteous form and image, and became like serpents, dragons, worms, and evil beasts; as may be seen by Adam’s serpent; and thus it is also with the damned souls.

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Starry Mills: The Domain of Urizen

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As Damon notes, “the stars symbolise Reason. They are assigned to Urizen.” In linking the stars with fallen Rationality, Blake was following Boehme (amongst many others), who regularly equated the two. Man, under “the kingdom of the stars” turns inside out and upside down: “he now liveth no more merely by the Word of God, but did eat and drink, viz. the birth if his life henceforward consisted in the third Principle, that is, in the kingdom, or dominion of the stars and elements” (Boehme). It is also why the stars and astronomy are so beloved by hyper left-brain Urizenic thinkers, from Newton and Galileo to Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox, and why their vast repetitive cycles also appeal so much to and align with autistic thinking. The left hemisphere loves to be “Up”, as McGilchrist observes, which is why it unconsciously puts God “up” in the unreachable, cold skies. But the true god is not up but in: as Blake and Boehme both realise: “Where will you seek God? in the deep above the stars? You will not be able to find him there. Seek him in your heart, in the centre of the birth of your life, and there you shall find him”.

“Where will you seek God? In the deep above the stars? You will not be able to fid him there. Seek him in your heart, in the centre of the birth of your life, and there you shall find him.

The astral [psychic, rationalising] spirit of man cannot discern it [i.e., cannot discern the “eternal generating” imaginative spirit], much less comprehend it; it only feeleth it, and seeth a glimpse of it in the mind; which mind is the chariot of the soul, upon which it rideth in the first Principle in its own seat in the Father’s eternal generating, and yet it hath the form of the body in its own spiritual form, understand according to the image; which soul, if it be regenerated in the light of God, it seeth in the light of the Father, in the eternal birth, wherein it liveth and remaineth eternally.

For heaven shall now at last evacuate the worldly void which the astral [Urizenic] world has slowly built up in the very nature of man, so that it may not be overcome by the starry heaven, and may avoid ceasing to practice resignation by aiming at other than its appointed end.

For the heavens [der Richter Himmel] are everywhere, even where you stand and walk. If you spirit grasps the innermost birth of God and penetrates the sidereal and fleshly [birth], then it is already in heaven [im Himmel].

And thus human Reason is but a house of the true understanding of the Divine knowledge: none should trust so much in his reason and sharp wit, for it is but the Constellation of the outward Stars, and rather seduces him, than leads him to the unity of God.

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The Fundamental Fire: The Nature of God, and the dependence of Light on Darkness 

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Waterfield notes the fundamental imagery of fire in Boehme’s vision: “He chose the fundamental concept of fire and his theology has been described as a theology of fire, fire in its dual aspect of the giver of heat and light, and of destroyer and transformer.” Light and Dark are therefore necessary contraries, embedded in each other: “For Boehme the activity within the Ungrund and the emergence of a contrary will to that which maintained the eternal rest may be imaginatively compared to Light and Dark, since movement could only occur as there are opposites by which differences can be made manifest. So Light can never be known without Darkness.” We can see this “movement” in this furnace-like plate for Blake’s America a Prophecy (1795). This was the age of Orc, in many ways, and it’s interesting that Blake was reading Boehme just before and during the revolutionary wars in America, the subject of this poem with its very Boehmian illustration of fiery transformation happening. It was no coincidence that the revolutionaries in France were often described as “tigers”, or that Blake’s poem about the tiger was also about furnaces, and processes of creation.

“The Mysterium Magnum is that Chaos, out of which Light and Darkness, that is, the foundation of Heaven and Hell, is flown from Eternity, and made manifest; for that foundation which we now call Hell, being a Principle of itself, is the ground and cause of the Fire in the Eternal Nature; which fire, in God, is only a burning Love; and where God is not manifested in a thing, according to the unity, there is an anguishing, painful, burning fire.  

This ground is called Mysterium Magnum, or a Chaos, because good and evil rise out of it, namely Light and Darkness, Life and Death, Joy and Grief, Salvation and Damnation.

I call it the fiery Mercury in the Spirit of this world, for it is the mover of all things, and the separator of the powers and virtues; a former of all shapes, a ground of the outward Life, as to the Motion and Sensibility.

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Signs and Signatures: Nature as the ‘external’ (projected) manifestation of internal Form 

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Blake’s Tyger as manifestation of Boehme’s idea of all forms as signatures of God – the Tyger signifying the ‘Wrath’, the fearful side – restless, prowling, destructive (but also potentially loving, parental). ‘Signatures’ is a key term for Boehme, suggesting that all living things, all creatures, are the particular imprints or types of God (aspects of His Being). Blake more often used the term “Poetic Genius” to denote this inner activity (the word ‘genius’ being etymologically linked to ‘genesis’ and genetic’). Thus, for Blake, “Genius” has contours: it is constantly shaping this moment, and this moment, and this sentence, in this particular way, in its own image and according to its own identity. For Boehme, the original activity of creation or divine ‘fiat’ not only signals God’s spoken word or sound in Genesis (and God said …”), but everything emitting its own frequency or vibration, or call, by which it is known and identified, and by which its form itself emerges. In modern terms, the notion of an invisible morphogenetic field, resonating patterns of life, might be a useful way of understanding this. Everything, therefore, is a revelation of God. As Blake put it, “every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not A Natural: for a Natural Cause only seems, it is a Delusion Of Ulro: & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory.” We see the signs, but not the Signatures.

“There is nothing that is created or born in nature, but it also manifests its internal form externally, for the internal continually labours or works itself forth to manifestation.

Therefore the greatest understanding lies in the signature, wherein man (viz., the image of the greatest virtue) may not only learn to know himself, but therein also he may learn to know the essence of all essences; for by the external form of all creatures, by their instigation, inclination, and desire, also by their sound, voice, and speech which they utter, the hidden spirit is known; for nature has given to everything its language according to its essence and form, for out of the essence the language or sound arises, and the fiat of that essence forms the quality of the essence in the voice or virtue which it sends forth, to the animals in the sound, and to the essentials in smell, virtue, and form.

But Reason will say, To what End has the Creator made this manifestation? I answer, There is no other cause, but that the spiritual world might thereby bring itself into visible form or Image, that the Inward powers and virtues might have a form and Image.

The Inward Eternal working is hidden in the visible world; and it is in every thing, and through every thing, yet not to be comprehended by any thing in the Thing’s own Power; the outward Powers and Virtues are but passive, and in the house in which the Inward work.

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Divine Imagination versus Individual Selfhood: The Redemption of the Body

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Lost in contemplation and recognition. To see God requires understanding that what is seeing God is also God. Hence the identification of the poses (or rather forms) in Blake’s image here, a fundamental recognition. It is impossible to see reality if one still identifies with the ego (or “Selfhood” as Blake calls it) because to be a selfhood is necessarily to be stuck in the stage of separation and therefore anguish (Boehme’s “hell”). Blake refers to God as The Divine Imagination and the Human Form Divine, signifying the underlying signature. Here, as elsewhere, he significantly updates and upgrades the rather problematic and antiquated principle of “Mercury”, which Boehme had often used to denote this power (or this “magic”, as Boehme sometimes describes it, referring to its hidden etymology). As Weeks notes, “the term imagination is used throughout Boehme’s writings in an unusual sense. Magia can be construed as the root of imagination … For Paracelsus, the power and importance of imagination derived from the occult faculty of the human microcosm.” Here in Blake’s image (of imagination itself) we see the recognition of that microcosm. This whole process of manifestation works – ie ‘God’ becomes manifest (or ‘known’) – so “that it may love something, and be again beloved by something”. Why do it at all?, Boehme asks. So that the invisible might be ‘visible’ and therefore known (or better, ‘recognised’, valued – what we all, as Being, fundamentally desire). The modern psychoanalytic concept of making the unconscious ‘conscious’, or known, is rooted in the same framework – necessarily so, since both deal with the nature and transformation of consciousness. Thus making the fire light, and hell heaven. By virtue of being separate (the fall), we thereby also become ‘seen’: the start of the rising, or restoring, or ‘redemption’.  

“And that the own will of the soul might be able to do this, viz. that it might break itself off from its selfhood, and willingly enter into the death of its selfhood, and become a nothing in its selfhood, the free will of God, viz. the eternal lubet to the chaos of the soul, which is the eternal Mercury [Imagination] in the power of the majesty, is again entered into the disappeared image of God proceeded from the pure element, viz. into the virgin-like life, and draws the will of the soul to itself, and gives it again out of love and grace the heavenly corporality … That soul which dies to its selfhood, and brings its hunger again into God’s mercy may enjoy this food, whereby it again becomes the first creature in God’s love.

And the desire must resign and cast itself into the grace and love of God, and not regard the opposition and contradiction of the outward reason which saith, it is nothing so. God is afar off. You must search, meditate, and represent Him only to yourself by your apprehension; you must seek after His will, how He hath revealed Himself; so He will be known, and not otherwise; thus the external, historical, astral reason doth judge, and it ruleth also the whole world except a very small number of God’s children.

How could it be that Adam, who was a perfect image of God, did perish in his perfection, and became earthly; did it not come to pass by imagination, because he induced his desire, longing, and lust into the outward, astral, elemental, and earthly kingdom, whereupon he in his desire, lust, and imagination was forthwith impregnated, and became earthly, and thereby he fell into the sleep of the external Magic, and thus it is also with the new birth.

Through imagination, and an earnest serious desire, we become again impregnated of the Deity … and so likewise the earthly Adam knoweth nothing of the Divine heavenly Adam, and therefore there is strife in man, and man is contrary to himself.

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The Goal of Creation: Self-Realisation

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Albion Rose. The goal: not to go up to the stars, but to come down to earth, the centre of the universe (that is to say, to return to consciousness, and to imaginative consciousness, the Ungrund of Being). Realising that the Sun we seek is not in the sky but inside the Imagination. Blake’s Image for this is both a Cruciform (denoting its underlying process of mutual surrender and perpetual sacrifice of one for the Other) and a radiant, joyous Expansion (the fulfilment of God finally seeing and knowing itself from its manifestation): Glad Day.

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