Blake’s Erotic Apocalypse: The Androgynous Ideal in ‘Jerusalem’, by Diane Hoeveler

From the Hermaphrodite to the Androgynous: Reintegrating the Male and Female

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Introduction: Sexual Warfare: The Origins of the Battles of the Sexes


Detail from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Which is also a marriage of Male and Female – not understood externally, inter-psychically, in the fallen and projected way, but intra-psychically – to overcome the divisions and separations within oneself. Note that the figures here are themselves androgynous.

The imagery of sexual warfare is central to the vision of apocalypse which Blake proclaims as his poetic mission. The political apocalypse of the earlier work, such as The French Revolution, fades as the spiritual gains prominence, for Blake’s vision of the natural world seems to have darkened over the years so that by the time he was writing Jerusalem the only apocalypse he could endorse was one in which the ”sexes must cease and vanish” in the psyche so that humanity can assume its spiritualized “body.” It became clear to Blake that political reform of society could not be effected until an individual and spiritual redemption took place in every heart. To become androgynous, to overcome the flaws inherent in each sex, emerges as the central challenge for all Blake’s characters. 

Blake’s poetry, then, is dominated by the image of the androgyne, which he envisions as a paradisal state of consciousness that has resolved all dichotomies so that “man” possesses that complete harmony in which “he” is Albion-Jerusalem, both God and all external, “feminine” reality. For Blake the androgynous is a consciousness that is neither masculine nor feminine; rather, it is a distinct third psychic possibility in which neither sex predominates.

Unlike Boehme, who envisions the androgyne as a male with a subordinate female element, and unlike Swedenborg, who thought the division of the sexes persisted even into paradise, Blake emphasized that sexual divisions must be annihilated psychically, because both sexes are equally fallen from the original divinity of the androgyne: “In Eternity they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Jerusalem: 30 [34]).

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“a paradisal state of consciousness that has resolved all dichotomies so that ‘man’ possesses that complete harmony in which ‘he’ is Albion-Jerusalem”. Image: a composite of the first and last plates of Milton a Poem, suggesting the reunification of Milton and Ololon, and the redemption and resurrection of the psyche.

Blake alludes to the androgynous ideal in Milton: 2 when he praises the “Eternal Great Humanity Divine” (E, 95; K, 481). Most of his poetry, however, centers on the dynamics of the fallen, divided states and the ensuing sexual warfare. To graphically illustrate the dichotomy between the apocalyptic and the actual, Blake’s poetry contrasts the fallen physical body, constricted to the limitations inherent in the divided sexes and represented by the hermaphrodite, to the human-divine, the androgynous “body.”

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Title page of Blake’s unfinished poem Vala, or The Death and Judgement of the Eternal Man, which he revised and re-titled The Four Zoas: The torments of Love & Jealousy in The death and Judgment of Albion the Ancient Man. Note how beautiful and flowing – how androgynous, in a sense – Blake’s writing itself is. The new title suggests how strongly themes of “love and jealousy” played in Blake’s work during this period, and his working out of exactly why they were so “tormenting”. This meant diving deep into the psyche, to uncover the hidden dynamics and deep spiritual estrangements that were generating these fierce and complex divisions both within and between people. The very phrase “sexual warfare” contains the clue to how Blake unravelled this: the intimate links between sex, religion, and warfare.

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The Separation of Object from Subject and the “Fall into Division”

In his poetic versions of the fall, an original androgynous union of masculine and feminine is destroyed, thereby giving rise to the fallen world of nature. This fallen physical world incorporates qualities that Blake depicts as feminine, while the other, and even greater, evil in his system is the conception of the self, which is embodied in the male. These two separated principles cause the ensuing sexual warfare. 

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This symbol depicts the universe as a “self-excited” circuit. It was originally created by the great theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler in his 1983 paper Law Without Law, to explain quantum phenomena – the deep entanglement of the universe on a fundamental level. The eye represents the self and the line directly opposite represents that which it is perceiving within the “external” environment. The two sections are connected into each other via arrows to demonstrate that it is a singular and unified system. The same separation that divided male from female also divided perceived from perceiver in Blake’s cosmology. We think that “Nature” is “out there”, and indeed that we are part of “it”. This development is recorded in ancient stories of the creation (that is, the division) of “Eve” as a dissociated and projected part of humanity’s integrated consciousness, the extended imaginative field of consciousness itself, which has become dismembered. Today we call this abstracted projection “Mother Nature”.


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The separation of perceived from perceiver, creating the convincing illusion of the existence of discrete, isolated “subjects” and “objects”. This act or process of mental dissociation can be seen either cognitively (subject-object duality) or affectively (male-female duality), as primal processes of activity and receptivity/passivity are involved in both. In the “Fall into Division”, Adam became a passive perceiver, not an active imaginer, and Eternity was immediately lost to “him” (now a “him”, a “male”, not an androgynous unifier).


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Our original unified or integrated state, in which “Nature” and “Human consciousness” are not separated. Since consciousness is primary and fundamental (see McGilchrist, The Matter with Things), Nature is an emanation or epipsyche or epipsychidion of the universal consciousness, “seeing” itself as “other”. The divorce of the two both requires and propagates Adam’s unconsciousness – hence he is shown by Blake lying asleep as this separation occurs.

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The Fall from Androgyny into Hermaphroditism

Blake, then, describes the androgynous condition chiefly by depicting what it is not. He contrasts the sacred image of redeemed sexuality to the profane image, the hermaphrodite. The contrast of the hermaphrodite and androgyne as opposites is a long-standing tradition in theological speculation. Blake follows in this tradition by viewing the hermaphrodite as a sterile fusion of the physical male and female, while the androgyne transcends sexual divisions to become a spiritual and psychic ideal.

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It’s all so genital. The “Fall’ occurred in our loins as much as anywhere else. Or rather in our perception of our loins. The basic story of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is based on sex, and on a “fall” or dissociation within sex. Hence, Blake is right to constantly link sexuality and religion, as aspects of the same “Fall”. The Church is about our relationship with our loins, as these striking mosaics, from Monreale Cathedral in Sicily (12th-13th century) suggest. Note the role of perception, the gaze, in this process of division, and sleep to denote the imaginative power which is now “unconscious” and trapped within “Nature’, its own dislocated projection. 

The hermaphrodite in Blake’s poetry is embodied in the fusion of the fallen male, a spectre representing the rational and reductive consciousness, and the fallen female, representing the secrecy and deceit that support abstract morality.  

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“Blake follows in this tradition by viewing the hermaphrodite as a sterile fusion of the physical male and female. The hermaphrodite in Blake’s poetry is embodied in the fusion of the fallen male, a spectre representing the rational and reductive consciousness, and the fallen female, representing the secrecy and deceit that support abstract morality.” Image: the essential dynamic between the Male and Female portions of Soul, each having become fallen and pathological. In Blake, the hermaphrodite denotes the psychic split between the isolated, accusing, penetrating Male (energy) – and the reclusive, secret, deceitful or hidden (hence need for uncover or apocalypse) Female (energy). Terms such as “hidden” or “selfhood” or “war” often trigger in Blake the addition of the word “hermaphrodite” to underline this problematic and unproductive state. 

In an early cosmology, “Then She Bore Pale Desire,” Blake describes the Gods who were born from fear—”nor male nor female are, but single Pregnate, or, if they list, together mingling bring forth mighty powrs” (E, 437; K, 40). These Gods strengthen the demonic power of the Great Mother and aid in giving birth to “a Goddess fair, or Image rather, till knowledge animated it; twas calld Self love.” This power of self love will later be embodied in the Female Will and the Spectre, but even in this early prose piece Blake recognized that it was the concept of an all-sufficient self that was the most serious threat to reintegration. He observes, “Go See more strong the ties of marriage love. thou Scarce Shall find but Self love Stands Between”(E, 439; K, 42-43). 

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“Blake recognized that it was the concept of an all-sufficient self that was the most serious threat to reintegration”. Blake suggests that when humans stopped thinking of themselves as humans and instead as “males” and “females”, aspects of the integrated psyche split off and become exaggerated, amplified, forms of themselves. The cold, analytic, isolated processes of a detached rationality became trapped and increasingly psychopathic (ending up as mere instrumental use, the “Red Dragon”); and the moralistic and self-righteous drives – the chief drivers of conflict and war, both domestic and international – became narcissistically encased and reflected back upon themselves. In history, this unhappy dynamic became ossified as “Religion hid in War”. Images: (above) Narcissus by Caravaggio; (below) the Rokeby Venus by Velazquez.

Blake made his first attempt to physically describe a hermaphrodite in The Four Zoas: 1 (see image below). Here the hermaphrodite appears as the merger of the fallen Enion and Tharmas, a physical parody of their eventual androgynous union in Night IX.

This hermaphrodite is formed from the mixing of “his horrible darkness” and “his darkly waving colours” with “her fair crystal clearness.” Together they produce a “wonder that nature shuddered at/ Half Woman & half beast.” This “lovely” wonder wanders over the earth, its “rocky features” and its “female voice” wrapped in “self enjoying wonder.” It is Enion, however, who dominates the merger, for she proclaims that this hermaphroditic union is “Glory, delight: & sweet enjoyment born/ To mild Eternity shut in a threefold shape delightful/ To wander in sweet solitude enrapturd at every wind” (E, 299-300; K, 381). In this hermaphroditic union, then, the feminine entraps the masculine just as the Female Will dominates the history of the human race. 

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“Blake made his first attempt to physically describe a hermaphrodite in The Four Zoas: 1. Here the hermaphrodite appears as the merger of the fallen Enion and Tharmas, a physical parody of their eventual androgynous union in Night IX.”

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Similar image from Blake’s later illuminated prophecy, Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion (Plate 75), showing half-Female half-serpent (on right, presumably Rahab), and half-Male half-serpent/beast (on left). In the text above the image Blake refers to “the Giants mighty, Hermaphroditic”, “the Female Males:/ A Male within a Female hid as in an Ark & Curtains”, and “the Male Females: the Dragon Forms/The Female hid within a Male”, denoting the three main stages or “States” of this hermaphroditic progress of “Religion hid in War”, the twin poles of gendered conflict which now obsesses humanity.

But Blake also condemns any attempts at self-redemption by the fallen reason, identified as masculine. For if the fallen female embodies the curse of the physical, unredeemed world, then the fallen male is “a ravening eating Cancer growing in the Female/ A Polypus of Roots of Reasoning Doubt Despair & Death” (J: 69; E, 220; K, 707). Any union or forced merger between these two fallen forms can only produce the monstrous hermaphrodite, embodiment of the horrors of sexual separation and “Blasphemous Selfhood.” 

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“A Polypus of Roots of Reasoning Doubt Despair & Death” (Jerusalem: 69). As the Blake Archive note of this striking, being-torn-apart scene, “the design at the bottom of the plate seems to offer a tableau of the narrative of torture and sacrifice taking place in Albion’s bosom. Two nude women perform a ritual dance(?) around an insensate nude male with a shackle on his right wrist. In their right hands they wield knives just above the victim’s head. The time is evidently night, as suggested by the deep blue sky and celestial motifs: a crescent moon and four stars of varying sizes.” The scene seems to be bristling with the symbolism and gestures of the “sexual warfare” that was at the beating heart of these patriarchal and matriarchal religions: the knives, the cup/chalice, the blood sacrifice, the power trilithons, the sickle-like moon and the dissociating stars. It’s all going on in Albion’s head. The rituals shown are again both publicly ceremonial and highly domestic in nature.

Hermaphroditic unions also symbolize the merger of female religion with male warfare, the two powers that serve to institute and perpetuate humanity’s fallen existence. History for Blake, then, can be viewed as a cycle of hermaphroditic unions between the fallen female and male as they struggle for dominance.

In Milton: 37 and Jerusalem: 76  Blake presents this history as twenty-seven churches made up of three groups of nine: the hermaphrodites, the Female-Males, and the Male-Females. Blake presents all of the possible forms that sexual separation can take, and then states that the only escape from history as a panorama of sexual conflict and religious perversion lies in transforming the sexual altogether. 

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“Hermaphroditic unions also symbolize the merger of female religion with male warfare, the two powers that serve to institute and perpetuate humanity’s fallen existence”. The Hermaphrodite captures or encapsulates multiple aspects of fallen psychology and embodiment, notably the relationship between religion (the mother “Church”) and warfare (the military, phallic State). “I must rush again to War: for the Virgin has frownd & refusd” sing the Warriors in Jerusalem, identifying the connection between aggression and sexual repression a hundred years before Freud. But the Church and the military State are built on such sexual repression: just look at the size of their guns, their lactating domes, their Virgins, their mounts and discharges. It’s not simply that priests wear long flowing dresses, or Joan of Arcs wear Reichian armour: the whole cult and culture of “Religion hid in War” is ideologically hermaphroditic and perverse.

Besides informing his vision of history, the hermaphrodite in Blake’s poetry serves a crucial function at the conclusion of each of the epics. Before salvation can occur the central figures consistently confront the horrible figure of the hermaphrodite. In The Four Zoas: VIII the hermaphroditic form appears as haunting and demonic every time the characters move toward redemption. First it is Urizen who beholds the emblem of his life as a fallen, separate self: “a Shadowy hermaphrodite black & opake … unformd & vast/ Hermaphroditic … hiding the Male/ Within as in a Tabernacle Abominable Deadly” (E, 359; K, 343). The voices from Eternity repeat the message of salvation, that humanity must “put off the dark Satanic body” in order to regain the spiritual and imaginative (E, 369; K, 346). But the wars of redemption are not easily won, for the forces of the fallen world assume “a Vast Hermaphroditic form” which attacks Jerusalem’s Gates. This horrible hermaphroditic form bursts to reveal its internal force, Satan, “dishumanizd, monstrous/ A male without a female counterpart … Yet hiding the shadowy female Vala as in an ark & Curtains” (E, 363; K, 347). 

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Sterile Satan

Satan’s identity as a hermaphrodite is important for an understanding of Milton, for Milton’s spectre is Satan as hermaphrodite. Milton: 14 presents Milton’s realization that his masculine portion, his spectre, is a satanic selfhood that must be purged before he can reunite with Ololon, his true counterpart. But just as in The Four Zoas Urizen had to face the ultimate fallen form before his movement to regeneration could begin, so does Milton confront his own “Shadow;/ A mournful form double; hermaphroditic: male & female/ In one wonderful body” (E, 108; K, 496). For Blake, then, the hermaphrodite is a sterile monstrosity not because it is asexual, but because it is multi-sexual; it yokes together by force two sexes in their fallen forms. 

Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils c.1826 by William Blake 1757-1827

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“Satan’s identity as a hermaphrodite”. Satan rarely has a penis in Blake’s iconography, denoting its fundamentally hermaphroditic character. Left hemispheric, or Urizenic, reasoning is neither creative nor imaginative: it is sterile, self-reflexive, self-obsessed, imitative, and based on a perverse desire to control, manipulate, and objectify – exactly the detached, Adamic stance that is the root of the contemporary scientific gaze. Blake tends to denote hermaphroditic figures not by adding breasts to male figures, but by removing penises from them (the Female-Males), or by adding a serpent’s body to a female torso (the Male-Females).

As it does in The Four Zoas, the hermaphrodite appears near the conclusion of Jerusalem as the embodiment of the final and most fallen of earthly forms. As Los and Enitharmon rage during their struggle for dominance over each other, “‘A terrible indefinite Hermaphroditic form” appears with “A Wine-press of Love & Wrath double Hermaphroditic” (J: 89; E, 245; K, 734). The figure appears at this moment as an accusation and a reminder of what divided sexuality has produced throughout history.

These hermaphroditic figures are the return of the Satan-Tirzah figure and the Satan-Rahab figure, the curses of man’s history – war, Nature, and institutionalized religion. They appear at this moment to emphasize humanity’s historic enslavement to their power. They are “Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot/ Each within other, but without a Mighty-one/ Of dreadful power” (E, 246; K, 735). 

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As the moment of “apocalypse” or uncovering approaches, the figure of the hermaphroditic, dissociated rationality and its materialistic counterpart “Nature” (“the Goddess Nature Mystery Babylon the Great”) rear their multiple heads to try and prevent us from re-entering Edenic (integrated) consciousness.

Jerusalem: 90, however, presents Blake’s most explicit statement on the nature of the sexes and the necessity for androgynous reintegration. As Los explains,

When the Individual appropriates Universality 

He divides into Male & Female: & when the Male and Female,
Appropriate Individuality, they become an Eternal Death. (E, 248; K, 737) 

When Los finally defeats his Spectre and awaits his reunion with Enitharmon, he assures her that neither of them is being annihilated in their eternal, psychic forms, only in their fallen manifestations: “Sexes must vanish & cease/ To be, when Albion arises from his dread repose” (J: 92; E, 250; K, 739). That is, the perverted forms that sexual bodies take in the fallen world must be transformed to androgynous “bodies” based on asexual consciousness. 

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In the Symposium Plato has Aristophanes, the famous Greek theatre and comedy writer, tell the story of how it came to be that in love we seek our “other half”. “In the beginning of creation the genders of humans were three and not two like today”, Aristophanes declares. There was the double male, the double female, and the hermaphrodite (part male, part female). This third gender survives today, says Aristophanes, only “as a name of reproach”. The three genders originally had four legs and four arms, two faces on a round head and double the genital parts. The male was a progeny of the sun, the female of the earth and the hermaphrodite of the moon, which has elements of both the sun and the earth. As so typical of the Greek left-brain mind, they have here grasped a much earlier intuitive and profound truth and turned it into a literalistic, naturalistic, and rather absurd story. Modern marriage ceremonies and commercial dating sites are more recent versions of this myth, built on the idea that we are divided or “half” beings, and that part of ourselves is actually somehow “out there”. All we need to do is find it. The primary inner androgyny – what Freud famously called our “polymorphously perverse” or originally bisexual nature – becomes split in two, and effectively at war (“hermaphrodite”, in Blake’s terms). In fallen Urizenic societies, we try to mechanically re-assemble these two parts through the mechanism of intercourse. But of course since our other “half” is within, and a dissociated part of an original unity, the whole enterprise is doomed to failure – to incessant repetition, or the world of “generation” as Blake calls it.

The hermaphrodite, then, symbolizes the attempts made by the anti-christ figures of Satan, Rahab, and Tirzah to form a substitute androgyne. This parody of the spiritual ideal glories in the duality of the sexes and as such it exemplifies the horrors of cruelty and jealousy that are indigenous to the separate and exclusively male and female psyches. 

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Jesus as Androgynous Ideal

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Christ Blessing, by William Blake (c. 1810)

In opposition to the hermaphroditic Satan, Blake endorsed the ancient belief in the androgynous ideal, represented in his poetry by Jesus, the second Adam who has the power to reinstitute the androgynous harmony of the original creation. In Love’s Body Norman 0. Brown observes that:

the resurrection is the resurrection of the body; but not the separate body of the individual, but the body of mankind as one body. The fall of man is the fall into the division of the human race, the dismemberment of the first man, Adam; and the resurrection or rebirth through the second man, Christ, is to reconstitute the lost unity … The unification of mankind into one is also the unification of humanity and divinity; St. Gregory of Nyssa says, ‘Christ, by whome all mankind was united into divinity.’ Unification is deification.

The androgynous ideal in Blake’s poetry is an apocalyptic union within the self that redeems the internal and external worlds. The model for Blake was Jesus, who was aware as no other human being has been of his own divinity and inner integration. Blake’s art aims ultimately to depict the recovery of Paradise within, a state in which humanity is perfectly integrated with God, that is, integrated within itself.

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Leonardo_da_Vinci_or_Boltraffio_(attrib)_Salvator_Mundi_circa_1500-Christ as Salvator Mundi

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Jesus was the type of androgynous ideal because he had transcended (cast off) the usual identity of being a “man”, or indeed of being gendered at all. He embodied a thrilling gentleness and tenderness that went beyond both masculine and feminine to reach the core heart of reality, which is neither man nor woman but “hu-man”. The integrated psyche is a state of kindness, neither domination, subservience, wanting, incompletion, role-playing, or cultural conformity. How do you know if you’re integrated? “The outcome of integration”, notes psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel, “is kindness and compassion”. Kindness is a state which is not judgmental, competitive, or instrumental. These are signs and symptoms of an inner disconnection, an obstacle, a dis-organisation or dis-harmony. “From this perspective mental illness results from a disconnection from others and a retreat into selfishness”, notes psychologist Louis Cozolino. And if, as Cozolino strikingly suggests, mental illness is the result of separation from others, from disconnection and lack of integration, then mental health is the emergence into interconnection, into interdependency, into wholeness. Into kindness. The Jesus state.

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Jerusalem: Reintegrating the Emanation 

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“All Human Forms identified even Tree Metal Earth & Stone, all/ Human Forms identified. living going forth & returning wearied/ Into the Planetary lives of Years Months Days & Hours reposing/ And then Awaking into his Bosom in the Life of Immortality./ And I heard the Name of their Emanations they are named Jerusalem./ The End of The Song of Jerusalem” (Jerusalem, plate 99).

The androgynous reunion of Albion and Jerusalem forms the focus of Blake’s final epic, Jerusalem. Because of its subject matter, then, Jerusalem is a psychomachia, for the quest that Albion and Jerusalem undertake is internal. They are not searching for anything outside the self; rather, they are seeking their own reintegration. As Blake believed that all reality is ultimately mental, so are the landscapes in his poems eerily dream-like because they are internal. All activity in the poems take place as warfare within the fallen Albion, Blake’s archetypal “man” who in “his” unfallen condition integrates the four Eternal principles. 

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“Jerusalem is a psychomachia, for the quest that Albion and Jerusalem undertake is internal.” As psychotherapist Fritz Perls suggests, every figure or image in a dream is really an aspect or part of the dreamer: “Each of the elements of a dream represents a fragment of your personality. In order to become a whole, unified person, you have to integrate all of these fragments. Putting the pieces of the dream together is a way to begin putting the fragments of your personality together.” Blake’s visionary poems are structured like this: composite structures which all exist within Blake’s imaginative brain, which also exists within our brain, as perceivers and experiencers and dreamers of Blake’s vision, and vice versa.

Bloom admits that Albion does “faintly resemble the Adam Kadmon or Divine Man of Jewish Cabbalist tradition,” but he denies Blake’s debt to the tradition of androgynist speculation, stating that “Albion is not a speculative product of the Platonizing imagination.” It seems unlikely, however, that Blake’s Albion stands apart from two thousand years of speculation about a primal being who contains all reality within itself. Even Bloom echoes the many descriptions of the androgyne when he describes Albion as “a great Adam, a man who contains all of reality himself, and who is therefore human and divine, male and female, and a fourfold balance of the faculties of intellect, imagination, emotion and instinct.”

Significantly, Albion first appears in Blake’s writings as a female. In the early fragment, ”Prologue to King John,” Albion is the spirit of England, an abused harlot, whose “sins are crimson dy’d.” In a battle, Tyranny stains “fair Albion’s breast with her own children’s gore,” but in a final scene peace is restored and the poet hopes, “0 yet may Albion smile again, and stretch her peaceful arms, and raise her golden head, exultingly” (E, 430-31; K, 34). 

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“You have a tradition that Man anciently contain’d in his mighty limbs all things in Heaven and Earth. But now the starry Heavens are fled from the mighty limbs of Albion.” This is Blake’s version of the Kabbalistic Adam Kadmon, the original microcosmos in whom all reality once existed. “The females are probably (clockwise from left) Rahab, Vala, and Tirzah. From her victim’s abdominal area Tirzah draws out a length of entrails and winds them onto a skein she holds in her left hand. This unweaving of the body relates Tirzah, as well as her two companions, to the Fates of classical mythology who spin but also cut the thread of life. Next to her, top and center, Vala spreads her veil, canopy-like, over the other figures. The veil’s long blood-colored strands, which extend from her hands and hair, look to be of a piece with Albion’s entrails. Sitting on a stone at left, Rahab looks down at Albion whose head falls back on her lap.” From Plate 25 of Blake’s Jerusalem.

Blake’s Albion differs from the Adam Kadmon of the Cabbalists precisely because of this feminine aspect. Blake’s illustration of the Cosmic Man in Jerusalem: 25 (see image above) bears a striking resemblance to the cosmic androgynes depicted in theosophical manuscripts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and in various alchemical, Kabbalistic and Hermetic traditions (see images below).

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Most spiritual traditions in the past have had a sense both of our dual or divided nature, and of the deep connection between human consciousness and cosmic consciousness – the microcosmos and macrocosmos. Our own age is perhaps the first to feel so radically estranged from the universe that we think of the term “anthropomorphic” – that is, “in the form of who we are” – as a negative, rather than a recognition of this deep inter-involvement. We are so blinded by and in thrall to Vala that we have utterly lost our place in reality, and our function. Only in quantum field theory has this ancient Hermetic recognition recently reappeared.

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Each living thing is the centre of its own universe, and man is no exception. In a cosmos in which every part of it is the moment of the Big Bang, every part of it is the centre. Blake restores imaginative consciousness to its rightful place, as the embodiment of profound structural and creative, formative, processes within reality.

But Blake presents his cosmic man as the victim of the female figures who torture him by pulling out his entrails. Immediately following this plate Blake addresses the Jews in a mocking, even chiding tone about their tradition of a cosmic male. Blake attempts to correct this male-centered image by emphasizing the equality of Jerusalem as the counterpart of Albion. He writes, “You have a tradition, that Man anciently containd in his mighty limbs all things in Heaven & Earth.” But he asserts that Jerusalem is “the Emanation of the Great Albion! Can it be? Is it a Truth that the Learned have explored? It is True, and cannot be controverted” (J: 27; E, 169-70; K, 649).

Screenshot 2022-08-26 at 10.39.59 2Blake’s depiction of Albion-Jerusalem as the androgynous cosmic being is an attempt to correct the “learned” Cabbalistic traditions that have presented the original being as a supreme male with no female counterpart. For Blake this cosmic male can only be a giant spectre who will be perpetually tortured by the female because he has rejected her and made her alien to himself.

Jerusalem is, then, the focus and redemptive power in this final version of the fall and salvation. In The Four Zoas Tharmas’ opening lament implies that Jerusalem is the universal feminine and that all other female characters are ultimately derived from her. Tharmas asks Enion why she has taken “sweet Jerusalem from my inmost Soul” (FZ: 4; E, 297; K, 265). Jerusalem is the unfallen feminine within every being, who must be reconciled with each of the Zoas before she can reunite with Albion. Jerusalem, then, is not an appendage of Albion; she is the exact feminine equivalent who is fallen and incomplete when separated from Albion. She also needs to experience the return to her original androgynous union with Albion in order to redeem all her fallen manifestations. Humanity is reintegrated by Jerusalem, the “Emanative portion:/ Who is Jerusalem in every individual” (J: 39 [44]; E, 185; K, 675).

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The Veil of Vala: (left): Vala covered from head to toe with her veil, which she raises above her head; this is also the veil of “Mystery” that the dissociation of the feminine from itself/Albion generates; Jerusalem is standing open and naked – “unveiled” and unmysterious, next to her, to show the contrast – it is Vala who drives religion and the Church, with all its secret veils, curtains, rituals, and sexual guilt and chastity – note the church cross behind her in the background; (right): Vala/Enitharmon/Gwendolen composite, with her veil, sickle-like moon, druidic sacrificial blood, and links again with the generation of cults and religion – the Druidic church centre of Stonehenge, which worshipped her and her cycles, as “Nature”.

Albion learns the lessons of salvation, then, through understanding Jerusalem’s true identity. As the poem opens Albion reveals his mistaken beliefs: “We are not One: we are Many,” while he also believes that “Jerusalem is not! her daughters are indefinite:/ By demonstration, man alone can live, and not by faith” (J: 4. E, 145; K, 622).

Albion is fallen because he no longer can recognize his own divinity; he worships instead a “God in the dreary Void … wide separated from the Human Soul. Because of these delusions he sinks into “this dark Ulro & voidness” (J: 23 ; E, 167. K. 646). Albion’s errors are those of fallen man who embraces the false beliefs of rational individualism. The fallen faculty of reason, with its belief in the individual as self-sufficient, denies the necessity for androgyny. Vala is, then, the embodiment of the fallen faculties, who tempts Albion to a living death in the world of generation. Jerusalem is the true saving principle who honors Albion’s “own Minute Particulars” because “They are of Faith & not of Demonstration” (J: 45 [31]; E, 193; K, 657). But in the fallen world Vala’s power is much stronger, for it is based on reason and the sense of selfhood – the “Sexual Reasoning Hermaphroditic” (J: 20 [33]; E, 173; K, 659). 

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These words were written in mirror-handwriting on Blake’s plate, suggesting we need a different way of seeing before we can understand the relationship between “Heaven” (relationship) and “This World” (rational isolated individualism, armoured with moral self-righteousness: Religion Hid in War). “In Heaven the only Art of Living/ Is Forgetting & Forgiving/ Especially to the Female”.

Only after Albion “dies,” which occurs in the exact middle of the poem, can the movement toward salvation take place. Only after he has given up his own efforts can reunification occur.

From the earth’s center, “Beneath the bottoms of the Graves” where “Contrarieties are equally true,” the action of salvation begins — Maternal Love awakes Jerusalem, who bursts from her tomb and struggles to “put off the Human form” (J: 48; E, 194-95; K, 677-78). Jerusalem has to reject the “Human form” because, in Erin’s words, it has become a “Polypus of Death” ruled over by the “One Great Satan … the most powerful Selfhood,” who has murdered the “Divine Humanity” (J: 49; E, 196; K, 679). Erin claims that salvation is possible only when humanity “shall arise from Self/ By Self Annihilation into Jerusalems Courts & into Shiloh/ Shiloh the Masculine Emanation among the Flowers of Beulah” (J: 49; E, 196-97; K, 680). Salvation is possible only when the masculine rejoins Jerusalem and the feminine rejoins Shiloh. In the world of Beulah sexual distinctions remain, but the sexes function in harmony, forgiveness, and love. Blake depicts this ideal as “Jerusalem in every Man/ A tent & Tabernacle of Mutual Forgiveness Male & Female Clothings” (J: 54; E, 201; K, 684). 

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Blake’s Giant Forms: here we see the relationship or psychodynamic between Vala (left, typically looking all poster girly), Jerusalem (falling headlong in the middle), and Albion (right, his back to us, i.e. in an unconscious state), at the pivotal moment of the poem (Plate 47). Beneath the scene is the line “And the Veil of Vala, is composed of the Spectres of the Dead”. It seems as if we are now almost completely inside and covered by Vala’s dark veil, the inky backdrop for this fatal separation of imagination and emanation, the triumph of Nature or natural perception and science over humanity’s imaginative function and awareness. This is “death” for Albion.

Although it is Jerusalem who ultimately redeems Albion, it is Los who functions as instructor. When Albion mistakenly prays to a deity external to himself, Los condemns “Calling on God for help; and not ourselves in whom God dwells.” Los also repudiates the “bloated General Forms” that reason creates because they insult “the Divine-/ Humanity, who is the Only General and Universal Form” (J: 38 [43]; E, 182-83; K, 672). Los is the archetypal artist, representative of the artistic process itself. He symbolizes creative activity and the power of the human imagination to transcend the limitations of space and time. When Los and Enitharmon reunite to form Urthona, they present a model for salvation to Albion and Jerusalem. 

Since Los symbolizes Albion’s imagination, his fall and redemption parallel Albion’s. In this final poem, Los’s fall is presented in abbreviated form. During a war between “Abstract Philosophy” and “Imagination, the Divine Body of the Lord Jesus,” Urthona’s “Emanation divided, his Spectre also divided” leaving Los a “frighted wolf (J: 5-7; E, 146-48; K, 624-25). Los scorns his Spectre’s taunts and yearns for the day when Albion will be reunited with Jerusalem and the united Zoas will compose the complete androgynous being: “tenfold bright rising from his tomb in immortality.” Los already knows that it is through love and “mutual forgiveness between Enemies” that the fallen world of Generation will be transformed into the unfallen realm of Regeneration (J: 7; E, 149; K, 626). 

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A spectre is a part of a power or faculty, its rationalising and self-interested part, and only becomes a separate ‘spectre’ when that faculty is stressed or traumatised and divides. As Blake notes, in the lines above this striking image: “His Spectre driv’n by the Starry Wheels of Albions sons. black and/Opake divided from his back; he labours and he mourns!/ For as his Emanation divided, his Spectre also divided/ In terror of those starry wheels: and the Spectre stood over Los/Howling in pain: a blackning Shadow. blackning dark & opake/ Cursing the terrible Los: bitterly cursing him for his friendship/ To Albion.” The emanation is similar: a portion of a once-integral or integrated faculty – what that faculty desires or seeks, the form of what it loves. What Los desires or loves is Enitharmon (beauty or Spiritual Beauty, its Muse), and together they form Imagination itself. As soon as the poet or artists think their inspiration exists “outside” them, they divide. Once this happens, the rationalising part also separates, becoming the ‘pursuer’ or Spectral hunter and devourer of that projected emanation.

Los knows that Albion is fallen because Los’s “Emanation is divided from him” and continues to divide. Los mourns, “What shall I do! or how exist, divided from Enitharmon?” (J: 12; E, 153; K, 631). This state of divisive warfare between the sexes is at the root of the fallen state in Blake’s poetic world.

After Los reunites with Enitharmon, he is able to understand the divisions that precipitated the fallen state of hermaphroditic sexuality: 

The Feminine separates from the Masculine & both from Man,

Ceasing to be His Emanations, Life to Themselves assuming!

                                    … that no more the Masculine mingles

With the Feminine. but the Sublime is shut out from the Pathos
In howling torment, to build stone walls of separation compelling
The Pathos, to weave curtains of hiding secrecy from the torment. (J: 90; E, 247; K, 736) 

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The design likely represents “the Emanation of Los & his / Spectre: for whereever the Emanation goes, the Spectre / Attends her as her Guard. & Los’s Emanation is named / Enitharmon. & his Spectre is named Urthona” (lines 2-5), at the moment when “Los put forth his hand, & took them in / Into his Bosom” (lines 17-18). In the image the Spectre is red and bat-winged, the Emanation is blue and moth-like. Towards the bottom of the plate are the lines “Humanity knows not of Sex: wherefore are Sexes in Beulah?…”

When Los reunites with Enitharmon and his Spectre, “the Divine Vision” appears with him and he prays to Jesus in a passage that repeats Blake’s belief in the androgynous ideal:

Humanity knows not of sex: wherefore are Sexes in Beulah? 

In Beulah the Female lets down her beautiful Tabernacle; 

Which the Male enters magnificent between her Cherubim: 

And becomes One with her mingling condensing in Self-love 

The Rocky Law of Condemnation & double Generation & Death (J: 44 [30] ; E, 191; K, 656) 

Jerusalem echoes this statement when she accuses Vala of bringing only death to the world through her separate sexual identity.

The hermaphroditic Vala endorses a divided male and female, “hardening against the heavens/ To devour the Human.” Jerusalem retorts, 

‘O Vala! Humanity is far above
Sexual organization; & the Visions of the Night of Beulah
Where Sexes wander in dreams of bliss among the Emanations
Where the Masculine & Feminine are nursd into Youth & Maiden.’ (J: 79; E, 233; K, 721) 

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“England who is Brittannia entered / Albions bosom rejoicing” (lines 4-5); the design here seems to depict an early stage of that entrance. Thanks to ‘Jerusalem’, who has re-entered into his very heart, Albion realises that he has everything he ever wants or loves already within his Bosom, so he has nothing to defend, or protect, or argue for, or impose, or rationalise, or fight over. It must be remembered again, when seeing the image, that both figures are part of one mind, different aspects of it – one seemingly ancient, one seemingly regenerative and youthful. In the early period of confusion when the Zoas are changing places, “England, who is Brittannia, divided into Jerusalem & Vala” (J 36:28).

Los repeats this belief when he proclaims, “Sexes must vanish & cease/ To be, when Albion arises from his dread repose” (J: 92; E, 250; K, 739).

But Albion cannot awaken until Enitharmon and Brittania, voices of the Female Will, renounce their dominion. Enitharmon is terrified of losing her separate existence, for she has forgotten her original identity as Urthona. All of the Zoas must learn the lesson presented by Jesus, the divine-human androgyne who appears in “the likeness & similitude of Los” to instruct Albion in love and forgiveness: 

And if God dieth not for

Man & giveth not himself

Eternally for Man Man could not exist for Man is Love:
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood. (J: 96; E, 253; K, 743) 

Only when Albion throws himself into the furnaces of affliction to save his brother can the Zoas reunite in harmony and again reside in his being. Ultimately, however, it is Jerusalem who must awaken and assume her proper station if the composite androgynous being is to participate in the continual flux between Eden and Beulah.

By accepting and redeeming Beulah, the world of generation, Blake’s erotic apocalypse leads to the assumption of a new “body” – a spiritual, androgynous psyche in imitation of the resurrected Jesus. The androgynous ideal in Blake’s poetry corresponds to the Christian belief that if the Kingdom of God can be found on earth, it must be found within. 

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The state of Beulah perhaps – except that here there’s also the emergence of the principle of Selfhood and egoic rationalising, which will eventually split Adam and Eve. But then that’s a reminder that none of these states are permanent, and the processes by which we integrate the psyche are ongoing and never complete – are constantly dividing and reintegrating.

In this final epic and throughout his life, Blake believed, as he declared in All Religions are One, that “the Poetic Genius is the true Man. and the … body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius” (E, 2; K, 98). The Poetic Genius, humanity’s divine imaginative power, is “the source” of the “true Man.” These statements support the view that androgyny as an ideal in Blake’s poetry is an imaginative construct and a spiritual state that symbolizes the mind’s reintegration.

The androgyne is an image based on sexual identities and polarities, yet it repudiates both and becomes the most paradoxical state the human mind can imagine. The androgyne is an oxymoron, a concept that combines contradictions and attempts to grasp the ideal as imaginative reality. For, as Blake pointed out in his Annotations to Berkeley’s Siris, every object’s “Reality is its Imaginative Form” (E,653; K, 213). “Reality” is not what is perceived by the fallen senses, but what can be imagined. If humanity can imagine itself as androgynously and harmoniously unified, then Blake posits that imaginative vision as humanity’s ultimate form. 

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Diane Long Hoeveler is professor of English at Marquette University. She is author of Gothic Riffs, Gothic Feminism, and Romantic Androgyny. This is an edited version of her article ‘Blake’s Erotic Apocalypse: The Androgynous Ideal in Jerusalem‘. To read the full article please click here.

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“I feel the man in the woman, and the woman in the man” – Blood of Eden, by Peter Gabriel

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