William Blake and the 27 Churches: From Creation to Apocalypse, by S. Foster Damon

‘Religion Hid in War’: The Revelation of the Whore and the Beast

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Introduction: The Twenty-Seven States or “Churches” of Human History 

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“the Twenty-Seven Heavens & their Churches”. The word “church” originally meant “circle” or “circus”, because early congregants gathered in a circle – as in the “church” of Stonehenge. These evolving “churches” denote the progression – like the wheels on a chariot – of human consciousness in its long journey towards liberation and imaginative uncovery. This journey has been recorded and embodied in all of the dominant religions and cultural narratives of human history, from Adam to Luther, suggesting that this story or evolution is both spiritual and political. It its fallen form (ie, to the rationalising, left brain mind and eye), these powerful revolving “heavens” appear to us as the literal, material “heavens” projected into the sky, with their cycles or circles similarly literal. The Babylonian Zodiac was an early and important stage in this fall within perception (zodiac, from Greek zodiakos, circle, and Zoa or zôion, “Living Beasts”, alluding to their true psychological origins within the Imagination).

The Twenty-Seven States, or Heavens, represent dogmatic Christianity in its successive aspects. They are to man’s spiritual life what the Mundane Shell (which contains them) is to his physical being: an enclosure which shuts him from Eternity. They are “Satan & Adam … States Created into Twenty-seven Churches” (Mil 32: 25). They are described in Milton 37:35–43 (after the analysis of paganism as the Twelve Gods of Asia) and in Jerusalem 75:10–26. 

The Twenty-seven are divided into three series. The first runs from Adam to Lamech, according to Genesis v; the second from Noah to Terah, according to Genesis xi:10–26 (but with the addition of Cainan the Second, from Luke iii:36); while the third begins with Abraham, abandons genealogy for historical names, and ends with Luther. “And where Luther ends Adam begins again in Eternal Circle” (J 75:24).

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Milton a Poem, Plate 41, where Blake lists the three main stages in the development of human psychology in its slow process of dissociation from God. These stages are presented or typified (as in “arche-type”) as individuals from history, although Blake constantly emphasises that these individuals are representative of wider “States”, which they embody.  “And these the names of the Twenty-seven Heavens & their Churches Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech: these are Giants mighty Hermaphroditic Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, Cainan the second, Salah, Heber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, these are the Female-Males A Male within a Female hid as in an Ark & Curtains, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Paul, Constantine, Charlemaine Luther, these seven are the Male-Females, the Dragon Forms Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot”.

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The First Series of Churches: From Adam to Lamech 

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The first nine Churches or “States” are what Blake calls “Hermaphroditic”, meaning already self-contradictory or self-divided but still Mighty and collective. They are “pre-Flood” states of consciousness. “Adam leads the cycle, being the first of the nine from Adam to Lamech (the father of Noah, who begins the second group). These nine were mighty giants (having lived before the Flood); they were “hermaphroditic,” being self-contradictory and unsynthesized (Mil 37:36; J 13:32; 75:11). ‘And where Luther ends Adam begins again in Eternal Circle’ (J 75:24). These churches before the Flood were ‘fill’d with blood & fire & vapour of smoke; even till Abraham’s time the vapor & heat was not extinguish’d; these States Exist now’ ( LJ).”


The first series (Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech) are “Giants mighty”—the giants before the flood—and “Hermaphroditic” or self-contradictory. Adam is the Natural Man, devoid of imagination (Laoc, K 776), the limit of Contraction, also the division between man and man (J 73:28); and as Scofield is identified with him (J 7:42), he is the Accuser of Sin.

He is a Druid (DesC V, K 578), and therefore believes in human sacrifice. The spirit of his church is that of Abel’s Ghost (blood for blood). “Abel kneels on a bloody cloud descriptive of those Churches before the flood, that they were fill’d with blood & fire & vapour of smoke; even till Abraham’s time the vapor & heat was not extinguish’d” (LJ, K 606).

Adam’s line, however, passes through Seth, who is “Male & Female in a higher state of Happiness & wisdom than Noah, being nearer the State of Innocence … The figures of Seth & his wife comprehends the Fathers before the flood & their Generations” (LJ, K 611).


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The Second Series of Churches: From Noah to Terah

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Blake terms the second significant development of our “religious” or cultural consciousness not Hermaphroditic but now “the Female Males” – “a Male within a Female hid as in an Ark & Curtains.” This denotes, from Noah onwards, the setting up of specific “priestly structures” (separate temples, political hierarchies, and the endless battles over whose “God’ is now best or most powerful).The setting up of Tabernacles and the paraphernalia of this “hidden” secret worshipping has for Blake significant sexual as well as political aspects. It becomes a template for a whole mindset about our relationships with both meaning and each other: a world of veils and inner sanctums, of privacy and hidden processes, only for the “initiated” or the “insiders”. This warps not only religion, but also sex and politics – if these can ever be considered entirely separately (and certainly Blake doesn’t consider them so, hence his striking  signification of these communities or “churches” as “a Male within a Female hid”). In this symbolism power is sheathed in the cloak and garb of the supposed holy. We therefore begin to see – and indeed to worship – our sexual organs exactly as we see and worship religious structures and our concept of the divine: hence the iconography of portals, entrances, vast erect columns and obelisks, domes, circles, and the secret holy of holies.


The second series (Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, Cainan the Second, Salah, Heber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah) consists of “the Female Males, a Male within a Female hid as in an Ark & Curtains.” They continue the ideal of Vengeance for Sin.

Noah is also a Druid ( DesC V, K 578; J 27), who punishes the offending Ham in his children called Canaan; Shem, Heber, and (originally) Abraham were also Druids (J 27). But the Flood of Matter has come; men are drowned in their limited senses. Only Noah and his family escaped, in the Moon-Ark of Love. Noah can still communicate with Eternity; he symbolizes Poetry, his sons Shem and Japhet, Painting and Music, “the three Powers in Man of conversing with Paradise, which the flood did not Sweep away” (LJ, K 609). Heber (so Blake spells “Eber”) was the eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews. In the days of Peleg (“division”), the earth was divided amongst the tribes.

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Images: (left): ‘The Golden Chapel’, from William Blake’s Vala or the Four Zoas, 1797; (right): the tabernacle, engraving from Robert Arnauld d’Andilly’s 1683 translation of Josephus. As Marsha Keith Schuchard suggests, “when Blake later sketched ‘a naked woman whose genitals have been transformed into an altar or chapel, with an erect penis forming a kind of holy statue at the center,’ he seemed to give vivid expression to Zinzendorfian sexual religion” (see William Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision).

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The Third Series of Churches: From Abraham to Luther

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If the second series of churches were the “Female Males”, the third series are the “Male Females”: “the Male Females, the Dragon Forms … Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot.”  This is the age of endless religious wars, and the coagulation of “the Church” and “the State” into one mighty beast or military-religious complex. From Abraham to Luther, this is the War state: hence its litany of religious wars and the increasing militaristic dimension to the supposed belief in “God” that supported numerous crusades, reformations, counter-reformations, holy wars, jihads, and the modern militarist state. This is “Religion hid in War”, as Blake expertly denominates it, increasingly militant, military, and expansive – religion becomes the mere dress of Empire, and the source of increasingly global and forever wars. The reign of the “Male Females” continues today: as the Guardian reported, George W. Bush apparently told a conference in 2003 that “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did” (George Bush: ‘God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq’). Moral Self-Righteousness drives these figures, from Rahab to Blair-Bush. Thus “In the cycle of the Twenty-seven Churches. Abraham is the twenty-first, and the first of the last septenary, ‘the Male Females’ of Moral Virtue (Mil 37:41; J 75:16).”


When Abraham substituted a ram for the son he expected to sacrifice, he foreshadowed the Vicarious Atonement, and marked the beginning of the end of Druidism. “Abraham was called to succeed the Druidical age, which began to turn allegoric and mental signification into corporeal command, whereby human sacrifice would have depopulated the earth” (DesC V, K 578).

The other names represent the growth of the Church Militant: Moses, the promulgator of the Ten Commandments; Solomon, the great king and judge; Paul, the great missionary; Constantine, who established Christianity as the official religion of his empire; Charlemaine, great warrior and founder of the Holy Roman Empire; and Luther, the revolutionist, who divided Papists and Protestants.

As Moses, Constantine, and Charlemaine resorted to the force of arms, and as Luther provoked it, Blake felt justified in calling the whole movement “religion hid in War” culminating in the revelation of Rahab herself, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Abomination of Desolation.” “And where Luther ends, Adam begins again in Eternal Circle” (J 75:19, 24): the warring revolutionist merely reduces man back to the Natural Man.

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Image: (left to right): Moses, Solomon, and Paul: three of the nine “Male-Females of Moral Virtue” in the third great cycle or stage of man’s evolution of consciousness. “In the cycle of the Twenty-seven Heavens, Moses stands second in the last series of Abraham to Luther. Paul, founder of the church militant (his attribute is the spiritual sword); Constantine, who forbade all other religions; Charlemaine, founder of the Holy Roman Empire; and Luther, the spirit of reform. These are they whose inspiration is the Whore of Babylon, the promoters of wars — they who believe in spreading religion by violence. They conclude a septenary representing the aggressive church: ‘Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Paul, Constantine, Charlemaine, Luther; these seven are the Male-Females, the Dragon Forms, Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot’ (Mil 37:41; J 75:16). The harlot is the false Whore of Babylon; only she could inspire the attempt to spread religion by warfare or any other aggressive means. ‘The Gods of Priam [war] are the Cherubim of Moses & Solomon, The Hosts of Heaven’ (Laocoon).” Their stage or rule is characterised by warfare and fighting and by moral self-righteousness, its converse side. We are still in this state, or its final end days; the mirror image of Bush and Blair’s holy wars against “the axis of evil”, and the religious wars opposing them, but both driven by the same “Male Female” (“Religion hid in War”) mental program.

At first Blake thought of the Churches “ever consuming & ever building” as caused by “the Spectres of all the inhabitants of Earth wailing to be Created” (J 13:62). But on second thought, he realized that they were all products of the imagination, which therefore Los creates, though within the Mundane Shell, “to awake the Prisoners of Death, to bring Albion again with Luvah into light eternal in his eternal day”; because when Rahab is revealed in her full horror, Jesus, “breaking thro’ the Central Zones of Death & Hell, Opens Eternity in Time & Space, triumphant in Mercy” (J 75:21–26). The circle of Churches is penetrable from this side also. “The Lark is Los’s Messenger thro’ the Twenty-seven Churches, that the Seven Eyes of God, who walk even to Satan’s Seat thro’ all the Twenty-seven Heavens, may not slumber nor sleep” (Mil 35:63).

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Religion Hid in War: the Reign of Rahab 

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The relation between Church and State. Image: The Whore of Babylon by William Blake (1809). As he observed a decade before this striking image, in contemporary Britain “The Beast & the Whore rule without control” (Blake’s Annotations to Bishop Watson’s Apology for the Bible, 1797).

The Whore and her Dragon represent the last group of the Twenty-seven Heavens or Churches, the line from Abraham to Luther, “the Male-Females, the Dragon Forms, Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot” (Mil 37:42; J 75:17–20; 89:53; 93:25), “which John in Patmos saw” (Mil 40:22). It is the Antichrist (J 89:10–11).

Blake blamed Luther because he “left the Priest & join’d the Soldier” (On Boyd, K 413). “Remember how Calvin and Luther in fury premature sow’d War and stern division between Papists & Protestants. Let it not be so now! O go not forth in Martyrdoms & Wars!” (Mil 23:47).


“The supreme manifestation of Satan in this world is war.” Image: one of Rahab’s faithful envoys, prime minister William Pitt, in Blake’s rendering of him (The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth, 1805), standing amid the scene of devastation and destruction he has himself initiated, whilst believing himself aloof from it and sanctioned by “Moral Virtue”. He is an unnervingly modern figure.

The supreme manifestation of Satan in this world is war. When liberty is generally under attack, “a Vast Hermaphroditic form” takes hideous shape; “at length an awful wonder burst from the Hermaphroditic bosom: Satan he was nam’d … a male without a female counterpart … yet hiding the shadowy female Vala as in an ark & Curtains … being multitudes of tyrant Men in union blasphemous against the Divine image, Congregated assemblies of wicked men” (FZ viii:248–58). War springs from suppressed sex.

The opposite of the Hermaphrodite is the Androgyne, in which man’s bisexual nature is perfectly harmonized. This was his original state. Blake found the theory in Ovid (CR 263), in Plato’s Symposium, in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and also in Genesis i:27 and v:2: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Later, Eve was divided from Adam; this was a stage in the Fall, which brought death into the world.

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The term “hermaphroditic’ is as much cognitive in Blake’s mind as sexual: it denotes “Doubt which is Self contradiction” – a sterile state of self-devision, which while it combines elements of the male spectre and female emanation produces nothing in its sea of doubt, only confusion and alarm, “where ignorant armies clash by night”.

A Hermaphrodite is a being with the organs of both sexes. To Blake it symbolized a sterile state of unreconciled and warring opposites. “In Doubt, which is Self contradiction,/A dark Hermaphrodite I stood” (GoP, “Of the Gates” 12, K 770). He applied the term to war, to rational philosophy, to Nature herself (“I Nature, Hermaphroditic Priest & King,” On Thornton, K 789), and unadjusted sex.

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Rahab, hid in the Beast.

Rahab as the Female Will seeks dominion by means of sex: “All the Jealousies become Murderous, uniting together in Rahab a Religion of Chastity, forming a Commerce to sell Loves, with Moral Law an Equal Balance not going down with decision. Therefore the Male severe & cruel, fill’d with stern Revenge, mutual Hate returns & mutual Deceit & mutual Fear. Hence the Infernal Veil grows in the disobedient Female, which Jesus rends & the whole Druid Law removes away from the Inner Sanctuary, a False Holiness hid within the Center” (J 69:32). 

Rahab is the mother of Tirzah: the Harlot is mother of the Prude (FZ viii: 294, 365; Mil 13:41; 19:54). They work together constantly (Mil 19:27; J 34:52; 59:43; 67:34; 89:2).

They weave the Natural Body, as opposed to the Spiritual Body (FZ viii:201, 220), “till the Great Polypus of Generation covered the Earth” (J 67:34). They divide the twelve Daughters of Albion amongst themselves (J 5:42); and Gwendolen does the same for the two (J 34:52); then the twelve unite into the two, “a Double Female” (J 67:3); and again they unite in Rahab’s Cloud (J 82:11; 84:30). They created the kings in Ulro (J 73:39). In preparing for the French Revolution, “Rahab created Voltaire, Tirzah created Rousseau” (Mil 22:41). They weave men by war into nations (Mil 25:29). 

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“Rahab is the mother of Tirzah. They work together constantly, and weave the Natural Body, as opposed to the Spiritual Body”. Image: Rahab and Albion, from Blake’s Jerusalem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion. She works here with Tirzah and Vala to alienate and dissociate Albion from his own body.

Rahab remains secret, refusing definite form, a cloud (J 80:40, 51). Hers are the Twenty-seven Heavens (J 75:4). But she herself is still hidden until finally she is exposed, complete in error.

In The Four Zoas (viii) this occurs at the trial and execution of Jesus; in Milton (40) in a Last Judgment, when Ololon denounces Natural Religion; in Jerusalem (89) at the revelation of the Covering Cherub, within whom are Satan and Rahab (Mil 37:9).

Then, being a definite form, she can be cast out. In the Last Judgment, Mystery is burned up (Rev xvii; FZ ix:67; LJ, K 609); but what is consumed are only her errors. “Sin, Even Rahab, is redeem’d in blood & fury & jealousy—that line of blood that stretch’d across the windows of the morning—redeem’d from Error’s power” (FZ ix:159).

The most harmful error of Rome lay in its debasement of sex, an error which had lasted for eighteen hundred years (Eur 9:2). Blake’s works are full of declarations that the act is holy. 

Blake renounced completely any worship of the Virgin. He scoffed at Mary’s virginity, which, with the Vegetated Christ, was “the Hermaphroditic Blasphemy” (J 90: 34). She was not the Mother of God but only of the mortal part of Jesus; and he rejected her: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John ii:4; SoE, “To Tirzah” 4, 16).

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The Holy Virgin Sophia Maria. The orthodox figure of the Virgin Mary is an entire fabrication that was latched onto the life of Jesus in order to re-frame it and synthesise it with earlier representations of this supposedly Chaste, Virginal, Pure female figure – which is how the fallen, dissociated or “spectrous” Reason (Logos) now perceives what it’s searching for. Abstract rationality turns Jerusalem – open, available, embodied – into a sort of weirdly purified, cleansed, sublimated, and rather bloodless ideal that, however, perfectly complements its own dissociated and abstracted, colonising left hemisphere processes. Blake’s concept of “Jerusalem” here draws on Boehme’s earlier depiction of “Sophia” as the feminine side or aspect of “God”. As N. A. Berdyaev notes, “Jacob Boehme may have been the first to have developed the Old Testament figure of Sophia, Yahweh’s eternal partner of Proverbs 8, into a metaphysical doctrine of divine androgyny.” But as Berdyaev also observes, Blake’s Jerusalem is in many significantly different from Boehme’s Sophia, who had presented this emanation or ideal as “bound up with the pure, the virginal, the chaste” – everything Blake despised about Mariology and the deification of sexlessness. As Damon remarks, Blake rejected the notion of both chastity and purity, seeing them both as sacrilegious – the utter negation of embodiment and the full sensory experience which for him constituted the sacred. As he strikingly notes in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, revelation will only come about “by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.”


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“Blake renounced completely any worship of the Virgin. He scoffed at Mary’s virginity, which, with the Vegetated Christ, was ‘the Hermaphroditic Blasphemy’ (J 90: 34).”  What made Mary, and Joseph, potentially “divine” for Blake was not their avoidance of sex, but their embrace of it, and in particular Joseph’s radical act of forgiveness with regard to it. As Damon notes, “Blake did not believe in the supernatural conception of Jesus. He ridiculed the idea in an epigram ‘On the Virginity of the Virgin Mary & Johanna Southcott’ (K 418), and detested the mariolatry which was based on it. It is not only that the sexual urge is essentially pure, and ‘can never be defiled’ (MHH 9; Am 8:13); the matter goes deeper than that. Matthew’s story, as Blake interpreted it, thus became an outstanding example of the Forgiveness of Sins. Mary is the felix culpa. When Joseph calls her an adulteress, she does not deny it (J 61:6), but replies: ‘If I were pure, never could I taste the sweets of the Forgiveness of Sins.’ In his dream, Joseph has learned that the Forgiveness of Sins is unconditional. Mary is one of the Transgressors, and therefore the appropriate mother of the greatest Transgressor of all, who also forgave an adulteress.” The idea of a “Virgin Mother” is what Blake would have called a “Hermaphrodite”, a sexual oxymoron whose only purpose is to mystify its believers and celebrate – in fact deify – ideas of shame, privacy, and hiddenness as things to be exalted and admitted. This is the utter opposite of Blake’s figure of Jerusalem: naked, sexually free, and receptive – which is why the church of Sophia Maria dislikes her so much and, as Blake often points out, frequently calls her the “Whore”. Image: The Virgin and Child in Egypt by Blake.

Any doctrine based on the idea of Mary’s supposed virginity is the result of “the Spectrous Uncircumcized Vegetation,” which in dreadful pain forms “a Sexual Machine, an Aged Virgin Form, in Erin’s Land [the realm of the body] toward the north, joint after joint, & burning in love & jealousy immingled, & calling it Religion” (J 44:24). “Thus God himself become[s] a Male subservient to the Female” (J 88:21). Blake’s last drawing for the Divine Comedy represents the intoxicating Rose of Heaven (99), which he turned into an attack on mariolatry.

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“Religion Hid in War”. Recognise anything the figures have in common? Images (from top left): Inanna, Artemis, Brittania, Statue of Liberty, Athena, Helen of Troy, Ishtar, and the former Head of the Church of England and Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces. Most early goddesses of sex and desire were also goddesses of war and hunting, while often being depicted as curiously chase themselves – a typically corrosive and perverse combination which perhaps explains a lot about the obsessions with war and sublimated or “purified” sexuality in these civilisations. The symbols commonly associated with this perverse figure (found again today in Darwin’s view of “Mother Nature” as a being driven by both sex and war – fierce sexual competition and the bloody survival of the fittest) are the predatory Lion and the chaste Star (associated repeatedly with the planet Venus). Thus for example, “like Ishtar, Astarte was primarily a goddess of sexuality and war. Astarte was also referred to as the ‘Queen of Heaven’ as well as the morning and evening star. Just like Ishtar, one of Astarte’s primary symbols was the lion and she was closely associated with the planet Venus.” As Mary Beard explains: “it’s Venus and the unswayable, unstoppable power of desire that in a way brings Rome its military victories.”

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The survival of the archetypes: (from left): Kali, the Hindu goddess of ultimate power, time, destruction and change, whose most well-known appearance was on the battlefield in the sixth century Devi Mahatmyam; lion, symbol of Ishtar and Inanna, and indeed of Darwinian “Nature, red in tooth and claw
”; Artemis (or Diana) the huntress, often shown with rows of bulls’ testicles hung around her breasts, like trophies of the wars she inspires; lastly, the modern huntress and the horned animal that often accompanies her, denoting this relationship.

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The worship of the Star of Venus (Astarte/Inanna/Athena/Ishtar/Artemis) that inspires and incites wars.

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Under the sign of Venus: her Star is to be found on all military, law-enforcement, and corporate agencies, which constitute her modern followers, through their cultivation of dissociated desire and fierce competition. Venus can be seen in both the morning and the evening, and was therefore sometimes referred to as the goddess of the Evening Star and the Morning Star, which latter in the Bible is also referred to as “Lucifer” (hêlēl, or “shining one”).

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This is the third of three posts exploring Blake’s understanding of the 27 Churches or States of the Fall, and their connection with both Sexuality and Gender (the Hermaphrodites and Male-Females that he associated with each distinct state), and with more cognitive or Subject-Object splits that each stage entailed and embodied.

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To read the first post on this please click here: Gender and Perception: William Blake and the Fall into Male and Female, by Northrop Frye

To read the second post on this please click here: Blake’s Erotic Apocalypse: The Androgynous Ideal in ‘Jerusalem’, by Diane Hoeveler

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