|“I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body and mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination”—William Blake, Jerusalem|
The following list is both a resource and a springboard for anyone interested in engaging more with Blake’s transformative vision. Just click on the Images.
Mental Fight Club (MFC) was founded by Sarah Wheeler in Southwark in 2003, as a creative force for change led by service users. One of its central inspirations, as its name suggests, is William Blake. The group has been running pop-up creative events since 2003 to explore issues around mental illness, recovery and wellbeing. These varied events play to packed audiences, using creativity to break down the barriers between the ill and the well, the supporters and the supported. In this way the group hopes to “open everyone’s mind to the wisdom and riches that can be gained in the journey through mental illness into recovery”. In 2012 Maudsley Charity began funding the Dragon Café project: MFC’s most innovative endeavour to date. Fuelled by a regular volunteer workforce, two-thirds of whom have themselves experienced mental health problems, the Dragon Café is open every Monday in the Crypt of St George the Martyr Church (London, SE1 1JA) and offers a support structure to the work of MFC, creating a hub which draws together people from a diverse range of backgrounds and mental health experiences. Top tip: pop along to the Dragon Cafe on Mondays, say hi to Declan or Seth, and check out their amazing creative shows and live discussions
GLAD DAY by Guy Pearson: Plaintive, beautiful, and incredibly powerful settings of some of Blake’s most haunting and memorable songs and poems. Guy Pearson’s arrangements demonstrate how extraordinarily effective music is as medium to capture and convey the contrary, shifting emotions and states evoked by Blake’s writing, innocence and experience combined – as if hearing a major and minor chord played together. They are surely some of the most beautiful settings of Blake songs ever recorded. Top tip: check out ‘The Echoing Green’ and be ready to weep.
Patti Smith’s Ode to Blake: In My Blakean Year
Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans for Peace UK: “War is not the solution to the problems of the twenty-first century. It is my opinion that the struggle is to capture the imagination of our children and young people. We cannot allow them to grow up in a society that believes that the military is the solution for all our problems.”
Marilyn Manson reads from Blake’s The Proverbs of Hell
Sarah Wheeler, founder of Mental Fight Club and the remarkable user-led mental health organisation Dragon Cafe, on where the Vision comes from
Pasolini’s astonishing film version of The Gospel According to Matthew
Sister Wendy on the Great Code of Art
Huxley cited his fascination with Blake as a primary factor in his decision to take mescalin, which he hoped would help him transcend the self and see the world without the usual filters on reality: “the drug would admit me at least for a few hours, into the kind of inner world described by Blake.” His book of the experience, The Doors of Perception, is itself eye-opening: one of the most careful and precise deconstructions of “normal” perception ever written: “The function of the brain and nervous system is in the main eliminative”, he observed, “leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful”. The drug allowed him to see that what we normally call “reality” is in fact the product of a massive filtering out of reality, a systematic closing of the doors, leaving only the programs of measurement and utility – reality as it would necessarily appear “to an animal obsessed with survival.”
Impossibly hard to write a decent popular sing about Jesus for some reason, but Lou Reed gives it a good shot in this strangely poignant Velvet Underground track. As one critic noted, “either a junkie’s desperation or a seeker’s inspiration, but he certainly seems to mean it.”
Eckhart Tolle has presented the paradoxical situation with regards to the rational egoic (Urizenic) mind in a striking and powerful image: “the mind can never find the solution, nor can it afford to allow you to find the solution, because it is itself an intrinsic part of the ‘problem.’ Imagine a chief of police trying to find an arsonist when the arsonist is the chief of police” (Tolle, The Power of Now ). Tolle’s understanding and analysis of the nature of the egoic mind is one of the most lucid and sophisticated accounts available, and dovetails in many remarkable ways with Blake’s own understanding both of the rationalising “Spectre” and the egoic Selfhood. See also his A New Earth.
The Refiner’s Fire: The extraordinary line in Handel’s Messiah about one entity being turned into another. It’s also of course the title of a chapter in Northrop Frye’s classic exposition of Blake, discussing the alchemical imagination.
‘Marx, Marxism and Theology’: great exposition of Marx’s view of religion by Christopher Brittain, noting not only Marx’s recognition of how orthodox religion acts as an opiate but also how, more positively, it exists as “an expression of real suffering, and a protest against real suffering.” Part 2 of the talk, on how capitalism is itself like a religion, is here.
Professor Christopher Rowland (author of Blake and the Bible) discusses the transformative nature of liberation theology and the tradition of radical Christianity, including Gerrard Winstanley and Thomas Müntzer. Also covers Pope John Paul II’s attempt to crush liberation theology and theologians in Latin America and his shameful treatment of Ernesto Cardenal, the Nicaraguan Catholic priest, poet and politician – a remarkable liberation theologian and founder of the primitivist art community in the Solentiname Islands.
Chekoullage is a digital multimedia artist who takes a personal approach towards the idea of “awakening through perception”. His Blake-influenced visual art has two goals: to make the spectator question reality, and to encourage a critical analysis of society through images. A ‘chekoullage’ is an image filter: as the artist explains, “the constant traffic of images by TV and Internet has grown at a rapid pace, invading our lives with innumerable images and expanding our perception with the arrival of each new image recorded in our mind. Today, visual information is the food of the masses, the consumer imaging that lodges in your mind and spirit, the pictures the basis of human reasoning (“I see, therefore I am”). I believe in art as a conduit of revelation, which has the power to transform consciousness.” Google Image “Chekoullage” and prepared to have your doors opened!