All Religions are One
Religion, so Blake believed, was the basic problem of mankind. Early in his life he conceived the idea of a fundamental and universal religion that he developed throughout his life.
He was born in the third – Revolutionary – generation of the eighteenth century. The orthodox Anglican Church had become devoted to place-hunting and was spiritually dead. The Dissenters considered themselves members of this church, but keep apart. Deism had captured the intellectual world and established the “Age of Reason” by denying all miracles and revelations. Generally the public was hostile to all religious controversies, which had been responsible for some of the bloodiest pages in religion. “Enthusiasm” was a term of contempt.
William Blake, Eckhart Tolle, and the Obstacle to God
“Imagine a chief of police trying to find an arsonist when the arsonist is the chief of police” (Tolle)
I am your Rational Power O Albion & that Human Form
You call Divine, is but a Worm seventy inches long
That creeps forth in a night & is dried in the morning sun
In fortuitous concourse of memorys accumulated & lost …
So spoke the Spectre to Albion. he is the Great Selfhood
Satan: Worshipd as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth
Having a white Dot calld a Center from which branches out
A Circle in continual gyrations (Blake, Jerusalem)
“The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man,” Blake succinctly notes in Jerusalem, and throughout his works he consistently links the “spectral” or compulsive aspect of divided and divisive rationality with the contemporary form of human reason itself:
… it is the Reasoning Power
An Abstract objecting power, that Negatives every thing
This is the Spectre of Man, the Holy Reasoning Power
And in its Holiness is closed the Abomination of Desolation.
Seeing Blake Plain
Life mask of Blake, taken in 1823
“Of all the records of his latter years,” the poet and critic Swinburne once noted of Blake, “the most valuable, perhaps, are those furnished by Mr. Crabb Robinson, whose cautious and vivid transcription of Blake’s actual speech is worth more than much vague remark, or than any commentary now possible to give.” Others may have understood Blake better than Crabb Robinson – by profession a lawyer and journalist – but no one else was so attentive to his speech, which he carefully recorded in his private diaries (eventually published in 1869 as Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence).
The extraordinary accounts of his meetings with Blake help to answer some key questions: What did Blake sound like? How did he engage with others – what was it like to be in Blake’s company? Thanks to Crabbe Robinson’s remarkable and meticulously recorded entries, we can gain entry and access into Blake’s private world – a sense of what it was like to be the same room as Blake. And also to hear his thoughts – “on art, and on poetry, and on religion” as Crabb Robinson summarises it – including Blake’s view of the nature of imagination, the two Suns, having met Socrates, why there is suffering as well as joy in heaven, his criticism of Jesus, the prelapsarian union of the sexes, Wordsworth’s atheism, and why education is the great sin.
The Difference between Mental Fight and Corporeal War
“War is Energy Enslaved” Blake once remarked – an observation that powerfully captures one of war’s most characteristic and toxic aspects: its ability to harness the astonishing productions of human society – our vast collective energies, intelligence, industries, and labour – and put them to profoundly destructive and degrading ends, to set humanity against itself. Blake’s observation equates war with slavery, with both mental and physical obedience and servitude – or “service” as it’s more frequently called today.
Blake witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of warfare: he lived for sixty-nine years (1757-1827) and for each one of those years, Britain was at war or in military conflict with one country or another – with India, with Portugal, with Hanover, Prussia, the Netherlands, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Austria, Germany, Ireland, America, France, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma …
The Pacific Republic: Central America’s Green and Pleasant Land
On 1st December 1948, President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the military of Costa Rica after victory in the civil war in that year. In a ceremony in the Cuartel Bellavista, Figueres broke a wall with a mallet symbolizing an end to Costa Rica’s military spirit. In 1949, the abolition of the military was introduced in Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution. The budget previously dedicated to the military is now dedicated to security, education and culture.
Hearing the mind-forged manacles
Take a trip around the place that you live. What do you see? What do you feel?
Over 200 years ago, that’s exactly what William Blake did. What happened on that trip – what did he see? what did he feel? – but most importantly, what did it inspire him to write?
He described these “chartered” streets, and even the river Thames as being chartered – he was expressing the sense of ownership, the fact that the streets are owned by someone. Or a river – when you think of a river, you imagine something that flows freely – but he’s pointing to the fact that the river is also owned by someone.
London at that time was starting to assert itself, it was starting to beat its chest. But Blake just peals the veneer behind that image, and speaks about “Weakness” and “Woe”. These are not adjectives that London would use to describe itself to the world.
The Domination System of Urizenic Hierarchical HyperRationality
The entrance to the Rockefeller Centre New York draws on Blake’s image of ‘God’, but reversed so that he now divides with his ‘Right’ hand. Presumably Rockefeller didn’t realise that this figure actually represents a dissociated and psychopathic form of hyper-rationality dominating and dividing the world. Or perhaps he did.
I must Create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s
In speaking of the basic aims of his art, Blake says: “The Nature of my Work is Visionary or Imaginative. This world of Imagination is the world of Eternity. There Exist in that Eternal World the Permanent Realities of Every Thing which we see reflected in this Vegetable Glass of Nature.” Thus art was to him not only a means of communicating his own beliefs to others, but actually a primary source of knowledge concerning the divine plan. He defined poetry, painting, and music as “the three Powers in Man of converting with Paradise, which the flood did not Sweep away.”
How the Sleep of Imagination Produces Dissociation
Any attempt to explain Blake’s symbolism will involve explaining his conception of symbolism. To make this clear we need Blake’s own definition of poetry:
Allegory addressed to the Intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the Corporeal Understanding, is My Definition of the Most Sublime Poetry; it is also somewhat in the same manner defined by Plato.
The “corporeal understanding”, according to Blake, cannot do more than elucidate the genuine obscurities, the things requiring special knowledge to understand (such as the contemporary allusions in Dante), or the literal mechanics of a poem (meter, structure, general themes etc). The “intellectual powers” go to work rather differently: they start with the hypothesis that the poem in front of them is an imaginative whole, a unique and irreplaceable event, and work out the implications of that hypothesis. The way that poetry is generally taught in schools therefore, by converting it into “corporeal understanding” – into a form of machinery – completely misses its whole point, like explaining a joke or analysing a dead body to find out what makes it tick.
‘Excrement’: John Keating’s apt description of the corporeal understanding’s approach to poetry
William Blake, Sexual Communism and the Fall into Monogamy
Blake called his Christianity “The Everlasting Gospel”, and as he articulates in that poem, the affirmation of man’s divinity implies a rejection all inequality and authority:
This is the race that Jesus ran
Humble to God Haughty to Man
Cursing the Rulers before the People
Even to the temples highest Steeple …
If thou humblest thyself thou humblest me
Thou also dwellst in Eternity
Thou art a Man God is no more
Thy own humanity learn to adore.
Blake’s humanistic Christianity has been acknowledged by most critics. What must be understood, in addition, is that his use of the myth of Albion, trinitarian doctrine, and the idea of a “mystical body of Christ” demands that we read The Four Zoas as a myth which is simultaneously psychological and social. “What are the Natures of those Living Creatures [the Zoas],” Blake tells us, “no Individual Knoweth” , for they evoke a social reality lost to fallen man.
On Education, Ego, and Prickles and Goo (Left Brainers and Right Brainers)
Animation of some of Alan Watts’ key ideas, produced by South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone
Alan Watts (1915–1973) was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York, before attending Seabird-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945, but left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Zen Studies.
Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area and wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, including The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism, and Psychotherapy East and West (1961), in which he proposed that Buddhism should be thought of as a form of psychotherapy rather than a religion.