‘Religion Hid in War’: The Revelation of the Whore and the Beast
Introduction: The Twenty-Seven States or “Churches” of Human History
“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.
Consciousness and Revolution
The previous post reprinted Blake’s Europe a prophecy, written shortly after the French Revolution and depicting the political and psychological womb out of which it emerged. His illustrations and text are dense, poetic, and richly ambiguous. Here I unpack some of the main themes of the poem, which revolve around Blake’s critique of materialism, and explore the psychological subtext of the poem. As Paley notes, the function of the prophetic form for Blake was “to expose the otherwise hidden motives and consequences of human decisions”. Blake’s concept of ‘prophecy’ is therefore a form of political psychoanalysis, a powerful new way of going under the skin of contemporary events and accessing the deep psychological and sexual dynamics that lie behind both religious and political structures. This superimposition of different fields of reference (simultaneously political, sexual, religious, psychological) is one of the things that makes Blake’s works so striking and distinct, as well as so dense and multivalent. It is also a feature of his thinking that he has in common with modern psychoanalytic approaches. As Adam Phillips notes:
You can only understand anything that matters — dreams, neurotic symptoms, literature — by overinterpreting it; by seeing it from different aspects as the product of multiple impulses. Authority wants to replace the world with itself. Overinterpretation means not being stopped in your tracks by what you are most persuaded by; it means assuming that to believe one interpretation is to radically misunderstand the object one is interpreting, and indeed interpretation itself.
Blake located the source of contemporary struggle in a specific complex of psycho-social structures and dynamics, which we still see being played out and repeated in contemporary European politics. Until we learn to understand and recognise these processes, Blake believed, we will be doomed to repeat the same underlying cycle again and again: a world where revolution becomes simply endless re-cycling.