Totalitarianism and the Urizenic Mind
Milton wrote Paradise Lost just before the rise of the nation states, and Milton also had the intuition that there was something wrong with rationality, and he identified rationality with the mythology of Satan.
In the mythology of Satan, Satan was represented as the highest angel in God’s heavenly kingdom – so you can think about that as the highest psychological function, who had rebelled against God and then was cast into Hell.
His hypothesis was this: Evil was the force that believes that its knowledge of the world is complete. And that it can do without the transcendent. And as soon as it makes that claim, it instantly exists in a place that’s indistinguishable from hell. [“In Hell all is Self Righteousness” – Blake. As McGilchrist notes in his fascinating gloss on Blake, “He who sees the Infinite (looks outward to the ever-becoming with the right hemisphere) in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only [looks at the self-defined world brought into being by the left hemisphere] sees himself only (the left hemisphere is self-reflexive)”]. And it could get out merely by admitting its Error, and it will never do that.
The Zoas and the Zodiac
Blake and Varley
Blake and Varley: Portrait of Blake by Thomas Phillips (1807), and portrait of Varley by John Linnell (1820)
Blake’s friendship with the artist and astrologer John Varley (1778–1842) is one of the most unusual and intriguing of all Blake’s unusual and intriguing friendships. They first met in 1818, when they were living as near-neighbours in London, and it is Varley we have to thank for the remarkable series of drawings of ‘Visionary Heads’ that Blake made, in the company of Varley, over a number of late-night (or rather early morning) meetings – or ‘seances’ as some people called them – that they had, usually at Varley’s house, 10 Great Titchfield Street, off Oxford Street, which was near to Blake’s in South Molton Street. These drawings included the famous image of ‘The Ghost of The Flea’; it is a rather remarkable fact that this Ghost arose out of their discussions about astrology and the possible influence of the position of the planets on both our psychology and physiognomy. The Ghost (or Spiritual Form) of the Flea, apparently, denoted ‘Gemini’.
Blake’s drawings (including that of the Flea) were used by Varley for his 1828 book A Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy – the only time that Blake collaborated with someone else on the production of a book. And what an fascinating book it is: ‘Zodiacal Physiognomy’ is surely one of the most intriguing titles for a book ever. But what exactly was zodiacal physiognomy?
Shelley is often thought of as an atheist, the author of the celebrated pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism, for which he was promptly expelled from Oxford. In fact, the pamphlet did not advocate atheism as such but rather argued for its decriminalisation – a philosophical nicety sadly lost on the Oxford authorities. Moreover, Shelley himself at the time was if anything a Deist, as were most progressive eighteenth-century radicals – his letters from this period are filled with arguments trying to find a rational basis for belief in God.