A Review of ‘Unfolding the Mythological Unconscious: An Illuminated Talk’ by Carol Leader
Introduction: William Blake and Therapy
“Was William Blake mad?” is the usual question that comes up in any discussion of Blake and therapy. What was fascinating about psychoanalytic psychotherapist Carol Leader’s talk at the Blake Society event at the Freud Museum was the way in which she explored this connection between ‘Blake and the Therapists’ on a new and much more profound level. Indeed, her presentation was so thought-provoking that it makes you wonder why more hasn’t been written on this connection. As Tim Heath noted in his introduction to the talk, “whenever you converse with William Blake, whenever you dive into his work, it immediately becomes apparent why Blake intimated the coming of therapy.”
The Thinker and the Thought: “What you are, the world is. So your problem is the world’s problem”
Krishnamurti in 1910. The year before, theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater, who claimed clairvoyance, had noticed Krishnamurti on the Society’s beach on the Adyar river and was amazed by the “most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it.” Leadbeater was convinced that the boy would become a spiritual teacher and a great orator; the likely “vehicle for the Lord Maitreya” in theosophical doctrine, an advanced spiritual entity periodically appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of humankind. Krishnamurti later rejected this role, and indeed rejected the whole idea of following “roles”, after an intense spiritual experience in 1922.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher, speaker, and writer. In his early life, he was groomed to be the new ‘World Teacher’ (the Theosophical concept of Maitreya), but he later rejected this mantle and withdrew from the Theosophy organization behind it.
His interests included psychological revolution, the nature of mind, meditation, holistic inquiry, human relationships, and bringing about radical change in society. He stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasised that such revolution cannot be brought about by any external authority, be it religious, political, or social.
Krishnamurti was often seen as a spiritual master, although he interestingly mistrusted all religions and denounced the Eastern convention of deifying living spiritual masters. This gives some of his thinking an unusual and indeed at times devastating honesty. Perhaps nowhere is this more seen than in his critiques of the ego – the basis of both the modern personality and of most orthodox psychoanalytic thinking (the purpose of much Freudian and Jungian analysis is actually to strengthen the ego). The goal in Krishnamurti’s vision seems to be to go beyond both ‘self’ and beyond ‘mind’ (which, like Tolle, Krishnamurti equates with ego or what Blake calls “Selfhood”). “Judgement and comparison commit us irrevocably to duality”, he says – and we can never be happy therefore while we are in this state. And neither can those around us.
The Evolution of Vision
BLAKE is only known to have attended a religious service three times in his life: he was baptized, in the year 1757, at the beautiful font of St. James’s, Piccadilly. He was married in Battersea Old Church; and at his own wish, his burial service (he died in 1827) was according to the rites of the Church of England. His admiration for such dissenters as John Wesley and William Law notwithstanding, he preferred the national Church to non-conformity; perhaps in part because of his love for those Gothic churches—and especially Westminster Abbey—in whose architecture he saw the true expression of the spirit, in contrast with Wren’s St. Paul’s, which he saw as a monument to Deism and human reason. His last great work was the splendid but incomplete series of illustrations to Dante; he admired St. Teresa of Avila, and the French Quietists, Fénélon and Mme Guyon, no less than the Protestant mystics, of whom two in particular—Jakob Boehme and Emmanuel Swedenborg—were his acknowledged masters.
Blake contrasted the “Living Form” of Gothic (infinite, organic) with the cold rationalism of Wren’s “monument to Deism”: round, rational, and religious
He declared himself a Christian without reservation: “I still and shall to Eternity Embrace Christianity and Adore him who is the Express image of God” he declared. He never had any period of doubt, early or late. But what kind of Christian was our great visionary and national prophet?
Blake, Boehme, and Left Brain Verstand
Boehme’s influence on Blake, although often acknowledged, is frequently underestimated and has never been comprehensively investigated. Much modern criticism regards Blake’s work as non-transcendental, even secular. This is partly a reaction against earlier criticism, which was more sympathetic to Blake’s connection with the mystical tradition. The argument of this article, however, is that Boehme exerted a continuous and pervasive influence on Blake, and that recognition of this can illumine some of the most difficult and contradictory elements in Blake’s work. These include the attitude to the body and the senses, and the metaphysical status of the selfhood and the created world.
Boehme’s system represents a synthesis of many different currents of thought, including the Dionysian via negativa, the Hermetic tradition, the Kabbalah and the Lutheran faith. It is emphasized, however, that his philosophy arose from intense mystical experience rather than academic study, and that he chose to express it in symbolic and mythological terms rather than rational concepts.