Mysterium Coniunctionis: Jung, Blake and the alchemy of the Brain, by Rod Tweedy

The Philosopher’s Stone and the integration of the Brain

Introduction

Mysterium Coniunctionis was Jung’s last great work. He was engaged on it for more than a decade, from 1941-1954, and finished it in his eightieth year. The book therefore occupies, as one critic observed, “the culminating position in his writings” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung). In it he compellingly links the practices of alchemy and psychology through a profound analysis of symbolism and an examination of their shared ideas of the integration and ‘union of opposites’. As he notes, “Not only does this modern psychological discipline give us the key to the secrets of alchemy, but, conversely, alchemy provides the psychology of the unconscious with a meaningful historical basis.”

It’s a fascinating, illuminating, and at times breath-taking study, which draws not only on a wide number of alchemical texts but also on Kabbalistic ideas and symbols such as Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man), the Sefirot, and the union of the ‘Holy One’ and his bride. According to Jung, humankind has historically moved from a condition in which it projects the contents of its unconscious onto the world and heavens to one in which, as a result of a total identification with the rational powers of the ego, it has not only withdrawn its vivifying projections from the world but also fails to recognize or understand the archetypes of the unconscious mind.

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Blake, Misunderstood? Review of Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead’

Josephine A. McQuail reviews Olga Tokarczuk’s award-winning Blakean novel Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones. Riverhead Books, 2009; translation © 2018)

Images from Spoor, the 2017 Polish film directed by Agnieszka Holland, adapted from the novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Above: Agnieszka Mandat and Miroslave Krobot (Photo: Palk Robert/Next Film); Below: poster for the film (Photo: (WP:NFCC#4).

Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature in 2019 (the prize was delayed, due to various scandals involving some members of the Nobel Prize Committee). Her 2007 novel Flights was translated into English finally in 2018, winning the Man Booker Prize, and paving the way for the Nobel Prize.

Tokarczuk’s novel Flights won the Man Booker Prize in 2018

Tokarczuk speculated, “Sometimes I wonder how my life would have worked out if my books had been translated into English sooner … because English is the language that’s spoken worldwide, and when a book appears in English it is made universal, it becomes a global publication” (quoted in Armitstead). 

As anyone who has read Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell and remembers “The Proverbs of Hell” will recognize, the title of Tokarczuk’s 2009 novel is a quote from William Blake – or technically a paraphrase, as the actual quote is “Drive your cart and plow over the bones of the dead.”

Not to give anything away, but the quote has a lot of relevance to the plot of the novel, as it turns out. Tokarczuk’s protagonist Janina is an elderly woman who has a passion for horoscopes; a skill that comes into play when her neighbors turn up dead.  She lives full time in a country setting in rural Poland bordering on the Czech Republic (as Olga Tokarczuk herself does).  She lives on a plateau, with harsh weather, and pointedly, calls it “the world of Urizen” (p. 56) (Urizen in Blake, or “Your Reason” as it is sometimes pronounced, is a cold, repressive force).

Each of the seventeen chapters has an epigraph by William Blake – quotes (as vaguely indicated in the Author’s Note) taken from “the Proverbs of Hell, Auguries of Innocence, The Mental Traveller and the letters of William Blake” (p. 275). The misattribution of “The Proverbs of Hell” (and not Marriage of Heaven and Hell) is puzzling, and also the lack of mention of The Book of Urizen, which is specifically discussed and quoted in the novel (“What demon hath formed this adominable void?”, p. 71). Like the misquote of the Proverb of Hell in the title, are these subtle signals that we have not the “real” Blake alluded to here, but a “filtered” one?

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The Eighth Eye: Prophetic Vision in Blake’s Poetry and Design, by Rachel V. Billigheimer

Apocalypse and Perception: Moving beyond Natural Perception

‘The Man Who Taught Blake Painting in his Dreams’ (c. 1825). This is a replica of one of Blake’s drawings of figures that appeared to him in visions. It has also been proposed that Blake’s image might be a ‘visionary self-portrait’, showing the artist himself at the moment of the inspiration. The strange form on the forehead may represent flames.

“Through the eighth Eye man is able to cast off the error of tradition and dogma and achieve individual inspiration”. Picture: ‘The Sun At His Eastern Gate’. Many people see the sun as a natural object in the sky, i.e., see it in terms of the dogmas of natural science, literality, and tradition, without the reality-based eight eye.

 

Prophetic Vision in Blake’s Poetry

In a previous study, Blake’s Eyes of God Cycles to Apocalypse and Redemption, the seven Eyes of God in Blake’s prophetic books were correlated with biblical and historical periods. Directed by the spirit of imagination, these cycles were seen as intrinsic to apocalypse. Here we examine the poetic inspiration of Blake’s eighth Eye and relate it to the prophetic vision in some of Blake’s designs.

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Blake as Shaman: The Neuroscience of Hallucinations and Milton’s Lark, by David Worrall

The Mind in the Cave and the Cave in the Mind

‘A nude male, almost certainly Milton or a compound of Blake and Milton, strides away from us and into his book, perhaps leading us forward into its depths. Milton may be entering his ‘Own Vortex’. His right arm and hand also cut his name in two, an action suggesting that the route to apocalypse is blocked by a ‘selfhood’ that must be self-annihilated’ – Essick & Viscomi

This essay argues that Blake’s illuminated poem, Milton a Poem in 2 Books (1804-1811), exhibits characteristics of the hallucinations also encountered in the archaeology of rock paintings made during shamanic trances in the prehistoric period. The essay will particularly focus on the trance-like episode referred to at the end of Milton and will link it to similar shamanic trances known to have occurred to southern African /Xam (San) bushmen in their practices of rock painting.

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The God of This World, by Albert S. Roe

The Domination System of Urizenic Hierarchical HyperRationality

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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 conversing with Paradise, which the flood did not Sweep away.”

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Blake and the Spiritual Body, by Northrop Frye

Awakening from the Material Body

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The central idea of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, to put it crudely, is that the unrest which has produced the French and American revolutions indicates that the end of the world might come at any time. The end of the world, the apocalypse, is the objective counterpart of the resurrection of man, his return to the titanic bodily form he originally possessed. When we say that man has fallen, we mean that his soul has collapsed into the form of the body in which he now exists.

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