Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chapter 6: Jews, Deists, and Christians

Different chapters of Jerusalem are addressed to different audiences: one to the general public, one to the Jews, one to the Deists of Blake's time, and the last one to the Christians. Up to now we have not looked at the different language and imagery relating specifically to the three religious groups..If what we have seen of the spectre relates to the Jungian shadow, and his feminine figures to the anima, then the next set of images clearly are in the realm of the Jungian Self.

First, let me give examples of specifically Jewish references. Most impressive is the fantastic chariot of Plate 41. Critics differ on what it is. Most plausibly, I think, it is Blake's version of Ezekiel's vision of the Merkabah, the celestial chariot, drawn by four creatures in the form of men:

What a fantastic vision this is! The wheels and traces are serpents, the unicorn-oxen are ridden by men or demons with eagles wings, and next to Jehovah is his meek little spouse Hokmah, Wisdom. In the poem, it could be Albion (as Urizen) and Jerusalem. The unicorns are a reference to Job

Similar beasts of burdne appear in another etching (Plate 29); this time, they are lions pulling a plow. They are the slaves of a Urizen-like task-master who himself works hard. At 41:14 Blake speaks of "the plow of Jehovah." And in other places he calls Urizen th eplowman. Erdman sees here the Spectre's contempt for philosophers who "plow"--i.e. engrave--their visions, Blake's Spectre who says he is wasting his life.

Other etchings draw from stories in the Old Testament. One is at the beginning of the chapter entitled "To the Jews." The large figure is probably Abraham, whom Blake says on the same page "flees from Chaldea shaking his goary locks" (15:28). As for the lower figures, the way it grows out of a tree root suggests it stands for the "brethren" that Reuben, one of the sons of Albion, "enroots in the narrow Canaanite." (15:27). It could also stand for "Hyle and Hand enrooted into Jerusalem by a fibre" (15:1). Erdman theorizes that these vegetated forces are trying to stop Abraham's progress. The result is tantamount to crucifixion, on both sides, as the two pairs of outstretched arms suggest. The picture is thus symbolic of how the forces under Vala's power try to impede the prophet, whether Abraham or Blake. The buildings in the background are then the "schools and universities" of 15:14, which oppress true intellect (Plate 15):

For Erdman the picture suggests another scene as well, the sacrifice of Isaac, with the lower figure as the ram caught in the thicket. I see the lower figure as Isaac himself, about to be sacrificed by Abraham as the representative of Urizen. The elongated features emphasize Abraham's despair at such a cruel god, to have devised such a test of loyalty. The university and church in the background serve the same oppressive God. Then the vegetative character of Isaac is simply fallen man's helpless obedience, like that of the sons of Albion.

More hopeful are two images of the ark that carried Noah to safety during that other awful calamity of Jehovah's, the Flood. In the first, a crescent moon rides on the floodwaters (Plate 24):

One might be wary of a vessel in the shape of one of Vala's emblems. The deluge is an illusion, Erdman observes. Yet the wings of the dove inside are positive, he says: The text relates how Albion gets a momentary recovery of the truth about Jerusalem, Babylon, and the Divine Body of Human Imagination (24:17-25). It as an example of the winged moon, which we saw in the previous chapter holding Jerusalem's vision of the Lamb. The wings bear the beholder toward Heaven.

In the second example, the dove has turned into a house with wings, and there is an escort of Cherubs (Plate 39):

The text relates that the cherubs want to bear Albion back to Eden, "But Albion dark, Repugnant, roll'd his Wheels back into Non-Entity" (39:5-6). Again, it is an example of the winged moon's upward movement.

This interpretation is strengthened if we look at Blake's probable source for seeing the ark as a crescent moon, Bryant's book on mythology for which he helped do engravings as an apprentice. The last engraving in the book (Vol III, p. 601) is quite close to what we have been seeing here:

Bryant's idea was that the crescent moon's association with the rainbow and the dove, all goddess-symbols in ancient pagan cultures, derived from the story of the flood, which he thought only the Hebrews told correctly.

Another Old Testament image of humanity humbled before God's power is that of the worm. "I am a worm and no man," says Job. This is an image that Blake uses to indicate man under the spell of Vala. We have already seen Albion as a worm wrapped around the naked form of Vala. Blake also shows the worm alone, in an image reminiscent of the chains of Vala that run down one of Blake's pages (Plate 82):

In the text at this point, Hand and Hyle have been reduced to worms by Gwendolen and Cambel, two of the daughters of Albion.

Finally, I want to show you a depiction of the spectre in the chapter "To the Jews" that look like something from the Old Testament. In Judaism the job of "satans" was to bring accusations of sin before the heavenly court after people's deaths. In Blake's image, three archers aim their arrows against an unseen foe, most likely the viewer's own heart (Plate 35).

I am reminded here of Blake's own accusers at his sedition trial. Beneath the archers on the same page is the setting of the false, barbed sun of Urizen.

Now let us turn to Blake's second group, the Deists. One early image comments on Newtonian physics (Plate 12):

It is as though to say, measure the universe and discover its laws all you like, it is still the fallen world of Vala, seen at the top.

To the Deists, one may speak conceptually. Against the Newtonian surveyors, Blake has another map of the world (Plate 54):

Blake sees the world in terms of contraries: pity vs. wrath, and reason vs. desire. They are derivative from the four primal life-energies of Blake's system, called "the four Zoas," respectively Urthona for the limbs, Tharmas for the genitals, Urizen for the head, and Luvah for the heart.

A final Deist image is of a three-headed king in a swirling vortex of human forms (Plate 50). :

In Blake's description, much later in the text (70:1-16), the three heads are "three brains in contradictory council brooding incessantly," not daring to act," "plotting to devour Albions body of Humanity & Love," and "rejecting Ideas as nothing & holding all Wisdom/ To consist in the agreements & disagreements of Ideas." This last is a paraphrase of the philosopher John Locke, but with two meanings of the word "Idea." Locke rejects Platonic ideas but not Ideas as images of what we perceive with our senses.. Within the three-headed figure are the twelve sons of Albion, some of whom burst out of the chest. These last are also a two-faced Francis Bacon, along with Newton and Locke--Blake's three representatives of Deist rationalism

Notice here the moon on the left and the suns on the right, a motif that we have already seen and will see again. The moon is the symbol of Vala, who dominates the sons of Albion, "Imputing Sin and Righteousness to Individuals." The lightning connotes retribution for trespasses. The large sun on the horizon would be eternal wisdom, just dawning. The lower sun, smaller but still shining brightly would be false wisdom or intellect,. Then above it is something else, in eclipse. This might be true wisdom as it is currently revealed--not very bright at all, thanks to Vala's moon.

Now let us look at Christian images, Blake's final topic.. There are two images where Christ himself appears. One, early on, we have already seen.: Christ cradles the sleeping Albion (Plate 33):

This is a reversal of the usual Pieta, in which Jesus's mother holds his lifeless body. Here it is Jesus who is the compassionate one, ameliorating the harshness of the god of Abraham. It also provides an answer to the spectre on the bottom of the same page.

The second image of Christ, at the beginning of Blake's chapter "To the Christians," is Albion looking up at the cross (Plate 76):

In this case, it is Albion who feels pity. Erdmann comments that Albion's pose is that of St. Francis receiving the stigmata. Erdmann also doubts that this figure on the cross is for Blake the real Christ, as opposed to the Christ that Christianity made of him. For Blake a body on a cross smacks of druidic human sacrifices on oak trees, and the grotesque idea of someone dying to pay off someone else's debts. From that perspective, it is an image from the fallen world, focusing on the body and not the spirit of Christ. Yet the figure is powerful; it evokes Christ's compassion and forgiveness of humankind. There are two suns here. Perhaps the lower sun is the setting earthly sun, and the one behind or within Jesus the rising spiritual sun. Or the one with Jesus is a false sun, and the other a rising eternal sun.

Another image is less clear, but Christian nonetheless. In early Christian hymns. Christ was conventionally the herald of a joyful new dawn. here it is Hand, one of the sons of Albion, sitting abjectly, looking at the sun as the sun rises or sets in the sea (Plate 78). The pose is that of Durer's Melancholia and later, Rodin's Thinker:

This is an ironic comment, I think, on the Christian rooster in fallen Christianity. Hand's "rav'ning beak" is not that of a rooster but rather of a bird of prey. And the sun is likely not rising but setting. It is the same barbed sun that we saw beneath the archers, identical also with the barbed globe of fire that Urizen carried in The First Book of Urizen.

A late image is that of the reviving Albion caught between the Old Testament and the New, the seal of Solomon and a stalk of grain representing the heavenly bread (Plate 91):

With his thunderous hammer, Los has just smashed fhe "pyramids of power" in our mind's eye, our this-word delusions. Then he ucceeded in sending his Spectre to a space apart, the mythic equivalent of throwing him in the lake. He is in fine form, and his words just above this image are justly famous:
I care not whether a Man is Good or Evil: all that I care
Is whether he is a Wise Man or a Fool. Go! put off Holiness
And put on Intelect: or, my thundrous Hammer shall drive thee
To Wrath which thou condemnest: til thou obey my voice. (91:54-57)
Los still trembles, weeps, and howls but what he beholds is the amalgamation of warrring nations in his furnaces


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