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“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” by William Blake: Opening the Doors of Perception

MarriageHeavenHell

This is probably my favorite work by William Blake. It is fairly long (about 15 pages), so it is too long to include in this post, but I am sure you can find digital versions online should you need. The piece is a combination of prose and poetry, so the style and tone changes throughout the text. Essentially, you have a debate between angels and devils about heaven and hell, good and evil, reason and emotion, and so forth. The key concept is that you cannot have one without the other, that contradictions are necessary for existence. As such, Blake is challenging all the established ideas of his time. Coming out of the Age of Reason, he argues the importance of creativity and emotion (embodied by the Romantic movement). Additionally, he challenges the doctrines of the church, which are represented by the passive, and asserts the importance of energy, or the passionate desires and instincts that Christian ideology seeks to suppress.

One of the key things to keep in mind when reading this text is that Hell is not inherently evil, but it is a symbol for energy, passion, emotion, and creativity. The fourth section of the text is subtitled “Proverbs of Hell” and include several pages of short proverbs intended to teach the importance of tapping into creative energy. I will include a few of my favorites to give an idea of the concepts embodied in the proverbs.

  • The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

  • He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

  • A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

  • He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

  • No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

  • What is now proved was once only imagin’d.

  • One thought fills immensity.

  • You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

  • Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement are roads of Genius.

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece is the exploration of the subconscious through the use of altered perception. Blake asserts that in our normal state of consciousness, we are unable to perceive the divine. It is only through altered consciousness that we can catch a glimpse of the divine realm.

The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would be misunderstood, and so be the cause of imposition.

Isaiah answer’d: “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in everything, and as I was then persuaded, & remain confirm’d, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences, but wrote.”

In his famous quote regarding the doors of perception, Blake acknowledges that the use of hallucinogenic substances, such as those used by indigenous shamanic cultures, can shift one’s consciousness to the point that an individual can perceive the divine. This quote and idea would later go on to inspire Aldous Huxley and later the rock group The Doors.

I then asked Ezekiel why he ate dung, and lay so long on his right and left side. He answer’d, “The desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite: this the North American tribes practise, and is he honest who resists his genius or conscience only for the sake of present ease or gratification?”

. . .

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

Blake then goes on to describe a mushroom-induced experience of what it’s like to shift perception and plunge into the subconscious realm of visions and inspiration.

So I remain’d with him, sitting in the twisted root of an oak. He was suspended in a fungus, which hung with the head downward into the deep.

By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us, at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey, which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; & the air was full of them, and seem’d composed of them—these are Devils, and are called Powers of the Air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? He said: “Between the black & white spiders.”

Toward the end of the text, one of the devils makes an argument about Jesus, essentially asserting that Christ was rebellious and acted from impulse and passion, and did not restrain his desires as is taught by church doctrine. The result of the devil’s argument is that the angel who was listening embraced the flame (symbol of enlightenment and passion) and became one of the devils.

The Devil answer’d: “Bray a fool in a mortar with wheat, yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him. If Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love Him in the greatest degree. Now hear how He has given His sanction to the law of ten commandments. Did He not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbath’s God; murder those who were murder’d because of Him; turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery; steal the labour of others to support Him; bear false witness when He omitted making a defence before Pilate; covet when He pray’d for His disciples, and when He bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.”

The text concludes with a powerful line, asserting the divinity inherent within all things.

For every thing that lives is Holy.

I hear this line echoed in Allen Ginsberg’s great poem “Howl.” And I firmly believe this. Every living thing has a spark of the divine within it, but sometimes our perception is shrouded and we cannot see it. And this is the message of Blake’s text; We must clear away the debris that clouds our vision and seek to perceive the infinite and divine essence that is all around us.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have an inspired day.

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Kabbalistic Symbolism in “Promethea: Book 3” by Alan Moore

Promethea_3

In this volume of the graphic novel, Sophie and Barbara (two incarnations of the goddess Promethea) proceed on a journey through alternate realms using the sephirot in the kabbalistic tree as a means to ascend the higher realms of existence. They begin by analyzing the diagram of the ten sephirot connected by the twenty-two paths. Barbara comments that the symbol resembles a game of hopscotch, which I thought was a clever analogy considering that the sephirot essentially allows one to “hop” into another realm.

Promethea_Hopscotch

The paths that the women take lead them from the lowest sephirah, Malkuth, which represent the physical world, and begin to work backwards toward the godhead. Following the reverse emanation from the divine crown, they proceed in this order:

  • Malkuth
  • Yesod
  • Hod
  • Netzach
  • Tiphereth
  • Geburah

While in each of the sephirot, they encounter symbols associated with each realm. The details are far too complex for me to elaborate on in this short post, but I will provide a couple brief examples.

When the women move from Malkuth into Yesod (Foundation), they cross the river Styx, symbolizing the transition from the conscious mind to the subconscious. It is the place where fact and fiction meet, creating the myth, which is eternal. It is associated with the moon, dreams, and imagination, all of which figure prominently in the text and the rich illustrations.

Next, they move into Hod (Splendor). This is associated with magic, mysticism, and the intellect. Here the path becomes the symbol for infinity and the women engage in a circular discussion that could go on for all eternity.

Promethea_Infinity

After exiting the loop of infinity, they continue through Hod and meet the god Hermes, who explains how language, story, and mathematics are the basis for our human reality.

Hermes:

Ha ha! Real life. Now there’s a fiction for you! What’s it made from? Memories? Impressions? A sequence of pictures, a scattering of half-recalled words… Disjointed hieroglyphic comic strips, unwinding in our recollection… Language. To perceive form… even the form or shape of your own lives… you must dress it in language. Language is the stuff of form. Mathematics, for example, is a language. Consider the forms it produces… This magic square of eight is called The Knight’s Tour. Connect its numbers in sequence and you produce the magic line of eight. Do you see? Mathematics is a language, a human invention, a fiction… and yet it creates such elegant form. It creates splendor. It creates truth.

Barbara:

So… everything’s made from language? We’re made of language? Even you?

Hermes:

Oh, especially me. How could humans perceive gods… abstract essences… without clothing them in imagery, stories, pictures… or picture-stories, for that matter.

Sophie:

Picture-stories?

Hermes:

Oh, you know: Hieroglyphics. Vase paintings. Whatever did you think I meant? Besides, what could be more appropriate than for a language-god to manifest through the original pictographic form of language?

Sophie:

Uhh… so like, what are you saying?

Hermes:

What am I saying? I’m saying some fictions might have a real god hiding beneath the surface of the page. I’m saying some fictions might be alive… that’s what I’m saying.

This only scratches the surface of the rich symbolism that is embodied in this book. Every page, every panel, contains both visual and textual symbolism and metaphor. But don’t be intimidated. While this is very complex and heady material, the story is still great and accessible, and the artwork is phenomenal. I highly encourage you to explore all the books in this series.

I will leave you with one more quote from this book, which I believe aptly sums up our reality.

“Man walks through a forest of symbols.”

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 17

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds to Odysseus’ return home to Ithaca in Homer’s Odyssey. According to SparkNotes, it is “narrated in the third person through a set of 309 questions and their detailed and methodical answers, in the style of a catechism or Socratic dialogue.” Since I’m not a Catholic, I can’t really say that it was like a catechism, but I will say that for me, the style resembled the method of scientific inquiry, where one seeks to get to the truth or prove a theory by posing a series of questions. It is strange reading, since much of what takes place in the episode is discussion between Bloom and Stephen, and then later Bloom telling Molly about his day, yet there is noticeably no dialog whatsoever in this episode.

In Joyce’s novel, Bloom also returns home, but it is not a triumphant return such as with Odysseus. He realizes he does not have his key and is locked out. After Stephen leaves, Bloom bumps his head on furniture that has been moved, adding to the sense that although he is home, it does not feel like home. He then gets into bed with Molly who is asleep at that point and notices signs that Blazes Boylan had been there and had sex with Molly in their bed. I can’t help but feel sad for Bloom.

As with all the episodes in this book, this one is also packed with lots of symbolism, so I am just going to focus on a few passages that were key for me on this reading.

Bloom is depicted as feeling dejected. He had hopes of doing significant things with his life, but he feels as if he never did.

Why would a recurrent frustration the more depress him?

Because at the critical turningpoint of human existence he desired to amend many social conditions, the product of inequality and avarice and international animosity.

(p. 696)

As Stephen is leaving, both he and Bloom step outside and together they look up at the stars. Bloom has an epiphany as he realizes his connection to the universe. He envisions universes within himself, universes within each atom that composes everything in existence. It seems as if he grasps the connection between the scientific and the mystical, as symbolized by astrology. It is a fairly long passage, but it warrants including here.

With what meditations did Bloom accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Mediations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Major) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Acturus: of the procession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in the cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained in cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible components bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

(pp. 698 – 699)

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

Bloom’s epiphany continues as he realizes that god is ineffable. It is impossible for any human to understand and know the divine source, we can only use symbols as a way to allow us a glimpse of the true essence of the divine.

His (Bloom’s) logical conclusion, having weighed the matter and allowing for possible error?

That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia, there being no known method from the known to the unknown: an infinity, renderable equally finite by the suppositious probable apposition of one or more bodies equally of the same and of different magnitudes: a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its future spectators had entered actual present existence.

(p. 701)

Bloom then gazes at the moon. As he does so, he recognizes the lunar orb as a symbol for the goddess.

What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?

Her antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising, and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant implacable resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.

(p. 702)

After getting into bed with Molly and noticing the signs of Boylan having been there, Bloom seems to resign himself and kisses Molly’s buttocks, which wakens her. It is revealed that they have not been intimate for 10 years, which would explain Molly’s affairs. After Bloom finishes telling her about his day, they lay in silence. Above them, the light from the lamp casts concentric circles on the ceiling, representing the eternal cycles of life-death-rebirth, and also the cycles of myths as represented in stories.

What moved visibly above the listener’s and the narrator’s invisible thoughts?

The upcast reflection of a lamp and shade, an inconstant series of concentric circles of varying gradations of light and shadow.

(p. 736)

Molly is then depicted as the Earth Goddess from which all life is born and to which all life returns. Bloom becomes the archetype of the weary traveler, at the end of his journey, returning to the womb of the divine female source from which he was created, thus ready to begin the cycle once again.

In what posture?

Listener: reclined, semilaterally, left, left hand under head, right leg extended in a straight line and resting on left leg, flexed, in the attitude of Gea-Tullus, fulfilled, recumbent, big with seed. Narrator: reclined laterally, left, with right and left legs flexed, the indexfinger and thumb of the right hand resting on the bridge of the nose, in the attitude depicted on a snapshot photograph made by Percy Apjohn, the childman weary, the manchild in the womb.

Womb? Weary?

He rests. He has travelled.

(p. 737)

The episode ends with an unanswered question.

Where?

BlackDot

(p. 737)

The question is left unanswered because the tale is eternal. Bloom has returned to his point of origin and the cycle must begin again, and the myth, like all existence, must continue in the never-ending circle.

This is, in fact, the end of the tale for Leopold Bloom. The final episode is Molly’s famous internal soliloquy, which I will cover in my next post.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

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Black Science: Issue #3

BlackScience_03

In this third installment, the writer introduces a cool name for the inter-dimensional travelers: dimensionauts. Very nice! I like that a lot.

Anyway, I had expected (based upon how Issue 2 ended) that this one would focus on the techno-shaman, but not so much. There was a little with the shaman, but not a lot. This issue’s emphasis is on building the back story, which works well. Much of the issue is a flashback to where Grant McKay shows his kids the Pillar, which is the name for the inter-dimensional transport device that he built.

There is a great section where McKay describes how the device works.

“So here it is. The tool we will use to acquire, well—anything. The cures for cancer. Rare minerals. Unimaginable technology. Anything you can imagine exists on some layer of the Onion.”

“The Onion?”

“The building block of infiniology. The theory that anything you can imagine exists in some layer of the eververse. We call this construct ‘The Onion.’ Layer upon layer of parallel dimensions. The Pillar is the tool that pushes through these layers, allowing us to travel to these other worlds.”

“Wow.”

“Each layer represents an immeasurable number of realities, each created from the choices made by every living being in the universe. Once we map them, we can find the solution to every problem mankind faces.”

“If it is like that, layers built upon layers—what’s at the center of it?”

“That’s a damn good question, Nate. We all have our theories, but it’s just speculation. One day, some dimensionaut will travel deep enough into the Onion to find out. Maybe it will be you. Whatever is at the core, it’s the first dimension, the first life that made the first decision that then broke off into other dimensions.”

“So it’s like God?”

As I read this, I could not help thinking about Plotinus’ theory on emanation. Simplified, the theory posits that the divine source (or God if you will) exists as the center of all creation. Everything that exists is emanated from the divine source, becoming more fragmented and less divine the farther out it is emanated. The metaphor of the Onion in this comic is a great representation of Plotinus’ idea. If the center of the Onion is the divine source, then every creative thought or emanation from the first being has added a layer of reality. This is then compounded by the thoughts and actions of every living thing that came after, exponentially adding layers of reality to the universe.

So far, I really love this series. As someone who is fascinated by mysticism but at the same time loves science and technology, this comic offers the perfect blend of both. If you’re a comic geek, I highly recommend that you take the time to explore this series. Check back for my review of Issue 4 in about a month.

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 1 of 4: Burnt Norton

FourQuartets

I read T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets early on in college and really didn’t grasp it. I think the fact that I read it on my own and not as part of a class was what made it difficult for me to grasp. Anyway, I decided to read the collection of poems again and to write about them one at a time. So this is my first of four posts on the Four Quartets.

“Burnt Norton” is a poem about time, essentially, the cycle of time and how the past and the future relate to the present. I found it to be very spiritual and it seems to me that Eliot was drawing inspiration from Eastern religions. The language and the metaphors he uses conjured images of a mandala, where the present is the center and the past and future revolve around, folding into and out from the central point.

Mandala

From the poem’s opening lines, you immediately get the sense that time is not linear.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

There is a definite impression that everything that ever was and everything that will come into being already exists in the now. Time is relative to our point of existence in the universe. The infinity of possibilities extends in every direction, emanating from our point in space.

Since time and possibility surrounding us is infinite, there is no way that our consciousness can grasp its depth. As Eliot expresses in the following lines, we are only able to grasp an infinitesimal amount of reality, and that is symbolized by the present.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

(Lines 42 – 46)

Since we cannot fully grasp the past or the future, since both are infinite, all we can do is focus on the present. The only thing we can grasp completely is the moment in which we exist. In order to do this, one must still the mind, as expressed in the following lines.

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
T be conscious is to not be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbor where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

(Lines 82 – 89)

So in order to become fully conscious, we must transcend time. The way that we transcend time is through meditation. When we enter a deep meditative state, time is no longer linear. Everything exists within the single moment of our awakened consciousness. At that point, the past and the future become one with the present in our psyches. This is the only way that we can truly comprehend time and existence.

Later in the poem, Eliot offers a great description of how it feels to enter the deep meditative state.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

(Lines 114 – 126)

As I read these lines, I recalled experiences I have had while meditating. There is a sense that you lose touch with the world around you, and yet, at the same time, you are fully connected with the world and with all existence within that one moment. It is something that is very hard to describe because it transcends our ordinary reality. The closest you can come to expressing that feeling is through poetry, and Eliot does a great job here.

There is much more to this poem than what I have covered here; for example, I noticed symbolism of time as an eternal circle which I personally associate with the ourosboros. In addition, the number 10 appears in the poem which for me is a very mystical number. Finally, there are references to various Eastern and Western mystic traditions. Any of these could be explored deeper in another post. But I will leave some for you to explore. I encourage you to read this poem, even if you have read it before. It is deeply spiritual and profoundly inspiring.

Look for Part 2—“East Coker”—soon.

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