As legend has it, all devils were angels once, but who “fell”, the cause being — ostensibly — a rebellion in Heaven. The angel called “Lucifer” (whose name means “Light Bearer”, and later called “Satan”) was the most glorious and most luminous of the angels. Here is Blake’s depiction of Lucifer, the Luminous One, in his original form or essence…
A few things to note about Blake’s illustration of the original form or essence of Lucifer cum Satan….
First, it is quite androgynous. Neither male nor female characteristics are pronounced. This depiction reminds of Plato’s primordial androgyne, who represents, symbolically, the unity of opposites or non-duality. Lucifer here is an inclusive figure, what we might call a holon. That is also indicated by his holding the sceptre and the orb of rulership.
This original form of Lucifer is the Jungian “Self”, and is the human archetype prior to the fall into duality or dualism. After the fall, Satan is depicted quite differently: previously as Prince of Light, he is now Prince of Darkness, and his angelic wings of flame have become bat’s wings, while his light has become, instead, flames of torment.
Know, then, that Blake’s “Satan” is Man himself in his present spiritual form, who has now fallen into the great spiritual Darkness and Void that Blake calls “Ulro” — our present world — for the human now carries his Hell around with him. This, the Buddhists call “samsara“. And Satan is called “the Selfhood”. The Selfhood is also called by Blake “Urizen”, one of the four Zoas, who is the god and maker of the Ulro, which is the world of shadows. Urizen is Reason alienated from the Ever-Present Origin, and who is the source of oppression. His Book of Iron Laws is the present form of Lucifer’s Orb and Sceptre, which are the emblems of enlightened reason. The devious and devilish aspects of the reasoning power in the human are called collectively “Prince of Lies”.
“Only a hair separates the false from the true” — what I have taken to calling Khayyam’s Caution — reflects the saying that “Satan is ever the ape of God”. That is to say, Satan is, as Blake’s Ulro is, the mimic or shadow of the true, as the ego-nature is merely an image or shadow of the “True Self” or what is called “soul”, which is the still unrealised integral human or “transhuman” form. This is the spiritual fourfold human Blake calls “Albion”. The ultimate conclusion of Buddhism — that nirvana and samsara are the same, or Heaven and Hell — is accessible only when the veil or cloud that obscures our perception is lifted. This veil or cloud is called “Selfhood” or self-image, and is the definitive problem of human narcissism, “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern” (Blake). For Blake, the truth about reality would be revealed once mankind succeeded in breaking through the boundaries of perception and the limitations placed upon perception by “the mind-forg’d manacles”.
The bursting of the bubble of perception is the true meaning of the word “apocalypse”.
Albion’s sleep and Albion’s awakening are the central themes of Blake’s art and poetry. Blake was entirely convinced that we were entering a “new age” in which the doors of perception would be opened, and the true human spiritual form revealed. Nietzsche only seconded that with his “two centuries of nihilism” leading up to the “overman”. It seems that many others have come to agree that something is stirring in the depths of the human form — Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness”, Jean Geber’s “mutation”, Eric Kahler’s “breakdown of the human form”, the post-modern “loss of self”. These all seem prefigured in Blake’s cryptic remark announcing a “new age” that,
The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid. If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern. — Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
I believe this passage, apocalyptic as it is, to be metaphorical. By “corrosives” Blake is likely referring to his style of art, which was to attack, to lay siege to the walls and boundaries of our perception, to dissolve the cloud that obscures our vision, to break the “mind-forg’d manacles” and dispel the shadows of the Ulro and overthrow the reign of Urizen. As Nietzsche philosophised with a “hammer” and “dynamite”, so Blake wrote and painted corrosively.
Both men practiced a much higher form of “creative destruction” than those who bandy about that phrase today. They danced the dance of Shiva, Lord of the Apocalypse, as Blake’s Albion “danced the dance of Eternal Death”.