The Selfhood

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…

Blake's Lucifer

Blake’s Lucifer

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.

Gustave Dore's Satan

Gustave Dore’s Satan

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”.

Glad Day -- Albion's "dance of eternal death"

Glad Day — Albion’s “dance of eternal death”

Shiva's Dance of Destruction

Shiva’s Dance of “Creative Destruction”



9 responses to “The Selfhood”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Here is a very brilliant interpretation of Blake and the four Zoas I just came across on the web a few moments ago. It’s a commentary by Theodore Roszak, and I want to draw your attention to it as it pertains to this post on the Selfhood,

  2. abdulmonem says :

    The more one knows, the more ignorant one feels, that is why one needs to be careful in his delivery, and not to despise even the devil. I was not aware of Blake assertion that nature is the work of the devil as it is cited by Roszak in his excellent article on Blake. I am also sad that Blake did not love nature, It is unexpected to find such a spiritual visionary to despise one of the most beautiful manifestation of the divine. It is unfortunate that his stand against the single vision did not save him from falling in another more horrifying trap of limited vision,as it is well explained by the article. This of course does not negate the other traits of the man, as Ibn Arabi said that the drunkenness of one of his shieks did not prevent him to continue to be his student. As far as the story of Lucifer is concerned, the Islamic story runs that the devil is not of the angels specie, but of the jinn and there was no revolt but a designed program to have the antagonistic forces function in order to keep the creation pursues its course in the best manner possible.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I think Blake’s attitude towards “nature” was conditioned by his reaction to nature’s idolisation by the Enlightenment — Rousseau, for example, or the idea of “natural philosophy”, “natural religion”, or that the arrangements of society reflected “the natural order of things”. Blake rejected all these claims about the meaning of “natural”. I don’t think Roszak got Blake completely right there. In the adulation of “nature” and the “natural” by the Enlightenment, Blake saw a reversion to Druidism, and sought to counter it by emphasising the other side of nature as something fallen, something mechanical (as in the woodcut Urbi et Orbi). And Blake saw nature worship as aberrant, being what “fell” with man’s “fall” at the same time. “Nature” is what is bounded, in bondage to, and constrained by man’s physical senses and a reflection of the merely mechanical aspects of man’s being.

      Otherwise, it is quite clear from his poem Auguries of Innocence alone that Blake had a deep empathy for all living beings. But in his time, “Nature” had pretty much come to mean the mechanical aspects of the cosmos — the machinery of the heavens — repetitious, routine, reproductive, circuitous, reactionary, etc. For Blake, after all, everything living was holy.

      This different attitude to what is called “nature” is what prevents Blake from being indifferently lumped in with the “Romantics”, as is the usual take on Blake. It’s far more nuanced, and closer to Nietzsche.

      As far as the story of Lucifer is concerned, the Islamic story runs that the devil is not of the angels specie, but of the jinn and there was no revolt but a designed program to have the antagonistic forces function in order to keep the creation pursues its course in the best manner possible.

      This may also be true, for even Blake noted that “without contraries there is no progression”, and he spoke of “sheep and goats” or “producers and devourers” as both necessary to preserve the cosmic balance. Nietzsche also expressed something of that in the opening pages of his Zarathustra, or in the tension between the Dionysian and the Apollonian (otherwise represented as “romantic” and “classical” respectively), which is the basic polarity of Nietzsche’s thought (Dionysian “background”, Apollonian “foreground”).

      The djinn are probably the same as Castaneda’s “inorganic awarenesses”. In don Juan’s description, there are two basic types of beings — organic and inorganic, and the latter can become “allies”, and can be devilish, harassing beings as well as helpers. Apparently, the inorganic entities can also spoof or mimic human beings and pretty much anything else, and that humans actually have regular contact with them without necessarily knowing it except maybe to note something anomalous or “weird” about the event. The current craze about “aliens amongst us” could well be connected with a certain sensitivity about that, an intuitive sense that one is dealing with an inorganic awareness. At one time, belief in these inorganic beings was quite normal, and they make up the stuff of fairy tales and legends, of “spirits” or “ghouls” and so on.

      I’m pretty sure the djinn are these same inorganic awarenesses.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    This is the danger of moving from one extreme to another. The middle way, the balanced way, the wisdom way is the saver. Everything in existence has awareness, every one recites his connection, but alas human transparency is besieged, and here comes the Blake emphasis on the cleansing of the door of perception, once cleaned the infinite becomes apparent, that is the talk(sound) of everything becomes hearable and every light (photon) becomes seeable. This is confirmed by all Sufis. We need to visit the vision of Kathleen Rain whom i referred to in a previous comment and alluded to in the article by Roszak to appreciate the impact of cleaning the doors.

  4. alex jay says :

    Sounds to me like a metaphor for “quantum entanglement” (aka – “spooky action at a distance” – sorry Mr. Einstein) — Lucifer, djinn are the opposite spin of the same entity. Or … heads and tails of the same coin … : )

  5. abdulmonem says :

    God is fascinating and he delivers his fascination,through the fascination of his creations. We, I hope, are talking in the self-awareness of everything not about self-awareness of everything. When I am fascinated I like to share my fascination with others. I feel compelled to draw the attention to the tent of the Plant Intelligence put on Realty Sandwitch by Stephen H Buhner ,since we are on the topic of awareness, the wholeness of everything and to leave the confine of the limited. Love, beauty, compassion irrespective of its particularization. John loves Mary is a particular incident of Love the whole. Intention is the process of entering the divine tent, that is in the tent, in-tent.

  6. LittleBigMan says :

    “For the whole meaning of science is to “vegetate the Divine Vision,” to block out the transcendent correspondence in favor of power-knowledge.” – From Chapter 9 of Theodore Roszak’s book.

    Yes, this is the main reason why I became disillusioned with the study of science. Because the development and use of science are not organic but rather rooted in the desire and direction of those who intend to dominate with wealth and power.

    By saying “organic,” I mean a type of science that would be developed for the sake of anyone that was in the most need of it. Not for the sake of creating wealth; not for the sake of creating control; and certainly not for the sake of inflating the ego-consciousness of those who believe in the motto: “Kill them all, and let God sort them out.”

    I believe I have inched a little closer to understanding Blake. Thank you.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “to block out the transcendent correspondence in favor of power-knowledge” is pretty much the themes of my last two or three recent posts on “the outlaw spirit” where the “transcendent correspondences” are associated with the Hermetic philosophy, while “power-knowledge” was the domain of “the Experimental Philosophy” advocated by Francis Bacon.

      So, you have a kind of inverse or “unholy trinity” in Blake’s poetry in which Newton, Locke, and Bacon are associated.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I am eagerly looking forward to get to those two posts 🙂

        It was very gratifying to read Blake from the link above and understand “Jerusalem, Plate 54,” and “Milton plate 40 – 41.” In the past, I couldn’t understand any of it. More specifically, it was very gratifying to understand the following excerpt:

        “To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions
        covering To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
        To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration”


        P.S. By the way, it seems to me that integral consciousness necessitates a communicative language of its own – which may or may not be in the form of the grammatical languages we use today. I would imagine it would have to be the sort of language that could communicate impersonal or universal meanings with zero tolerance for psychological corruption. Maybe that’s what telepathy is……

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