The Guard at the Root of the Tree of Life

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 tree of life; and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy, whereas it now appears finite and corrupt.  — William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

This, one of Blake’s more significant prophecies about “the New Age”, certainly seems to have come to pass. The cherub with his flaming sword guarding the tree of life certainly seems to have abandoned his post in this “Age of Extinction”. Hell, it seems, has a sense of irony.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was composed between 1790 and 1793 and parts of it map out what Blake foresees (or “heard from Hell”) for the coming Age. This prophecy is especially peculiar because it seems to anticipate many actual developments in the psychic and spiritual constitution of man since the book was first printed. A lot of people might take it for poetic nonsense, but perhaps in retrospect we might be more cautious, especially from the viewpoint of our present Age of Extinction. 

Perhaps Blake (or “Hell”) did not have an Age of Extinction in mind. But then the consequences of the cherub with the flaming sword leaving its post certainly sound apocalyptic and catastrophic. The prophecy, though, has much the same import as Rumi’s poem “Green Ears”.

There was a long drought. Crops dried up.
The vineyard leaves turned black.

People were gasping and dying like fish
thrown up on shore and left there.
But one man was always laughing and smiling.

A group came and asked,
“Have you no compassion for this suffering?”

He answered, “To your eyes this is a drought.
To me, it is a form of God’s joy.

Everywhere in this desert I see green corn
growing waist high, a sea-wilderness
of young ears greener than leeks.

I reach to touch them.
How could I not?

You and your friends are like Pharaoh
drowning in the Red Sea of your body’s blood.
Become friends with Moses, and see this other riverwater.”

No doubt to people suffering such a drought it would seem, too, like the guardian had left its watch at the root of the Tree of Life. When I think of the Anthropocene and the Kali Yuga, I also muse on the potential relevance to it all of Blake’s prophecy and Rumi’s poem.

But there are other coincidences. Blake’s prophecy has some resonance with the matter of “the return of the repressed” or of what Seth refers to as “the ancient force”, as well as Nietzsche’s Dionysian irruption and coincident “two centuries of nihilism”. The Seth remarks about “the ancient force” from The Unknown Reality

“Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines. Man’s “unconscious” knowledge is becoming more and more consciously apparent. This will be done under and with the direction of an enlightened and expanding egotistical awareness, that can organize the hereto neglected knowledge–or it will be done at the expense of the reasoning intellect, leading to a rebirth of superstition, chaos, and the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge.

When, at this point now, of mankind’s development, his emerging unconscious knowledge is denied by his institutions, then it will rise up despite those institutions, and annihilate them. Cult after cult will emerge, each unrestrained by the use of reason, because reason will have denied the existence of rampant unconscious knowledge, disorganized and feeling only its own ancient force.”

The return of the repressed is clearly no stroll through the park. But might not Seth’s remarks here also be a reflection of Blake’s prophecy?

In addition to these, we have cultural historian Jean Gebser’s extensive works on this matter of “the return of the repressed” as described in The Ever-Present Origin. For clearly this “ancient force” also has something to do with Gebser’s “origin” (and so the “archaic consciousness”). And for very similar reasons, for Gebser this return of the repressed (which he calls “irruption”) is also the occasion for a “global catastrophe”. However you look at it, it’s a thoroughly shattering event. But also, for Gebser as for Blake, it is revelatory — diaphaneity or the “transparency of the world”.

In the Yoga system, this “ancient force” is the kundalini energy, and the Tree of Life is a metaphor for the spinal column. This is, one surmises, also related to what Blake means by “the fountain”, as in his proverb “the cistern contains; the fountain overflows”. The cistern is the enlightened ego consciousness brought about by the artful and skillful raising of the kundalini (or serpent) energy through the chakra system, which in Chinese Hermeticism is referred to as “the Golden Flower“. Taming the dragon power is also the theme of Western Hermeticism

Rebis. The hieros gamos.

(Here, the seven signs are very likely the seven chakras of the Yogic system as well. The winged-sphere is Blake’s “fourfold vision” representative of integral consciousness. The four geometrical figures inscribed within the winged sphere very likely correspond to the distinct “dimensionings” that characterise Gebser’s four structures of consciousness — magical, mythical, mental and the integral. “Rebis” is Latin for “It is done” or “it is completed” or “it is perfected” or “it is finished” and refers to the Hermetic “Great Work” — the hieros gamos or “sacred marriage”).

The cherub with the flaming sword is very likely an allusion to that which is sometimes called “the Guardian of the Threshold”. But taming the dragon power or “ancient force” is also what is represented in some characterisations of the enlightened consciousness,

Statue of Nagarjuna

The Anthropocene is certainly no picnic. But we are advised by Blake, by Rumi, by Seth, by Nietzsche, by Gebser to also pay attention to “this other riverwater”.

2 responses to “The Guard at the Root of the Tree of Life”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Another very good interview with Gary Lachman about “chaos magick”.

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