Research on Symbolism of Devil (part 1)

A research for my study on symbolism of devil. I found some of William Blake’s poets and drawing are particularly useful to articulate the devil’s characteristic. In his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, I particularly interested in the chapter of “The Voice of Devil”:

“All Bibles or sacred codes, have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

Fig. 1, William Blake, illustration from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (facsimile edition), 1975 (USA: Oxford University Press)

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer of reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.

And being restrain’d it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.

The history of this written in Paradise Lost, & the Governor of Reason is call’d Messiah.

And the original Archangel or possessor of the command of the heavenly host, is call’d the Devil or Satan and his children are call’d Sin & Death.

But in the Book of Job Miltons Messiah is call’d Satan.

For this history has been adopted by both parties.

It indeed appear’d to Reason as if Desire was cast out, but the Devils account is that the Messiah fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.

Fig. 2, William Blake, illustration from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (facsimile edition), 1975 (USA: Oxford University Press)

This is shewn in the Gospel, where he prays to the Father to send the comforter or Desire that Reason may have Ideas to build on, the Jehovah of the Bible being no other than he who dwells in flaming fire.

Know that after Christs death, he became Jehovah.

But in Milton’ the Father is Destiny, the Son, a Raio of the five senses, & the Holy-ghost, Vacuum!

Note. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it.”

Fig. 3, William Blake, illustration from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (facsimile edition), 1975 (USA: Oxford University Press)

It wasn’t easy for me to understand this chapter in first reading because it’s contradicted and inverted with I have read from Bible and theological literatures. However, I think he was kind of genius to invert these symbolism from an opposite perspective, especially in 18th century where people might find his poems offensive and cultic. I personally think his writing is artful. His depictions in the poems are timeless and cutting-edge even when I read them now. In order to understand his idea better, I have done some extra reading from other blogs, websites: BritLit and aworldofcolours. And, Samuel Damon’s A Blake Dictionary: The idea and Symbols of William Blake is also an useful book to decode the symbolism inside.

In  The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the devils represents revolutionary free-thinkers whereas the angels represent religious Pharisees. BritLit explains in this way,

“According to Blake, truth only exists in contradiction and disagreement. This is why the work’s title speaks of two opposites joining together. He believes that good and bad are antiquated falsities, and that truth is found when both are seen together as two sides of the same coin.”

To certain extend, this is an insightful way to describe the devil with this inversion. What seemed to us is righteous and holy is contradicted to the different point of view from a devil. Therefore, those who refraining their own desire are regarded as a passive wrong doing. Opposing the idea that energy from body is evil, the devil proclaims that the “energy is eternal delight”. Everything at here is paradoxical.

In Fig. 1, Blake uses a symmetrical illustration to represent the contrary of good and evil. The flame behind a chained devil is contrast to the sea behind the two figures believed are angel and human. None of them is put up wings, probably Blake want to describe their humanity. The flame behind the devil is more colorful in comparison with sea’s dull color. The contrast scene also symbolizes opposite stance in the poem. In Fig. 2 and Fig. 3, everything appears in the picture is upside-down. Underneath the objects is the flame awaiting them. I believe the image is describe the scene of “It indeed appear’d to Reason as if Desire was cast out, but the Devils account is that the Messiah fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.”

References:
Blake, William (1975) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (facsimile edition). USA: Oxford University Press

Damon, Samuel (1965) A Blake Dictionary: The idea and Symbols of William Blake. Lebanon NH: University of Press of New England

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