Research on Symbolism of Devil (part 2)

A reading on Samuel Foster Damon’s A Blake Dictionary: The idea and Symbols of William Blake. This book indeed is a useful reference for me to understand the symbolism suggested by William Blake, especially the symbolism used for angels and devils. Below are some quotations that derived directly from Damon’s text:

Blake’s Philosophy

  • “Blake was not content to record: he wanted to force his reader to think along with him.” (Damon, 1965, p. 5)
  • “Blake’s great task was ‘to open the immortal Eyes of Man inwards, into the Worlds of Thought’ (J5:18)” (Damon, 1965, p. 6)
  • “A thought is wholly true only the first time it is said. At second hand, it is just that much nearer falsity; and at third hard it may have completely reversed its meaning.”
  • “He introduced flat contradictions, which can be resolved only when the meaning is understood; then they turn out to be clues.” (Damon, 1965, p. 7)
  • As Blake saw everything in human terms, practically anything might be a symbol; but it has not been feasible to write an article on every noun, especially as many of them have little or no symbolic significance.” (Damon, 1965, p. 7)

Angels

  • “Angel is the Greek word for messager.” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • “Anything speaks of Eternity mighty be an angel; the tiny skylark is ‘a Mighty Angel’ (Mil 36:12)” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • Angels guard children and give them sleep; (Sol, ‘Night’ 23 and ‘A Cadle Song’ 7)” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • Angels also mercifully bring death, particularly to children.” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • “Angels receive the spirit of the victims of wolves and tigers (Sol, ‘Night’).” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • “The guardian spirit of each nation is an angel.” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • “We often call people “angles” without intending more than a compliment, but when Blake did so, he startles us by meaning it. He was writing about living people when he wrote: ‘It is not because Angels are Holier than Men or Devils that  makes them Angels, but because they do not Expect Holiness from one another, but from God only…Angels are happier than Men & Devils because they are not always Prying after Good & Evil in one another & eating the Tree of Knowledge for Satan’s Gratification’ (LJ, K616).” (Damon, 1965, p. 22)
  • “In his anti-Swedenborgian Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake’s Angels are, satirically, the orthodox, ‘good’ people, the contraries of the Devils, who are the unorthodox geniuses, the ‘evil’ upsetters of established orders…When materialism succeeded there, ‘man became an Angel’ (Eur 10:23)…The Angels see only Innocence while his contrary, the Devils, sees only Experience.” (Damon, 1965, p. 23)
  • “The Angels described in Revelation of course are active in the picture of Last Judgment. One pair binds the Dragon; another, the Harlot; and a third pair opens the book of Life (K 443). Seven Empty vials of the Wrath of God, and another seven blow their trumpets (K 444). Seven descend headlong to wake the dead with their trumpets (K 607).” (Damon, 1965, p. 23)
  • “The Fallen Angels, who figure in the sketches for the Book of Enoch, are placed in the deserts of Africa (SoL 4:20).” (Damon, 1965, p. 23)
  • “The Angel of The Divine Presence is Satan. He appears in the presence of the Lord (Job i-ii)l in Blake’s second illustration to Job, he is named and specified. He may take the form of an angel of light (II Cor ix:14), and is often mistaken for God. He provoked David to number his people (I Chron xxi:1)…This Angel is frequently called by the Name of Jehovah Elohim, The ‘I am’ of the Oaks of Albion (LJ, K610).” (Damon, 1965, p. 24)
  • In The Everlasting Gospel (e:29–42), he is the creator of the body, law, and hell; in his sight, heaven is impure; he rolled all to chaos with the Serpent for its soul. As the creator of body, he clothed Adam and Eve with coats of skin (o Butts, 6 July 1803).” (Damon, 1965, p. 23)
  • “The Angel of the Divine Presence is the first of the Seven Angels of the Presence; and, as the unfallen Lucifer, is the first of the seven Eyes of God.” (Damon, 1965, p. 24)
last-judgement-1808.jpg!Blog

Fig. 1. William Blake, Last Judgement, 1808. http://www.wikipaintings.org

The painting Last Judgement (Fig. 1) is generally believed reflecting Blake’s vision which I doubt his vision was a real case. There are many biblical verses reveal the possibility of seeing visions, but mostly for the sake of building kingdom of God. Most of the time, the gift of prophecy to see vision only happens to prophets. Since many theories that suggested/implied by him were contradicted to the principles of bible, it’s unlikely Blake to see the vision. Anyhow, Last Judgement is magnificent in the term of academic context. In fact, the painting is full of symbolism: the Christ’s throne symbolize his kingdom has come; Adam and Eve represent the first human beings that Christ had made; the baptism and holy communion are juxtaposed to each other; the trumpets declares that Christ has won the battle. In contrast to Christ’s throne, the hell at the bottom describe the failure of evils. The painting is in symmetrical composition which can be found in many of Blake’s painting.

Devils

  • “Devils for Blake are usually evil spirits, probably Accusers of Sin (diabolus means ‘accuser’).” (Damon, 1965, p. 103)
  • “In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, for once they are the original geniuses, those who are familiars in the ‘Hell’ of the subconscious, which is the source of all ‘energy’.” (Damon, 1965, p. 103)
  • “On a pencil drawing of nine grotesque heads, Blake noted: ‘All Genius varies Thus. Devils are various. Angels are all alike’ (K 773).” (Damon, 1965, p. 103)
589px-William_Blake_-_9_Grotesque_or_Demoniac_Heads,_Butlin_767_recto_c_1819-20_183x188mm_-_F_Bailey_Vanderhoef_Jr_-_Ojai_California

Fig. 2. William Blake, Nine Grotesque Heads, 1819-1820, http://www.wikipedia.org

Blake’s sketching nine grotesque heads (Fig. 2) showing the various faces of devils. This is an insightful idea. According to bible, the evil spirits and angels all are in spiritual forms. Unlike human flesh, the spirit might appear in various look.

Hell

  • “‘I do not believe there is such a thing literally.’ (On Lavater 309, K74)” (Damon, 1965, p. 179)
  • “Such a belief contradicts flatly the concept that God is Love and the Forgiveness of Sins, his basic ethics. ‘O, God, thou art Not an Anger’ (J 46:28).” (Damon, 1965, p. 179)
  • “‘It is a horrible doctrine. If another man pay your debt, I do not forgive it’ (CR 271)” (Damon, 1965, p. 180)
  • The real Hell is not place but a state; and states of mind are something through which the Individual passes. ‘Hell is the being shut up in the possession of corporeal desires which shortly weary the man, for ALL LIFE IS HOLY’ (On Lavater 309, K74)” (Damon, 1965, p. 180)
  • “It is ‘Eternal Death’ –the being cut off from Eternity; but this cutting off is not everlasting, because of the Divine Mercy. The Hell depicted by Blake in his paintings of the Last Judgment is the Lake of Fire into which Errors (but not Individuals) are cast and annihilated.” (Damon, 1965, p. 180)
  • “In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake, having discarded the arbitrary standards of good and evil, revaluated the psyche, with the conclusion that Energy (usually called ‘evil’) rises from the subconscious (‘hell’) and is restricted by Reason (‘good’), the product of the superego (‘heaven’). The fires of this hell are the flames of inspiration, and Blake implies that they may be the means of salvation.” (Damon, 1965, p. 180)
  • “Urizen sees his victims as ‘the horrid shapes & sights of torment in burning dungeons & in fetters of red hot iron; some with crowns of serpents & some with monsters firding round their bosoms; some lying on beds of sulphur, on racks & wheels’. (FZ vi: 103)” (Damon, 1965, p. 180)

Obviously, Blake’s belief contradicts the principle of bible, in which Christians are taught biblically the existence of Hell. However, it’s good to know Blake’s description of hell and the concept of fire of hell.

Lucifer

  • “Lucifer thus became the name of Satan before his fall.” (Damon, 1965, p. 254)
  • “In the Gate of Paradise, Blake calls Satan ‘The Son of Morn in weary Night’s decline’ (Epilogue 7).” (Damon, 1965, p. 254)
  • “Blake chose Lucifer to be the first of seven Eyes of God (J 55:32).” (Damon, 1965, p. 254)
  • “Lucifer was proverbially proud; his blind selfishness inspired him to try to make himself the center of universe. (Nothing is more self-centered than the newborn baby.)” (Damon, 1965, p. 254)
  • “A watercolor entitled ‘Satan in His Original Glory’ shows the crowned Lucifer extending the globe and scepter. The scepter of temporal power lies heavy upon a scroll that two fingers are endearing to unroll. A recording angel sits above three angels trumpeting downward; beneath them, a figure descends with a book of laws for the starry world below. Beside the cross-surmounted globe of spiritual authority, a female intervenes between a figure reading a book and two fleeing babes. Beneath the globe a figure points to a hint of flames behind Lucifer’s robe. There are several figures of woe, including a youth attempting to embrace a maiden, who points upward, in warning against Lucifer.” (Damon, 1965, p. 254)

Fig. 3. William Blake, Satan in His Original Glory, 1805. http://www.tate.org.uk

It’s interesting to look at Blake’s Satan in His Original Glory (Fig. 3). According to its title, I believe this is a painting to depict Lucifer’s original glory in heaven before his fall. In my previous post ‘Concept Research: Who is devil’, I have collected some bible verse which describe the character of Lucifer. The drawing reflects Lucifer’s desire to be the ruler of this world. The bible verse, “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” ( Isaiah14:12–15), tells us that Lucifer wanted to be same like God. The globe and scepter implies his desires. During the days on earth, Jesus used to describe Lucifer as Ruler of This World. (John 14:30)

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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