William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet and artist who self-published works of pious creativity, including drawings of Christian divinity and other religious images. Or was he? He was, we are told, more - many of his now recovered drawings and writings, long suppressed, point to erotic, nearly pornographic imaginings. Or do they?
The mystery of the mystic lies in some of the lesser-known religious stirrings of his times, notably the Moravian movement of which we now know his mother to have been an active proponent. Another key figure in the religious initiations of William Blake was Emmanuel Swedenborg, a scientist turned mystic. In the London of William Blake's day. there was a curious confluence of people with some shared ideas about spiritual matters, drawing from basic Christianity (at a time when there were few established sects), Judaism
(notably the Kabala), Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and the Hindu notions of tantric study.
All of these philosophies held that sexual intercourse was an act of high spiritual purpose and should be treated as such. Some went further than merely to celebrate the relations between man and wife. The early Moravians in London were orgiastic, with "love feasts" that went on all night and featured ecstatic sexual sharing. Still others included a homosexual element (led by a probable homo- or bi-sexual preacher). Men were encouraged to retain their semen by a mystical process and thereby force its potency, believed to be spiritual, back into the body where it would
infuse the practitioner with strength and wisdom and prevent the misuse of his lustful proclivities. Readers should be warned that the imagery of these strange rituals is not for the weak of stomach. It often referred to the wounded side of Jesus as a sexual symbol known, with no pornographic intent, as the "side hole." Moravians and others were enjoined to mentally "lick" this wound (Blake's mother was among those who found this inner meditation overwhelmingly blissful). Blake produced drawings, long unseen and some restored by photographic processes, which depicted the female sexual organs as a kind of elaborate cathedral. In his writings, he named his wife Catherine "Cathredon," meaning a place of worship, referencing her vagina as a site of entry. After his death, some of his drawings had underwear added, covering outsized, presumably spiritually charged, male organs.
If you think it can't get any farther out, be advised: it can, because much of Blake's striving to achieve spiritually advanced states through sexual means began when he was already aging, and there are stories, seemingly borne out in contemporary written materials, that Blake had sex with another man's wife when Catherine was tired and uninspired by his unconventional beliefs about sex.
This book is meant as a scholarly treatise and not written for the general public. It reveals letters, drawings and other corroboration that
was long hidden in a London attic. Its purpose is not to titillate, nor to denigrate a man most people hold up as a remarkable example of Christian mysticism. Blake's efforts to go very deeply into the physical in order to better experience the divine are typical of the most refined thinking of his day, in which science lagged behind the longings of the human spirit for true unfettered spiritual opening. Its author is a recognized expert in this subject matter. The book will be appreciated by Blake's admirers and will, I think, do little damage to his reputation.