Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Secret Meaning of the Auguries of Innocence

A Dream in the Appenine, by Samuel Palmer

The poet William Blake was familiar with the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg, and was perhaps attracted to him as he had visions of angels as a child.  This is described in the biography of William Blake:
From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw God “put his head to the window”; around age nine, while walking through the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. Although his parents tried to discourage him from “lying," they did observe that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend conventional school.
Later he trained his younger brother Robert in drawing and painting, but fell ill in the winter of 1787 and died.
As Robert died, Blake saw his brother’s spirit rise up through the ceiling, “clapping its hands for joy.” He believed that Robert’s spirit continued to visit him and later claimed that in a dream Robert taught him the printing method that he used in Songs of Innocence and other “illuminated” works.
The latter part of William Blake's life was spent in poverty, but met a group of young artists who known as "The Ancients" who started to support him and promote his works.  He also influenced their own works.  One of them was the painter and writer Samuel Palmer, but many of his works met an unfortunate fate:
Samuel Palmer was largely forgotten after his death. In 1909, many of his Shoreham works were destroyed by his surviving son Alfred Herbert Palmer, who burnt "a great quantity of father's handiwork ... Knowing that no one would be able to make head or tail of what I burnt; I wished to save it from a more humiliating fate". The destruction included "sketchbooks, notebooks, and original works, and lasted for days".
Here is a painting by Palmer called The Harvest Moon:

This pastoral scene, with the Moon, the mountain, and the harvest, repeats in one of Palmer's paintings is Cornfield by Moonlight with Evening Star, the Evening Star being Venus:

The theme repeats again in Coming From Evening Church:

The mountain is replaced with the steeple of a church.  The evening star Venus, the cross-like star in Cornfield by Moonlight with Evening Star is replaced by a cross on the top of the steeple.  Note that in Cornfield by Moonlight with Evening Star there are three triangular shadows; these are replaced with three triangular rooftops in the immediate foreground from the steeple.  This again repeats in another painting by Palmer, A Hilly Scene:

The moon becomes a crescent, the corn field is back, and hidden among the trees is the evening star Venus.  In the foreground, a singular steeple now looking like a pyramid, with a cross on the top.  Perhaps Palmer found inspiration from one of Blake's poems, To the Evening Star:
HOU fair-hair'd angel of the evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves, and while thou drawest the
Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And then the lion glares through the dun forest:
The fleeces of our flocks are cover'd with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence!
As the sun falls asleep in the evening, resting on the mountains, the evening star becomes visible in the night sky.  The setting sun can also be seen in A Dream in the Appenine, up above, and flocks of sheep under the moon appear in other paintings by Samuel Palmer.  These paintings of Palmer may have been influenced by one of William Blake's most famous paintings, The Ancient of Days:

At first it looks like the man in the sphere is putting his hand on top of a pyramid, but in reality he is holding a compass.  The painting is said to have been influenced from Proverbs 8:27:
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth
One interesting fact: the Great Pyramid of Egypt is placed as if someone used a compass to measure the Nile Delta, and it is also placed at the center of the land mass of the entire earth:
This is expressed in a different way in this image of the continent of Africa, from the web site, The Great Design:


One of my favorite poems is Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake.  It begins as follows:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

A major theme in Blake's words is transcendental vision, to see beyond what we perceive with our senses.  For what we see in front of us can often blind us, unless we look at the clues.  To see a world in a grain of sand is to recognize the image of the universe in the smallest of things; that every part reflects the larger whole, ad infinitum.

Here is another portion from Auguries of Innocence:

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar

So what in the world is the "Polar Bar"?  To some, it means "ultimate goal" or "great heights."  To others it may mean "the bar exam for polar lawyers" (seriously, see the forum at William Blake Question).  One would wonder what these polar lawyers do.  However that is not the meaning - here is an interesting discussion from Kerie Davies at ‘He who shall train the Horse to War’: anti-war sentiment in Auguries of Innocence:
Most writers follow Foster Damon in reading "pass the Polar Bar" as meaning to escape to the spiritual world. They draw attention to a similar expression in The Book of Thel:  
The eternal gates’ terrific porter lifted the northern bar: Thel entered in and saw the secrets of the land unknown, 
and suggest that this passage draws on The Odyssey, Book xiii, where Homer describes the two entries to the Cave of Phorcys, one for the gods, the other (the northern entry) for human beings. The Homeric myth was given a symbolic reading by the Neoplatonist Porphyry, interpreting it as referring to the descent of the soul into the body. Even if we accept Neo-Platonism as relevant to discussion of Thel, its application to this distich from Auguries involves a kind of critical sleight-of-hand. 
A recent critic has seen the term "polar bar" as referring to the contemporary search for a North-West Passage, linking exploration with militarisation. If Damon and his followers have given us an excessively metaphorical and decontextualised reading, this writer’s interpretation, to my mind, seems over-literal. 
So it refers to a secret world, spiritual or perhaps physical.  The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry went the allegorical route, giving a metaphysical interpretation.  He pointed out there was no such physical location for the cave in Ithaca Greece.  The passage he tries to interpret from the Odyssey is from book 13 and runs as follows:
High at the head a branching olive growsAnd crowns the pointed cliffs with shady boughs.A cavern pleasant, though involved in night,Beneath it lies, the Naiades delight:Where bowls and urns of workmanship divineAnd massy beams in native marble shine;On which the Nymphs amazing webs display,Of purple hue and exquisite array,The busy bees within the urns secure Honey delicious, and like nectar pure. Perpetual waters through the grotto glide,  A lofty gate unfolds on either side; That to the north is pervious to mankind: The sacred south t'immortals is consign'd.
Porphyry points out that a cave of the earth in ancient times was a metaphor for the soul becoming immersed in the material world. From ON THE CAVE OF THE NYMPHS IN THE THIRTEENTH BOOK OF THE ODYSSEY:
The ancients, indeed, very properly consecrated a cave to the world, whether assumed collectively, according to the whole of itself, or separately, according to its parts. Hence they considered earth as a symbol of that matter of which the world consists; on which account some thought that matter and earth are the same; through the cave indicating the world, which was generated from matter.
The interesting point here is that this symbolism is present in the spiritual sense of scripture: Swedenborg was shown that the "earth" in scripture does not refer to our physical earth, but rather to our material bodies.  "Heaven" is not the sky above, but the spiritual realm, in which our soul resides.  However we are presently trapped in the material world, blind to the spiritual world, and this blindness is indeed represented by a cave. In scripture, to be in a "pit" represents being imprisoned by falsity, for falsehoods limit the thinking of the mind.  Indeed, this is the motto chosen by Blake for the book of Thel:

Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole:
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?
Or Love in a golden bowl?

The meaning is explained from The Book of Thel:
Since Thel’s Motto is clearly an afterthought to the Book, one can connect the final plate, plate 6, and Thel’s Motto. The connection between the mole’s pit and the subterranean area that Thel enters in plate 6 suggests the disparate knowledge between beings in separate domains. The eagle knows only the sky and must ask the mole to gain knowledge about the pit; likewise, Thel knows only innocence and eternity and must be endowed mortality if she wants to learn about the ways of the mortal beings on Earth.
Returning back to Porphyry, he discusses the rites of the ancients, in which things were used from the material world to represent spiritual ideas.  According to Swedenborg these ancient rites which preceded Judaism were originally pure and monotheistic, but in the process of time degenerated into idolatry:
Thus also the Persians, mystically signifying the descent of the soul into the sublunary regions, and its regression from it, initiate the mystic (or him who is admitted to the arcane sacred rites) in a place which they denominate a cavern. For, as Eubulus says, Zoroaster was the first who consecrated in the neighbouring mountains of Persia, a spontaneously produced cave, florid, and having fountains, in honour of Mithra, the maker and father of all things; a cave, according to Zoroaster, bearing a resemblance of the world, which was fabricated by Mithra. But the things contained in the cavern being arranged according to commensurate intervals, were symbols of the mundane elements and climates.
After this Zoroaster likewise, it was usual with others to perform the rites pertaining to the mysteries in caverns and dens, whether spontaneously produced, or made by the hands. For as they established temples, groves, and altars to the celestial Gods, but to the terrestrial Gods, and to heroes, altars alone, and to the subterranean divinities pits and cells; so to the world they dedicated caves and dens; as likewise to Nymphs (note 4), on account of the water which trickles, or is diffused in caverns, over which the Naiades, as we shall shortly observe, preside. Not only, however, did the ancients make a cavern,as we have.said, to be a symbol of the world, or of a generated and sensible nature: but they also assumed it as a symbol of all invisible powers; because as caverns are obscure and dark, so the essence of these powers is occult. Hence Saturn fabricated a cavern in the ocean itself and concealed in it his children. Thus, too, Ceres educated Proserpine with her Nymphs in a cave; and many other particulars of this kind may be found in the writings of theologists. But that the ancients dedicated caverns to Nymphs and especially to Naiades, who dwell, near fountains, and who are called Naiades from the streams over which they preside, is manifest from the hymn to Apollo, in which it is said: " The Nymphs residing in caves shall deduce fountains of intellectual waters to thee (according to the divine voice of the Muses), which are the progeny of a terrene spirit. Hence waters, bursting through every river, shall exhibit to mankind perpetual effusions of sweet streams". From hence, as it appears to me. the Pythagoreans. and after them Plato, showed that the world is a cavern and a den.
That ancient Greek myths do contain ancient wisdom, hidden from the public, was shown also to Swedenborg.  It was known among the ancients that a horse was a symbol of the power of understanding:
"From the Ancient Church the signification of the horse, as the power of understanding, was extended to the wise round about, even into Greece. From this it came to pass that when they described the sun, by which love was signified (n. 2441, 2495), they placed in it the god of their wisdom and intelligence, and attributed to him a chariot and four horses of fire; and that when they described the sea, because by the sea were signified knowledges in general (n. 28, 2120), they also gave horses to it; and that when they described the rise of knowledges from the understanding, they represented a flying horse which with his hoof broke open a fountain, whence sprang the virgin goddesses of knowledge; and by the Trojan horse nothing else was signified than a contrivance of their understanding, for destroying city walls. Even at this day the intellect is often described, according to the custom received from those ancient people, under the figure of a flying horse, or Pegasus, and learning is described as a fountain; but scarce any one knows that a horse, in the mystic sense, signifies the understanding, and a fountain truth; still less that those significatives were handed down to the Gentiles from the Ancient Church." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2762.4)
Poryphyry continues to discuss the spiritual symbolism of this passage in Odyssey.  So what does the Odyssey mean, where it says the entrance to the underworld for mortals is in the north, but the entrance to the underworld for the gods is in the south?  He comments:
With respect, however, to the Ithacensian cave, Homer was not satisfied with saying that it had two gates, but adds that one of the gates was turned towards the north, but the other which was more divine, to the south. He also says that the northern gate was pervious to descent, but does not indicate whether this was also the case with the southern gate. For of this, he only says, "It is inaccessible to men, but it is the path of the immortals."
So are the two entrances related to the north and south pole?  It is tempting to think that, but Porphyry does not relate the entrance of the immortals to the south pole.  Instead he states the northern entrance is the Tropic of Cancer and the southern entrance is the Tropic of Capricorn:
Since, however, a cavern is an image and symbol of the world, as Numenius and his familiar Cronius assert, there are two extremities in the heavens, viz., the winter tropic, than which nothing is more southern, and the summer tropic, than which nothing is more northern. But the summer tropic is in Cancer, and the winter tropic in Capricorn. And since Cancer is nearest to us, it is very properly attributed to the Moon, which is the nearest of all the heavenly bodies to the earth. But as the southern pole by its great distance is invisible to us, hence Capricorn is attributed to Saturn, the highest and most remote of all the planets.
This symbolic association of the tropics with the nearest and furthest planets is perhaps the original rationale for assigning different planets to each sign of the zodiac, but in modern times this rationale has been completely lost.  The Tropic of Cancer is the most northerly latitude at which the Sun appears directly overhead at its culmination which occurs once per year on the summer solstice.  Here is a map showing the present latitude of the Tropic of Cancer:

The Tropic of Capricorn is the opposite, it is the most southern latitude at which the Sun appears directly overhead at its culmination during the winter solstice:

Thus in classical times the entrance to the underworld for the immortals was South Africa.  This is surprising - perhaps they mapped the world at that time, and knew of South Africa?  There is evidence for this in Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, by Charles Hapgood - which strangely shows a map of the land mass of Antarctica, before it was covered by its southern ice cap.  This map is the Piri Reis map, dating from the 16th century:

Charles Hapgood concluded:
‘the surprising proposition that Antarctica was visited and perhaps settled by men when it was largely if not entirely non-glacial. It goes without saying that this implies a very great antiquity ... [Indeed] the Oronteus Finaeus Map takes the civilization of the original map-makers back to a time contemporary with the end of the last Ice Age in the northern hemisphere.’
And this goes against everything that is taught concerning our history.  Our historical records are rather sparse, much knowledge has been lost from ancient times.

This was unknown to Poryphry, who continues with his allegory concerning the northern and southern entrances to the underworld, but relates it to astronomy and the rites of the ancient world:
"Theologists therefore assert, that_these two gates are Cancer and Capricorn; but Plato calls them entrances. And of these, theologists say, that Cancer is the gate through which souls descend; but Capricorn that through which they ascend. Cancer is indeed northern, and adapted to descent; but Capricorn is southern, and adapted to ascent. The northern parts, likewise, pertain to souls descending into generation. And the gates of the cavern which are turned to the north are rightly said to be pervious to the descent of men; but the southern gates are not the avenues of the Gods, but of souls ascending to the Gods. On this account, the poet does not say that they are the avenues of the Gods, but of immortals; this appellation being also common to our souls, which are per se, or essentially, immortal. It is said that Parmenides mentions these two gates in his treatise "On the Nature of Things", as likewise that they are not unknown to the Romans and Egyptians. For the Romans celebrate their Saturnalia when the Sun is in Capricorn, and during this festivity, slaves wear the shoes of those that are free, and all things are distributed among them in common; the legislator obscurely signifying by this ceremony that through this gate of the heavens, those who are now born slaves will be liberated through the Saturnian festival, and the house attributed to Saturn, i.e., Capricorn, when they live again and return to the fountain of life. Since, however, the path from Capricorn is adapted to ascent, hence the Romans denominate that month in which the Sun, turning from Capricorn to the east, directs his course to the north, Januanus, or January, from janua, a gate. But with the Egyptians, the beginning of the year is not Aquarius, as with the Romans, but Cancer. For the star Sothis, which the Greeks call the Dog, is near to Cancer. And the rising of Sothis is the new moon with them, this being the principle of generation to the world. On this account, the gates of the Homeric cavern are not dedicated to the east and west, nor to the equinoctial signs, Aries and Libra, but to the north and south, and to those celestial signs which towards the south are most southerly, and, towards the north are most northerly; because this cave was sacred to souis and aquatic nymphs. But these places are adapted to souls descending into generation, and afterwards separating themselves from it. Hence, a place near to the equinoctial circle was assigned to Mithra as an appropriate seat. And on this account he bears the sword of Aries, which is a martial sign. He is likewise carried in the Bull, which is the sign of Venus."
Whether or not all of this was known to William Blake in his poem Auguries of Innocence is unknown.  But a later line of his poem does mention South Africa:

The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore

A farthing is one fourth of a penny.  The "Summer's Sun" is perhaps a hidden reference to the Tropic of Cancer in the north, which marks where the Sun is overhead on the Summer Solstice. On the Winter Solstice, the Sun is overhead in South Africa.

Some may question what all of this means, to which Blake answers:

The Questioner who sits so sly 
Shall never know how to Reply 
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out

And this:

He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please 
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 
Theyd immediately Go out 

And this portion of the poem is interesting as well:

We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

Poryphry concludes:
"But as the south is attributed to the Gods, hence, when the Sun is at its meridian, the curtains in temples are drawn before the statues of the Gods; in consequence of observing the Homeric precept: "That it is not lawful for men to enter temples when the Sun is inclined to the south, for this is the path of the immortals. Hence, when the God is at his meridian altitude, the ancients placed a symbol of midday and of the south in the gates of the temples, and on this account, in other gates also, it was not lawful to speak at all times, because gates were considered as sacred. Hence, too, the Pythagoreans, and the wise men among the Egyptians, forbade speaking while passing through doors or gates; for then they venerated in silence that God who is the principle of wholes (and, therefore, of all things)."

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