A Heresy for the 21st Century: Nobodaddy

The_Ancient_of_Days-William Blake 1794
The_Ancient_of_Days-William Blake 1794

The strange, visionary genius of the English poet and painter William Blake, one of the touchstones here and the feature of a number of posts including The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Proverbs of Hell, Auguries of Innocence and Tyger Tyger, is of such depth and complexity that it has invited any number of interpretations, including, somewhat improbably in my opinion, becoming a standard bearer for atheistic humanism. That Blake espoused an idiosyncratic, Hermetic form of humanism is beyond dispute, however Blake was deeply religious, albeit in a unorthodox and heretical fashion, and was vehemently opposed to the materialistic atheism that was beginning to emerge during the Enlightenment, a period where quantity began to supplant quality.

Suggestions for possible sources of Blake’s dense and highly personal mythology have ranged from Neo-Platonism to Buddhism and although Gnosticism is mentioned in the melange, it has been sidelined to a degree. However I believe that Gnosticism (of a libertine variety) and Hermeticism are the two major components that formed the basis of Blake’s belief system.

The most notable element of Gnosticism within Blake’s art and thought is the idea of the Demiurge. In a conversation with Crabb Robinson Blake noted concerning the poems of his fellow Romantic William Wordsworth, “The eloquent descriptions of Nature…were conclusive proof of Atheism, for whoever believes in nature, disbelieves in God – for Nature is the work of the devil.” In the magnificent poem Tyger Tyger, the creator of the Tyger is memorably presented as a craftsman and the original meaning of the word Demiurge in Greek is craftsman or artisan.

In Blake’s art and poetry, the Creator, the Ancient of Days, is named Urizen (either Your Reason and/or To Limit from the Greek) or Nobodaddy (Nobody’s Daddy and/ or possibly an anagrammatized riff on Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit). Urizen is the representation of abstraction and reason who creates the universe with architectural tools and ensnares humanity in a web of conventional law and morality.  He constrains us in the ‘prison of the senses five‘ and is quite clearly identified with the Old Testament Jehovah and is definitely Satanic. Hence Blake’s anti-clericalism, priests are literally devil worshippers. Prophets, on the other hand, can ignite the divine spark within us, which Blake identifies as Imagination. Imagination allows us to escape from this cage of matter created by Nobodaddy, the Father of Jealousy who farts and belches in darkness and obscurity while enjoying a spot of ‘hanging & drawing & quartering/ Every bit as well as war & slaughtering’.

I sincerely hope that in the preceding posts in the series that I have presented the basic outline of Gnostic thought, though admittedly in my own eccentric way, with many regrettable gaps, omissions and lacuna. So with this information in mind we can proceed to the 20th & 21st Centuries, a time when new discoveries into the origins of Gnosticism and the rapidly changing nature of reality itself saw a remarkable resurgence of the oldest of heresies.

25 thoughts on “A Heresy for the 21st Century: Nobodaddy

  1. Blake truly was visionary and unique – an intriguing character and huge intellect. Wouldn’t you love to know what he’d think about the modern world? The gnostic connection – you’re tying these threads up quite nicely! Anticipating the next stitch!

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    1. Well Blake frequently keeps me company (in the Imagination), but as to what he thinks of the modern world he can be quite hermetic. Hopefully I have shown the Gnostic elements in his thought, there are further examples but I think it suffices. As for the next stitch, well I am suddenly seeing Gnosticism in the most unlikely places and the task is give the best and most relevant examples.

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  2. Of course, the dividers in the hand of the ‘creator’ are symbols central to freemasonry. Liberty from economic tyranny in the ever expanding business world of C18th industrialisation in the ‘dark satanic mills’ was the surrounding everyone in Britain then. And powered by freemason mill and factory owners.

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    1. The Masonic connection is an interesting one. The dividers are central to Freemasons, and Blake probably knew a few from radical/revolutionary circles. Masons were said to be the cause of the French Revolution, especially the group that infiltrated Masonry, the Bavarian Illuminati. Masonry claimed descent, among others, from the Knight Templars. There is a legend that among the King’s execution during the Revolution that a Mason said ‘Jacques De Molay thou art avenged’. Molay was the last head of the Templars who was executed, along with the group. So Mason held certain esoteric ideas, however Blake wouldn’t have agreed with there vague Theism, or in the case of the Illumanti, militant atheism. And of course he was one of the first to witness and respond to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. He saw the connection between the demiurge and materialism.

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  3. I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
    Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
    And mark in every face I meet
    Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

    In every cry of every Man,
    In every Infants cry of fear,
    In every voice: in every ban,
    The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

    How the Chimney-sweepers cry
    Every blackning Church appalls,
    And the hapless Soldiers sigh
    Runs in blood down Palace walls

    But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
    How the youthful Harlots curse
    Blasts the new-born Infants tear
    And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

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    1. I like the William Cake esq, thank you I am flattered. I am obviously a huge admirer but I cannot disagree with you. He can be confusing, ponderous and touchy at times. But the good stuff is sublime with an absolute blazing lucidity.

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