Tag Archive: Moravian

William Blake and An Alternative Genius

William Blake’s A Memorable Fancy has elements that speak to Moravian themes and ideas. Blake writes about a “Genius” that doesn’t necessarily align with the intellectual, academic, or conventional genius that’s taught at big universities. Blake’s is a different kind of genius, one Marsha Keith Schuchard writes about in her article titled “Young William Blake And the Moravian Tradition of Visionary Art”. Schuchard writes, “Zinzendorf advocated that parents and children—of every age, class, and background—should participate in a rich Renaissance-Baroque culture of painting, poetry, and music. Remembering his own unhappy childhood, when he was sent away to boarding school and instructed by puritanical pedants, he urged the Moravians to home-school their children” (89). These Moravian ideas are upheld by Blake’s focus on a different kind of genius, one that is anti-institution–or boarding school led by “puritanical pedants”– and that embraces the senses. Additionally, Blake continues to move towards a different kind of knowledge, one that is facilitated by the emblematical.

The speaker says he arrived home “on the abyss of the five senses.” And shortly after finds a the Devil writing on stone with “corroding fires.” This Moravian theme, which Schuchard explains as capable of rendering “ethical and religious truths accessible to all, even to the illiterate and to children, through the lure of pictures” is echoed in Blake’s A Memorable Fancy. Where engraving, visualizing, are key components of both Moravian tradition and Blake’s moral and creative style. Interpreting Blake’s work through a Moravian perspective offers great insight on his upbringing. It also humanizes Blake and his family and situates his work within a larger trajectory of successful attempts to challenge our notions of the hierarchies of knowledge and interrogates the very epistemic violence felt by believes of non-dominant religions and identities.

-Israel Alonso


In “Young William Blake and the Moravian Tradition of Visionary Art” by Marsha Keith Schuchard, the author explores the Moravian influences that motivate the art of William Blake.

To put into context, Blake is influenced by Moravian art due to his mother, Catherine Armitage Blake, who’s Moravian associations dawned on “ecumenical missionaries, an esoteric tradition of Christian Kabbalism, Hermetic alchemy, and Oriental theosophy, along with a European “high culture” of religious art, music, and poetry.” Zinzendorf’s leadership in the Moravian church developed “Herzensreligion (religion of the heart), which affirmed that Jesus’s Menschwerdung (“humanation”) made him experience the full range of human pain and pleasure”.

This is exemplified in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in the verse:

Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.

Energy is Eternal Delight

The energy in this passage comes from the body. In Christianity the body is the ultimate sense of shame. Even it’s nakedness is offensive to others, and provokes sin in other people if they lust for it (despite the body being but a biological consequence of existing). So, for Blake to say that Energy, which is “the only life” is from the body further reinscribes the idea that humanization (and the carnal factors that come with it) are perhaps not as sinful as one would think. This could be connected to the ultimate source of energy driving the New Testament: Jesus Christ. If energy is from the body, than perhaps Blake is drawing from Moravian influences by stating that “Energy [from the body] is eternal delight”, so in a sense Jesus experienced  a “full range of human pain and pleasure”. I also believe that this verse could relate to Jesus through a Moravian lens because of the “eternal delight” which in Moravian believe the sensating of Jesus is a joyous experience.

Moravian ideals were also marked by gender fluidity. Drawing on beliefs that the holy trinity is a “male-female” divinity in which the Holy Spirit is female, and that all human souls are female, both sexes then are able to have a “psychoerotic consummation with Jesus”. Energy in this passage is not marked by a gender or by even a specific species. Instead these ideas are marked by the erotic implications one can put on ‘the body’ and on ‘delight’. This forms connection with a divinity that is not gender specific, and because it is not confined and energy is coming from the soul (which is apparently always female) than the possibilities of having a psychoerotic consumation with Jesus is possible through energy which comes from the body. Thus putting a new perspective on the idea that eroticism can only come from the human body, and cannot manifest through other forms of divine power.

-Beya Bautista

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split (Matthew 27: 50-51).

As we discussed in class last Friday, I think these lines from Matthew are central to the allegorical “Argument” that prefaces “Visions of the Daughter of Albion,” particularly the last two lines “But the terrible thunders tore / My virgin mantle in twain.” In order understand the significance of this biblical allusion for Blake’s sexual politics, we need to discover how and why this moment of vaginal penetration as rape (why rape?) is ironically related to the holy place of the tabernacle: an inner room called the holy of holies, or the most holy place.

As decribed in the Old Testament, this inner room of the temple was a most sacred room, because it was God’s special dwelling place in the midst of His people during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube separated by a thick curtain, known as the “veil” (in Hebrew means a screen, divider or separator that hides). What was this curtain hiding? It was shielding a holy God from sinful man. Whoever entered into the holy of holies was entering the very presence of God and anyone other than the high priest who entered the holy of holies would die. Even the high priest, God’s chosen mediator with His people, could only pass through the veil and enter this sacred dwelling once a year, on a prescribed day called the Day of Atonement. “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Hebrews 9:7). So the presence of God remained shielded from man behind a thick curtain during the history of Israel. However, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross made direct access to God available to all people–not just the priests. When Jesus died the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn in half, performing the sacrificial atonement that could finally unveil the holy of holies.

But what exact does the holy of holies look like? To answer this question, we need to know about the figure of cherubim (plural term for hybrid lion/human angels) that were embroidered onto this curtain. They were spirits who serve God, and God was thought to be present in between these two spirits. The cherubim serves as a reminder of what use to be housed in this inner room: the Ark of the Covenant. This transportable ark was said to contain the testimony of the people of Israel, or the Law of the original Ten Commandandments written on stone tablets. A special lid or “mercy seat” covered the top of the ark and was ornamented with two cherubs whose outspread wings overarched the cover and touched one another (see image below).

illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries

According to Kabbalists, Moravians, and Swedenborgians, the golden sculpture of male and female cherubs that guarded the Ark were entwined in the act of marital intercourse, thus forming an emblem of God’s joyful marriage with his female counterpart, Jerusalem. When the Temple was sacked by pagans, the erotic statuary was paraded through the streets in order to embarress the Israelites. In other words, God manifests through sexual union and guides those who work with this holy mystery.

This indicates a profound relationship with Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, as displayed in the santuaries of their temples:

So to return to Blake’s image of virginal penetration as rape. Oothoon, in picking the ideal feminine flower of beauty from Leutha’s vale, or sex regulated under the law, has freely choosen the joys of sexuality but also, ironically, the very patriarchal law that probits womem’s full enjoyment of sexuality: Bromion’s “terrible thunders” of reason, acting on behalf of Urizen (“your reason”). In other words, the holy of holies–sexual union of the cherubim–is violated by reason’s violent penetration (rape). Hence, the holy of holies cannot be made universal until humanity is free from sex under the law, especially for women, as revealed in Christ’s bodily crucifixtion (for Moravians, Christ’s death wound/womb). This allegorical argument, I believe, aligns Blake’s sexual (Moravian) theology with his feminist politics, which is clearly very different from Mary Wollstonecraft’s more secular feminism.

I’m offerring a provisional reading here…any other thoughts?

Marriage is not friendship

After learning about Blake’s Moravian tradition, I will assume I am not the only who feel slightly uncomfortable about the Sifting Time theologies. Yes, we cannot deny the influence of Moravian on Blake, so does that of Swedenborg. However, I don’t see Blake’s devil will agree with either of them. The voice of the Devil is definitely anti-Swedenborg, who believes in the separation of spirit and body: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that called Body is a portion of Soul” (70). Meanwhile, I don’t think the devil will believe the actual sexual relationship between Soul and Body, Heaven and Hell, as a good idea. Instead, the Blakean character says: “Opposition is True Friendship” (78). Blake does not characterize the relationship between contraries as marriage or sexual, but as friendship. This word choice reveals Blake’s fundamental difference from Moravian tradition. Moravian tradition believes that the only way to transcend rules and see vision is to reconcile the contraries between Body and Soul through sex. Blake does not want to reconcile the contraries because “without contraries is no progression” (69). When contraries are reconciled, there will not be contraries and people will stop thinking. Thus, new rules will be established. What Blake wants instead is a constant breaking of law. What he pursues is this constant motion of transcending. A word like Marriage in the title of this series is against the theory of contraries because a marital relationship is too intimate for contraries.