In William Blake’s Book of Urizen we find the main character Urizen who is one of the four fundamental aspects (Zoas) of the four-fold individual, namely reason and who is modelled after Jehovah, the god with the Evil Eye. Together with Urthona (creative imagination), Luvah (emotions) and Tharmas (body), Urizen forms the four-fold individual (see the interesting site of Joseph Hogan – http//facstaff.uww.edu/hoganj/gloss.htm). Urizen has become seperated from the other three Zoas and therefore he created the fallen and material world that is the realm of torment, suffering and death. This fallen world has lost contact with Eternity and Urizen’s law govern it. In this world Urizen is the lawgiver, the omnipotent ruler, the political dictator and, as the creator of the net of religion, he is the primeval priest. He is the one that weaves the restricting net of religion.
6. Cold he wander’d on high, over their Cities,
In weeping and pain and woe;
And wherever he wander’d, in sorrows
Upon the aged Heavens,
A cold Shadow follow’d behind him
Like a spider’s web, moist, cold and dim,
Drawing out from his sorrowing soul,
The dungeon-like heaven, dividing,
Where the footsteps of Urizen
Walked over the cities in sorrow;
7. Till a Web, dark and cold, throughout all
The tormented elements stretch’d
From the sorrows of Urizen’s soul.
And the Web is a Female in embryo;
None could break the Web, no wings of fire,
9. And he call’d it the Net of Religion.
(The Book of Urizen: chapter VII, v. 6 – 9)
The figure of Urizen stands for the cold and vengeful god of monotheism, whose only aim is to repress the qualities of man and to enslave him. He is the bearded representative of a negative God of ‘thou shallt not’ and functions as the prime oppressor. He is close the Old Testament Jehovah (The works of William Blake: introduction). This is what Urizen is like:
6. His cold horrors, silent, dark Urizen
Prepar’d; hi sten thousands of thunders,
Rang’d in gloom’d array, stretch out across
The dread world; and the rolling of wheels,
As of the swelling seas, sound in his clouds,
In his hills of stor’d snows, in his mountains
Of hail and ice; voices of terror
Are heard, like thunders of autumn,
When the cloud blazes over the harvests.
(The Book of Urizen: ch. 11, v.6)
It is as if Urizen is some kind of a terrible, dark god or some demon lurking from below the threshold waiting to obliterate mankind. From a one-sided point of view one would say this is Satan, Blake’s Great Red Dragon, but Satan, the earth-bound manifestation of the Dark Gods, has something to offer to mankind, while Urizen is only interested in his relentless and pitiless reign. He is the god of Labour in whose service man has to sweat blood in order to be liberated, enlightened. In his fallen material universe Urizen shrinks his inhabitants into reptile forms and infects them with mortality and Sein zum Tode.
Then the Inhabitants of those Cities
Felt their Nerves change into Marrow,
And hardening Bones began
In swift diseases and torments
In throbbings and shootings and grindings,
Thro’ all the coasts; till weaken’d
The Senses inward rush’d, shrinking
Beneath the dark Net of infection;
Till the shrunken eyes, clouded over,
Discern’d not the woven Hypocrisy;
But the streaky slime in their heavens,
Brought together by narrowing perceptions,
Appear’d transparent air; for their eyes
Grew small like the eyes of a man,
And, in reptile forms shrinking together,
Of seven feet stature they remain’d.
Six days they shrunk up from existence,
And on the seventh day they rested,
And they bless’d the seventh day, in sick hope,
And forgot their Eternal life.
(The Book of Urizen: ch. IX, v. 1-3)
In Blake’s Prophetic Books the figure of Los is trapped in the fallen world as well, but he is the creative imagination of the world. He may be closed out of Eternity (Joseph Hogan), the Black Flame, which symbolizes the Fire of the Imagination, still burns within him and therefore he is able to pass on the creative Fire.
Blake’s mystic writings have been explained historically as if his writings were a response to the historical situation he faced. Instead of trying to explain it causally, one should regard his writings and the Romantics’ as an Event, a rupture in the 18th century time frame. A rupture that could be explained psychologically as since the Christianization the West has always been repressing and rationalizing its darker unconscious. Every irrational outburst has always been condemned and frowned upon. Yet these UR-energies, the energies of the Acephalic, can never be completely erased as they flow underneath the surface of the Symbolic Order.
The only people who are affected by these darker energies are those artists who are aware of pain’s and terror’s capacity to produce delight. Just like Edmund Burke they are convinced that pain and terror produce a sort of ‘delightful horror, a sort of tranquility tinged with terror’ (The Short Oxford history of English Literature: 341). In Gothic fiction, such as Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, one finds various numinous elements creating a feeling of Das Unheimliche. Gothic Fiction is essentially concerned with the liberation of the human imagination from the moral constraints of monotheism and the hegemonic discourse. The Byronic hero and Shelley’s Prometheus are artistically based on Milton’s Satan, but the fact is that these artists were faithful to the Romantic Event and as such they rose above the order of being and become ‘Immortals’. They are not simply reactionaries, but they embody the UR-energies, the primal energies that allowed them to trangress the limitations of the Symbolic Order and to prove themselves, in a Nietzschean fashion, worthy to life.