From Chapter 22
KABBALISTIC CHERUBIM AND YOGIC YONIS
That Blake developed an eclectic combination of Tantric, Kabbalistic, and Swedenborgian themes is suggested by his startling self-portrait in Milton, which he began in 1804 while he was still working on Vala. Portraying himself nude with an erect blackened or charred penis, he flings himself backward with outstretched arms, as a flaming star descends toward his left foot.1 In this image and the accompanying verse, Blake seemed to draw upon Swedenborg’s description of the Moravian orgiasts, which the artist infused with his own Kabbalistic and Tantric perspective.
After his return to London from Felpham in 1803, Blake’s interest in Swedenborg was revived by liberal and heterodox Swedenborgians, who explored not only Enochian but Asiatic sexual theosophy, which they related to Swedenborg’s more arcane teachings.2 Reflecting his own merged interests, Blake praised Swedenborg as a “Spiritual Preceptor” at the same time as he drew “an ideal design” of the Brahmins, which portrayed Charles Wilkins translating the Bhagavad Gita, which Blake called “the Hindoo Scriptures.”3
Returning to the visionary sexuality of this more eclectic and esoteric Swedenborg, Blake hoped to redeem the spirit of John Milton, whose relationships with his three wives and three daughters were poisoned by his puritanism and self-love--defects that led England first into civil war and now into European war (“the phallic whip”). Though Blake revered Milton for his republican stand, he was obliged to “expose the falsehood” of the poet’s doctrine, taught in Paradise Lost, “That Sexual intercourse arose out of the Fall--Now that cannot be, for no good can spring out of Evil.”4 For Milton/Albion to be reunited with his fragmented female potencies, he must undergo a reunification of his ancient religious roots--from Asia and Israel.
Thus Blake reported that he was carried in vision to the ancient cities of Asia, where he saw “those wonderful originals called in the sacred scriptures the Cherubim, which were sculpted and painted on walls of Temples.”5 Like the Tantric artists of Asiatic temples, he linked his erect and charred penis with the moment of divine influx, when Milton’s spirit descends into his foot (and great toe). “So Milton’s shadow fell / Precipitant, loud thundring into the sea of Time & Space”:
Then first I saw him in the Zenith, as a falling star
Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift;
And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enterd there;
But from my left foot a black cloud redounding spread
Decades earlier, Swedenborg connected the “toe of the left foot” with “the genitals; for the genitals correspond to the Word.”7 He followed Kabbalistic teaching in which the foot functions as “a euphemism for the phallus, human and divine,” while the toes represent the “ten demonic powers.”8 Placing hell under the soles of the feet of the Grand Man, he described the “vastation” that can purge the demonic evil from feet and toes. He also seemed familiar with the Yogic significance of the great toe, which plays a crucial role in breath control.9 The initiate is taught to massage the ankle and great toe, opposite the side through which he wishes the breath to flow. The capacity to breathe on one side was connected with the precoital position of the Tantric couple, who mutually visualized the god within the other and achieved a kind of spiritual copulation.
Blake’s drawing and lines about the spiritual-erotic influx into his “tarsus” suggests his reading of Swedenborg’s similar scene, in which Kabbalistic-Tantric meditation and stroking send a stream of fire into the glans penis and “at the same time into the big toe of the left foot, and through a burning sensation under the midfoot sole, especially into the nail of the big toe of the left foot, which at length co-responds with a fiery burning of such a kind in the glans penis (bulbo); it became fiery.”10 Commenting on the Kabbalistic symbolism of Blake’s drawing, Sheila Spector notes that the entry of Milton’s spirit into Blake’s left foot is an act of sacrificial yet redemptive materialization that will allow psychic and cosmic sexual reunification.11
Just as Swedenborg described the sexual energy progressing from the midfoot sole to the toe of the left foot, so Blake stressed that Milton’s spirit entered at the tarsus, which is the space on the sole of the foot just before “the five long bones which sustain and are articulated with the toes.”12 After the spirit enters Blake’s foot, “a black cloud redounding” from it “spread over Europe.” The moment of entry is one of visionary ecstasy in which the toxic poison of repressed sexuality is released. Like the sculpted Lingams of India, which were carved out of black stone, Blake’s erect penis is blackened or charred.13 One can only wonder if tarsus and toe stimulated a fiery burning in Blake’s bulbo! That Blake or his cautious executors added shorts (underpants) to subsequent copies suggests that his erotic self-portrait was deemed too explicit in its original version.
Like Maurice and the eclectic Illuminists, Blake merged Yogic with Kabbalistic symbolism. When he again described “Milton entering my Foot,” he placed him within the mysteries of the Grand Man (Adam Kadmon). In this moment of mystical union, “all this Vegetable World appeard on my left Foot, / As a bright sandal formd immortal of precious stones & gold: I stooped down & bound it on to walk thro’ Eternity.”14 Elliot Wolfson observes that in the Zohar, the sandal symbolizes the feminine and the foot the masculine, or, more specifically, the phallus: “the symbols have a twofold connotation; they refer to mundane realities and their correlates in the divine realm, the sandal symbolizing the Shekhinah and the foot Yesod.”15