About the image and the title

The image in the banner is a painting by William Blake from his Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the third of Blake’s illuminated books, written around 1790. The text on this illuminated page reads as follows:

The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.

For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.

This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.

But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expunged: this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

The cherub with arms outstretched over a bed of flames over the supine human form, as an image of cleansing the body/soul in order to open the doors of perception—this painting exquisitely represents for me the mystical transformation that George Fox recounts in his journal:

Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell. The creation was opened to me, and it was showed me how all things had their names given them according to their nature and virtue. . .  Great things did the Lord lead me into, and wonderful depths were opened unto me, beyond what words can by words be declared; but as people come into subjection to the spirit of God, and grow up in the image and power of the Almighty, they may receive the Word of wisdom, that opens all things, and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being.

This is my experience of religious opening, that very often it is not nice and warm and comforting; it is a crucible, blazing, painful and ecstatic. It is a sword that cuts away whatever you are trying to hold onto. The pain will match the strength of your grip; the ecstasy will match the pain. Friends who seek renewal—even transformation—of themselves or of Quakerism will have to pass, like Fox, through the flaming sword.


§ 4 Responses to About the image and the title

  • ellie Clayton says:

    “Great things did the Lord lead me into, and wonderful depths were opened unto me, beyond what words can by words be declared;”

    Perhaps words are the holy bread through the soul of man is fed, but they can only be the guides to lead us beyond themselves and ourselves. If it is difficult for Quakerism to speak to many, it may because our doors of perception have not been cleansed. To perceive the infinite we must see through the glass of materiality which obscures, distorts, deceives. The Eternal, within and without, continually invites us to enter through every joy and woe of human life.

    Thanks for connecting Fox and Blake with your own experience of Truth.

  • Free Polazzo says:

    You just explained why the number of Friends is so low and why it is so hard to recruit people to our Meetings. So, no pain, no gain! Ha! Thank you!

  • bobcardwell says:

    Thank you for your blog on Quakerism.

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