Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews William Blake and the Tree of Life by Laura DeWitt James:
This slender collection of interlinked essays was originally published as William Blake: The Finger on the Furnace in 1956. The Californian author, about whom I have been able to discover very little, was evidently the founder of a small, initiatic “Blake Society” of three degrees, that convened for some years before her book was first issued (this per research by Keri Davies). It is easy to imagine the contents of the volume in hand serving as instructions to aspirants in such a context.
James quotes extensively from Blake’s prophecies, and it is never entirely clear what she asserts to be the formal connection (if any) between Blake and the Qabalah (sic). The spelling of the latter, and the fact that she cites no Jewish or secular scholarship to support her remarks about it, suggested to me that her own knowledge of it (which seems robust and largely accurate) was derived from occult sources. And indeed, in the final essay on “Sweet Science,” she does indicate occultist and Thelemite Charles Stansfeld Jones (under his byline of “Frater Achad”) as an important “student of the Qabalah” (110).
Although she addresses herself explicitly to the “beginner in Blake,” James’s exposition is dense and tersely allusive. She several times mentions grail symbolism, without going into much explanation of why such a matter should be of interest to the Blakean or the qabalist. In the longest essay, “Vertical Disaster: A Study of the False Tongue beneath Beulah,” she offers a fairly provocative set of claims regarding esoteric human anatomy.
I was in fact relieved that this book was free of the sort of wild biographical speculation that has characterized recent works on Blake by scholars of esotericism. James confines herself to the ideas, and terrific ideas they are. At the same time, this book will offer the most satisfaction to readers with some mystical aspirations of their own, and literary scholars are likely to find it somewhat frustrating. [via]
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