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When Facing North sent me this tome, I was expecting a detailed analysis of the sexual and spiritual elements of numerous of Blake’s prose and poetry, something I would have enjoyed thoroughly. I did get that, believe you me—but I got a lot more besides.

Schuchard has proven herself to be an incredible scholar and researcher. The book doesn’t start with William Blake. Instead, it brings the reader first to his parents—really, his mother, first of all—and the wonderfully esoteric underground of 1700’s Fetter Lane in London. People who think that today’s New Age revival is an isolated incident should be aware that the Freemasons were joined by Christian sex-tinged sects such as the Moravians and Swedenborgians (who were a lot more libertine than the official records let on). Add in a good dose of Kabbalah and other Jewish mysticism, and even some yoga and other Eastern practices, and you have an earlier version of today’s eclectic neopagan/magician/New age mashup. All these are covered in great detail in the first several chapters of this book.

Then we get to Blake himself, and by this point it’s quite clear just how much of an influence his parents’ activities within the esoteric groups (particularly the Moravians) had on him. Not only are we treated to anecdotes and other details about Blake’s own practices, but we get to see the poignant struggle that his wife went through throughout their marriage as she did her best to try to deal with Blake’s “eccentricities”. While she was no prude herself, one has to feel some sympathy for her as she went through some rather humiliating and hurtful experiences as he pursued his higher knowledge and creativity.

This is a dense, though highly captivating, text. The scholarship is very solid, with dozens of pages of endnotes and an excellent bibliography ripe for the picking. Whether your interest is Mr. Blake himself, or esoteric orders and movements through history, this will be a choice text for your reading pleasure.

 

Five pawprints out of five.

 

~review by Lupa

Author: Marsha Keith Schuchard

Inner Traditions, 2008

pp. 400, $19.95

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