Meanwhile, at the library…
I had bought some comic books for one of our endowed funds. When the vendor (who also happened to be the author) sent me the items I had ordered, she also sent me some postcards advertising her website. One of them was:
Which I found to be absolutely hysterical. No one else did, but then I have a weird sense of humor.
Of course, this postcard is referencing William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience and in particular, the poem “The Tyger.”
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
This poem is talking about the beauty and the power found in the act of creation. Blake is questioning the creator’s ability to continue creating when the horrible beauty of the thing being created begins appearing. The Tiger is beautiful, it is also fierce and terrifying.
While Blake addresses the Tiger, he is clearly trying to discern who the creator is. The “primal ferocity” of the tiger shows that whoever created it is not a particularly benevolent deity. Blake openly questions whether the Christian God could have been the one to create such a being, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” The tiger is a reflection of it’s creator and Blake doesn’t necessarily believe that the Christian God could have made something this terrible.
This has always been one of my favorite poems and while Blake’s work focuses within Christian theology, he was one of those early existentialists who questioned how evil came into the world. This poem is wondering about how “beauty and horror” can exist side by side. To me, the Tiger is not in any way evil, since evil is not something that comes to us from the natural world. The Tiger simply embraces it’s innate power as a carnivorous hunter. Those who are weaker are forced to bow before its capabilities. This is a power in and of itself and is the horror of surviving in a hard world.
But for me, this poem also sums up the magic inherent in creation. Magic is both horrible and beautiful. In the midst of the act of the creation of anything, the thing that is created will always carry something of you, the creator, no matter what your intent in it’s creation was.
At the end of the poem, Blake asks what hammer and anvil created the tiger. I believe that this is the the forge of the gods, the place from where we occasionally find drips and drabs of their leftover power to tap into for our own workings. Blake is clearly wondering about the responsibility of creation and of the power of personal will in creating the Tiger. This is something that I, as a witch, certainly have to question before any magical working I do.
It’s often easy to forget about the power inherent in the forces we work with in Circle (or outside of it). When I step Between the Worlds and call on the spirits, the gods and the land around me to create something new, this place where the Tiger was created is what I am tapping into. The awe and the respect of the fearsomeness of this work is something that we should never lose.
As a witch, I am this dreadful hand.
It is important to never lose sight of that, but also to embrace it with every inch of our beings. It is only through doing so that we light that spark within us and add it to the spark of creation to create our own Tigers.
I don’t think that I could ever personally create something as awe inspiring as the Tiger, that is certainly the work of the gods. But the things I do create will reflect everything I am. And by casting a Circle and starting a ritual, I grasp my will to build my own forge to create something new, which are the powers that I, as a witch, lay claim to.
Blake may not have been a practitioner himself, but he certainly understood how closely the act of creating art reflected what the gods did when they created the world.
So dare to clasp deadly terrors whenever you begin something new, whether it be art or magic. Understand that being a creator of anything is a powerful responsibility. Even things manifested to exist in this physical world can at the end, possibly eat you alive.