Beyond the Tyger: Blake and Swedenborg, influences on PKD

The visionary experience and the resulting Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (PKD) were informed and possibly inspired by his study of philosophy and religion.  Two of the strongest sources are William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg, two religious writers whose thoughts at first appear to be diametrically opposed.  Upon further investigation, however, you will find many correspondences between their works, as I have found in a book that I have neglected far too long.

This book has sat on my shelf for far too many years without having been read.   I have glanced at it, riffled through the pages and even begun to read the Preface and Introduction, but today I am finally sitting down to read it from beginning to end.  PKD has often been called Swedenborgian, yet few have noted the influence of Blake on his work.  This volume helps me to understand both influences.

The thesis of Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship is that William Blake’s poetry is informed by Swedenborg’s philosophy.  In addition to the text, this book includes many of Blake’s engravings.

This anthology is not for the faint of heart or the weak-minded.

While Blake’s ideas were strongly Swedenborgian, he resisted the possibility of submission by himself as disciple to Swedenborg as master.  Blake went his own way.  The two men never met, having been born into different centuries in separate lands, but their ideas tend to converge.  Yet Blake often asserts the opposite of Swedenborg.

Both men strove to communicate and explain their own personal visionary experiences of the divine, and they often did so in similar terms.  Blake had the advantage of familiarity with Swedenborg, who never had the advantage of reading Blake.  In fact, in 1789 the Blakes attended a Swedenborgian meeting of “receivers of the doctrines” (page 3), but William Blake rejected the codification of dogma, sharing Swedenborg’s own distaste for religious institutions.  Thus, it is ironic that Swedenborg’s ideas became institutionalized by his followers.  Both Blake and Swedenborg considered themselves devout Christians, yet neither man attended church regularly.

The following two excerpts, the first from Swedenborg and the second from Blake, serve as the basis and explanation for PKD’s experience of the divine while in a hypnagogic state, neither quite waking nor quite sleeping.  These two paragraphs are quoted on page 10 of Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship.

A person is guided into a particular state which is halfway in between being asleep and being awake. . . .  All his senses are as alert as when he is fully awake physically . . . more acutely sensitive than ever in physical wakefulness.  In this state, spirits and angels have been seen . . . heard . . . and, remarkably, touched.  Then virtually nothing of the body intervenes. (Heaven and Hell, 440)

I am not ashamed, afraid, or adverse to tell you what ought to be told:  That I am under the direction of Messengers from Heaven, Daily and Nightly. . . .

I write when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have written I see the words fly about the room in all directions.  It is then published and the spirits can read it, and my manuscript is of no further use. (from a letter to Thomas Butts, 12/10/1802, and a conversation with Crabb Robinson, 2/18/1825)

Both of the above quotations easily could have been penned by PKD as part of his Exegesis.

Source:  Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship, edited by Harvey F. Bellin and Darrell Ruhl, New York:  Swedenborg Foundation, Inc., 1985, paperback.