By Lasha Darkmoon
16 February 2020
In Part 1 of this essay (‘Weird Universe: Are We Meant To Be Here?”), I discussed the strange ideas of William Blake (1757-1827), England’s famous poet-painter and mystic. He had managed to combine his own wacky version of Christianity with an uninhibited tantric sexual mysticism that most of his contemporaries found ridiculous, if not repugnant, and which the subsequent age of Queen Victoria would regard with revulsion and horror.
Blake and Swedenborg Compared
I will now say a few more words about this renowned eccentric—whose poem The Tyger happens to be the most anthologised poem in the English language—before passing on to the equally bizarre ideas of Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and Renaissance supergenius Leonardo da Vinci.
Unlike most orthodox Christians, who think of angels as ethereal creatures who spend most of their time chanting hymns to God, Blake imagined the angels as highly sexed ecstatics enjoying endless orgasms in the heavenly gardens all day with their fellow angels. It is more than likely that Blake’s predecessor and spiritual mentor, Emanuel Swedenborg, would have looked kindly on his disciple’s carnally exuberant picture of the angels. Anyway, he would not have disapproved of Blake’s erotocentric ideas, given that his own ideas were remarkably similar. 
Swedenborg’s most famous book, Heaven and Hell (1758) had a major effect on Blakes’s thinking and helped to shape his entire worldview, even though he would often rage against his Swedish master (see Part 1) as an ignoramus who had listened to the angels but failed to give ear to the devils—unlike Blake himself, who tells us he had imbibed wisdom from both parties.
“One of Blake’s engravings,” we are told, “shows a female figure whose vulva has been translated into an altar, with an erect penis standing like a holy statue at its centre. This is a visual representation of Swedenborg’s idea of sex as a religious sacrament.” 
Blake would often open his front door to visitors in the nude, his beloved wife Catherine standing beside him equally naked. “Come in!” the great man would cry. “It’s only Adam and Eve, you know!” 
Even the relatively conventional Wordsworth was forced to admit that Blake, for all his eccentricity, was a genius—”an insane genius“, he explained helpfully. 
Blake himself was never lonely [we read in a recent essay on Blake and his influence] for he was forever seeing visions of angels. The famous portrait of him in the Tate exhibition has a slightly startled expression, due, it seems, to the fact that Blake had just been in conversation with the Archangel Gabriel. He started his angelic visions in Peckham Rye [South London] when he was a little boy and he saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars”.
On one occasion, when he was still small, he was late home and explained to his mother that he had seen the prophet Ezekiel sitting under a tree. She smacked him.
Later, when he was apprenticed to an engraver, James Basire, his master sent him to Westminster Abbey to take drawings of the monuments and there he saw Christ and the apostles.
What was remarkable is that he took these visions so much for granted. As GK Chesterton says in his brilliant biography of Blake: “He spoke of having met Isaiah or Queen Elizabeth, not so much even as if the fact were indisputable, but rather as if so simple a thing were not worth disputing. Kings and prophets came from heaven or hell to sit to him, and he complained of them quite casually, as if they were rather troublesome professional models. There have been other witnesses to the supernatural even more convincing, but I think there was never any other quite so calm.”
Blake and Swedenborg, both inhabiting a world of angels and demons with whom they conversed matter-of-factly for most of their adult lives, cannot in all conscience be dismissed as mad hatters beyond the intellectual pale. Their prestige and influence are far too great for such cavalier treatment. Even the strictly devout Christina Rossetti (mentioned in Part 1) would have found the Blake/Swedenborg visions of heaven and hell compelling. And Aldous Huxley, who once noted “Maybe this Earth is another planet’s hell“, would have been deeply attentive to the bizarre Hieronymus Bosch landscape of the mind presented by both Swedenborg and Blake.
Leonardo da Vinci and ‘the Cosmic Man’
There is even striking evidence that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), seen by many as the ultimate Renaissance man and world genius without parallel, would have been completely in agreement with Swedenborg’s notion of the Cosmic Man. By the time of his death, aged 67, Leonardo had become an expert in every subject he touched—in painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, palaeontology, and cartography. He could even write backwards, so if someone wanted to make sense of his voluminous notes they would have to read them in a mirror.
His preeminence in anatomy, the result of his personal dissection of 30 human corpses (not counting dogs and monkeys), finally enabled him to produce his masterpiece, Vitruvian Man (1490). Recent research on this treasured drawing—unsold because never put on sale but valued for insurance purposes at the astronomical price of $860 million —is based on identical ideas found in Swedenborg’s philosophy of the Cosmic Man.
Leonardo found that the ideal human body, which he called “Vitruvian Man”, based on the architecture of the great Roman architect Vitruvius (circa 75 BC—c.15 BC), could only have been designed by a mathematician. Its proportions were so precise that this could not possibly have resulted from chance or the random mutations of Natural Selection envisaged by Darwin. In short, the human body was the best proof for the existence of God, the Grand Designer, because without God such a mathematical marvel would have been inconceivable.
You can view this masterpiece for yourself if you’re quick. It’s on exhibition at the Louvre in Paris until February 24, 2020, heavily guarded round the clock by wardens with automatic weapons. It will then return to its darkened vault in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, beyond the reach of art thieves and vandals and the daylight that would damage the fragile 530-year-old work. The drawing is ink on paper and is just 14 inches by 10 inches.
Imagine such a small piece of paper being the same price as 860 houses valued at a million dollars each. It’s mind-boggling. Take a look at the priceless drawing here:
According to Professor Martin Kemp, who has written a biography of Leonardo, the drawing is “seen as representing the unity of the Cosmos and the concept of Man being the measure of all things.”
“Vitruvian Man isn’t just a fine example of da Vinci’s draughtsmanship and a brilliant depiction of man,” notes British author and art critic Harry Mount. “It also stands for man’s harmonious place in the universe, as a God-created example of the natural symmetry of man, and shows how he fits into science and maths as neatly as the square or the circle.” Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, it turns out, is identical to Swedenborg’s Cosmic Man: the age-old idea that the Universe is conceived in the form of a man and has the identical mathematical proportions of the ideal human body.
Here is Heinrich Zimmer in his classic treatise on Hinduism, Philosophies of India, trying to explain the archetypal idea of the Cosmic Man, an idea so old and persistent that it appears to be innate:
[According to] the aboriginal, pre-Aryan tradition, the entire cosmos has a human form, never had a beginning, and will never end. (p.241) He adds that this basic idea, known as THE FIRST MAN, forms the essence of Jainism, the religion of the modern Parsees who live in North-West India. It then percolated into the Vedas and classical Hinduism where it underwent sophisticated changes and finally flowered into Monism, the idea that All is One: Mind and Matter, Brahman and Atman, God and Man. 
To my surprise, Zimmer then mentions Emanuel Swedenborg’s Cosmic Man. This is the identical idea as Jainism’s “First Man”, and the same idea again as Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man”. There is not a hair’s breadth difference, it would seem, between these different conceptions of man being the measure of all things and of the universe being in the shape of a man of infinite proportions.
Swedenborg’s Doctrine of the Cosmic Man
Cosmic Man, to my additional amazement, appears to have found its way into Christian mysticism at some point; at any rate, into the esoteric Christian mysticism of Emanuel Swedenborg. I will allow Sanskrit scholar Heinrich Zimmer again to explain:
The Christian notion of God as a giant human form is rendered by the Swedenborgians in a figure that somewhat suggests the cosmic MAN of the Jainas. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) experienced in his visions the whole of heaven in this anthropomorphic way. His work Heaven and Its Wonders, the World of Spirits, and Hell: from Things Heard and Seen, states:
“That heaven as one whole represents one man, is an arcanum not yet known in the world, but very well known in the heavens. The angels do not, indeed, see all heaven, collectively, in such a form, for the whole of heaven is too vast to be grasped by the sight of any angel; but they occasionally see distant societies, consisting of many thousands of angels, as one object in such a form…. and, such being the form of heaven, it is also governed by the Lord as one man, and thus as one whole.” 
Swedenborg expands on this is his Divine Live and Wisdom: “The whole angelic heaven in the aggregate resembles a single man, and is divided into regions and provinces according to the members, viscera, and organs of man. Thus there are societies of heaven which constitute the province of all things of the brain, of all things of the facial organs, and of all things of the viscera of the body…. Moreover, the angels know in what province of man they are. The whole heaven has this resemblance to man, because GOD IS A MAN. GOD IS ALSO HEAVEN. (Emphasis in original) 
“If the sun and moon should ever doubt,” Blake tells us, “they’d immediately go out.”
According to Swedenborg, nothing distresses the angelic host more than man’s disbelief in their existence. It’s so obvious to them that they exist that they are positively sick to death of the ridicule and contempt they receive from us sceptical earthlings.
Swedenborg concludes with a doleful note on hell. “It has not been granted me,” he laments, “to see what form hell is in the whole. It has only been told me, that as the universal heaven, viewed collectively, is as one man, so is the universal hell, viewed collectively, is as one devil, and may also be exhibited to view IN THE SHAPE OF ONE DEVIL (emphasis added). 
Does life have meaning?
We have reached a region of Stygian darkness into which even the angels might fear to tread: a dualistic Manichaean universe in which God and the Devil, Good and Evil, exist as separate entities engaged in eternal warfare. 
We are now—if we decide to ditch conventional wisdom and embark on perilous seas of thought—pieces on a cosmic chessboard, being moved around either by God or the Devil. Whether we are free to make our own moves, or have to wait for Someone Else to move us round the chessboard first, is not altogether clear. Free will, foreknowledge, predestination: these are the eternal questions discussed at great length by the devil and his angels in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and never a certitude emerges above the din of argument. In Milton’s own words— “vain wisdom all and false philosophy.”
Is there a life after death?
Death, according to Swedenborg, is simply “a continuation of life in another world.” The question of a postmortem existence takes on a new meaning now. It would seem we have no choice but to exist, for better or worse.
One of the most brilliant mathematicians and philosophers of the 17th century, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), had a mind-altering mystical experience which turned his entire life upside down. There was no need for any tiresome logic chopping, ratiocination or “empirical evidence” after that. He had entered into intimate contact with the Divine. And that’s all that mattered:
“On 23 November 1654, between 10:30 and 12:30 at night, Pascal had an intense religious vision and immediately recorded the experience in a brief note to himself which began: “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars…” and concluded by quoting Psalm 119:16: “I will not forget thy word. Amen.” He seems to have carefully sewn this document into his coat and always transferred it when he changed clothes; a servant discovered it only by chance after his death.”
When it comes to the difference between faith and what the scoffers like to call “blind belief”, Pascal said it best: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart—not by reason.” (See here)
The great physicist Sir James Jeans was once asked in an interview: “Do you believe that life on this planet is the result of some sort of accident, or do you believe that it is a part of some great scheme?” He replied: “I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe. In general, the universe seems to me to be nearer to a Great Thought than to a great machine. It may well be that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a Universal Mind.”
This 2-part essay—entitled Weird Universe: We Are Meant To Be Here—cannot expect to please everyone. Those who do not believe in God or an afterlife will still cling to their entrenched viewpoint that God is a pie-in-the sky invention of cowardly and wishful thinking neurotics who need a crutch to help them cope with the harsh realities of existence: old age, sickness, death, and the nagging question gnawing away like a persistent toothache—“Why are we here if it’s all pointless?”
The God deniers are welcome to their scepticism. But even they, if they are honest, will admit that the universe of modern physics is weird and uncanny—”stranger than we can imagine“, in the words of physicist Sir Arthur Eddington quoted in the epigraph of Part 1. What they will not admit, however, is that we are meant to be here. To the all-important question—Are we meant to be here?— they will answer with a resounding negative: “NO, WE ARE NOT!” If we live in an accidental and meaningless universe, after all, adrift from purpose and in a godless soup of swirling subatomic particles, how can it be asked if we are meant to be here? The very question is absurd.
To these Doubting Thomases I will allow renowned physicist Professor Paul Davies, winner of the prestigious Templeton prize, to pass on his wisdom at this point. These are the concluding sentences of his great seminal work, The Mind of God:
I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an accidental blip in the great cosmic drama. Our involvement is too intimate. The physical species Homo may count for nothing, but the existence of mind in some organism on some planet in the universe is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness. This can be no trivial detail, no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.” 
Every thought is a ripple in an infinite sea. The thoughts of the billions of conscious beings who have lived and died, not only on this earth but in the unimaginably strange worlds in distant galaxies beyond the Milky Way, have helped to build the structure of Reality. The next thought you have will help to alter the universe.
Notes (Part 2)
 Swedenborg came from a Moravian background, the Moravians being an extreme Protestant sect from central Europe (founded in the late 14th century) that believed in “justification by faith alone”, allowing them to dispense with traditional morality and enjoy communal sex. The recent discovery of Swedenborg’s Spiritual Diary reveals that he “practised an intensely sexual mysticism. He had researched in detail the attainment of spiritual ecstasy by delaying orgasm, as practised by some Kabbalistic Jewish sects and by the Tantric school of Buddhism.” — John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, The Q1 Book of the Dead, p.386-7
 John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, Ibid. p.387
 “It’s only Adam and Eve you know!” Blake’s exact words to his own benefactor Thomas Butts, as quoted by his first biographer Alexander Gilchrist. — John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, Ibid, p. 387. Today’s feminists, who hate being seen as “sex objects” by men, would presumably be horrified by Blake’s “objectification” of his own wife as an adorable strumpet. “In a wife I would desire,” Blake confides shockingly in one of his poems, “what in whores is always found.”
 “An insane genius,” Wordsworth reflecting on Blake. He was to add: “There is something in the madness of this man that interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron or Walter Scott.” — John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, Ibid, p.383
 The $860 million at which Leonardo’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ is valued is dwarfed by the estimated price of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa painting (1503-1519) in the Louvre. Valued at $100 million in 1962, it will soon be worth roughly $3 billion.
 Henrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India, Bollingen Series XXVI, Princeton University Press, edited by Joseph Campbell, p.241
 Heinrich Zimmer, ibid. p. 244. Above quote first published in Latin, London 1758, and then translated into English, New York 1883.
 Heinrich Zimmer, ibid. p.246
 Heinrich Zimmer, ibid. p.246
 Manichaeans, also known as Manichees, followed the dualistic teachings of the Persian prophet Mani (died c.274 A.D.). Mani’s parents belonged to a Jewish-Christian Gnostic sect, the Elcesaites, who were heavily influenced by Jewish apocalyptic writings (See here). Mani claimed to be a reincarnation (or avatar) of Buddha, Krishna, Zoraster, and Jesus. Manichaeism persisted as a Christian heresy throughout the Middle Ages and was ruthlessly exterminated by the Inquisition. It survives today mainly in China, especially in Quanzhou and around Cao’an; also among some Western religious dissidents with a penchant for Gnosticism and the belief that the material universe was created by an evil demiurge known as Yaldabaoth. (See here)
 Paul Davies, The Mind of God: Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning, 1992, p.232