At the end of The Star Family, I promised a series of blogs on the history behind the book, what’s true and what’s made up. This is the first of those.
We were at the International New Age Fair and Stephen was getting interviewed for his newest book. I wandered the booths. I saw a book called William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision by Marsha Keith Schuchard. I picked it up. Wouldn’t you? (It’s titled Why Mrs. Blake Cried in the UK. We can contemplate that on another blog perhaps.)
On the first page I read that Blake’s mother had been a member of the Moravian Lodge in Fetter Lane, located in London. I grew up in the Moravian Church and hadn’t realized we were in England. I had a child’s knowledge of our history at that time. That has changed!
The Moravian Church was formed in 1457, a few decades after the Catholic priest and very popular preacher Jan Huss was martyred for his desire to reform some church practices in 1415. Persecution followed, especially in 1547, and many fled Moravia and Bohemia.
The Protestants were defeated at White Mountain in 1620 during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and we scattered as refugees. In 1722, we founded a town on Count Zinzendorf’s estate in Saxony, named Herrnhut, and many were brought back together. Some argue this was an entirely new church, but as a child, I was taught it was a continuation of the old one. From here, we spread all over, forming colonies in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. I was born in the one in North Carolina many generations later. (See Moravian Church History if you’re interested.)
Back to Schuchard’s book. Next I read that Blake’s mother had been a member during a particularly lively time. The church had regrown out of the German Pietists, a rather democratic and experiential take on Christianity. Influenced by them, Count Zinzendorf taught that the Holy Spirit could best be understood as “Mother.” We had God the Father, Mother the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Son.
I liked that. I’d thought for a long time that Christianity suffered from not having a feminine image of God, not just a human mother. That wasn’t all. Zinzendorf taught that the body had been redeemed through Christ’s sacrifice and that there was no shame in any of its parts. Pardon me if this sounds a bit old fashioned, but Zinzendorf lived in the 18th century. I think, though, that we still have a lot of body shame in the 21st century.
So, no shame in the naked body, and Zinzendorf went further to teach that there was no shame in the sexual act. Not only that, sex was not only for procreation. It was also for spiritual development. The church had a married couple’s liturgy, the recovery of the ancienthieros gamos(sacred union).
Blake’s mother would have learned all this and more in her church at Fetter Lane. She would have passed some of this understanding to her son. In her book, Schuchard goes on to explore how what Craig Atwood calls the “sex-positive teachings” of Zinzendorf probably influenced Blake’s life, poetry and visual art. (See Re-Envisioning Blake for more.)
I had to know more. That’s how The Star Family was born.