I am the true green and Golden Lion without cares,
In me all the secrets of the Philosophers are hidden.
Rosarium Philosophorum or
Rosary of the Philosophers, Book 5
In alchemy the lion, the "royal" beast, is a synonym for Mercurius, or, to be more accurate, for a stage in his transformation. He is the warm-blooded form of the devouring, predatory monster who first appears as the dragon. Usually the lion-form succeeds the dragon's death and eventual dismemberment. Carl Jung (Fabricius 1976, p. 295).
Medieval alchemy used animal symbols including: the eagle, dove, snake, salamander, raven, unicorn, and lion. Ultimately they were all symbols for the Amanita muscaria mushroom. Many alchemists would copy each other’s work, and change the symbols to their own. William Blake continued this tradition when he substituted the tiger for the lion. Tigers and lions are very similar animals, with the exception of their coloring. Furthermore, when one compares the artistic lions of alchemy, with Blake’s tiger it is apparent that Blake is working with an alchemical model, not a real tiger.
Consider the following illustration of an lion from ----, then compare it to Blake's tiger below:
Many interpretations have been offered up as to the meaning of The Tiger, but unless viewed from an alchemical perspective, one will never uncover Blake's linguistic veil. Consider the first stanza:
TIGER, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The image of an orange and black tiger could resemble something on fire, hence the amanita muscaria, or burning bush. From a symmetrical standpoint, a tiger's pattern is not exactly symmetrical, and nowhere in Blake's art does he portray the tiger as symmetrical. However, the gills beneath an amanita cap creates a striped pattern. Consider the following example:
The next stanza :
Lines 7 mentions wings, and these wings have two interpretations relating to the mushroom. First is the cross section of a mushroom, which resembles a bird in flight, often depicted as the eagle or raven, or dragon. Notice in the image below, the eagle's wings are like a mushrooms spread open cap.
In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? 7 What the hand dare seize the fire?
Stanzas three and four ask rhetorical questions to the creator of the tiger. In stanza three, the persona of the poem asks who's shoulders and by what art constructed the heart of the tiger. The speaker goes on to ask an awkward questions of what dread hand and what dread feet. However, if one look's a Blake's notebook, he originally completes the thought of line 12. Consider stanza three, with Blake's struck-out notebook version of the original stanza four (italicized), with the published:
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand & what dread feet?
notebook -stanza 4
Could fetch it from the furnace deep
and in thy horrid ribs dare steep
In the well of sanguine woe
Published - stanza 4
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
From reading the original, it is apparent the third stanza is asking what hand could take the heart of the lion from the depths of a furnace; and allow for it to "steep" into the horrid ribs; the well of blood red woe. Meanwhile we can see that the published version of the poem, skips this detail and continues with the questioning. Furthermore, this detail never makes it back into the published version. The published version avoids asking who could grasp it, instead asks "in what furnace was they brain?" And changes the image to a blacksmith grasping the brain with tongs out of a fiery furnace.
From an alchemical point of view, the blacksmith represents the creator, and transformer. However, the same arts can be used to enslave, hence the chain. Also, the original 4th stanza, Blake uses the image of a deep furnace, combined with ribs, followed by the image of a sanguine or blood-red well. This deep furnace is hell, and if that is the case than Satan must be the creator whom the speaker is addressing. He also changes the image from the heart to the brain. From a Blake perspective, one would assume that the he wanted to represent reason rather than imagination as being created by the Satan. While this may seem a bit of a stretch, Stanza five adds details which supports this claim. Consider stanza five:
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
The first two lines a reference to Satan trying to over throw God in Genesis, and then the question of did the creator enjoy the revolution; and did the same creator make the lamb as well. Blake is making the point that the creator of all is just that; the generator of both good and evil (as represented by the lamb and tiger). Does God enjoy creating evil? At the same time, the lines have mushrooms connotations as well.
To be continued...