Revealing Sight – How to Combine Biblical Prophecy and Mysticism

As unorthodox as it may seem, considering that we are talking about heavy metal, two songs of Bruce Dickinson begin with religious hymns. One is the eponymous “Jerusalem”, (The Chemical Wedding, 1998) which is based on the lines found in the introduction to William Blake’s Milton: a Poem (1804 – 1811) in the copies A and B, the other “Revelations” (Piece of Mind, 1982). In fact, the first stanza of “Revelations” is not a Maiden song at all, but taken from a hymn (Dickinson, Autobiography, p. 135), namely Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s “O God of Earth and Altar.” Yet, similarly to his take on “Jerusalem,” Dickinson has added elements which hinge on the occult. (cf. Autobiography, p. 269) Here it is an archetype of tarot cards, which I will explain later – in other words, more or less the opposite to traditional Christianity. And yet, “Revelation” is of course a part of the Bible, the one containing the Apocalypse, and the end of the song obviously returns to Jesus, the one who can command the waves. I will show in the following how the song evokes and rejects elements of the Christian faith at the same time, bringing different world views into a dialogue with each other.

Structure and Choice of Title

“Revelations” has a remarkable structure: first and last stanza mirror each other. The first stanza is taken from a hymn and follows the given melody, whereas the last follows a slightly different melody. Yet, the last stanza  follows the same rhythmic pattern as the first does, and thus can be seen a new stanza to the hymn.

The song is firmly framed by a hymn and its imitation. For the last stanza does not only imitate the rhythmic pattern, but also the content. Some lines are almost direct quotes of the last stanza of the hymn. But, it also refers to Biblical content which is not part of the hymn. Only one person can command the waves, at least there is only whom I know, and that is Jesus. Jesus is defined as the one in power, as one who will reign in future, and, what is more, the one you should trust. You should put your constant fretting and worrying aside and trust. This is one of the central messages of the New Testament. The song is thus firmly clasped by Christian elements.

When will Jesus’s new reign begin? After the Apocalypse. After what is described in (you guess it) the “Revelation.” It is the end of the song which presents Jesus as the one in power which binds the eponymous song to the Biblical chapter.

The Middle Part: an Excursion to Mysticism

Yet, as the Apocalypse is a future event yet to come, the whole of the “Revelation” is a prophecy. Thus, spiritual vision builds the bridge between the Biblical elements and the not so-Biblical elements. After all, this song is about seeing as you can easily find out for yourself. Considering that we are talking about a prophecy (the Biblical “revelations”, something up-to-now unknown is revealed), it is not a far stretch to say that this constant repetition and reference to seeing refers to prophetic sight.

This is where we part ways with Christian elements. The key here is the Nile, a river in Egypt. I assume, and I admit that this is speculation, that this points to Thelema. As I have pointed out before, Aleister Crowley had his first vision in Egypt. Sight, here too, similar to the metaphors used in “Starblind”(The Final Frontier, 2010) refers to vision. The reference to Thelema steers the song firmly into the direction of the occult and far away from the initial church hymn.

What is more, the song mentions a tarot card – the Hanged Man. The Hanged Man does not refer to the gallows, but to a change of perspective. He is suspended by one food, upside down, the hands firmly clasped behind his back. (You can see this position in the videoclip of “The Tower” (The Chemical Wedding, 1998) –> my two pence on the song). The Hanged Man stops to contemplate his current state of life and to get a different perspective – one that turns his life on its head, literary. He changes his position to get a different view, to see differently.

These two elements point strongly towards mysticism, to reaching realms beyond this world, to see what is hidden. There is also definitely a love story involved, or let’s say the conceiving of a child, which has a mystical ring to it, too, but this story remains obscure. The imagery of a serpent leads back to the Bible and the seduction of Eve, but it also forms a dialogue with the much later “Book of Thel” (The Chemical Wedding, 1998), which uses the same imagery. In both songs, Biblical reference and mysticism overlap. Yet, in direct contrast, “Revelations” casts this narrative in a positive light whereas the latter tells the story of the birth of evil. Although, arguably, things do not go too well for the narrator in “Revelations” as well as he suffers injury.

Apparently, “Revelations” is the starting point for many songs to follow. Imagery and metaphors birthed here re-appear frequently in Dickinson’s songs. What is important for us here is the focus on gaining hidden knowledge.

Seeing the Revelation

Finally, I want to draw your attention to a illustration of the Biblical Revelation. It was drawn by (you may guess it) no other than William Blake (source of inspiration for The Chemical Wedding, see my articles here).

William Blake, The Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne, c. 1803-5, Tate (N05897), digital image, © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

The one thing which might catch your attention first is the assortment of a multitude of eyes. Eyes without bodies. They are just eyes, sitting underneath the rainbow. The chapter in question describes creatures full of eyes (Rev, 4, NIV). These creatures are clearly discernible; their eyes sticking out prominently. But Blake has added eyes without bodies, eyes which exist in their own right. This, too, puts strong emphasis on sight and prophecy. As Blake shows us, “Revelation” is about prophecy, seeing, and sight.

The many references to sight in the song link the Biblical revelation, a prophecy which is in turn is dominated by reference to eyes and sight, to mystic sight. Both systems allow to gain hidden knowledge. The Biblical “Revelation” has thus become a plural, “Revelations”, a combination of the Biblical prophecy and mystic sight.Thus, after a short excursion to mysticism, the song returns to the church hymn, citing Biblical content. For, in the end, all your seeing cannot change things. You must learn to rely and to trust. Both systems lead to the same message. You must trust the coming king – and you must trust yourself. In a last turn twisting the structure, the narrator does not sing to God anymore, as he did at the beginning when singing the hymn, but to his listener, to “you.” You are special. But you must learn to trust. The one crucial revelation is that you must have faith. Then you will understand. Then you will be able to see.

Sources

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