This is a quote from the author Tom Cheetham, a scholarly expert when it comes to interpreting the works of Henry Corbin, the renowned philosopher and professor of Islamic Studies (1903-1978). Corbin was responsible for redirecting the study of Islamic philosophy, transforming erstwhile ideas about Islam into a rich panoply of poetry and esoteric vision.
Reading Cheetham (which is infinitely easier than reading Corbin) is an exercise in acquainting yourself with astrology’s deepest truths: The planets, the Sun and the Moon are living beings.
“This limitless cosmos is full of Presences, full of Persons — full of angels.
We have to discard all our trivialized and anthropocentric conceptions of the nature of such beings. They are personified metaphysical presences, the movers of the worlds, and they provide the connection between ourselves and divinity.
There is no question of anthropomorphism. The personality of these beings is not derived from ours; ours is only a dim reflection of theirs.
The hermeneutic ability of the creative Imagination to transmute all things into symbols destroys the distinction between psychology and cosmology and unites them in a psycho-cosmology in which Creator and creature participate not as opposing terms with an unbridgeable gulf separating them, but as complementary poles of a divine drama.
‘The personal God [Corbin writes] is . . . encountered at the end of a Quest (as of that for the Holy Grail).’ The endpoint of this search is not an idol, not a thing at all, and therefore not an end but a beginning … the Emptiness, the Unknown, and the Unknowable into which one falls upward in an unending series of theophanies.”
Astrology is born of humankind’s relationship to nature, or put another way, astrology is an extension, within the human, of the angelic of which men and women have an opportunity to play an active role through conscious awareness of Being.
Conditions of Being or Presence are not difficult to grasp. Attention, an active force of awareness that we each possess, has the ability to guide and focus our inquiry through the relational qualities inherent in Presence.
Presence is described as such by Samer Akkach in the book Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam:
“The notion of presence refers to the complex web of physical, mental, and spiritual relationships a being spawns by its very existence and the influences it exerts through this web of connectedness. A thing is perceived to have a presence insofar as it impacts other presences, influences their course of existence, and becomes part of their world. In other words, it is not the mere existence of the thing that matters but rather its level of impact and domain of influence. This is what makes it effectively present.”
For more inquiry on this thread see the following.
The three water signs of the zodiac are associated with the world of the imaginal and the imagination. In Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, he speaks of that out of which all things have generated: the nurse, the receptacle “that we may liken to a mother” or a womb “that partakes of the intelligible [but] is yet most incomprehensible.”
Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich comments: “In these delightful lines Plato still speaks of the image-pregnant stuff of the dreams and imagination … as one who still has the experience of in precategorical, “founded” space.” This describes quite well the nascent, creative realm of the three water signs.
This is a peculiar realm, this world that Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces access. The imaginal imparts to the water triad qualities like intuitive prescience, sometimes maddening irrationality (“I dunno, it just doesn’t feel right to me, I can’t explain why.”) Also visions and unfounded insights. All reinforced with the conviction that the imaginary realm is more substantial, more vital than pre-Cartesian quotidian reality.
But this isn’t a post about traditional associations with the water triad, I’m just teasing that element forward to get you thinking about your own relationship to imagination and that receptacle “that we may liken to a mother” or a womb “that partakes of the intelligible [but] is yet most incomprehensible.”
Primarily, I want to talk about the water realm because our distance from it explains much about our obsession with computers and screens and how screens act as mirrors. Through technology, we attempt to crawl our way back into an experience of inner space (think of this space as the place you occupied before your father’s sperm collided with your mother’s egg) and regain sustenance from the type of silence that is both inchoate and buzzing. The Voice of Silence.
I think this explains our culture’s preoccupation and sometimes addiction with screens. Screens that deliver images wholesale — without any investment on your part in their creation — which robs you of the mysterious middle ground you must pass through to create — to bring forth any sort of creation from the realm of the imaginal. Never any easy process to engage with.
As Tom Cheetham notes in his book on Henry Corbin‘s cosmology, The World Turned Inside Out, we are all starving for the imaginal and the realms of the Imagination.
When the Sufis talk about Imagination they are not referring to it as the fantastical or fanciful. Imagination, within their cosmology, is an actual mode of perception. This is an important distinction to grasp.
In our typical reductionist, mechanistic world we seem to think if we can just see enough images, gather enough access to experience the Imaginal whenever we want — at our beck and call via an Internet application or bit of software that generates virtual reality, we can experience the actual space that is part and parcel the arrival of the imaginary.
You need to read that paragraph above again, to make the right connection. That felt condition, that space from which the first intimations of concepts or images arise, is a condition vitally important to the well-being of the soul.
We require a sense of inner space, via our relationship to Presence, to enable the soul to breathe, to contact the imaginal realm, to see how the conceptual world we live in is simply a shell that overlays and protects a richer, larger experience of life. The dynamic realm that exists free of concepts and the conceptual
The concepts of time and space confine us. To maneuver about within the world we use time and space to demarcate and define. But in doing so we become so acclimated to this lens of viewing reality that we forget the timeless — the unbounded freedom that Presence imparts. The term Presence is used a lot in spiritual writing, losing much of its direct transmission through misinterpretation. Whereas Presence is easily identifiable. It’s a condition of being that requires no faith or belief in any particular dogma or doctrine. Keep it simple. Sense yourself as you are reading this sentence. And that awareness is Presence.
But we can not do this by just collecting and stuffing our minds with images, this is akin to partaking of a giant gourmet meal but without any engagement with the process of collecting the ingredients and the recipes and the cooking that brings the meal to our table. In other words, we can’t sense the freedom of the space that the pre-imaginal realm connotes by simply cramming ourselves with more and more images, concepts, sensations and information.
This starvation for the space that accompanies the imagination and the imaginal shows up in our drive towards the Future and towards the New World.
As Cheenahm explains, “…whether that is America, the Moon, or the virtual realities of the Internet. We can never after such a loss have enough space. In our drive to recover the spaces of the Imagination, we have taken refuge in the Image. Television, movies, video screens in every classroom, magazines, billboards — the world is full of Images, all coming from the Outside, according to someone else’s agenda. They are immeasurably powerful.
The Free Market has known that for a long time, but this is precisely the opposite of that Interiorization of the world that is the goal of gnosis. It is in fact, the latest, perhaps the last, step in the exteriorization and total objectification of the soul. We are driven by it by a kind of perverse necessity: the more we need space for the things of the soul, the more we seek images to fill the space that we no longer create for ourselves.
And yet fewer and fewer of us know the source of this panic or where to turn in response. And so we continue to search for new disciplines of the imagination and are caught by each in turn, disoriented and confused in a world that will not cohere.”
Death opens us to The Now. But to reside in the now means passing through a little bit of death — every — single — moment.
Beyond Saturn’s boundary of rings, are the planetary stand-ins for the enlightenment drive and the mystical impulse: Uranus and Neptune (through envisioning and longing), pull our attention towards the future or the universal. But Pluto, Death’s ambassador, pushes our awareness deep into what I call the non-present. The awareness of no time, no place — a metamorphic marriage of now-ness with nothingness. Freud knew about this particular place and understood the longing that each of us has for it. He called that longing the death-wish.
Really? A wish? Sure. Death: It’s so quiet and peaceful over there.
You can identify this longing within yourself every time you visit a news site online and secretly hope to read about some new disaster or catastrophe that might signal that The End has finally arrived. Now. Who doesn’t want the grinding game to cease, to abandon the sandbox so everyone gets to go ‘home’? It’s not a desire to be ashamed of.
But you know how it goes. Our survival instinct is always trying to distance us from the death-wish — that’s its job, as a regulator of any species — to separate death from life, a divisive process that ultimately forces us to live ‘half-lives’. Small existences. A half-life is a numbed-out experience of reality. A frightened one.
Pluto is the corrector for this condition and assures that each moment is stillborn — it arrived but disappeared at the same moment. Is a tiny declaration for the death-wish. A kind of cessation that offers so much presence, so much is-ness, that you simply lose your head and just ‘are.’ There’s nothing to plan for, nothing to remember. One simply is a ‘nameless’ presence. So death allows us to live fully. But only in the present. A present where death and life are so tightly intertwined there’s no separation between the two.
With presence, there’s nothing for us to attach ourselves to. Nothing to box up and store away, or build a concept upon — there is just the experience of ‘is.’ This Plutonian mystery pulses in tandem with our heartbeat and declares: nothing stays, nothing lasts, all is in constant, passing, motion — including you. It’s horrifying and invigorating at the same time. The sense of freedom we experience when death is allowed to have a place at the table is mind-dissolving but also orienting. Where you should be.
Why? Well, as Hélène Cixous said: “I find my bearings where I become lost.”
So, take what I’m describing, that inner acknowledgment that feels so personal and private and maybe even sacred — your relationship to death — take that and apply it to what we’re experiencing as a collective, on a global level. Perhaps now we’ll begin to understand the bizarre behavior, the acting out, the meltdowns and high octane lunacy that’s unhinging the Old Order: Sociologically. Politically. Economically. Ecologically. Read more
“The gradual disappearance of the sacred from the world, and the consequent shrinking of the human being, starts with the desacralizing of the cosmos in the Biblical law and in the empirical science of Aristotle and culminates in the flattened-out, merely measurable universe of post-Renaissance science
The sacred has withdrawn into the domain of private inner experiences where the sacred and the spiritual, as gifts from above, are confused with the grasping and exploiting “psychological.”
It is not surprising that the most blasphemous act of modern science has been the desecration of the sun, by copying on earth its release of hydrogen energy (by a mathematics and physics no longer connected with wisdom and the good, as for us the sun is no longer connected with the wisdom and the good), wiping out whole cities in seconds.
Nothing could better illustrate, at one and the same time, our secret contempt for the dead, dull, natural world we have conceived and for the egotistic power-structure which we call “civilization.””
— Henry Leroy Finch
From the essay: The Sacred Cosmos: Teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff