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.”
“At one point in my journey, my teacher’s teacher, an eighty-year-old man, had been in a serious car accident that had bought him near death.
For months the master’s condition was uncertain, causing all those who loved him to become acutely aware of what his living flesh-and-blood friendship meant to them.
Eventually he would recover and live many more years. When he was well enough to barely walk, he phoned my teacher to tell him that he would have a special lesson if he could come to his apartment on a certain night. Since this was the first opportunity for the two of them to be together in months, my teacher was full of expectation.
They took a walk that evening, so slow and deliberate that it emphasized the attention required for each painful step. They walked as far as one of the most elegant drinking establishments of that great city.
My teacher’s teacher opened the door of that tavern and they entered. It was as if they were perfectly invisible, while the patrons, the most fashionable men and women, continued in their loud, intoxicated conversations.
“See?” he simply said.”
The sun can only be seen by the light
of the sun. The more a man or woman knows,
the greater the bewilderment, the closer
to the sun the more dazzled, until a point
is reached where one no longer is.
A mystic knows without knowledge, without
intuition or information, without contemplation
or description or revelation. Mystics
are not themselves. They do not exist
in selves. They move as they are moved,
talk as words come, see with sight
that enters their eyes.
I met a woman once and asked her where love had led her.
“Fool, there’s no destination to arrive at.
Loved one and lover and love are infinite.”
Relationship persists so long as subsidiary cause persists,
and subsidiary cause persists so long as quest persists,
and quest persists so long as thou persistest,
and thou persistest so long as thou sees Me not;
but when thou seest Me, thou art no more,
and when thou art no more,
quest is no more, and when quest is no more,
subsidiary cause is no more, and when subsidiary cause is no more,
relationship is no more, and when relationship is no more,
limit is no more, and when limit is no more, veils are no more.
This ‘school’ has two phases, fanã’ (‘annihilation’) and baqã’ (‘subsistence’), the reaching of fanã’ being equivalent to entering the kharãbãt. We have already seen that when the disciple reaches the end of the Tariqa, he arrives first at the contemplation of Divinity. This is the stage of fanã’, or death to self, of which there are two kinds, outward and inward.
Outward fanã’ is the annihilation of the acts of the disciple by the manifestation of the Divine Will. The disciple reaches a stage in which he is drowned in the sea of the Divine Acts, to the extent that he sees the Divine Will in everything that happens and not his own will or that of others. At this stage he is deprived completely of free-will.
Inward fanã’ is the annihilation of the attributes and the being of the Sufi. At this stage at times he contemplates the Divine Attributes, in which his own attributes have become annihilated, and at times he contemplates the Being of the Divinity, thus annihilating his own being. At the beginning of inward fanã’, the disciple is deprived of all sensation; but gradually, according to his capacities, he becomes aware of the outer world, even though his being has ceased to exist. His inward state is annihilation in God, while outwardly he is present in the external environment and completely aware of what is happening around him.
Baqã’ consists of subsistence in God and is realized when God gives a new will to the disciple directly from himself, in order to replace that which had become annihilated in the course of the path. This subsistence, or ‘permanence’, is obtained in exchange for inward annihilation, which consists of the disappearance of the being and the mortal attributes of the disciple, which are like a veil separating him from the Real. At this very advanced stage God does not veil the world from the Sufi nor does the world veil God; no sort of separation exists any longer and duality is transformed into Unity.
— Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh