The Legacy of Henry Corbin " He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide.
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Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal by Henri Corbin In offering the two Latin words mundus imaginalis as the title of this discussion, I intend to treat a precise order of reality corresponding to a precise mode of perception, because Latin terminology gives the advantage of providing us with a technical and fixed point of reference, to which we can compare the various more-or-less irresolute equivalents that our modern Western languages suggest to us.
I will make an immediate admission. The choice of these two words was imposed upon me some time ago, because it was impossible for me, in what I had to translate or say, to be satisfied with the word imaginary.
This is by no means a criticism addressed to those of us for whom the use of the language constrains recourse to this word, since we are trying together to reevaluate it in a positive sense. Regardless of our efforts, though, we cannot prevent the term imaginary, in current usage that is not deliberate, from being equivalent to signifying unreal, something that is and remains outside of being and existence-in brief, something utopian.
I was absolutely obliged to find another term because, for many years, I have been by vocation and profession an interpreter of Arabic and Persian texts, the purposes of which I would certainly have betrayed if I had been entirely and simply content-even with every possible precaution-with the term imaginary. In other words, if we usually speak of the imaginary as the unreal, the utopian, this must contain the symptom of something. Each time, the visionary finds himself, at the beginning of the tale, in the presence of a supernatural figure of great beauty, whom the visionary asks who he is and from where he comes.
These tales essentially illustrate the experience of the gnostic, lived as the personal history of the Stranger, the captive who aspires to return home. I am the first-born of the children of the Creator [in gnostic terms, the Protoktistos, the First-Created] and you call me a youth?
What, then, is the road that leads out of it? How long is it? Does this involve simply leaving oneself in order to attain oneself Not exactly.
When he emerges from the Spring, he has achieved the Aptitude that makes him like a balm, a drop of which you distill in the hollow of your hand by holding it facing the sun, and which then passes through to the back of your hand. If you are Khezr, you also may pass without difficulty through the mountain of Qaf. It does not occur in any Persian dictionary, and it was coined, as far as I know, by Sohravardi himself, from the resources of the purest Persian language. Literally, as I mentioned a moment ago, it signifies the city, the country or land abad of No-where Na-koja That is why we are here in the presence of a term that, at first sight, may appear to us as the exact equivalent of the term ou-topia, which, for its part, does not occur in the classical Greek dictionaries, and was coined by Thomas More as an abstract noun to designate the absence of any localization, of any given situs in a space that is discoverable and verifiable by the experience of our senses.
Etymologically and literally, it would perhaps be exact to translate Na-koja-Abad by outopia, utopia, and yet with regard to the concept, the intention, and the true meaning, I believe that we would be guilty of mistranslation. It seems to me, therefore, that it is of fundamental importance to try, at least, to determine why this would be a mistranslation. How and why does it make its appearance?
I wonder, in fact, whether the equivalent would be found anywhere in Islamic thought in its traditional form. To understand them in this way would be, I am afraid, to withdraw them from their own presuppositions and perspectives, in order to impose our own, our own dimensions; above all, I am afraid that it would be certain to entail resigning ourselves to confusing the Spiritual City with an imaginary City.
The word Na-koja-Abad does not designate something like unextended being, in the dimensionless state. The Persian word abad certainly signifies a city, a cultivated and peopled land, thus something extended. It surely cannot relate to a change of local position, 4 a physical transfer from one place to another place, as though it involved places contained in a single homogeneous space. To depart from the where, the category of ubi, is to leave the external or natural appearances that enclose the hidden internal realities, as the almond is hidden beneath the shell.
This step is made in order for the Stranger, the gnostic, to return home-or at least to lead to that return. But an odd thing happens: once this transition is accomplished, it turns out that henceforth this reality, previously internal and hidden, is revealed to be enveloping, surrounding, containing what was first of all external and visible, since by means of interiorization, one has departed from that external reality.
Henceforth, it is spiritual reality that envelops, surrounds, contains the reality called material. Its place its abad in relation to this is Na-koja No-where , because its ubi in relation to what is in sensory space is an ubique everywhere. When we have understood this, we have perhaps understood what is essential to follow the topography of visionary experiences, to distinguish their meaning that is, the signification and the direction simultaneously and also to distinguish something fundamental, namely, what differentiates the visionary perceptions of our spiritual individuals Sohravardi and many others with regard to everything that our modern vocabulary subsumes under the pejorative sense of creations, imaginings, even utopian madness.
How many recent theories tacitly originate in this reflex, thanks to which we hope to escape the other reality before which certain experiences and certain evidence place us-and to escape it, in the case where we secretly submit to its attraction, by giving it all sorts of ingenious explanations, except one: the one that would permit it truly to mean for us, by its existence, what it is!
For it to mean that to us, we must, at all events, have available a cosmology of such a kind that the most astounding information of modern science regarding the physical universe remains inferior to it.
And, first of all, what are those worlds? I can only refer here to a few texts. A larger number will be found translated and grouped in the book that I have entitled Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth. There is our physical sensory world, which includes both our earthly world governed by human souls and the sidereal universe governed by the Souls of the Spheres ; this is the sensory world, the world of phenomena molk.
To these three universes correspond three organs of knowledge: the senses, the imagination, and the intellect, a triad to which corresponds the triad of anthropology: body, soul, spirit-a triad that regulates the triple growth of man, extending from this world to the resurrections in the other worlds.
We observe immediately that we are no longer reduced to the dilemma of thought and extension, to the schema of a cosmology and a gnoseology limited to the empirical world and the world of abstract understanding. What is that intermediate universe?
But there is still another climate, represented by that world which, however, possesses extension and dimensions, forms and colors, without their being perceptible to the senses, as they are when they are properties of physical bodies. The term is sufficiently eloquent by itself, since it signifies a climate outside of climates, a place outside of place, outside of where Na-koja-Abad!
For it is the same word that serves in Arabic to designate the Platonic Ideas interpreted by Sohravardi terms of Zoroastrian angelology. But on the other hand, the term also relates to the western region, the city of Jabarsa, as being the world or interworld in which are found the Spirits after their presence in the natural terrestrial world and as a world in which subsist the forms of all works accomplished, the forms of our thoughts and our desires, of our presentiments and our behavior.
It should be acknowledged that forms and shapes in the mundus imaginalis do not subsist in the same manner as empirical realities in the physical world; otherwise anyone could perceive them. For the same reason, that they could have only our thought as a substratum would be excluded, as it would, at the same time, that they might be unreal, nothing; otherwise, we could not discern them, classify them into hierarchies, or make judgments about them.
The existence of this intermediate world, mundus imaginalis, thus appears metaphysically necessary; the cognitive function of the Imagination is ordered to it; it is a world whose ontological level is above the world of the senses and below the pure intelligible world; it is more immaterial than the former and less immaterial than the latter. The material substance of the mirror, metal or mineral, is not the substance of the image, a substance whose image would be an accident.
The active Imagination is the preeminent mirror, the epiphanic place of the Images of the archetypal world; that is why the theory of the mundus imaginalis is bound up with a theory of imaginative knowledge and imaginative function—a function truly central and mediatory, because of the median and mediatory position of the mundus imaginalis.
It is a function that permits all the universes to symbolize with one another or exist in symbolic relationship with one another and that leads us to represent to ourselves, experimentally, that the same substantial realities assume forms corresponding respectively to each universe for example, Jabalqa and Jabarsa correspond in the subtle world to the Elements of the physical world, while Hurqalya corresponds there to the Sky.
It is their world that is in them. It would be completely false to picture that other world as an undifferentiated, informal heaven. For the same reason the heavens are distinct from each other.
All this again makes clear how distances, and consequently spaces, are wholly in accord with states of the interiors of angels; and this being so, no notion or idea of space can enter their thought, although there are spaces with them equally as in the world. In short, it follows that there is a spiritual place and a corporeal place.
The transfer of one to the other is absolutely not effected according to the laws of our homogeneous physical space. In relation to the corporeal place, the spiritual place is a No-where, and for the one who reaches Na-koja-Abad everything occurs inversely to the evident facts of ordinary consciousness, which remains orientated to the interior of our space.
For henceforth it is the where, the place, that resides in the soul; it is the corporeal substance that resides in the spiritual substance; it is the soul that encloses and bears the body. This is why it is not possible to say where the spiritual place is situated; it is not situated, it is, rather, that which situates, it is situative. Its ubi is an ubique. Certainly, there may be topographical correspondences between the sensory world and the mundus imaginalis, one symbolizing with the other.
However, there is no passage from one to the other without a breach. Many accounts show us this. One sets out; at a given moment, there is a break with the geographical coordinates that can be located on our maps. If he were aware of it, he could change his path at will, or he could indicate it to others. But he can only describe where he was; he cannot show the way to anyone. It is neither the senses nor the faculties of the physical organism, nor is it the pure intellect, but it is that intermediate power whose function appears as the preeminent mediator: the active Imagination.
Let us be very clear when we speak of this. It is the organ that permits the transmutation of internal spiritual states into external states, into vision-events symbolizing with those internal states. It is by means of this transmutation that all progression in spiritual space is accomplished, or, rather, this transmutation is itself what spatializes that space, what causes space, proximity, distance, and remoteness to be there.
A first postulate is that this Imagination is a pure spiritual faculty, independent of the physical organism, and consequently is able to subsist after the disappearance of the latter. Sadra Shirazi, among others, has expressed himself repeatedly on this point with particular forcefulness. In addition, when it is separated from this world, since it continues to have its active Imagination at its service, it can perceive by itself, by its own essence and by that faculty, concrete things whose existence, as it is actualized in its knowledge and in its imagination, constitutes eo ipso the very form of concrete existence of those things in other words: consciousness and its object are here ontologically inseparable.
All these powers are gathered and concentrated in a single faculty, which is the active Imagination. Because it has stopped dispersing itself at the various thresholds that are the five senses of the physical body, and has stopped being solicited by the concerns of the physical body, which is prey to the vicissitudes of the external world, the imaginative perception can finally show its essential superiority over sensory perception. Similarly, its senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch-all these imaginative senses-are themselves like sensory faculties, but regulated to the suprasensory.
For although externally the sensory faculties are five in number, each having its organ localized in the body, internally, in fact, all of them constitute a single synaisthesis hiss moshtarik. That is why he reproaches even Avicenna for having identified these acts of posthumous imaginative perception with what happens in this life during sleep, for here, and during sleep, the imaginative power is disturbed by the organic operations that occur in the physical body.
Much is required for it to enjoy its maximum of perfection and activity, freedom and purity. Otherwise, sleep would be simply an awakening in the other world. It is when they die that they awake. The Imagination is thus firmly balanced between two other cognitive functions: its own world symbolizes with the world to which the two other functions sensory knowledge and intellective knowledge respectively correspond.
There is accordingly something like a control that keeps the Imagination from wanderings and profligacy, and that permits it to assume its full function: to cause the occurrence, for example, of the events that are related by the visionary tales of Sohravardi and all those of the same kind, because every approach to the eighth climate is made by the imaginative path. In order for the Imagination to wander and become profligate, for it to cease fulfilling its function, which is to perceive or generate symbols leading to the internal sense, it is necessary for the mundus imaginalis—the proper domain of the Malakut, the world of the Soul-to disappear.
Perhaps it is necessary, in the West, to date the beginning of this decadence at the time when Averroism rejected Avicennian cosmology, with its intermediate angelic hierarchy of the Animae or Angeli caelestes. These Angeli caelestes a hierarchy below that of the Angeli intellectuales had the privilege of imaginative power in its pure state. Once the universe of these Souls disappeared, it was the imaginative function as such that was unbalanced and devalued.
I have proposed the Latin mundus imaginalis for it, because we are obliged to avoid any confusion between what is here the object of imaginative or imaginant perception and what we ordinarily call the imaginary.
This is so, because the current attitude is to oppose the real to the imaginary as though to the unreal, the utopian, as it is to confuse symbol with allegory, to confuse the exegesis of the spiritual sense with an allegorical interpretation. Now, every allegorical interpretation is harmless; the allegory is a sheathing, or, rather, a disguising, of something that is already known or knowable otherwise, while the appearance of an Image having the quality of a symbol is a primary phenomenon Urphanomen , unconditional and irreducible, the appearance of something that cannot manifest itself otherwise to the world where we are.
It is certainly a world that remains beyond the empirical verification of our sciences. Otherwise, anyone could find access to it and evidence for it. It is a suprasensory world, insofar as it is not perceptible except by the imaginative perception, and insofar as the events that occur in it cannot be experienced except by the imaginative or imaginant consciousness. Let us be certain that we understand, here again, that this is not a matter simply of what the language of our time calls an imagination, but of a vision that is Imaginatio vera.
And it is to this Imaginatio vera that we must attribute a noetic or plenary cognitive value. For the world into which our witnesses have penetrated-we will meet two or three of those witnesses in the final section of this study-is a perfectly real world, more evident even and more coherent, in its own reality, than the real empirical world perceived by the senses. It is a matter of a world that is hidden in the act itself of sensory perception, and one that we must find under the apparent objective certainty of that kind of perception.
That is why we positively cannot qualify it as imaginary, in the current sense in which the word is taken to mean unreal, nonexistent. We will thus have the imaginal world be intermediate between the sensory world and the intelligible world.
SoulWork & the Mundus Imaginalis
This is the intermediate place between spirit and matter, the mundus imaginalis, where the spiritual world assumes an objective reality, and where the transmutation of the prima materia of the human psyche into the subtle or spiritual body is the work of an alchemical opus that involves encounter with an angelic presence through the faculty of the active imagination. In this paper, I intend to explore the nature of this encounter in the context of the neoplatonism of the Islamic mystical philosophers to whom Corbin dedicated his life and work. To begin, we should briefly consider the kind of knowledge that characterises the Platonic path of gnosis. Human modes were characterised by rational, theoretical and analytical attempts to grasp the world of nature through the observation and deduction of sense-perception, whereas divine modes embodied a deep intuitive sense of transcendent principles governing and emanating throughout creation, apprehended only through the highest intellectual principle in the soul which recognised the images of its divine source. The former entailed the separation of the observer from 1 H. The former took place in time, the latter in a timeless place beyond the working out of cause and effect.
Mundus Imaginalis, or The imaginary and the Imaginal
Start your review of Mundus Imaginalis, or The imaginary and the Imaginal Write a review Jul 06, John Allen rated it it was amazing Henry Corbin : philosopher, anthropologist and Islamic expert penned this curious artifice of myth and Swedenborgian metaphysics years into his career, but it became the focus of his work--the idea of imaginal reality as an alternative to Western ways of thinking. Suhrawardi and his band of disciples probably wove these together. I am the first-born of the children of the Creator [in gnostic terms, the Protoktistos, the First-Created] and you call me a youth? What, then, is the road that leads out of it? How long is it? Does this involve simply leaving oneself in order to attain oneself Not exactly. When he emerges from the Spring, he has achieved the Aptitude that makes him like a balm, a drop of which you distill in the hollow of your hand by holding it facing the sun, and which then passes through to the back of your hand.
The version printed here has been condensed with the permission of the author by omitting paragraphs of a technical nature on pages 5 and 8 of the original, as well as an account pp. The complete text of this account has been published in H. Other writings of Prof. Corbin have been published regularly in French in the Eranos Jahrbiicher. Latin terminology has the advantage of providing us with a fixed and technical point of reference against which we can compare and measure the various, more or less vague equivalents suggested by modern Western languages.
Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal
The first is the s and s, when he was involved in learning and teaching western philosophy. The second is the years between and , in which he studied Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination in Istanbul. The last begins at and lasts until his death, in which he studied and reintroduced eastern and Islamic philosophy. They returned to Paris one year later in July From the s on he spent autumn in Tehran, winter in Paris and spring in Ascona. His magnum opus is the four volume En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques.
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