Sunday, 30 September 2012

Theurgy, Theophany, and the Mundus Imaginalis


Carlos Schwabe, Le Destin, 1897.

The manifested dynamic cosmos, populated with myriads of occult correspondences, mythic realities, and host of non-material beings, exists on various levels of perception, with the senses perceiving the world, the active imagination the soul, and the daimonic consciousness through the intellect.[1] As the active imagination conveys events of the dynamic cosmos through images, the very act of imagining is in a sense an act of theurgic union, if one is to treat the dynamic cosmos as divine. Yet, it must be clarified in the most vehement manner that this sense of ‘active imagination’ is very different from the modern view of reality where ‘imagination’ is merely a mode of separating one’s state of mind from ‘everyday’ mental perceptions and processes. In a state of active imagination, corporeal reality, which we conceive as being ‘real’, is in fact enveloped and consumed by the reality of the pure forces of the cosmos, and is determined by it. To quote Tom Cheetham, “it is the mode of being, the mode of Presence, of the human person that determines the nature of time, not the other way round.”[2]

According to Henry Corbin, the active imagination partakes, dwells, and embodies the mundus imaginalis, which is the mesocosm of visionary revelation and events that experienced more vividly real that mundane reality. This is a place of constant metaphysical experience, theophanic visions, meditative consciousness, ritual gesture, contemplative prayer, artistic inspiration, and the sensations of eros. The function of the active imagination transmutes sensible forms into living symbols, and as Corbin writes,

The active imagination guides, anticipates, molds sense perception, that is why it transmutes sensory data into symbols. The Burning Bush is only a brushwood fire if it is merely perceived by the sensory organs. In order that Moses may perceive the Burning Bush and hear the Voice calling him… an organ of trans-sensory perception is needed...[3] So that the intelligible realities perceived on the imaginal level may be reflected in the mirror of the senses and be translated into visionary perception… the vision of the angel does not emerge from the negativity of an unconscious, but descends from a level of a positively differentiated superconscious.[4]

This is the theurgic endeavour of purification and liberation, the attempt to perceive traces of divine meaning behind appearances perceived by the senses.

The intensity of the active imagination that resonates throughout the mesocosm can create changes in the world, initiated through the occult correspondences of Indra’s net, transforming the possessor of such an active imagination into a divine creator who established the patterns from which material forms evolve. And as Angela Voss concludes, “what we call a miracle is the result of such a capacity to bring spiritual power to bear on matter and cut through the literal dimension of cause and effect.”[5]


[1] The ‘intellect’ in this case is to be understood in the Platonic sense of the pre-conceptual knowing as described by Iamblichus.
[2] Tom Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism, 2003, page ?
[3] Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone, 1998, page 80.
[4] Henry Corbin, Temple and Contemplation, 1986, pages 265-265.
[5] Angela Voss, ‘Becoming an Angel: the Mundus imaginalis of Henry Corbin and the Platonic path of self-knowledge’, 2007, page 9.