Henry Corbin On The Shadow

As you know, I’ve been discussing the idea of the Celestial Twin, the perfected and thoroughly individuated celestial personage of each and every human being on Earth. This is a very old idea, possibly having its origins in ancient Egypt with the Ba and Ka souls (The Egyptians believed the soul has five parts). The Celestial Twin, as I understand it, is an angelic entity who is a paredros for all humans. The term paredros literally means “one who sits by the side of” and is a legal term from ancient Greek. It is similar to a judges’ assistant in the Athenian court system. This term denotes the relationship of the Celestial Twin to an individual as a “guardian angel, guide and companion, helper and savior” (Henry Corbin, Avicenna).

Corbin saw the unity of the human Soul and its Twin as a living unity of wholeness, but only if we choose to seek the Light. There are dark powers, as well, and these will also fill the role of companions and guides, if we wish. The Darkness is very real.

The totality represented by their bi-unity is therefore “light upon light”; it can never be a composite of Ohrmazdian light and Ahrimanian darkness, or in psychological terms, of consciousness and its shadow (Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism).

In other words, Corbin is radically departing from Jung’s idea of integration with the Shadow archetype. Corbin is more concerned with defeating the powers of Darkness than integrating the human psyche.

Of the Shadow, Jung said,

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware (On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.35).

 If one were to give oneself over to this kind of Shadow, in Corbin’s mind there would be no place for the Celestial Twin. Rather, there would be an Infernal Twin alongside one. This would mean the destruction of a human life; we see it everyday on the news.

So, Corbin did not see that an integration with such a dark force was possible or necessary. Jung, on the other hand, believed it was most necessary for the wholeness of the psyche. I am aware that Jung’s idea of evil was that it is most certainly a real force and not simply the privatio boni (the absence of good), as many theologians have taught over the centuries, originating with St. Augustine. Sometimes, I wonder, too, how someone like Hitler could have possibly integrated his shadow.

Corbin, the theologian, looks at the situation differently than Jung, the psychologist. That’s understandable. Each man had their insights. They are not required to agree on every point.

In essence, the sum of the matter is that we live our lives in such a way that we allow the power of Light, our celestial counterpart, to guide us through this vale of tears. God knows, we need all the help we can get.

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Ciphers of Nature

Photo by Pauk

…initial imaginative operation is to typify (tamthll) the immaterial and spiritual realties  in  external or sensuous  forms,  which  then  become  “ciphers”  for  what they manifest. After that the Imagination remains the motive force of the ta’wil which is  the continuous ascent of the soul In short, because there is imagination there is  ta ‘wll; because there is  ta ‘wll,  there is symbolism;  and because there is symbolism, beings have two dimensions (Alone with the Alone, by Henry Corbin).

Could it be that we, in this material world of self-aggrandizement, are really asleep? In our humdrum day-to-day existence of relying on the physical senses to perceive this world, truly a one-sided state of affairs, we don’t realize that we’re omitting the most important aspect of reality.

The Hermetic doctrine teaches,

For All things, are but two Things, That which Maketh, and that which is Made, and the One of them cannot depart, or be divided from the Other (Corpus Hermeticum, Book 17).

Every empirical object is not just an entity to be observed and measured. All things are two. These cannot be divided; they are actually one reality. This other corresponds to the physical object, but it is not observable by the physical senses.

Let’s take a concrete example and discuss a tree, since I like talking about trees. Let’s talk about an oak tree. The oak tree has spirally arranged leaves; its fruit is a nut called an acorn. Within this hard little nut is another tall, strong oak tree in potentia. The bark is hard to the touch. These are physical characteristics of the tree. Is this all there is to an oak? What about the awesome symbolism inherent in such a mighty tree? The spiral, which I have discussed on this blog, is a tremendous spiritual image. Each oak leaf is based on a spiral pattern, which expresses the famous Fibonacci series. Tremendous imagery! The acorn has been used by psychologist, James Hillman, in his book, Soul’s Code, to theorize individual human destinies. This is just scratching the surface of the rich depths of symbolism the oak possesses. 

When we begin to experience the depths inherent in Nature via imagination, our souls begin a journey back to their origin. This is all about imagination. Corbin talks a lot about ta’wil. This idea, taken from Islamic mysticism, is spiritual exegesis on, not only sacred texts, but also on the world around us. Through imagination, we experience the twin of all material things. The maxim, As above, so below, leads us to greater understanding of ourselves. That is why we can discuss, say, a flower, and discover a plethora of truths inherent in its reality. 

All manifested forms function as ciphers that, if read properly, will unveil their inherent truths. This is exactly how the ancients formulated their spiritual ideas. It is a hermeneutical, imaginative reading of Nature. Jung’s active imagination is very effective in this pursuit of truth.

So say those who have gone before us, if we follow this truth, our souls will also return to their rightful place in the universe.

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Henry Corbin and the Archetypal Realm

Nicholas Roerich “Song of Shambhala”

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 the cognitive function of the Imagination that permits the establishment of a rigorous analogical knowledge, escaping the dilemma of current rationalism, which leaves only a choice between the two terms of banal dualism: either “matter” or “spirit,” a dilemma that the “socialization” of consciousness resolves by substituting a choice that is no less fatal: either “history” or “myth” (Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal, by Henry Corbin).

French philosopher and theologian, Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was one of the most important intellectuals and scholars of the twentieth century. I first heard of him in the mid ’90’s, after immersing myself in the writings of James Hillman. The latter saw him as a carrier of the torch of Soul, when many in those days were denying its value. In 1949, Corbin attended the Eranos Conference in Asconia, Switzerland, in which he would play a large role, along with C.G Jung.

Most of us are aware of what Corbin means in the above passage by “active imagination.” If you’re not, read Gary Lachman’s wonderful essay at Reality Sandwich.

We know the power and value of this gift that Jung rediscovered for our generation. It was by no means a Jungian invention, for mystics and seers have used it for millennia to enter another, more subtle world. Corbin dubs this realm mundus imaginalis,  the world of the imaginal. He uses “imaginal” to differentiate from “imaginary,” and the disparaging connotations it carries in our rationalistic culture.

Corbin’s worldview requires a complete cosmology and metaphysics of presence. The West once possessed this, but lost it when the Aristotelianism of Averroes swept aside the Avicennan cosmology in the twelfth century. From that point on, the emphasis would be on res extensa and res cogitans.

Our typical idea of historical consciousness of a world of cold, dead objects and linear time will not work here. According to Tom Cheetham, “the human presence spatializes a world around it in accordance with the mode of being of that presence” (The World Turned Inside Out, p 66). This is very Heideggerian, reminding me much of Dasein. In fact, Heidegger was a major influence on Corbin’s work. This mode of being requires a qualitative, not a quantitative space. Our normal idea of space is much too limited for the limitless depths of Soul. That is why our urge to personify machines, as in the seemingly never-ending quest for so-called artificial intelligence, will never produce anything more than a cold, lifeless calculator.

The mundus imaginalis is the realm of Soul, the metaxy, mediating between the physical and spiritual universes. It is the middle course Icarus was instructed to fly by his father, but disobeyed and perished. It is the abode of the Archetypal Images of all existence and the realm of all mythology, which provides for us analogical knowledge by which we can peer into multiple levels of being. Cheetham says,

It is a measure of the depth of the catastrophe to which we have succumbed that we have come to regard this realm as just a fantasy in our heads. It is a realm of Being with its own characteristics, its own laws, and to which we have access by an organ of cognition appropriate to just this realm. The organ of cognition that gains us access to this universe is the active Imagination. It has a cognitive function just as fundamental as sensation or intellection, and like them, it must be trained. Therefore there are a perfectly objective imaginative perception, an imaginative knowledge, and an imaginative consciousness (ibid, p 69-70).

 I don’t know about you, but these are very exciting ideas.

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