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IMAGINAL REALITIES AND IMAGINATION
The great Sufi master, Ibn Arabi, had a high opinion of the human being, who was made in the image of God. He declared that the human being is noble, for in him or her "God made the locus of the spiritualities of [all of] these entities! For God originated his 'image' when He caused him to become His Most-Perfect Transcription." This exalted view of the human being is inherent in the esoteric tradition. The Gnostics and alchemists, as well as the Sufis, contend that humankind holds a remarkable place in the universe and is higher than the angels. In the Corpus Hermeticum, the basis of much of hermetic thought, Poimandres tells Tat that you cannot understand God unless "you make yourself equal to god! ... Make yourself grow to immeasurable immensity, outleap all body, outstrip all time, become eternity and you will become god." We are higher than even the angels because, through our mind, which is something like our self or our imagination, we can become even as God. The human being thus has the innate capacity to unite with the higher world, and to unite the higher and the lower worlds as one.
But along with humans and angels, there are other psychoidal forces in the universe—demons and archons. In the Corpus Hermeticum, Asclepius warns that
[T]he sun sets in array the troop, or rather troops, of demons, which are many and changing, arrayed under the regiments of stars, an equal number of them for each star. Thus deployed, they follow the orders of a particular star, and they are good and evil according to their natures—their energies, that is. For energy is the essence of a demon ... They have all been granted authority over the things of the earth and over the troubles of the earth, and they produce change and tumult, collectively for cities and nations, individually for each person. They reshape our souls to their own ends, and they rouse them, lying in ambush in our muscle and marrow, in veins and arteries, in the brain itself, reaching to the very guts.
The strange paradox that humans are considered god-like and are yet the slaves of demons is also part of the esoteric tradition. There are psychoidal forces and entities that control us, unless we release the potential found within ourselves to control them and prevent them from dominating us. The struggle for freedom and divinity, and the need to order the forces of the psychoid is described in alchemy, for the Philosopher's Stone starts out in a chaotic condition dominated by the other forces of the universe. However, through the alchemist's effort, it gains the strength to bring order to the psychoid world and escapes the dominion of the forces that inhabit it.
In Sufi and Kabbalistic speculation, the psychoidal aspects of God that counterbalance the dominating psychoidal forces are termed "Names." A Name is not just a word or a title, it is a living being that has its own life, while expressing and personifying some particular aspect of God. Ibn Arabi explains, "No one can know the true essence of god but even the greatest stop at the final veil for the essence shines forth in the Names and attributes." In other words, neither the godhead nor the worlds of pure spirit are perceptible. We would not know God unless God revealed Itself through the manifestation of Names.
A Name might be something like Compassion, Immensity, or Wisdom. Ibn Arabi calls the human being the locus of spirituality for, as the image of God, the human soul contains all the Names. There are therefore Names within God that manifest, and Names within the human being that can be known and expressed. Yet even though Names belong to both soul and divinity, they are of a different order in each. Wisdom is a feminine Name of God, and we can know Her within ourselves as a feminine archetype that teaches and guides. But the wisdom that a human being possesses can in no way compare to the Wisdom that emerges from the godhead. Thus, when the Name of Wisdom appears it is recognizable because of the archetype of wisdom, but it reveals itself as a divine force that we can only recognize with awe. Though the human psyche does not possess this same order of wisdom, it can relate to the Name Wisdom and receive Her revelations and teachings.
Thus, there are Names that belong to the psyche and Names that belong to the psychoid. Names within the psyche are archetypes, which are universal images and ways of perceiving reality found in each of us.
According the Sufi theorists, and in my own experiences as well, there are two opposite worlds: the material world and the world of pure spirit or Idea. Acting as an intermediary between these worlds is a "third world" of imagination, the psychoid world. A spirit or a Name originates from the world of pure spirit where it has a life unknowable to the human mind. Through a series of processes, this spirit crosses a threshold and makes itself known to us as a psychoidal being. The Zohar (the "bible" of the Kabbalistic tradition) states, "whenever the celestial spirits descend to earth, they clothe themselves in corporeal elements and appear to men in human shape." A psychoidal being is in its essence spiritual, yet it assumes a subtle body that has both spirit and a degree of corporality. We can say that the essence or soul of the psychoidal being and its form are one and the same. The phenomenon of light holds the closest analogy to a psychoidal being. Light is both matter, or particles, and energy, or waves. It cannot be restricted to one manifestation or another. The psychoidal entity is neither matter nor spirit, but both at the same time. A human being possess a soul encased within a body and though the two are very much interrelated they are still separate. Only the human being who has experienced the subtle body understands the nature of the psychoidal "matter" and its interaction with "spirit." In the psychoid, consciousness and body are one.
There is a field of energy, or vibration, a zone of manifestation that appears in between the spiritual and mundane worlds. This energy, for lack of a better word, is formless and corresponds to the alchemical prima materia. Yet, it is plastic, and when a Name enters the imaginative realm, it first molds the energy into a form. This form is substantial, having something of the material about it, but subtle, retaining something of the spiritual as well. It appears as a light/energy shape but has not yet taken on the form of an image. Every psychoidal entity has a certain vibratory quality and often appears as an energy form that we may see or feel, but which has no defining imaginal characteristic to it. Some psychoidal experiences are of these forms only, but others engage the imagination more specifically.
The next stage of the entity's manifestation in the psychoid imagination is for it to assume some more defined imaginal form. For example, in my experience of Sophia, she appeared as a vibratory presence that I could see and feel in the room, but at the same time, emanating from her was the image of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. There was no doubt that she was a goddess of great compassion, love, and wisdom. I saw and felt both her image and her vibration simultaneously.
In my experience and that of my clients, the Name, as it crosses into the psychoid, molds the vibratory energy around itself to assume an image that is expressive of its own nature while appealing to the imagery most familiar to the human being to whom it is manifesting. A Christian might see a Name as Jesus, while a Sufi might see the same Name as Mohammad, and a Buddhist, as Buddha. Behind each of these images is the same Name, which exists as a psychoidal being, and which puts on the image it has chosen as if it were putting on clothes. Names choose their clothes well, in order to communicate something of themselves to the individual to whom they are appearing, even before any words are spoken. But after working with them for some time, an individual may come to perceive them without any such imaginal clothing, simply as a particular vibratory energy that the individual recognizes by its feel and essence. One of the major differences between a psychological imaginative experience and a psychoidal one is the energetic and vibrational quality of the psychoid entity.
In summary, there exists an original Idea, Name, or Aspect of God that wishes to manifest in order to be known. A particular Name enters an energy field that is the prima materia of the psychoid and creates a form or body made from this energy field, and then manifests itself and its teaching by generating an image, that is, by imagining. When an individual experiences this imagination, he or she comes to know that Name.
The Name not only personifies itself in an image, but also may teach, or create a variety of imaginal experiences. It can create a visual expression of itself, as well as dialogue with a person, or even create whole scenes and even worlds based on its essential nature. That is why Ibn Arabi spoke of the Name as having its own world. Through the imagination, it can lift an individual into its own reality, which at the same time is an aspect of the reality of God. Because these experiences partake of the psychoidal imagination, they are perceived as being completely real.
The human being who attains his or her wholeness, or Self in the image of God, orders the archetypes around a common center. When he or she wishes to encounter the divinity, these same archetypes are met as Names in the psychoid. The human being meets these beings in the imagination, in the imaginal world that connects one to the place of pure spirit. The godhead manifests as a seemingly vast number of Names, each of which is alive. Not only that, but each human being has a particular Name of his or her own. Ibn Arabi says that God, though one in essence, is "All through the names. No existent thing has anything from God except its own specific Lord. It cannot possibly have the All.... That which becomes designated for it from the All is only that which corresponds to it, and that is its own Lord." Every Name is a living manifestation of the All and expresses God for its lover. Thus, each Name is its own image of reality and of God and normally embodies a particular way to relate to that image of God. We all have our own God which is unique to us.
The Names that exist within the human being as archetypes exist in the godhead as pure spirit and are unknowable until they manifest as psychoidal beings, each in their own place and in their own world. If the human being comes face to face with God, both reveal these Names. In a somewhat complicated statement, Ibn Arabi says that, "All that I will show to you, which the Merciful has deposited [also] in your Essence and placed among the sum of your attributes. For you are the 'Anthropomorphic Image' [of God] and That is the [Divine] 'Transcendent Image.' If you ask, 'But what do I have to do with "Anthropomorphism"?' [I tell you that] with the 'Bringing face-to-Face' and the 'Raising to Preeminence', both of You [viz. both God and you] oscillate between Transcendence and Anthropomorphism." In other words, we can glimpse the transcendent nature of the godhead and possess something of its transcendent nature, while the godhead is also never completely transcendent but appears in anthropomorphic Names, which appear as living Images. In this sense, the Names unite the transcendent and the immanent, the impersonal and the anthropomorphic.
Face to face, the archetypes within the psyche match the Names of God, and so we can first experience them as inner psychic figures, but eventually we must experience them as objective psychoidal beings. Both are necessary; both the archetypes and the Names must be harmonized so that total union between the human being and God may occur. Sometimes we work with the archetypes, sometimes with the Names, and sometimes with both, but if we did not possess the inner Names we could not resonate with the outer Names, nor would we be the image of God.
Many times when we are doing active imagination we are not touching the psychoid, but inner figures. Yet as these inner figures are the reflection of the Names, it doesn't matter so much at the beginning, because knowing the archetypes is first necessary to familiarize ourselves with the nature of the Name. To experience an archetype that is rooted in the psychoidal Name is to experience something of great power, but to experience the Name is to encounter power far exceeding that of the archetype. We must be ready for such an experience, and the best way to prepare is to know the archetype.
Let us once more use the example of Sophia who, for the Sufi, Jewish, and Christian traditions is the feminine Name of Divine Wisdom. We can experience Sophia as an archetype, in the form of a man's anima or a woman's self-figure. This allows us to experience a feminine power within the psyche, which forms part of the self, and contributes greatly to our individual wholeness. She can act as a guide and teach us about the creative powers of the self, but she has as her correlate an extra psychic or psychoidal living being, a feminine goddess who forms the Name Wisdom. When we encounter her as a Name, we are experiencing a being born in the depths of the godhead. It is an amazingly powerful experience. She teaches us about the nature of the divine reality, about our place in the universe, and other mysteries. When we contact her, we do not experience an inner image, but a vibrational energy and an image of a woman whose numinosity can bring us chills. We feel her outside ourselves and communicate in a way that is difficult to intellectualize. By first knowing the archetype we are more prepared to experience the living Name, and, in fact, by relating to the archetype we open the door for the Name to come through.
When Ibn Arabi referred to the human as the locus of spirituality, he was also addressing the time in our individual development when we must come face-to-face with God. When this occurs, we experience our own inner Names, as well as the anthropomorphism of God, or the manifestation of Its Names. We come face to face with the living Realities that power our archetypal inner figures. How do we do this? We do it through the imagination.
Imagination is critical in understanding the alchemical opus as well as experiencing the process of individuation. But imagination is still denigrated in our society, and even when it is not, it is little understood. I am in touch with several individuals who are engaged in the study of imagination, attempting to come to a contemporary formulation of this wonderful faculty. There are many questions still unanswered in our attempt to express some consistent theory of imagination, but I am prepared to offer some initial ideas.
The first step is to differentiate the diverse levels, or loci, of the imagination. To begin with, we must be able to distinguish fantasy from true imagination. Fantasy serves the purposes of the ego. The ego fantasizes about its achievements, power, beauty, or sexual exploits, but whatever the fantasy it serves to create a pleasing sensation and image of the ego. This can include negative fantasy, for there are many individuals who are hooked on fantasizing about how terrible they are and what horrible mistakes they have made. They can indulge in this fantasy for hours, deriving some reassurance from "knowing" just how dreadful they are. In either the positive or negative cases, however, the point of the exercise is to create a story or an image in which the ego is the star.
The mystic Jacob Boehme and the alchemist Paracelsus offer us further information about fantasy, arguing that it is a misperception of reality. According to Boehme, fantasies were delusions that led one away from God. Lucifer indulged in fantasies of power and dominance, and even imagined rivaling God. Instead of imagining about God, he imagined about himself being God. Adam was led astray by his false imagings, which carried him into the world of senses instead of remaining in paradise with God.
According to Paracelsus, fantasy is seeing only the surface of things. It fails to penetrate the veils of nature and spirit to see into the heart of something, and is content with superficialities. Fantasy can be creative, as a scientist can be creative about the nature of physical reality, but if such a scientist fails to understand the natural object as a symbol, and to perceive the meaning of that symbol, he has engaged in fantasy and not in true imagination. Boehme's concept of fantasy emphasizes the ego's delusion about its own nature, as with Lucifer and Adam. For Paracelsus, fantasy is the failure to recognize a symbol and the symbolic reality of all things.
Excerpted from THE WEDDING OF SOPHIA by JEFFREY RAFF. Copyright © 2003 Jeffrey Raff. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
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Chapter 1 Imaginal Realities and Imagination
Chapter 2 The Nature of Sophia
Chapter 3 Aurora Consurgens and Psychoidal Alchemy
Chapter 4 What Wisdom Is: Sophia's Role in Alchemy
Chapter 5 Of the Black Earth
Chapter 6 The Flood of Waters: The Redemption of a Goddess
Chapter 7 The Gates of Brass: From Chaos to Order
Chapter 8 Of the Philosophic Faith: The Nature of Spirit
Chapter 9 The House that Wisdom Built: The Incarnation of the Divine
Chapter 10 Of Heaven and Earth: Incarnation and Immortality
Chapter 11 The Lover with the Beloved: The Wedding of Sophia