There is a particularly powerful practice in the Islamic tradition that was specially crafted so as to dissolve the pernicious effects of what the Native Americans call “wetiko"[i] (a word which, simply put, refers to the spirit of evil).
Similar to the way we reflect upon images in a dream and discover their symbolic nature, in esoteric mystical Islam, the practice of “ta’wil” is designed to transmute the sensory data of the physical world into symbols, transfiguring the world, as well as ourselves in the process. Ta’wil, an Arabic term which is fundamental to the spiritual hermeneutics of the Qur’an and which can be conceived of as being the central task of any spiritual discipline regardless of tradition, leads beyond a literal understanding of the world so as to recover the hidden world encoded within our sense perceptions.
Interpreting events in the world literally, according to dogma and “by the book,” is a form of blindness, as this way of seeing the world, imagining it exists objectively, separate from ourselves, deflates, sterilizes and demythologizes the sacred dimension of the world, and can be considered to be the true “Fall” of humanity. Thinking we are seeing the world objectively simultaneously appears to turn us into objects as well, an operation which ultimately immobilizes our human potential and literally kills the soul.
In our modern times, to quote the great Islamic scholar, philosopher, theologian and mystic Henry Corbin[ii], there is a “battle for the Soul of the World,” which is in essence a spiritual battle for the human soul, the dwelling place within us of the divine presence Itself. As Corbin points out, this is ultimately a battle “for” our celestial guiding spirit in the form of our Angel. This is to say that we are not only battling “along with” the Angel against the darker forces that obscure the light of the world from shining, but are at the same time battling to ultimately re-claim and unite with our Angel, our true and perfect nature.
The universe is itself a primordial and endlessly unfolding revelation that is always speaking symbolically, which is the language of dreams. The world is a living symbolic scripture, the literal and symbolic book of life. The whole of creation is a cosmic text thirsting for interpretation, a living embodiment of “the Word” manifesting the various names of the divine.
Everything depends upon our interpretation of this very moment. Realizing that all things speak inspires us to develop a hermeneutics reflecting back our realization that the sacred Word is becoming materialized in each moment; everything is “theophany” (a reve(a)l-ation of God). Hermeneutics, the practice of interpreting texts, has as its task the transfiguration of the world by means of unveiling the Word in all things. Corbin writes, “If the true meaning of the Book is the interior meaning, hidden under the literal appearance, then from the instant that men fail to recognize or refuse this interior meaning, from that instant they mutilate the unity of the Word…and begin the drama of the ‘Lost Speech.'”[iii] The function of the ta’wil as spiritual hermeneutics is to restore the unity of the Word and recover the “Lost Speech,” which is its living essence.
To recover the lost speech requires of us that our words be born anew. The creation, discovery and expression of our own singular voice results in freedom from the compulsion of the daemonic. To find our voice and speak is to translate, which is to say that speaking is itself a primordial hermeneutic art – a potential form of expressive, creative and sacred Art with a capital “A.”
It is significant that one of the key things that happens when we suffer an overwhelming trauma or experience abuse is that we become internally fragmented and dissociated such that we aren’t able to access our voice. In finding our voice, we are tapping into the magical, imaginative power of language to re-create ourselves and our world anew. Language is not merely a way of describing and communicating our ideas about the world, but rather, its nature is truly and essentially creative, as language is a tool for bringing the world into existence in the first place. As we find a fitting expression for our experience that arises out of a deep listening, we re-find and “found” our own language, art-iculating our own linguistic world, becoming a poet of our own psyche.
The process of ta’wil alchemically transforms the impersonal, archetypal forces of our nature that can limit us and force us to act compulsively into qualities that feed and nurture our one-of-a-kind individuality and helps us creatively express and give voice to our true nature in our own unique way. The practice of ta’wil connects us with our particular Angel, whose one-of-a-kindness has the quality of “singularizing” us, animating our own inner voice, making each one of us the unique individual that we truly are. The more we connect with what could be called our “Angel of individuation,” the more we become who we are. In finding our voice, the voice that belongs to us and is uniquely our own, we are finding the voice that can articulate the lost speech. The figure of the Angel is the archetypal hermeneut whose speech is the lost poetry of Creation.
Seeing through the illusory objectivity of the world, the process of ta’wil induces the hidden to reveal itself, making the hidden reality transparent to the transcendent meaning invested within it. Instead of becoming entranced by the seemingly solidified forms of the world, when its images are seen through – whether these images be the world itself, painted images or images in our mind – they then become sacred icons through which the numinous, hidden reality of the soul shines through and reveals itself. The transparency of the world, a reflection of seeing through ourselves, reveals the world to be a see-through medium which allows us to see beyond itself to a beyond that can only be seen through it. It is as if the images themselves become windows, inviting and opening up the way to what lies beyond them. Paradoxically, we find that what is hidden can only be seen through what is apparent. It is as if in the manifestation of our world, the soul is simultaneously revealing itself through its veiling of itself. Acting as a bridge, the art of ta’wil reveals the correspondence between the hidden and the visible.
The practice of ta’wil engages the depth of our soul; it traces back and leads a thing to its source, to its principle, its archetype, to its true reality; in the process it carries us back to our own origin. We are participating in a double cosmic movement – genesis and return, descent and ascent to the origin.
First there is the act of revelation – sending down a sacred text (written in the forms of this universe), and then the act of ta’wil – putting the “text” into its true “con-text” and thus returning it to its source. Ta’wil, or spiritual, esoteric exegesis, to quote Corbin, is an operation that “properly consists in ‘bringing back,’ re-calling, returning to its origin, not only the text of a book but the cosmic context in which the soul is imprisoned. The soul must free this context, and free itself from it, by transmuting it into symbols.”[iv] The art of ta’wil not only sees the world symbolically, but it recon-text-ualizes and thereby carries the symbol back towards the divine ground from which it derives.[v]
In carrying back the symbol to what it symbolizes, the practice of ta’wil connects the symbol with what, in Corbin’s innovative phrase, it “symbolizes with.” The energies that drive the re-version to the source carry not only the symbol but also, in one unified movement of awakening and revelation, the soul of the interpreter as well. To quote Corbin, “Transmutation of the sensible and imaginable into symbol, return of the symbol to the situation that brought it to flower?these two movements open and close the hermeneutic circle.”[vi] The ta’wil of the symbol re-produces and is a “re-citation” – a speaking – of the ta’wil of the soul itself, as the circulation of the hermeneutic circle closes upon itself.
Due to the impossibility of interpreting a text without transforming the reader, the art of hermeneutics becomes a liturgical act of transfiguration, conferring sacramental gnosis upon the participant. The soul can’t restore a text to its truth unless it returns itself to its own truth. The practice of ta’wil thus transmutes the soul itself, as the experience and recognition of the deeper meaning of a symbol is always an individual, individuating, transformative and life-changing event – profoundly changing us ontologically, in our very being.
The practice of ta’wil has nothing to do with rational deliberation upon ideas or manipulating concepts. Ta’wil is neither an intellectual nor linguistic exercise, but rather its opposite, as it takes intellect and language back to their source as true spirit, which is to say that ta’wil is a spiritual enactment of a primary mode of being.
The act of ta’wil doesn’t involve forming new concepts; rather, it unveils and renders transparent what makes us have the conceptions we do in the first place. In essence, the process of ta’wil is the uncovering of what is happening within us. Going beyond conformity, beyond collectively agreed-upon accepted opinions, beyond being slaves to the “letter of the law,” the art of ta’wil connects us to our own intrinsic authority to author and consciously create our experience of ourselves, and hence, write and live the genuine story of our own lives. This requires no external authority for validation, no middle man for mediation other than our true authentic being. The art of ta’wil puts any incorporated institution which dictates official interpretations and attempts to interpose itself between spirit and ourselves out of business in a heartbeat.
The practitioner of ta’wil recognizes that nature itself is speaking, that our world itself is an oracle and never-ending divination of itself, and thus it takes a special kind of attention to hear and “read” it. Ta’wil’s mode of interpretation is not an “anything goes” type of thing, as it doesn’t arbitrarily construct meaning out of thin air, but simultaneously creates and discovers meaning which is implicitly encoded in the fabric of the multidimensional, dreamlike nature of the world as it weaves itself within our own minds.
Whether we are able to find the deeper meaning woven into the multiple levels of reality depends upon if we have sufficient internal dimensions within ourselves at our disposal. The universe is a recurrent creation, recreating itself and emerging anew out of the plenum of infinite potentiality every nanosecond. Our dynamic, ever-evolving and living universe is continually speaking, and is at each and every moment fluidly changing into different versions of itself, and hence, subject to and in need of a perpetual ta’wil.
When we recognize the dreamlike nature of reality, all things call for a hermeneutics, which is to say that everything demands to be carried back from its apparent to its real, but hidden form. Continually unfolding our ta’wil ensures that we don’t fall prey to a dogmatic certainty, become absorbed in righteous delusions of absolute knowledge, and hence, become rigidly fixed in our viewpoint. The world is never explained once and for all, but must be continually de-cipher-ed, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls to be played again and again in ever more nuanced, refined, expressive and novel forms.
The practice of ta’wil renders the world transparent to the light invested within it, as the forms of the world are raised to incandescence, their hidden significance shining through their outer covering. Ta’wil is the soul’s own conversation carrying us into the mystery at the heart of reality. The primordial light inherent to the nature of the soul ultimately allows it to accomplish the ta’wil and perceive the light shining through the world, an inner light which is recognized to be of the same nature as the light of the soul itself. As long as we remain opaque to ourselves, however, we will be unable to see the light shining through all things. However, in this co-operative contemplation of the process of ta’wil that we are mutually creating and discovering in the writing and reading of these very words in this very moment, we are performing our own ta’wil.
An imaginative reading of a text, of the world, or of the soul, is as much an act of writing as reading, as much creation as discovery, for it involves humanity and the divine working together in concert with each other. Author Tom Cheetham [vii], a contemporary interpreter of Corbin’s work, writes in All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings, “The ta’wil is that cosmically unique process by means of which a divine figure, an Angel, meets with, struggles for, and transforms with an incarnate human soul. The conjunction, the “coupling,” produces the eternal individual.”[viii] Our Angel needs the response of and co-operation from our soul for it to fulfill its destiny. Only through the union of these two figures can the potentially eternal, greater personality within us be made actual. The Paraclete?the Holy Spirit?which is a “whole-making” spirit, is considered to be the unveiler and discloser of what is hidden; it is the initiator and guiding spirit of the ta’wil.
Our challenge is to become whole, and this requires not only assimilating our shadow, but also recognizing, stepping into and uniting with our light. We are always bound together, yoked – in a syzygy – with the divine figure who exists as an untapped potency within us, whether we know it or not. When we begin to consciously know it, Corbin writes, “The soul discovers itself to be the earthly counterpart of another being with which it forms a totality that is dual in structure.”[ix]
It is as if we, in our earthly, terrestial manifestation, are a lower level reflection of a higher-dimensional, intra/extra-terrestial counterpart. Uniting with our Angel completes our being, for without mingling and connecting with our celestial guiding spirit we are not fully human; it is then as if our soul, in its seeming inaccessibility is off-line, lagging behind itself. Without a ta’wil that effects this union, divine creativity has no “place” to express itself through our human realm, as the divine and humanity then have no place in which to meet. In a very real sense, this very inquiry into the nature of the Angel is inspired by the Angel itself, as we, both writer and reader, collaboratively tease out the Angel so as to allow it to reveal itself through our co-contemplation, or so I imagine.
The point of any spiritual initiation process in indigenous cultures is to introduce and connect the would-be initiate with his or her personal guardian spirit. Wisdom traditions worldwide from time immemorial consider that we have a higher-dimensional guide, a heavenly witness and divine alter ego, a transcendent counterpart and celestial partner (our eternally other and “better half”), who accompanies us on our life journey and with whom we co-create our life, knowingly or not. Our Angel is the eternally active source of our being. Our guide of light has a multiplicity of names, having as many names as can be imagined, which is emblematic of its miraculous-seeming nature. Its very presence bears witness to the reality of the invisible. Oftentimes our Angel announces its presence in and through events in our life, as if it configures events in the outside world so as to express itself.
We can potentially discover that we are essentially a bi-unity, what Corbin refers to as an “unus-ambo” (one-both). It makes no sense to even think about ourselves – who we are – separately from the Angel, as the two of us go together always and everywhere, never one without the other. To quote Psalm 23 “For thou art with me…all the days of my life.”[x] We are never alone. Each of us – ourselves and our Angel – would not, and could not truly be ourselves without the other. Our Angel is ultimately who we are, in that it is the same as us, while paradoxically, at the same time, being different from and “other” than ourselves.[xi]
We are invited to step out of any unconscious identification with our celestial guiding spirit, differentiating ourselves from it as we establish relationship and enter into dialogue with it.[xii] To quote Corbin, “This unus-ambo can be taken as an alternation of the first and second person, as forming a dialogic unity thanks to the identity of their essence and yet without confusion of persons.”[xiii] We can think of our Angel as the transcendent part of our personality that connects us to something greater than, and beyond, our limited version of who we imagine ourselves to be, while at the same time introducing us to what it is to be truly and fully human. This essential bi-unity of our nature doesn’t easily lend itself to the realm of rational thought or language, which are contained within and constrained by the limiting categories of time and space.
We've All Experienced Angels
We all have had experiences of Angels – having a lucky hunch, an inspired thought seemingly falls into our head out of nowhere, we have a healing dream, we find the perfect book at just the right time, the synchronistic meeting of precisely the right person that changes the trajectory of our life – all are potential examples of encountering a higher-dimensional guiding intelligence choreographing our life behind the scenes. Whether as artists, musicians, scientists, spiritual practitioners or poets – however we channel, connect and commune with the divinely originating creative spirit – there is no one who has not, at certain moments in life had an experience of being guided and inspired by something beyond ourselves. And yet, strAngely[xiv] enough, in our modern society it is practically taboo, and we can be easily marginalized and seen as crazy if we talk too candidly about such things. The hyper-rationalistic, intellectual, scientific and materialistic culture in which we live has written Angels off and out of the script of our lives. In our post-modern age, Angels have become second-class citizens, practically an endangered species, as if our current day “enlightened” (sic) rationalism is erasing Angels from our memory banks.
Oftentimes, our Angel makes its appearance in our lives when we feel ourselves to be a stranger in and estranged from the world. Archetypically, experiences of Angelic presences oftentimes get constellated at times of intense crisis, of extreme darkness, of great distress, when we “hit bottom.” A perfect illustration of this is the book by Gitta Mallasz, Talking with Angels. Interestingly, Mallasz didn’t consider herself to be the author of the text, but merely its scribe.
This document is a compelling account of four close-knit friends’ encounter with a seemingly supernatural Angelic force that took place in Hungary during the late stages of the Second World War. To quote from the Preface, “That ‘the unexplainable,’ this ‘numinous event’ came just at the darkest hour of their lives is surely significant: it shows that possibilities for new ways and for transformation do come to us where there seems to be no way out – if only we are open to them.”[xv] The Angel’s essential message is relevant to our current discussion, as well as being hard to argue with: “What could be more natural than our talking with each other?”[xvi]
All of us experience subtle interventions from our Angel every day that easily escape our notice or are just taken for granted. Examples of encounters with nonphysical beings who guide, teach, befriend and help us abound. The great doctor of the soul C. G. Jung writes of such an encounter in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
Jung began having personal experiences of a seemingly autonomous and self-created figure that lived inside of his psyche whom he called “Philemon.” Jung entered into dialogues with Philemon, and was shocked to realize that this inner figure would teach Jung things that he himself didn’t know. Philemon taught Jung the crucial insight that became the basis of his entire life’s work, what he calls “the reality of the psyche,”[xvii] an insight so profound – Jung considered it the greatest achievement of modern psychology – that it is still in the process of being understood by and integrated into the field of psychology.
Another example of an encounter with a celestial guiding presence is the book A Course in Miracles, which many people consider to be a profound wisdom text of the highest order. A psychologist and professor in New York City, an avowed atheist, one day began hearing a voice that instructed her to write down what it was saying, and, as if taking dictation, she did as told. The result was a book that has helped and inspired countless people all over the world. Thankfully, both the channel for A Course in Miracles, as well as Jung himself, were not pathologized for “hearing voices” (although many of Jung’s psychiatric colleagues thought that he was “going schizophrenic”) and then medicated so as to abort their encounter with these Angelic presences.
Our Angel is a wholly imaginal[xviii] reflection of ourselves, a living image that has a reality such that it can help us to recognize who we are. Instead of being merely our imagination, we can discover that it is the other way around – we are, ultimately speaking, an imagination, a projection of our Angel.[xix]
The Buddha says that we create the world, as well as ourselves with our thoughts.[xx] In the long run, we are as we think; thought is creative of real being. In contemplating the Angel, Corbin writes that it “…endows the soul with the aptitude for thinking it…He is the ‘destiny’ of that soul…The act of thinking is simultaneously a being-thought (cogitor) by the Angel, causing the soul to be what he himself is.”[xxi]
In endowing the soul with the capacity for thinking thoughts, the Angel makes us – at least in potential – in the image of itself. Corbin adds the following footnote to his previous thought, “In thinking this thought the person who thinks it is thought by the Angel, or on the contrary by a demon, for the alternative can only be the person ‘without an Angel.'”
Corbin’s thoughts are contemplations on the creative potency of thought to create our universe, as well as our experience of ourselves. Depending upon our relationship to our own mind, we can create for ourselves a living hell on earth or a heavenly realm. Heaven and hell are not just states of mind, but “places” created by the mind, by the imagination, that take on reality. And Corbin is offering us a succinct definition of someone in thrall to the demonic – they are a “person without an Angel.” The implication is clear: if we want to vanquish and be free from the demonic aspect of wetiko, we need to find and connect with our Angel, the sooner the better.
We only know our true selves by finding, knowing, loving and having a personal connection to our Angel; or to say it differently, we only know ourselves when our soul walks in company with the Angel. Speaking of our relation to the Angel, Corbin writes, “But himself will not be that without the second person…without the Figure who makes him able to see himself, because it is through his very own eyes that the Figure looks at him.”[xxii]
Being a mirror, our Angel is the very figure that helps us to truly see ourselves, to see our divine nature. Corbin comments that in this process, “The divine Being and the being in which and through which he reveals himself are simultaneously implicated, for God cannot look at an other than himself, nor be seen by an other than himself.”[xxiii] A real “eye-witness,” the eyes of the person “implicated” in this process, Corbin continues, “are precisely the eyes at which God looks, because they are the eyes through which He looks.”[xxiv] Our heavenly witness assumes our own countenance, as it is the mirror of our own face. At the same time, we often catch glimpses of our Angel out of the corner of our eye.
Interestingly, when we see a reflection of ourselves in a mirror in a night dream, it oftentimes symbolizes, and is a reflection of a split-off part of ourselves that we have projected outside of ourselves that is being reflected back to us through the mirror of our own mind. Being that dreams are reflections of our mind, when we see a reflection of ourselves in a dream, we are actually seeing a reflection within a reflection. This reflection of ourselves in the dream is an invitation for us to speculatively reflect upon the image, as well as ourselves, so that we might re-cognize, and integrate this previously unconscious part of ourselves. Similarly, our inner vision of our Angelic counterpart is a reflection of a heretofore unknown part of ourselves. Connecting with our Angel helps us to “lighten up,” to not take ourselves so seriously, to let go of our self-importance.
Meeting our Angelic guide marks the dawning of consciousness. For the soul, knowledge of itself is consciousness of the Angel. The human soul itself is composed of the very light of consciousness which illumines and dispels darkness. Once the soul’s light is reflected back to it and recognized, it needs no outside source for reflection, as it then becomes the source of its own light. The soul, by its very nature, just like the orb of the sun, then effortlessly and unceasingly self-generates, secretes and radiates its own light, lighting up the world in the process. Light doesn’t just shine and illuminate, but transforms everything it touches.
The Angel, whose nature is light, can only be seen by the part of us that’s of a similar nature, i.e., light, which is an example of the alchemical notion that “like can only be seen by like.” Speaking of coming face-to-face with our Angel, Corbin writes that we see, “A face of light which is your own face because you are yourself a particle of Its light.”[xxv] In this face-to-face encounter between the human “I” and the celestial “I,” the soul sees itself. As if a reflection in a mirror, every mode of understanding corresponds to the mode of being of the interpreter. Like a mirror, to quote Corbin, “My image looks at me with my own look; I look at it with its own look.”[xxvi]
We normally think of light and a mirror as being two different things, but the primordial light becomes its own mirror in order to reflect upon and see itself. The inner light is sentient, intrinsically endowed with a primordial cognizant awareness enabling it to experience its own radiant, luminescent nature. It is as if the primordial, uncreated light, a light which empowers our ability to see and creates the very act of seeing itself, creates an eye in order to be seen; the eye, being solar (i.e., light-based) in nature, owes its existence to light.
The creative and immaterial aspect of light has called forth and precipitated out of itself, in fully materialized form, an organ like unto itself so as to reveal itself, be seen and known.[xxvii] This light can be thought of as the visionary aspect of the soul: it makes seeing possible while at the same time being the light which is seen. “Like can only be seen by like.” Similarly, the divine has created human beings so as to be known by and through us so as to know itself and be made real in time. This brings to mind the verse from the great Sufi mystic Ibn ‘Arabi, who in contemplating his Lord, writes “I created perception in Thee only that therein I might become the object of my perception.”[xxviii] And compare this to the divine saying, “I was a hidden Treasure, I yearned to be known. That is why I produced creatures, in order to be known in them.”[xxix]
The Angel embodies the light of truth which casts no shadow, which is to say that the more we receive and take on the luminous body of light of the Angel, putting on its garments of light, the less need we have to project the shadow outside of ourselves. Becoming overshadowed by the light of our Angel, we can unite and become one with it, which would be to no longer cast and project out a shadow, or so I imagine. The Angel, and increasingly ourselves as well, become a source of never-ending light, of “light upon light” as it says in the Qur’an. Though seemingly an idealized state that is never attainable, this state is, nevertheless, still within the realm of the possible. To think that this state is impossible to achieve, and therefore to not try to imagine or achieve it, is a thought-form inspired by the wetiko virus.
This is to have then fallen under the spell of, and unwittingly become complicit with the powers of darkness that are fully invested in our not realizing who we are. As we step into our light, however, the seemingly outer world reflects back this inner realization, which is to say that as more of us withdraw our shadow projections – discovering, owning and taking responsibility for the shadow within ourselves – there is less need for the seemingly outer world to get dreamed up to play out our shadow destructively in living flesh and blood. We can then co-create a world reflecting and expressing the light we have found within us.
As we look upon the Angel, so does he look upon us, and so do we become. Supposedly made in the image of God, it is our image of God that ultimately makes us. We are in essence contemplating ourselves as we contemplate the heavenly witness, which is a situation where the contemplator becomes the contemplated and vice versa. Speaking of the reciprocity of this seeing, and being seen by God, Meister Eckhart says, “The seeing through which I know him is the same seeing through which he knows me.” If we don’t see him and he is not present to us, how could he possibly see us? When he is our witness, it is because we are present both to him, as well as to ourselves. To quote Corbin, “For he contemplates you with the same look with which you contemplate him.”[xxx] When we look in a mirror, the image that is reflected is both what sees and what is seen.
When we enter into an intimate, conjugal relationship with our Angel, it is a reciprocal relationship in which both parts of us benefit; the guide and the guided simultaneously give birth to and nurture each other’s unfoldment. In his book The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, Corbin quotes a beautiful devotional poem to the Angel that perfectly illustrates this mutual reciprocity, “Thou art the Spirit who gave birth to me, and Thou art the Child to whom my spirit gives birth.”[xxxi]
This reciprocity is similarly expressed in Christian terms by Christ being known simultaneously as the “Son of God” as well as the “Son of Man.”[xxxii] The more we become a polished mirrored for our Angel, the more we are able to reflect upon and see it. Seeing our Angel acts as a bridge to connect with it such that we begin to take our Angel into ourselves, more and more finding it within ourselves, as well as finding ourselves within it. As we step into it, it reciprocally steps into us, and we are then able to exemplify and embody it – becoming “angelicized,” so to speak – as we increasingly co-join with it on our way towards more fully uniting with it. The more we exemplify and become an instrument for the Angel, the more we are helping it to fulfill its mission of influencing and incarnating into our third-dimensional world, as well as helping us. To quote Corbin, “What occurs in and by the person of each adept also affects the being of the Angel who is their archetype and who finds his exemplification in them.”[xxxiii]
The more we are in “the company” of the Angel, the more we in-corporate the Angel into ourselves. This increasing human exemplification of the higher-dimensional, archetypal Angelic form which exists in the soul in a state of formless potential leads the soul back to its origin. To quote Corbin, “Every time one of these conjunctions of soul and Angel takes place, the relationship which constitutes the pleroma of Light is reproduced.”[xxxiv]
This is to say that each time that we, as human souls, unite with our Angel, we are enacting a deeper, archetypal process, becoming iterations of a deeper fractal that makes up, creates and is an expression of the light-filled world of the “pleroma” (similar in meaning to the aforementioned “plenum”). Speaking of those of us who are actively and consciously involved in this process, Corbin comments, “This exemplification gives them their archetypal dimension and constitutes them as the cast of characters in a cyclical drama whose prologue was played in Heaven and whose antagonists meet again in every period, in every generation.”[xxxv]
To the extent that we are battling for our Angel, we find ourselves drafted into a deeper, atemporal, endlessly recurring cosmic dynamic, an ever-repeatable iteration of our primordial return from a state of exile. We find ourselves having gotten drafted into playing roles in a divine drama so as to potentially retrieve and heal not only our own soul, but the soul of all of humanity, the soul of the world.
As if inhabiting a Tibetan bardo, we are situated “in-between” realms, as our very being itself is metaphorical, existing on two levels at once. We are living in close proximity to another world, existing at a threshold where there is a permeable boundary between consciousness and the limitless, mysterious world of the unconscious. We are citizens of two realms simultaneously: the outer consensus, physical reality and the inner, imaginal realm of dreams, visions and psychic reality. These realms interpenetrate with each other such that they are simultaneously different yet inseparably the same, a condition which demands us to cultivate a binocular vision such that we have one eye turned outwards towards the material world and our other eye turned inwards towards our inner landscape, both at one and the same time. The art of ta’wil creates the bridge for these two realms to “respirate” together (which is the deeper meaning of the word “conspire”) and in-form one another. The fact that life can, is open to, and is asking to be read symbolically, is an expression of the bi-dimensional nature of the universe, as well as of ourselves.
We are intermediate beings – situated between the two worlds of light and darkness, between the Angelic and demonic realms, between being and non-being – in suspense between two mysteries – and we are responsible for, respondent to, and resplendent in both sides, which is to say we are potentially Angels or demons ourselves.
Our Angel is the “go-between” between these two realms. Angels are typically portrayed as being part human, part nature, and part supernatural; they are a hybrid just like we are. It is ultimately up to us, through our freedom of choice, which side we feed and bring to life. To quote Corbin, “Now, it is from this Angel that our souls emanate…It is the realm of the human soul that is the dwelling place of the demons…in other words, it is for the human soul to decide whether its Angelic or its demonic virtuality is to flower in it.”[xxxvi] Our task as souls is to travel towards the Angel from whom we ourselves emanate. It is as if we – ourselves and our Angel – have made reciprocal pledges to each other in a realm that is outside of linear time. Our Angel is inclined towards us; we just have to remember our intention and be inclined towards it so as to re-forge the bond between us. Our soul, and its corresponding Angel is not a given nor guaranteed, but something to be won via our own efforts.
Our guiding spirit, our Angel “rules” over us; it can be likened to our governing star whose invisible hand guides our fate and destiny. This suprasensory personal guide directs us towards our own center. This center, to quote Corbin, is “…a place filled with Darkness which comes to be Illuminated by a pure inner Light.”[xxxvii] The two of us, ourselves and our Angel, are situated relative to each other, as if two interdependent, coextensive foci of the same ellipse. We have the power of choice regarding our Angel. Whether or not we connect with our Angel depends upon a crucial existential decision that each one of us are called to make during the course of our lives.
If we consciously choose to respond to enter into an ever-deepening relationship with our Angel, then, as we take a step towards it, it reciprocally takes a step towards us. This is similar to how the unconscious reflects back to us the attitude we adopt towards it. As we take a step in the direction of our Angel, our soul flowers, elevating above itself as we ascend towards our divine nature, towards the truly real. At the same moment in time, as a result of our choice, the divine is able to descend towards and incarnate into our earthly selves. Like a bridge that connects the two banks of a river, it is the practice of ta’wil that effects this potential meeting of the two worlds. The soul becomes resuscitated in the process.
However, if we turn away from our Angel, we are ultimately betraying and abandoning ourselves. Degrading our own standing, our soul then falls below our human condition, becoming a fallen Angel, as if suffering from a psychospiritual regression. The result would then be to become confounded, dislocated and depolarized, to have lost our celestial (counter)pole, our spiritual magnetic north, our moral compass, our orientation and direction, and hence, have nothing with which to make our unique person-hood. We would then be guaranteed to become an isolated unit in a collective totalitarian regime, whether in the greater body politic of the world or within our own mind. We then become victims, blown by the winds of karma, completely at the mercy of the prevailing political, social or biological environments, be they internal or external. The daemonic, instead of leading us to our Angel, transforms into the demonic, becoming self and other destructive. This is to have fallen into the abyss, to be endlessly incarnating in cyclic existence, seemingly trapped in the world of samsara; it is to have lost our soul and to have found ourselves in Hades.
The evil of wetiko is a “daemonic,” transpersonal, archetypal energy – beyond the merely personal – that is more powerful than any one individual and can literally take over and possess a person or group of people, compelling them to unwittingly act it out and become its instrument of incarnation. It is noteworthy, that, etymologically speaking, the inner meaning of the word “daemon”[xxxviii] is, among other things, the guiding spirit. Other meanings are: the inner voice, internal teacher, spiritual ally, divine guru, wish-fulfilling genie, djinn and genius.
The daemon connects us with our calling, and helps us find our vocation, our mission in life, why we are here on the planet. It is related to hearing, and finding our voice, to connecting with the muse who inspires. Encoded within the daemonic is the creative spirit, a spirit which originates from somewhere beyond ourselves and which empowers us in our roles as co-creators and dreamers of this world. So on one hand the daemonic energy that animates wetiko, when turned away from and not consciously related to, becomes destructively “demonic,” taking us over through our unconscious blind spots as it compels us to destructively act it out in the world.[xxxix]
Conversely, when honored and entered into conscious relationship with, however, this same daemonic energy becomes the doorway to connecting with our guiding, celestial Angel who literally empowers us to dis-spell the evil effects of wetiko, awakens us to the dreamlike nature of reality and helps us discover who we are. A true quantum phenomenon,[xl] this daemonic energy is both the deadliest poison and the most healing medicine co-joined in one superposed state. Will it take our species “down” and continue to inspire our self-destruction, or will it wake us “up?” Everything depends upon whether or not we recognize what it is revealing to us about ourselves. Being a dreamed up phenomena, how this daemonic energy manifests depends upon how we dream it.
The revelation of divine light always comes through the mediation of Angelic figures; our job is to render ourselves fit vessels so as to receive the Angel and its light. We need to become hospitable to its call. We shouldn’t have limited conceptions about what our Angel might look like, as our myopic vision might make us miss it when it reveals itself in one of its pluriforms. If we aren’t able to see our Angel, it is our own darkness which we are simultaneously seeing and seeing through that obscures our clear vision. By superimposing our own darkness onto the Angel, we make this figure of light invisible to us, dis-figuring it, as well as ourselves. We then become a person without our Angel, unable to imagine anything but a caricature of this figure, likewise becoming a caricature of ourselves. Whatever the soul sees – light or darkness – testifies to its own spiritual reality. If we are a person without our Angel, we are highly susceptible to falling prey to the seductive, entrancing spell of the demon of wetiko. If we want to learn how to see our Angel, we need to learn the art of listening.
The ordinary person is not only in a state of ignorance, but is unconscious of their ignorance, as if asleep and not knowing they are asleep. Speaking of this state of somnambulism, Corbin comments, “To free himself from it, he must pass through the Darkness; this is a terrifying and painful experience…a true “descent into hell,” the hell of the unconscious.”[xli] It is as if the soul carries its own potential hell within itself, and like a shaman descending into the underworld of the unconscious, we are called to make the darkness conscious – creating consciousness in the process. If we want to wake up, there is no getting around the darkness; we can’t know who we are without opening up to the darkness of the unknown. Paradoxically, recognizing, coming to terms with and integrating our own darkness is a portal that introduces us to our light. Making the darkness conscious takes away its seeming autonomy and power over us while simultaneously empowering ourselves. The same energy that was animating the darkness, once it becomes integrated into our wholeness and rejoins the unity of the psyche, becomes available to inform the heights of our creativity, as it then feeds our light.
To the extent that we haven’t fully connected with our “body of light,” however, we are an admixture of light and dark that obscures the light of our soul; our own obscurity to ourselves renders our Angel transparent in such a way that it doesn’t register to our consciousness; we don’t recognize it. In addition to owning the shadow that belongs to us, we also need to separate out from ourselves the darkness that is not ours; this is symbolized in alchemy by the process of “separatio.”[xlii] Distinguishing ourselves from the darkness that does not belong to us and casting off its shadow that has welded itself to our soul through the blindness of our own unconscious identification with it, is the very act that allows us to begin to see and commune in sacred partnership with our Angel. In owning our own shadow, separating ourselves from the shadow that doesn’t belong to us and connecting with our light, we have grown out of, left behind and transcended our lower self, which naturally and effortlessly falls away as though it had never really existed in the first place. Uniting with our Angel empowers us to spread our wings and freely fly, “winging it” in the divine realm of the creative imagination, rising above ourselves in the process.
The Imaginal Realm
Ta’wil is accomplished in the imagination, but it is not a flight into imagination away from reality; on the contrary, it is a birth into the world of the truly real. It is to be spiritually born, to come into the real world, to experience Jung’s aforementioned “reality of the psyche.” Corbin makes a distinction between the word “imaginary,” which is akin to fantasy and connotes being “unreal,” and the “imaginal,” which is an intermediate realm that is fully endowed with its own unique form of reality. He points out that the imaginary is innocuous, but the imaginal never is, in that it affects us profoundly in the very core of our being. The imagination is a divine creative agency; in a real sense it is the primordial power of the universe.
The creative imagination (please see my article “God the Imagination“) is both an organ of perception and creation at the same time. The imaginal realm is as ontologically real as the world of the senses, and its contents have a living reality all their own.[xliii] It is an expression of the extent of our ignorance, of our state of dissociation from ourselves, of the depth of the psychic catastrophe to which we have succumbed, that our culture regards the imaginal realm as being merely a fantasy in our heads. The imaginal realm, what Corbin refers to as the “mundus imaginalis,”[xliv] exists in its own right, sui generis, and is its own category of existence per se, and is as real as we – as a psychic entity – are real. The figures and events of the mundus imaginalis are not perceivable with our bodily eyes; rather, they themselves are the eyes through which we see the world. Having its own open-ended sphere of seemingly unlimited influence, the effects of the imaginal realm are so real that it molds the psyche, “casting” it in a form we can only imagine.
To recognize the fundamental role that the creative imagination plays in our experience of our world, to quote Corbin, “…is to be delivered of the fiction of an autonomous datum; it is then alone that the eternal companion of the soul will cease to be the counterfeiting spirit [the antimimon pneuma in the Apocryphon of John (Apoc. John III, 36:17)] bearing witness against it.”[xlv] To realize that our experience of this world is a function of the divine, creative imagination is to see through the fiction of an objectively existing universe, filled with empirical, historical data unalterably written in stone. This very realization dispels and evicts the counterfeiting spirit whose task is to deceive us from recognizing the truth of ourselves, while simultaneously inviting the real companion of the soul – who bears witness “for” us – to take its rightful place at our side. The imaginal world is a pre-existing archetypal dimension, intelligible only through an act of being which is an expression of its presence, which is to say that it requires a mode of perception designed to reveal its mysteries that properly belongs to it.
It requires a higher faculty of consciousness to “see” the imaginal realm and recognize that our dreamlike universe is manifesting in the form of a living, breathing symbol, and this higher-dimensional organ of perception is our divine creative imagination. Also known as the “imaginatrix,” it is the suprasensory organ that alchemically transubstantiates the mundane empirical, literal sensory data of this world, resurrecting it into its real but hidden form as symbolic epiphany, allowing the universe to fulfill its revelatory and theophanic function. “The sacred art of Alchemy” realizes and is an expression of the fact that the imagination is a divine body living in every person; a refined, rarefied and subtle body that is not of human construction but rather, is divinely implanted in us from a source beyond ourselves. The imaginative faculty of the soul is not merely a human attribute, but is a higher-order divine activity of the soul in which the human imagination participates and bears witness.
The human imagination is enveloped in and suffused with the unconditioned, divine creative imagination, the imagination that is imagining/creating the whole universe in this very moment. The imaginal nature of our Angel necessarily throws us into an imaginative style of discourse. In the practice of ta’wil, in working with the imagination, we are speaking to and from it, as well as listening to how it responds.
The act of prayer is a continual dialogue, relationship and interchange with the divine. To quote Corbin, “Prayer is the highest form, the supreme act of the Creative Imagination.”[xlvi] The act of prayer evokes a mutually created, shared space that reconstitutes, renews and recreates the intrinsic interdependence and reciprocal communion between the human and the Divine. Genuine prayer is an invitation for the Angel to visit, as the Angel, though dying to help, is not able to coerce us in the least, as it doesn’t want to get in the way of our free will, or so I imagine. The only coercion our Angel practices is to “force” us back on and into ourselves. Prayer from the heart is speaking in the dialect of the Angel, which precipitates an on-going conversation and trans(cendental)-action between us.
Creative prayer is the epitome of the archetypal creative act, and in this sense it is a creator of vision. Corbin comments, “For prayer is not a request for something: it is the expression of a mode of being, a means of existing and causing to exist…This view of Prayer takes the ground from under the feet of those who, utterly ignorant of the nature of the theophanic Imagination as Creation, argue that a God who is the ‘creation’ of our Imagination can only be ‘unreal’ and that there can be no purpose in praying to such a God. For it is precisely because He is a creation of the imagination that we pray to him, and that He exists.”[xlvii] Corbin’s statement is based on, and expression of the profound primacy of the divinely inspired creative imagination in creating our world; we pray to the imagined God because the imagination itself is divine.[xlviii] Theophanic prayer is the creative in action, used for the benefit of the whole, a unified field that we are not “apart” from, but rather “a part” of.
We shouldn’t take the existence of our Angel too literally, however, for thinking that it literally exists would be contrary to the whole spirit of ta’wil. Angels can pass through walls, but a world explained by our reason is impenetrable to them, as they lose their place in a world without mystery. Taking them too literally has a hardening effect on them, as to concretize them makes them fall from the realm of the imagination. Taking on too much weight, they then aren’t able to help us ascend. Angels don’t have independent, intrinsic, objective existence any more than we do.
This is to say that when we see through the illusion of the separate self, we realize that we are interconnected with the whole universe in a dynamic way where everything interpenetrates everything else in an infinitely complex interdependent co-arising web of inter-being. We only exist relative to others, who themselves exist relative to others, such that there is no independently existing reference point anywhere in the universe. In the same way, Angels don’t objectively exist separately from us; the nature of their dreamlike existence mirrors our own.
Though our Angel ultimately has no independent existence separate from our own consciousness, if we treat them “as if” they objectively exist, however, then they will manifest “as if” they actually do exist, which is showing us something really profound about ourselves: the incredibly vast, yet mostly untapped creative potency of our own imagination. Once we suspend our disbelief about its seemingly imaginary nature, and recognize instead its imaginal nature, our Angel takes on a living body of light such that its effects can, literally, transform our life. The Angel is a personification of a higher-order of being, of a mode of perceiving and receiving the world, a way of relating to both our world and ourselves that is based on the living reality of the imagination, a reality through which we can quite literally change the world.
An Event of the Soul
The root meaning of the word “psychology” is the study of the soul. We can conceive of the soul as a vital animating core of luminosity and aliveness, the very thing that links us to the divine, to each other and to the part of us that is most ourselves. The soul can’t be explained – it is the soul itself which is the principle informing every explanation – but we know it when we experience it, as when we meet people who are connected with their soul. We can conceive of the soul as being a perspective rather than a substance; it informs our way of seeing rather than being something seen. Our ta’wil will succeed or fail depending upon whether or not it leads back to the symbolic archetypal “event” taking place in the soul of which, and “with” which it symbolizes.
When we ask ourselves “To what source does ta’wil return us to?” – this contemplation invites a deeper inquiry. To quote Corbin, “The question implies another: whom does it lead back, and to whom does it lead back?”[xlix] These are profound questions into the very nature of who we are, and what is the nature of our Angel, questions that the act of ta’wil itself both asks and invites us to answer.
Symbolic events flower in the soul to announce something that cannot be expressed otherwise, as if these events are an “annunciation” of, for and by the soul and its corresponding Angel to itself. In these experiences, the soul is not witness to an objective, material, external event, but is itself the medium and context in which the visionary event takes place. The soul can never have knowledge of “objective” reality, for it, and we, are not objects.
The soul can only know what it is. When the soul reads and comprehends the deeper meaning of the psychic event that is taking place within it, which is to say when the soul discerns, re-cognizes and in-scribes its own story both within itself and out in the world, it lives this event, fully making it its own. Transforming both itself and ourselves in the process, the soul simultaneously stamps and in-scribes its deeper reality into us. Then the meaning of the event blossoms in and as the inner life of the soul, as the event is taking place within our soul itself, a “place” that cannot be found within the coordinates of third-dimensional space and time.
When earthly substance becomes spiritual fare and we transmute the sensory data of our experience into symbols through the act of ta’wil, it is not an ordinary event, but an “Event of the Soul.” Speaking of our act of visionary apperception Corbin writes, “This perception is essentially an event of the soul, taking place in the soul and for the soul. As such, its reality is essentially individuated for and with each soul; what the soul really sees, it is in each case alone in seeing.”[l] Our Angel can only appear in a personal, unique form to each human soul, as our Angel is symbolic of and “symbolizes with” the soul’s most intimate depths.
This is similar, I imagine, to the idea that a life-long Buddhist practitioner will have visions of Buddhas in the after-death state, while a devout Christian will see Christ; each will see the divine in their own way, depending upon what speaks most directly and potently to their soul. This is analogous to how the form that our Angel “takes on” so as to manifest itself to us in this life is utterly unique, as it is based on, conforming to, and a function of our own soul.
In its encounter with the Angel, the soul is brought back to its own primordial Image. In its speculative reflections upon the world, the theophanies that the soul experiences are of the nature of a mirror. As Christ says in the Apocryphal text of John, “a mirror am I to thee that perceivest me.”[li] Everything in the universe is a mirror reflecting the supreme light. It is its own Image of itself that the soul rediscovers and meets in its act of reflection. As Jung points out, seen symbolically, Christ is a symbol of the Self, of our wholeness, of our perfect true nature. Christ himself can be seen as the primordial revelation of the Angel, what is known as the “Angel Christos,” which is an endlessly rich and forever inexhaustible event of the soul. The Angel Christos is a nonlocal, atemporal spirit – existing outside of space and time – that has existed from time immemorial and has manifested itself in various guises, to and through countless people as it weaves itself throughout the warp and woof of history. Writing about the Angel Christos, Corbin says that it is, “hastening from christophany to christophany, ‘toward the place of his repose.'”[lii]
The Angel Christos is available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and has an infinitude of ways, a multiplicity of forms in which it can appear, depending upon the soul’s aptitude for seeing, and recognizing a divine figure. The paradox is that the single, unique Supreme God can only appear by means of a multitude of individualized theophanic forms; we can only see the form that God has revealed to us. The form of the vision is custom-tailored for each soul, dependent on its state of development. For example, in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, the apostle Peter, referring to the scene of Transfiguration that he had personally witnessed on Mount Tabor, says “I saw him in such a form as I was able to take in.”[liii] Other people present saw a boy, a youth, or an old man. In the apocryphal Acts of John, John and his brother James both see a vision of supposedly the same person after returning from a night spent on the sea, and one sees a young child, another a man. Origen, speaking about the Transfiguration, declares that the Savior existed not only in two forms – the one in which he was commonly seen, and the other in which he was transfigured, but that in addition, “he appeared to each one according as each man was worthy.”[liv]
This is analogous to how the unconscious, for example, shapes, forms and creates dreams, uniquely custom-tailored so as to speak to the particular situation and state of the particular dreamer. The dreamer and the dream, being inseparable reflections of each other, mutually reflect and affect each other in a synchronistic, cybernetic feedback loop, reciprocally in-forming one another and thus co-arising together.
The unconscious takes the raw material (the alchemical “prima materia“) of psychic life and shapes it into communicable symbolic form so as to resonate with a latent story within us. Once we are touched by and change in relation to whatever part of the dream speaks to us, the unconscious then, in turn, will co-respond and reflex-ively transform – changing its form – relative to us. The integration that we’ve achieved as a result of the dream is instantaneously, with no lag time – faster than the speed of light – relayed back to the unconscious, which then reworks, rewords and re-transmits new mytho-poetic reflections of itself back to us. In this process we are simultaneously creating, witnessing, living and assimilating an ever-novel, dynamically unfolding drama-tic revelation of our selves. As if intimate partners, we are always having a dialogue and con-“vers(e)”-ation with the unconscious, as we both work in concert with each other to create symbolic meaning; to say it differently, we are always dreaming in, through and as our life. Revelation as theophany has no fixed form – it is Life, not death; it is not a thing, but a continually unfolding, dynamically evolving self-referential autopoietic process without end. For the words “dream” or “unconscious” substitute the word “Angel,” and we begin to appreciate the reflective visionary process that we are all participating in and co-creating with, through and over the course of our lives, whether we know it or not.
In these encounters with its Angel, the soul is not witness to an external, objective event that comes from outside of itself, but is itself reflected through and reciprocally affected by the visionary event; this is what is meant by these experiences being an “Event of the Soul.” The Angel Christos can only come into contact with humanity by transforming the latter. The symbolic script of our universe is not something that we are passively watching, but is truly a revelation that is being collaboratively dreamed up and co-created by all of us, in and as the present moment. Corbin writes, “Your contemplation is worth whatever your being is worth; your God is the God you deserve; He bears witness to your being of light, or to your darkness.”[lv] The truth of our individual vision is proportional to our fidelity to ourselves. When we recognize the dreamlike nature of the universe, we realize that there is only revelation, that everything is theophany, that this universe is a continual epiphany, and this is what we are called to see.
An A Priori Image
Each of us carries within ourselves an archetypal Image of our world, as well as ourselves; this is an innate Image that precedes all perception, an a priori Image expressing the deepest part of our being – our very soul. This is the soul’s archetypal Image of itself, an imprint that the soul eternally bears within it. We are answerable to this internal image by how we create and fill out our own living biography. To the extent this Image is unconscious, it gets projected outside of ourselves into the world. The world then becomes the stage upon which the drama of our unconscious, and on which our destiny is played out. If we are not conscious of this process, we will then feel victimized by life, experiencing the circumstances we meet in life as externally imposed upon us. This a priori Image of the soul that is projected outside of ourselves is at the same time the image which ultimately enlightens the soul to its divine nature, for the face that the soul projects upon the mirror of the world is ultimately recognized as being a reflection of its own.
Once the image of reality that we have so carefully constructed is seen through and recognized to be a product of the soul – the soul’s own projection of its own inmost reality – the world is then recognized in its transparency to be our projection; we realize that not only is the psyche within our brain, but that we are also living inside of the psyche, which is now recognized to be nonlocally everywhere, both inside and outside of ourselves at the same time. The dreamlike nature of reality, where the inner situation of the dreamer?in this case, ourselves?is being expressed through the seemingly outer dreamscape, could not be more apparent in its transparency.
Commenting on this situation in which the deepest, most inner reality of the soul is to be found in the most obvious place imaginable – the outside world, Corbin writes, “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.”[lvi] Synchronistically, the world, as well as ourselves, then appears to be turned both inside-out and outside-in at the same time, as if the terms “inside” and “outside” have lost their difference in meaning relative to each other. It is as if the interior world of the soul encircles the external world; the world has become “ensouled.”
In making the inward journey of ta’wil, the microcosm (the infinitely small), turns out to be a reflection of the macrocosm (the infinitely large), and vice versa. Corbin completes his previous thought by saying, “Henceforth, it is spiritual reality that envelops, surrounds, contains the reality called material.”[lvii] The events in our world are a thin skin wrapped around the enormous cosmos of pure spirit, which is to say that the material world is the illusory fringe which veils and simultaneously reveals the underlying spirit which animates, gives shape to and in-forms our world. The practice of ta’wil connects spirit and matter such that the soul attains concrete, incarnate reality. Each soul is not only at the center of the universe, but is a universe in and of itself.
The inversion of realizing that the world lives within us interiorizes the cosmos within ourselves, which makes us truly integrated and “at one” with ourselves. This is when, to quote Corbin, “The cosmos yields before the soul, [as] it can no longer escape being interiorized by the soul, being integrated with it.”[lviii] But to integrate the world, to make it our own, we first need to emerge from it in the first place. We have to step out of being unconsciously contained by and identified with the world in order to take it within ourselves. Instead of being a stranger in a world of metaphors[lix] that are mistaken for literal reality, what we take for reality can now be recognized for what it is: a metaphor for the truly real.
The encounter with our Angel is, by its very nature an ec-static experience that changes our state, as it can’t help but to propel us out of whatever state or identity pattern we’ve been imagining we’re stuck in. It “displaces” us, helping us to simultaneously inhabit and depart from ourselves. The meeting with our Angel is a release, an opening, a process of undoing, of continual unfolding, of relaxation into what had previously been closed. Connecting with our Angel can help us to recognize that we are, by our very multidimensional nature, continually in an ecstatic state, which is to say that we are a being who is always beyond ourselves.
There is no external criterion for the manifestation of the Angel, other than the manifestation itself. This is to say that meeting our Angel is a self-validating experience, as the corresponding change in our state is intrinsically self-authorizing and self-empowering; we thus become our own confidants, authors of our own creative experience of life. Our ongoing encounter with the Angel pierces the granite of doubt and skepticism which doesn’t believe in ourselves or fully trust our own experience. It disables and paralyzes what Corbin refers to as our “agnostic reflex,” and breaks through the reciprocal isolation of consciousness and its object, as seeing the symbolic dimension of the world, remembering our soul and connecting with our Angel brings together and couples the two realms of subject and object. Conspiring with our Angel dissolves the distinction between thought and our being, as we recognize that our experience of ourselves is fundamentally a function of our creative imagination, an imagination whose source is to be found in our Angel. More and more stepping into our light, we can then get out of our own way and let our light shine. This is the very message from our Angel, or so I imagine, and the very thing we can do to be of real benefit to the world. Not just messengers, Angels are themselves the message.
[i] Please see my book Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013).
[ii] I can’t recommend Corbin’s work highly enough. To place his work in context, psychologist James Hillman, the founder of “Archetypal Psychology,” considers Jung and Corbin to be its two fathers. My two favorite Corbin books are “Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi,” and “The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism.”
[iii] Corbin, “L’initiation ismaelienne ou l’esoterisme et le verbe,” in L’homme et son ange: initiation et chevalerie spirituelle (Paris: Fayard, 1983), 81.
[iv] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 28.
[v] In western tradition, the art of ta’wil is known as “epistrophe,” a Greek word which means a re-version (telling a different “version” of the story); it is practice of returning a common everyday phenomenon to its archetypal source. The process of epistrophe is based on the neoplatonic idea that all psychological phenomena have a similarity and correspondence with a deeper archetypal pattern and mythic substrate with which they resonate, to which they belong and of which they are an emanation.
[vi] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionaary Recital, p. 31.
[vii] Corbin’s work can be a bit challenging at times. I find reading Cheetham’s work in consort with Corbin’s to be incredibly helpful and illuminating. For more information about both Corbin and Cheetham, please go to http://henrycorbinproject.blogspot.com/
[viii] Cheetham, All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings, p. 103.
[ix] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 20.
[x] (22):4, 6
[xi] Please see my discussion on this paradox in the section on “four-valued logic” in my book Dispelling Wetiko, pp. 40-44.
[xii] Please see “Active Imagination.”
[xiii] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 8.
[xiv] Much to my surprise (and delight), as I was proofreading this article, I noticed that the word “strangely” was mis-spelled “strAngely.” I had already read over the article numberless times when I found this. My first thought was did someone get into my article and play a joke on me? I had never before noticed that the word “strangely” had the word “angel” hidden within it. I interpret this event as the “play” of my angel.
[xv] Mallasz, Talking with Angels, p. V.
[xvi] Ibid., p. VI.
[xvii] Please see my book Dispelling Wetiko, pp. 25-28.
[xviii] The imaginal is not imaginary, in that it is quite real. Please see the section “The Imaginal Realm” a few pages ahead.
[xix] Speaking of autonomous inner images that can be directly experienced, Jung writes, “we are obliged to reverse our rationalistic causal sequence, and instead of deriving these figures from our psychic conditions, must derive our psychic conditions from these figures.” Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW 13, par. 299.
[xx] The very first words in the Dhammapada, the Wisdom Sayings of the Buddha, are as
follows: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
[xxi] Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 52.
[xxii] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 9.
[xxiii] Ibid., p. 54.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 54.
[xxv] Ibid., p. 84.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 17.
[xxvii] This same idea is expressed in Plotinus (Ennead, 1, 6, 9). “For one must come to the light with a seeing power akin and like to what is seen. No eye ever saw the sun without becoming sun-like, nor can a soul see beauty without becoming beautiful.”
[xxviii] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 22.
[xxix] Corbin, The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy, p. LV.
[xxx] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 91.
[xxxi] Ibid., p. 21.
[xxxii] For a further discussion, please see my book, Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, p. 188.
[xxxiii] Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, p. 49.
[xxxiv] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 16.
[xxxv] Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 50.
[xxxvi] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 60.
[xxxvii] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, p. 18.
[xxxviii] Plato’s Republic used the word “daimon” to describe a soul-companion that guides us during our time on earth.
[xxxix] When the daemonic is not consciously related to, it creates a symptom which becomes pathological and can obstruct us from our true nature. Sometimes, however, the daemonic – in the form of the Angel – literally creates symptoms and pathologies to get our attention and/or to keep us on track regarding our deeper destiny.
[xl] By quantum phenomenon, I refer to the nature of light – is it a wave or a particle? The answer: it depends upon how it is observed (or in my language, “how we dream it”).
[xli] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 159.
[xlii] For a great book on the different alchemical stages, please see Edward Edinger’s Anatomy of the Psyche.
[xliii] This is similar to how images in a mirror are held “in suspense” in the mirror (which is only the medium of their appearance), but the objects that are being reflected don’t depend upon the silvered surface of the mirror for their existence.
[xliv] Please see Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, chapter 1 (Mundus Imaginalis, or The Imaginary and the Imaginal).
[xlv] Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, p. 359, note 7.
[xlvi] Ibid., p. 248.
[xlvii] Ibid., p. 248.
[xlviii] For example, artist and poet William Blake comments, “The Eternal body of Man is the Imagination, that is God himself.” Blake refers to Jesus as “Jesus the Imagination.” Christ, from the alchemical point of view, is the revelation of the divine imagination itself, referred to as the “Imagined God.” Alchemically speaking, this is the highest compliment. From the point of view which recognizes the reality of the divine, creative, and reality-shaping imagination that works through humanity, it is precisely because God is an expression and creation of our sacred imagination that we pray to It.
[xlix] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 29.
[l] Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, p. 60.
[li] James, The New Testament Apocrypha, p. 253.
[lii] Corbin, Harmonia Abrahamica, 11.
[liii] James, The New Testament Apocrypha, p. 321.
[liv] In Commentaria in Malthaeum, quoted with reference to parallel texts in Joseph Barbel, Christos Angelos, p. 292, n. 459.
[lv] Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 92
[lvi] Corbin, Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, p. 6.
[lvii] Ibid., p. 6.
[lviii] Corbin, Aviccenna and the Visionary Recital, 32.
[lix] Interestingly, the root meaning of the word “meta-phor” means “to carry over.”
Image by Ian W. Scott, courtesy of Creative Commons license.