Creative Imagination

Creative Imagination &
Active Imagination

 This image is from the project: Prayer Stones

The Mystic's Vision 
Henry Corbin,  Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi
Imaginative vision becomes vision of the heart . . . the heart being the organ, the "eye" by which God sees Himself: the contemplant is the contemplated (my vision of Him is His vision of me).  

[All that has proceeded] demonstrates the extraordinary role of the Image in the spirituality of Ibn 'Arabi.  In its ultimate degree, the Image will be a vision of the "Form of God" corresponding to the innermost being of the mystic, who experiences himself as the microcosm of the Divine Being; a limited Form, like every form, but a Form which as such . . . emanates an aura, a "field" which is always open to "recurrent creations."  This presupposes of course a basic visionary Imagination, a "presence of the heart" in the intermediate world . . . an intermediate world which is the encounter (the "conspiration") of the spiritual and the physical . . . 

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Note: I highly recommend this wikipedia link:  Active Imagination

A related link:   Intuition, Correspondence, Contemplation, Imaginal World . . . 

Below are quotes on the themes of Imagination and Ta'wil taken from two of Tom Cheetham's books on the writings of Henry Corbin, and Samer Akkach's book Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam.  

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Tom Cheetham:   The World Turned Inside Out  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism
Hermeneutics [the art of interpretation of sacred texts] is an unveiling . . . an uncovering, a process by which we participate in the blossoming not of ideas or words, but of images.  It occurs in the imaginal space between the soul and the text.  From the perspective of the metaphysics of Presence, ideas and words as we have come to understand them occupy a space equivalent to that which is occupied by objects.  They are the dead shells of the images, the visions which take place in us and which it is the task of hermeneutics to unveil.  By conjoining hermeneutics and the Imperative to Be!, Henry Corbin forces the insight upon us that understanding as unveiling is our most passionate mode of being.

The command [To Be! is not from the ego, but from the Lord.  And this be-ing is neither thinking nor acting, but a prophetic-poetic passion that combines both: it is imaging.  Here is the connection between the merely human and the divine.  Without this active movement in us we remain trapped in subjectivity.  

Ta'wil is a kind of meditative, imaginative thinking that proceeds by means of images, not concepts.

The action of ta'wil "is essentially symbolic understanding, the transmutation of everything visible into symbols."  It involves "carrying the symbol back" toward the divine ground from which it derives and which it symbolizes.  But the energies that drive the reversion to the source carry not only the symbol but also, in one unified movement of awakening and revelation, the soul of the interpreter: "the ta'wil enables men to enter a new world, to accede to a higher plane of being."  [quoted words are Henry Corbin's] 

Everything depends upon the interiorization and true interpretation of Revelation.  And this in turn depends upon the cosmic correspondences revealed by the science of the Balance.  Visible reality has its complement, its completion, in the other world.  Ta'wil must be understood as half of a pair: Ta'wil - Tanzil.

"Tanzil properly designates positive religion, the letter of the
Revelation dictated to the Prophet by the Angel.  It is to cause
the descent of this Revelation from the higher world.  Ta'wil
is, etymologically and inversely, to cause to return, to lead
back, to restore to one's origin and to the place where one 
comes home, consequently to return to the true and original
meaning of a text."  [Corbin, Avicenna]

Ta'wil applies not only to reading the text of a Book, but to the interpretation of the cosmic text as well, since the Cosmos itself is the Primordial Revelation.  The idea of the world as itself a divine Book is central to Islamic cosmology.

"The true meaning of the Book is the interior meaning, hidden under the literal appearances."  [Corbin]

For the religions of the Book, all of reality can be understood as the word of God.  The ta'wil operates on more than literal texts.

The imaginal world is pre-eminently the universe of the ta'wil, the 'place' of our visionary recitals.

Ta'wil occurs in that liminal space between the literal reality of the world and the darkness that lies all around.  To read the text, the world, and the soul in this way frees the things of the world from their literality and reveals them as images, and frees them for the images that they in turn liberate.  This is what frees the world for the journey through the landscape of those images . . . The intense and imaginative reading of a text, of the world, or of the soul will be a writing as much as a reading, and the perception of the images that arise and the places where they have their being is as much creation as discovery.  Ta'wil is the exercise of the Creative Imagination.

Blindness to the Esoteric
The material world as an autonomous realm, belonging either to Science or to Caesar, possesses what little reality it does only by virtue of our blindness to the esoteric aspects of all things.  It is this blindness that is the real punishment and the real Fall.  So we are trapped in a world that falls apart into the Empirical and the Idal that can only be sensed and thought about, leaving us devoid of the inner spaces and times of the Imagination, with no exit, no way to imagine ourselves into the world of the Real.

The Imaginal world
Knowledge of the Imaginal world is simultaneously knowledge of the knower and the known, and in the last analysis, since idolatry is the result of blindness, all knowledge, even of the "physical world" is "imagination."

"Let us emphasize then, that this does not mean that knowing things
as abstract idea, as philosophical concepts, but as the perfectly
individuated features of their Image, meditated, or rather, pre-
meditated, by the soul, namely, their archetypal Image.  That is
why in this intermediate world there are Heavens and Earths, 
animals, plants, and minerals, cities, towns and forests . . . .
Ultimately what we call physis and the physical is but the
reflection of the world of the Soul; there is no pure physics, 
but always the physics of some definite psychic activity."
[Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth]

Creation The Imaginal World
[Note: the following quote of Corbin's words, from Corbin's book 
Creative Imagination, explores and interprets the writings of the the 
great Sufi mystic, Ibn 'Arabi.  This passage on God's Creation begins 
with a quote from the Qur'an: "I was a hidden Treasure..."

"The leitmotiv is not the bursting into being of an autarchic
Omnipotence, but a fundamental sadness: 'I was a hidden 
Treasure, I yearned to be known.  That is why I produced crea-
tures, in order to be known in them.'  . . .  The origin, the 
beginning is determined by love, which implies a movement of 
ardent desire . . . on the part of him who is in love.  This ardent
desire is appeased by the divine Sigh.

. . . Creation springs not from nothingness, from something 
other than Himself . . . but from His fundamental being . . .

Thus Creation is Epiphany . . . it is an act of the divine, pri-
mordial Imagination.  Correlatively, if there were not within us
that same power of Imagination, which is not imagination in 
the profane sense of 'fantasy,' but the Active Imagination, none
of what we show ourselves would be manifest . . ."

. . . To the initial act of the Creator imagining the world
corresponds the creature imagining the worlds, his God,
his symbols."  [Corbin, Creative Imagination]

The symbol is not an artificially constructed sign; it flowers
in the soul spontaneously to announce something that
cannot be expressed otherwise.  It is the unique expression
of the thing symbolized as of a reality that thus becomes
transparent to the soul, but which itself transcends all 
expression.  [Corbin]

The Event of the symbol is a stunning, unexpected moment when something in a text or in the world takes your breath away.  It is the annunciation of the Mystery. . . Symbols erupt into the world from somewhere beyond.  The eruption of a symbol is irreducibly individual.  It is a call to consciousness.  As such it occurs only in and to a person--to a unique individual.  

Metaphor means to "carry over."  The "carrying over" only occurs through the interiorizations of the text, or the apparitions in the world--and with it we enter a world beyond words, an archetypal world of immense energy with the power both to liberate  and to destroy. 

The archetypal creative act is not based on Power but on Love.  The imagination in us is not manipulative, not coercive . . . We are not creators of what we imagine, if by creation we mean the act of a Master.  To create is to Love, to let flower.  

Creation as Imagination is founded upon Desire, Love, and Sympathy.  Symbolic perception, mystic perception, gives birth to forms, to things, to personifications, out of the depths of the mysteries of the Heart.  And these beings, lifted thus away from their entrapment in the opacity of the world perceived as merely physical, have their true being revealed in the light of the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world.

The Image thus created and perceived is no phantasm. . . It is more real than any "thing" can ever be.  Ta'wil is possible "because there is symbol and transparency."  

The world  of sensory perception becomes transparent.  It can be seen through.  But this is because what lies on the other side, what draws the world out of itself, and which has the power to turn it inside out, is more real, more true, more powerful than any of those realities, both autonomous and opaque, which make up the world of objects.  The only true  autonomy is granted by the One, which lies in the direction of heaven.

The world perceived in this way invites a Fall into and through the world, which is itself a Return . . . an awakening to and celebration of the immensity of the true Journey.

Perpetual Recurrent Creation
The Creation itself as the realization of the Divine Compassion, the Breath of the Merciful, is itself the link between the human soul and the Divine.  And because of its living connection, it must be active, continually alive, subject to perpetual ta'wil.  This Creation is a recurrent Creation, not accomplished once and for all, such that we can at some time hope to know the ends of it.  "Creation as the 'rule of being' is the pre-eternal and continuous movement by which being is manifested at every instant in a new cloak." [Corbin, Creative Imagination]

This ceaseless creation is invisible to us:

". . . At every breath of the "Sigh of Compassion" . . . being ceases 
and then is;  we cease to be, then come into being.  In reality there 
is no "then," for there is no interval . . .  For the "Effusion of Being" 
that is the "Sigh of Compassion" flows through the things of the world 
like the waters of a river and is unceasingly renewed."  [Corbin, Creative Imagination]

And so the identity of object and persons is not granted by their continuity in an illusory linear time, but rather comes from the eternal archetype or form, the principle of individuation of that being.  

"At every instant:" each being is created anew perpetually--and so ceases to be and becomes at every instant.  This ceasing to be is fana, annihilation, the disappearance of the one substance that is "pluralized in its epiphanies."  The other side of this, the perpetuation of each being, is accomplished through its existence in the One Divine Being . . .  

This manifestation and annihilation occurs eternally, perpetually, instantaneously, and in all the hierarchy of worlds from the terrestrial upwards.  The interpenetration of this world and the other means that "this is the other world, or rather, this already is the other world."  This is the "secret of Resurrection: "there is a "continuous ascension of being . . . and their ascending never ceases because the divine descent into the various forms never ceases . . .  it exists in every moment."  [quotes: Corbin, Creative Imagination]

 The beginning of the ascension is that spiritual birth which gives one access to the mundus imaginalis [the imaginal world] and so "an increasing capacity for acceptance of forms forever new."  The eschatology of Resurrection must be understood not only as referring to the worlds after death, but to spiritual birth in this world also.  And it applies not only to humanity: "every being is in a state of perpetual ascension, since its creation is in a perpetual recurrence from instant to instant."

This cosmology presents a radical challenge to the understanding of the meanings of Transcendence and Immanence, of Creation and Imagination, which have molded Western thought.

This world is indeed terrestrial, but not irremediably trapped at the level of the nihilism of "mere matter," of a world without Presence . . .

Creative Imagination & Symbols
The hermeneutic ability of the creative Imagination to transmute all things into symbols destroys the distinction between psychology and cosmology and unites them in a psychocosmology in which Creator and the creature participate not as opposing terms with an unbridgeable gulf separating them, but as complementary poles of a divine drama.

God knows Himself in and through us. 

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Tom Cheetham:  All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings
Active Imagination  C.G. Jung & Henry Corbin 
Jung's method of using the images that arise from the soul is what he called Active Imagination.  [In his 1935 Tavistock lectures Jung said:] "A fantasy is more or less your own invention and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations.  But active imagination, as the terms denotes, means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic."

The process of engaging with the unconscious psychologically is a two-part synthetic process.  First, there is a movement from the unconscious to the conscious mind, a change of psychic level, an act of "releasing unconscious process and letting them come into the conscious mind." Second, and crucially, comes the conscious elaboration and amplification of the original images.  It is a question of becoming an actor in a personal drama and not a spectator of the images that arise.  One must become a participant in the drama of the psyche. 

The theory of knowledge that underlies Corbin's theology is "illuminationist."  It combines an account of prophecy and revelation with a Platonic epistemology.  On this view, knowledge always comes from above by means of a vision of, or union with, the archetypes, the Platonic forms.  . . . The giver of forms is the Angel Gabriel.  He is the Angel of Humanity and as such is both the Angel of Revelation and the Angel of Knowledge.  It is in this precise metaphysical and theological context that Corbin adopts Jung's terminology of the "Active Imagination."  It is the Active Imagination that gives us access to the world of the Angels and of divine Revelation.  Without it we would have no knowledge worthy of the name.  The world of the Angels is a world of Imagination.  The world  of symbols and archetypal images, which Corbin will in 1964 begin to call the imaginal world, "is the world of the Imaginable, that of the Angels-Souls who move the heavens and who are endowed not with sensible organs but with pure Active Imagination."

Corbin writes:  "Our Active Imagination is a moment, an instant, of the Divine Imagination that is the universe, which is itself total theophany. . .  Creation is not ex nihilo but a theophany.  As such it is Imagination.  The Creative Imagination is theophanic imagination, and the Creation is one with the imagining Creature because each Creative Imagination is a theophany, a recurrence of the Creation.  Psychology is indistinguishable from cosmology; the theophanic Imagination joins them into a psych-cosmology."

We have here perhaps the most central instance of that mediating function of the Imagination: it heals the split between psychology and physics, between mind and matter, and between the subjective and the objective.  . . . For Corbin the imagination itself erases that divide, and the only thing we ever have is an Image.  We exist and have our being within the Divine Imagination, wholly immersed in, forever filled with, and ourselves constituted by, the images, the theophanies of Creation.

For additional information visit this wikipedia link:  Active Imagination

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Samer Akkach: Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam  An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas  
Imagination, Knowing, Making
The Sufi viewed imagination as the creative cause of our existence and the powerful agency that enables us to remain in contact with the infinite and the Absolute.  Ibn 'Arabi differentiates the concept of imagination into "absolute Being" (the unrestricted existence of God)  "absolute non-Being" (the non-Self existent) and barzakh or "mediator" (that which delimits the two; and is the intermediary domain of archetypes of all possible existents).  The barzakh is the medium through which the delivery of the world from potentiality to act is effected.  The world becomes, as it were, the "child" born from the fruitful marriage of absolute Being and absolute non-Being.

The world of imagination is the level of existence where this duality is resolved: where the pure is embodied and the body is purified.  Imagination is the world where meaning and form marry, generating a new world that is at once uniting and separating its parental domains, just like the twilight zone, which unites and separates light and darkness.

"Know that you are an imagination," Ibn 'Arabi says, "and everything that you perceive, and of which you would say "this is not me," is also an imagination.  So the whole being is an imagination within an imagination."  The notion of  imagination, however, designates two different, yet related, things:  Detached imagination, explains Ibn 'Arabi, is divine imagination, God imagining the world; Attached imagination is human imagination, man imagining the forms of existents brought into existence by the creative power of divine imagination; it is the presence of things in the human mind.

The Sufis associate art with knowledge.  Knowing they say is nothing but "the soul imagining the form of the known"; and "knowledge is nothing but the form of the known (retained) in the soul of the knower"; whereas "art is nothing but the bringing out of this form, which is in the soul of the artificer, the knower, and placing it in matter."  Thus the artificer has necessarily to be a knower if he is to claim possession of any form in his mind.  Such view makes art and knowledge an indissoluble whole.  It also assigns to imagination an essential role in the human act of knowing, whereby the known becomes identical with the imagined forms of information imprinted in the knower's soul."


The Land of Reality is the qibla (sacred center) of the Sufis, the place in which their active imagination is anchored.  Those who visited this land reported what they had observed and learned there.  They say that unlike things in our world, all things on that land are alive and endowed with a rational faculty.  Once can converse with, and learn from, gardens, animals, and minerals.  "He passes near no stone, no tree, no village, nothing whatsoever," Ibn 'Arabi reports after a visitor, "without talking to it, if he wishes, as a man speaks with his companion."


The Seen and the Unseen
Ephemeral, transient, and perishable, the seen derives meaning and subsistence from the unseen, and its real value lies in being the necessary pathway to the unseen.  The seen is the world of natural realities that can be known directly through sense perception, whereas the unseen is the world of spiritual realities that can only be grasped by imagination. To help human imagination gain in- sight into the unseen; religious teachings have resorted to analogy and metaphor.

The Quran uses many tangible examples from the seen to explain or describe matters of the unseen:  [two examples, quotes from the Qur'an]

"If all trees in the earth were pens, and if the sea eked out by seven seas more were ink, the words of God could not be written out to the end." (31:27)

"Do you not see how God cites a symbol: a good word as a good tree, its root set firm and its branches in heaven." (14:24)

In the first example the incomprehensible infinity of God’s words is brought closer to human understanding by using the analogy of trees and seas as pens and ink.  In the second, the verse relates “a good word” to “a good tree,” so that we may understand the nature of the divine word by means of the given description of the tree.   Religious understanding of spiritual realities hinges on the efficacy of such analogies, and symbolic reasoning relies on and promotes similar modes of thinking.  In constructing ties between the divine and human modes of existence, analogical reasoning operates in the paradoxical space that lies in between the contrasting dimensions of analogy: tashbih and tanzih, “likeness” and “transcendence.”


In summary, the perennialists approach the question of artistic production from the viewpoint of creative imagination and religious inspiration. They focus primarily on the ideas, rituals, and cosmology within the matrices of which an artefact is produced, rather than the historico-cultural conditions that facilitate such production. Through symbolism they establish a continuity among the human, cosmic, and divine modes of being, providing a means to interpret the human conditions of existence in cosmological terms. In their perspective, 'symbolic thought makes the immediate reality ‘shine'' by enabling us to see human makings through a cosmological frame, wherein “everything holds together in a closed system of correspondences and assimilations.”

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