Ta'wil Unveiling the Hidden Treasure

Ta’wil  Unveiling the “Hidden Treasure”
Journeying further into the Imaginal world 
Re-Visions of select Infinite Beauty photographs
Double-page illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"  Chapter VII

This project is the seventh "chapter" for “An Imaginary Book” 
inspired by Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge.  To survey 
the complete collection of projects for the book  click here.


Textual Prelude  

In the Islamic Holy Tradition, God spoke through 
His Messenger, Muhammad the following words: 

“I was a hidden treasure 
and I wished to be known 
and so I created the world.”  

Tom Cheetham: The World Turned Inside Out:  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism
By turning the world inside out, by giving birth in the world to that interiority which is characteristic of the things of the soul . . . we return the hidden dimension to the manifest and uncover the depths that lie just under the surface of the world.  ~   For Henry Corbin the bridge between creature and Creator is ta’wil, the transformation of the sensory world into symbols, into open-ended mysteries that shatter, engage, and transform the entire being of the creature.  ~   Ta’wil transmutes the world into symbols which by their very nature transcend the distinction between the outer and the inner, the subject and the object, and by interiorizing the cosmos, by revealing the Imago mundi [the Imaginal world], transform and lead the soul beyond the literal understanding of the world to its truth . . . its origin.

Tom Cheetham: All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings
Meta-phor means to “carry over,” and the metaphoric vision of reality sees through the literal appearance of things to the ever-shifting and mysterious Presence that lies behind the daylight Face of things.   The ta’wil is both a mode of perception and a mode of being. . . a spiritual unveiling.   ~  The ta’wil requires that the literal appearance of things be . . . de-literalized, seen as metaphor.  This serves to open the mind and the heart.  

Tom Cheetham: The World Turned Inside Out:  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism
It is the deepest purpose of human existence to journey from the outward to the inward and so [as Henry Corbin has written] “return creation to its origin.”  

Tom Cheetham: All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings
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.  

Note: You can click on the images below to enlarge them 


Ta'wil #1   (Cloud Forest)   20x25"

Ta'wil #2   (Canandaigua Lake)   20x25"

Ta'wil #8   (Transparent veil, Mangrove forest)   20x25"

Ta’wil is both the interpretation or “unveiling” of the true, inner meaning of a sacred text, that is to say the divine Words of God in the Qur’an as "sent down" through the Prophet Muhammad; and it is a mode of perception, a way of seeing the world as a sacred text, a holy book.  Visit The World as a Book.  In this mode of perception everything in the sensible world is a symbol, a divine form corresponding to the divine Word.   As such, everything is "speaking" to us; the question is, do we we have the "ears" -the right understanding- to hear.  If we fail to listen, says the great Islamic scholar . . . all is lost:

Tom Cheetham: Green Man, Earth Angel
If the true meaning of the Book [writes Henry Corbin] is the interior meaning, hidden under the literal appearances, then from the instant that men fail to recognize or refuse this interior meaning, from that instant they mutilate the unity of the Word, of the Logos, and begin the drama of the "Lost Speech."   

Making photographs is for me a way of interiorizing the world, a way of "listening."   Through intuition I see the things of the world as photographic images with potential symbolic meaning.   Once the vision has been given pictorial form I can then contemplate the image and begin to unveil it's hidden treasures.  

The contemplation of symbolic photographs requires imaginatively “journeying into” the deeper layers of potential meaning within the image.  This process, known as active imagination, is a term used by Henry Corbin that followed in certain ways the work of archetypal-depth psychologist C.G. Jung, and the great Sufi saint, Ibn 'Arabi (ca. 1220) who wrote prolifically about Creative Imagination.  

Creative Imagination sometimes manifests for me as a process of re-visioning, that is to say transforming previous work into new images.   My Ta'wil Photographs are a perfect example of this:  I went back to selected images from my Infinite Beauty project and turned them inside out in the hopes of achieving a higher degree of visual articulateness for those images and correspondingly a higher order of meaning.

To re-vise an existing image is to interiorize the older image once again in order to see it in a new way.  Since the transformational potential for any image is infinite, and thus the revelation of possible new meanings for any given image is as well infinite, ta’wil for the visual artist becomes the conscious, intentional and continual work of unveiling the “hidden treasure,” the "Face of God," the true, luminous Origin of an image.   

Any image that functions as a symbol serves as a mirror in which each viewer can come face to face with one's own divine nature.  I invite  you to contemplate the images that are speaking to you.  Go inside them, become silent, and listen . . .

Ta'wil #5   (Stoneybrook waterfall)   20x25"

Ta'wil #6   (Tree limbs, Troy)   20x25"

Ta'wil : Return : Re-Vision to Journey More Deeply Into . . . 
Although part of the charm of the original Infinite Beauty photographs is their organic, natural colors, their natural quality of light, and their richness of natural detail, nonetheless certain photographs in the series seemed to me to be longing for "something more," they seemed unfinished, incomplete.  

The new revised Ta'wil Photographs are more abstract and other worldly than their original counterpartsthey have a new kind of light that is more intensely radiant, more internal; they have a visual life which invites me into a more intense dialogue with them.  The Ta'wil Revisions have more presence.  

Unveiling the hidden treasure, ta'will, is an essential part of the creative process for artist and viewer and image alike.  We must continue the inward journey together as equal participants in a process of cosmic proportions and importance.  The way is through symbolic images, the fruits of the divine Creative Imagination.  True, living visual symbols long for us to complete them just as we long for symbols that will return us to our true Origin.   

Ta'wil #7   (Dome over Mirab, Cordoba)   20x25"

Ta'wil #3   (Pergamon Landscape)   20x25"

Ta'wil #9   (Alcazar pond fish)   20x25"

Ta'wil: Turning the Image Inside Out 
Martin Lings: What is Sufism?   
There is nothing in the world which has not its Divine Archetype.  
But harmony demands that the world shall be a complement, 
and complementarity implies invertedness.
Each of the Ta’wil photographs is a revised version of a photograph from the Infinite Beauty project.  I have turned the selected photographs both "upside down" and "inside out," that is to say I Inverted the images with a series of technical and aesthetic adjustments as described below. 

First, I turned the square image field suspended in the marginal black space 90 degrees.  Because the image fields have a fabric-like warp and woof structure, this 90 degree shift reverses the dominant image orientation either from horizontal to vertical, or from vertical to horizontal.  

Secondly, I inverted the tones and colors of the image field.  This transformed the original colors in the image to their complementary “other” -- for example, light tones were inverted into dark tones; dark tones were inverted into light tones; reds were inverted into greens; greens were inverted into reds, etc.  

These adjustments were starting points; then in most cases additional, refining adjustments had to be made to create a visually articulate,  intuitively resonate image.  Finding the right visual-technical balance and harmony within a photographic image is a process of searching for the interior image counterpart that exists within my Self.  It requires persistence, patience, trial and error, exploring and experimenting . . .  until the image I am working on looks and feels like the articulate resolution that has been waiting to be discovered.  

When an image in process reaches completion it feels as if something inside me resonates in sympathy with the image I have been working on.  Some kind of unity, of interior and outer corresponding parts, has been achieved, experienced.  This is part of the inner work, the intuitive work that goes into the making of an image.  The next textual section below explores the idea of intuition and the role it places in my creative process.

Ta'wil #13   (Column ruins underwater)   20x25"

Ta'wil #4   (Meadow Rainbow)   20x25"

Ta'wil #10   (Paumukalle pool)   20x25"

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A Working theory of 
Correspondence  ~ Encounter
Contemplation ~  Symbols  
The Making and Contemplation of Symbolic Images 
the Silent World ~ the Imaginal World ~  Encounter
Images from the Silent World ~ the Imaginal World

The following is a summarization of ideas that form the foundation of my creative process particularly within the context of "An Imaginary Book." The recent writings of Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham have been especially important to me here and I have quoted them quite extensively and with some liberties.  ~  Back in the early 1970's I was very interested in depth psychologist Carl Jung's ideas related to alchemy and his theory of synchronicity as they seemed quite relevant to my creative process then; I continue to find those ideas very much alive for me today and in sympathy with the Islamic studies that have influenced this present work.  ~   Intuition, Correspondence-Synchronicity, Encounter, Silence, The Imaginal World . . . all these concepts, when deeply considered individually, lead to one another; and it is the Symbol which holds all the parts together as a unified whole.  I have tried to define each of these concepts, below, however you will notice that because they are all so interrelated to each other there is necessarily overlap and repetition.  ~  Most of what I have written about is based in my own experience or with the intuitive feeling that my creative process is connected to a greater Truth of which I am  equally a part.

Ta'wil #12   (Alcazar cistern)   20x25"

Intuition : Mode of Being
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.  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. . .  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 conjunction, the "conspiration") of the spiritual and the physical . . . 

Henry Corbin would say our mode of being determines our mode of perception, and therefore what we are capable of experiencing.  Intuition is a mode of being, a way of perceiving the world; it's seeing from the inside, that is to say with the suprasensory eyes of the heart.     

Intuition often manifests spontaneously, especially when the mind is quiet.  A silenced mind allows the heart to open safely.  Visual artists, poetswriters and mystics are especially practiced and privileged in their ways of seeing inwardly outward things.  Through aligning their intuition with their individual mediums and creative processes they are able to give outward expression, sensory form, to their visions of  what Henry Corbin terms the intermediate world, the world between the sensory and the suprasensory, that is to say the Imaginal World.   

Intuition gives voice to our instinctual longing for the Unity of Being, the primordial union, our creative Origin.  Intuition awakens us and opens us to the Truth of who we are by breaking through the separating walls of ego, the dark psychic veils that hide from us our own inner treasures.  Intuition illuminates, through the Light of Creation and its manifestation of living symbolic images, our awareness of the One Reality, the Self.

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital  [Note: Avicenna was a Persian philosopher, 980-1037]
The symbol . . . 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 in itself transcends all expression.

Avicenna's recitals . . . show us the repository of . . . an Image that precedes all perception, an a priori expressing the deepest being of the person, what depth psychology calls an Imago.  Each of us carries in himself the Image of his own world, his Imago mundi, and projects it into a more or less coherent universe, which becomes the stage on which his destiny is played out. 

The soul discovers itself to be the earthly counterpart of another being with which it forms a totality that is dual in structure.  The two elements of this dualitude may be called the ego and the Self, or the transcendent celestial Self and the earthly Self.  It is from this transcendent Self that the soul originates in the past of metahistory.

There is only one world; we are living in paradise right now, according to Corbin and his Sufi mystic saints.  But our ego-dominated sensory experience of the world creates the illusion of a dualistically structured reality: the outer world of sensory appearances, and the inner world of divine archetypal images seeable only with suprasensory vision.  The two worlds are mirroring counterparts of the one world, the Self, which the ego splits apart with its dualistic mode of being.

Intuition is a mode of perception by which we interiorize the outward world and carry those images to the  intermediary realm which exists between the spiritual and material planes.  The Imaginal World says Henry Corbin is where corresponding interior and exterior images can re-unite through visual forms known as Symbols.

Living symbolic images appear to live and breath and glow with a luminosity of their very own.  It's as if the darker, veiled image of the outer world becomes, within a symbol, transparent such that it's archetypal corresponding image can shine through it from the inside.  

Visual symbols are powerful in ineffable ways; they are mysteriously attractive and are capable of transforming our confining modes of being; their meanings are multidimensional; and they offer us the possibility of a liberating encounter with the sacred, an experience of the Unity of Being, our true and perfect nature, our own Self.   Visit:  The Symbolic Photograph 

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The text of the recital [the symbolic photograph] is itself a ta'wil of the psychic Event; it is the way in which that Event was understood by the soul that experienced it, the way in which the soul understood the sensible or imaginable context of the Event by transmuting it into symbols.

Henry Corbin,  Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism 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.

Correspondence is psychic Event, an experience of grace, that dissolves the veils of ego such that we come face to face with the Sacred, the Unity of Being, The Hidden Treasure, the Face of God, the Celestial Self. 

Correspondence is a consciously perceived intuitive experience (a psychic Event) in which we see with the eyes of the heart the subtle coincidence of an exterior physical event in time and space with its interior, mirroring, archetypal counterpart.  It's a mode of being in which we are seeing the world, an event in the world, as symbol.   Through that symbol we glimpse the Unity of Being.  [note: C. G. Jung termed this experience synchronicity.  For me correspondence and synchronicity are words referring to the same phenomena.] 

Correspondence is a spontaneous, intuitive participation in a perpetual "dialogue" that is occurring between the primary dualistic modes of being: ordinary human consciousness, and the extraordinary transcendental consciousness of the archetypal, celestial world.    

The Silent Dialogue
Tom Cheetham: Green Man, Earth Angel
The perception of meaning in art, and we can extend this to the world as a whole, is based upon the "axiom of dialogue."  We are always, when we are truly paying attention, in communion with what lies beyond us. . . .  As we begin to read and write the world, to hear the news of the universe, we would do well to hear these words.  

The experiences of correspondence are necessarily beyond language.  They are not-sayable for the simple reason that the "language" of the sacred, the language of the Unity of Being is silence.   The Silent World needs our prayers and our willingness to listen.   

Some artists carry on a relatively sustained dialogue with the Silent World through their poetry, music, writing, photography, etc.  They have learned to open themselves to this subtle reality through their creative process and manifest through their mediums symbolic, imaginal works which hold in union the mirroring, coinciding dual worlds that have manifested for them as experiences of correspondence.  Their works, if they are true living symbols, then make palpable for others their ineffable experiences of correspondence.

A living symbol communicates to us a presence, that which cannot be known and expressed in words.  Symbols are the visual embodiments of a silent dialogue, an ineffable conversation that occurs between the corresponding parts of the inner and outer worlds.  Symbolic images long to be engaged, felt, experienced, and integrated into our conscious mode of being.   To contemplate a true, living symbol and receive its sacred knowledge, it's "news of the universe," we must learn to silence ourselves and simply listen.   With an open heart and one-pointed attention we can "hear" - that is to say, imbibe what a symbol wants to say to us in that moment.   

Paradoxically, true symbols have an inherent power that can open our hearts and still our minds, enabling us to receive from the symbol what is appropriate according to our individual capacities.  That is to say, symbols are open ended in meaning; they are full of potentiality; we can come back to the same symbol time and again and receive something different from it according to our present mode of being, what is latent in us and ready to become consciously recognized.  The practice of contemplation, the practice of listening to the silent dialogue that takes place between a contemplant and a symbol, will be discussed further below.

Henry Corbin,  Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi
Imaginative vision . . .  presupposes of course a basic visionary Imagination, a "presence of the heart" in the intermediate world . . . an intermediate world which is the encounter (the conjunction, the "conspiration") of the spiritual and the physical . . . 

Tom Cheetham: Green Man, Earth Angel
The perception of any meaningful form is grounded in the encounter with a real presence, a transcendence, beyond the human.

Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
The Event of the Avicennan recital was an exodus from this world, the encounter with the Angel and with the world of the Angel.  For the Event to be expressed in its truth--that is, for its expression to restore consciousness of self as that of a stranger in the world into which the soul has been cast, and at the same time as an awakening to a celestial kinship and origin--this Event could not but be visualized and configurated in a symbol that was its eminently individual expression.  For the Event carries us to the utmost limit of the world; at this limit, the cosmos yields before the soul, it can no longer escape being interiorized into the soul, being integrated with it. 

When I have experienced correspondence, it was as if a light had been turned on in some dim world I had been inhabiting.  A palpable sense of the sacred breaking through layers of psychic veils pervaded everything I was seeing.  A mysterious luminous reality (that surely must lie just behind the surfaces of the apparent world) was somehow able to burn through those veils and awaken me from my sleeping stupor.  In these extraordinary moments of intuitional perception, time seemed to have stopped; everything was suspended in silence; vast space seemed filled with a living sacred presence.   

An encounter is an intense conscious experience of correspondence in which the physical becomes spiritual, and the spiritual becomes physical.  Counterpart forms from the two mirroring worlds open to each other, turn inside out and conjoin with each other in our perception.  Their mirroring is reflected in a perfect symmetry, an intuitional vision of unitary reality. 

An encounter is a psychic Event, a rupture of the sacred into the ordinary reality of the sensory world in which we consciously come face to face with our own Divine Face, the truth of who we really are . . . what the Sufis call the Unity of Being, the True Self. 
An encounter can be life transforming.  Take for example my experience of seeing the double-page Qur'an illuminations in Turkey which I have written about in my Preface and in my first project, Prayer Stones.   That encounter initiated a dynamic creative process that resulted in "An Imaginary Book" with its outpouring of symbolic images, sacred texts . . . and the very words you are reading right now!  It was as if the images I saw in the Qur'ans awakened latent corresponding images hidden deep inside myself that must have been longing to be given outward visual form.  For the nearly two full years I worked on "An Imaginary Book" and it's multiple projects I felt as if embraced by a palpable field of creative energy which guided me through a process beyond my conscious control.  My primary responsibility, I came to understand, was to serve, to facilitate, to allow the work to flow unobstructed, to clear the way for what needed to be manifested.  

Every Moment : Ta'wil
Henry Corbin,  Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi
In its ultimate degree, the Image will be a vision of the "Form of God". . .  a limited Form, like every form, but a Form which as such . . . emanates an aura, a "field" which is always open to "recurrent creations." 

Henry Corbin and his Sufi mystics tell us that every moment of our lives is an encounter with the sacred, a recurrent creation.  Artists, poets and mystics are blessed with intuitive vision, an active or creative imagination, a medium, and often an inspiring teacher or guide that helps them to remain open, watchful and receptive participants in the ever present "flashings forth" and flow of creation.  

We all have access to what Corbin calls the Creative Imagination.  Fortunately I have been gifted with the medium of photography through which I can give visual symbolic form to my intuitions and experiences of correspondence.  The making of symbolic photographs helps to satisfy some deep longing inside me, a subtle but persistent feeling of inner necessity to create new images and to stay in touch with the creative flow of the Self and its sacred knowledge.    

Symbols are a means to this sacred knowledge of the Self.  To access this self knowledge I must make the conscious effort to contemplate those images that reach out to me with a life of their own, that attract me with their palpable mystery, their interior light and presence of potentiality.   This practice of contemplation, the interpretation of a symbol, is what Henry Corbin calls ta'wil. 

Contemplation : Ta'wil
Henry Corbin,  Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth
The great theosophist Ibn 'Arabi conveys to us in a mythical recital . . . God has created for each soul a universe corresponding to that soul.  When the mystic contemplates this universe, it is himself that he is contemplating.

Henry Corbin,  Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi
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).

Tom Cheetham: The World Turned Inside Out:  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism
It is the deepest purpose of human existence to journey from the outward to the inward and so “return creation to its origin.”  [the words in quotes are Henry Corbin's] 

Tom Cheetham: All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings
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.  

Symbolic images are alive with creative potentiality; they are our way back, the ta'wil, to our true Origin, our Unity of Being, the Self.  Symbols function as mirrors which allow us to come face to face with the hidden treasures within ourselves.  We can experience the unity of the Self, and we can gain personal insights through living symbols, depending on our individual capacities, our mode of being.

The practice of contemplation is a kind of intuitive, imaginative, meditative journeying into both the symbol and ourselves simultaneously.  It requires of us a highly active, conscious state of one-pointed attention in which we interiorize an image such that we can "see" it or imagine it through the eyes of the heart.  When we are in our heart, the very center of our soul, we are in the Silent World.

Contemplation, the unveiling of the hidden treasure within a symbolic photograph, and correspondingly within ourselves, requires that we silence ourselves so that we can listen to what the symbol has to say to us in that moment.  Contemplation, in other words, is a form of meditation in which we go inside the image and inside our own self . . . .and listen.  When our seeing becomes interiorized such that we are engaging the symbol from the silent center of our being, we will encounter a revelation of that which was hidden, latent within ourselves longing to make itself known.  To contemplate a symbol is to journey within and thus return to our creative Origin, the wholeness of our Self.   Visit Mode of Being.

The Imaginal World 
Images Longing for Each Other
Henry Corbin: Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
An intermediary universe having its own existence, this world of symbols or of archetypal Images . . . is the 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.  As a universe "in which spirits are corporealized and bodies spiritualized," it is pre-eminenty the universe of the ta'wil, the "place" of our visionary recitals.  From henceforth the soul is committed to the exodus [the journey out of the ordinary world in which it is held captive]  " . . .  into the Orient."

I am always searching for images, longing to make images that will awaken me to the silent world of the Self.  I have intuitively sensed, however, that images are also seeking me.  Images within me and outside me seem filled with a longing to re-unite with their counterparts.  Perhaps this feeling of inner necessity is about completing or accomplishing the work of the Creative Imaginationthe work of the ta'wil.

Corbin writes that we each carry within ourselves a repository of images that define who we are and the world we live in.  The ego has split off and fragmented these images, and our creative process instinctually consists of bringing these images back together in order to re-create at the conscious level the totality of our Being.  In Sufi terms this is the return, the ta'wil, to our Origin, to the True Self.   In other words, this inner creative journey is a healing process that strives to transform our polarized psycho-physical self back into its original Unity of Being.  

When I am in a creative flow, when symbolic photographs seem to be spontaneously manifesting themselves with a life of their own, I feel an exuberance and an intuitive sense that the images have at last found me.  They have retuned to me to help return me to my Self, my original wholeness.  In these extraordinary moments of recognition, this necessary work of making symbols, contemplating them and integrating their sacred knowledge into my greater awareness of being can at times feel like praising, and at other times like a form of prayer.

Ta'wil #16   (Heart tree)   20x25"

Ta'wil #15   (Butterfly waterfall, Alhambra)   20x25"

Perpetual Ta'wil  Recurrent Creation
Tom Cheetham:   The World Turned Inside Out  Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism 
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' [writes Henry Corbin] is the pre-eternal and continuous movement by which being is manifested at every instant in a new cloak."  ~   Cheetham continues:  This ceaseless creation is invisible to us:  "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 other side of this, the perpetuation of each being, is accomplished through its existence in the One Divine Being . . .  

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In the next chapter of "An Imaginary Book" I explore in images and texts related theories of manifestation from both Islamic and Hindu traditions.  I invite you to visit The Light of Creation. 

Ta'wil #4   (Meadow Rainbow)   20x25"


This project page was first posted November 26, 2012

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