The Green Light of Sufi Mystical Travel

The Green Light of  Sufi Travel
Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"  Chapter IX

Note: this project is the ninth "Chapter"  from “An Imaginary Book” 
inspired by Islamic sacred art and sacred  knowledge.
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#1  The Green Light of Sufi Travel   "The Midnight Sun"    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

This ninth and concluding "chapter" of "An Imaginary Book" was inspired by Henry Corbin’s great work The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, a book about the light of the inner world, that is to say the light of the soul, the light of Consciousness, the light of the Self . . . which Corbin says secretes its own other-worldly light.  The book outlines the various stages of the inner journey of the Sufi each marked by different colored light and I was especially interested in Corbin's exploration of the initiatic light from of the Midnight Sun which is born of a "flashing forth" from the Divine Cloud of Unknowing.  (This of course relates to my previous project, The Light of Creation.)

In brief, the Traveler’s journey to "The Earth of Light" -- that is to say, the mystic's return to his Origin, Celestial Paradise -- is in the tradition of the "alchemical method" which involves various processes and stages of purification and transformation.  The outburst of green light signifies the end or near-end of the spiritual journey indicating to the Traveler that the many veils of the ego have been burned away by the purest internal light.  With the dissolution of the ego,tThe traveler then experiences a kind of "death" known as fana; and finally the longed for conjunction of the seeker’s soul with its Angle of Light is consummated .  .  . 


"And it is light upon light."

#2  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

#3  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

#4  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

For this project I have selected images from each of the previous eight projects of "An Imaginary Book" and revised them with at least one additional degree of transformation, according to the particular needs of each image.  But all of the images have received the same final bathing in the Green Light of Perfection.  

There is, interestingly, one exception - the very first image in this project, entitled "The Midnight Sun."  This image did not come from an earlier project, and I do not know how best to say where it came from.  According to Corbin, the light of the Midnight Sun is neither of the east nor the west; it is an initiatic light that comes from the Cosmic North, the Pole of the Orient.  It is a light secreted by the abode itself, in its own secret way with the purpose of bringing light into the night of the inner world.  To learn more visit The Midnight Sun.

"The Midnight Sun" 


Bi-Unity Drama of Initiation
Each of my projects have represented for me a kind of inner journey, a drama of initiation into some new aspect of Islamic sacred art or sacred knowledge.  At the same time I have felt a deepened sense of awareness has been born within me through the creation of the project.  

Corbin writes about this in The Man of Light in terms of a bi-unity.  He explains that every account of a Sufi’s attainment of Perfect Nature represents both an of the "one" who gives birth and the "one" who is born.  Though I have often felt that each project has been born through a spontaneous creative process in which I serve merely as a witness and facilitator, at the same time I have experienced within some sense of transformation.  Corbin explains how this mystery of bi-unity is related to the well known saying from the Qur'an: “. . . it is light upon light.” 

                                        . . . a lamp burning with the oil of an 
                                        olive tree which is neither of the East 
                                        nor of the West, bursting into flame 
                                        even though fire touch it not . . . 
                                       And it is light upon light.  (24: 35)

#5  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

The Writings of Najm Kobra
Of particular interest to me in The Man of Light are the sections Corbin devotes to the great Islamic saint, Najm Kobra (1220), who wrote directly from his mystical experiences.  The following set of textual excerpts from Corbin's book, many of which are quotes taken directly from the writings of Najm Kobra himself, is essential to this project.  This text will help to clarify the mysteries of bi-unity:

The object of the search is God, and the subject who seeks is a light that comes from Him . . . and aspires to free itself, to rise again to its origin. . .  

A flame comes down from the Heavens to meet the flame leaping up from the Earth, and at their fiery meeting-point Najm discerns or foresees the presence of the “heavenly Witness,”  the “suprasensory Guide,” . . .  This intimates the condition which must precede all such experiencers: men must separate themselves from the veil that blinds them.

#6  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

There are lights which ascend and lights which descend.  The ascending lights are the lights of the heart; the descending lights are those of the Throne.  Creatural being is the veil between the Throne and the heart.  When this veil is rent and a door to the Throne opens in the heart, like springs toward like.  Light rises toward light, and light comes down upon light, ‘and it is light upon light’ (Qur’an 24:35). . . 

Each of the elements of the man of light which is in you brings you a mystical state or vision in the Heaven corresponding to it . . . Each time light rises from you, a light comes down toward you . . . If their energies are equal, they meet half-way (between Heaven and Earth) . . . 

#7  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

When the substance of light has grown in you, then this becomes a Whole in relation to what is of the same nature in Heaven: then it is the substance of light in Heaven which yearns for you and is attracted by your light, and it descends toward you.  This is the secret of the mystical approach.

On the mystic journey there is a well corresponding to each act of the seven acts of Being . . . When you have risen up through the seven wells of existence, the Heaven of the sovereign condition and its power are revealed to you.  Its atmosphere is a green light whose greenness is that of a vital light through which flow waves eternally in movement towards one another. . .  And on the surface of this heaven are to be seen points more intensely red than fire . . . which appear lined up in groups of five.  On seeing them, the mystic experiences nostalgia and a burning desire; he aspires to unite with them.

#8  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

Before you, before your face, there is another Face of light irradiating lights; while behind its diaphanous veil a sun becomes visible, seemingly animated by a movement to and fro.  In reality this face is your own face and this sun is the sun of the Spirit that goes to and fro in your body.

When the flame of the dhikr and ardent desire have consumed this barrier or veil with fire, then the pure jewel is freed from its ore, then it becomes a person wholly of light.

#2 click on image to enlarge

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#9  The Green Light of Sufi Travel   20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

Heavenly Counterpart
Corbin writes: “Once the garment [veil] of darkness has been burned and consumed, the person of light becomes visible.  The celestial Witness is a person of light and is visible only for you and by your person of light (like can be seen only by like) . . .  The person of light  contemplates you with the same look with which you contemplate him.  Every mystic has attempted to formulate this subtle reciprocity of roles. . . it means that God is contemplating Himself in him. . .   The bi-unitary structure . . . is the structure that postulates a dimension of individual personal transcendence . . .   It was your own shadow (personal unconscious) which was projecting and interposing a veil that the flame of the dhikr finally set on fire and consumed.  The shadow was the only thing making your heavenly counterpart invisible.”

#10  The Green Light of Sufi Travel   20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

The Black Light
In the Sufi mystic’s experience, the black light precedes the green light which is the ultimate theophany, the highest spiritual stage.

Corbin writes:  “The black light . . . is the light of the divine Self-in-itself. . . the hidden Treasure that aspires to reveal itself. . .  It is in this sense the Light of lights, that by which all visible lights are made visible.  It is both light and darkness, that is, visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible. . . The black light is the source of the epiphanies of light.” 

#11  The Green Light of Sufi Travel   20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

The Pole
The Pole, the “Orient of the North” is the vertical column of invisible black light of God from which all being and all visible creation originates.  

The “well” which many mystics speak of (in which the traveler is said to have been held captive) symbolizes the Pole, says Corbin.   Throughout the mystic’s journey back to the Self the Sufi passes through seven stages of transformation symbolized by seven different colored lights which are seen at the top of the well.  (The seven colors are: darkness, blue, red, white, yellow, luminous black and green.  More about the colors will follow.)  When the mystic finally penetrates the black light and sees (with the suprasenory organ) the green light at the top of the well he knows he is close to the end of his journey.  Finally the Traveler, having re-united with the Divine Being, his angel of light, can return eternally Home to his place of Origin.

Many Sufi mystics write of seeing the sun becoming red against a black sky.  The Traveler’s penetration into the black light is a kind of death (fana, or dissolution of the ego).  At this point in the alchemical process, says Corbin, “Either the mystic is about to become swallowed up in dementia or he will rise again from it, initiated in the meaning of the theophanies and revelations.”   

One Sufi comments on such visionary experiences:  The summum of knowledge is unknowingness . . .  In reality, there is no knowledge of God by another than God, for another than God is not.  This is the stage of absorption in God, fana, where being is returned (ta’wil) to Being.

#12  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

Horizontal & Vertical Correspondences
Corbin says there is a correspondence between the events taking place in the outer world and the inner events of the soul; and there is a correspondence between “the time horizons” or “horizontal time,” that is the physical time of historical computation governed by the movement of the visible stars, and the psychic time, the time of the world of the soul, the time of the world of the Pole governing the inner Heavens.  This is exactly why, says Corbin, each outer fact can be “led back” (ta’wil) to the inner “region” corresponding to it.  Each of these regions is marked by a colored light which the mystic is able to visualize in a state of contemplation.

#13  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

Colors of the Seven Mystical Veils 
In order to complete his mystical, interior journey, the “man of light” must progress through seven stations or modes of being, in other words seven psychological regions or "mystical veils" each of which is characterized by a colored light that provides the traveler with an awareness of the status of his progress.  Corbin recognizes several saints who have provided varying sequences of the seven stages and with varying corresponding colors, some of which conclude the sequence with the Luminous Black Light.  The great Sufi saint, Semnani (1280-1386) says that the final mystical station is marked by "brilliant Green Light" and thus is in agreement with the Islamic saint, Najm Kobra (1220) quoted above.  The sequence of the seven stations I have provided below is that given by Semnani.

It's interesting to note, here, that Green is the traditional color of Islam; and among the many ways green is associated with Islam, in the Qur'an the word for "greenness" is used several times describing the state of the inhabitants of Paradise . . .    

1  Darkness, the stage of the subtle body or "embryonic mold" at the level of its birth, still 
    very close to the physical organism; a blackness sometimes turning to smoke-grey / the 
    Adam of your being
2  Blue light = soul, ego of natural human / the Noah of your being
3  Red light = heart, embryonic form of the celestial Self the Abraham of your being 
4  White light = the mystery or secret of superconsciousness the Moses of your being
5  Yellow light = nobel spirit the David of your being
6  Luminous Black = arcanum.  The “black light”; the “Luminous Night” the Jesus of your 
    being from which may come help or inspiration from the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete
7  Green light = the Divine Center, the Mohammad of your being; the eternal seal of your 
    person, the mystery of mysteries, the True Ego or the True Self.  

Tom Cheetham comments on the color of the final seventh stage:  "In accordance with Islamic iconography, the color of the final stage is emerald green.  For Corbin this stage marks the meeting with the heavenly Guide, the perfectly individualated and individual Angel of Humanity and Angel of Knowledge that is the biblical Angel of the Face.  This is the Figure of whom Mohammad could say:  'I have seen my Lord in the most beautiful of forms.'  The Qur'anic source for this Person is Sura XVIII . . . Khidr."  [N ote: Khidr is the Green One, whom the Qur'an describes as the righteous servant of God ].  

#14  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

“I am the eye through which He sees . . .”
The great mystic Sufis say: I am God’s secret because the divine Being cannot exist without me, nor I exist without Him.  

Corbin writes:  “The mystic has to be ‘carried away’ to the higher spiritual abode (from the black light to the green light), so that the nature of his True Ego may be revealed to him. . . This means that he will have to become fit to be invested in His light, to be the perfect mirror, the organ of the theophany.  This is the state of the “friend of God,” of whom the Divine Being can say, according to the inspired hadith, so often repeated by the Sufis: 

I am the eye through which he sees, 
the ear through which he hears, 
the hand by which he touches . . .” 

#15  The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  Double-page Illuminations for "An Imaginary Book"

Colors According to Goethe
Corbin concludes his book The Man of Light with a brief remembrance of Goethe’s work with colors because Goethe echoes many of the ideas brought forth by the great Sufi saint Najm Kobra.  Here are some of Goethe's ideas that mirror those of Najm Kobra:

. . . the search is for the divine Light
. . . the seeker is himself a particle of this light
. . . the seeker’s method is the method of alchemy [purification and transformation]
. . . like aspires to its like
. . . like can be seen and known only by its like 

The eye [writes Goethe] owes its existence to light . . . light has called forth, produced for itself, an organ like unto itself; thus the eye was formed by light, of light and for light, so that the inner light might come in contact with the outer light.  At this point we are reminded of the ancient Ionian School, which never ceased to repeat that like is only known by like.

Corbin then elaborates on Goethe’s ideas: “The perception of color is an action and reaction of the soul itself which is communicated to the whole being; an energy is then emitted through the eyes, a spiritual energy that cannot be weighed or measured quantitatively. . .  The eye at this point produces another color, its own color.  The eye searches at the side of a given colored space for a free space where it can produce the color called for by itself. . .” 

“Color is not a passive impression, [writes Corbin] but the language of the soul to itself.”

If . . . [Goethe writes] it has become clear how these opposite colors tend toward one another and reunite in a third color, then it cannot be doubted that the intuition of a profound secret is beginning to dawn in us, a foretaste of the possibility that a spiritual meaning might be attributed to these two separate and mutually opposed entities.  When they are seen to produce green below and red above, one can hardly refrain from thinking that one is contemplating here the earthly creatures and there the heavenly creatures of the Elohim.  

Corbin, seeing in Goethe’s words a convergence with the Iranian Sufi mystics and their preoccupations with color and light, concludes: “The aim is the super-existence of the higher personal individuality, attained by the reunion with the individual’s own dimension of Light, his ‘face of light’ that gives the individuality its total dimension.  For this reunion to be possible the inclination toward the ‘polar dimension’ [the Orient of the North] must have opened in the terrestrial being, the inclination heralded by fugitive flashes of superconsciousness . . ."   

"Najm Kobra admits having meditated for a long time [writes Corbin] before he understood who was this light that flamed in the sky of his soul while the flame of his own being was rising to meet it:  What is sought is the divine Light, the seeker is himself a particle of the light.”  

                                                                     Light rises toward light, 
                                                                     and light comes down upon light, 
                                                                    ‘and it is light upon light’ (Qur’an 24:35) . . . 

#16  "The Flight of Birds to Union"    The Green Light of Sufi Travel    20x25"  

“The Flight of Birds to Union”   
I will conclude this chapter with an image whose title originates from a famous Sufi story, Mantiq al-T-tayr, considered a masterpiece of literature written by the Persian Farid al-din ‘Attar in 1177.  It is a poem of longing to know Divine Truth, a story of celestial ascent in which a group of birds travel across great distances, lead by another bird that serves as guide-teacher, and together work through great obstacles to reach their goal, their place of Origin, the space of Divine Presence, in other words Union or Enlightenment.  Thousands of birds began this difficult journey of spiritual edification; only thirty birds arrived at their sublime goal.

Attar's story of course corresponds to the Prophet's Mi'raj, His "night journey" lead by the Archangel Gabriel from Mecca to Jerusalem, then to the Paradisal Abode, and back again.  This and several other similar stories involving the archetypal symbolic winged figures, angels and birds, are cited and interpreted by Corbin in his book Avicenna and the Visionary Recital.  Corbin says such "visionary recitals" are experiences of the intermediate Imaginal world which exists between waking and sleeping, between the physical and spiritual worlds.  He says, for example, it is in this intermediary space in which the Prophet encounters "illumination" or Union with the Holy Spirit in the form of the angel of Knowledge and Revelation, Gabriel.

Islamic scholar Seyyed H Nasr comments on Attar's poem: "All those who are not completely at home in this world of fleeting shadows and who yearn for their origin in the Paradisal Abode belong to the family of birds, for their soul possesses wings no matter how inexperienced they might be in actually flying toward the space of Divine Presence."

May the photographs in this project, and all the others in "An Imaginary Book" possess wings and fly with you toward that Divine Presence.


Thank you for taking this inner journey with me.  We have been through nine projects together, concluding with this one bathed in the green light of perfection.  

Steven D. Foster


Note:  Some time after completing this project, and after having finished reading Corbin's book mentioned just above, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, I began to feel that an Epilogue would be the better way to conclude "An Imaginary Book."  Corbin's book gave me the idea to write a series of personal stories or "visionary recitals" based in my own experiences of the intermediate Imaginal World.  I have accomplished the task, and thus I warmly invite you to visit my Epilogue.   


This project was first posted January 12, 2013

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