The Celestial Earth – “subtle bodies of Light”

CORBIN DESCRIBES SOPHIA, the divine presence of wisdom for our world in an intermediate imaginal world – the Celestial Earth, as follows:

“Between the intellectual and the sensible… [is] a ‘spiritual corporeity’ which represents the Dwelling, the Divine Presence, for our world. This Dwelling is Wisdom itself, Sophia.”[i]

Sophia is “the imaginal place of the Divine Presence in our world”. Sophia as the Celestial Earth is typified in the Shi’ite gnosis by Fatima, “the Sophia of the Shi’ite theosophy and cosmology”.[ii] Thus Sophianity is for the human being to accede here and now to the Celestial Earth, to the world of Hurqalya, world of ‘celestial corporeity’, which is that of the subtle bodies of Light.[iii]

“the Soul of the Perceiver”

THE QUANTUM WORLD of nonmaterial symmetries and archetypes also requires new ways of envisioning the world, description and language.

The importance of the imagination and an inner non-physical reality behind our physical external world is understood by quantum physicists; in particular Wolfgang Pauli, F. David Peat and David Bohm.

Pauli argued that the psychologist and the physicist are engaged in a complimentary quest. Hence he advocated that the:

“[I]nvestigation of scientific knowledge directed outwards should be supplemented by an investigation of this knowledge directed inwards. The former process is directed to adjusting our knowledge to external objects; the latter should bring to light the archetypal images used in the creation of our scientific theories. Only by combining both these directions of research may complete understanding be obtained.”[iv]

Psychiatrist Anthony Stevens states: “The relationship between the physical world we perceive and our cognitive formulations concerning that world is predicated upon the fact that the soul of the perceiver and that which is recognised by perception are subject to an order thought to be objective.”[v]

Stevens notes that, for Pauli, “…the archetypes which order our perceptions and ideas are themselves the product of an objective order which transcends both the human mind and the external world.”[vi]

[i] Henry Corbin, ‘Towards a Chart of the Imaginal’, Temenos 1 (1981), 30.

[ii] Ibid, 31.

[iii] Ibid, 32-33.

[iv] Wolfgang Pauli, ‘The influence of archetypal ideas on the scientific theories of Kepler’ in: C.G. Jung and W. Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), 208.

[v] See Anthony Stevens, Archetype – A Natural History of the Self (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 74.

[vi] Anthony Stevens, ‘Thoughts on the Psychobiology of Religion and the Neurobiology of Archetypal Experience’, Zygon, v.21, no.1 (1986), 19.

A “Psychological Geography”

IN 1953, HENRY CORBIN argued for a psychological geography, a new line of study in which the “intention is to discover the psychological factors that come into play in the conformation given to a landscape”. Thus:

“Out of geographical studies, a new line of study, described as psychological geography, has developed in our day: The intention is to discover the psychological factors that come to play in the conformation given to a landscape. The phenomenological presupposition implicit in research of this kind is that the essential functions of the soul, the psyche, include the projection of a nature, a physis; conversely, each physical structure discloses the mode of psycho-spiritual activity that brings it into operation. In this sense, the categories of the sacredness “which possess the soul” can be recognized in the landscape with which it surrounds itself and in which it shapes its habitat, whether by projecting the vision on an ideal iconography, or by attempting to inscribe and reproduce a model of the vision on the actual earthly ground.”[i]

Corbin concludes: “This is why each of the hierophanies of our visionary geography offers an example of a case of psycho-geography unlike any other”.[ii]

We are defined by our landscapes. The categories of sacredness “which possess the soul” can be recognized in the archetypal landscape(s) with which it surrounds itself. This is the essence of the inner Sophianic Wisdom Archetype – within the Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

Perhaps no other postmodernist ecological writer, explorer of the psyche and lover of the natural world, gives a better lyrical working illustration of the Sophia Wisdom Archetype (Anima Mundi/World Soul and Mundus Imaginalis) – the inner landscape perception within the Postmodern Ecological Landscape in our time, than does Barry Lopez in this passage from Arctic Dreams:

“I bowed. I bowed to what knows no deliberating legislature or parliament, no religion, no competing theories of economics, an expression of allegiance with the mystery of life. I looked out over the Bering Sea and brought my hands folded to the breast of my parka and bowed from the waist deeply toward the north, that great strait filled with life, the ice and the water. I held the bow to the pale sulphur sky at the northern rim of the earth. I held the bow until my back ached, and my mind was emptied of its categories and designs, its plans and speculations. I bowed before the simple evidence of the moment in my life in a tangible place on the earth that was beautiful. When I stood I thought I glimpsed my own desire. The landscape and the animals were like something found at the end of a dream. The edges of the real landscape became one with the edges of something I had dreamed. But what I had dreamed was only a pattern, some beautiful pattern of light. The continuous work of the imagination, I thought, to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution.”[iii]

[i] Ibid, 30.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Lopez (1988) Arctic Dreams, 414.

Postmodern Geographers and Imaginal Landscapes

THE LINK BETWEEN mind, imagination and landscape has been celebrated by some eminent geographers. As geographer historian John Kirtland Wright (1891-1969) once commented; “The most fascinating terrae incognitae of all are those that lie within the minds and hearts of men”.[i]

David Lowenthal is another geographer who has made a strong advocacy for personal and collective cultural imagination and creativity as underlying our images and ideas of the world and the earth.

“Every image and idea about the world is compounded, then, of personal experience, learning, imagination, and memory… The surface of the earth is shaped for each person by refraction through cultural and personal lenses of custom and fancy… We are all artists and landscape architects, creating order and organizing space, time, and causality in accordance with our apperceptions and predilections… The geography of the world is unified only by human logic and optics, by the light and color of artifice, by decorative arrangement, and by ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful.”[ii]

Placing this within a temporal and historical perspective, Lowenthal emphasizes the importance of image:

“The lineaments of the world we live in are both seen and shaped in accordance, or by contrast, with images we hold of other worlds, past worlds, future worlds. We constantly compare the reality with the fancy. Indeed, without the one we could neither visualize nor conceptualize the other.”[iii]

In 1971 geographer Yi-Fu Tuan maintained a deep identity between man and world: how we think about the world is revelatory of the inner man. Thus geography “reveals man… knowledge of the world elucidates the world of man: the root meaning of “world” (wer) is in fact man: to know the world is to know oneself… Geography mirrors man”.[iv]

For geographer Denis Cosgrove “all landscapes are symbolic” and are “expressions of cultural values, a code by which collective meaning can be read”; they express in the words of geographer Donald Meinig ‘a persistent desire to make the earth over in the image of some heaven’ and they “undergo change because they are expressions of society, itself making history through time”.[v]

In 1991 geographer H.K. Yoon coined the term ‘geomentality’ which, he maintained, is “the foundation of and key to understanding geography of mind”.[vi] A geomentality can be held by an individual or a group of people about a particular environment. It is “an established and lasting frame (state) of mind regarding the environment”.[vii]

Coinciding with and stimulated by the advent of postmodernism, geographers have had a renewed revival of interest in metaphor, image and imagination in the creation of landscape. For example, D. Matless, 1992, argued that geographers exploring landscape:

“have sought to develop a form of analysis in which transcendent, ahistorical, biological or spiritual categories are explored to investigate human responses to landscape. Cosgrove in particular phrases this approach in postmodern terms, and in doing so raises key issues regarding the status of image and metaphor…Whether or not they conceive of their endeavor as ‘postmodern’… there would appear to be a search underway for an elevated, transcendent base.”[viii]

Denis Cosgrove, 1990, pronouncing the status of image and metaphor and depicting his approach to geography and landscape in postmodern terms, puts the case as follows:

“My argument is that both in the later sixteenth century – immediately preceding the Scientific Revolution, and in the closing decades of the twentieth century – following the scientific and intellectual contributions of relativity and psychoanalysis, there have been serious attempts to collapse Modernist distinctions between spirit and matter, humans and nature, subject and object, poesis and techne. In both cases understanding is constituted neither in solely operational, nor entirely speculative terms, but rather through the construction of metaphor and image by individuals actively embracing the materiality of the world, recognizing the necessity of mechanical intervention in transforming nature, but refusing to be ruled by the materialist and mechanical vision of Modernism. Metaphor and image are conceived not as surface representations of a deeper truth but as a creative intervention in making truth.”[ix]

For Cosgrove people “seek to create meaning and do so through metaphor” and that rather than being grasped by empirical observation or measurement this meaning is “apprehended phenomenologically, below the intellectual level of formal science”.[x]Further, meaning is “increasingly constructed through images”.[xi] Postmodernism has promoted in some respects an “evocative sense of metaphor as that which lies between fact and idea. The metaphor may thus picture or represent an understanding which must otherwise remain unarticulated.”[xii] In the words of K. Harries: “What metaphor names may transcend human understanding so that our language cannot capture it”.[xiii]

Radically for a geography which has traditionally been entrenched in scientific empiricism, Cosgrove argues that “Scientific discourse has always been metaphorical in the Aristotelian sense, but has proclaimed a privileged ‘truth’ for its metaphors or models in representing reality”. However, with the shift from metaphors of science to those of the arts and the “rejection of foundationalism in post-modern writings” there is an implied “relativity in which the competing claims of different representations can not be evaluated”.[xiv] If pure perspectivalism is accepted it “opens the door, at least in thought, to transcendence of its own limits, to metaphysics and thus to the collapse of clear distinctions between science and poetics”.[xv] Cosgrove concludes:

“We need to locate the history of our discipline within a broader historiography of constant metaphorical and imaginative reconstruction of nature and our place within it, not seeking ultimate foundations for spatial and environmental metaphors and images but rather respecting them as ‘more or less adequate and fragmentary repetition of that speech which nature, or perhaps God, addresses us.”[xvi]

In the postmodern camp and tracking a new way forward, Peter Bishop explores links between landscape geography, archetypal psychology and postmodern epistemological ways of knowledge and meaning. Bishop maintains that the attitude towards rhetoric, metaphor and imagery is central to the definition of postmodernism and postmodern scholarship – “that questions about the relationship between archetypal psychology and geography mirrors the wider postmodern phenomenon of comparative knowledges”.[xvii]

THE EMPHASIS ON METAPHOR, symbolism, transcendence and imagistic reconstruction are characteristic of both postmodernism and an archetypal analysis. As we have seen, the role of the imagination in the creation of landscape is of increasing interest to geographers. However it is in the consideration of spiritual landscapes and sacred places that landscape as a manifestation of personal and collective imagination becomes most apparent. And so we now turn to a consideration of historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes.

[i] John Kirtland Wright, ‘Terrae Incognitae: The Place of the Imagination in Geography’, Annals, Association of American Geographers, vol.37 (1947), 15.

[ii] David Lowenthal, ‘Geography, Experience, and Imagination: Towards a Geographical Epistemology’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 51, no.3, September (1961), 260.

[iii] David Lowenthal and Martyn J. Bowden (eds.), Geographies of the Mind – Essays in Historical Geosophy (Oxford University Press, 1975), 3.

[iv] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geography, Phenomenology, and the Study of Human Nature’, Canadian Geographer, v.15 (1971), 181.

[v] See Denis Cosgrove, Social and Symbolic Landscape (Croom Helm, London & Sydney, 1984), 35. See also Donald Meinig (ed.), The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes (Oxford University Press, 1979) 6. Note: Both refer to the seminal importance of the writings of J.B. Jackson and to his journal Landscape.

[vi] Hong-Key Yoon, ‘On Geomentality’, Geo Journal, v.25, no.4 (1991), 392.

[vii] Ibid, 387.

[viii] D. Matless, ‘An Occasion for Geography: Landscape, Representation, and Foucault’s Corpus’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10 (1992), 44-45.

[ix] Denis Cosgrove, ‘Environmental Thought and Action: Pre-modern and Post-modern’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, v.15 (1990), 345.

[x] Ibid, 352.

[xi] Ibid, 353.

[xii] Ibid, 345.

[xiii] K. Harries, ‘Metaphor and Transcendence’ in: S. Sacks (ed.), On Metaphor (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978), 72.

[xiv] Cosgrove(1990) ‘Environmental Thought and Action’, 345.

[xv] Ibid, 345.

[xvi] Ibid, 357.

[xvii] Peter Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environmental and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10 (1992), 5.

Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes

Landscape is a connector of the soul with Being.
– Belden C. Lane

Our perceptions are colored by preconception and desire… landscapes in which history unfolds are both real, that is, profound in their physical effects on mankind, and not real, but mere projections, artifacts of human perception.
–Barry Lopez

LANDSCAPES ARE imaginal and they are visionary.[i] They are both timeless and they are time-bound, hence particular spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes predominate in particular historical epochs.

GEOGRAPHERS HAVE FOR A LONG TIME understood the idea that our landscapes spring forth from personal and collective imagination.

However it is the postmodern geographers who place most importance on the role of the imagination in creating landscape. In part this is due to their understanding and receptivity to depth, analytical and archetypal psychology, where there has been a revival of interest in the image, the imagination and the imaginal. It is an old way of finding meaning and it is a theory of knowledge which has had a relatively recent revival in the twentieth century.

Seminal in the revival of this epistemology, or imaginal theory of knowledge and meaning in recent times are such thinkers as Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious; Bachelard, Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Sorbonne, who raised poetic imagination to a level equal in importance to scientific knowledge; Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009) anthropologist and ethnologist, regarded as the “father of modern anthropology”, who spoke of cultures which did not neglect the feminine guide of the imagination, the creative Sophia; Henry Corbin, with his translations of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic Mystics and the Mazdean, Shi’ite and Sufi mystics (thirteen centuries in which the imaginal has been the focal point); as well as the romantics, the surrealists and most recently postmodernists.

Gilbert Durand concludes that imagination gives “the possibility of experiencing the noumenal… the imaginal is the New World that allows the revival of this gnosis”.[ii]

It is however in the consideration of sacred landscapes and sacred places that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

[i] The term imaginal means relating to, or resembling an image (Cf. Collins English Dictionary, London (1979), 731). The term is used most notably by such thinkers as Henry Corbin and Gilbert Durand.

[ii] Gilbert Durand ‘Exploration of the Imaginal’, Spring (1971), 88.

The Celestial Earth – “subtle bodies of Light”

CORBIN DESCRIBES SOPHIA, the divine presence of wisdom for our world in an intermediate imaginal world – the Celestial Earth, as follows:

“Between the intellectual and the sensible… [is] a ‘spiritual corporeity’ which represents the Dwelling, the Divine Presence, for our world. This Dwelling is Wisdom itself, Sophia.”[i]

Sophia is “the imaginal place of the Divine Presence in our world”. Sophia as the Celestial Earth is typified in the Shi’ite gnosis by Fatima, “the Sophia of the Shi’ite theosophy and cosmology”.[ii] Thus Sophianity is for the human being to accede here and now to the Celestial Earth, to the world of Hurqalya, world of ‘celestial corporeity’, which is that of the subtle bodies of Light.[iii]

[i] Henry Corbin, ‘Towards a Chart of the Imaginal’, Temenos 1 (1981), 30.

[ii] Ibid, 31.

[iii] Ibid, 32-33.

Sophia Geography

Sophia rules the eighth clime, the archetypal world of images, the world in which the forms of our thoughts and desires, of our presentiments and of our behavior and all works accomplished on earth subsist.

– C.G. Jung

[U]ltimately what we call physics and physical is but a reflection of the world of the Soul; there is no pure physics, but always the physics of some definite psychic activity.

The earth is then a vision, and geography a visionary geography… the categories of the sacredness “which possesses the soul” can be recognised in the landscape with which it surrounds itself and in which it shapes its habitat, whether by projecting the vision on an ideal iconography, or by attempting to inscribe and reproduce a model of the vision on the actual earthly ground.

– Henry Corbin

A Hymn to Sophia

IN THIS CHAPTER I explore, however tentatively and inadequately, the Sophianic inner landscape – the Imaginal, the Mundus Imaginalis, Sophianic harmonic perception or Ta’wil, and the Sophianic visionary geography of the soul.[i] In the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and under the Sophia Wisdom Archetype we become more aware of the imagination in creating landscape. The inner landscape becomes as important as the outer landscape. As Lopez observes,

“to inquire into the intricacies of a distant landscape … is to provoke thoughts about one’s own interior landscape, and the familiar landscapes of memory. The land urges us to come around to an understanding of ourselves”.[ii]

Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that

“For Lopez the landscape we imagine is also that other that exists beyond and outside of human language and that shapes human language and experience…” [iii]

Postmodern ecological writers indicate, often implicitly rather than explicitly, that there is a vital interaction between inner landscapes, imagination and outer landscapes.

In many cases it is the outer landscape which stimulates our imagination and creates the realisation of a deeper inner wisdom and inner Being. In other cases, it would seem that it is the inner landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs that creates the outer landscapes of our Being-in-the-world.

 


[i] Note: It is impossible here to do justice to the concepts of the Imaginal, Mundus Imaginalis and Ta’wil as is evidenced by the complexity and life-time’s work on translations and interpretation by Henry Corbin. At most, it is possible here only to give a very superficial indication and generalised view of some of the main themes, without differentiating them and sourcing them in detail to their particular mystical strands and esoteric historical originations.

[ii] Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams – Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (London: The Harville Press, 1998), 247.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 40.

Sophia’s Return

“…the Sophianic form of Mazdean devotion to the Angel of the Earth ultimately tends to cause the opening up in consciousness of that archetypal Image which depth psychology calls Anima, and which is the secret presence of the Eternal feminine in men.”

– Henri Corbin

“The Goddess is now returning. Denied and suppressed for thousands of years of masculine domination, she comes at a time of dire need… Mother Earth herself has been pressed to the limits of her endurance.”

– Edward C. Whitmont

AS IF IN PRECOGNITION of his life’s work, Henry Corbin wrote this haunting meditation in 1932, at the edge of Lake Siljan in Sweden, when he was 29 years old. Corbin called it Theology by the Lakeside.

“Everything is but revelation; there can only be re-velation. But revelation comes from the Spirit, and there is no knowledge of the Spirit. It will soon be dusk, but for now the clouds are still clear, the pines are not yet darkened, for the lake brightens them into transparency. And everything is green with a green that would be richer than if pulling all the organ stops in recital. It must be heard seated, very close to the Earth, arms crossed, eyes closed, pretending to sleep. For it is not necessary to strut about like a conqueror and want to give a name to things, to everything; it is they who will tell you who they are, if you listen, yielding like a lover; for suddenly for you, in the untroubled peace of this forest of the North, the Earth has come to Thou, visible as an Angel that would perhaps be a woman, and in this apparition, this greatly green and thronging solitude, yes, the Angel too is robed in green, the green of the dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is in you all the sweetness that is present in the surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you. Earth, Angel, Woman, all of this in a single thing that I adore and that is in this forest. Dusk on the lake, my Annunciation.”[i]

[i] Henry Corbin, ‘Theologie au bord du lac’, in Christian Jambet, ed. Henry Corbin. Paris: Cahier del, Herne no. 39 (1981), 62.