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.

Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes

Landscape is a connector of the soul with Being.

– Belden C. Lane

Our perceptions are colored by preconception and desire… the 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.

A Focus in Feeling

LANDCAPE IS a focus in feeling. For environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, environmental perception is not restricted to vision but is multimodal and feeling, or affect, is central:

“Affect is central to conscious experience and behavior in any environment, whether natural or built, crowded or unpopulated. … because virtually no meaningful thoughts, actions, or environmental encounters occur without affect … an affective state is an important indicator of the nature and significance of a person’s ongoing interaction with an environment.”[i]

Moreover there is no evidence that feelings are preceded by cognitive processes. Ulrich argues that there is mounting empirical support for the view that “many affects are essentially precognitive and constitute the initial level of response to environment.”[ii] Ulrich maintains that while culture is an important and significant variable influencing aesthetic reactions, it has perhaps been overstated.[iii] He argues that “there is no evidence that fundamental perceptual and cognitive processes vary between cultures” and further that “emotions are universal and have the same qualities across different cultures”.[iv]

Ulrich’s conclusion that “feelings, not thoughts, come first in environmental encounters, and the observer’s initial feeling reaction shapes subsequent cognitive events”[v] has been supported by the research of others.[vi] Cross-cultural, universal, pre-verbal, precognitive emotive perception is inherent to archetypes. This is significant because as we shall see, it points the way forward to an archetypal analysis of landscape.

[i] Roger S. Ulrich, ‘Aesthetic and Affective Response to Natural Environment’, Behaviour and the Natural Environment, Irwin Altman and Joachim F. Wohlwill, eds., (Vol. 6 of Human Behaviour and Environment, Plenium Press, New York, 1983), 85.

[ii] Ibid, 89.

[iii] Ibid, 110.

[iv] Ibid, 109.

[v] Ibid, 117.

[vi] See for example Harry Heft and Joachim F. Wohlwill, ‘Environmental Cognition in Children’ in: Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman (eds.), Handbook of Environmental Psychology (Malabar Florida: Krieger Publishing Co., 1991), 175-203; Rachel Sebba, ‘The Landscapes of Childhood – The Reflection of Childhood’s Environment in Adult Memories and in Children’s Attitudes’, Environment and Behavior Vol.23, no.4, July (1991), 395-422. As Sebba finds from research(p.395), “the environment which an adult remembers as significant in childhood was personally experienced without adult mediation and the related experiences were only found in childhood. The child’s sensory perception remains in adult memory as a central childhood experience because its relative importance is at its peak at this stage of life. The adult recalls the natural environment due to qualities that are substantially different from those of the man-made environment”.

Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism. Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam. According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii] In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

“A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.”[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987), x.

[ii] Ibid, 207.

[iii] Ibid, 212.

[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge – The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.

[v] Ibid, 241.

[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.

[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand Country Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).

[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.

[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.

[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.

[xi] Ibid, 360.

[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.

[xiii] Ibid, xvii.

[xiv] Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 274.