Imaginal Spirituality -- My montage of definitions

The Door to the Imaginal Realm

[...] Henry Corbin introduced the West to Avicenna's in-between world, naming it (in English) the Imaginal Realm to highlight the difference between the inventive daydreaming we dismiss as "imagination" and something absolutely real, given and not constructed. Corbin describes this realm as "a world as ontologically real as the world of the senses and the world of the intellect."

What if there were an objectively, ontologically real Imaginal Realm? What would it look like? It would be a place outside ordinary time and geography, a place of kairos
rather than chronos. Like dreams. Like ritual space. Like Faerie. 

This would be a place where you had experiences, met people, did things in which you could participate but which you could not control. These places would feel real, and the experiences would affect you in real ways, even though you might maintain awareness that the reality was of a different order than eating a slice of cheese pizza. Like deep meditation. Like archetypal psychology. Like shamanic journeying.

Unfortunately, our culture is largely clueless about how an imaginative faculty works. Like other unused things, our active imaginations have atrophied. When it comes to imaginative muscle, we're couch potatoes.

If, until today, you have been a committed, hard-bitten realist who thinks other people trance out just to escape the stress of modern life, consider this alternative: Those spaced-out meditators, pathworkers, visualizers and journeyers are doing more than temporarily checking out of "the real world." They're going someplace else, and that place is also real.

The Imaginal Realm

The Imaginal Realm is the region of pure Forms intermediate between the region of pure spirits and archetypes totally unconnected to matter, and the Mundane Physical reality. In some esoteric (Ishraqi, Sufi, and Shaikhi) Islamic traditions it is also equated with the Hurqalya or "Eighth clime" (as distinct from the seven geographic regions of the physical earth), "Imaginal" World (
Mithal) or world of Souls and Lights (Malakut),

Concerning this Imaginal World, Suhrawardi's commentator Qutbuddin Shirazi says:

"It is there that the various kinds of autonomous archetypal Images are infinitely realised, forming a hierarchy of degrees varying according to their relative subtlety or density....On each of these levels species exist analogous to those in our world, but they are infinite. Some are peopled by Angels and the human Elect. Others are peopled by Angels and genii, others by demons. God alone knows the number of these levels and what they contain. The pilgrim rising from one degree to another discovers on each higher leveel a subtler state, a more entrancing beauty, a more intense spirituality, a more overflowing delight. The highest of these degrees borders on the intelligible pure entities of Light and very closely resembles it."

Natural Jesus: The Imaginal Realm

[...] And there have ever since been arguments as to whether Heaven exists. Well, coming out of odd corners--such as from the psychological and physical sciences--there's some slowly accruing thinking about this Kingdom. These scientists don't call it such, and they surely don't call it Heaven--rather they refer to this special "source" place as the *Imaginal Realm.*

Psychologists, mythologists, and religious scholars have long studied a third world--a kingdom that seems "dependent neither on sensory perception nor on ordinary cognition (including fantasy)." This special third world, some psychologists believe, can be "apprehended in what we would today call certain altered states of consciousness that destabilize ordinary perceptual modalities and cognitive systems." [Kenneth Ring, "Shamanic Initiation, Imaginal Worlds, and Light after Death," WHAT SURVIVES? (Gary Doore, ed.), Tarcher, Inc., 1990, p. 210.]

Psychologists have studied these special experiential revelations ranging from prayer and the Big Dreamer, to Shamanic traveling, to peak experiences, to that level which is called "cosmic consciousness." Beyond this, these scientists have examined LSD experiments, special art representations, schizophrenic episodes, and near-death experiences within the context of the Imaginal Realm.

In the past, these special experiential revelations were simply passed off as "imaginary" and most often ignored. But today there are now scientific and scholarly voices re-considering these mystical accounts of a special realm, a special kingdom. Modern thinkers are beginning to ponder the "third realm--the realm of the imagination sui generis, not as something unreal, but as something [possibly] self-existent, the cumulative product product of imaginative thought itself." [Ibid, p. 209.]

In 1972 Henri Corbin coined this potentially real special "somewhere" as the Imaginal Realm as a way to describe it. Corbin, a noted Islamic scholar, one who studied mystical and especially visionary experience, wrote his *opinion*:

"It must be understood that the world into which these [visionaries] probed is perfectly *real.* Its reality is more irrefutable and more coherent than that of the empirical world, where *reality* is perceived by the senses...This world is hidden behind the very act of sense perception and has to be sought underneath its apparent objective certainty...[This is] a world possessing extension and dimension, figures and colors; but these features cannot be perceived by the senses in the same manner as if they were properties of physical bodies. No, these dimensions, figures, and colors are the object of imaginative perception, or of the 'psychospiritual senses." [Ibid, p. 210.]

Illuminationist Philosophy

Illuminationist philosophy started in twelfth-century Persia, and has been an important force in Islamic, especially Persian, philosophy right up to the present day. It presents a critique of some of the leading ideas of Aristotelianism, as represented by the philosophy of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and argues that many of the distinctions which are crucial to the character of that form of philosophy are misguided. Illuminationists develop a view of reality in accordance with which essence is more important than existence, and intuitive knowledge is more significant than scientific knowledge. They use the notion of light, as the name suggests, as a way of exploring the links between God, the Light of Lights, and his creation. The result is a view of the whole of reality as a continuum, with the physical world being an aspect of the divine. This sort of language proved to be very suggestive for mystical philosophers, and Illuminationism quickly became identified with Islamic mysticism.

[...] In the illuminationist view of logic, a conclusion reached by using a formally established syllogism has no epistemological value as a starting point in philosophical construction. For a universal affirmative proposition to have philosophical value as a foundation of scientific knowledge, it must be 'necessary and always true'. Yet if we introduce the mode 'possibility' and give it an extension in time as in 'future possibility', the universal affirmative proposition cannot be 'necessarily true always'. This is because of the impossibility of knowing or deducing all possible future instances. The epistemological implication of this logical position is that formal validity ranks lower than the certitude obtained by the self-conscious subject who, when alerted to a future possible event through 'knowledge by presence', will simply 'know' it. The future event cannot be deduced at the present time and given universal validity.