Monthly Archives: December 2016

Henry Corbin, Shaikhism, and the Spiritual Light Body

From Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth Chapter Two, Part 4

  1. Hūrqalyā, Earth of Resurrection

hurqalya[90]

The specific nature of the doctrine is already indicated in the terminology that leads Shaikh Aḥmad to make a strict distinction between two terms currently used to designate body: there [91] is the body considered as organic, animated body (jasad), and there is the body considered as corporeal mass or volume (jism).54 In our Shaikh’s anthropology it is established that the human being possesses two jasad and two jism; they represent a twofold accidental body and a twofold essential body, according to the following schema:

(1) There is the first jasad, which we shall call jasad A, and which is understood as being the element body, material and perishable. It is the apparent body of each one of us, the one that we can see, touch, weigh, recognize. It is an accidental and perishable formation, a com und of sublunar physical elements.

(2) There is a second jasad, which we shall call jasad B; it is hidden and occult from our sight in jasad A; it also is an elemental formation, but differs from the first in that it is not composed of perishable terrestrial elements—those, that is, of our material Earth—but of archetypal elements, the subtle elements of the “Earth of Hūrqalyā.” This second jasad is, there­ fore, a formation belonging to the intermediate world, the world of the barzakh; consequently, it has dimensions, but, unlike the first jasad, it is not an accidental body but an essential and imperishable body; it is the subtle elemental body, the body of “spiritual flesh,” caro spiritual.

(3) There is the first jism; let us call it jism A. Unlike the two jasad, it is not an elemental body; it belongs neither to the terrestrial Elements nor to the subtle Elements. It resembles jasad A for, like it, it is accidental, not everlasting. It resembles jasad B in the sense of being, like it, a formation of the intermediate world. However, it does not arise from the subtle elements of the Earth of Hūrqalyā (from the region, that is to say, which corresponds there to the terrestrial climate of the cosmic Occident); it originates from the celestial matter and Heavens of Hūrqalyā (from the region, that is, corresponding to the Spheres, to the celestial climate of the cosmic Occident). It is the subtle celestial body, the astral body, destined to be reabsorbed.

(4) There is the second jism, which we shall call jism B, and this is the essential subtle body, archetypal, eternal and imper-[92]ishable (jism aṣlī aqīqī); the spirit is never separated from it, for it is what constitutes the eternal individuality. One can say of it that it is the corpus supracoeleste in man.55

At first sight, this schema strikingly resembles what we find in the writings of the Neoplatonist, Proclus. The idea of these different bodies, in which the soul is clothed, and which correspond to different levels of being, reproduces the concept of the oxaTa (okhēmata) or “vehicles of the soul” which the Neoplatonists were so prone to meditate.56 The doctrine of the astral body (soma astropoiedes) or okhmata-pneuma is so fundamental in the spiritual family to which Neoplatonism belongs that it immediately calls for many other references, notably the “perfect body” (soma telion) of the Mithraic liturgy, the “immortal body” (soma athanaton) of the Hermetic Corpus,57 and finally, for this is what it suggests, this is its aim and object of aspiration, the idios daimon or oikeos daimon,58 the personal divinity or guardian Angel to whom the adept is entrusted on initiation, and which makes the terrestrial human being the counterpart of a celestial being with whom it forms a whole. This, in terms of Mazdean theosophy, is Fravarti, Daēnā, the transcendent “I,” the celestial alter ego.

We know the terms of the question in the case of a Proclus: a compromise had to be found not only between Plato and Aristotle, but also between the Peripatetic tendency of Neoplatonism and the Stoic psychology of the pneuma.59 Besides, two traditions concerning the “astral body” had to be reconciled, both alive in Neoplatonism. Of these traditions, one represents the astral body as attached permanently to the soul, the other represents it as acquired or assumed by the soul during the soul’s descent from the upper regions, and as having to be abandoned by the soul in the course of its reascent.60 Proclus succeeds here in achieving a synthesis, the homologue of which is found in the Shaikhite doctrine; for him it consists in accepting the existence of two ox a okhema (okhēma). These are:

(1) the higher okhēma which is original, congenital (sumphnes), the one that is called augoides (luminous, auroral) or astropoiedes (astral). It is the proton soma (original body) in [93] which the demiurge has placed the soul. It is immaterial, impassible, imperishable. What corresponds exactly to it in Shayikh Aḥmad Aḥsā’ī’s terminology and concepts, is the jism B, which is called the archetype original, essential (jism aṣlī ḥaqīqī): it is the real or essential human being, man in the true sense (insān ḥaqīqī).61

(2) The okhēma pneumatikon, or lower “pneumatic” vehicle, which is a temporary adjunct, composed of four elements: it is the subtle body or vehicle of the irrational soul; like the latter it survives the death of the body, but is destined to disappear or be reabsorbed. What corresponds to it is jism A, an accidental formation issued from the Heavens of the barzakhī or hūrqalyī intermediate world.

light bodyThis question of the subtle body, of the vehicle of the soul, (Macrobius’ luminosi corporis amictus, Boethius’ levis currus)82 has persisted and will persist, will always be meditated, so it seems, as long as Neoplatonic thought survives. It reappears among the Byzantine Neoplatonists (Michael Psellos, Nicephoros Gregoras) , the Cambridge Neoplatonists (Ralph Cudworth, seventeenth century) and, let us now add, among our Neoplatonists of Persia.

But in Shaikhism, the themes of meditation grow more complicated. While Proclus was able to reconcile the two traditions—of an original and imperishable okhēma and of an okhēma which will end by being reabsorbed or detached from the soul—it can roughly be said that Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsā’ī proceeds simultaneously to affirm the existence of a twofold imperishable okhēma (jism B and jasad B), and of an okhēma pneumatikon (jism A), a nonpermanent subtle astral body. The complication of this schema can, it seems, be attributed to the need to safe­ guard the exegesis of Qur’ānic data concerning eschatology in general.

These data taken literally, as they were understood by the literalist “orthodox” of Islam, presuppose that the body of terrestrial flesh, jasad A, is resurrected, or “returns” just as it was. For philosophical meditation, this material identity has always represented an insurmountable contradiction, all the more fruitless in that it stems from an insufficient understanding of the [94] problem. For the physical impossibility to be proven, the question demands that one rise above the realm of empirical sensory evidence and the corresponding mode of perception. At that very point, the work to be done is to transmute the latter into its spiritual truth; it is not to find a way of escape into allegory and its abstract residuum, but to establish a “hūrqalyī physics.” This is the very thing that makes possible the schema of the fourfold body we have just outlined. In effect, though jism A, the accidental astral body, is finally to disappear (like the okhēma pneumatikon of the Neoplatonists)—for, while being a hūrqalyī jism, it is nevertheless accidental—it will be replaced by another “vehicle,” subtle and permanent, which is a body at the same time elemental and essential, a body of “spiritual flesh,” constituted by the subtle archetype—elements of the celestial Earth of Hūrqalyā. In this way, the state of wholeness, homo totus, always comprises, as in Proclus’ system, a twofold okhēma. This concept is properly that of the Iranian Neoplatonists and in a way reinforces that of the Greek Neoplatonists.

khidrHere then, very briefly, is the Shaikhite conception of the eschatological process: everything which is accidental body (jasad A and jism A) will eventually disappear. Everything which is essential body (jasad B, and jism B) is assured of survival. Jasad A is the coarse elemental body in which the descending soul clothed itself on reaching the terrestrial world. It is not essential, merely an accidental coating. It perishes and is decomposed, each element returning to its source and blending with it—a fact of ordinary observation. Now, what leaves this perishable body at the moment when the Angel of Death comes to gather up the soul is a twofold thing: the essential original body (jism B, okhēma symphyes), which is the permanent basis of the eternal soul (ḥāmil li’l-nafs), but at this point enwrapped in that accidental subtle body (jism A, okhēma pneumatikon) in which the soul had clothed itself in the course of its descent towards the terrestrial Earth, on passing through the intermediate world of the barzakh. This also is a formation of the intermediate world; however, as we have already said, it is constituted not from the subtle matter of the elements of the [95] Earth of Hūrqalyā, but from the subtle matter of the Heavens of Hūrqalyā. It likewise is an accidental formation. These two jism (A and B) survive, together forming the state of eternal human individuality and experiencing in the interworld either the joy and sweetness of the “Occidental Paradise” (the flavor of this expression unexpectedly recalls the “Pure Earth” of Buddhism) or, on the contrary, the despair of a Hell immanent in itself. This applies to individual eschatology as such. But what enters at this point is an extremely complex interpretation of general eschatology, that is, of the events closing our Aeon and preluding a new cosmic cycle.

A verse in the Qur’ān (39:68) tells of the two “blasts of the trumpet” which are to be sounded by the Angel Seraphiel. This verse gave full scope to the speculative impulse of the Shaikhī theosophists. The Angel’s “trumpet” is, of course, a cosmic instrument. Each of its orifices represents the “treasure,” the original matrix from which each being has come forth, in this case the jism aṣlī, the subtle, essential, congenital body (jism B), the archetype of human individuality. The first sounding of the trumpet heralds the total reabsorption of the cosmos; each being reenters its source and sleeps there during an interval whose length is expressed as four centuries of our terrestrial duration (this of course does not refer to chronology or quantitative time). The second sounding of Seraphiel’s trumpet proclaims the Renewal of Creation (tajdīd al-khalq), a new cosmic cycle that assumes the character of an apokotastisis, a restoration of all things in their absolute, paradisic purity.63
In what then does the Event of this Resurrection consist? How can it be that the Earth of Hūrqalyā is at the same time the instrument and the scene no longer of the individual eschatology alone (the entrance of subtle bodies into the “Occidental Paradise”), but of the general eschatology? What they tell us is this: when the trumpet sounds for the Resurrection, the essential, original body, which is the support of the eternal individuality (jism aṣlī, jism B), reappears in its unchangeable wholeness (verus homo, insān ḥaqīqī). As for jism A, okhēma pneumatikon, which had merely lent a degree of opacity to the perfect [96] subtleness of the jism B, it does not reappear, or rather, it is completely reabsorbed into the all-luminous subtlety of jism B. As we have seen, these two jism departed together, at the moment of death, from the perishable, terrestrial, elemental body, jasad A. But what of the imperishable subtle elemental body, the body of “spiritual flesh” made of the elements of the Earth of Hūrqalyā, jasad B or jasad hūrqalyī?

alex greyHere Shaikhism introduces a highly original concept. This body, likewise essential, is made up of the subtle matter of the archetype-elements of the Earth of Hūrqalyā and is also a receptacle of the influences of the Heavens of Hūrqalyā; this means that it possesses organs of perception that are seventy times more noble and more subtle than those of the body of elemental flesh in which it is hidden and invisible. It has shape, extent, and dimension, and is nevertheless imperishable. Whereas the terrestrial elemental body, jasad A, perishes in the grave, jasad B, or jasad hūrqalyī does not depart from it at the moment of death in company with the essential man (insān ḥaqīqī), who is made up of the original subtle body enveloped in his other, provisional, subtle body. The jasad hūrqalyī survives, they tell us—survives “in the grave.” But at this point we should refer to a striking feature of one of Maeterlinck’s dialogues expressing the esoteric meaning of death, when the Shadow, a few moments before becoming the Angel of him whose death it is, declares: “They look for me only in the graveyards, where I never go. I do not like corpses.”64 The “grave,” that is, the place where the jasad B continues to be, is not the “graveyard,” but exactly the mystical Earth of Hūrqalyā to which it belongs, being constituted of its subtle elements; it survives there, invisible to the senses, visible only to the visionary Imagination.

Vision of this mystical subsistence is, therefore, itself a pre­eminent example of a psycho-spiritual event “taking place” in the Earth of Hūrqalyā. Here the difference between the schools of thought becomes apparent. Proclus held that the inhabitants of the high places of the Earth in Plato’s myth, the Phaedo were souls still clothed in their lower okhēma and awaiting their [97] complete apokotastisises. In a way peculiarly his, Shaikh Aḥmad also rises above the dilemma which would leave no choice except between the idea of completely disembodied souls (in contradiction with the idea of soul) and the idea of complete immortality of the irrational soul (Jamblichus). But when we come to Shaikhism, the doctrine of apokotastisis is amplified. It is affirmed, not only that the lower okhēma is stripped, but further affirms the reassumption of this other essential body, which is also a subtle vehicle, an imperishable, paradisic body, sleeping in Hūrqalyā, the Earth of Light whence it came. That is where the Angel took it in order to “hide” it in the terrestrial body of flesh, at the moment of conception.

Therefore, at the second sounding of the trumpet, this jasad B or hūrqalyī body, the body of “spiritual flesh,” is the body which the eternal, individual soul, conveyed by its original, essential, or archetypal body (jism B), again puts on its transfigured terrestrial raiment of glory. Now, this reunion and transfiguration take place in and through the Earth of Hūrqalyā. This celestial Earth, this “eighth climate,” is, indeed, what preserves the future “Resurrection Body,” since this Earth is its source; and for that reason also it plays the same role in the general eschatology, namely, that of “Earth of Resurrection.” It goes without saying that “orthodox” Islam has never been able to find its way in this theosophical physics; the Shaikhīs had to face difficult situations, a mass of objections, on the feebleness of which we need not dwell, since the premises remained on the very mental level which the Shaikhīs’ meditation aimed to surpass.66

Let us enter still more deeply into this Shaikhī meditation, which transmutes things into the substance of Hūrqalyā by contemplating them in that “Earth” and thus evolves a physics and physiology of Resurrection. We notice, then, that in this process meditation on the alchemical Work plays a capital part, and that the spiritual practice of alchemy continues in a discreet fashion even to our day in Iranian Shaikhism. The work of its founder reveals the need he exemplifies to interiorize the true practice in order to obtain from it the psychic reactions which are resolved in a mystical psychology of the Resurrection body.

[98]

The basic idea of alchemy for the Shaikhīs67 is that it alone makes it possible to conceive the resurrection of bodies as a consequence or corollary of the survival of Spirits. It makes it possible to pass from the one to the other and gather them into a single concept. To make this transition is to make at the same time a transposition (an “anaphora”) and a transmutation, which invalidate the rationalist philosophical arguments against resurrection, because these arguments are carried on on a level lower than the level on which the question in fact arises, just as, and for the same reason, the “literalist” concepts of orthodox theologians concerning the resurrection of bodies are equally weak.

From the beginning, let us remember Shaikh Sarkār Āghā’s beautiful and forceful maxim: one’s first concern is to become a Hūrqalyāvi oneself; one must be able and one must have been initiated to see things and beings, processes and events, “in Hūrqalyā.” The organ of sight is the active Imagination, which alone enters into the intermediate realm, makes the invisible within the visible visible to itself. It is thus the quinta essentia of all living, corporeal, and psychic energies. We hear Shaikh Aḥmad insisting strongly in his turn on the essential function of the meditant, active Imagination; as he says very definitely: the Imagination is essential to the soul and consubstantial (jawharānī) with it; it is an instrument of the soul, just as the hand is an instrument of the physical body. Even sensory things are known only by means of this organ, for it is to the soul what the Soul of the Heaven of Venus is to the Soul of the Heaven of the Zodiac.”68 One can therefore also say here in Paracelsist terms that the Imagination is the “astrum in homine,” “coeleste sive supracoeleste corpus.”69 And one can add likewise that the alchemical Work, because of the psychic effects it produces in him who meditates and interiorizes it, is essentially carried out “in the Earth of Hūrqalyā.” So in that sense, it can be said of alchemy that it works with the elements of the Earth of Hūrqalyā and “transmutes” the terrestrial elements into these subtle elements.

But for this to be true, the alchemical Operation must be really perceived and mentally actualized in Hūrqalyā, and it is [99] for this purpose that the appropriate organ of perception is necessary. This is why the alchemical Operation (‘amal al-ṣinā‘a al-maktūm), literally, that is, the operatio secreta Artis, is called the “Wise Men’s Mirror” (mir’āt al-ḥukamā’). “Of the Operation of the Elixir (‘amal al-iksīr),” writes Shaikh Aḥmad, “the Wise have made a Mirror in which they contemplate all the things of this world, whether it be a concrete reality (‘ayn) or a mental reality (ma‘nā). In this mirror, the resurrection of bodies is seen to be homologous to the resurrection of spirits.”70 The postulate is that one and the same spiritual Energy of light is just as much the constituent of the essence of what is qualified as material as it is of the essence of what is qualified as spiritual.71 Briefly, how it should be expressed is by saying that “Spirits are being-light in the solidified state (nūr wujadi dhā’ib) whereas bodies are being-light but in the solidified state (nūr wujadi jāmid). The difference between the two is like the difference between water and snow. Proof confirming the resurrection of the one is valid in respect of the resurrection of the other.” Now, the final result of the alchemical Operation is exactly this coincidentia oppositorum: once a body has been treated and perfected by this Operation, it is in the state of “solid (or ‘congealed,’ ‘frozen,’ miyāh jāmida) liquid.”72

Here, then, are some themes for meditation which, amongst others, are suggested to us with a view to interiorizing the alchemical Work. Let us, for example, take silica and potash, opaque, dense substances corresponding to the state of the terrestrial, elemental body (jasad A). In the first place, having been boiled and liquefied, these two substances lose their opacity and become glass (potassium silicate), which is transparent; in this state the outer allows the inner to be seen through it; the hidden spontaneously shows through the apparent. Certainly it is still the lithoid substance, and yet it is no longer that. This state should be meditated as corresponding to the jasad B, which is the subtle, diaphanous body composed of the elements of Hūrqalyā. In refusion with the addition of a certain chemical, glass becomes crystal; crystal with the addition of the white Elixir turns into the “crystal which sets on fire” (a “lens”). At [100] this stage it corresponds to jism A (okhēma pneumatikon), that is, to the astral body which envelopes the essential original body (jism aṣlī, jism B), or eternal individual, and which, together with the latter, enters the “celestial Earth” at the moment when death separates them from the perishable elemental body (i.e., from jasad A). When the crystal is fused a second time with white Elixir, it becomes diamond. This is the same crystal, the same silicate in which the crystal was hidden, the same compound of mercury and sulphur, and yet it is no longer any of these. “And diamond, freed from crystal, freed from glass, freed from stone, corresponds to the believer’s bodies in this absolute Paradise.”78

This operation is confirmed by others. That, for instance, which is performed on pewter. Pewter treated with white Elixir turns into pure silver, the stage of jasad B. Treated with red Elixir, the silver becomes pure gold, the stage of jism A, which enters the earthly Paradise or celestial Earth. Treated again with red Elixir, the pewter-become-gold itself becomes Elixir, the stage of jism B, which, reunited with jasad B (the hūrqalyī body) and having assimilated the latter to its own subtlety, enters into the absolute Paradise.74

bodiesBriefly, the meditation that interiorizes the transmutations accomplished in the course of the real operation engenders the spiritual body, which also is a coincidentia oppositorum. It enters into the intermediate realm, into the psychic realm of subtle bodies through the active meditant Imagination, which, by transmuting sensory processes or events into symbols, itself activates psychic energies which radically transmute the relationship between soul and body. There is then a state, says Shaikh Aḥmad, in which “bodies perceive through their very essence (bi-dhātihā) the thoughts which are thought in the celestial world, as well as angelic Forms. Reciprocally, the Spirits dependent on these bodies perceive bodies and corporeal realities through their own essence, since their bodies, when they wish it, become spirit and their spirit, when they wish it, becomes body.”71 Therefore, meditation on the alchemical operation or meditation operating alchemically reach the result the formula of which is precisely [101] the definition we have heard, given by Moḥsen Fayẓ, of the world of the barzakh as “a world through which bodies are spiritualized, and spirits embodied.” And this is the perfect definition of the Earth of Hūrqalyā, as well as of the Events which are accomplished there and to which this mystical Earth lends its very substance.

But, of course, this “substantiation” occurs only through the presence of the adept to this mystical Earth where spiritual bodies alone can be present. That is why the constant principle here again is: solve et coagula. The Wise, writes Shaikh Aḥmad, dissolve and coagulate the Stone with a part of its spirit and re peat the operation several times. When they have treated it three times with the white Elixir and nine times with the red Elixir, the Stone becomes a living spiritual Mineral (or metal) (ma‘dan ḥayawānī ruḥānī), which exactly translates our Latin alchemists’ idea of the living Stone (lapis vivus)76. It is a body, but its operation is spiritual: it gives life to those “metals” which are dead. Meditate and understand this Sign, says the Shaikh, for such a body is precisely the Sign of the dwellers in Paradise, “for they have bodies in which exist all the attributes, laws, and actions of bodies, but such bodies enact the actions of Spirits and pure Intelligences; they perceive what the celestial Souls and angelic Intelligences perceive, just as the latter perceive through their own essence what Souls and bodies perceive.”77 Bodies such as these are made from the original clay (al-ṭina al-aṣlīya) of the emerald cities Jābalqā and Jābarsā, and they receive the influx, no longer of the Heavens of the physical cosmos, but of the Heavens of Hūrqalyā.18
Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsā’ī’s own words have, we believe, conveyed what is essential in the doctrine. At some future date, we shall publish a study of the amplification by his successors of the theme of the spiritual body which is the body of resurrection. In so doing, we shall discover the constants in what might called the “metaphysics of ecstasy” common to all the Spirituals, and which bears witness to the permanence and identity of this interworld on which their similar experiences converge. The Shaikhs emphasize the idea of an essential archetype body (jism [102] aṣlī ḥaqīqī) which simultaneously possesses dimension, shape, form, and color like bodies in general, but which differs from them in one radical respect, namely that the appearance of the essential body depends on actions fulfilled and the inner states manifested by these actions.79 In our terrestrial world, our inner states are invisible and the aspect of what we do is limited to the outer, observable appearance, but in the celestial earth the same actions assume another form and inner states project visible forms. Some take the form of palaces, others the form of houris, or of owers, plants, trees, animals, gardens, streams of running water,80 and so on. All these forms and figures are seen and are real “outside,” but they are at the same time attributes and modes of being of man. Their transfiguration is the transfiguration of man, and they form his surroundings, his celestial Earth. Hence it can be said that the action is its own reward and the reward is the action “itself.”81

The ontological status of this celestial Earth is thus defined in terms comparable, to take but one example, to the fundamental doctrine of Swedenborg, who constantly reminds us, in formulations which vary very little, that “things outside the Angels assume an appearance corresponding to those which are within them.”82 All things that come into the Angels’ field of vision correspond to their “interior” and represent it; “they vary in accordance with these inner states, and this is why they are called ‘Apparitions’ (apparentiae), but because they issue from this source they are perceived so much more vividly and distinctly than the way in which men perceive terrestrial data, that they must rather be called ‘real Apparitions’ (apparentiae reales) since they really exist.”88 And the following formulation is perhaps the essential one: “the body of each Spirit and each Angel is the form of its love.”84 A Shaikhī saying echoes this fundamental thesis: “The paradise of the faithful gnostic is his very body and the hell of the man without faith or knowledge is likewise his body itself.”85 Or again, this saying which condenses the fruit of Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsā’ī’s meditations on the “diamond body”: “Every individual rises again in the very form [103] which his Work (in the alchemical sense) has fixed in the secret (esoteric) depth of himself.”86

One can also understand how the idea of the celestial body or resurrection body expresses the idea of the human being in his totality, homus integer. By representing the human person in its transfigured state, it is henceforward far more than the physical organ of personal subjectivity in opposition to the world, since it is “its” world, its “true world,” that is, not a foreign, opaque reality, but a transparency, the immediate presence of itself to itself. From that point also we can understand how the representation of the original, spiritual body, the okhēma aymphyea of Neoplatonism, came to be connected with the idea of personal divinity (idios daimon) , the guardian Angel or archetypal “I” from which the terrestrial “me” originates. This again recalls an odd detail: Shaikh Aḥmad, when asked about the origin of the name Hūrqalyā, which has as strange and foreign a sound in Persian as in Arabic, answered that it was a word which came from the Syriac language (sūryānī) in use amongst the Sabeans of Baṣra, or more exactly, the Mandeans.87 Now the Earth of Hūrqalyā, the intermediate world of exemplary Real Images, is the homologue, both in Suhrawardī’s “Oriental theosophy” and in Shaikhism, of the Paradise of the archetypes of Yima, and it so happens that the close resemblance between the Var of Yima and the “second world,” or world of archetypes, of Mandeism (Mshunia Kushta) has more than once been pointed out.

And in all cases it refers to that same world in which the liberated soul, whether in momentary ecstasy or through the supreme ecstasy of death, meets its archetypal “I,” its alter ego or celestial Image, and rejoices in the felicity of that encounter. This reunion is celebrated in a Mandean text as follows: “I go to meet my Image and my Image comes to meet me, embraces me and holds me close when I come out of captivity.”88 Recently also, our attention was drawn to the a nity between the central hero of Mandean gnosis, Hibil Ziwa, and the young Parthian prince, the hero of the “Song of the Pearl” in the Acts of [104] Thomas.89 In this ancient gnostic book we find again the rapture of a similar encounter, when the young Prince, on returning to the East, his fatherland, discovers the luminous raiment he had left behind: “The garment suddenly appeared when I saw it before me like unto a mirror of myself. I saw it altogether in me and I was altogether in it, for we were two, separate one from the other and yet but one of like form.”90 And the Gospel According to Thomas declares: “When you see your likeness, you rejoice, but when you see your Images which came into existence before you, which neither die nor are manifested, how much will you bear!”91

Now we must return to that which is the archetype of the individual eschatology, and which was clearly described to us in the last part of the preceding chapter. The figure of the Angel Daēnā, the celestial “I,” as the daughter of Spenta Armaiti, the feminine Archangel of the Earth and of earthly existence, led us to make a connection that has seldom been pondered. It became clear to us that the filiation of the celestial “I” is verified as and when man assumes Spendarmatīkīh, the very nature of Spenta Armaiti, who is Wisdom-Sophia. Hence the relationship of man with the Earth, defining his present existence, was seen by us to be a Sophianic relationship, the full actualization of which is destined to come about in a meeting of the Earth with the “Abode of Hymns” (Garōtmān, the Iranian name of the celestial Paradise). Going on from there, not in the “historical direction,” but according to the “polar dimension,” we heard in a higher octave of the harmony of the worlds, the theme of the supracelestial Earth in the person of Fāṭima the Resplendent, Fāṭima-Sophia, who is the Earth of the pleroma of the deity because she is its Soul. We have since learned at the flowering of the spiritual body, which is the awakening and birth to the celestial “I,” takes place in the form of a meditation that transfigures the Earth into a celestial Earth, because, reciprocally, it is said that “the clay of every faithful gnostic was taken from the Earth of his Paradise.” Perhaps then we can begin to see no longer only what is the celestial Earth, but who is the celestial Earth.

What does all this mean for us today? Nothing more nor less [105] than that very thing toward which we are going, which we shape, each one of us, in the image of our own substance. We have heard it expressed in languages both remote and nearer to us, in very ancient and also in modern contexts (we went from Mazdaism to Shaikhism). Very likely, the experiences of the Iranian Spirituals evoke in each of us comparisons with certain spiritual facts known from other sources. I would like to remind you here of the words uttered in the very last moments of his life by the great musician Richard Strauss: “Fifty years ago,” he managed to say, “I wrote Death and Transfiguration (Tod und Verklärung).” Then, after a pause: “I was not mistaken. It is indeed that.”93

At the boundary where the boundary ceases to be a boundary and becomes a passage, there comes the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence: realization does indeed correspond to the faith professed in the innermost part of the soul. One has only to remember the last bars of this symphonic poem, and one will understand the import of that realization in the present at the moment when the end becomes a beginning: all that was fore­glimpsed, all the struggle and secret hope borne as one faces a challenge—it is indeed that. The triumphal solemnity of the closing chorale of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony: “O my heart, believe! nothing art thou losing. What is yours remains, yes, remains forever, all that was thy waiting, thy love, thy struggle.” One thing alone matters in the night in which our human lives are wrapped: that the faint gleam, the fiery light, may grow which makes us able to recognize the “Promised Land,” the Earth of Hūrqalyā and its emerald cities.

mazdaism

Everyday Portals

December 11, 2016

deck

Our View from the Kitchen

It is a beautiful overcast early Winter morning and the view from our kitchen out over the hills surrounding Athens is so comforting. I love the feeling of being nested into this community and this energetic space of river, hills, and sky facing the rising sun (hidden behind the gray cloud cover). As Anna and I were pouring our first cups of coffee at the breakfast table I felt tempted to open my laptop and see if we had the winning numbers for last night’s Powerball drawing. (I learned a bit later that we did not.) But at the same time I didn’t want to open the laptop. Anna asked why not and I said, “Because opening the laptop opens up a portal that tears a hole into the fabric of your existence.”

Once I said it this way, I realized how true this is. What I was most enjoying at this point in our morning together was the sense of unity in space and place. The atmosphere created by our windows and the hidden morning sun and the breakfast table in the window and the view out over the deck was one of completeness, of comfort, of home. I knew that once I opened the laptop, the screen would suddenly dominate the entire scene, drawing all of our contiguous homey space into its own spatial dimension out into the virtual environs beyond the screen itself. The screen light would fill this corner of the kitchen and then cause our own space and atmosphere to flow discreetly yet surely into the world stretching out into the screen world. And I was quite happy in this world right-here-right-now.

kitchen

The Laptop Portal and the Window

The same is even more true of televisions in that once they are hooked up to television cables (tele-vision, vision teleported elsewhere), you are then drawn into a world mediated by someone or something else, some corporate entity whose only purpose of being is to draw you in in such a way as to make you surrender your own boundaries of place and self as you enter the videated universe of television programming and commercial advertisements. The sounds completely take over your atmosphere and, by extension, your body. The curious thing about what Joni Mitchell called the “blue TV screen light” back in the black and white days of videated experience up to the present moment in “full color experience” (my mother couldn’t wait to get a color TV in 1970 so that she could see the true color of Johnny Carson’s ties) is that while the initial experience of the emanating TV glow and sound is that of an intrusion into your familiar space, a reverse circuit of flow is actually established by means of which our world, our environment—having been initially penetrated, then captured—is now drawn in reverse motion into the world of the screen. Our entire fabric of experience passes through this miniature everyday portal into the beyond of our local atmosphere.

My point is not that this morning I could not appreciate the portal draw of the screen and the alternate universe lying on the other side of the glass, but that I did not yet want to let go of my hold on experience on this side of the screen—not yet. Instead I wanted to spend more time enjoying the view outside our kitchen morning windows beneath the comforting early winter clouds out over Bong Hill and Witches Hill and beyond to the mountains of West Virginia, out there where the sun rises and starts each day for us.

And then I had a realization: the sky itself is our original portal. The sky is our original laptop screen that during the day encloses us in the variety of cloudy and sunny skies from morning to night, only then to open out onto a universe of stars and planets in the night sky. Those sky orbs had been there all day too, of course, but it is only on clear nights that we see the sky open out onto the galaxies beyond and allow for a diurnal rhythm of daytime enclosure and nighttime expanse. Thus the sky serves as our original portal, our experience of passage from one world of experience into another.

Henry Corbin explores this inside-outside phenomenon in his exploration of a tale by the Sufi saint Suhrawardi: “As is suggested, at the end of Sohravardī’s tale, by the symbol of the drop of balm exposed in the hollow of the hand to the sun, it is a matter of entering, passing into the interior and, in passing into the interior, of finding oneself, paradoxically, outside, or, in the language of our authors, ‘on the convex surface’ of the Ninth Sphere—in other words, ‘beyond the mountain of Qāf’” (Swedenborg 6).

Pool Portal—Strouds Run State Park

Pools of water obviously also played this role in the days before computer screens. They continue to offer this experience of being situated between varying universes. At one moment the surface of the water reflects the sky and clouds and sun and trees and projects them inward as though into a subaqueous world on the other side of the water’s surface. Then with a shift of light and perspective we see below the surface to the stones and fish and water weeds “actually” existing below the water’s surface. And when we slip down under with a diving mask, we then see another layer of existence below the surface and, looking upward from down under, see the water’s surface now above us as the boundary between this watery world and our usual world up there on land. It is not so difficult to see how people in the olden days caught on to this portal phenomenon provided by water and began the practices of scrying and other divinatory explorations of alternate realities.

After a while, humans experimented with these above-and-below and inside-outside positionings and eventually created windows. (Bill Gates came along later.) And now we inhabit enclosures that stage this dynamic of alternate spaces in our very habitations. Cut a new window into a wall or a skylight into a ceiling and a new universe is made possible at once. We then see how “ceiling” contains the heavens that name it and reminds us of the world beyond our denser enclosures.

So in the end, what I have chosen this morning is to sit here in the comforting enclosure and expanse that my little kitchen corner affords me of this inside-outside, here-and-beyond portal experience (“portal” also refers to ordinary doors, after all) before opening up the laptop and watching as its screen goes from an unlit opaque object within this space to a luminescent portal onto other spaces.

The larger point dawning on me in this morning light is that the experience of portals, of transporting our awareness from one space and time to another, is not so occult as we might imagine. The sky is the original portal, as are pools of water and cave entrances and rivers flowing out of sight. Just imagine what other universes these experiences are preparing us for.