(updated Aug. 14, 2014 - fixed link and quote from scribd)

One of the key people who explored the use of Imagination in theosophy was Henry Corbin. During this last century he developed a theory of imagination called Mundis Imaginalis, lacking a suitable contemporary word, which was influenced by his study of Sufism. This is one of the greatest advances in academic theosophy in recent years. A brief overview of this concept can be found in Mundis Imaginalis in an article he wrote titled "Mundis Imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal" (1972). Below is an excerpt:

We realize immediately that we are no longer confined to the dilemma of thought and extension, to the schema of a cosmology and a gnoseology restricted to the empirical world and the world of abstract intellect. Between them there is a world that is both intermediary and intermediate, described by our authors as the 'alam al-mithal, the world of the image, the mundus imaginalis: a world that is ontologically as real as the world of the senses and that of the intellect. This world requires its own faculty of perception, namely, imaginative power, a faculty with a cognitive function, a noetic value which is as real as that of sense perception or intellectual intuition. We must be careful not to confuse it with the imagination identified by so-called modern man with "fantasy", and which, according to him, is nothing but an outpour of "imaginings". This brings us to the heart of the matter and our problem of terminology.

(Note: The "organ" of sense perception is best thought of as a spiritual organ)

Imagination is key to theosophy, as established in our FAQ sheet. Prior conversations on this site have touched on Imagination, so I am bringing into focus one of the key ideas in modern theosophy. This was based on his long study of Sufism.

Comments are welcome.

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Note: updated Aug. 14, 2014 - fixed link and quote from scribd

Mundus Imaginalis gave rise to the larger term Imaginal, as a collection of similar ideas like Active Imagination (Jung), and allows previous works on Imagination to be bound together in a somewhat cohesive whole.

One major issue in dealing with imagination is that as one talks it may easily become talk which is mostly fantasy thinking. The issue has always been to describe the Imaginal world in a manner which limits fantasies (fantastical and fictional) but does connect the real use of the Imaginal in religions and religious Imagination, such as the use of Images, Icons or even the use of an Image as in mirrors reflecting the world through Mind. At that point, Imaginal thinking becomes Real in the manner of theosophical thought. One may even talk of theophanies as Real. In theosophy, it becomes a key discipline to use the Imaginal in a manner to gain higher wisdom and insights into the Intuitive worlds.

Below is another excerpt from Mundis Imaginalis in the previous post:

(Note: Corbin places this paper in the context of Islamic mysticism, which itself is not the major point here; i.e. the Arabic terms are not the focus)

"Active imagination is the mirror par excellence, the epiphanic place for the Images of the archetypal world. This is why the theory of the mundus imaginalis is closely bound up with a theory of imaginative cognition and of the imaginative function, which is a truly central, mediating function, owing both to the median and the mediating position of the mundus imaginalis. The imaginative function makes it possible for all the universes to symbolize with each other and, by way of experiment, it enables us to imagine that each substantial reality assumes forms that correspond to each respective universe (for example, Jâbalqâ and Jâbarsâ in the subtle world correspond to the Elements of the physical world, whereas Hûrqalyâ corresponds to the Heavens). The cognitive function of imagination provides the foundation for a rigorous analogical knowledge permitting us to evade the dilemma of current rationalism, which gives us only a choice between the two banal dualistic terms of either"matter" or "mind". Ultimately, the "socialization" of conscience is bound to replace the matter or mind dilemma by another no less fatal one, that of "history" or "myth"."

One interpretation I find useful is the idea of a zone or range, almost like a "fuzzy edge" or interface between consciousness and the unconscious, within which a few phenomenal things can be empirically observed:

1) formation of symbols

2) interpretation of meaning

3) skill in sharing

I also think that a topic like "the use of images, icons, or even the use of an image as in mirrors reflecting the world through Mind" or any other use of "imago" ( conventionally or esoterically ) has semantic and linguistic aspects to it as well as imaginal ones.

I'm glad Corbin talks about the need to acknowledge the relation of imaginal functions with cognition.

Corbin's two Postulates from Mundis Imaginalis:


Any progression in spiritual space is accomplished by means of this transmutation, or better even, the transmutation itself is what spatializes the space. It gives rise to the space that is there, as well as to the "nearnesses", the"distances" and the "far-off" places.

The first postulate is that this Imagination must be a purely spiritual faculty, independent of the physical organism and therefore able to continue to exist after the latter has disappeared. Sadra Shirazi, among others, insisted on this point on several occasions.  Just as the soul is independent of the material, physical body, as to intellective capacity for the act of receiving the intelligibles, the soul is also independent as to its imaginative capacity and its imaginative activity. Moreover, when it is separated from this world it can continue to avail itself of active imagination.

A second postulate results: spiritual imagination is indeed a cognitive power, an organ of true knowledge. Imaginative perception and imaginative consciousness have their function and their noetic (cognitive) value within their own world, which is — as pointed out earlier — the 'alam al-mithal, the mundus imaginalis, the world of the mystical cities such as Hûrqalyâ, wheretime is reversed and where space, being only the outer aspect of an inner state, is created at will.



As to the first postulate, you could also look at it as transmuting body, or awareness of what is body. I think there is an interdependent relationship to acknowledge regardless of which viewpoint you examine mind/body from.

Are we discussing imagination or any of its arisen products with regard to their form?

Are we discussing imagination or any of its arisen products in relation to a consciously distinguishing and observing or participating subject?

I think a term like "noetic value" can have many possible nuances or interpretations of meanings, some of which depend on the inter-relation of these factors.

I do like the connection drawn between noetic value and creativity.

In our sleep we dream

and in our dreams

we create worlds.

It's very interesting to me also, to note the inter-dependance being established right here and now as well, in this exchange, between imagination and description (i.e. linguistics, or Logos, Vach, Nada, Word, etc.).

The fact that we are attempting to talk about imagination to that degree, relatively conditions the whole affair.

We are only talking about Mundus Imaginalis, or the Imaginal as defined academically. Its reach and benefits into thinking are very relevant. It is a powerful theosophical tool. One key aspect, or problem, is to find a way to distinguish idle imagination, folly, fancy, wild speculation with no basis etc. (i,e, what Pantajali calls "fancy" in his 5 ways of thinking/mind).

A tool, imagination, can lead to invalid thinking is one does not learn to distinguish the wild thinking of many theosophists. It is a sacred tool to help guide to correct thinking, enlightenment, and should be used carefully in analysis/learning.

Perhaps you are, but I am talking about the faculty of imagination as I directly experience it and offering my own interpretation of meaning.

That will be another topic. It is not Mundis Imaginalis/Imaginal.

so your interpretation? LOL

we are discussing Corbin's definition and the concept of how it is interpreted in academia.

I started a discussion on Imagination in general. That should work for people's ideas and concepts in any general framework. See imagination.

If you and I, or anybody else were to "discuss Corbin's definition and concepts" about anything, that would still be our respective interpretations, in my opinion.

do you really want to rebuff the only other voice interested in the discussion?

I am very familiar with Corbin's material, have had it in my library for years and quite capable of offering my opinions, views and explanations (re interpretations)

Now that you've posted the source material, and everyone can access it and imbibe it for themselves if they want to, what more is there to say except our respective views and interpretations? Why should anyone be interested in your interpretation vs. one they can easily make for themselves?

Just curious.

Plus, it took you several posts into a discussion before you clarified what it was that you really wanted to discuss.

Corbin's (or any other academic's) definition and conception of imagination will also be similarly limited and merely their personal interpretation, in my view. nothing absolute or exhaustive, certainly nothing to get overly excited about or inordinately over-value, especially vis a vis the direct experience of imagination which we all have access to by birth.

So if I were to ask you what YOU thought of Corbin's definition and conception of mundis imaginalis, whatever you might say in return is somehow antiseptically free from admixture with your own personal views and completely objective in some academic sense? I don't think so.

I'll lurk for a while and see what you come back with about that, otherwise, what you have said about Corbin so far is nothing I can't come to by myself.

If the intent of discussion is not to share our personal apprehensions, evaluations and interpretations of it, why should anyone bother discussing it?

Why, for example, do you find Corbin so valuable a reference to something that is innate?

If I'm being honest, my feathers start to ruffle whenever I read you saying things about judgeng "wild" or "correct" theosophical views for anyone else but yourself.

If you seriously want to discuss, please reply, otherwise let it be and hope someone else becomes interested enough in what you judge to be correct or incorrect to listen to your views.

.. and that would not be personal interpretation? gimme a break.

I'll watch with curiosity to see what if anything happens and if anybody else engages how you response to them.

Theosophy is not bound by a definition


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