"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

Search The Legacy of Henry Corbin: Over 800 Posts

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Theology by the Lakeside - with the French original

At the age of 29 Henry Corbin traveled to Sweden where he visited Georges Dumezil and H. S. Nyberg. While in Dalecarlia on the shores of Lake Siljan he wrote this short meditation, which he called Theology by the Lakside.

[I hope that those of you whose French is better than mine will help improve this inadequate translation. An astute reader pointed out that there is no online version of the French original, so I have appended one here - TC Contact me with suggestions at tcheetham@gmail.com]:

Everything is only 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 dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is within you all the sweetness present in surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you.

Earth, Angel, Woman, all of this is one thing that I adore and that is present in this forest. Dusk on the lake: my Annunciation. The mountain: a line. Listen! Something is happening! The anticipation is immense, the air is quivering under a fine and barely visible rain; the houses that stretch out along the ground, their wood red and rustic, their roofs of thatch, are there, there on the other side of the lake.

Something will begin this evening, something promised, in that I believe. Ah! This evening? When, then, this evening? If it were truly in a few hours, it would never be, because it would have to end, and then, begin again, and so would always end and never begin. Do you know what it means to wait, and do you know what it means to have faith?

The Mystery of Holy Communion where you will be ushered in, where all the beings will be present - yes, you can only say it in the future. Because at each moment where you read in truth as now what is there before you, where you hear the Angel, and the Earth and Woman, then you receive Everything, Everything, in your absolute poverty. But as soon as you have read and have received, as soon as you consider, as you want to understand, as you want to possess, to give a name and restrain, to explain and recover, ah! then there is only a cipher, and your judgment is pronounced.

For at every instant you are judged, and you must die. So you die, when your existence is decided and realized, for then it is over: what was is not - you want without renouncing, renounce without wanting.

No, you are the poor one, you are man; and he is God, and you cannot know God, or the Angel, or the Earth, or Woman. You must be encountered, taken, known, that they may speak, otherwise you are alone, and perhaps it is better thus, and will be always thus, always, that is, there would be no eternity for you. Because you were born in a sin that was sinned before you, and as Thou you have had fear, great fear, and you have cried, cried because the Earth is immense, cried because the Woman was too beautiful, cried because the Angel was invisible, and because as Thou you were Adam, and Adam would want to live.

Adam established Love, poetry, religion, for he wanted life, that is, he wanted-to be-God, and then to speak as he would want the three beings. To Question; Alas! and he alone responded. To listen; Alas! to give a concert to himself alone.

But then suddenly surging from this lake comes a cortege of beautiful beings. They sing the funeral chant of Adam; and because Adam is dead, it will be a chorale of blended voices with anguish in every instant: “Christ is born! Christ is Risen!”

Henry Corbin
Leksand en Dalecarlie
au bord du lac de Siljan
24 August 1932, 18:00

in Jambet, Christian. ed., 1981, Henry Corbin, Paris : Cahier de l'Herne, no. 39, 62-3.

The original text is as follows (for the time being, and I apologise for this, without diacritical marks due to technical difficulties)

Theologie au bord du lac

Henry Corbin

Tout n'est que révélation; il ne peut y avoir que ré-velation. Or la revelation vient de l'Esprit, et il n'y a point de connaissance de l'Esprit.

C'est le crepuscule bientot, mais maintenant les nuages sont encore clairs, les sapins ne sont pas encore sombres, car le lac les eclaire de transparence. Et tout est vert, d'un vert qui serait plus riche que tout un jeu d'orgue, au recit. II faut l'entendre assis, tres proche de la Terre, les bras bien clos, les yeux aussi, faire semblant de dormir.

Car il ne faut pas se promener comme un vainqueur, et vouloir donner un nom aux choses, a toutes les choses; c'est elles qui te diront qui elles sont, si tu ecoutes soumis comme un amant; car soudain pour toi, dans la paix sans trouble de cette foret du Nord, la Terre est venue a Toi, visible comme un Ange qui serait femme, peut-etre, et dans cette apparition, cette solitude tres verte et tres peuplee, oui, l'Ange aussi est vetu de vert, c'est-a-dire de crepuscule, de silence, de verite. Alors il y a en toi toute la douceur qui est presente en l'abandon a une etreinte qui triomphe de toi.

Terre, Ange, Femme, tout cela en une seule chose, que j'adore et qui est dans cette foret. Le crepuscule sur le lac, mon Annonciation. La montagne: une ligne. Ecoute! Il va se passer quelque chose, oui. L'attente est immense, l'air frissonne sous une bruine a peine visible; les maisons qui allongent au ras du sol leur bois rouge et rustique, leur toit de chaume, sont la, de l'autre cote du lac.

Quelque chose commencera ce soir, quelque chose de promis, en quoi je crois. Ah! Ce soir? Quand done ce soir? Si c'etait vraiment dans quelques heures, ce ne serait jamais, car il faudrait finir et puis recommencer, et cela finirait toujours sans jamais commencer. Sais-tu ce qu'est attendre, et sais-tu ce que c'est que croire?

Le Mystere de Sainte Cene ou tu seras introduit, ou tous les etres seront presents, oui, tu ne le peux dire qu'au futur. Car a chaque moment ou tu lis en verite comme maintenant ce qui est la devant toi, ou tu ecoutes l'Ange, et la Terre, et la Femme, alors tu recois Tout, Tout, dans ta pauvrete absolue. Mais des que tu as lu et que tu as recu, des que tu regardes, que tu veux comprendre, que tu veux posseder, donner un nom et retenir, expliquer et retrouver, ah! il n'y a plus qu'un chiffre et ton jugement est prononce.

Car a chaque instant tu es juge, et il te faut mourir. Alors tu meurs, lorsque ton existence decide et realise, car alors c'est fini: ce qui fut n'est pas, tu voulus sans renoncer, renonce sans vouloir.

Non, tu es le pauvre, tu es l'homme; et lui est Dieu, et tu ne peux connaitre Dieu, ni l'Ange, ni la Terre, ni la Femme. Il faut que tu sois rencontre, pris, saisi, qu'ils parlent, sinon tu es seul, et peut-etre est-ce bien ainsi, et sera-ce toujours ainsi, toujours, c'est-a-dire qu'il n'y aurait pas d'eternite pour toi. Car tu es ne dans un peche qui etait peche avant toi, et Toi tu as eu peur, tres peur, et tu as crie, crie parce que la Terre etait immense, crie parce que la Femme etait trop belle, crie parce que l'Ange etait invisible, et parce que Toi tu etais Adam, et qu'Adam voulait vivre.

Adam a erige l'Amour, le lyrisme, la religion, car il a voulu-vivre, c'est-a-dire qu'il a voulu-etre-Dieu, et puis parler comme il voulait aux trois etres. Interroger; helas! et lui seul se repondre. Ecouter; helas! se donner a soi-meme un concert.

Mais, alors, certainement va surgir soudain de ce lac un cortege d'etres tres beaux. Ils chanteront les funerailles d'Adam; et parce qu'Adam est mort, il sera dit en un choral ou plus de voix s'uniront qu'il n'y cut d'angoisse dans tous ses instants : « Christ est ne! Christ est ressuscite! »

Henry Corbin
Leksand en Dalecarlie
au bord du lac de Siljan
24 aout 1932, 18 heures.

Photo: Am Siljansee, by Reinhard Kerkeling

CG Jung & The Symbolic Life

Given the close relationship between Jung & Corbin, Jung's landmark talk on the symbolic life and this new celebratory volume are worthy of note here for those who might otherwise not be aware of them.

Symbolic Life 2009
Murray Stein, Guest Editor

This new issue of Spring celebrates the 70th anniversary of Jung's 1939 lecture on "The Symbolic Life" to the Guild of Pastoral Psychology in London and considers if and how Jung’s path into living a symbolic life is still viable today.

Murray Stein, the President of the International School of Analytical Psychology in Zurich (ISAPZURICH), serves as the guest editor of this volume, and the contributors are all analysts or students affiliated with ISAPZURICH.

This issue also features an interview by Rob Henderson with Sonu Shamdasani, the editor of Jung’s famous Red Book to be published by W.W. Norton on October 7, 2009. The Red Book, a large, illuminated volume Jung created out of his own confrontation with the unconscious between 1914 and 1930, is a profound testament to Jung’s own process of living a symbolic life and is where he developed his principle theories—of the archetypes, the collective unconscious, and the process of individuation.
Symbolic Life 2009 - Table of Contents:
Guest Editor’s Foreword Murray Stein
Symbol as Psychic Transformer Murray Stein
Imagination and Spirituality Robert M. Mercurio
Living with Symbols Heike Weis
The Symbolic Dimension in Trauma Therapy Ursula Wirtz
The Odyssey as a Symbol for Jungian Analysis - The Limits of Symbolization Doris Lier
The Golden Fish Nathalie Baratoff
"Observe Nature and You Will Find the Stone" - Reflections on the Alchemical Treatise "Komarios to Cleopatra" Andreas Schweizer
Lady Soul Diane Cousineau Brutsche
The Wild Feminine: Reconnecting to a Powerful Archetypal Image Katharina Casanova
And the River Swelled with Horses Eleonóra Babejová
The Fountain of Memories – Buried and Uncovered Maria Anna Bernasconi
A Collective Symbolic Life of Nothingness in Postmodern Times Bernard Sartorius

The Red Book: Prima Materia of C. G. Jung: An "Enterview" with Sonu Shamdasani

Sonu Shamdasani & Rob Henderson
The Psychologist as Repentance Preacher and Revivalist: Robert Romanyshyn on the Melting of the Polar Ice Wolfgang Giegerich

Twisting toward the Kingdom: A Review of Thomas Moore’s Writing in the Sand: Jesus and the Soul of the Gospels

Dennis Patrick Slattery

And while we're on the subject of Jung - here is a very interesting site - unfortunately a fairly large Registration Fee is required, but this may be of interest: The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

The following poem is by Wendell Berry, farmer, poet, novelist, essayist, cultural critic and also a Fellow of the Temenos Academy. His wonderful work is always grounded in the land and the body. His implicit Christian "theology" is profoundly embodied and incarnate. His critiques of modern technological culture can serve to remind us of one way the energies of "spirit" and "transcendence" can go wrong, and to suggest reasons an "angel Christology" such as Corbin's must take the concerns of the orthodox theologians quite seriously. Corbin's own theology, for all his "heresies," is rooted in traditional thought and practice, which is always embodied in ways many of us have literally "lost touch" with. It seems to me important for those of us immersed in the modern world to pay close attention to the ways in which we are dis-embodied by our technologies. Theologies of the Incarnation are at pains to be sure we are not disembodied by our theologies as well.

A Speech to the Garden Club of America

by Wendell Berry

(With thanks to Wes Jackson and in memory of Sir Albert Howard and Stan Rowe.)

Thank you. I’m glad to know we’re friends, of course;
There are so many outcomes that are worse.
But I must add I’m sorry for getting here
By a sustained explosion through the air,
Burning the world in fact to rise much higher
Than we should go. The world may end in fire
As prophesied—our world! We speak of it
As “fuel” while we burn it in our fit
Of temporary progress, digging up
An antique dark-held luster to corrupt
The present light with smokes and smudges, poison
To outlast time and shatter comprehension.
Burning the world to live in it is wrong,
As wrong as to make war to get along
And be at peace, to falsify the land
By sciences of greed, or by demand
For food that’s fast or cheap to falsify
The body’s health and pleasure—don’t ask why.
But why not play it cool? Why not survive
By Nature’s laws that still keep us alive?
Let us enlighten, then, our earthly burdens
By going back to school, this time in gardens
That burn no hotter than the summer day.
By birth and growth, ripeness, death and decay,
By goods that bind us to all living things,
Life of our life, the garden lives and sings.
The Wheel of Life, delight, the fact of wonder,
Contemporary light, work, sweat, and hunger
Bring food to table, food to cellar shelves.
A creature of the surface, like ourselves,
The garden lives by the immortal Wheel
That turns in place, year after year, to heal
It whole. Unlike our economic pyre
That draws from ancient rock a fossil fire,
An anti-life of radiance and fume
That burns as power and remains as doom,
The garden delves no deeper than its roots
And lifts no higher than its leaves and fruits.

(from The New Yorker - here)

The illustration of a visionary landscape is from a manuscript in the Turkish Museum in Istanbul. It is an anthology of Persian poets published in Shiraz in 1398 C.E. and is reproduced in Corbin's
Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth from Gray, Basil, Persian Painting, Geneva, Skira, 1956. (Here borrowed from Greg Roberts)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Corbin on Sophiology and the Eastern Orthodox Church

As noted in an earlier post, Corbin's commentary on C.G. Jung's Answer to Job, « La Sophia éternelle » (Revue de culture européenne 5, 1953) is partly available in English translation. Selected portions appear as "The Eternal Sophia," translated by Molly Tuby, in Harvest vol. 31, London, 1985. This is available as a pdf file here.

I'd like to highlight one of the sections in this essay, which is well worth reading in its entirety, concerning the "sophiology" of the Orthodox Church, which, Corbin alleges elsewhere (Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 138), always exhibits a "latent monophysitism" - a claim that Orthodox theologians would hotly deny. I'd like to use this text to point out the considerable affinity between Corbin's project and certain aspects of Orthodox theology to which he made reference at key points in several of his books. Not surprisingly given his own penchant for the heretical, one of Corbin's favorite Orthodox theologians, Sergei Bulgakov, was embroiled in a controversy over the heresy of his views on the Virgin Mary (see the links below). [On Orthodox theology, I recommend the writings of Olivier Clement (1921-2009) - who Corbin knew as we learn from a footnote in En Islam iranienne Vol. 2, 375n - in particular The Roots of Christian Mysticism. Also of inestimable value is The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty by another Orthodox friend in Paris, Paul Evdokimov.]

Corbin writes as follows:

- ... a symphonic relation can be detected between the sophiology of Father Boulgakov and what can also be called the sophiology of Jung. Of course there are differences . . . The Russian Orthodox theologian's ideas evolve within traditional Christian dogma whilst Jung's unfold with total confessional freedom. Sophiology is an interpretation of the world, a theological Weltanschauung within Christianity itself ... It became one stream . . . within the Orthodox Church . . . represented, nevertheless, by a long tradition (from Soloviev to Father Florensky). The way it poses the problem of the relation between God and the world, between God and man, and its affinity with the ideas of Meister Eckhardt, Boehme, Schelling and Baader, doubtless make it, of all the Christian theological schools today, the one most likely to understand Jung's sophiological message.

Sophiology began with the confrontation between the Aristotelian concept of substance (ousia) used by the Greek Fathers to interpret the hypostases immanent in the divine Trinity, and the Figures of revelation in the Bible (especially in the Wisdom books), those of Sophia, Wisdom, and of Doxa, Glory (Shekhina). These Figures, as exegesis has sometimes defined them, cannot be reduced to divine attributes, properties or qualities. On the other hand, if they differ from the divine essence, this ousia is nothing but a metaphysical diagram, abstract and empty. All endeavours tended towards showing that the divine in God is what makes the divine Sophia (or Doxa), and that, at the same time, the Sophia is the divine ousia, the locus Triadis. Therefore she herself is not a hypostasis, but the power to hypostasize in a given hypostasis, and also its life. That is why there is not really a quaternity (that symbol which held so much of Jung's attention). And yet it is the danger of a tetrad replacing the Triad which caused the hasty accusation of 'heresy'.

. . . The mystery of the eternal Sophia as divine ousia is the revelation of the 'Father' in the dyad of Logos and Holy-Spirit, and as such this dyad constitutes the divine humanity ... By its 'sophianity', the world has become the mirror of the divine world, or creaturly Sophia - To transcend this duality of the divine Sophia (eternal form and created form) is to divinize the created, to bestow upon it the divine life . . . that is the process of humanity's divinization.

This process enables us to see how sophiology establishes an archetypal relation between the Incarnation and Pentecost, thus throwing a new light on the connection between the Figures of the Holy Spirit, Sophia and the Virgin Mother. Rightly, Father Boulgakov called upon the Church's liturgic awareness rather than upon its dogmatic awareness (an important point for psychology). Liturgy and iconographic tradition in the Orthodox Church bear witness to an identification in religious consciousness between the Sophia and the Mother of God. Christ, born of the Virgin, is not simply an isolated event in time; it is an event which establishes an eternal link between Mother and Son, so that an icon representing the Virgin with her divine Child is in fact an image of divine humanity . . . The Virgin Mother is the feminine counterpart of the humanity of Christ and that is why the icons of the Mother of God with her Child (Sophia and filius Sapientiae) are an expression of the Incarnation, or divine humanity.

. . . Father Boulgakov has been an admirable exegete of Russian Orthodox iconography which testifies to the sophiological aspect of the cult of the Mother of God (The icon of Novgorod, where Wisdom is represented as a fiery Angel with the Virgin on the right and St John the Baptist on the left. [above] Some very interesting icons of the Sophia are reproduced in Father Alexis van der Mensbrugghe, From Dyad to Triad, a Plea for duality against dualism and an Essay towards the Synthesis of Orthodoxy, London: Faith Press, 1935 - For the illustrations see this post). The Sanctuaries of the Santa Sophia which, in the Byzantine empire, carried a christological meaning, in Russia referred to a Marian Sophia. Finally, the liturgy, in uniting the special service for Sophia with the service of the Assumption, is yet another echo of what we called the third act of the 'Answer to Job' . . .

Henry Corbin
Teheran, December, 1952

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The New York Open Center and the Muhyiddin Ibn ’Arabi Society present

F R I D AY – S ATURDAY, N O V E M B E R 6 & 7

William C. Chittick, Stephen Hirtenstein, Salman Bashier,
Sachiko Murata and Mohamed Haj Yousef

This groundbreaking event, held at the beautiful Gothic cathedral of the historic interdenominational Riverside Church, will explore the wisdom and contemporary relevance of the 13th century mystic and teacher Ibn ’Arabi, who is considered the greatest master of Gnostic and philosophical Sufism.

It will bring together some of the world’s leading Ibn ’Arabi scholars, and will include talks, workshops, Sufi musicians from the US and the UK, poetry, and three films presented by the award-winning Tunisian director, Nacer Khemir. The conference will include presentations such as: Ibn ’Arabi and the Quest for Human Perfection; How Ibn al-Arabi’s Mystical Love Can Overcome Fundamentalism; Ibn ’Arabi in Dialogue with the Confucian Tradition, and much more.

Ibn ’Arabi was born in Medieval Spain, then home to an extraordinarily enlightened culture of religious tolerance among Muslims, Jews and Christians, a period that can serve us today as an inspiring example of the possibility of fruitful co-existence and cooperation among different cultures. As one of history’s greatest universal mystics and interpreters of the human condition, Ibn ’Arabi’s teachings can offer us a window into a form of Islam that we in the West are rarely exposed to, as well as a more sophisticated understanding of the more exalted aspects of the Islamic cultural heritage.

Please join us for this exceptional presentation of cross-cultural dialogue and come deepen your awareness of the very important part of the Islamic tradition that is one of humanity’s richest veins of mystical spirit and ecstatic beauty.

Post-Conference Events
Tunisian filmmaker Nacer Khemir will be presenting his highly acclaimed series of films, the Desert Trilogy, of which the most well-known is “Bab’Aziz.” The films are filled with exquisite scenery and elements of a mystical fairy tale, showing us a more open, tolerant and friendly view of Islamic culture, full of love and wisdom.

Friday–Saturday, November 6 & 7 $145 (after October 8)
Early Bird Price $125 by October 8

A conference co-sponsored with Riverside Church of New York
and The Middle East Institute at Columbia University.

For details visit: www.opencenter.org
and the Conference Website
or call 212-219-2527 ext. 2

Sufi Brochure EDITS 09-10(5)

Henry Corbin: November Lecture & Workshop

The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World:
The Legacy of Henry Corbin


Tom Cheetham

Sponsored by

The C. G. Jung Center for Studies in Analytical Psychology

Brunswick, Maine, USA
Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009


View Larger Map

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Corbin on Monotheism & Polytheism

The following is the Prefatory Letter to The New Polytheism by David L. Miller, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1981.

A Letter by Henry Corbin

February 9, 1978

Dear Colleague and Friend,

On returning from Tehran two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of finding the copy of your book The New Polytheism with its friendly dedication. Not only do I thank you for it with all my heart, but I can assure you that I immediately began to read it and that it was a passionate and enthusiastic reading.

I cannot say everything in a letter. We shall have to speak more at our leisure at Eranos, and that could take us far. Nonetheless, I do want to tell you right now how I am struck by the convergence of our research, even though we do not express ourselves altogether in the same vocabulary. This is just, however, since our points of departure were different, even though our points of arrival are remarkably near to each other....

What I mean is that I have been guided by the way in which the great theosophist Ibn 'Arabi and his School meditated on tawhid ("the Attestation of the One") to staggering heights. There is a theological tawhid which is the profession of exoteric monotheistic faith, i.e., "There is no God but God." And there is an esoteric ontological tawhid which states: "There is no Being but God." The catastrophe results (already long ago) from confusing Being [Etre] (Latin esse, Arabic wojud) with a being [Etant] (Latin ens, Arabic mawjud).

If, in effect, God is solely Being [Etre], then he could not himself properly be a being or an ens [Etant], not even a "Supreme Being" (ens supremum). By confusing Being with a supreme being (ens supremum), that is, by making of Esse an ens supremum, monotheism perishes in its triumph. It elevates an idol just at the point where it denounces such in a polytheism it poorly understands.

Only a negative theology (apophatic) is able to encompass by indirection the mystery of Being (Esse). But official monotheism never had much love for negative theology. In so far as Being [Etre] brings each existent [etant] into being, it must itself be beyond all existence [Etant]. It is impossible to express this mystery of Being which brings each being into being, that is, this mystery of the One which brings each being into being as an existent [etant]. Its unity (unitude) is 1 x 1 x 1 x 1, etc., while the multiple unity of beings [etants] is represented by 1+1+1+1, etc. To confuse Being with a being is the metaphysical catastrophe. It is the "death of Being" to confuse the unity of Being (Esse) with a pseudo-unity of beings (ens) which is essentially multiple.

It is precisely this confusion that monotheism has committed, a confusion between the Theotes (Divinity) and the theoi (gods). A unique Theotes is not to be confused with a unique theos, any more than unique Being is to be confused with a unique being. There can be only one Theotes just as Being (Esse) is unique. Were this not the case, we would not be able even to speak of the gods in the plural. The predicate precedes the subject, which is why Being is antecedent to being [etant], and why Divinity [Theotes] precedes both God [theos] and the gods [theoi]. A unique God as a supreme being (ens supremum) will always follow upon the Divinity which one attributes to it.

By confusing the uniqueness of Divinity (Theotes) with a singular God (theos) which excludes all other gods (theoi), unique Being with a singular being, monotheistic theology has itself prepared the way for precisely what your book shows so well, "the death of God," just as the confusion between Being and beings entails the "death of Being," leaving a place only for a totalitarian sense of the existent [etant].

In return, the unity of Theotes entails, conditions, and guarantees the plurality of the theoi (gods) Just as the unity of Being entails and conditions the plurality of beings. The Non Deus nisi Deus ["There is no God but God"] becomes Non Deus nisi Dii ["There is no God without gods"]. (The expression Ilah al-Aliha, "God of Gods," occurs frequently in Sohrawardi.) It is in the very nature of the Theotes (deitas abscondita) to be revealed and made manifest by the plurality of its theophanies, in an unlimited number of theophanic forms. Theomonism bears within itself the rebirth of the gods as theophanies of the Theotes, and this renaissance conditions the rebirth of religious individuality, about which each can say, and can say nothing other than: Talent cum vidi qualem capere potui ["I am able to grasp such as I have seen"]. This is the gnostic formulation par excellence. You said it in your book: "God has died of a long disease called 'monotheism.'" But the God of the gnostics can never die because he is himself [the place of] the renaissance of Gods and Goddesses.

This is why, dear friend, my vocabulary differs a bit from yours. The theogony and theology of our Greek masters has been degraded into frivolity by secular art (e.g., Renaissance paintings). But since my research has proceeded from the Iranian Sohrawardi and from Ibn 'Arabi of Andalusia, I speak always of the multitude of theophanies and of theophanic forms. The uniquely Divine (Theotes) aspires to be revealed and can only be revealed in multiple theophanies. Each one is autonomous, different from the other, each quite close to being a hypostasis, yet at the same time the totality of Theotes is in each theophanic form.

Moreover, rather than polytheism, I have spoken often of mystical kathenotheism. The kath'hena seems to me to be the category that is essential for the pluralism of theophanic forms. These are like the Dii-Angeli of Proclus, and I believe that my theophanic kathenotheism is allied with your "polytheism" in the sense that it is like a monadology which frees us from the totalitarian block of monotheism and from its secular forms.

I believe that our guide par excellence on this road remains the great and so long misunderstood Proclus. His work speaks of the henad or henads, and the henads monadizing the monads are on a level with Ibn 'Arabi's cosmology of Divine Names. The theophanic and cosmogonic function of the twelve great gods in Proclus, the twelve Imams in Shi'ite neoplatonism, the ten Sephiroth in the Kabbala - it is the One [l'Unique] himself who attests to these multiplicities of ones [uniques]. Compare also the hypercosmic and intracosmic gods and the Dii-Angeli of Proclus. But few know of this, often only the esotericists of the Religions of the Book.

Israel was able to serve only "its" God, and could proclaim the unity of only "its" God (which theophanically is the sixth Sephiroth according to the Kabbalists). Each of us, as well, has to recognize "his" God, the one to which he [is able to] respond. I believe our researches open the way, of necessity, to angelology (that of a Proclus, that of the Kabbala) which will be reborn with increasing potency. The Angel is the Face that our God takes for us, and each of us finds his God only when he recognizes that Face. The service which we can render others is to help them encounter that Face about which they will be able to say: Talem eum vidi qualem capere potui ["I am able to grasp such as I have seen"].

I am troubled, dear friend, by the proportions this letter is taking. But I believe it is useful and necessary that I recapitulate for you my way of seeing and that I explain to you why I experience its convergence with your perspective. But let us understand clearly that for yet some time we shall be few in number and that we shall have to take refuge behind the veil of a certain esotericism.

You said very well that this work is a matter neither of allegorism nor of historicism. I agree completely. That is why, guided by my Iranian philosophers, I have for many years endeavored to restore both logically and gnoseologically a mediating and intermediary world which I call mundus imaginalis (Arabic 'alam al-mithal). This is an imaginal world not to be confused with the imaginary. Such has been my great meeting-ground with our friend, James Hillman, and I congratulate you for having shown so well in your book the originality and courage of his position. If Iranian philosophers have considered the mundus imaginalis indispensible for placing the visions of prophets and mystics, this is because it is there that they "take place," and deprived of this imaginal world they no longer "take place." I believe that this imaginal world is the locus of the "rebirth of the Gods," those of Greek theogony, as well as of Celtic theogony, which with those of the Greeks and Iranians, are the closest to our consciousness.

This is why I attentively read and re-read the statement of your theses in Chapter Four. Above all, these two: (1) "A polytheistic theology will be gnostic, but in the manner of the secret knowledge of Hermes"; (2) "It will be a theology of spirit (with reference to Berdyaev), but in the manner of the multi-colored butterfly, released from the cocoon that is the dwelling of the worm." Agreed, agreed! We shall come back to all this at Eranos.

Some of my latest works relate especially to your book: (1) "Le Paradoxe du monotheism," Eranos 1976 (but I have not yet received the proofs); (2) "Necessite de 1'angelologie," about seventy pages which will appear very soon in one of the Cahiers de I'Hermetisme, and I will send it to you right away; (3) "De la theologie apophatique comme antidote du nihilisme," a long lecture given in Tehran on the occasion of a colloquium in October, 1977, the publication of which has not yet appeared. [These three essays appeared in 1981 as Le paradoxe du monotheisme, Paris: Herne]

Does Syracuse University have my books? If not, I must find some copies for you. I call your attention to my work on Ibn 'Arabi translated into English: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi (Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series). It contains numerous references to kathenotheism, but these are not noted in the English index. In the event that this interests you, I could get you a copy of the second French edition.

We have formed a small group of free academics (Gilbert Durand, Jean Brun, Jean Servier, and others) under the name of The University of St. John of Jerusalem. We investigate these sorts of questions concerning the Religions of the Book. There is one meeting a year, and we publish the proceedings in a monograph. You must come. And if you could give a lecture in French, that would be even better! I believe one of our books (La foi prophetique et le sacre) was given to you at Eranos last August. I would be extremely interested to have your impression of it. [See the review of this book by David Miller in The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, XLVI, 1 (March, 1978), 94-95.]

Don't take the trouble to respond in detail to this letter. Just tell me, if you have a free moment, whether you feel the connection between our theologies. If you share my feeling, I will be delighted. If something remains obscure, let me know about that, too.

I await news from you (a good letter in English!). And I wish you good work and good health. I am looking forward to our meeting again at Eranos (though I had to turn down speaking this year since I am swamped with books to finish), and I send you once again, dear colleague and friend, my warm greetings and most sincere affection.

Henry Corbin

[It is noteworthy I think that Karen Armstrong recently made some similar points about the Being of God in her interview with Terri Gross on FreshAir (listen to the podcast here) while discussing her new book The Case For God (reviewed here in The Guardian). Her interpretation of the history of the ideas would differ considerably from Corbin's. In any case it is good to see the idea of "apophatic theology" and what Corbin calls the "paradox of monotheism" so much in the public view. - TC]

Two Demons Attacked by Four Flying Angels. ca. 1580-1590. Possibly Qazvin, Iran. S1986.250a-b. Freer & Sackler Galleries

Friday, September 18, 2009

Idols or Icons?


Henry Corbin

The word "idolatry" has been used to cast doubts on the role of the mental image in the Shiite method of prayer. But does not the use of such a word overlook the connection between the image and the very concept of theophany? Fundamentally, what is needed is a return to the whole theory of imaginative perception and to the world of the Image, so as, like Sohravardi and the Ishraqiyun, to situate the Imagination, the virtus imaginativa, as an "in-between" [entre-deux]. On the one hand, the Imagination can remain subservient to sense perceptions; then its images do not rise above the level of these perceptions, not even when it combines them to produce monstrosities. On the other hand, the Imagination may serve the intellect by being the intermediary between it—that is, the intellectus sanctus—and the sensorium; then its images are metaphysical. In mystics and prophets, it is the organ of visionary knowledge.

Thus, the ambiguity of the Image comes from the fact that it can be either an idol (Gr. eidolon) or an icon (Gr. eikon). It is an idol when it fixes the viewer's vision on itself. Then it is opaque, without transparency, and remains at the level of that from which it was formed. But it is an icon, whether a painted image or a mental one, when its transparency permits the viewer to see through it to something beyond it, and because what is beyond can be seen only through it. This is precisely the status of the Image that is known as a "theophanic form." The Image of the Imam, the Image of the Fourteen Immaculate Ones, has for the faithful Shiite this theophanic virtue. It is equally true to say that the theophanic form is a mirror (ayineh, Lat. speculum). All our philosophers who share the theophanic sense of things have gone back to the motif of the mirror, thus giving speculative Imagination its true meaning, its etymological meaning, which is the same meaning that Franz von Baader gave to speculative philosophy when he said: "To speculate is to reflect" (Spekulieren heisst spiegeln).

[. . . ] It should not be too difficult to comprehend that, if a unique Light exists, that does not mean that only one object exists to be revealed in that light; similarly, if Being is unique that does not mean that there is only one existent. The transcendental unity of Being (wahdat al-wojud) is inseparable from the multiplicity of the existents it causes to be. To see in each existent the one Being which causes it to be, to see in each luminous thing the light that reveals it, is the very notion of theophanic form (mazhar elahi) and is precisely that which promotes the Image to an icon, redeeming it from its degradation as an idol. Idolatry, on the contrary, is seeing the object as if it were itself the light that reveals it and makes it visible; it closes off access to anything beyond. Confounding an existent thing, even an Ens supremum, with the absolute Being that makes it be closes off access in the same way; it confounds the icon with the idol. But when promoted to the rank of icon, the Image opens the way itself to what lies beyond it, toward what it symbolizes with. The distinction that we make, thanks to the Greek, between "idol" and "icon" has no exact equivalent in the Persian lexicon, but it certainly has an equivalent concept. The Image raised to the rank of icon is the Image invested with its theophanic function (mazhariya). Then the whole universe of theophanic forms becomes one immense iconostasis (in the liturgy of the Eastern Christian church, the division supporting the icons and forming an intermediate space, a barzakh, "in-between" the naos [or inner part of the temple] and the Holy of Holies, or sanctuary).

[. . . ] Idolatry consists in immobilizing oneself before an idol because one sees it as opaque, because one is incapable of discerning in it the hidden invitation that it offers to go beyond it. Hence, the opposite of idolatry would not consist in breaking idols, in practicing a fierce iconoclasm aimed against every inner or external Image; it would rather consist in rendering the idol transparent to the light invested in it. In short, it means transmuting the idol into an icon.

- These paragraphs are from Henry Corbin's La philosophie iranienne islamique aux XVII et XVIII siecles (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1981), pp. 358, 363-64. Translated from French by Jane A. Pratt and A. K. Donohue. This translation appeared in Spring : An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought – 1983, pp 1-2. Dallas: Spring Publications.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Eternal Sophia - Corbin on Jung's Answer to Job

Henry Corbin, « La Sophia éternelle » (à propos du livre de C.G. Jung : Antwort auf Hiob), Revue de culture européenne 5, 1953, 44 pp. This piece is partly available in English translation - selected portions appear as "The Eternal Sophia" translated by Molly Tuby in Harvest vol. 31, pp. 7-23. LONDON, 1985. This is now available for printing as a pdf file here.

A summary of Jung's Answer to Job by Martin Spielgelman can be found here (pdf).

C. G. Jung - The Red Book


Liber Novus: The Red Book of C. G. Jung

by Sonu Shamdasani

In this first public lecture on C. G. Jung’s legendary Red Book, Jungian scholar and Red Book editor Sonu Shamdasani will present the contents and images from Jung’s “Liber Novus” or Red Book. In this private illuminated journal, Jung engaged the inner world of his psyche and its relation to the outer world of collective events in the first half of the twentieth century through text and illustrations.

Fifty years after C. G. Jung’s death, and twenty years en route to publication, the Philemon Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of the Red Book, translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani. This lecture co-incides with the release of the Red Book, published by W. W. Norton & Co, and the opening of the Red Book exhibit at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York.

Sonu Shamdasani is Philemon Professor of Jung History at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, and General Editor of the Philemon Foundation. The Red Book is the third volume of the Philemon Series.

Friday, October 9, 2009
7:30 pm
New York Academy of Medicine (www.nyam.org)
1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St., New York, NY 10029.
Tickets are $20 and may be purchased at the door.

This has made the New York Times Magazine in what is really a nice piece of reporting I think: The Holy Grail of the Unconscious

The NYTimes piece spent many days near the top of their Most Emailed list. It appeared on Sept 20 and by the end of the month was the 5th most frequently emailed article in September. The book can be bought from Barnes&Noble online now (as of Sept 30), and on Dec 4th, from amazon.com.

And my thanks to "Angus" for pointing out this 3 minute YouTube Video from WWNorton "The Making of the Red Book."

Also - back in September there was this WBUR Radio Program on the then-forthcoming Red Book, with some linked images from the book: Carl Jung's Secret Book.

Red Book Exhibition

The original Red Book of C. G. Jung is on exhibit at:
Rubin Museum of Art (www.rmanyc.org)
150 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011
October 7, 2009 – January 25, 2010


Monday, September 14, 2009

Philosophy Iranienne et Philosophy Comparee

This edition now from editor Jean Moncelon can be found here.

The first of the four lectures which make up this fine small book by Corbin can be found in English translated by Peter Russell as

Corbin, Henry. The Concept of Comparative Philosophy. Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1981.

This is a revised version of a lecture delivered in December 1974 at the University of Teheran which was printed in Sophia Perennis (I do not have details of that edition). This important late essay is well worth seeking out though it is now long out of print. [For those who may not know, WorldCat can help locate libraries that hold any book.]

Friday, September 11, 2009

"In the perspective of the Angel Holy Spirit
the three Abrahamic faiths can come together
in the same City-Temple."

Henry Corbin - Temple & Contemplation

Sunday, September 6, 2009

La Bibliothèque Iranienne

Thanks to Wahid Azal for reminding me that l'Institut Français de Recherche en Iran-IFRI, which I mentioned in an earlier post, has this page listing its publications, many of which are edited by and have extensive commentaries by Henry Corbin. Of particular interest is volume 38:

Itinéraire d’un enseignement: Henry Corbin
Ce volume recueille l’ensemble des comptes-rendus rédigés par Henry Corbin pour l’Annuaire de la Section des Sciences religieuses de l’École Pratique des Hautes Études, de 1954 à 1978. Étape par étape, de Sohravardi à l’École d’Ispahan, des Ismaéliens aux Shaykhis, ces méditations explorent la géographie spirituelle de l’islam iranien.

Les thèmes majeurs de la pensée de Henry Corbin, l’exercice de sa méthode phénoménologique y trouvent un éclairage singulier: le lecteur y verra se lever, au degré d’horizon qui leur est propre, des réalités essentielles de la gnose spéculative, de la mystique et de l’imamologie. Ces pages ainsi rassemblées forment le relevé précis de l’itinéraire parcouru. Elles offrent aussi divers programmes pour une recherche toujours ouverte.

Available from amazon.fr

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Test of the Veil

My new essay The Test of the Veil, with considerable reference to Henry Corbin, is now published in Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies. The piece is also available online here.

"In his profound and beautiful book on the great Islamic mystic Ibn 'Arabi, Henry Corbin recounts an incident from the Master's life that illuminates the question at the heart of the soul's journey. It lingers in my mind as one of the most powerful passages in all of Corbin's great opus. In Mecca in the year 1201 (A.H. 598) the mystic and poet was a guest in the home of an Iranian family originally from Isfahan..."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Mawlana Rumi Review

Announcing a new journal:



A Prince Enthroned, from a copy of the fifth book of the Mathnawi by Rumi, ca. 1530, Safavid period, S1986.35 - The Sackler Gallery.