Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Riding Winged Books to the Imaginal Realm
"Robert, this is direct knowledge. Suhrawardi is the key to your understanding of the dream cosmos. Use his geographies - of Hurqalya, Jabarsa and Jabalqa.
"Hurqalya: roofed with shining convexities, plane within plane, like crystals that interpenetrate and turn into each other. It contains the Hall of the Masters, where they project themselves into shimmering stability of form."
I rose from the liminal state between sleep and waking to record these lines in my journal, on March 13, 1998. Though the words are very foreign in English, I recognized them as locations in the Imaginal Realm, as described by the medieval Persian Sufi philosopher Suhrawardi, whose work was known to me primarily through that of Henry Corbin.
I did not feel the need to identify the exact source of the communication. My feelings told me it came from a source I could trust. It drove me to deepen my researches.*
Four months later, after reading deep into the night in the pages of Henry Corbin's works on the Suhrawardi and Ibn 'Arabi, I lay in bed after 4:00 am and felt I was floating between the worlds. I had strong impressions of fabric patterns, predominantly rust-reds, mauves and yellow-browns. I thought of Gabriel, of Khidr, of Suhrawardi's Perfect Nature, of my occasional perceptions of a celestial Self, of my heavenly Twin.
A sense of presence grew, but without the flash of light that usually accompanies one of the high ones. The suggestion came: Rise from your body, and I will descend to you.
I loosened physical focus, without separating from the body. I had the impression of a handsome young-seeming man of "Persian" appearance, wearing modern clothes, a suit and a shirt with banded collar. He carried something of the essence of Suhrawardi's teachings. He told me his name was "Shams". He suggested I should begin my journey to the realm of Hurqalya at Mount Qaf.
I rose from bed and went back to the books. In the old Thackston translation of "The Red Intellect", one of Suhrawardi's visionary stories, Mount Qaf is described as follows:
Mount Qaf surrounds the world and consists of eleven mountains. When you are delivered of your bondage you will go there, for you have been brought from there, and eventually everything that exists returns to its initial forms.
The way through these mountains is fantastically difficult, but a traveler who has been there and returned counsels that "if you become Khidr you can easily cross Mount Qaf." Khidr is the guide of those who have no earthly guide.
These words gave me shivers. Towards dawn, I drifted into sleep and dreamed:
WINGS OF SOUND
I am in a palace that is open to the winds, a place of soaring arches. It does not seem to stand on earth, but among the stars. It is roofless, open to the night sky, which is dark yet light at the same time, shimmering in every particle. There are twelve spacious rooms in the palace. Each contains marvelous musical instruments, shaped like butterfly wings. Some have multiple wings or leaves. They resembled stringed harps, yet the "strings" are so fine as to be invisible. Cosmic winds blow celestial harmonies through these wings of sound. I marvel at the beauty of these harmonies.
In a second dream:
I take a spiritual text and use it as the portico to two meditations, borrowing from more obscure sources. One of these is an invitation to the soul journey to higher realms. The other brings the power of meditation and concentration into everyday life.
I rose from these dreams buoyant, charged with energy, eager to return to my researches. I reopened Henry Corbin's Man of Light in Iranian Sufism and found Suhrawardi's hymn to Perfect Nature. Freely adapted, it contains this magnificent invocation of the Guide:
You, my lord and prince, my most perfect angel,
my precious spiritual being
You are the Spirit who gave birth to me
and you are the child who is born of my spirit
You are clothed in the most brilliant of divine lights
May you manifest yourself to me in the highest epiphany
Be my bridge-builder between the worlds
Lift the veils of darkness from my heart
Show me the radiance of your dazzling face
I have used these magnificent words, in guiding meditation and imaginal journeys in my circles of active dreamers, to open the heart and facilitate direct contact with the "soul of the soul," the Guide on a higher level. As in my dream, there is a two-way movement. We make a journey of ascension, rising from the heart center to the place of the Guide. Then we return, with heart, to carry the radiance of the Higher Self into embodied life.
*Suhrawardi is known as the Shaykh al-Ishraq, the Master of Illumination. He insisted that understanding reality requires "the knowledge of presence" - direct experience of realms beyond the physical. He wrote many works of visionary philosophy in Arabic, and spiritual tales including "The Red Intellect" in Farsi. He brought together the high traditions of the Greek neo-Platonists and ancient Persia with mystical Islam. He is also known as "the murdered philosopher" because he was put to death in Aleppo in 1191 on the orders of the famous Saladin, who disapproved of Suhrawardi's influence over his son, who was governor of the city. According to Saladin's enforcer, Suhrawardi was crucified.
Note: Suhrawardi has surfaced again in my life, and I am moved to re-post this narrative I first made public five years ago, based on my journals from 1998. A good story keeps coming back.
Book with Wings - Anselm Kiefer. The Modern Art Museum Ft Worth Texas. Photo by Timothy Boss.