Mundus Imaginalis


Mundus Imaginalis is a term invented, I think, by Henry Corbin, the scholar of Islamic Philosophy and mysticism.  It describes the space of imagination separate from the space of reason and the space of somatics.  I understand the rules of somatics, it is kinetics & kinesthetics & physics. I understand the rules of reason it is logic and computation (perhaps some others). This maps to body, mind, and But what are the rules of the imagination? 

Henry Corbin talks about the the Mundus Imaginalis as described by Islamic Theosophists as the eighth climate.  This ‘space’ is populated with geography or as Corbin calls it topologies. There are mountains and islands, as there is an individual who makes a journey… the stranger or the wanderer.  We could perhaps call it the quester – which brings us into the imaginal realm of the tarot or the symbolic realm of geomancy or other divinatory practices. 

It is a geography that does not follow quantitative measurements of things like distance, everything about the geography is qualitative.  Movement from place to place involves a transformation in the state of the questor, not in the location of the questor. Maybe we can imagine the state as the imaginal state or the emotional state or the spiritual state. The state the questor is in allows her access to different realms. It is an inner journey.  The map is almost like a map of a memory palace and I wonder what the relationship of these topos are to other ‘imaginal’ topos like those in astrology (the houses of hellenistic astrology and the nakshatra of vedic astrology).

How do we perceive this realm? It is the realm of symbols translating between the somatic (or material) realm and the intelligible realm, but it is not a mere translation engine.  Corbin talks about imaginary vs fantasy. There is a question that some may ask  – how do we know we are accessing the imaginary realm? I am not sure how valid this question is? The imaginary realm the realm of truth and falsehood? It is the realm of subjective experience and either you have the experience or you do not, either you are in a state or you or not.  We can map the three realms to the body or instinct, the self or subjective reality, and the world or objective reality. 

What does image mean? It comes from Latin

imāgō f (genitive imāginis); third declension

  1. imageimitationlikenessstatuerepresentation
  2. ancestral image
  3. ghostapparition
  4. semblanceappearanceshadow
  5. echo
  6. conceptionthought
  7. reminder
  8. (rhetoric) comparison
  9. (art) depiction

When we talk about images we often think of visual representation, but it is any kind of representation. We could have sound images or perhaps computational images, participatory images (theater/ritual)

The realm of imaginal is the realm of analogy, I would also say the realm of metaphor and symbolism. And, as Corbin states, there is a mapping from the material to the imaginal, the passage through the imaginal realm is inner not outer.

There is the sense, from Corbin, that our imaginal faculties are atrophied. That cultures with rich angelic hierarchies have access to greater imaginal depths for example.

Really how do you improve this imaginal faculty. I am reading a book Corbin writes and there is an analysis of the the imaginal and the realms of the 12 Imams – there are 12 months, 12 apostles – there are many symbols associated with 12. I have no idea what this means for the structure of the imaginal plane or how the 12 Imams map to this. I imagine other visionary works like Blake, or the divine comedy, or Ezekiel.But what is the structure of the imaginary?