Becoming an Angel: the mundus imaginalis of Henry Corbin and the Platonic path of self-knowledge by Angela Voss

in Alchemical Traditions from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde ed. A.Cheak, Melbourne: Numen Books, 421-433

The profoundly alchemical implications of Corbin’s imaginal hermeneutics, in a spiritual sense, are illustrated by his interest in the hieratic art of statue animation, which he describes as:

neither a simple dramaturgy of the unconscious or psychological allegory, nor a simple manipulation of materials practiced in the manner of a mere chemist or pharmacist (droguiste). It is an operation at once material and spiritual, the juncture between the two aspects remaining the hidden secret underneath the symbols of the “Philosophers” (as the alchemists designate themselves).

Alchemy for Corbin is essentially the inner, spiritual work of attaining union between the human soul and its heavenly counterpart within the mysterious ground of the ‘hidden secret’ pointed to by the symbolic image. This is the intermediate place between spirit and matter, the mundus imaginalis, where the spiritual world assumes an objective reality, and where the transmutation of the prima materia of the human psyche into the subtle or spiritual body is the work of an alchemical opus that involves encounter with an angelic presence through the faculty of the active imagination. In this paper, I intend to explore the nature of this encounter in the context of the neoplatonism of the Islamic mystical philosophers to whom Corbin dedicated his life and work. 

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