tangible. Ibn ‘Arabi suggests that such visions doindeed partake of two realities, as William Chittick explains:[Imagination]
brings spiritual entities into relationship withcorporeal entities ... By giving incorporeal realities the attributesof corporeal things ... imagination allows unseen realities to bedescribed as possessing attributes that pertain to the visibleworld... Unseen things actually take on visible form in theimaginal realms.
And what are these ‘unseen things’? They arediscarnate intelligences, which may exist at manylevels of non-material being. Whilst human beingswith complex material bodies inhabit the earth, thespiritual world is inhabited by angels whose essence issimple and luminous, and the intermediate world bythe spirits or jinn, which are paradoxically perceivedto be both simple and compound simultaneously. Inthis medial place, spirits may appear as embodiedand bodies may appear as spiritualised, as in dreamsand apparitions. Ibn ‘Arabi also uses the metaphor of a mirror-image to describe the ambiguity of theimaginal realm, for material things seen in a mirrorare paradoxically both fully real yet fully unreal at thesame time.
The most important thing to rememberhowever is that although spiritual presences mayappear to humans as having somehow ‘brokenthrough’ into sense-perceptible reality, in fact theypartake of a fundamentally different ontologicalreality and are therefore immune to the laws whichgovern our material world.Ibn ‘Arabi explains that these imaginal beings canin fact be seen through two different ‘eyes’; the eye of sense-perception which sees during a wakeful state,and the eye of the imagination which, in most people,sees during sleep and other altered states. However, itappears that certain individuals may also see with theimaginal eye during wakefulness and in this case the veil between the two worlds falls away: “the personwho undergoes unveiling sees while he is awake whatthe dreamer sees while he is asleep.”
Such reﬁnedsouls will be able to distinguish between embodiedspirits and human beings through recognising a‘mark’ of identiﬁcation, on which Ibn’ Arabi does notelaborate further. Presumably such a mark would beobvious to those able to discern it, but as WilliamChittick points out, “the Shaykh could live joyfully inthe knowledge that he recognised the mark of everyapparition. The rest of us, lacking in marks, had bestbe careful”.
The ability to distinguish ‘higher’ souls fromthose spirits still attached to the material world is of utmost importance, because often the ‘lower’ jinn willplay tricks with the observer and convince him or herthat they know more than they do:
Because of what [the jinn] report to their human sitting companion, he has imaginings about the occurrence of eventsand what is happening in the cosmos, for they acquire that through listening to the Higher Plenum by stealth. Then their sitting companion supposes that God has honoured him!
How seriously are we to take this advice? It wouldseem relatively easy to deliberately create situations inwhich autonomous beings may be encountered,whether through psychedelics, mediumship, hypnosisor meditation techniques. But we have lost a sense of what medieval scholastics called
: that theintellect of the knower must be adequate to the thing known to perceive its truth.
Through a sympatheticresonance, spirit phenomena will reveal themselvesto the participant, whose desire, intention and faithare central to the process of attraction. The moreearth-bound the consciousness, the more earth-bound the spirit, hence the importance of spiritualtraining and speciﬁc ritual contexts to cultivate apurity and reﬁnement of soul that would attract thewisdom of higher beings. This was the central aim of neoplatonic theurgy, whose rites culminated in the‘divinisation’ of the human soul as it fully realised itsidentity as an embodied deity.
Chittick delineates fourconstituents of the spiritual vision: the consciousnessof the observing subject, the reality-status of theobject or person that is seen, the form it takes, andthe location of its actualisation. Firstly, the observermay be either awake or in a trance or dream state. If he or she is awake, it is important to note that the eyeof imagination may see an apparition which is not visible at all to anyone else whilst possessing fullmaterial form to the observer. But this does not meanthat it is a hallucination in the reductive sense, rather,the neoplatonic understanding would be that theobserver is seeing into a dimension whose ontologicalstatus as ‘real’ supercedes our notions of reality. This‘ontological inversion’ as it has been called
isimpossible for the physicalist mentality to grasp as itrequires a radical shift of orientation. It also meansthat any attempt to apply the methods of empiricalscientiﬁc research to ascertain the ‘reality’ of suchapparitions will be doomed to failure, despite theirapparent concreteness and tangibility, because they
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