I have had a breakthrough in my understanding of the Imagination - which came to me when reading a passage from Jeremy Naydler's essay Ancient Egypt and modern esotericism - from the book The Future of the Ancient World (2009). I now feel I understand the function of Imagination.
The cosmic being who presided over Ra's diurnal voyage across the sky was the heavenly goddess Nut. It was she who gave birth to Ra each morning, and who received him into herself again in the evening.
Each evening, when the sun god Ra entered her interior realm, he entered the secret and wholly invisible world that the Egyptians called the Dwat [usually spelled Duat]. The Dwat was conceived as being on the other side of the stars that we see when we look up at night. The stars were imagined as being on the flesh of the goddess Nut, and the Dwat was in some sense behind or within the world of which the stars demarcated the outermost boundary.
All creatures were believed to return to the Dwat at the end of their lives, and wer born from it again, just as the sun God was born from the Dwat each morning.
Knowledge of the interior world of the Dwat was considered by the Egyptians to be the most important, most profound knowledge, for people living on Earth to acquire. The Dwat was not only the realm of the dead, but the realm of the gods and spirits, and furthermore the realm from which all living things emerge. All life issues from the Dwat.
To know this mysterious interior world was to become truly wise, because then one would know both sides of existence - the invisible along with the visible.
The Egyptians lived with an awareness of a dimension of reality that is best described by the term 'Imaginal'. It is a nonphysical yet objective reality that we become aware of through the human faculty of Imagination.
In other words, the reason that Men posses the faculty of Imagination, why it is built-into us, is so that we may know imperceptible reality.
That is what Imagination is for.
So, Man knows perceptible reality via his perception - the senses of vision, hearing, smell touch and taste - that is why we are born with eyes, ears, noses, tongues and skin receptors; and Man knows the imperceptible reality via the faculty of Imagination: that is why we are born with the faculty of Imagination.
Of course the Imagination can err - but so can the senses. But to deny the reality of Imagination as a source of knowledge - of real, objective, necessary knowledge - is akin to denying the reality of everything we get from our senses.
Yet, of course, that is what mainstream modern public discourse does assume - that Imagination is a mixture of hallucinations and refers to nothing real. We are in the position of someone who assumes that everything he sees, hears, tastes, touches and feels is a hallucination.
Which neatly explains the strange psychoticism of our Imagination-denying society - its gross and yet systematically un-noticed pathology.
It is is a difference which goes far to explain why Ancient Egypt was so adaptive as to persist for 3,000 years, why The West will not reach 300.
The imagination enables the creation of narratives - the most meaningful of which are mythic. The mind deplores a vacuum and wants to fill in the gaps, and so we draw upon our imagination to build webs of inference, images, poems, fugues, emotions, and instincts. We love what we call "beauty", and that which elicits those moments of 'ah' and 'awe', as well as a sense of presence and infinity - intimate connection and transcendence. Duality establishes the poles, and the string between them is our being, stretched and played into our own expressive music. The imagination facilitates this, and on those occasions where imagination, craft, ecstasy and clear thought come together, great forms emerge which resonate with people across cultures and time. My aim - seldom though sometimes realized - is to try and find those special spaces where these things converge. When that happens the potency of what I create is at its zenith, and I am as a soap bubble floating on gentle breath of air while the sun spins and thins my surface into a mesmerizing rainbow. I love those moments. They sustain me during the dry and cold seasons of life, and can be readily brought back to the surface with a few reflections in a quiet space.
@NF - Yes, but in and of itself that is imagination as psychotherapy. I am talking here about imagination as a way of knowing.
Yes! Beautifully put! A terrific book that I am also (slowly) reading through. I was talking about this with my wife the other day. We were talking about life in this world as a visceral experience of truth. We experience this through the senses but also as actual symbols of divine truth (Mother, Father, Son, Daughter, etc.). However, we are able to divine further knowledge of truth when we couple our 'this worldly' experience with our imagination of the imperceptible world. Together they allow us to reach conclusions that would otherwise be inconceivable.
Bruce, I am wondering what kind of discussions you have with your children about all of this and how they respond to it? If that is too personal of a question to be asking publicly, I understand. I'm just curious because you've said in the past that you don't attend any church regularly and I assume that your children don't either. So, what do you do (if anything) to share your spiritual experience with them?
@ads - I don't want to blog about my family - it would feel like an invasion of their privacy.
Bruce, as a first time poster, let me first thank you for your many posts on this and your other blogs. I particularly enjoy your comments on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Second, given your recent posts on Steiner and related issues, you may be interested in reading "Meditations on the Tarot." This book was written by a follower of Steiner who later joied the RC Church. Its not about fortune telling; rather it uses the images of the tarot cards as inspiration for meditating on the tradition of Christian hermeticism. You may find some interesting overlap with your recent posts. The afterword was written by a RC Cardinal who compares Meditations with some of the Charles Williams novels.
But everyone imagines different things. There's no consistency. That's the main reason for assuming that imagination is not (or not usually) a window onto objective reality.
@WmJas - I don't think this can be accepted as a generalization.
I think it possible that in ancestral societies Imagination was experienced as many persons with different - some better, some worse - views and perspectives on one thing. But even in the modern world there is that big Collective Unconscious/ Perennial Philosophy idea of a shared world accessible via some mystical state like - which could be conceptualized as Imagination.
The Imagination can be coordinated, made 'the same', in people by media such as the Cinema - presumably the majority of the audience can then be made to Imagine in (more or less) unison - many arts and media are similar; and perhaps by extension religious rituals in a society where people know what they mean.
Modern Man finds himself exploring 'the Imaginal world' of unperceived reality as a solo explorer without a map and not knowing the local language - which could account for the large variety of differences in reports.
Your work on imagination is exactly what Sorokin meant by ideational.
In his Social and Cultural Dynamics, his magnum opus, Sorokin classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be "ideational" (reality is spiritual), "sensate" (reality is material), or "idealistic" (a synthesis of the two). He suggested that major civilizations evolve from an ideational, to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. Sorokin has interpreted the contemporary Western civilization as a sensate civilization dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era. In Fads and foibles, he criticizes Lewis Terman's Genetic Studies of Geniusresearch, showing that his selected group of children with high IQs did about as well as a random group of children selected from similar family backgrounds would have done.
Sorokin died in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1968.
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