Thank you so much, Stephen. It’s great to be back after a long spell. And I appreciate the opportunity to share a few words on the “imaginal realm” as you suggest.
Although I could go on way too long about my understanding of its history, theory, perspectives, I’d like to go light on the explanation of what the imaginal realm “is” to leave room for the more immediate value (for me, at least) of what it “does.”
So first, in very brief terms, the what it is:
My introduction to the imaginal realm is by way of Henry Corbin, who coined the term “imaginal” to free the subject of imagination from the dismissive connotations (and denotations) that accompany the word “imaginary,” and whose books are extraordinarily precise expositions of the gnostic phenomena that surround and inhabit imagination.
A good place to begin to address the imaginal realm’s structure—[and now I’m going on my own words if I may, mostly because I’m feeling pretty saturated at this point with Corbin’s ideas, and with a good many of Jung’s (who worked with Corbin), and with Hillman’s (who absolutely championed him)]—is that the imagination is a tangible dimension, (albeit of a psychic consistency) (and is not without its texture) and it absolutely does exist, AND that it does so independently of “me.” It is simply there. Like Stonehenge or Mount Everest.
And even though the imaginal realm is apparently independent of my imagination, my imagination is composed of the very same substance, while simultaneously, my imagination is distinct from it, like a modem through which I log onto the mainframe, as it were—so we can call the individual imagination a drop participating in an ocean. And one step further, Corbin emphasizes this dimension as “intermediary” and hence intermediating between us humans in the profane and all those deities/archetypal energies/etc. who inhabit the sacred.
At this point, I must emphasize the great importance—nay, the necessity!—of dropping the rational impulse to demand proof of the above premises or of the impulse to disprove them. Rather, the surest way in is to approach imagination “as if” these premises were certainties–indeed, by imagining them to be so, and then see what happens. This is the only way I know of to truly get “in.” And then, once in, please do proceed with every and all rational evaluations and rebuttals desired or required. And I’d like to bookmark this part for later, if I or anyone remembers. For the rational will exclude one from the imaginal as surely as doubt will enfeeble an actor’s or athlete’s performance.
Anyway, once in the imaginal realm, one can participate and create (though on a deeper lever, the word is actually co-create, but that for maybe later), in the making of content—i.e., images, be they visual (seen) or aural (audible) or tactile (which covers emotional and intuitive content since these are “felt”)— out of the very substance of which this imaginal realm is made, a substance that Corbin gives such names as immaterial matter and subtile matter, and which has a tangibility of such sparseness, of such nearly substanceless substance that it wavers on the cusp of nothing which is precisely what gives it its unmatched magnitude of plasticity, versatility, liquidity. How effortless it is to paint, sculpt, etc., in such a medium: in less than half a second, I can arrange a lion racing a Lamborghini through my kitchen and out across the lawn and on, engines roaring, speeding into the Iowa dusk and, of course, have the lion win.
And now it becomes clear why I wanted to avoid what the imaginal realm is, ha.
I must acknowledge that I have glossed over so many aspects, and indeed presented it in such abridged format that certain parts could be said to be inaccurate or even incorrect. However, any such would not be inaccuracies of essence, but rather of a lack of more comprehensive context. Nonetheless, the bottom line, in my book, is that one can “travel” there—can “journey” there, and it’s as easy as imagining a bright red barn, or a lion racing a Lambo, and suddenly one is “in” and doing it. It’s that easy. The mystery, as always, right under our noses.
So, that’s the “is.” And now, very briefly, since I’ve gone on too long on the “is,” is the what it “does:”
For me these days, slowing down on the life-curve at 55, I have encountered profound renewal in being around and, indeed, inside imagination—“renewal,” literally [as in to “make new again”] comes with the act of imagining, of engaging the practice of traveling to that realm—of journeying to and through it. Of being saturated by it through the making or doing of one’s art, whatever that art may be—gardening, writing, building, painting…. Renewal of what? Of creative energy, of attitude, of sensitivity, perception—which therefore causes me to suspect a physics-correlation, in which as one travels to subtler levels of matter (cf. subtile matter) one approaches the frontier of energy. And no wonder the children and philosophers, mystics and neurotics and wild disheveled artists seem to constitute the heavyweights of the imagineers among us. I mean, just go into a roomful of unsupervised kindergarteners and it’s the pure chaos of quantum foam, the wonderful dreadful little creatures pinging off the walls like electrons, running amok among unicorns, rainbows, snuffaluffagi and meteors, and whatever other wild content that I can hardly guess—and can only imagine.