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Reimagining Boundaries and the Gods Who Inhabit Them,” with Craig Deininger”

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    Craig Deininger, Ph.D. – mythologist, poet, Jungian scholar, and construction worker – joins us this week in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss “Reimagining Boundaries and the Gods Who Inhabit Them” (click on title to read), his latest contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series. This is an opportunity for you to engage a boundary-breaking (pun intended) mythologist with your questions, observations, and insights inspired by his essay.

    I’ll break the ice . . .

    Craig, it has been far too long since you have joined us in COHO (some seven months, by my reckoning!), but it’s clearly worth the wait! You do dive deep, moving beyond the dictionary definition of borders and boundaries, adding depth and dimension to our understanding of this concept by exploring “the imaginal perspective.”

    Though one doesn’t necessarily need to be grounded in the work of Carl Jung, James Hillman, and other depth psychologists to appreciate this thought-piece, perhaps you could take a moment to distinguish what is meant by “the imaginal realm” for the more literal-minded among us. I’m pretty sure most would agree that Thor, Kali, Yahweh, Raven, Isis, Jesus, Coyote, Wakan-tanka, Brigid, Vishnu, Legbe, Kuan-yin, Hermes and company aren’t literally hanging out in the Great Hall of Archetypes somewhere, waiting to see if the Marvel Universe extends them a film option – but then, does “imaginal” mean mythic figures are simply “pretend”?

    One could (as many have) write volumes on this subject; I’m not suggesting anything so detailed – but maybe you could take a shot at providing a simple, thumbnail explanation? Or is your discussion about moving beyond rational ends to the mysterium tremendum about as close as one can come to putting it into words, with anything more definitive about as effective for understanding the elegance and beauty of a living creature as dissecting a frog or nailing a butterfly to a pegboard?



    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.










    Welcome back Craig!
    And you have returned with another excellent and thought provoking essay!
    I love the way you expand the definition of boundaries or boundary beyond a one dimensional line!
    This reminds me of a character in a Sci-fi/fantasy book I read. It was a Charles Delint book (circa 1990s—urban fantasy.) The character was “Jilly Coppercorn.” Loved this character.
    She is an artist/painter…and sometimes she paints what she sees in dreams or imaginal realms.
    But there is this one time when a rational friend of hers gives Jilly a hard time about what is real and what is imaginary.
    It’s been many years so I don’t remember the exact quotes. But the jist has to do with “that line in between.”
    But I love “Jilly’s” response to her friend. Jilly says, “The funny thing about that line between what is real and imaginary is that it’s an imaginary line.”

    I loved that!
    Talk about blurring boundaries!
    And then when you talk about opening up the dimensions of the line, it reminds me of the way in the past, certain boundaries were perceived as veils (between one thing and another.)

    So there is definitely more volume in that! And in addition in the Gaelic cultures, as well as others perhaps, there was this belief in the “thinning of the veil or veils,” at certain times of year.

    So then, not only did those boundaries have more dimension and volume than a two dimensional line, but their dimension and volume were also capable of shifting and changing (from thick to thin!)

    And the funny thing about the metaphor of a curtain or veil is that even though it could be still, it does not have to be.
    The imaginal can take that from a wind blowing the veil and boundary to the experience of something akin to watching the ever shifting colors of the auroral borealis veiling the stars in vibrant lights.

    I have other thoughts/ponders? on the rational pushback against the imaginal.


    But one thing at a time!

    Certainly enjoyed reading this essay!

    Thank you again!



    Hello Sunbug,

    Great stuff, as always. And my apologies for the delayed response, as I have been, and remain in, an intensely heavy crunch which ends a few days before the solstice–to give me time to prepare for a “thinned” veil encounter, as you point out. And so glad you do, as anything “veil”  is a top-shelf metaphor for frontiers, dimensions, perception, epiphanies [literally epi-phanastai], etc.

    So whenever that word comes up, I hone in on it.

    I’d love to hear some more from you on those thinning times, or on one particular time, in the Gaelic traditions, I’m thinking of the Samhain as one, but am much more interested in hearing new perspectives, since a good many of my perspectives are beginning to feel old hat to me, which is, ironically, refreshing–this new emerging pattern, perhaps indicating I am no longer a know-it-all teen. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. 🙂

    I love also the analogy via Jilly in that novel where the characters are debating the boundary–where the  characters are, rather, “fencing”  [ha, could not resist :)] and not debating. And Jilly says: “The funny thing about that line between what is real and imaginary is that it’s an imaginary line.”

    What a brilliant move, giving ownership of boundaries to the imaginal. Though I am obligated to approach, simultaneously, that line’s rational contexts–not so much to be “open-minded” but more  to leverage, deepen, contextualize, hone my understanding of imaginal through that action–[cf., Jung on exercising the inferior function.]

    But I do not want to bend the conversation into stuff like the four functions and would much rather hear more on the magic, if I may use the word, of the Gaelic tradition’s interaction with, and wisdom of the thinning.




    No apologies necessary Craig! I understand!
    I have always been drawn to the Celtic or Gaelic legends (as well as the Native American traditions of this country…)

    My mother was drawn to those Celtic traditions as well (maybe a little of that in our blood)

    She bought a beautiful stain glass window with a Celtic pattern, which symbolized no matter where you go you return home.
    Mother was an astronomer, earth scientist and artist.

    And I remember reading legends about Cumhulain and Finn McCumhal at quite a young age. In addition to books on astronomy and earth science, Mother also had a collection of books related to the Gaels/early Britons, both history and legend as well as later historical fiction and legend inspired fiction. It was delightful!

    And I learned through various self study…including Campbell and what other books I could find…though my knowledge could still be limited.
    I am familiar with the Mabinogion and the seasonal celebrations from Imbolc (Feb 1st the feast of Brighid goddess of smith craft, fire and poetry and healing sometimes also associated with St Brighid)

    Beltane May 1st

    The equinoxes and the solstices

    (since my Mother was an astronomer she appreciated these times)

    And Lughnasa in August. In addition to Samhain.

    Yes alas I was thinking about Samhain!

    For me the equinoxes and the solstices hold the potential of a veil. And along with the other times have a sense of in between.

    One thing I do remember, which crosses over out of those various tales and the later fictions they inspired is “the purple hour.”

    My mother loved observational astronomy the best and as an artist, she had a love and appreciation of color as well as the constellations, moon, stars and other astral bodies.

    Something as subtle as the color change of the sky often caught her attention.

    There is a time when the sky turns this “uncertain purple.” It may be just before or after twilight.
    Yes I suppose one could call it the “witching hour,” but it always felt to me that it was indirectly related to those early Gaelic traditions. Or maybe has earlier origins elsewhere.

    But the cool thing about it is that it’s not relegated to season but is hidden within the passage of every day. As long as no storm. So that feels like another boundary or veil to me!
    I’m sure there are others out there with much more knowledge than me and who have studied more in depth on Gaelic history, myth and legend!

    I learned a wee bit when dancing with a Celtic rock band whose leader was a music/history professor and storyteller  who knew quite a bit about Gaelic history/legend.

    under legend/tradition:

    The Wintry Queen…the battle between the Oak and holly king. And darkly mischievous faeries.

    And what I have read is fascinating…too…

    My cat Taliesin was named for the Welsh bard. And indeed seemed to be gifted with a similar charm that wrapped people around his long Siamese tail!

    This is a bit off subject,  but it has always intrigued me that both the Gaels and the Cherokee have similar traditions of “little people,” and “immortals.”

    And the immortals would help the Cherokee fend off attack and they would come out of the ground but it reminded me of the old stories of mounds in Gaelic country (well accounting for the variations between early Gaels, Welsh and early Britons)

    And the little people were both helpful and mischievous.

    I love mythology!

    I want to know more too! And love coming here because there is always something new to learn…sometimes have to freshen my perspectives!

    Even with familiarity of Campbell and a small bit of Jung…somehow the word “imaginal,” escaped until I returned to this board. so that’s fascinating!

    I certainly understand the need to give it more than an imaginary substance to delve into it!

    And I’m also curious about the coining of the word “imaginal” to steer it away from the “imaginary,” so it would not be dismissed.

    Thank you for the essay!


    I want to make this short as it’s so much more fun to delve into that “magic,” and “the imaginal,” which stands on its own as well as being the substance of imagination (as you suggest…and inspiration…the realm of the muses.)

    My perception of the “pushback” against the “imaginal,” by the “rational minded,” is that perhaps there is one fear of a return to more religious ways. Or even back to medievalism. If the imaginal is perceived as “not real,” from ration’s point of view…Then any attention given to it could revert back to non-real elements and either create a religion or draw people back to a religious mindset.
    Or worse yet draw people to cults…of any type.
    (Though my take would be both of the above would “cage” the “imaginal” rather than support it)

    And 3rd there seems to be more issue with “magical thinking,” today?

    self help books waiting like “gurus” at every corner of Walmart, Books a million, or “inside,” kindle apps.
    And it’s hard to disentangle the “imaginal” from that!

    So maybe, some rational minds regard the “imaginal,” as a gateway to de-evolution?And delusion? And perceive ration as the only hope for the world?

    It seems kind of sad to think of imagination that way, as though its end potential will always be Pandora’s box…

    rather than being a well or veil of inspiration or transcendence or mystery. Oops the word is “imaginal.”
    And I’m quite aware it has much more thickness and depth than what I said above!


    Though it seems, that not so long ago, the rational thinkers also used to be philosophers and there was more balance.
    And Einstein once  said “imagination encompasses the whole world.”




    That’s a wealth of knowledge you have on the Gaelic mythology/mythologies. And between the two of us, I am quite sure you are the more deeply immersed. I remember when I got to study the Tain Bo Cuilinge and Mabinogian at Oxford during a semester abroad. But even better was the trekking and backpacking that ensued for the last month before fall semester began where I basically visited every site I could from the Orkneys and Hebrides all the way down through Scotland, England, Wales and Cornwall.

    Often trespassing, always sleeping inside the stone circles or in the avenues of standing stones or what not. Was all magical, and in my younger days (which made it even more magical).

    Basically wanted to know the tradition, wanted to touch the mystery via an osmosis kind of thing.

    And since you mention Taliesin and Wales, for me that was where the magic–or at least the atmosphere was richest in many ways–especially on both sides of the England/Wales border. And I hear you on all the “magical thinking”–the books at Walmart on the topic–which dilute with unfounded fantasy. For it to be “real magic” (ha, and there’s an amusing contrast with those two words), I think it requires some heavy roots. An element of real-ness which is in this case, yes, is rational. That compensatory, leveraging counterpart. (Will get to that other aspect of rational in the presence of the imaginal, however).

    How fortunate for you to have grown up with a mother who was both painter and astronomer–the marriage of art and science worth its weight in, well, silver–to honor our topic.

    For me, such “magical” myths and places do summon an imaginal quality, as the imaginal has become for me my chief means of accessing what is beyond my reach–or at least, a means of sending me in the direction.

    And it all comes down to what’s real to the psyche. But, again, I do mean “real.” It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I now see the truth in that. So that real value of imaginal content, that heavy roots thing that “magic” requires to be sustained, I feel I am on the right track especially when I track how my body chemistry follows my imaginings—the experiences of the practice become real and tangible—things like changes in heartbeat and pulse, or tears and laughter. All from traveling to a dimension that we are conditioned to believe is not real.

    I do feel it is worthy of exploration.


    When you mentioned the Tain Bo Cuilinge, it made me pause. So I looked it up “Cattle Raid of Cooley.” Then ohhhh! (Haha) Though it’s been a long while…so it was nice to refresh my memory.
    But to be on site or near those sacred places…Orkney…standing stones…

    Yes, that is even better! I have not been to any of those places! (only briefly to England for a Beatles tour in 2018. Not much time to go off trail.)

    And I remember your mentioning backpack trekking in relation to another essay.

    It’s one thing to read about such places in a book but something else entirely to be there! Then there is that something else…that calls. Much more than ambience alone. Energy?


    I’ve had other experiences…my family and I visited Mesa verde years ago on a trip out west. Dad and I saw the Kivas and climbed up the steep ladders to get back out. (My mom didn’t like heights so she stayed up at the top)

    But when I saw the small handprint in the stone where the people used to free climb…(as I clung to mt and ladder tightly) it took my breath.

    And there is something about the cloisters in Manhattan as well. All the stone and objects some over 500 years old brought from overseas?
    There is a sense there. And my Mother and I and a friend had an experience worthy of the imaginal, which involved chanting monks.

    We were walking through the cloisters and suddenly these deep male voices are chanting (like the Gregorian monks)

    And it sounds close, very close…so the three of us try to see where it’s coming from…and it felt like the sound was moving. 

    Even another lady peeps her head out a doorway…she hears it too but she’s the only other one.

    Any moment I expected to enter a chamber and see the monks…but when

    we came through a door it was just the main hall entrance. I felt a little disoriented. (Speaking of those shifts and senses in the body, heartbeat etc)
    (And no it wasn’t the music in the gift shop…I checked…they were playing female singers and had been for awhile.)

    I also asked a custodian if there was a performance or rehearsal happening and she thought I wanted the performance schedule…but there wasn’t currently a performance or rehearsal happening.

    Don’t know what to call all that, other than mystery. But certainly have not forgotten!

    On a slightly different note, my Mother introduced science to me through wonder…holding fallen leaves and seeing the differences in their shapes…looking at the shadows, seas and craters on the moon but introducing that by asking if I see the “woman in the moon? Her long hair?”

    or the “ears of the rabbit?” from the Cherokee tale…since she and my Dad taught for one year in the 70s on the NC reservation…Mother/astronomy and earth science. Dad/mathematics.

    My mother certainly had knowledge of Newtonian physics and all those other facts related to astronomy. And she shared her knowledge with others.

    She also had the wonderful experience of teaching astronomy at Fernbank Science center and was there in 1969 when NBC came down to cover Apollo 11. She saw the lunar module through the big telescope.
    In later years, she continued to teach in other places: high schools, community colleges, local libraries and nature centers…

    But observational astronomy was always what she loved the most.
    AND she loved to  “share that experience of seeing the stars,” with other people.

    People never forgot the sights she showed them through her telescopes.

    Even years later, people come up and tell me just how much it meant to them.

    My Mother felt a little sad that some of her contemporaries were primarily focused on “rote learning” and “memorization.” I think it was that human connection…and the ability to share the Awe and Wonder…of experiencing the stars, the heavens…that truly inspired my Mother!

    (to allow others to discover that experience for themselves.)

    I think that is what my Mother loved most about astronomy and teaching!

    And I know it made a difference. That especially hit home, when I was a kid and mother invited up a play director and her 24 year old son. Her son had leukemia.
    He loved every moment of seeing the stars and nebulas  and told my mom…one night you’ll look up and I’ll be up there.

    Heart wrenching.

    But forgive me…I’ve gone way off track here!

    As for other veils and boundaries, Tolkien conjures a wonderful image in Lord of the Rings.

    “The gray curtain of the world will rise…and all will turn to silver glass…”

    And I’m not so sure that Tolkien does not delve into the imaginal in some of his essays…well at least the one on “Faerie?” It surprised me when I first read it…both considering his background as scholar and tutelage under his adoptive father, a catholic priest.
    But I think others have pointed out, that some of his writings come from different viewpoints…so that makes sense…contradictions, conflicts, different opinions…changing thoughts etc.

    I’m sure that is true of many others as well!

    It is fascinating to me how the “imaginal,” gives a “place,” for a “certain awareness.”
    Thank goodness for poetry, music and art…those all help express those places in-between…those boundaries…

    while perhaps they also add a balance of grounding lest one go spinning off into space…or maybe they provide an “imaginal vehicle?” Who knows!

    Thank you for another thought provoking essay!





    Thank you for that. I’m moved by your appreciation of experience and wonder. What a great magic moment with the “moving” chanting of monks. I’d call that a liminal event! 🙂  You mention going off-topic, but that is rarely the read I get in this venue, nor in things mythic, the great value of ceding space for effortless intuition, for imagining (to which you offer a great approach–as “vehicle”).

    I am touched by the tragedy of the play director’s son, that kind of courage or light-heartedness, or simplicity, or sincerity, whatever it is, of saying a thing like that in the face of such loss–indeed of  a magnitude beyond what I have encountered in this lifetime. I am silent.

    I think, as ever, that we stay with the experience in our travels through myth. Whether Anasazi or Gaelic, Cherokee or Manhattan, I hear you, being there, touching it, breathing the air around it, all that, that only art can come nearest to revealling experientially. And like you say, the wonder, and mystery, that reveals that part of scienc which is, secretly, art. For me, any sharp, overarching or underlying distinctions between science and art ended some years ago–thank god. What a liberation.

    As being serious about being a poet since 1985, my one rule was (and again until recently–when I learned that imaginal travel and experience are no more, no less, but equally valid) “If you’re gonna write about it, you better have gone there and done it first.”

    So that was my brilliant recipe for too many misadventures, too many times hanging by the proverbial thread, and generous luck and grace and whatever else went out of her way to intervene. Though eventually, “she” (as this is the pronoun I intuit for such) became less and less available–she saying something like “I’ve been working overtime for you long enough, you reckless fool. Time you carried some autonomy, and engage the play thoughtfully. Learn your limitations. Find your freedom within them.” With enough heavy losses, I finally got the message. Getting old helped too. Ha.

    Yes, Mesa Verde is special. I lived in Moab a couple years, and also in Durango along with many other parts of desert or mountain of North America, but recall the times the park rangers were very reluctant to provide backcountry permits–due to risk, severe conditions, 115 in the shade, no water for many, many miles. And many more from the calvary, as they say–and indeed on a couple occasions quite nearly bought the farm–from thirst!–ha, makes me think of Madame Sosostris’s “fear death by water.” So it would have been. Fortunate, anyway, in youth to have been driven by the unknown and seasoned enough to pursue it on such concrete terms, so took advantage of it while the window was open. Now a porchdeck and sunsets and starlight and birds are adventure and wonder.

    I remember hearing first from a great teacher at Pacifica that you cannot separate a mythology from its geography. And to what you were saying of imagination as a vehicle, I think also, geography as a vehicle, a center of gravity, that holds the–or bends the?–archetype to that geography’s context so that it can be. So that it can exist within the pre-prescribed limits to accommodate phenomenality within the region or maybe laws of the dimension that holds/permeates it. Perhaps its a rule of resonance or harmony? (cf. Garfurius ‘music of the spheres’?) and in this way only, embodied, and walk through and among other embodiments–miracles–I guess they are, but only in the rare moments when the inspiration or “wonder” as you mention, is upon me. Those rare, welcome times–but made more frequent when the imagination is involved. I do believe it is the intermediary between spirit and matter, and has a foot in each world.




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