by Barbara Croner & Sheila Joshi
A new map of new territory
This weekend we attended a lecture by San Francisco Jungian analyst
Richard Stein, MD, who introduced us to a way of thinking about reality
that helped illuminate some of the problems that come with a psychic
opening that is brought about by neurological damage or is otherwise
Dr. Stein introduced us to the work of Henry Corbin (1903 – 1978), who
was a professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne, a Christian
theologian, and an expert on 12th and 13th c. Sufism and Persian
Corbin coined the term “Mundus Imaginalis” to explain to Westerners the
Sufi account of a territory that exists between the physical, sensory
world and the spirit world (which Plato saw as consisting of ideal
forms, but which some conceptualize as formless). This intermediate
world has its own consistent topography, but is also constantly
influenced and shaped by the physical and the spiritual worlds.
The Mundus Imaginalis is something like the Christian heaven; it’s the
part of reality where archetypes exist; it is peopled by beings,
We embodied humans both perceive this Mundus Imaginalis and we create
in it. It’s where synchronicities and creative leaps happen, where
grace reaches us. It’s where the experiences we call psychic happen,
as well as dreams (Rossi, p. 4).
It’s a tricky term because Corbin seems to have had in mind a very real
part of reality, but at least one of the ways it is accessed and
influenced by us is via our imagination. Yet, in some ways, the Mundus
Imaginalis is more real than the physical, sensory world we call real.
Corbin also used the term “active imagination,” which he may have got
from Jung, or may have developed simultaneously. It is a method of
perception and exploration that is supposed to straddle the physical
world and the Mundus Imaginalis, allowing interplay between them (Voss,
British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s concepts of “potential space”
and “transitional phenomena” seem related. Transitional phenomena are
objects or artistic products or ideas that may be found or created by
someone, which are both concretely real, yet also have innate or
endowed magic – like a baby’s favorite blanket.
Potential space is Winnicott’s conceptualization of a state or field
where transitional phenomena are found and / or created. An example of
being in potential space would be the composer who writes a piece of
music, yet might also feel it was communicated to her by a Muse.
The use of transitional phenomena (like a comforting blanket or
favorite piece of music) can also prop up the potential space, making
further play, creativity, and discovery even more likely.
Getting lost and scared in the new territory
Now, what happens if you have a psychic opening that is brought about
by neurological damage or is otherwise abrupt, distressing, and
discontinuous with your previous weltanschauung?
Theoretically, you now have suddenly increased access to the Mundus
Imaginalis. This is supposed to be a desirable thing, expanding your
capacity for creativity, grace, and mystical fun. But, nooooooooo. We
seem to experience it as frightening and overwhelming. And we imagine
In fact, it seems like most people going through an abrupt psychic
opening (including those of us in recovery from psych med neuro
damage) have too much imagination. And it all has a relentlessly
negative bias. To varying degrees, and with varying focuses, we all
seem to start creating / finding bêtes noires.
Richard Stein said that when you first encounter a repressed aspect of
yourself or your culture, it almost always comes up first as dark --
almost as if it were angry or vengeful for awhile for having been
neglected by you for so long.
Psychologist Kaye Rossi, Ph.D. made the very interesting claim that
“hitting bottom” --when someone’s life falls apart due to addiction
such that they finally become able to stop being as addicted -- occurs
in the Mundus Imaginalis (p. 29).
According to one of the working hypotheses of this blog, distressing
psychic openings happen for reasons analogous to hitting bottom (see 29
Feb 12 post).
Rossi said that, when hitting bottom, the addicted person unwittingly
co-creates with other intelligences in the Mundus Imaginalis some kind
of synchronicity or wake up call that makes it possible and necessary
to start letting go of the addiction (pp. 216-223).
Clearly, it is better to be admitted to this level of awareness than
not, even if admittance is initially frightening and requires painful
purification and evolution. But, for some of us, it is, at first, a
perilous hero’s journey, fraught with terrors. Like Orpheus, you have
to be careful where you look.
English Religious Studies Lecturer Angela Voss, Ph.D. wrote that if
active imagination “is solely directed downwards toward matter it can
only produce images which are ‘fantastic, imaginary, unreal or even
absurd’ whose attraction is surface-deep and which flutter on the walls
of the cave in which men are fettered. The task of human beings then
is to purify and liberate the soul so that it may begin to pick up, as
it were, the traces of divine meaning behind the appearances of things”
(Voss, p. 5).
Finding and / or creating a wonderful home in the new territory
In other words, if we keep going, and purify ourselves neurologically,
psychologically, and spiritually, we become more proficient in the
Mundus Imaginalis. Then, having a lot of imagination starts to become
According to the 12th c Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, it is our spiritual
aspiration, or “himma” that facilitates the presence of the
sought-after through the very act of desiring it. Corbin says himma
can concretely create that which it seeks (Voss, p. 9).
“The himma of a mystic can create changes in the world through an
intensity of imagination that resonates on the plane of archetypal
Ideas; he is thus himself a divine creator who establishes the patterns
from which material forms derive. What we call a miracle is the result
of such a capacity to bring spiritual power to bear on matter and cut
through the literal dimension of cause and effect” (Voss, p. 9).
Seth, the famous being channeled by medium Jane Roberts said something
strikingly similar: “Imagination and emotions are the most
concentrated forms of energy that you possess as physical creatures.
Any strong emotion carries within it far more energy than, say, that
required to send a rocket to the moon. Emotions, instead of propelling
a physical rocket, for example, send thoughts from this interior
reality through the barrier between nonphysical and physical into the
objective world — no small feat, and one that is constantly repeated”
(Seth, The Nature of Personal Reality, p. 95).
So, although at one point in the process we seem to have “too much”
imagination, and it plagues us, the solution may lie in having even
more imagination. As we develop our relationship with the Mundus
Imaginalis, our imagination begins to come from a deeper part of
ourselves, so that what is found or created is more truly great for us,
more individual, more apposite, than anything we could have imagined
for ourselves before we tumbled into the opening.
Rossi, Kaye. (2004). Synchronicity and hitting bottom: A Jungian
perspective on the return of the return of the feminine through
addiction and recovery. Pacifica Graduate Institute dissertation.
Stein, Richard. (2012). The work of Henry Corbin: Reflections on
Persian Sufism and Jung’s psychology. Lecture, 17 March 2012, The C.G.
Jung Institute, San Francisco.
Voss, Angela. (2007). Becoming an angel: The Mundus imaginalis of
Henry Corbin and the Platonic path of self-knowledge.
Barbara Croner, M.F.T. is a psychotherapist in
San Francisco, and a co-founder of the International Antidepressant Withdrawal Project.