Hurqalya, Earth of Visions

~Henry Corbin

Suhrawardi relates in one of his books how, during a period of overwork and spiritual ordeal brought on by meditation on the problem of Knowledge, up to then unsolved by him, one night, while still in an intermediate state between waking and sleeping, he was gratified by the apparition of the Imam of Philosophers, the Primus Magister, Aristotle. The beauty and the delicate light of the vision are carefully described; then the author reports what was in fact a long dialogue, evoking one after another high doctrinal themes. Elsewhere, referring to this memorable conversation, he speaks of it as an event that took place in the mystical station of Jabarsa. This is both a subtle and a precise way to define the consistence of the pure psycho-spiritual event as penetration into one of the emerald cities. Precisely, the first advice given by Aristotle's apparition to his visionary, in order to free him from the problem troubling him, from which he found no relief in philosophy books, is this : "Awake to yourself." For, with this "awakening to oneself" the whole inner experience of the Ishraq expands, that is the experience of the rising of the light, of the light in its Orient. When it awakens to itself, the soul is itself this rising dawn, itself the substance of the Orient Light. The "Earths" that it illuminates are no longer, for it, a collection of outer places and things, knowable only through descriptive science ('ilm rasmi) ; they are, for the soul, its very presence to itself, its absolute activity, which it knows through "presential science" ('ilm huduri), that is, through this "Oriental knowledge" ('ilm ishraqi) which can be characterized as cognitio matutina. To this day Iran has preserved this tradition.

Hermes is the ideal hero of this cognitio matutina. This is the second experimental datum borrowed also from Suhrawardi's works. As one can be easily convinced, the person of Hermes is there as a substitute for that of the author to thematize the personal event. It is a dramaturgy of ecstasy, the description of which is striking: "One night when the sun was shining, Hermes was praying in the temple of Light. When the column of dawn burst forth, he saw an Earth being swallowed up with cities on which the divine anger had fallen, and they toppled into the abyss. Then he cried out : 'Thou who art my father, save me from being imprisoned with those who are near perdition!' And he heard a voice cry out in response : 'Grab the cable of our Irradiation and ascend to the battlements of the Throne.' So he ascended and under his feet, Lo! Earth and Heavens.''

Suhrawardi's commentators have devoted themselves to deciphering the meaning of this episode; it seems that it can be clearly interpreted without too much difficulty. The episode constituter, a case of celestial "inner" ascension, such as are given in visionary biographies, Zarathustra's as well as that of the Prophet of Islam during the night of the Mi'raj and it is such cases which have contributed to the need, particularly in Shaikhism, for the doctrine of the "spiritual body."

Let us select the main features that here give the event its meaning for our search. There is the Earth, which is engulfed with its cities : it is the terrestrial Earth together with the faculties of sensory perception that apprehend it; they fall and vanish at dawn, that is, in the first gleam of the vision of ecstasy. Mention is then made of an Earth and of Heavens that Hermes, thereafter, has under his feet. Henceforth, Hermes is indeed on the Earth of Hurqalya, which implies that he has left below him all the Heavens of the physical cosmos, the "celestial Occident" of the material world. Then the synchronism of the episodes is itself significant, confirming what we had noted in the event taking place in Jabarsa; there is a coincidence between dawn's breaking and the awakening to one's self. For, this sun near which, at night, Hermes was praying, is his very soul which, in arising to itself, lets the empirical facts imposed upon him by his terrestrial sojourn sink back into their darkness : this sun is the spirit's "midnight sun" or "aurora borealis." But at the moment of this breaking dawn, there is such danger that Hermes calls on his supreme recourse for assistance : the celestial Ego from whom he originates, to whom he returns, and who can be understood here, in the very terms of the Ishraqi philosophy, both as "Perfect Nature," the archetypal "I" or guardian Angel of the philosopher, as well as the Angel of humanity, who is both active Intelligence and the Angel Gabriel or Holy Spirit from whom human souls emanate. Rising dawn and awakening to oneself, penetration into the Earth of Hurqalya and meeting with the celestial alter ego, these are the complementary aspects of the same event that proclaims the transmutation of the soul, its birth into the intermediary world.

From: 'Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth. From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran'