When Ibn al’Arabi talks about the imagination, he places it in the category of things that makes us a proper image of the divine. When we engage our imagination fully, we imitate the creative act through which God created the world. This mirroring is one of the reasons that we can even begin to make sense of what would otherwise be the utter ineffability of God, though it is also the source of a lot of our misunderstandings, too. Our imagination is concrete and specific, motivated by, and concerned with, other concrete and specific things. God’s creative power is total, which is something we don’t have the chops to grasp.
The objects of our imagination are similarly inferior. They are dependent upon the imaginer as the created world is dependent on God. Imagination is finite like the imaginer and when the imaginer turns their attention from it, the objects of it cease to exist, unless the imaginer returns attention to them. There is an exception for Ibn al’Arabi, though. It is possible for another spirit to take interest in the imagined object and sustain it for the imaginer. This gives the imagined object a degree of independence from the imaginer.
I want to develop this within the framework that I have laid out here. I don’t have anything too fancy in mind, just a few observations.
With Enough Men to Make an Angel
While Ibn al’Arabi speaks of other spirits like angels taking over for the imaginer, it is entirely possible for other humans to do so, too. I suspect Ibn al’Arabi doesn’t focus overmuch on that possibility simply because it was so rare during his time for enough people to nourish an imaginary object with enough attention to sustain it.
Contrast that with the present where industrialization has produced both luxury and population on an unimagined scale. There are more people and many have attention to spare. on the imagined objects of their fellows. What once required an angel may now be achieved by distributed human imagination. This distributed attention will be distinct from angelic attention, though, as the quality of imagination brought to the subject will vary widely.
(Bonus: Read the Tower of Babel story with this in mind. Read some fan fiction.)
Heating the Waters
What is it that we do when we imagine? From my somewhat peculiar Kabbalistic perspective, imagination extrudes a coil within our personal Yesod. While that coil is more fragile and tends to collapse back into our Yesod, when it operates it can be strengthened and intensified just like our own. Our spiritual vitality may be channeled through it and purified.
The narrowness of this micro-coil limits the thoroughness of the purification, but it is nonetheless a real one.
(Bonus: Consider what artists actually do to produce a work of art, the process of vision and revisioning, in this light.)
Unfurling the Hidden Banners
What manifests in imagination unfolds from within our own power. Whiile the process takes place in the passive sphere of Yesod, the force that guides the imagination originates in Tifaret. When the two are allowed a degree of free play, what we uncover in the process tells us both about our divine character (the force within Tifaret) as well as our psychic disposition (which provides the medium for imagination).
Carl Jung made this technique one of the keystones of his psychological method and though often disparaged by spiritual sorts as mere play, what manifests in that play provides hints of both our character and our destiny.
(Bonus: Read Liber Novus / The Red Book and ask yourself what else is going on in Jung’s account.)