Aug 05 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part IV

Published by at 6:33 pm under Alchemy,Consciousness,Death,Esotericism,Sol Niger,Sufism

‘I can see in the dark,’ boasted Nasrudin one day in the teahouse.

‘If that is so, why do we sometimes see you carrying a light through the streets?’

‘Only to prevent other people from colliding with me.’  – as told by Idries Shah

In his book Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (1993), Peter Lamborn Wilson (yes, I’m aware of his proclivities) discusses the darkness and “black light” in the writings of the 12th Century shaykh Ayn al-Qozat, who equated it with the tragic figure of Iblis (aka “Eblis”) – the angel who disobeyed God out of love for God, refusing to bow before Adam. An interesting parallel in Christianity is the figure of Lucifer, whose name means “light bearer.” Lucifer is now considered one of the names for “the Prince of Darkness.” Al-Qozat explains that

in love there must be both rejection and acceptance, so that the lover may become mature through the grace and wrath of the beloved; if not he remains immature and unproductive. Not everyone can fathom that both Eblis and Mohammad claim to be guides on the path. Eblis guides one away from God, while Mohammad guides one towards God. God appointed Eblis the gatekeeper of his court, saying to him, ‘my lover, because of the jealousy-in-love that you have for me, do not let strangers approach me’ (as quoted in Wilson, p. 90).

Wilson illustrates this in terms of لآ اِلَهَ اِلّا اللّهُ, (la ilaha illa’Llah), describing how “the unworthy will never reach beyond mere negation, the la (no), or attain the inner sanctum of illa’Lah. The guardian or chamberlain of this inner realm is none other than Iblis (p. 90).” Al-Qozat elaborates on the role of Iblis.

Has the black light above the Throne [of God] not been explained to you? It is the light of Eblis…compared with the Divine Light it is darkness, but it is light just the same…hear the word of God! ‘Praise be to God, who has created the heavens and the earth, and has established darkness and light [VI:I]’ How can black be complete without white or white without black be complete? It cannot be so. The Divine Wisdom has so ordained (as quoted in Wilson, p. 91).

In keeping with our alchemical theme of “as above, so below,” Aziz ad-Din Nasafi (a student of Ibn ‘Arabi’s) retells the story of Iblis in terms of the microcosm within each of us.

God delegated his viceregent to represent him in the microcosm, this divine viceregent being ‘intellect.’ When the ‘intellect’ had taken up the viceregency in this microcosm, all the angels of the microcosm prostrated before it, except ‘imagination,’ which did not, refusing to bow, just as when Adam assumed the viceregency in the macrocosm, all the angels prostrated to him except Iblis, who did not (as quoted in Wilson, p. 93).

The importance and power of associating Iblis, “the black light” with imagination cannot be overemphasized. As Wilson explains,

Imagination…both dissipates and concentrates the faculty of remembrance, and seduces both to ‘sin and rebellion’ and to the vision of the divine-in-things. According to Ibn ‘Arabi himself, without images there can be no spiritual realization at all, for the undiffferentiated oneness of the Real can be experienced only through its manifestation as (or in) the multiplicity of creation (p. 94).

Islamic scholar Henry Corbin (1994) tells us that “‘the black light’ is that of the attribute of Majesty which sets the mystic’s being on fire; it is not contemplated; it attacks, invades, annihilates, then annihilates annihilation (p. 108).”

nightsunOn the night of May 28, 2006, I had an experience that I still do not understand. In the middle of the night, while asleep, I suddenly went lucid. Being an active dreamer, this was not troubling in itself, however for what I became aware of in my lucidity, I have no ready explanation.

I found myself hurtling towards a massive (and I mean massive) light, as if being pulled by an intense gravitational force. This was not a free-fall sensation, so much as being drawn towards the light. I felt no fear, but I also knew that this was not the proper time for me to be dealing with this phenomenon. The light was getting closer, surrounding, and penetrating me. I could feel my entire physical body vibrating, almost shaking. I somehow managed to pull myself awake, asserting rather strongly (and with great difficulty) “I…am…HERE” (my bed). I awoke, but still felt myself being pulled out of the back of my body. I closed my eyes again, felt the vibrations return, and found myself once more heading towards, becoming enveloped in, and penetrated by the light. Though the light was white, it possessed what I could detect to be an inner darkness. The only way I can describe this is through a rather weak synaesthetic analogy. A White Russian may look like a glass of milk, but contains tastes (Kahlua, vodka) hidden within it. An unsuspecting person may lift the glass to their mouth, expecting to taste only milk. They would be surprised by the taste of alcohol. In the same way, there was a core of blackness to the white light I was engaging. In some respects, it reminded me of the way sunlight appears during an eclipse (an important image  I will return to towards the end of this series). I managed to pull myself awake a second time, this time sitting up in bed for a while. Eventually I lay back down again, and entered into some kind of dialogue(?)/agreement(?) with the light, and the rest of my sleep was undisturbed.

I cannot comfortably say if this was all a dream, the onset of an out-of-body experience, a near-death experience, a seizure, or something else entirely (I’ve experienced sleep paralysis, and this wasn’t it). I simply do not know.

In an attempt to understand what happened to me that night, I turned again to Henry Corbin (1994).

The ‘black light’ is that of the divine Ipseity [“self”] as the light of revelation, which makes one see. Precisely what makes one see, that is to say, light as absolute subject can in nowise become a visible object. It is in this sense that the Light of of lights (nūr al-anwār), that by which all visible lights are made visible, is both light and darkness, that is visible because it brings about vision, but in itself is invisible (p. 102).

Black Light serves another purpose, for Corbin, echoing the words of Ayn al-Qozat and Aziz ad-Din Nasafi, he states:

The darkness above…in mystical terms…corresponds to the light of the divine Self in-itself (nūr-e dhāt), the black light of the Deus absconditus, the hidden Treasure that aspires to reveal itself, ‘to create perception in order to reveal to itself the object of its perception,’ and which thus can only manifest itself by veiling itself in the object state. This divine darkness does not refer to the lower darkness, that of the black body, the infraconsciousness (nafs ammāra), but to the black Heavens, the black Light in which the ipseity of the Deus absconditus is pre-sensed by the superconsciousness (pp. 100-101).

I want note that for Corbin, the “black body” in this quote would be physical matter, which absorbs light, only to reflect it. For instance, a red object isn’t actually, technically “red,” per physics. It absorbs all light, yet reflects light in the red bandwidth. Corbin talks about this further in terms of Najm Kobrā and Suhrawardi, stating that this is akin to the “fire of dhikr,” causing the “re-emission” of light. Wilson would equate this absorption into the darkness followed by re-emission as the crossing of the threshold guarded by Iblis, moving from “la” to “illa ‘Lah

In terms of Corbin’s description of the “Light of lights (nūr al-anwār), that by which all visible lights are made visible, is both light and darkness, that is, visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible,” we have seen this in terms of imagination, Iblis, and a form of the Divine Self. As above, so below, it can be all of these things. But now that we have pushed into the far reaches of abstraction, let us bring the discussion to realms a little more “this-worldly” (though not entirely). In the next post, I will discuss Corbin’s description of nūr al-anwār“visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible” in terms of an example that is perhaps easier to grasp from within our own paradigm; an example that is widely accepted, if not entirely accepted – the Near-Death Experience. Death and Re-birth. As above, so below.


Corbin, Henry. (1994). The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. New Lebanon, New York: Omega Publishing.

Wilson, Peter Lamborn. (1993). Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

(to be continued)


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