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Ibn Arabi's Conception of Archetypes

Ibn Arabi provides a very detailed theory of what could be called "Archetypes".  Nowdays this word, the modern popular meaning of which was formulated by the visionary psychologist C. G. Jung, is given a very vague meaning.  It is applied not only to the idea of primordial inherited psychic structures (which would be the "strict" Jungian meaning); but also to the Platonic "Ideas" (which later became, in Christian thought, the "thoughts in the mind of God"); to the Gods of non-monotheistic mythology (Egyptian, Greek, Indian, etc etc); to the angelic hierarchies of esoteric Christianity (Dionysius, Steiner, etc) and other such world-views; and to the Sefirot, the planes or spheres of psychic consciousness, in Hermetic Qabalah; among other things.  All these diffeerent realities are simply called "archetypes".  It is as metaphysically sloppy as using the word "God" to indi-cate any supra-physical and supra-personal reality.

But as Ibn Arabi points out with his succession of Hadarat, it is not the case that there is a single archetypal reality between the Godhead and the material world, but rather that what we could call archetypes manifest in different form on each of the planes of being between the Absolute and the physical world.

The original Essence or Absolute "is void of all qualities and relations, it is the most indetermninate of all indeterminates, the "Thing in itself".  It is indestructable, independent and unchangeable, not a substance, but the One substance." [p.35].

The first stage of Creation is described of as the One (Ahadiyyah) or Absolute, which is inconceivable and beyond all attributes, moving towards Oneness (Wahidiyyah) or Absolute possessing characteristics (equivalent perhaps to the Vedantic distinction between nirguna (qualityless) and saguna (possessing qualities) Brahman).  For Ibn Arabi, the characteristics of the Absolute are the Divine Names.

The Divine Name is the Essence in one or other of its in-finite aspects; a limited and a determinate form of the Essence [p.34].  As the Divine Names are a multiplicity, each possessing unique characteristics in virtue of which it is distinguishable from the other, but essentially they are identical with the One Essence and with each other." [p.36]

Regarded as a unity and as essentially one with the divine Essence, the Names are said to be "active" in thes sense that each Name indicates one or the other of the infinite lines of activity of the One.  As a multiplicity manifested in the external world (for the external world is nothing other than the Divine Names) they are "passive" and receptive." [p.46]

The a`yan thabita are the "fixed prototypes" or "latent realities of things".  Before coming into being, things in the phenomenal world existed as potentialities in the divine Essence of God; as ideas of His future becoming, the content of His eternal knowledge, which is His knowledge of Himself.  As summarised by A. E. Affifi: "God revealed Himself to Himself" in His "First Epiphany or Particularisation (al ta`yyun  al awwal) in which He saw in Himself and for Himself an infinity of a`yan as determinate "forms" of His own Essence, which reflected and in every detail corresponded to His own eternal ideas of them." [The Mystical Philosophy of Ibnul Arabi, p.47]

Sufis are fond of quoting the Qudsi Hadith verse: "I was a hidden treasure.  I desired to be known, so I created the universe "  The Divine conceives of the possibilities contained within Itself, and then brings them forth.  Sufism explains the reason from creation not as being due to an imponderable Divine Will, as asserted by exoteric Theism, or a Divine Play (lila) as in Vedanta, but rather simply for Knowledge of the Self.  Each possibility is express from the purpose of the Divine coming to know Itself [p.12].

Before the creation of human beings, the universe existed, but it was like an unpolished, unreflective mirror, in that it was unconscious of the Divine Presence.  Man's purpose is to polish the mirror, so to speak, through attaining a spiritual state of consciousness.  The mystic thus becames the mirror whereby the Divine Self perceives Itself.  This depends on, the "preparedness"  of the mystic; his or her ability to receive and give birth to the descend of one of the Divine Names.  The Sufi is thus the instrument whereby the Divine experiences Itself.  Being empty of self, the mystic is able to reflect the Divine to the Divine [p.15]

"The a`yan thabita occupy in Ibn Arabi metaphysical system an intermediate position" between the Absolute Reality - the Haqq; "the Real" - and the phenomenal world - Khalq "appearance".  He calls them the "keys to the Unseen" (mafatih al ghayb) and the "first keys" (mafatih al uwal), because they were the opening chapter in creation; "the revelation of the One to Himself as the Creator contemplating in Himself the infinity of His creatures."
[A. E. Affifi, The Mystical Philosophy of Ibnul Arabi, p.52].

The a`yan thabita would seem to be similiar to the logoi or archetypes of the Byzantine theologian, Maximus the Confessor, "In God the ideas (logoi) of all things are fixed; thus...God knows all things before they come forth, for they are in him and with him....All things created are defined, both in their being and their becoming, by their own particular ideas or logoi" [Paulos Mar Gregorios, Amazon com The Human Presence, p.76 (Amity House, Amity, New York, 1987)].

Being intermediary between the Real and the relative, the  a`yan thabita are both active and passive.

This gives us the sequence of:

              One or Essence or Absolute
                      Multiplicity in One; 
                        the Divine Names
                         a`yan thabita 
                       "fixed archetypes" 

The Divine Names are active in relation to the a'yan al thabita (the archetypes of the phenomenal world), and these in turn are active in relation to the external world.  In each case the higher is active in relation to the lower and passive in relation to the higher [A. E. Affifi, The Mystical Philosophy of Ibnul Arabi, p.46].

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 26 June 1998, last modified 6 September 2004