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Corbin, Henry - The Earth of the Emerald Cities



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth – Henry Corbin [translated by Nancy Pearson] 1977

The historian Tabari (9th century) has preserved for us some of the earliest information available about a mysterious region, which his description enables us to identify as the "Earth of the Emerald Cities."

This indication already puts us on the way to establishing the identity of the mountain with the mysterious cities. It is said, in fact, that in this mountain "there is neither sun, nor moon, nor stars."

Now we know that in the Ptolemaic system a characteristic of the ninth Sphere, which comprises the totality of the celestial Spheres and communicates diurnal movement to them, is that it is a heaven without constellations.

Moreover, traditions specifically describe the mountain Qaf as the mountain surrounding our universe and as formed entirely of emerald, the reflection of which produces the green colour of the celestial vault. Or again, it is the rock (sakhra) forming the keystone of the celestial vault and imagined as being composed of emerald and as casting a reflection on the mountain of Qaf.

What the visio smaragdina perceives here is, therefore , the cosmic mountain encircling and overhanging our earthly habitat; the cosmic mountain was also what was perceived as encompassing the visible horizon of Eran-Vej, in medio mundi, at the very place where the Chinvat Bridge projected from a high peak to join this cosmic mountain, whose ascent led the soul to the real of infinite Lights.

Now the geographer Yaqut expressly affirms that the mountain of Qaf was once called the Elburz. Indeed, it is the very same mountain which is the "mother" of all the mountains of the world...

And it is also the one climbed by the pilgrims of the spirit - as in Suhrawardi's "Recital of the Occidental Exile," for example - to reach the emerald rock looming before them like the translucent side of a mystical Sinai. And there, as at the entrance to the Chinvat Bridge of the Mazdean dramaturgy of the soul, the meeting with the archetypal Figure takes place, the celestial Person from whom the terrestrial "I" originates. Therefore the mountain of Qaf marks the boundary between two worlds……. In order to penetrate into the cities hidden on its further side, the mystical pilgrim must have passed beyond the evidence of the sense and common norms, must have faced the ordeals symbolized by the long journey in the Darkness across the distances that separate him from the Earth of the emerald cities.

Of course, insofar as the mountain of Qaf only lends its name to the ancient Elburz, its primordial Image has been projected also on spaces of empirical geography (the Caucasus and its foothills on Iranian soil), which then become the theatre of mythical events.

On the other hand, as a primordial Image, it always marks the extremity of the world, and is inaccessible to men. To reach it, it would be necessary to walk for four months "in the Darkness"; that is why Alexander's progress through the region of Darkness is that of the archetypal spiritual hero, in Avicenna's "Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzan," as well as in the exegesis of the Quranic Sura 18:84, describing how Alexander's Quest led him to the extreme Occident and the extreme Orient of the universe.

Beyond, a region begins that includes many other cities (a country white as silver, forty days' travel in length , inhabited by angels; another country, of gold, seventy countries of musk, each ten thousand days' journey in length and breadth, etc.). In short, to penetrate into these Earths is to gain access to the intermediate climate of the "celestial souls" that move the Spheres and are preeminently endowed with pure Imagination, not depending on the senses. It is the "eighth climate," into which , as into Eran-Vej, one does not penetrate with the organs of sensory perception, but by passing through the "Source of Life", at the psycho-cosmic centre.

The source of the experience

Corbin, Henry

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