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Visiting the Imaginal Realm

By Phyllis Stein
April 22, 2010

Do you believe that you have to give up your intellect to experience magic? Could that be a false belief?

When I was little, even though I grew up in a militantly atheistic home, I wanted to believe in God like some of my friends did.  Except that in my mind, God was this guy with a long white beard who controlled everything.   You had to pray to him and hope of the best, but it was a long shot.  I could not wrap my mind around this God.  I believed that I had to somehow accept something that was contrary to my experience of reality, sort of like believing that up was down, or black was really white, despite the evidence of my senses.  I just could not do that.

I did not know about the imaginal realm.   The person who came up with this term was Henry Corbin, a French scholar and mystic who studied Sufi and Persian mystical texts.  This was his definition of the imaginal realm.  I have taken this quote, which appears in many other places, from a website which I found using a search on the term:  (

"While some aspects of the imagination are clearly contrived, these texts suggested that there is also a place in our imaginations where things are "real," in the sense that they are not being "imagined" by someone but are images that have some kind of integrity or existence on their own. Thus, the imagination appears to have two aspects: one is intentionally fabricated; the other presents itself to us intact. Corbin used the term mundus imaginalis (imaginary realm) to differentiate between the "imaginary"(i.e., something equated with the unreal or with fantasy) and the "imaginal" (i.e., a world that is ontologically as real as the things we see or touch or know intellectually). Something imaginary is "made up" and comes from us, whereas the imaginal comes to us from another realm. It's the difference, for example, between conjuring an image of a man with a blue nose and green hair (imaginary) and having a dream image of a man with a blue nose and green hair (from the imaginal realm)."

What a powerful concept this is!  I had a chance to really get this the other day.  I was sitting with my ex-husband on his front porch, and we were watching the stars.   "Pick one," he suggested, "and imagine that it has been with you since your birth, watching you and guiding you."  My rational self who lives in the intellectual realm rejected this concept immediately.  "Oh, come on," I thought, "the stars could not care less about me."  But then, by some miracle, I allowed myself to move into the imaginal realm.  I picked a star and it began to dance.  It "told" me that it was showing me the joy and the infinite possibilities of being.  It was a delightful conversation.

It was an "Aha" moment for me.  I have written before about how the wounded self believes that it has two choices, neither of them very good.  So my younger self believed that she had the choice of staying connected with reality or becoming almost crazy in order to believe in God.  This belief was still there, even though I had already experienced many things that were not explainable on the rational level.  But on the porch, I could find the third way.  It was not either/or, it was both.   Yes, on one level, that star could not care less about me, but in the imaginal realm, it was there and loving me. 

Last night, I was having dinner with an old friend and his partner, a former priest who is now a priest in the Ecumenical Catholic Church (as opposed to the Roman one).  I asked him if he believed that the story of the Virgin Mary and all of the other parts of the Jesus story were literally true or true in the imaginal realm.  Without hesitation, he answered, "Imaginal, as is the creation story in the bible."  Suddenly, I was able to be comfortable with those stories and appreciate their power, instead of seeing them as a demand that I give up my sanity.

This is, of course, about the idea of the right and left brains.  The imaginal realm is where guidance lives.  This is where the angels live.  But for me the idea of an imaginal realm that I can choose to visit, that has a deeper reality, has deep resonance.  Today, I was looking at the screen saver on the computer of one of the people who works for me, a beautiful forest.  And suddenly I realized that I could visit it, in the imaginal realm and the forest in the picture immediately became vivid.

Inner Bonding is about healing old limiting beliefs and giving our Inner Child new choices.  Now, for my little girl, the possibilities are truly endless and yet at the same time my intellectual little girl can still feel safe, loved and completely validated.  It was never either/or.  She just did not know that.


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