suhrawardi on lights and shadows

The seven planets are known to have many movements, so they must have many barriers. None of these are independent; rather, each is in need of an incorporeal Light for its realisation and perfections. Now, only the Proximate Light comes to be from the Light of Lights. The Proximate Light does not contain multiple aspects, since any multiplicity in it would imply multiplicity in that which necessitated it and thus imply the absurdity of multiplicity in the Light of Lights. However, there is multiplicity in the barriers. If only a single barrier and no light came to be from the Proximate Light, existence would cease with it. If an incorporeal light came to be from the Proximate Light, and from this light came another light without ever leading to barriers, everything would be lights. A barrier and an incorporeal light must result from the Proximate Light, since it contains dependence in itself and independence by virtue of the First. Its intellection of its dependence is a dark state; but it beholds the Light of Lights and beholds its own essence, since there is no veil between it and the Light of Lights. Thus, by that whereby it beholds the Light of Lights, it shadows and darkens itself in comparison to It, since the more perfect light rules the more deficient. By the manifestation to itself of its dependence and the darkening of its own essence in contemplation of the glory of the Light of Lights in relation to itself, a shadow results. But with respect to its independence and its necessity by the Light of Lights and its contemplation of its glory and might, it brings into being another incorporeal light. The barrier is its shadow, and the self-subsistent light is illumination from it. Its shadow is only due to the darkness of its dependence.

— Suhrawardi, “Philosophy of Illumination”, II:2


  1. walter benjamin
    Posted December 6, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Speaking of the planets did you come across the fact that when S completed this book there were 7 planets conjunct in the sign of Libra?{pp.162}

  2. niqnaq
    Posted December 6, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I think they mentioned it. I am hoping that shortly he will explain how the shadows cumulate from one sphere to the next. I would also like to know the origin of the idea that the Third Intelligence is the one that actually ‘falls’. I see that as a historical link between Manichaeism and Lurianic kabbalah: the Gnostic idea of Intelligences or Angels falling, the breaking of the vessels (shevirat hakelim). Personally, I should say it’s the sphere of the fixed stars which ‘falls’, this being the precession of the equinox. And that would be the Second Intelligence, the Proximate Intelligence as Suhrawardi calls it, shattering into multiplicity. One might even speculate that the souls of the sphere of the fixed stars, i.e., the souls of the stars themselves, were exiled to the tenth sphere, earth. But the Lurianic view is:

    The Sefirot “closest” to Adam Kadmon, the so-called “psychical” Sefirot, are comprised of the most powerful vessels and they alone can withstand the impact of a second series of lights emanating from the eyes of the Primordial Man. However, all of the “vessels” from Chesed to Yesod shattered, causing displacement, exile, and discord to hold sway throughout the cosmos. This is known in the Lurianic Kabbalah as the “Breaking of the Vessels” (Shevirat HaKelim). As a result of this shattering, shards from the broken vessels tumble down through the void, entrapping sparks of divine light in “evil husks” (the Kellipot) which form the lower worlds, and the “Other Side”, a realm of evil, darkness and death which is alienated from the source of divine light in God. Chaos reaches the upper worlds as well, where the masculine and feminine aspects of the deity, the celestial “Mother” and “Father”, represented by the Sefirot Chochmah and Binah, are prompted to turn their backs on one another. (

  3. walter benjamin
    Posted December 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    BTW it is the 4th sephirah that began the ‘breaking of the vessels”.

    “I should say it’s the sphere of the fixed stars ”

    I think you are confusing realms. ‘Azilut’ is more akin to the concept of the 4th world in Vedanta ‘turiya”{the realm of non-manifestation}

    The quote from ‘'{Sanford Drob} is from a NY psychiatrist who doesn’t know any Hebrew and has culled his writings from sundry translations and without a doubt is almost entirely Jungian oriented.
    He has the ability to explain clearly providing you are not familiar with original sources only then do you see the perversion of ideas.

    One of the interesting parallels between S and the Lurianic writing is S’s concept of ‘vertical and horizontal light’s’ and that of Luria’s similar concept which explains the ‘breaking of vessels” as happening both in ‘width and length’ thus answering many contradictions found in his writings whose corpus comes to thousands of pages.

  4. niqnaq
    Posted December 6, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I think you are confusing realms. ‘Azilut’ is more akin to the concept of the 4th world in Vedanta ‘turiya”{the realm of non-manifestation}

    Maybe, but not for Suhrawardi, at least not in this book. Also, there’s no neo-Platonism. There is just one scale of existence, from the Primum Mobile to earth. I think it makes sense to imagine that the sphere of the fixed stars literally shatters into a multiplicity of souls/stars. No other sphere does this, unless you count the asteroid belt.

    Besides, the single scale is made more appropriate by the fact that for these guys the planet earth was the entire material universe; everything above it was more or less spiritual in substance. This in my opinion is implied by the theory of the end of the world, which means, this world, not the entire cosmos.

  5. niqnaq
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    There ain’t much else by Suhrawardi in English. W.M. Thackston, Jr,, The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi, Octagon Press, London, 1982, provides an English translation of most of the treatises in Vol. 3 of Corbin’s Oeuvres Philosophiques et Mystiques de Suhrawardi, including a Persian version of the Hayakil al-Nur. “Thackston eschews all but the most basic annotation, and is therefore less useful than Corbin’s translation from a philosophical point of view,” quote unquote.

  6. walter benjamin
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “There ain’t much else by Suhrawardi in English.”

    *Three Muslim Sages{Nasr} -chapter 2-pp.52-82
    *THE DEVELOPMENT OF METAPHYSICS IN P E R S I A BY MUHAMMAD IQBAL pp.94-116 {available online general a very important work}
    *Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination-Mehdi Amin Razavi
    *Knowledge and Illumination-Hossein Ziai
    *The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy-KNOWLEDGE BY PRESENCE [a great deal of material dealing with S]
    *3 books by John Walbridge
    ***The Leaven of the Ancients
    ***The Wisdom of the Mystic East
    ***The Science of Mystic Lights

    *The Light of Sakina in S’s Philosophy of Illumination-Nassrollah Pourjavady
    *The Book of Radiance-trans. by Ziai
    *ISMAIL ANKARAVI-ON-THE ILLUMINATIVE PHILOSOPHY{trans. of Hayakil Al-Nur + commentaries}
    *The Shape of Light-trans. of Hayakil Al-Nur- a paraphrased and not so interesting translation of the work by a Turkish Dervish in the US-sort of ‘feely/touchy’version-not recommended

  7. niqnaq
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    That would be Mehdi Ha’Iri Yazdi: Knowledge by Presence Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy (SUNY Apr 1992, 248 pp.) But I did say, by Suhrawardi, not about him, and the Hayakil al-Nur is certainly by him.

    By the way, the reason I keep mentioning Hegel is that in his system the Ideas (or Angels) evolve dialectically, which among other things I think means, neither ‘upwards’ nor ‘downwards’ in absolute terms. I like this idea better than Aristotle’s, which is that they evolve or rather devolve linearly, from the Primum Mobile ‘on down’. But you can get rapidly from Aristotle’s angels to Hegel’s if you have the Starry Sphere shatter into a trillion tiny pieces.

  8. walter benjamin
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Yes, you did say ‘by’ however circumambulating a subject/author is very informative when there is no other choice.
    There are quite a few of quality academic articles on S which include a few translations of his ‘tales’ with interpretation.

    Concerning Mulla Sadra there was an interesting fellow{I believe Pakastani, a certain Muhammad ‘Abdul Haq} who wrote 6 articles in ‘Islamic Studies’ between the years 1967-1972{mentioned partially by Eshots} which are quite unique because of the time in which they were published when virtually nothing was available except for a very mysterious book called ‘MS Commemorative Vol’ mentioned quite often by Nasr. I have assumed it is in English according to his quotes however I have never been able to trace it in any library worldwide.
    The articles from ‘Islamic Studies’ by M. ‘Abdul Haq actually comprise a small book of over 100 pages:

    *Mulla Sadra’s concept of being
    *An Aspect of the Metaphysics of MS
    *Metaphysics in MS part 2
    *The Psychology of MS
    *MS’s Concept of Man
    *MS’s concept of Substantial Motion

  9. niqnaq
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I have to cite this again, by David Tibet, from “Christ And The Pale Queens”:

    I who am that origin
    And from whom every beginning goes forth
    I who am the ancient of days declare
    That I am a day by myself, unknown
    I am the day that does not shine by the sun
    Rather by me the sun is ignited
    I am the reason that it is
    Not made perceptible by anyone else
    Rather I am the one by whom every being that is
    Draws breath and presumes to gaze at my countenance
    I have created mirrors in which I consider myself without end
    By the wonders of my originality
    I have prepared for myself these mirrors
    So they may revere me in a song of praise
    For I have a voice like the thunderbolt
    By which I keep in motion the entire universe
    In the living sounds of all creation
    This I have done who am the ancient of days
    By my word which was and is without beginning
    I cause all the mighty lights to emerge
    In this light are countless sparks which are angels
    But when the angels came to awareness within their light
    They forgot me and wanted to be as I am
    Therefore the vengeance of my punitive zeal
    Rejected in thunderclaps those beings
    Which had presumed to contradict me
    For there is only one God, and no other, but Me…

  10. walter benjamin
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I am trying to download that album now. I am not familiar with them? at all except thru you.

  11. niqnaq
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The original was a 1988 2xLP set:

    Recorded at the Shadow Factory between Sep 1987 and Jan 1988. Originally released at the same time as The Red Face of God 12″, this LP was limited to 93 copies, with black inner sleeves and insert, for sale by mail-order. However, there were more copies made that were given out to friends, so the total number of copies that exist are more than 93 (perhaps twice as many). The b-side of the second record contains an etching by Steven Stapleton. Apparently, there is a pirated version of this record set. The pirated, bootleg version can reportedly be distinguished by a semi-gloss cover, hand-numbered covers, and a very shallow etching on the art side. Scratched messages: A= Steve doesn’t believe in them, B= Maldoror is finally dead.

    But the normal edition is the CD of 1989, reissued in 1993:

    The release of this CD appeased many of those who were unable to get a copy of the extremely limited 2xLP. It includes the two tracks from The Red Face of God 12″. The track “Mighty in Sorrow” from the CD is basically the same as side 3 of the 2xLP: a looped mantra that goes on forever ad nauseam, previously entitled “Night”. The (presumably unplayable) side 4 of the 2xLP, “Astral Paddington (Etching)” is omitted.

  12. niqnaq
    Posted December 7, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    The earliest piece by David Tibet I know of is track 2 on the bonus LP with the initial copies of Psychic TV’s first album, “Force The Hand Of Chance,” originally released in 1982:
    It is a piece of music made by various people blowing a total of 23 Tibetan thighbones. Current 93 as such released their first cassette in 1983, and their first album in 1984. “Christ and the Pale Queens” was their seventh album, a mere four years later.

  13. niqnaq
    Posted December 8, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Do you think that many of the Fatimids inclined to the Third Intelligence falling to Tenth theory that later became associated with the Tayyibis? Where do you think it came from? Did it come from some particular form of Gnosticism, or from Manaichaeanism?

    I’m half way through Plotinus’ Enneads, by the way; it seemed like a good time to fit him in. Like other neo-Platonists, he has no time for fallen entities; the longish tractate II.9 is entirely devoted to attacking the Gnostics. For Plotinus, all among the hierarchy of intelligences is sweetness and light — literally.

  14. niqnaq
    Posted December 9, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    If the ChaBaD acronym literally refers to a version of the Etz Chaim on which there’s no sefira of Keter, then on it, Chokmah & Binah would be the first two sefiroth, and Da’ath would be ‘The Third Intelligence’, and that falls with Chesed.

  15. niqnaq
    Posted December 12, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I am not certain where the theory that each sphere has both a distinct Intelligence comes from: one of the neo-Platonists, I think. However, there is a wrinkle in the enumeration. As Allamah Hilli puts it, summarising Nasir al-Din Tusi:

    You should know that most philosophers hold that the first effect is the First Intellect. From that Intellect emanates another Intellect and a sphere. From the Second Intellect a a Third Intellect and a second sphere emanate, and so on until we reach the Tenth Intellect, called the Active Intellect, and the last or ninth sphere, which is the sphere of the moon.

    Note that the First Intellect has no sphere of its own. The first sphere belongs to the Second Intellect. The second sphere, the sphere of the fixed stars, belongs to the Third Intellect (the one which, according to the Tayyibis, ‘fell’).

    Compare Farabi:

    At the top of this hierarchy is the Divine Being whom al-Farabi characterizes as ‘the First’. From this emanates a second being which is the First Intellect. (This is termed, logically, ‘the Second’, that is, the Second Being). Like God, this being is an immaterial substance. A total of ten intellects emanate from the First Being. The First Intellect comprehends God and, in consequence of that comprehension, produces a third being, which is the Second Intellect. The First Intellect also comprehends its own essence, and the result of this comprehension is the production of the body and soul of al-sama’ al-ula, the First Heaven. Each of the following emanated intellects are associated with the generation of similar astral phenomena, including the fixed stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. Of particular significance in the emanationist hierarchy is the Tenth Intellect: it is this intellect which constitutes the real bridge between the heavenly and terrestrial worlds. This Tenth Intellect was responsible both for actualizing the potentiality for thought in man’s intellect and emanating form to man and the sublunary world. With regard to the latter activity, it has been pointed out that here the active intellect takes on the role of Plotinus’ Universal Soul.
    And Proclus (from wikipedia):

    Soul (Psyche) is produced by Intellect, and so is the third principle in the Neoplatonic system. It is a mind, like Intellect, but it does not grasp all of its own content as one. Therefore with Soul, Time comes to be, as a measure of Soul’s movement from one object of thought to another. Intellect tries to grasp the One, and ends up producing its own ideas as its content. Soul attempts to grasp Intellect in its return, and ends up producing its own secondary unfoldings of the Forms in Intellect. Soul, in turn, produces Body, the material world.

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