Imagination, Objectification, and Forbidden Knowledge

“He dwells in us, not in the nether world, not in the starry heavens. The spirit living within us fashions all this.”  – Agrippa von Nettesheim


What is imagination? The common answer is that imagination is the ability to mentally reproduce visual images, sometimes other sensations like a sound or feeling,  without external stimulus. As a reproduction, it is based on prior experience. Is this imagination?

No. Imagination, in a strict denotative sense, is the power of the human mind to generate  visual images entirely. Only consequent to this do we actively reproduce images ourselves. More broadly and essentially speaking, it is the power of the human mind to produce definite perceptions and sensations, from seeing to hearing to touching to tasting and so on. This primary imagination is producing your experience, apparently without your input. Our ability to reproduce the content of imagination is a reflection of this power of the human mind to define experience into knowable objects…*whew* that was a long sentence.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge states something similar:

The primary Imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.




I would add a caveat to this. The primary imagination is not a repetition in the finite mind; that is what we commonly conceive of as imagination, namely the reproduction of the imaginative power of perception, the pith of which is mostly inaccessible to us. Is it possible for the individual to directly access the primary seat of imagination? ETA Hoffman apparently thought this to be a dangerous possibility:

I came to feel that what we call simply dream and imagination might represent the secret thread that runs though our lives and links its varied facets; and that the man who thinks that, because he has perceived this, he has acquired the power to break the thread and challenge that mysterious force which rules us, it to be given up as lost.



In the final analysis, Imagination may be even more than the power of the human mind to generate perception, consciously or unconsciously. It may be the objective power altogether, not only to represent  objects apart from us, but the very formative power underlying our bodily construction, as a principle operating throughout and informing the material elements of which we are composed. Charlie Chaplin takes this even further, asserting that the creative power in us is identical to the power we see informing bodies universally. As a balance to the dissuasive bent of Hoffman, Chaplin argues that the conscious alliance of the individual with this force is not necessarily an unequivocal mistake:

Think of the power of the universe — turning the Earth, growing the trees. That’s the same power within you — if you’ll only have the courage and the will to use it.


This brings to mind Arthur Schopenhauer, and his World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer declares objects to be the product of a primordial activity akin to Freud’s Id; pre-rational, automatic, and endowed with an instinctive, intrinsic urge to press out extrinsically. Simply put, reality has an inside and an outside, but the outside is a reflection and objectification of the inside. Each object is the result of this twofold nature, with its own special inside and outside; the inner being this activity, Will, and the outside as the repository result of this activity upon a substrate – representation, objectification.  While the word ‘Will’ may suggest volition and conscious choice in common parlance, to Schopenhauer it is rather the case that – to quote with slight alteration –‘ We can do what we will, but we cannot will what we will; we can do what we wish, but we can only wish what we must.’



But again, the question remains: What if it is possible to access this inside of ourselves? Can we at least agree that our daily lives reside upon the outer surfaces of things, both without ourselves and also within? Is this inner-core pre-conscious absolutely?  Would not perceiving it ourselves make it the subject of an intelligence and influence? Do we unknowingly alter ourselves at the most fundamental level, even now , without knowing it? How could we experiment and know?

Ahh, but then maybe we sense that this objective side is as light reflecting upon surfaces, just as Will represents itself upon a substrate, and that the darker depths house forces it were best not to know. Perhaps these forces act upon and influence us, but are also beyond us, and as far as we encounter them, seem as intelligences with a life of their own. Maybe they slumber in the depths, and we ought not to awaken them.

The fear of the dark is not just for kids, but we have bulwarks in place that keep the fear at bay. In Moby-Dick, Melville contemplates the symbolism of the whale, as a personification of the chaos-monster that courses the abyssal waters on all planes; celestially, terrestrially, psychically. Humanity has a tenuous membrane between its world and ours;  without that membrane we are no longer in our element and vulnerable to the truth that lives in the unknown:

Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.





Thus knowledge of the invisible world is otherworldly knowledge; it is a knowledge of the unknown depths that our knowable existence emerges from as an island upon a shoreless sea. It is separated from ours by a medium, as the sea is from the atmosphere, the atmosphere from outer space; and yet the knowable is enveloped within the unknown in layers of finer to denser strata. The sea, while a separate medium from the finer planetary atmosphere, is yet enveloped by it, as earth’s atmosphere is enveloped within the cosmic fields of space. The finer medium includes the dense, and yet is beyond the limits of the latter. And so we have an otherworldly reality and a worldly reality, yet ultimately it is a matter of degree and never a question of real partition; it only seems that way when we are on the outside, and don’t look in.

The ultimate truth is in the Unknown. It is alive. To look at it face-to-face is to expose yourself to a power that you may not be able withstand. It is to endanger society to its unmitigated influence, to risk bursting the bubble that makes the difference between a healthy distance and a disastrous encounter. Our ancestors knew this, and while we like to pretend we are too wise to consider them, we still carry that intuition. We know. We may not like to admit it, but it is inescapable and will make itself known when the barriers wear thin and the levies give way. That is why we fear the prospect of the  would-be adventurer who would plumb the unknown depths. It is dangerous. We hide the possibility of it, make the knowledge of it forbidden; otherworldly knowledge is forbidden knowledge:

 ‘..They’re afraid that there’s more to reality than they have ever confronted. That there are doors that they’re afraid to go in, and they don’t want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don’t know. And that makes us a little out of their control. ‘ Ken Kesey




And yet we need these explorers. We cannot ignore our place in the hierarchy of things. It is both exceedingly risky and absolutely necessary for us to accept the situation: we are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, we have a curiosity that must be tempered, and on the other a fear that must be faced. We cannot afford to suppress our curiosity, or ignore the danger; for not all of the things that lurk in the deep are asleep, and to ignore this is to risk unpreparedness in the wake of disaster.

At last we came to the wonder-word of otherworldly knowledge: Magic. Magic is the word anathema to Science and Religion both, because it synthesizes them and transmutes them into something else. Plato said that every good is flanked by two evils; Magic is the outlawed truth that both Science and Religion would condemn. It is the key  to the wisdom of our predecessors – the adepts. They have maps and disciplines, techniques and tools. They have known the danger, and matched it with tempered courage, calm vigilance, mental wherewithal, and premonitions of beautiful vistas to which we are called, would we but answer.




Magic is no empty make-believe! it is no vapid imagination idling itself away! Imagination is the match that is struck by creative will, making the fire that was hidden conspicuous, and what lay in store open to view. Fire can heat hearth and home; left unchecked it can scorch all that you are. The vital fire, when reflected in the imagination, can be used for good or for ill. And so it is secret knowledge, just as it is forbidden knowledge. Forbidden by society – hidden by the magicians.

Featured images:

Unio Mystica by Johfra Bosschart

Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Peter Vandyke

ETA Hoffman, artist unknown

Charlie Chaplin by Strauss-Oeyton Studio 

Arthur Schopenhauer by Ludwig Sigismund Ruhl

Cover art for the band Mastodon’s Leviathan, by Paul Romano 

Ken Kesey, artist unknown

Knight with Grail Castle by Johfra Bosschart 


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