Henry Corbin

The research and wisdom of french orientalist Henry Corbin (1903-1978) have influenced me greatly the last four years.

A particularly Gnosis-oriented book of his I have been reading on and off since 1996 when I rediscovered it (began reading it in 1991, but it was too “unhermetic” for my tastes, a very poor judgement) and saw a new relevance for it in my own studies…

The book in question is Henry Corbin`s The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism,
it is wonderfully relevant to the Gnostic path since it is all about
the acquiring of the Vision, of communication with and union with
the Angel, the divine celestial twin – as well as listening to the interior
witness…especially interesting is the red thread of excerpts from
Persian Ishraqist Najmoddin Kobra`s journal on the Visio Smaragdina
; one favourite Gnostic theme is:

“Natural existence is made up of four elements superimposed on one another, all of which comes to constitute a darkness: Earth, Water, Fire, Air;
and you yourself are buried beneath them all. The only way to separate yourself from them is to act in such a way that every rightful part in you comes together with that to which it rightfully belongs, that is, by acting in such a way that each part comes together with its counter-part: Earth receives the earthly part, Water the watery part, Air the etheric part, Fire the fiery part. When each has received its share, you will finally be delivered of these burdens.”

It has an Alchemical, a Reintegrationalist (cf. the teachings of Martinist “founder Louis Claude de Saint Martin and his first initiator, Martinez de Pasqually) , a Manichaean, a Valentinian and a Hermetic practical address, in my view.

Another book of great interest to me, is the collection of his later papers:
Temple and Contemplation. The chief portion of the book , ‘The Imago Templi in Confrontation with Secular Norms,’ one of Corbin’s last Eranos lectures (1974), pursues the motif of the Temple from its introduction into the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism-Islam and Christianity) to the great masonic romances of the 17th century, such as Wolfgang von Eschenbach`s Parzival.
In the paper to the Eranos conference of 1950, “Sabian Temple and Ismailism” we find Corbin investigating a dense and obscured landscape of dialogue between astral religion (such as found in Babylon) and a
beginning of interior-oriented mysticism à la Sufism; the result could be read as a Gnostic criticism of different kinds of ceremonial magic ..
The theme of the Holy Guardian Angel is also central to the study, and shows how he is transformed from an exterior “single star” visualized as a direct corollary in the stellar firmament into the Interior _shahid_ or Witness, this is important for any deeper acquiantance with the texts of the chief Sufi teachers, among whom we find the unimitable Suhrawardi and Ibn al-Arabi, but also Mansur al-Hallaj.

His Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth is an anthology of ancient Iranian; Mazdean through Sufi – texts written by the greatest teachers of the traditions, I were especially captivated by the theme of the Fravartis and the Daena and wrote a series of meditations on the text, which I shared with the Philosophia forum at Yahoo among other places. In time I might edit and publish it on my website or some such…

Further Resources
A Henry Corbin forum at MSN.com Henry Corbin World of the Imaginal

8 thoughts on “Henry Corbin

  1. I am planning a programme-suggestion for the College international de philosophie in Paris on “ethnophilosophy”. We would like to have participants who could talk about contemporary philosophy in Iran. Can you help us? Thanks


  2. I have three of works by Corbin, including a work on the Sufism of Ibn Arabi. But I’ve been reading him by myself and I hardly have the training to really understand him. (I have a PH D in literature.) Nonetheless I regard him as one of my great teachers. Not so long ago, I was so surprised to discover that he liked the works of Abraham J. Heschel. I asked myself how can it happen that a gnostic can get along very well — and on a mutual admiration basis at that (as it struck me) — with a Hebraist? And he had a Muse too (as it struck me) in the person of his wife Stella! Is there a way I can read him with more understanding? I can’t penetrate to his thought for instance when he says that God becomes man on the angelological, not anthropological, level, though I feel I am on the brink of doing so.

  3. Hi!

    I am currently doing research on Suhrawardi’s Philosophy of Illumination. I know that Prof. Corbin translated the work from Arabic to Franch. This book is essential for my research and I was wondering if any body knows if this book has been translated into English or Persian. Thank you in advance for your help!

  4. To Behzad: I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information but I did see a book at amazon.com

    which matches that description..its on my own wishlist, havent seen anything by Yahya Suhrawardi in the bookshops I frequent, so perhaps its rare.

    Anyways heres the link:

    ThePhilosophy of Illumination, by Yahya Ibn Habash Suhrawardi (transl. John Walbridge, among others)

    Hope that helps..

  5. Cesar: I believe the problem is dealt with, on the surface in his essay on the Sabian Temple and Ismailism (_Temple and Contemplation_).

    With surface I intend that first Corbin is quite discreet with relationship to his own position or perspective on matters which the traditions and writers he studied and presented treated quite openly and obstrusely.. in the essay/paper I mentioned Corbin cites several philosophers and historians with regards to the positions held by the Sabians/Chaldeans at Harran (in Northern Anatolia..Corbin intended the nationals of this late remnant of Mesopotamian civilization, not the Iranian and Iraqi Mandaeans who go under the same name, but the older historians got the two confused quite often), which were chiefly angelologically oriented, yet “compatible” in the sense of their post-islamic allegiance being chiefly monotheistic and respectful of the patriarchs and prophets of the “abrahamite” lineage – anyways, he reconstructs an “image” of the “Temple” as being conformed to the planets, constellations,elements,platonic solids and so forth, showing that the cult of angels were based upon the presumption that God would only reveal himself through his Angel…this address the unqiue role of the Angel Gabriel in the presentation of the Book to Mohammad, yet – the later sufic and Ishraqi (theosophical) writers such as Suhrawardi, based upon traditions which is also rooted in a metaphysical reading of the Koran – is characteristically oriented towards Man and the anthropic, to the degree some modern writers have compared some of their teachings with that of the medieval Kabbalah (sic!) and what Gershom Scholem dubbed “Jewish Gnosticism” – the Hekhalot/Merkabah-traditions obscurely addressed in the Talmud and in Midrashes, but quite overtly subscribed to by the Damascus and Qumran heterodox Jewish groups, whatever they were, Essenes or not.. I think I`ve overreached myself a bit.. this got to be a rant, bear with me Cesar: Merkabah with its Metatron, and the Sabian and later theosophical traditions – is quite well pitted against Kabbalah traditions such as what is preserved in the Sefer Ha-Bahir at the Jewish compartment, and the Sufi and Ishraqi schools of Illumination on the other…

    This is its own study, I suspect.. Anyways, back to Corbin getting along… Perhaps you saw my excerpting and pondering upon a letter written by Corbin while still a young and impressionable man; it employed quite Christian specific images to an end which were not exclusively Christian.. Corbins scholarly work employs themes and sources of a specific nature and tradition, to reveal a greater theme which because of its appeal has a greater reach and relevance.. this is both his weakness and his strenght, it depends on which readership he receives. Corbin for a fact got along well with Protestants,Catholics,Buddhists,avowed Atheists,devotees to Hindu gurus,Jews,psychoanalysts,mythologists and what have we ..in his work with the Eranos group – I am not quite sure if Herschel participated, but I am quite sure Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem (just Imagine the two of *them* together..:-) )

    presented papers on The Transformation of Man – in religion,myth,psychology,philosophy,biology &c

    at the same table,so to say, sharing.

    James Hillman, although the Jungianized variety, also were a close associate with Corbin.. I wonder how difficult it is to envision a gnostic scholar (which is something quite different from a religious Gnostic,at least in the capacity of *scholar*) and an X(whatever have you) getting along, you know its the one with inhibitions and reservations who will shun the company of another..intelligent,alert,curious..interested people..don`t shun eachother.. no matter from what book their grandparents read from when they were sitting on their lap as children..

  6. please send me email adress of professor henry corbin as soon as posible.

    thanks for your favor.

    bahman gazorpour

  7. Dear Bahman, however much I feel moved by your optimism and would have loved to grant this favour, I fear I have to inform you that Professor Henry Corbin has passed over the Bridge of Chenvat, many years, in fact, before the invention of the Internet, in 1978, to be precise.

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