Henry Corbin & Suhrawardi: ‘The Epistle Of The High Towers’ – Chapters III and IV
From Jacob Bryant’s
1775 ‘Mythology’, volume 1, page 411.
Engraving by James Basire.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an excerpt from one of Suhravardi’s treatises, ‘The Epistle of the High Towers’, chapter III and IV, pages 352 to 355 in the 1976 Fayard French edition by Henry Corbin. English translation by Via-HYGEIA from the Professor’s original French of the original Arabic. Chapter I and II will follow soon, so that the whole treatise will be then fully translated. This is an impressive journey-quest into the imaginal world (mundus imaginalis) and echoes the finest writings of boehmian theosophists, such as John Pordage, whose in his 1675 spiritual journal, ‘SOPHIA’, is the witness/participant of such imaginal journeys. We will soon translate from its present-state-German-gothic a few exciting highlights from this very treatise, bringing back its lost English.
17. So, it is up to you to solve this question of the ‘human theurgy‘(note 1), because the treasures of the sacrosanct world are hidden there. The person who solves it, will seize the object of the Quest (maqsud) and reach the object of his worship (ma’bud). He rises from the abysses of the bodies up to the altitude of the spirits; he rises from the perigee of the depth of the depths up to the apogee of the Illiyun top. He contemplates the henadic beauty; he managed to reach the eternal; he is saved from the deception of the shirk. (note 2).
18. The mean to solve (the human theurgy), is for you to seize the double-threaded thick rope and bind with it the tiger and the hyena. Then, you will cross three hundred sixty seas, then two hundred forty eight mountains linked to four other moutains-themselves placed in the middle of the six directions. After that you reach to a fortified citadel, ten towers strong, located at the top of the mountains, moving due to the movement of the shadow of the supreme peak. (note 3).
19. In the first tower, the first of the external towers, or ‘continentals’, you see a talkative character; he explains, he is eloquent. In him, different kinds of what is related to taste and all kinds of savors. Beware, do not let yourself be seduced by its delights, when you see him or take his sweetness into consideration, when you contemplate upon him. Because the consequence of his delights is sorrow, the bottom line of sweetness is poison. Often, the pleasure of an hour is the root of a long sorrow.
20. When you have crossed this first tower, you arrive to the second tower. You realize it has two little doors, arranged along the length of the citadel. The path to climb up to this tower is arduous; we succeed only by using the air as a ladder. When you have climbed up, you will see two characters sitting on the domes of the citadelles. There are with them, all sorts of pleasant smells and among them exhales the scents of the grey amber and the fragrant musc. Beware, that the material smells deprive you of the perception of the breaths of the spiritual breeze.
21. When you have crossed this second tower, you arrive to the third tower, arranged along the width of the citadel; it has a double belvedere, split between two almonds, around which are stretched silk cords, themselves split between a hill. In each of the belvedere, there is an ivory and ebony throne. On each throne, a svelte character, with cheeks of agate, of delicate complexion and subtile manners; he observes and juges the beauty of the lights; he knows well what he experiments. Do not halt, under no circumstances, neither in his beautiful belvedere nor in his charming interior. Move away, like a ‘fidele d’amore’ would, towards the unique Beauty.
22. When you have crossed the third tower, you arrive to the fourth tower, arranged on both sides of the citadel, because it consists of two fortified castles. A cartilage bulwark surrounds each castle. This fourth tower attracts to itself from the horizons pleasant sonorities. Are gathered there all sorts of melodies and delectable chords. There again, strive to move on.
23. Then, you arrive to the fifth tower, that encompassing the whole, seat of the perception of opposites, of the hard and the soft.
24. Then, the sixth tower, the first of the ‘interior’ towers, or ‘atmospherics’. You see there an illuminated loge, shining from the lights of the projected rays of the five first towers.
25. Then, the seventh tower, the treasure vault serving all the towers.
26. Then, the eighth tower, in which are gathered the belongings of the interior and external loges, and by which is operated the discrimination between friend and enemy.
27. Then the ninth tower, the discriminating one, whose name vary depending on if it is the rays of the stars or the rays of the moon that shine upon it.
28. Finally, the tenth tower, treasure vault serving a few inner loges.
29. When you have crossed these dwellings and hurdled through these stop-overs, you arrive to the land of fixity and stability. The first being that you see is a sheikh of a great dignity, more handsome and luminous than the full moon. Even though he dwells in the space of being-that has no being by itself-no place encompass him. Quick to confer with his inner self, without actually operating this movement; slow to bear an impression, without being immobile. His teeth light his smile, even though he has no teeth. He is the eloquent interpreter, even though he has no tongue. He is the one that transmits revelation and inspiration to the prophets and to God’s Friends, the great and noble spirituals. So, be diligent at his threshold; put to your benefit his conversation and the interview with his nine brothers.
30. Know that they belong to this fellowship ‘where one of them is never let abandoned in misery‘, and ‘whose familiar has never been neglected by them‘. They are the quintessence of being, the close entourage of the unique One that is the object of their worship.
31. After a while, when you have become the compagnon of these ten noble benefactors, when you have modeled your ethos upon their ethos, that you have risen progressively from one to another, perhaps will you see the Orient of the eternal Lights rise upon you, and shine in you the remains of the divine conditions. Then, you are freed from the noose of bondage and becoming. You will reach closer to the realm of the Eternal, the Benevolent. Because you will be granted vision, you will need no explanations, anymore. You will have reached the reality of this divine word: ‘Towards Him all things return”. (Kur’an, 42-53) and this one too: “In you Lord lies your culmination.” (Kur’an, 79-44). And you will only express yourself anymore but with the silent tongue of your lived state.
Note 1: It is an allusion to a characteristic ishraqi concept: each species is the result of the divine creation, the ‘theurgy’ (talasm, tilism) of its dedicated Angel. The human specie is itself the theurgy of its Angel, this Angel-Holy-Spirit that is the pro-eminent figure of all the mystical narratives. To ‘solve this theurgy’, it is to enter the secret, which means to undertake, like in preceding initiations narratives, the crossing of the microcosm (cf. line 18), presenting itself here with its own imagery-but in perfect concordance with the preceding story (Part I and II).
Note 2: Mainly the latent traps of shirk, of which the Prophet said ‘it was as difficult to spot than a black ant journeying on a black rock during a black night‘. It is the trap abstract monotheisms falls for, in swapping its place with the metaphysical idolatry it want to badly to avoid. Haydar Amoli wrote upon this question significant pages, in which he shows that exoteric monotheism (the theological tawid) only escapes this trap by the use of the ontological tawid, or esoteric theo-monisme. (Cf. En Islam Iranien, Tome III, pp 190 ss.) We have already indicated here that the Ishraqi angiology does prevent this trap too.
Note 3: In order to help the reader, we will expose this correspondance in detail:
A.The ‘five external towers’, the first of them is the sense of taste; the second tower, smell, the third, sight; the fourth, hearing; the fifth, touch.
B. The system of the ‘five internal towers’ is designated by a strange term: ‘abraj jawwaniya‘ which made it into mainstream vocabulary. The sixth tower, the sensorium; the seventh tower, the representative imagination; the eighth tower, the estimative faculty; the ninth tower, active imagination; and finally the tenth tower, memory. The placing of the five internal towers corresponds to the disposition of the cavities of the brain, alleged to be the ‘seat’ of the faculties these towers typify.