The greatest Sufi authority on the Resurrection Body was Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i, who died in 1826, and who developed fundamental ideas of Avicenna, the great Persian philosopher of Islam in the eleventh century. Avicenna, in his “visionary recitals,” argued for what he called “the oriental philosophy,” a Hermetic angelology that posited a middle reality between ordinary perceptions and the realm of the divine. This middle world of angelic perception is equated with the human world of the awakened imagination, the dwelling place of sages and poets, and of all of us in certain exalted or enlightened moments when we see, feel, and think most lucidly. Those moments, according to the Sufis, introduce us into what they call the world of Hurqalya, the angelic world. Hurqalya is called both a city and world, and sometimes is also named “the Celestial Earth,” since it is our earth reimagined. Angelic imagination is a difficult mode of apprehension, and Sufism is primarily a discipline as well as a gnosis. Hurqalya has both a hell and a heaven, and is the city/country of the unexpected, where the past is not yet completed and so can be altered, and where the present and the future are always intermixed, so that resurrection is both here and to come. A study of the omens of Millennium is a proper place to invoke Hurqalya, since all of the omens are at home there, if we raise them into the mind, which is one of the functions of this book.
In the ninth century, the Islamic historian Tabari described a strange region, one that we would now think of as part of a story by Borges, a country of the imagination, the “Earth of the Emerald Cities.” These cities (whose names have never been explained) are Jabarsa and Jabalqa and also Hurqalya, the name sometimes given to the visionary land as a whole. Corbin follows Tabari in a lucid description of these cities, which he joins the Sufis in regarding as quite real, realer indeed than Paris, London, and New York:
Jabarsa and Jabalqa, Tabari tells us, are two emerald cities that lie immediately beyond the mountain of Qaf. Like those of the Heavenly Jerusalem, their dimensions express quaternity, the symbol of perfection and wholeness. The surface of each is a square, the sides measuring twelve thousand parasangs. The inhabitants do not know of the existence of our Adam, nor of Iblis, the Antagonist; their food consists exclusively of vegetables; they have no need of clothing, for their faith in God makes them like the angels, although they are not angels. Since they are not differentiated by sex, they have no desire for posterity. Lastly, all their light comes to them from the mountain of Qaf, while the minerals in their soil and in the walls of their towns … secrete their own light.
Qaf is an emerald mountain surrounding our world; if you can climb beyond it, then you will see the visionary cities that represent what Corbin calls “the state of the Image” of the Resurrection Body. Perhaps influenced by Sufism, the Kabbalah names such an Image the zelem, the word used in Genesis when we are told that God created us in his own image. Hurqalya, sometimes also called by Sufis “the Eighth Climate” (seven being nature’s) is the goal of the Gnostic quest to know the resurrection while still in this life.
Ibn ’Arabi, the foremost Sufi theosophist, created the major myth for understanding the mystical Earth of Hurqalya. After God had created Adam from the moistened red clay, a quantity of the clay was left over. God employs the clay both to make the palm tree, “the Sister of Adam,” and the Earth of True Reality, Hurqalya, which contains for each of our souls a universe corresponding to that soul. Each soul has an Image in which it can contemplate itself, and so at last resurrect itself. Frequently the Image will be personified as Idris-Hermes, the Man of Light, or astral body, the figure of Perfect Nature of the guardian angel, one’s alter ego. Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i suggestively adds: “The world of Hurqalya is a material world (the world of matter in the subtle state), which is other.” To be material but other is a metaphor for the alter ego, for the weirdness of a guardian angel who is nevertheless one’s own soul. We are carried back to the absolute strangeness of Genesis 1:26, where God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Gershom Scholem, expounding the Kabbalistic concept of the zelem, Image or astral body, remarked that this “served the Kabbalists as a catchword for a notion bearing only a loose connection to the biblical idea.” And yet God must have had something like an “image” or “likeness” of his own, as Scholem also said. God, however transcendent, is also someone who, in some sense, has the form of a man, an image in three dimensions, material yet an other. Though the origins of the astral body, as an image, are in Neoplatonism, it amalgamated rapidly with Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The Kabbalistic zelem, in particular, came to be regarded as the principle of individuation in each of us. It may seem a long path from the astral body to one’s personal defining form, but the identity between the angelic being who guides one’s “star” and the inner essence persists all through the mingled monotheistic traditions. The astral body, however esoteric it may seem, is finally the metaphor for what renders the self truly the self, rather than someone else’s self.
BLOOM, Harold, Omens of the millenium: the gnosis of angels, dreams, and resurrection. New York: Riverhead books, 1996.