Imagination and cognition

Georgy Kurasov. The Battle of Amazon and Centaurs


In the book “The Mythological unconscious,” Michael Vannoy Adams talks about Sigmund Freud’s plans to establish a psychoanalytic College, which, in addition to medicine, biology, and deep psychology, should have included courses in psychology of religion, mythology, the history of civilizations, and literary studies. As you know, most of the current psychoanalytic institutions (with the possible exception of Jungian ones) do not pay due attention to mythology, as a result of which modern psychotherapists have the superficial knowledge of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc. mythologies and are unable to recognize mythologems in the clinical material of their patients. Michael Van Adams, who spent six years studying various mythologies at the C. G. Jung Institute in New York, emphasizes that the lack of “archetypal literacy” is inherent not only to psychotherapists and modern people in general, no matter what kind of activity they are engaged in.

Suppose we ask the average reader to find archetypal images in, say, the Magus by J. Fowles or the Dictionary of the Khazars by M. Pavic. In that case, he will not be able to do this even under the threat of execution. But if can forgive the average reader for “archetypal illiteracy,” it is at all inexcusable for a psychotherapist, for whom education in comparative mythology is strictly mandatory.

Open any book review, essay, or comment, touch modern methods of artistic interpretation, and you will see a lack of “archetypal literacy.” There is a wonderful book by Michael Evzlin “Cosmogony and ritual.” The first article, entitled “the Mythological structure of crime and madness in the story of Alexander Pushkin The Queen of Spades” emphasizes the difference between the historical and philological commentary of a literary text and the commentary that implies attention to the mythological structures and archetypal images hidden in it. The author calls the first type of comment a “top layer of text” comment. What are “layers” meant?

We can take a concrete example. Writers such as Julian Barnes and John Maxwell Coetzee work with the first layer of reality, the “surface of being”; for example, even Barnes ‘ contact with the element of death generates only “description of the life.” And he’s good at what he does. How good is a talented landscape painter who accurately transfers the winter forest’s beauty to the canvas. Open Zola or Rolland, and then turn to Balzac’s Seraphita or Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Do you know what I mean? Without questioning either the talent or the greatness of the are first and second, it is impossible not to notice that only the second plunged to dangerous depths.

Theoretically and practically, I am interested in including mythological and ritual structures in creating a total work of art. For quite some time now, reading fiction has become for me a process of identifying archetypal plots and images, so Evzlin’s interpretation of The “Queen of Spades” caused me real delight. It is precisely the kind of hermeneutics that is virtually impossible to meet today.


What makes Evzlin with artistic text, Jung was doing with the contents of their patients’ unconscious. We are talking about the amplification method, that is, the detection of mythological structures, the search for mythological Parallels, and this, as you understand, you need to have “archetypal literacy.” As M. V. Adams points out, the unconscious is structured as a myth (or, more correctly, as myths — in the plural). Adams himself is engaged in what he calls “imaginal psychology,” or “imaginology,.” It is the imagination that plays a primary role in the psychic formation of reality. Today, the word “imagination” has suffered the same fate as the word “myth.” Lost the original meaning of these words. Myth has become synonymous with fairy tales and fiction, and imagination has become synonymous with fantasy.

As a person who has devoted many years of his life to comparative mythology in General and ancient Greek mythology in particular, I can say that as soon as we get closer to understanding the imaginal world, we will find the key to the worldview of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Scandinavians, etc. Moreover, we will discover imagination as a path to the highest form of thinking (this is how Yakov Golosovker defined imagination).

When I use the word “imagination,” I am far from thinking of it as the ability to generate fruitless fantasies; the imaginal world is the world of archetypes, the meeting place of the divine (descending) and the human (ascending), the sacred center in which the coincidentia oppositorum takes place. It is the world of the soul, the realm of metaphysical images, about which Henry Corbin quotes the words from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip: “Truth didn’t come into the world naked, but it came in types and images.”

Eugene Golovin believed that three levels of manifestation are available to us: the one at which we most often find ourselves, i.e., the material level of manifestation, our stay in the sensory world; the level of sleep and dreaming; the world of imagination or, as the French philosopher Henry Corbin would say, the imaginal world, mundus imaginalis. The world of imagination is the world that lies between the divine world and the human world. It is the world of images-archetypes, the world of the soul.

According to Golosovker, the Hellenes thought mythologically, they knew the world imaginatively, by the power of their imagination. Thus, the imagination acts as an organ of knowledge. Henry Corbin called it the organ of imagination, or the organ of theophanic perception because to reach the world of subtle matter; one must have an organ of knowledge different from both the pure intellect and the senses. From this intermediate world, from mundus imaginalis, from symbolic reality, the Greeks (and not only the Greeks, of course!) got their myths.

About “imagination,” Henry Corbin writes that imaginatio (understood exclusively as “the ability to create the world”) is the primary tool of alchemical operation. His student Gilbert Durand will make the idea of mundus imaginalis the Foundation of his “sociology of imaginary” and introduce the concept of l’imaginaire.

Golosovker calls imagination the highest cognitive function of the mind. Thinking itself, the very generation of ideas is an activity of the imagination.

Contact with the Imaginal world, i.e., with the world of archetypes, is getting to the place where the divine and the human meet. Imagination, according To Jakob Böhme, was the very force with which God created the world. “Fantasy” belongs to the material level of manifestation, “imagination” — to the imaginal world, the world of the soul. Paracelsus warned against the mixing of imagination with imagination. He called fantasy “the cornerstone of insanity.”

(1) Returning to the idea of Adams about the need to include a course on mythology in the program of psychoanalytic institutes and my initiative — to make this course a mandatory element of the educational program as a whole, I want to emphasize that Janus Academy will develop a separate direction — Imagination Studies — which will combine several courses at once. This area includes the Sociology of the Imagination of Gilbert Durand, the study of the imagination of Henry Corbin, the iconological method of Aby Warburg (and will study his mysterious Mnemosyne Atlas in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary way, involving both artistic methodology and ancient mnemonic techniques), and the legacy of some members of the legendary community “ERANOS”. Under this direction, a powerful program is being developed, unlike any existing ones in educational institutions and research centers today.



Chief Philosophy Officer (R.University, X10 Academy), Social Entrepreneur, Philosopher, Historian of Ideas, Polymath

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Natella Speranskaya

Chief Philosophy Officer (R.University, X10 Academy), Social Entrepreneur, Philosopher, Historian of Ideas, Polymath