Realizing the Primordial Image

Aristotle postulated that “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” This aphorism is a richly layered observation that hints at the almost paradoxical nature of artistic expression. Whether wrought with painter’s oils, the dancer’s step, or the author’s words, art primarily communicates through the images its creators convey or evoke in their audience. Given this, how might art accomplish Aristotle’s suggested aim, namely representing the inward significance of things?

The answer lies in the artist’s full acceptance of the images that erupt from her or his own depths, and an acceptance of the notion that such images are far more than wistful reveries or the mere by-products of their firing synapses. Primordial Images are the vessels within which the immaterial cosmic Soul of living Reality is housed. Even a mere brush against this underlying Soul fosters reactions of the ineffable, the cosmic, or the numinous. It is the very “inward significance” to which Aristotle alludes. By this logic, the more outré the artist’s image is, the purer their expression of the cosmic Soul, the numinous Real.

Spectral Lore III (detail), Benjamin Vierling

Spectral Lore III (detail), Benjamin Vierling

Ercole Quadrelli, the early 20th Century Italian occultist, posited in his essay “Magic of the Image” that the Initiate who subjects her or himself to the ordeals of spiritual attainment has become truly alive, and being truly alive, that Initiate’s mind no longer thinks in the conventional sense of the term, but instead their mind becomes “the activity that instantaneously determines reality through images. Through images the magus creates, destroys, and transforms into matter feelings and sensations that are within himself; through images he acts on his own organism; through images he operates on other people.”[1]

This kind of magical consciousness implies that one does not merely conjure subjective masks for reality, but in fact interfaces with the deepest levels of reality through image. This process of reality-determination empowers the occult artist to explore the hitherto untapped recesses of their own soul as well as those within the objective universe. The resultant translation of this reality-determination process is a living lore, a vibrant waking dream which can “operate,” to use Quadrelli’s term, not only on the artist at will, but also on others who experience the artist’s creation.

Correspondingly, this same essay has Quadrelli claiming that imago, the Latin originator of the word image, can be equated with the phrase imo ago (“I act from the depth.”). This is of immense significance to the subject at hand, for knowledge of the depths is a requisite for apprehending and channeling primordial Images. Authentic depth experiences take root just beyond the reach of logical thought, thus there is an element of anticipation or confusion to the initial image/imago. One must always be willing to go Beyond, to embrace and convey that alien Image with openness, rather than attempting to shoehorn a given Image into some all-too-human purpose. The Soul of all Nature, which the ancient Greeks glyphed as the great god Pan, is one that informs all life, not merely those elements which suit humanity’s notions of progress, or those that can be subjected to empirical study. The annals of occultism have long been rich in symbols, myths, and lore that function as both illustrative tools to give expression to certain esoteric principles, and as a means to stealthily induce states of magical consciousness. Oftentimes this state occurs between encounters; a fecundation of the psyche with the seeds of future Gnosis. Dreams, both waking and sleeping, also offer supremely direct encounters with the Images of one’s own depths.

The ancient Greeks devised a terminology to distinguish what they felt to be the two classifications of dream: the banal or “false” dream (re-ordered memories or desires from dayside existence) and the visionary “true” Dream which occurred by or upon the soul of the Dreamer. Because their word for “deceive” was near to their word for “ivory,” the Greeks adopted the notion that their false, all-too-human dreams emerged from a gate of ivory. Conversely, their words for both “horn” and “fulfill” were also very similar, thus their true Dreams were ones that passed through the gate of horn.

The primordial Image can safely be defined as a waking Dream that has passed through the gate of horn, for its power is drawn not from imagination, but apprehension. What is apprehended, first by artist and later by individuals with sensitivity and receptivity enough to sense them, are principles of the immaterial realm that would likely otherwise be beyond human comprehension if their creative envelope was removed.

[1] Ercole Quadrelli (as Abraxas), ‘Magic of the Image’, Introduction to Magic, Inner Traditions, 2001.

About Richard Gavin

Richard Gavin is widely regarded as a master of numinous fiction in the tradition of Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen. To date he has authored four short-story collections, includingThe Darkly Splendid Realm and At Fear’s Altar. He has also published esoteric writings in Starfire Journal and essays that explore the metaphysical underpinnings of the horror genre. A resident of Ontario, Canada, Richard welcomes readers at Richard is a contributor for Clavis Journal 3.

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