“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake
Of all the principles of magick, when one casts aside the formalities of ritual and ceremony, fashion and accessories, at the heart of its function and successful working is active imagination and/or visualization. While these two terms share attributes and can be interchanged to some degree, they work cooperatively to produce the results of "real" magick. One might picture active imagination as a train and visualization as the track upon which it travels. C. S. Lewis described active imagination as "the organ of meaning" and considered it a conscious method of experimentation. It employs creative imagination as an organ for "perceiving outside your own mental boxes." Any practitioner worth his salt understands that magick's roots are founded in this experimentation and serve as the basis for the scientific method. This kind of imagination, however, is different from the everyday creative brand of thinking.
Many prominent philosophers and thinkers have pointed out this distinction between "imagined" and "imaginary", with the imagined being of a spiritual quality and the imaginary being connected to and arising from the sensory realm. Henry Corbin called it imaginatio vera, the imagination that transcends mere fantasy. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge also made clear a distinction between the fantasy-type imagination in which dwells the creativity of artistic endeavor and the imaginal realm where "imagination is the condition for participation in a sacramental universe". Rudolf Steiner saw that active imagination could be developed as a path to greater spiritual experience, resulting in direct contact with the archetypal realm. However, it can be through the meditative flow state of artistic endeavors, that one can access the active or higher imagination. My opinion is that most people associate imagination only with this artistic side and at times allow their active role in it to be co-opted by external sources. Too often, the active imagination or the imaginal realm is stifled and replaced by shallow impostors of creativity such as the influx of mass produced entertainment media posing as real art and attempting to coerce one into a passive role, drooling with mouth agape. They end up being programmed with socially engineered archetypes and mythologies, weaponized for someone else's agenda.
One might recall, at some moment in life, hearing a person say, "So-and-so has an active imagination". Many times this is stated from an authority figure of sorts, such as a parent or teacher for example, and is usually (but not always) in regard to a child. This phrase, as heard or said, is a misconception of real active imagination and at its core is meant as derogatory. What is meant by the person stating this phrase is that the child has a disposition for fantasy by either lying or proposing things that have no foundation in truth or fact - things that are imaginary (as opposed to imagined), or make-believe (which I think is a most interesting term that should be given some consideration in one's accepting of a paradigm). The attributes of the imagination are generally considered disadvantageous and unfavorable for the individual to survive or succeed in a banausic world. When referred to in this way, "mechanical imagination" is a proper label one might put on it. That is not to say it has no positive function whatsoever, but helps create a clearer line in distinguishing the difference from the higher practice of active imagination.
The imaginal realm is humankind's umbilical cord to the godhead, one's lifeline to the pleroma. Instead of fostering the role of active imagination, it is knocked from its influential pedestal in the prime of youth and imposed upon by agents heralding the plastic manufactured matrix aspect of consensus reality. What might be seen as harmless and sometimes well-intentioned by these agents forever shackles the imagination to the black iron prison of dry intellect, debilitating the chance to experience the pleroma or the totality of spiritual understanding here on earth. The active imagination is pounded into subservience throughout life - whether by institutional education, mainstream entertainment, or orthodox religion - and thus its reclamation and engagement should be striven for by magickal, spiritual, and occult practitioners of every kind. And most of all by seekers of Truth as an aid to discernment. Perhaps, instead of artificial intelligence, active imagination should be the new "A.I." as it would serve to establish a more meaningful and tangible heaven on earth for real human beings, void of the consuming impulse and yet pregnant with the methodology of dreaming to create.
Carl Jung developed a technique in the early 1900's where the primary function of active imagination serves as a meditation wherein the contents of one's unconscious are translated into images, narrative or personified as separate entities and can serve as a bridge between the conscious "ego" and the unconscious. This helped to popularize active imagination within psychoanalytical circles up through our modern time. However, when trying to rationalize the conscious and unconscious parts of the Self, the result is unclear. One must take into consideration the source of conscious, present thought as well as consider how the unconscious mind is fed by the conscious mind. There is an occult interplay between the two, similar to the Ourobouros symbolism of the coiled snake eating its tail. The result is paradoxical. This is the paradox experienced while contemplating and attempting to practice magical thinking, the ensuing of cognitive dissonance. The cognitive dissonance field is a fragile position to maintain as the mind has a tendency to sway and give preference in light of an explanation for the existence of the paradox. The mind will try to rationalize and embrace one of the held concepts over the other as it aligns with the individual's world view and ideals. But, by being able to hold each contradictory space equally, a sort of energy is generated. In speaking of this "energy", George E. Trippe states in a 1999 thesis about Jung's techniques of active imagination and Christian religious experience that, "For Jung, this energy is the transcendent function, which emerges of its own out of the courageous work of honouring the reality of two opposing points of view. In Jung's process, the individual holds the two in relationship, rather than giving in to one over the other. Out of this holding process, which is like a crucifixion, a third thing will emerge, which both honours and yet transcends the two." This "third" thing that emerges is the energetic field of cognitive dissonance and magickal thinking. Some people might feel this as being uncomfortable or unpleasant but this is the rational mind trying to fight for its dominion among competing world views.
It is my opinion that this might be the actual thing considered "magick" as this energy merges with external fields of consciousness. One force does not give way to the other, but rather a compromise of position in forming the overall consensus of a perpetual reality. Nothing is subtracted, but instead added to in an amalgamation of desired outcomes. Think of a lava lamp, of how oil blobs move about in water and when heated, the oil connects and develops other forms and larger blobs. Nothing in terms of the oil is lost, only changed in visual structure and flow in the water environment. The heat, in this metaphor, is the energy generated through the processes of visualization, active imagination, and magickal thinking that allows one's deeper intentions to emerge from the Self into the external world, or from the subconscious into the conscious mind. While Jung's application of active imagination is primarily used for therapeutic purposes, I think of it as the underlying foundation of magickal practice, regardless of what system of magick one uses.
It should be evident at this point that active imagination is not something that just simply happens in the course of everyday existence as one must consent to enter into it, just as one chooses to practice magick. But when one is engaged directly in the occurrence of the process, it is vital not to exert one's influence or will to the outcome of the visualization itself. It must be left to develop independently but that does not mean to be indifferent. As Jung stated, "You yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions: ... as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real". From my own personal experience, this state is similar to daydreaming but goes much deeper and becomes almost akin to a hyper-sensitive virtual reality type of interplay. One might know the feeling of this in the state of hypnogogia, which is the period between sleep and wakefulness, where one might experience exaggerated sounds and situations in a purely reactionary way. And to make clear, one still initiates active imagination with their intent and with a goal in mind, but the resulting visuals must be left to develop on their own, communicating through imagery and symbolism, with their own timeline and narrative.
It should be stated that, while similar to such New Age practices as the Law of Attraction, the Secret, or the general concept of manifesting what one wants, the true art of active imagination goes further in that it does not cause conflict with the Will of another person, and does not interfere with the lives of others. Whereas something like the Law of Attraction is based on materialism and usually requires third-party actors and circumstances for one's desire to become aligned with reality, active imagination coexists in a harmonious sphere that grants the practitioner the deserved and righteous outcome in one's relation to the higher Self. Again, one is directed to my earlier metaphor of the lava lamp and its active function. The imaginal realm does not come into opposition with the nature of the soul by granting frivolous favors of wealth or objects, but in fact will generate such things by proxy if needed for the individual's higher purpose or spiritual path. It is thus important when entering into active imagination, and when used in a magickal context, that the intention of the individual be of an enlightened nature, free from selfish wants. Because of the dualistic influence in which our world seems to function, materialistic goals will generally carry a karmic price in order to balance the universe's gift-giving. "An eye for an eye" is applicable whether or not the act is for negative or positive intentions, and the price paid is usually not what the individual expects or wants.
The soul, the spirit, the higher Self, the unconscious psyche - all desire the same connection with the conscious ego just as we strive for the connection to the divine. It is an ages old endeavor to seek that which mediates equivocally between both sides and allows a passage for unification. The imaginal realm is the "non-spatial fabric" in Sufism that connects the mundane to the spiritual. The alchemist, in his efforts to burn off psychological impurities, seeks to transmute the idea of Self into the One thing, practically and tangibly. The active imagination serves to facilitate this alchemical wedding as a catalyst and mediator, translator and diplomat. It is the contemplative state of meditation in Eastern mysticism, allowing for uninhibited perception of that which inherently exists around and within us. And it is the sacred space, the liminal space of ritual, through which magick enters the world and is allowed to court our circumstance and dance with our destiny.