Green Man, Earth Angel

Tom Cheetham

This is the second book in Cheetham’s trilogy that expounds and elaborates Henry Corbin’s studies of Islamic mysticism. Like After Prophecy, it is a collection of essays, and though the impassioned focus on an open-hearted, deliteralizing spirituality gives both books a strong focus, this one seems to be a more general accumulation of material, lacking the sense of sustained argument of After Prophecy. My perceptions of the religious world felt more thoroughly tweaked after the latter volume, but Green Man, Earth Angel has much to recommend it. Themes include the mundus imaginalis, the ‘Black Light’ of Sufi tradition, and the loss of inspired, true speech.

Particularly affecting is the final essay, ‘Harmonia Abrahamica’ (a reference to Corbin’s vision of uniting the three Religions of the Book), in which Cheetham meditates with great feeling on the problems crystallized in the mysterious post-war meeting between Jewish poet Paul Celan (whose parents died in the Holocaust) and philosopher Martin Heidegger (notorious for his Nazi sympathies). Anyone interested in phenomenology and Indo-European mysticism will inevitably have to tackle associations with varying degrees of dubious politics. I don’t think any degree of resolution is possible here that would satisfy those who habitually relate mystical preoccupations with reactionary politics. However, this essay is an especially poignant example of Cheetham’s ability to apply intellectual vigour and profound compassion to the problems posed to anyone unable to lose sight of the liberating value of deep spiritual vision and the need for a human-centred idea of community.

See also: The World Turned Inside Out and After Prophecy.