De Visionibus II

Continuing from where I left some posts (and a great many moves) ago and having worked with no little effect with my own faculty of envisioning, I set down here below some notes on what I see as our various kinds of aislingeachd. This term is a neologism based on the Gaelic aisling or vision; a dreamer or aislingeach implies such an abstract noun denoting the quality, faculty or even skill of rendering a vision. The Old Irish form would be doubtless something like aislingtheacht with a Modern Irish equivalent as aislingeacht, but so far as I know such a frequentative form of the noun of agency is unattested.

As for our own faculties, I mark two kinds of aislingeachd, i.e. productive and receptive, but three branches or even levels of aislingeachd, i.e. numinal (no, not noumenal, so you Kant-scholars can just calm down), manifest and notional. I have a suspicion that the two kinds of aislingeachd are really misapprehensions of something that is neither produced nor received but rather somehow both. This misapprehension arises easily from the deeply rooted sensibility that we enjoy an inner and outer life, the former constituted of thought and perception and the latter of physical phenomena — the ‘real’ of common parlance (gnàth-chainnt) — when in reality aislingeachd is as productive when we are awake and perceiving the phenomenal world around us as when we dream or hallucinate. This is something that I will be required to address later, but for now I will focus on the three branches of aislingeachd: numinal, manifest and notional.

Notional aislingeachd is the easiest branch for us to manipulate, covering as it does that visionary faculty capable of handling spatial concepts. If I instruct you to imagine a ball sitting on a table and then rolling onto the floor, bouncing a few times before coming to rest, you will have already perceived such an event taking place ‘in your mind’s eye’ by the time you reached the end of the sentence. You would have provided some form of lighting, color, or other context for this brief narrative according to your own individual predilections. Whether everything was a monotone and you imagined the ball only in the most rudimentary fashion or you took the basic idea of the ball’s journey and developed it into an entire scenario capable of vivid description, the presence with which the narrative appeared to you was probably not as immediate as the physical sensations of the screen before you or the room around you. The ball is indubitably ‘in’ your mind.

The room and all your physical surroundings are rather a part of your numinal aislingeachd. When a vision — and here I include all sensations collecting as they do to present us with a complete impression or experience — has the immediacy of present reality, taking on a life of its own and presenting us with an inarguable sense of separate existence, it is numinal. Of course, I am invoking a charged word by assigning the immediacy of apparent phenomena a term which denotes something essentially spiritual, but it is the sense of place and thing carried by the word ‘numen’ that I wish to bring to bear here. After all, dreams often carry the same immediacy as our wakening lived experience and are merely free of the causalities that burden waking reality. A numen is a spirit of a thing, place or person particular to a specific role, function or capability, so that numinal aislingeachd perceives in the most concrete and immediate way.

Manifest aislingeachd, by contrast, stands at a midpoint between the numinal and notional. When we enter hypnogogic sleep, seeing faces and forms never quite settling into a clear image, we are enjoying manifest aislingeachd. When we are so absorbed in a book that the notional aislingeachd of the narrative begins to vie with our perceived surroundings, then both the narrative of the book and our surroundings have moved into the realm of manifest aislingeachd. When we look down a darkened hallway and a peculiar combination of shadow and form turns a coat on a chair into an unknown figure standing and looking at us, manifest aislingeachd is at work.

It should be clear by now that these differing levels or branches of aislingeachd are really differing degrees of immediacy to our awareness; and such immediacy is often unnoted in accounts of visions or encounters with the divine. With a little consideration it should also be clear that these three branches erode the very modern distinction between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’, necessitating a reformulation of these two terms into ‘productive’ and ‘receptive’ kinds. We may still speak then of receiving the ‘real’ and producing the ‘imaginary’, though I have already noted that I suspect such distinctions are in reality misapprehensions: terms to be discarded when we are ready to accept our contribution to the formation of our lived experience. Such consideration also demands that we consider ourselves capable of complete mastery over our ‘dream life’, threatening that oh-so-pregnant phrase with effectively limitless power and calling to mind the aboriginal ‘dream-time’.

For now, however, we will need to work on growing into our sleeping aislingeachd, altering as we must our very definitions of sleep, reality and the material.

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