Imagination is the gateway to spiritual experience. ~ Kathy Helen Warner, Heaven and Earth
True imagination transcends the ego, and creates experiences by which it can encounter
the inner world….From a more mystical perspective, imagination is the means by which
the soul experiences God and shares in the creative expression of the Divine….
Fantasy, on the other hand, never transcends the ego…[It] is about
the ego’s needs, desires, and quest for aggrandizement.
~ Jeffrey Raff, Jung and the Alchemical Imagination
When I looked up imagination in the thesaurus, it lists fantasy as a synonym. However, I am learning just how very different fantasy and imagination truly are! As the quote above points out, fantasy is self-serving. Fantasies are based on ego wants and desires on one hand and ego worries and fears on the other. ‘Fantasy’ is related to the word ‘phantom.’ One definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary begins, “The power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images….” Very recent history shows us how, when fantasy is taken to the extreme, it can become very destructive.
So how is imagination different? First, let’s look at the word ‘imagination’ itself. One definition from Oxford Languages is, “The ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful.” True imagination is about being creative and resourceful in partnership with the entire cosmos. With imagination we create our world and we build relationships with all of life.
Through imagination we dream and we realize our raison-d’etre here on earth. As Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist, “[Your Personal Legend] Is what you’ve always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible.” I first knew the nature of my Personal Legend at age 5. You may remember the story: You Could Do That, Too.
Imagination is composed of images that go beyond our physical senses. To imagine is inner seeing, inner envisioning. Imagination comes from the word ‘image.’s And, though I have not found evidence of it, one author suggests that the word ‘image’ comes from ‘magus’ or magician. Whether that’s so or not, it does make sense to me. Imagination is magical. As children we all knew this. As adults, sometimes we forget and have to be reminded that we create ‘reality’ from our imagination. As Robert Simmons writes, “We imagine the whole world. The meaning we extract, or conjure up, from our sensory data is what we call ‘the world,’ and that has been created by the imagination….The ability to see (and manifest) the kingdom of Heaven on Earth is the alchemical work of True Imagination.”
Thus, no matter what the experts of the thesaurus and dictionary write about them, I view fantasy and imagination as being very different – opposites, in fact – and the implications of the differences are staggering.
As for the photo above, I took it at a time when I wanted to find a new totem to be my teacher. One day, shortly after that, I went for my daily walk. As I unlocked the car to return home, I turned around. And there is was, my new totem: the elephant. Magical. Some understandings of what the elephant represents are strength, power, loyalty, longevity, and cooperation. And, as I was preparing this email today, to ensure that I was being close to accurate, I googled ‘elephant archetype.’ In my search, in addition to the common attributes I already knew, I came across an article I had not seen before. It describes the elephant archetype in Jungian terms: the elephant represents the Self, transformation, and the alchemical Philosopher’s Stone. Aha! When the student is ready, the teacher appears – in more ways than one.