“The Crimsoned Archangel” (lit., “The Red Intellect”), one of the visionary recitals or treatises on spiritual initiation of Sohravardī (d. 1191)


ʿAQL-E SORḴ, “The Crimsoned Archangel” (lit., “The Red Intellect”), title of one of the visionary recitals or treatises on spiritual initiation of Šayḵ-al-ešrāq Šehāb-al-dīn Yaḥyā Sohravardī Maqtūl (d. 587/1191). The Arabic word ʿaql corresponds to the Greek noûs and Latin intelligentia intellectus (not “reason”) while the “hierarchical Intelligences” (ʿoqūl) of the Muslim Neoplatonists are traditionally identified with the archangelic entities known as Cherubim (Karūbīān). In this treatise the intellect, or rather, the archangel, is presented haloed in red (sorḵ), a symbolism connected to the mixture of night and day found in the evening, for the archangel stands at the boundary between the spiritual and the material worlds. The archangel is at the same time the philosophers’ “active intelligence” (ʿaql faʿʿāl), which is the tenth in the hierarchy of the Cherubim and the angel of the human race (rabb al-nawʿ al-ensānī), and the figure that the theologians call the Holy Spirit, or Gabriel; it is both angel of knowledge and angel of revelation. It dominates Sohrvardī’s ešrāq philosophy, which combines philosophic research and mystical experience; hence in his long treatises Sohravardī expounds his doctrine, while in his shorter works he shows how the doctrine is gradually mastered by the soul. The visionary recitals are concerned not simply with a theory of knowledge or of cosmology, but with meeting with the angel. The “Recital of the Crimsoned Archangel” helps teach the mystic how to achieve this meeting. The archangel instructs its disciple about the difficulties he will have in ascending the cosmic, or rather psycho-cosmic, mountain Qāf. Seven wonders will have to be conquered; finally, if the visionary is capable of identifying himself with Ḵeżr-Elias, he will easily cross Qāf, the mountain separating him from the spiritual world. One of the fundamental intentions of Sohravardī’s ešrāq philosophy is to revive the wisdom of Light professed by the sages of ancient Persia. The “Recital of the Crimsoned Archangel” bears the clear marks of his intention, e.g., in the importance given to the bird Sīmorḡ, which provides the key for the mystical interpretation of two episodes of the Šāh-nāma of Ferdowsī: the birth of the white-haired infant Zāl and his exposure in the desert, and the combat of Rostam and Esfandīār. Sohravardī thus inaugurates a true mystical taʾwīl (hermeneutics) of the Šāh-nāma.



Sohravardī, Oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques II. Oeuvres en persan (Opera metaphysica et mystica III), ed. with intro. by S. Ḥ. Naṣr; prolegomena, analysis, and comm. by H. Corbin, Bibliothèque Iranienne 7, Tehran and Paris, 1970; tr. by Corbin in Sohravardī, L’Archange empourpré: quinze traités et récits mystiques traduits du persan et de l’arabe (Documents spirituels 14), ed. Paris, 1976; also in idem, En Islam iranien: aspects spirituels et philosophiqes II. Sohravardī et les Platoniciens de Perse, Paris, 1971, chap. 5. See also W. M. Thackston, Jr., tr., The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Suhrawardi, London, 1982, pp. 35-43.

(H. Corbin)

Originally Published: December 15, 1986

Last Updated: August 10, 2011

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Vol. II, Fasc. 2, pp. 198-199