“…the Deus absconditus, the ‘hidden Treasure’, aspiring to reveal himself, to be known. However, this very relation gives rise to a dramatic situation in which the divine Being and the being in which and through which he reveals himself are simultaneously implicated, for God cannot look at another than himself, nor be seen by an other than him self. The Awliya, the ‘initiate’, graduated in the different spiritual degrees, are precisely the eyes at which God looks. Through them our world remains a world at which God ‘ looks’, and this is the meaning of the mysterious affirmation that if they were not, if there ceased to be the pole (the hidden Imam) who is the keystone of the invisible heavens which they all combine to form, our world would collapse in final catastrophe. It is rather difficult certainly to find in our language two terms that faithfully render the meaning of the words Walayat and Awliya. The idea of ‘initiation’, that of a sodality of ‘initiates’, invisible and permanent from cycle to cycle of prophecy, by substitution of one another individuality, seems best fitted to awaken their resonance. The theme is especially important in Shi’ite imamology; and it is also Shi’ite Sufism that offers the best possibility of a study in depth. And these terms suggest another connection. Literally the word Awliya means ‘Friends’: The Persian expression Awliya-e Khoda means the ‘Friends of God’. The very same term was applied to themselves in the fourteenth century by an entire family of Spirituals in the West. All inhabit the same heights inaccessible to those who are unaware of their orientation, like the ‘ Friend of God’ in Oberland, the ‘High Country’, where Goethe’s inner vision will nevertheless know how to find these heights, in a great poem which remains unfinished: Die Geheimnisse (the Secrets).
There are many traditions referring to this people of ‘initiates’ unknown to the very men whom they exist to protect. Ruzbehan developed these traditions in the prologue to his great work on the ‘Paradoxes of the mystics’. They are generally said to be 360 in number, corresponding to the 360 divine Names, the 360 days and nights of the year, the 360 degrees of the sphere measuring the day-night cycle. All the variations of this number have symbolic meanings. To pick one of the simplest forms, we will quote the following: ‘ God (writes Ruzbehan), possesses on earth three hundred eyes or persons whose heart is consonant with the heart of Adam; forty whose heart is consonant with the heart of Moses; seven whose heart is consonant with the heart of Abraham; five whose heart is consonant with the heart of Gabriel; three whose heart is consonant with the heart of Michael; one (the pole) whose heart is consonant with the heart of Seraphiel.’ The sum of 356 is raised to 360 by four figures of prophets who according to Islamic esotericism meditating on the Qur’anic revelation, have the common characteristic of having been carried off alive from death: Enoch (that is to say Idris, identified with Hermes), Khezr, Elijah and Christ.”
From Chapter 3, part 2, ‘Vision of the Pole in Ruzbehan of Shiraz’,
In ‘ The Man of Light’ by Henry Corbin.
Omega publications, 1994.
About Henry Corbin:
Goethe’s ‘Die Geheimnisse’ to be found here:
About Ruzbehan of Shiraz: