Fantasy: a post-Fall phenomenon

Hegumen Fr.Athanasios Mitilinaios
Stomio, Larissa.

From the moment that the first-fashioned couple looked at the forbidden fruit of the tree (of the knowledge of good and evil) “with different eyes”, they acquired a new element, which they didn’t have before: fantasy[i].

Adam didn’t originally possess fantasy; he acquired it after the Fall. All the descendants of Adam develop the trait of fantasy. Therefore it is a post-Fall phenomenon[ii].

With the term “fantasy” we mean the space that is interposed between the “nous” (mind) and the senses. On the one hand there is the nous and on the other there are the senses. The nous draws information from the outside world through the senses. Fantasy is “wedged” between the nous and the senses. Fantasy is something “thicker” than the nous, but “thinner” than the senses. The space of fantasy is repository and it stores the elements collected by both the nous and the senses. It is there that impressions and images are heaped together, and the senses can utilize the material that fantasy supplied them with.

Aristotle calls fantasy “a communal sense” (κοινή αίσθησις, sensus communis) because it is the common space of the five senses. All five senses deposit their material in the space of fantasy. This explains why – for example – in cinemas there is an effort to stimulate other senses as well, by implementing various tangible changes inside the movie theater (a drop in room temperature whenever snow is displayed; scents dispersed when flowers are displayed etc.). “On screen” there is no reality, so all those stimuli are implemented for the purpose of better imprinting the screen’s imagery within the space of fantasy.

Furthermore, fantasy has a recreative ability. Of course this ability is firstly attributed to the nous. The nous has the recreative ability of adding and removing; but fantasy also has this ability. A sense cannot alter anything of what it sees. If – let’s say – at this moment we were looking at the interior of a store, we would not be able to add or remove anything from that space. However our fantasy can add and remove whatever it wants. It can add more products or imagine the store to be empty or sporting other colours etc. The senses cannot change anything of what is actually apparent. This recreative ability of fantasy does have a certain merit, but it can also contain significant danger from an ethical standpoint.

Fantasy also “moves” within the space of sleep. Even when one is asleep, fantasy continues to work. Even when the senses are inactive (eyes are closed, ears do not hear, and the nose does not smell), fantasy continues to work. The nous also continues to work while the brain is in sleep mode. In order to understand this, we can liken the nous to a melody, and the brain (being the simple instrument of the nous that it is) to a guitar. Melody is one thing, and a guitar is another. Thus, the nous expresses itself through the brain, just as a melody is made audible with the help of the guitar.

So, we see dreams while we sleep, which are mainly part of our fantasy. However the nous does have a certain control and criticism in our dreams. We can deny or agree with something during the duration of a dream. If a certain dream displeases me, I can give a command with my nous to wake up from it.

This element of fantasy entered man, after the dialogue that Adam had with the devil in the Garden of Eden. Prior to that event, the senses and the nous of the first-fashioned couple were pristine; however the devil approached them, stirred up their fantasy by telling them of their god-likeness if they were to eat of the forbidden fruit, prompting them thus to disobey God’s command. The devil created a false image in the space of their fantasy – something that was generated for the first time, in the first-fashioned couple.

Moreover, fantasy also functions in the following manner: When, for whatever reason, man doesn’t have enough time, his fantasy will rapaciously collect material like a predator and will unfold that material later, during a quieter hour, and enjoy it – in the same manner that ruminant animals enjoy their meals.

Thus, during his leisure time, a person will recall whatever his fantasy had stored earlier, and, with his ability to add and remove, he will add, remove, alter, supplement… in other words, he will create images. That is where the devil – who is standing by – will use those images that the person had seen, and will “embellish” and “present” them the way he wants, in order to mislead that person.

As the material of fantasy unfolds, the senses and the instincts become active again. As a result, man may create conditions that are unpleasant for his body, and he may reach points of abasement – even of suicide, if there are analogous images and impulses in his life. A permanent state of “fantasy affliction” could actually lead a person to live with illusions. For example, many experience the delusion that their pet is their child and they equate it to a human being, thus blaspheming God.

This, we could say, is how the devil exploits fantasy. Of the dreams that are projected, some are ours – drawn from our existence – and others are demonic. The devil was created, like all the angels, with a simple, unformed and without fantasy nous. When he came up with the idea of god-likeness, he processed it in his own fantasy – that is, in the space that was created the moment he thought about it. He himself created fantasy, so he also moves within it.

God said to the devil: “you will eat dust all the days of your life”. (Gen.3:14). This implied that after man’s Fall, the devil would “enjoy” every sin through man, given that he himself does not have a body; he is fleshless. We could say that passions are his “sustenance”. So, when God says to him “you will eat dust”, this means he will move within the material world, within material forms, and within passions. Thus was the devil condemned, who used to be an angel of light.

Fantasy, as we have seen, has the ability to alter its material, to add and remove. Consequently, its kinship with images is extremely powerful. An example is given by Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite in his counsels for the deification of man and for the safeguarding of the five senses. When someone is eating a lemon and I watch him, my own mouth salivates. How did that happen? It was because an image formed in my fantasy, that I was eating the lemon. This proves what a stimulatory power the image has in a fantasy. Therefore, when filthy and harmful images are imprinted in one’s fantasy, they can cause immense disaster to one, especially when he insists voluntarily and with an irrational desire on seeking such images. The spiritual damage wrought in such cases could be rendered permanent.

Let it be noted here, that in one of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion it is written that they desire to corrupt mankind with the superabundance of images. Since man’s nous creates images when reading books for example, this could be very beneficial to his life, provided that what he reads will make him a better person. Man benefits incomparably, even through to eternal life, by reading the divine scriptures, i.e., the Gospel. But when the human nous stores images that come prepared by various contemporary transmitters (television, cinemas, internet) man doesn’t create anything on his own; he doesn’t produce images; he only reproduces the images imposed on him, resulting in him falling into a peculiar inactivity. Therefore the superabundance of images gives rise to idleness of the nous, causing it to cease thinking. We can perceive the potential level of uselessness that the nous can reach, when the images provided are different to the phronema (conscience) that is beneficial to man.

It is however impermissible for a faithful and pious person, who is aware of what is truly in his best interest, to gaze upon obscene images. Even if he unintentionally sees or thinks of something wicked, he must arrest that which passed through his mind in order to escape from it. His fantasy is useful, when utilized for good things, such as the theory of existing things, the observation of Creation, the preoccupation with Christ’s earthly life, how He lived, how He preached, what He promised us. And all these things are possible, with the necessary prerequisite of a pure heart that doesn’t reflect on anything wicked, because that is what is demanded by the truth and the reality of the Holy Triadic God, Who created us and is familiar with our constructional specifications.


[i] A reminder, that the scientific meaning of the term “fantasy” differs from its spiritual definition as used by the Holy fathers.

[ii] The abolishment of fantasy is the result of partaking in uncreated Grace by the deified, which is why it is named “therapy”. Adam partook of the Grace of God before the Fall, but when he lost that Grace, fantasy became a part of his fallen state.

Translation by O.D.V.

Source: This article is a concise covering of the content of the speech of Fr.Athanasios Mitilinaios of blessed memory, hegumen of the Monastery of Saint Demetrios and the Dormition of the Mother of God at Stomio, Larissa.