In the Realm of the Mothers
Thomas, logion Jesus said: 'My earthly mother gave me
death, but my heavenly mother gave me life.'
Let me read you an evocative passage from Goethe's Faust,
one that has raised questions from many readers. In a poem dealing with
witches, monsters and devils, Goethe has to top himself by introducing a
Mystery too deep even for the demon Mephistopheles to sound. [76
What is this Realm of Mothers? Goethe knew enough not to
ruin a good mystery by explaining it, so he never does. But the puzzle is
irresistible. And there are some clues. First, the
The whole idea of Faust resorting to the dangerous
expedient of plumbing hell's depths to locate one particular lost soul, none
other than Helen of Troy, seems to have been suggested by a scene in The Iliad.
The reference to Helen is itself the big tip-off to look to The Iliad. In that
epic we find Odysseus and his companions setting up a sacrificial oracular
tripod to summon the shade of Hercules from Hades. They require his bow for the
son of Achilles to use in the battle for Troy,
where the abducted adulteress Helen is.
But Faust is descending into the depths to find Helen
herself, whom not even Mephistopheles has no business
dredging up from the heathen hell. He, too, employs a tripod.
But the motif of Faust seeking his beloved in Hades seems
to come from the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce. There
Orpheus is granted the opportunity to breach hell's ramparts and retrieve his
beloved. Of course, he looks back, like Lot's wife, and
fumbles the ball.
A third root for the Faust episode is the legend of Simon
Magus, the rival miracle worker who battled Peter in a contest of magic feats
in the early church. According to the church fathers, Simon traveled with his
own Mary Magdalene, a whore named Helen whom Simon had fished out of a brothel
He claimed that he himself was the earthly epiphany of the Great Power, some sort of divine hypostasis. As such he recognized Helen as
the degraded reincarnation of Helen of Troy, herself the earthly manifestation
of the Ennoia, the First Thought, another
heavenly entity like himself. The two were eternal syzygies:
yoke-fellows, soul mates, twins and lovers, like Tammuz and Ishtar,
whose love was hymned in the Song of Songs.
In the Song of Songs Ishtar
proclaims "Love is stronger than death, and jealously more
fierce than the grave, whereupon she made her way to Hell to rescue the
fallen Tammuz. Similarly, Simon Magus has entered the dark realm of the Tyrian brothel, symbolizing the Gnostic Hell--the material
world. And there he found and raised up his Helen.
This is the classic Gnostic myth of the Redeemed Redeemer. (Too bad Jimmy Swaggart didn't know about it! It could have gotten him out
of a tight spot!)
And so Faust plays the role of Simon Magus rescuing his
Helen, not just a reincarnation of Helen of Troy, but the very same Helen. And
despite Faust's professions of love and infatuation for Helen's physical
beauty, it becomes evident that here, too, Helen stands for the missing
dimension of Faust's soul.
But from whence does he rescue her? Not Hell or Hades. Not from the material world nor from any brothel. He
retrieves her from the enigmatic Realm of the Mothers. Does Faust provide any
clue as to the nature of this hidden world?
Mephistopheles hints that the Realm of the Mothers is the
same as the Platonic Realm of Forms. Here no material things exist, but the
ideal prototypes of all things that might exist reside in pure logical
possibility. It is the great Womb of Potentiality, from which anything
might emerge, and from which everything has emerged and will emerge into the
time stream. It is a theoretical realm outside of time and space. And when
Faust enters it, his determination carrying him across unthinkable gulphs of aether and entity, he
exists in forbidden actuality in that Nothing that
contains the All.
Helen comes to the earth, into history, not for the
second time, but for an alternative first time. She is like a computer file
that has been accessed at two different times, each, as far as the program
itself is concerned, in virgin novelty. Not a second coming,
but a new first coming.
Goethe's Faust has
to be understood as an allegory of the soul, much like Kazantzakis's
Last Temptation of Christ. And I think I am closer to the meaning of it when I
think of a couple of other attempts to say the same thing. The first is the New
Hermeneutic project of Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling.
They were post-Bultmannians in that they took their
lead from the later Heidegger as their mentor Rudolf Bultmann had taken his
from the earlier works of Heidegger. They were interested in the mystic power
of poetic speech.
For Heidegger and for the New Hermeneutic, the writing of
a poem represented a disclosure of Being to the poet,
who is an oracle of sorts. The poet has preserved that flash of Being and articulated it as best he could. He rendered the
word of Being for his own day. But it remains for us
today to return to the poetic text and let Being speak
anew, afresh. For Being silently tolls within the
tower of the poem, and the modern reader or critic is able to hear new peals,
now revelations of Being undetected by the first poet.
This Void of Being and Meaning is the realm of pure
potentiality that now and again sends forth actualizations into the field of
time. The newer is not newer than the older, for both alike emerge from the
place where there is no time, nor even any place! This is the void from which
Faust calls Helen even as Homer once summoned her. This is the Realm of the
Mothers. The womb of the goddess Cybele,
she whose name simply means "Caves." The
womb from which the world is continually born. And it is from this Realm
that we may draw new disclosures from the revelation of Being
vouchsafed to Goethe.
Again, the Realm of the Mothers is the Jungian
Unconscious where dwell like timeless Platonic archetypes the great mythemes, the potent microcosmic mandalas,
the dream patterns, the arcana of alchemy and gnosticism. To grow and progress
on the path of humanization, we must awaken ourselves by awakening these
archetypes. They are permanent files preprogrammed into the computer of our
soul. We must access them or we cannot finish the program of our selfhood.
Another way of saying it is to say we must charm the wise Kundalini
serpent to ascend and awaken one by one the chakras,
the psychic ganglia.
You may, like Faust, attain unto the Realm of the
Mothers, of the archetypes, and you may do it by means of dream and their
analysis. By the reading of myths and legends, and the
meditations upon them. By the study of soulish epics like Goethe's Faust. Or by the rituals of religion. One need not take the myths
or the rites literally for them to do their deep work in the depths of your
I would even suggest that, if the traditional forms of
your own religion have come to pall on you, you may return, like Faust, to that
eternal suspended moment where all the Forms pause in a still orbit of pure
potentiality. And from that timeless moment, or eon, equidistant from all times
and none, you may return with the Christ, new born, newly resurrected, though
never having come before. A new first advent.
Christianity and Christ may begin anew with you. The Blessed Mother of this
Redeemer will be the Realm of the Mothers. And Jesus will speak with their
voice as he says, in the Gospel of Thomas, "I am the All; the All came
forth from me."
Robert M. Price
March 16, 1996