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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 ff.] 

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 mythological ones. 

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 in Tyre. 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 being. 

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




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