The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4

With the discovery of Gebser, I am finally ready to deal with the main issue of this series of posts; namely, the eternal feminine, the devouring mother and the fourth face of God. Recall Gebser’s schema from the last post:

The story of Job, which we discussed in detail in the second post of the series, represents the transition from the Mythic Consciousness into the Instrumental (again, I prefer “Instrumental” here instead of “Mental” used in the chart).

Job is dissatisfied with the treatment he has received from God. His interlocutors do not argue with him on rational grounds. They don’t contradict the points he makes. They simply say he is wrong to disagree on principle. This the “we-oriented” ethic of the Mythic Consciousness. Group solidarity is everything. To go against the group is the greatest sin (ostracism in Ancient Greece was seen as worse than death. Even Socrates chose hemlock over exile). The Mythical Consciousness is still very strong in the modern world. Most people are terrified of going against the group, hence the great Seinfeld joke about people’s fear of public speaking being so great that if they were at a funeral they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

Job represents a turning point because he steadfastly refuses to give in to the mob. In doing so, he asserts his (egotistic) independence. More importantly, he provides clear and logical argumentation. This is the beginnings of the Instrumental Consciousness and it’s no coincidence that the writing of the Book of Job happened around the same time that the Ancient Greeks were figuring out logic and dialectic in the same neighbourhood of the eastern Mediterranean.

At the transition periods between two types of consciousness, there is an enormous psychic and social tension at play. In Answer to Job, Jung describes how this tension gave rise to Christianity. We don’t need to repeat his arguments here. The important point is that it was through St Paul and the Church that the theology of Christ was integrated into the Roman empire and Greek thought. When the empire collapsed, Europe went through the dark ages and the beginnings of the Instrumental Consciousness lived on in the Islamic world to be reintroduced to Europe later.

The modern Patriarchy begins at this time and it is symbolised by the Christian trinity. But, as Jung would much later point out, something had been left out of the Trinity and therefore relegated to the Unconscious. There was a hidden quaternity that was being repressed. Satan had already come to represent the unconscious in the Book of Job and so it’s fitting to put him “down there”. But another thing had been left out too: the feminine.

The feminine may have been left out of the official business of the Church but it was not forgotten by the people. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, there arose quite spontaneously a cult of the Virgin. In some places, it could be argued that the Virgin Mary was worshipped with more feeling than Christ. Thus, the need to recognise the feminine in a spiritual/symbolic sense was satisfied to a certain extent even though women were excluded from official life; a fact which heretics like Erasmus were already pillorying at the time of the Reformation.

This state of affairs continued until the next key part of the story which is the Death of God. Nietzsche may have made the official announcement in Zarathustra, but the real death of God happened earlier and the key text to understand it is Goethe’s Faust.

The beginning of Faust is almost identical to the Book of Job (of course, Goethe was doing this on purpose). Sitting up in the heavens, God and Satan (Mephistopheles) are having a chat when God singles out Faust. Unlike Job, who was a faithful servant without blemish, Faust has already swayed from the right path. He is “confused”. The Lord says he will lead Faust into clarity but Mephistopheles brags that he can corrupt Faust. God gives him leave to try. They make a bet. Whoever wins gets Faust’s soul.

Unlike the Book of Job where Yahweh shows up at the end to complete the story, God never appears again in the story. Faust does not meet God at the end but rather “the eternal feminine” (aka Sophia or the Virgin Mary). The other crucial difference is that Faust is not the unwilling recipient of Satan’s machinations. He is not the plaything of Satan. Rather, Mephistopheles must get Faust himself to agree to the deal. Faust accepts. He consciously trades in his eternal soul for the promise of being able to do whatever he wants on Earth. The combination of these factors means we are left with this quarternity at the end of the book.

This is a highly problematic formulation. It seems to suggest a return to matriarchy. The Father is gone only to be replaced by the Mother. In the meantime, Faust is the rebellious son who is out of control because he no longer has his Father around to set boundaries. As Dostoevsky pointed out, “if God does not exist, everything is permitted”. That’s exactly what happens in Faust. Faust goes from one crazy adventure to the next. Along the way he destroys Gretchen’s life and the lives of others. He never gives it a second thought. He just ploughs on to the next thing.  It is this element of the story that Spengler highlighted as representative of Faustian culture’s drive to infinity.

Jean Gebser had a different take; one that incorporates Jung. Let’s go back one step before Faust.

If God died sometime in the 18th century, we get the following quaternity.

Everybody is focused on the fact that God is dead which makes sense because the ramifications of that are that everything is now permitted. We see Faustian behaviour breaking out everywhere in western culture as the age of Heroic Materialism begins signaling adventure of the high seas, new discoveries in exotic lands, conquest, plunder, colonialism etc. In the post colonial years, the baby boomers live out the Faustian experience via sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Daddy’s gone. Let’s party!

Where is Mommy? That was a question nobody asked because the feminine had been relegated to the unconscious since the formulation of the Trinity. Here lies Gebser’s key insight.

Daddy was gone, but Mommy was still down there in the unconscious. Without the Church to keep a lid on it like they had with the alchemists, Western society began to explore the depths. It was exactly at this time that there was a surge in interest in the unconscious, the hidden, the dark and the invisible. It was the age of geology, archaeology, history, myth, evolution, deep time and psychology. Physics drilled down so far into the dark recesses of matter it fell out the bottom. We discovered invisible microorganisms. There was a boom in interest in occultism.

Some of these developments were already visible in the story of Faust. Faust spends a good deal of the book partying with witches and flying on magic carpets. In the second half, he interacts with the myths of antiquity. There is even a “romance” between Faust and Helen (of Helen of Troy fame). This is all part of the world that western culture had previously relegated to the unconscious. The door to “below” was well and truly open. Mephistopheles gives Faust the key and he goes down to meet the “Mothers”.

Faust’s relationship with Satan captures the satanic element of the Unconscious in detail. But Faust’s relationships with Gretchen and Helen, which the represent the journey into the feminine side of the Unconscious, are described by Goethe in noticeably vague, rushed and incomplete form. Moreover, they both end in disasters which are redeemed in highly dubious fashion at the end of the book. Goethe’s treatment of Satan is detailed, intricate and convincing. His treatment of the feminine question seems like an afterthought and quite literally a deus ex machina. Western culture knew how to deal with Satan but not yet with the feminine.

Here, finally, I have the explanation for The Devouring Mother.

God died and the Faustian sons of western culture had a two century long party. While that was going on, we still didn’t quite notice the feminine down in the unconscious. But the party is now coming to an end. Specifically, the infinite expansion element of the Faustian myth is imploding because it turns out you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. This fact also reveals the Mother problem. Gaia is finally saying enough is enough but she is doing so from a “shadow” position because the feminine is still relegated to the Unconscious.

The Faustian son destroyed himself literally and spiritually on the battlefields of the world wars leaving the following quarternity.

Spengler reached this exact same conclusion. In his analysis, infinity pursued by the Faustian son was the core of Faustian culture. When the son disappeared, he concluded there were no longer any “great men” who could continue the infinite expansion. Therefore, Faustian culture was finished.

What if Spengler was wrong. What if the main task before us is actually the incorporation of the Unconscious. If that is true, Faust represents not the end but beginning. It is the turning point in the emergence of a new consciousness in exactly the same way that the Book of Job heralded the transition from the Mythical to the Instrumental.

The new consciousness that is trying to emerge is the Integral. Jungian psychology holds the key to this because it has explicitly identified the two main integrations that need to take place at the psychic level; namely, the integration of the conscious and the unconscious and the integration of the masculine and the feminine. This could mean any number of things. Here are two starting points at the macro level.

The feminine needs to rise out from the unconscious and take its place in consciousness as the full, positive, “eternal” feminine rather than the shadow form which is currently manifesting.

The masculine has a different challenge. It needs to get over the fact that God is dead. It needs to stop being a son and become a man. (Note: this is the dangerous idea that probably drove Nietzsche insane. We’ll unpack it more in the next post).

Here is my first tentative diagram of what this might look like.

Both Jung and Gebser were anxious to point out that if this is analytically correct, it would still not necessarily be psychologically or spiritually useful. They both believed it needed to be rendered in symbolic form and their assumption was that this entailed a religious approach. That might be true. But what if art could help do the job? That was exactly my guess in the very first post in this series and in the next post I’ll finish by sketching that idea out in detail as we return to the book that might be the real precursor to the new consciousness: Patrick White’s Voss.

All posts in this series:

Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final

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