In the Introduction to the Second Section of Symbols of Transformation (SoT), Carl Jung speaks of and quotes a section of Goethe’s Faust. In the story, Faust descends to the realm of the Mothers. Faust’s influence on Jung is particularly important for our reading of SoT.
In the story, Mephistopheles gives Faust a key. He says: “The key will smell the right place from all others; Follow it down, ’twill lead you to the Mothers.” With this Jung begins his gradual contemplation of “the realm of the Mothers,” a contemplation which will culminate in his last chapter on “The Sacrifice.” Understanding the nature of the ‘Mothers’ requires the ability for creative imagination. One has to ‘dream on’ the Mothers, to contemplate the Mothers. And in doing so, a whole new field of knowing opens: a field of the soul, of the creative potential of the ‘feminine principle.’ This feminine principle is vital to transforming both ourselves and the world. It is the principle of creative regeneration and rebirth of the Self.
In order to begin to work through this principle I am including an extended section from Faust. The discussion which follows includes Carl Jung’s views on the ‘realm of the Mothers.’,’ as well as a conversation between Eckermann and Goethe taking place in 1830 which addresses the ‘the Mothers.’
Mephistopheles. I praise you, truly, ere you part from me,
Since that you understand the Devil I can see.
Here, take this key.
Faust.That tiny, little thing!
Mephistopheles. Seize and esteem it, see what it may bring!
Faust. It’s growing in my hand! it flashes, glows!
Mephistopheles. Will you see now what blessing it bestows?
The key will smell the right place from all others;
Follow it down, ’twill lead you to the Mothers.
Faust [shuddering]. The Mothers! Like a blow it strikes my ear!
What is that word that I don’t like to hear?
Mephistopheles. So narrow-minded, scared by each new word?
Will you but hear what you’ve already heard?
Let naught disturb you, though it strangely rings,
You! long since wonted to most wondrous things.
Faust. And yet in torpor there’s no gain for me;
The thrill of awe is man’s best quality.
Although the world may stifle every sense,
Enthralled, man deeply senses the Immense.
Mephistopheles.Descend, then! I might also tell you: Soar!
It’s all the same. Escape from the Existent
To phantoms’ unbound realms far distant!
Delight in what long since exists no more!
Like filmy clouds the phantoms glide along.
Brandish the key, hold off the shadowy throng.
Faust [inspired]. Good! Gripping it, I feel new strength arise,
My breast expands. On, to the great emprise!
Mephistopheles. When you at last a glowing tripod see,
Then in the deepest of all realms you’ll be.
You’ll see the Mothers in the tripod’s glow,
Some of them sitting, others stand and go,
As it may chance. Formation, transformation,
Eternal Mind’s eternal re-creation.
Images of all creatures hover free,
They will not see you, only wraiths they see.
So, then, take courage, for the danger’s great.
Go to that tripod, do not hesitate,
And touch it with the key!
Mephistopheles is the image of the devil, but Goethe describes him as the “part of that power which would Ever work evil, but engenders good.” Mephistopheles “puts into Faust’s hand the marvelous tool,” the “key.” Jung says:
“What he is describing here is the libido, which is not only creative and procreative, but possesses an intuitive faculty, a strange power to “smell the right place,” almost as if it were a live creature with an independent life of its own (which is why it is so easily personified). It is purposive, like sexuality itself, a favorite object of comparison” (para. 182).
This ‘key’ will lead Faust down to the ‘realm of the Mothers.’ Jung describes this realm as being related to the creative power of the unconscious (or the Self):
“The ‘realm of the Mothers’ has not a few connections with the womb, with the matrix, which frequently symbolizes the creative aspect of the unconscious” (ibid).
We can further understand the nature of the ‘Mothers’ by turning to a conversation between Goethe and Eckermann. In 1830, Eckermann spoke with Goethe regarding the mother. The conversation is as follows:
“This afternoon, Goethe afforded me great pleasure by reading the scene in which Faust visits the Mothers. The novelty and unexpectedness of the subject, and Goethe’s manner of reading the scene, struck me so forcibly, that I felt myself wholly transported into the situation of Faust when he shudders at the communication from Mephistophiles. Although I had heard and felt the whole, yet so much remained an enigma to me, that I felt myself compelled to ask Goethe for some explanation. But he, in his usual manner, wrapped himself up in mystery, as he looked on me with wide open eyes, and repeated the words —
“Die Mütter ! Mütter ! ‘s klingt so wunderlich/ “
The Mothers ! Mothers ! nay, it sounds so strange.
” I can reveal to you no more,” said he, ” except that I found, in Plutarch, that in ancient Greece mention was made of the Mothers as divinities. This is all that I owe to others, the rest is my own invention. Take the manuscript home with you, study it carefully, and see what you can make of it.”
“I was very happy while studying this remarkable scene once more in quiet, and took the following view of the peculiar character and influence, the abode and outward circumstances, of the Mothers : —
“Could we imagine that huge sphere our earth had an empty space in its centre, so that one might go hundreds of miles in one direction, without coming in contact with anything corporeal, this would be the abode of those unknown goddesses to whom Faust descends. They live, as it were, beyond all place; for nothing stands firm in their neighbourhood : they also live beyond all time ; for no heavenly body shines upon them which can rise or set, and mark the alternation of day and night.
“Thus, dwelling in eternal obscurity and loneliness, these Mothers are creative beings ; they are the creating and sustaining principle from which everything proceeds that has life and form on the surface of the earth. Whatever ceases to breathe returns to them as a spiritual nature, and they preserve it until a fit occasion arises to come into existence anew. All souls and forms of what has been, or will be, hover about like clouds in the vast space of their abode. So are the Mother’s surrounded, and the magician must enter their dominion, if he would obtain power over the form of a being, and call back former existences to seeming life.
“The eternal metamorphosis of earthly existence, birth and growth, destruction and new formation, are thus the unceasing care of the Mothers; and, as in everything which receives new life on earth, the female principle is most in operation, these creating divinities are rightly thought of as female, and the august title of Mothers may be given to them not without reason.
“All this is, indeed, no more than a poetic creation; but the limited human mind cannot penetrate much further, and is contented to find something on which it can repose. Upon earth we see phenomena, and feel effects, of which we do not know whence they come and whither they go. We infer a spiritual origin— something divine, of which we have no notion, and for which we have no expression, and– which we must draw down to ourselves, and anthropomorphize– that we may in some degree embody and make comprehensible our dark forebodings.
“Thus have arisen all mythi, which from century to century have lived among nations, and, in like manner, this new one of Goethe’s, which has at least the appearance of some natural truth, and may be reckoned among the best that was ever devised.”
The realm of the Mothers is an archetypal representation of ‘the female principle.’The key that will take us toward the realm of the Mothers is libido. Libido is the passionate creative power of the living soul/ Through ‘Uniting.. with it,’ we come in contact with creative divinity, and thus accomplish our ‘life’s work.’ Jung explains:
“This libido is a force of nature, good and bad at once, or morally neutral. Uniting himself with it, Faust succeeds in accomplishing his real life’s work, at first with evil results and then for the benefit of mankind” (ibid).
Through entrance into creative realms of being, one may consummate the ‘royal marriage.’
“In the realm of the Mothers he finds the tripod, the Hermetic vessel in which the “royal marriage” is consummated. But he needs the phallic wand… The insignificant-looking tool in Faust’s hand is the dark creative power of the unconscious, which reveals itself to those who follow its dictates and is indeed capable of working miracles” (ibid).
The sacred marriage occurs upon the union of the libidinal aspect (the ‘key’) with the vessel. This image represents the hieros gamos of the Self. We will see this theme of union again and again in archetypal symbolism: creative power in union with the creative vessel (as soul, as unconscious, as the mother). Creative union guides the path of soul!
Carl Jung, Cw 5, Symbols of Transformation (in US Pubic Domain, first published 1912)
Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann and Soret -1850
Goethe Faust, Part II