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 Goethe's Concept of the Eternal Feminine

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Erik

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PostSubject: Goethe's Concept of the Eternal Feminine    Fri Jan 30, 2015 10:25 am

The eternal feminine is a psychological archetype and philosophical principle that idealizes an immutable concept of "woman". It is one component of gender essentialism, the belief that men and women have different core "essences" that cannot be altered by time or environment. The concept is commonly associated with the genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who mentioned it near the end of his famous " Faust ". It's also mentioned by many other individualities from Plato to Jakob Böhme.



Elena P. O'Brien wrote:
Alles Vergängliche
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Das Unzulängliche,
Hier wird`s Ereignis;
Das Unbeschreibliche,
Hier ist`s getan;
Das Ewig-Weibliche
Zieht uns hinan (Goethe, 12104-12111. 488-489).

Faust:
Nun gut wer bist du denn?
Mephistopheles:
Ein Teil von jener Kraft,
Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft (Goethe 1336-1337. 65).

These two well-known citations are from Goethe`s world renowned drama Faust.
Both citations challenge the reader to ponder two important topics: the meaning of the
world`s existence and the mystery of the concept of evil. Both citations have been
translated, rewritten, and/or reinterpreted by countless thinkers (writers, philosophers,
mystics, theologians, etc.), all coming from different perspectives and belonging to
different cultures. At the same time Goethe himself was influenced (directly and
indirectly) by the philosophical and religious ideas of Plato and such Post-Platonic
thinkers as Jakob Böhme. Goethe`s ideas and his vision of the Eternal Feminine
influenced Christian theological and mystical thought. This connection will play a
central part in this exploration of one particular aspect of Goethe`s concept of the
Eternal Feminine and that is of its function as an agent of salvation. Salvation is the
central theme of Christian thought and the main purpose of this work will be to show
that Goethe`s idea of Eternal Feminine has strong redemptive elements to it. In other
words, I will examine Goethe`s Faust primarily as a drama of the salvation of its main
character and the role that the Eternal Feminine plays in it.

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Last edited by Erik on Sat Feb 07, 2015 4:43 pm; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Goethe's Concept of the Eternal Feminine    Tue Feb 03, 2015 11:00 am

Elena P. O'Brien wrote:
Goethe`s representation of the Eternal Feminine has a strong redemptive element to it
which becomes apparent in the concluding part of the drama Faust. The very essence of
this concluding episode is Faust`s salvation, his escape from the clutches of Mephisto
and eternal damnation. The leading agent of salvation is the Feminine principle. Mater
Gloriosa is at its center. Faust is being fought over by an army of the feminine and
attractive Angels who battle the powers of Satan with love and use their charms to
disarm Satan. Another feminine figure, Gretchen, is leading Faust to his new world,
again surrounded by female repented sinners: Magna Peccatrix, Mulier Smaritana, and
Maria Aegyptica.

For Goethe, "woman" symbolized pure contemplation, in contrast to masculine action. The feminine principle is further articulated by Nietzsche within a continuity of life and death, based in large part on his readings of ancient Greek literature, since in Greek culture both childbirth and the care of the dead were managed by women. Domesticity, and the power to redeem and serve as moral guardian, were also components of the "eternal feminine". The virtues of women were inherently private, while those of men were public.

Elena P. O'Brien wrote:
Faust praises Nature’s regenerating powers and compares this process to the
religious idea of resurrection. In the same passage, Faust talks about people who also
like everything alive, like any animal or plant are drawn to the gentle raises of the
spring`s son “Jeder sonnt sich heute so gern.” (Goethe 920. 50). Faust reads his ode of
praise to the nature while observing the people celebrating Easter. However, it would
be misleading to ascribe a Christian meaning to Faust`s words. Resurrection of the Lord
has little significance to Faust, just like in the Prologue in Heaven Goethe used Christian
imagery to convey his own world view. Though Faust mentions that people are
celebrating the Lord`s resurrection “Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn” (Goethe
922. 50) and adds that they themselves got resurrected. What really caused that
“resurrection” are the warm life giving rays of the spring son and the magic
regenerating power of nature and not the Lord of Christianity. What is meant by the
Easter here is the pagan celebration of the spring common to many cultures. It is not
coincidental that this passage follows Faust`s unsuccessful suicide attempt. The bells of
the Church proclaiming Christ`s resurrection, the sound of which prevents Faust from
killing himself, are no more than a lucky coincidence, a natural occurrence rather than
Divine intervention in a Christian sense of this word. What saved Faust is the Eternal
Feminine, the nature that takes care of its creatures and which allowed Faust to keep his
sweet childhood memories associated with the beautiful, enchanting sound of the
church bells in the sweet, serene moments of late spring. To this Nature alone directes
Faust his devotion, this is Nature with all her basic elements (the Ocean/ the Water, the
Fire, the Air, the Earth) that is praised in a religious fashion and to which one should
sing such hymns as the following:

So herrsche denn Eros, der alles begonnen!
Heil dem Meere! Heil den Wogen!
Von dem heiligen Feuer umzogen;
Heil dem Wasser! Heil dem Feuer!
Heil dem seltnen Abenteuer!
ALL ALLE! Heil den mildgewognen Lüften!
Heil geheimnisreichen Grüften!
Hochgefeiert seid allhier
Element ihr alle vier! (8479-8487. 348).

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PostSubject: Re: Goethe's Concept of the Eternal Feminine    Fri Feb 06, 2015 10:46 am

Elena P. O'Brien wrote:
Even without any previous knowledge of Goethe`s natural philosophy, his
fascination and admiration for it become apparent when reading Faust. In this sense
Faust is an ode to Nature, to its inexhaustible procreative power, to its breath taking
beauty, and to its majestic greatness. This beauty and greatness stands in a sharp
contrast to the ugliness and lowliness of human deeds, to the futility and smallness of
their daily hustle and bustle, their miserable never-ending struggle for survival. The
natural life-giving cycle is present everywhere. After beautiful colorful fall, nature
seems to die, the leaves wither and are shed, the forests stand naked, the fertile earth of
the fields cease to produce the life-sustaining crops. Before too long the winter comes,
everything bringing frost and snow, which covers the earth under its white blanket.
But with the first raise of the spring sun, the world that seemed so empty and dead begins
to come to life again. The snow melts, the buds spring force, beautiful flowers appear
everywhere, and forests regain their green foliage. People observed this miracle for
centuries and came to the conclusion that in the process of the rebirth of nature lies the
key to the immortality and they worshiped Nature`s life giving forces: “The eternal
cycle of life and death was suggested by the image of creatures coming forth from her
as from a womb and returning to her as to a grave.” (Jantz 455). For Goethe, the
connection between nature and immortality seems to be important. The passages in the
drama devoted to nature sound elevated and exalted, and one can hear the mixture of
awe and joy in such lines that Goethe puts in the mouth of Faust:

Vom Eise befreit sind Strom und Bäche
Durch des Frühlings holden, belebenden Blick;Im Tale grünet Hoffnungsglück;
Der alte Winter, in seiner Schwäche,
Zog sich in rauhe Berge zurück.
Von dorther sendet er, fliehend, nur
Ohnmächtige Schauer kornigen Eises
In Streifen über die grünende Flur;
Aber die Sonne duldet kein Weißes,
Überall regt sich Bildung und Streben,
Alles will sie mit Farben beleben; (903-913. 50).



Elena P. O'Brien wrote:
Faust praises Nature’s regenerating powers and compares this process to the
religious idea of resurrection. In the same passage, Faust talks about people who also
like everything alive, like any animal or plant are drawn to the gentle raises of the
spring`s son “Jeder sonnt sich heute so gern.” (Goethe 920. 50). Faust reads his ode of
praise to the nature while observing the people celebrating Easter. However, it would
be misleading to ascribe a Christian meaning to Faust`s words. Resurrection of the Lord
has little significance to Faust, just like in the Prologue in Heaven Goethe used Christian
imagery to convey his own world view. Though Faust mentions that people are
celebrating the Lord`s resurrection “Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn” (Goethe
922. 50) and adds that they themselves got resurrected. What really caused that“resurrection”
are the warm life giving rays of the spring son and the magic
regenerating power of nature and not the Lord of Christianity. What is meant by the
Easter here is the pagan celebration of the spring common to many cultures. It is not
coincidental that this passage follows Faust`s unsuccessful suicide attempt. The bells of
the Church proclaiming Christ`s resurrection, the sound of which prevents Faust from
killing himself, are no more than a lucky coincidence, a natural occurrence rather than
Divine intervention in a Christian sense of this word. What saved Faust is the Eternal
Feminine, the nature that takes care of its creatures and which allowed Faust to keep his
sweet childhood memories associated with the beautiful, enchanting sound of the
church bells in the sweet, serene moments of late spring. To this Nature alone directes
Faust his devotion, this is Nature with all her basic elements (the Ocean/ the Water, the
Fire, the Air, the Earth) that is praised in a religious fashion and to which one should
sing such hymns as the following:

So herrsche denn Eros, der alles begonnen!
Heil dem Meere! Heil den Wogen!
Von dem heiligen Feuer umzogen;
Heil dem Wasser! Heil dem Feuer!
Heil dem seltnen Abenteuer!
ALL ALLE! Heil den mildgewognen Lüften!
Heil geheimnisreichen Grüften!
Hochgefeiert seid allhier
Element ihr alle vier! (8479-8487. 348).



Elena P. O'Brien wrote:
The praise to Nature plays the role of the constantly reoccurring leitmotif in the
drama. After every ordeal, Faust finds peace and rejuvenation in nature`s bosom, to be
drawn away from it by his restless spirit until his final hour strikes and Faust enters the
realm of the Eternal Feminine to remain with her forever. Each time these meetings
(rendezvous) with Nature bring the best in Faust turn his look inward into his
contemplative self as well us upward to the spiritual and intellectual as well as
aesthetical heights. If Faust could only remain there with Nature and faithful to nature
to seek the best in himself instead of following Mephisto and bustling around with
meaningless activity, which hurts and almost ruins Faust spiritually as well as brings
ruin to others. Just like a prayer in which a believer converses with God, the following
lines are in a sense his prayer to the spirit of Nature:

Erhabner Geist, du gabst mir, gabst mir alles,
Warum ich bat. Du hast mir nicht umsonst
Dein Angesicht im Feuer zugewendet.
Gabst mir die herrliche Natur zum Königreich,
Kraft, sie zu fühlen, zu genießen. Nicht
Kalt staunenden Besuch erlaubst du nur,
Vergönnest mir in ihre tiefe Brust
Wie in den Busen eines Freunds zu schauen.
Du führst die Reihe der Lebendigen
Vor mir vorbei, und lehrst mich meine Brüder
Im stillen Busch, in Luft und Wasser kennen (Goethe 3217-3227. 142-143).


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PostSubject: Re: Goethe's Concept of the Eternal Feminine    Fri Feb 20, 2015 2:01 pm

The Meaning of The Eternal Feminine in Goethe's Faust

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