“And to all this man is drawn by the power of his own soul, by the powers that are dimly sensed when he passes through the inner portals of the soul, when he seeks for that divine voice within calling him to the union of the ‘eternal masculine’, — the universe, with the ‘eternal feminine’, — consciousness”¹.
This article is the latest in a series on the theme of whether we can find a new mythology, a common visionary story, to unite humanity in an attempt to solve the world’s problems. (For a guide to the whole series, see under Mythology near the bottom of the Blog Index page.)
In the previous article I tried to establish the Divine Feminine as a cosmic principle, and therefore an essential ingredient in any new mythology. It is, however, also an aspect of masculine psychology, an essential stage of a man’s spiritual journey.
In Jungian psychology, which has much to teach humanity, the goal of the individuation process (spiritual journey and psychological transformation) is the Self, the God-image in the human psyche. If God is androgynous, as I argued in the previous article, it is logical that the purified masculine ego should have to unite in marriage with the Divine Feminine, in order to achieve this goal. This sacred marriage is called the hieros gamos. Pictures depicting it can be found in many medieval alchemical texts.
Depiction of the fermentatio stage as hieros gamos, woodcut from the 16th century Rosary of the Philosophers
That the Divine Feminine is the key to a man’s spiritual development is clear in some famous literary texts, which we can describe as quasi-mythological, since great literature sometimes elevates itself almost to the status of mythology. The final line, thus the climax, of Goethe’s Faust is “The Eternal Feminine draws us above”². A statement by Sarah Colvin, professor of German at Edinburgh University, demonstrates the success of the patriarchal religions in almost completely obliterating all notion of the Divine Feminine from modern consciousness. She said: “Faust is saved at the end by a figure of the eternal feminine, which has caused havoc in scholarship, because people don’t know quite what it means. And it’s sometimes been taken to mean the rather clichéd notion of the ideal woman, who lets men off the hook of behaving well, because she’s doing it for them. But on the other hand you could also see the Eternal Feminine as a great kind of opposite pole, again to male politics, masculine discourse, male rhetoric, and a space of aesthetic education”³. Neither of these alternatives does justice to the true meaning of the Divine (Eternal) Feminine as a religious concept, which is what it actually is.
So even educated scholars are clueless about the Divine Feminine, Western culture having been indoctrinated by the male monotheism of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Other well known literary examples are:
- Penelope, who represents the Divine Feminine of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. His long journey is an obvious symbol of the arduous spiritual path of return to his home, and his wanderings can be seen as a development of the Feminine within his psyche, as he encounters Calypso, Nausicaa, Circe, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and eventually his wife Penelope.
- Beatrice, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who replaces the Roman poet Virgil, his guide for the earlier stages of his journey, at the threshold of Paradise, since she is able to lead him to a vision of God. She is a clear example of a female figure leading the searching soul onwards and upwards, as explained by brittanica.com: “Dante is met by Beatrice, embodying the knowledge of divine mysteries bestowed by Grace, who leads him through the successive ascending levels of heaven to the Empyrean, where he is allowed to glimpse, for a moment, the glory of God”⁴.
- Miranda in The Tempest, with whom the spiritual aspirant Ferdinand unites in marriage as the culmination of his inner transformation. Shakespeare insists on the divine nature of this marriage by having the goddesses Juno and Ceres attend.
The Odyssey demonstrates that the idea of union with the Divine Feminine goes back over 2,500 years. Perhaps our poets and playwrights know better than our scholars and theologians.
2. in the original “Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan”.
3. Appearing on In Our Time, BBC Radio4, April 6th 2006, which discussed the work of Goethe.