- The Worship of Woman and the Worship of the Soul
The Christian principle which unites the opposites is the worship of God, in Buddhism it is the worship of the self (self-development), while in Spitteler and Goethe it is the worship of the soul symbolized by the worship of woman.
Implicit in this categorization is the modern individualistic principle on the one hand, and on the other a primitive poly-daemonism which assigns to every race, every tribe, every family, every individual its specific religious principle.
The medieval background of Faust has a quite special significance because there actually was a medieval element that presided over the birth of modern individualism.
It began, it seems to me, with the worship of woman, which strengthened the man’s soul very considerably as a psychological factor, since the worship of woman meant worship of the soul.
This is nowhere more beautifully and perfectly expressed than in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Dante is the spiritual knight of his lady; for her sake he embarks on the adventure of the lower and upper worlds.
In this heroic endeavour her image is exalted into the heavenly, mystical figure of the Mother of God—a figure that has detached itself from the object and become the personification of a purely psychological factor, or rather, of those unconscious contents whose personification I have termed the anima. Canto XXXIII of the Paradiso expresses this culminating point of Dante’s psychic development in the prayer of St. Bernard:
O Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
Humbler and more exalted than all others,
Predestined object of the eternal will!
Thou gavest such nobility to man
That He who made mankind did not disdain
To make Himself a creature of His making.
Verses 22–27, 29–33, 37–39 also allude to this development:
This man, who from the nethermost abyss
Of all the universe, as far as here,
Has seen the spiritual existences,
Now asks thy grace, so thou wilt grant him strength
That he may with his eyes uplift himself
Still higher toward the ultimate salvation.
I… proffer to thee
All my prayers—and pray they may suffice—
That thou wilt scatter from him every cloud
Of his mortality, with thine own prayers,
So that the bliss supreme may be revealed.
May thy protection quell his human passions!
Lo, Beatrice and many a blessed soul
Entreat thee, with clasped hands, to grant my wish!
The very fact that Dante speaks here through the mouth of St. Bernard is an indication of the transformation and exaltation of his own being.
The same transformation also happens to Faust, who ascends from Gretchen to Helen and from Helen to the Mother of God; his nature is altered by repeated figurative deaths (Boy Charioteer, homunculus, Euphorion), until finally he attains the highest goal as Doctor Marianus. In that form Faust utters his prayer to the Virgin Mother:
Pavilioned in the heaven’s blue,
Queen on high of all the world,
For the holy sight I sue,
Of the mystery unfurled.
Sanction what in man may move
Feelings tender and austere,
And with glow of sacred love
Lifts him to thy presence near.
Souls unconquerable rise
If, sublime, thou will it;
Sinks that storm in peaceful wise
If thy pity still it.
Virgin, pure in heavenly sheen,
Mother, throned supernal,
Highest birth, our chosen Queen,
Godhead’s peer eternal.
O contrite hearts, seek with your eyes
The visage of salvation;
Blissful in that gaze, arise,
Through glad regeneration.
Now may every pulse of good
Seek to serve before thy face,
Virgin, Queen of Motherhood,
Keep us, Goddess, in thy grace.
We might also mention in this connection the
symbolic attributes of the Virgin in the Litany of Loreto:
Mater amabilis Lovable Mother
Mater admirabilis Wonderful Mother
Mater boni consilii Mother of good counsel
Speculum justitiae Mirror of justice
Sedes sapientiae Seat of wisdom
Causa nostrae laetitiae Cause of our gladness
Vas spirituale Vessel of the spirit
Vas honorabile Vessel of honour
Vas insigne devotionis Noble vessel of devotion
Rosa mystica Mystical rose
Turris Davidica Tower of David
Turris eburnea Tower of ivory
Domus aurea House of gold
Foederis arca Ark of the covenant
These attributes reveal the functional significance of the Virgin Mother image: they show how the soul-image (anima) affects the conscious attitude. She appears as a vessel of devotion, a source of wisdom and renewal.
We find this characteristic transition from the worship of woman to the worship of the soul in an early Christian document, the Shepherd of Hermas, who flourished about A.D. 140.
This book, written in Greek, consists of a number of visions and revelations describing the consolidation of the new faith. The book, long regarded as canonical, was nevertheless rejected by the Muratori Canon.
It begins as follows:
The man who reared me sold me to a certain Rhoda in Rome. After many years, I made her acquaintance again and began to love her as a sister. One day I saw her bathing in the Tiber, and gave her my hand and helped her out of the water. When I saw her beauty I thought in my heart: “How happy I would be if I had a wife of such beauty and distinction.” This was my only thought, and no other, no, not one.
This experience was the starting-point for the visionary episode that followed.
Hermas had apparently served Rhoda as a slave; then, as often happened, he obtained his freedom, and met her again later, when, probably as much from gratitude as from delight, a feeling of love stirred in his heart, though so far as he was aware it had merely the character of brotherly love.
Hermas was a Christian, and moreover, as the text subsequently reveals, he was at that time already the father of a family, circumstances which would readily explain the repression of the erotic element.
Yet the peculiar situation, doubtless provocative of many problems, was all the more likely to bring the erotic wish to consciousness.
It is, in fact, expressed quite clearly in the thought that he would have liked Rhoda for a wife, though, as Hermas is at pains to emphasize, it is confined to this simple statement since anything more explicit and more direct instantly fell under a moral ban and was repressed.
It is abundantly clear from what follows that this repressed libido wrought a powerful transformation in his unconscious, for it imbued the soul-image with life and brought about a spontaneous manifestation:
After a certain time, as I journeyed unto Cumae, praising God’s creation in its immensity, beauty, and power, I grew heavy with sleep. And a spirit caught me up, and led me away through a pathless region where a man may not go. For it was a place full of crevices and torn by water-courses. I made my passage over the river and came upon even ground, where I threw myself upon my knees, and prayed to God, confessing my sins. While I thus prayed, the heavens opened and I beheld that lady for whom I yearned, who greeted me from heaven and said: “Hail to thee, Hermas!” While my eyes dwelt upon her, I spake, saying: “Mistress, what doest thou there?” And she answered: “I was taken up, in order to charge thee with thy sins before the Lord.” I said unto her: “Dost thou now accuse me?” “No,” said she, “yet hearken now unto the words I shall speak unto thee. For God, who dwelleth in heaven, and hath created the existing out of the non-existing, and hath magnified it and brought it to increase for the sake of His Holy Church, is wroth with thee, because thou has sinned against me.” I answered and spake unto her: “How have I sinned against thee? When and where spake I ever an evil word unto thee? Have I not looked upon thee as a goddess? Have I not ever treated thee like a sister? Wherefore, O lady, dost thou falsely charge me with such evil and unclean things?” She smiled and said unto me: “The desire of sin arose in thy heart. Or is it not indeed a sin in thine eyes for a just man to cherish a sinful desire in his heart? Verily is it a sin,” said she, “and a great one. For the just man striveth after what is just.”
Solitary wanderings are, as we know, conducive to daydreaming and reverie.
Presumably Hermas, on his way to Cumae, was thinking of his mistress; while thus engaged, the repressed erotic fantasy gradually pulled his libido down into the unconscious.
Sleep overcame him, as a result of this lowering of the intensity of consciousness, and he fell into a somnambulant or ecstatic state, which itself was nothing but a particularly intense fantasy that completely captivated his conscious mind.
It is significant that what then came to him was not an erotic fantasy; instead he is transported as it were to another land, represented in fantasy as the crossing of a river and a journey through a pathless country.
The unconscious appears to him as an upper world in which events take place and men move about exactly as in the real world.
His mistress appears before him not in an erotic fantasy but in “divine” form, seeming to him like a goddess in heaven.
The repressed erotic impression has activated the latent primordial image of the goddess, i.e., the archetypal soul-image.
The erotic impression has evidently become united in the collective unconscious with archaic residues which have preserved from time immemorial the imprint of vivid impressions of the nature of woman—woman as mother and woman as desirable maid. Such impressions have immense power, as they release forces, both in the child and in the adult man, which fully merit the attribute “divine” i.e., something irresistible and absolutely compelling.
The recognition of these forces as daemonic powers can hardly be due to moral repression, but rather to a self-regulation of the psychic organism which seeks by this change of front to guard against loss of equilibrium. For if, in face of the overwhelming might of passion, which puts one human being wholly at the mercy of another, the psyche succeeds in building up a counterposition so that, at the height of passion, the boundlessly desired object is unveiled as an idol and man is forced to his knees before the divine image, then the psyche has delivered him from the curse of the object’s spell.
He is restored to himself again and, flung back on himself, finds himself once more between gods and men, following his own path and subject to his own laws.
The awful fear that haunts the primitive, his terror of everything impressive, which he at once senses as magic, as though it were charged with magical power, protects him in a purposive way against that most dreaded of all possibilities, loss of soul, with its inevitable sequel of sickness and death.
Loss of soul amounts to aconsciousness, oppressing the whole man.
It throws him off course and drives him to actions whose blind one-sidedness inevitably leads to self-destruction.
Primitives are notoriously subject to such phenomena as running amok, going berserk, possession, and the like.
The recognition of the daemonic character of passion is an effective safeguard, for it at once deprives the object of its strongest spell, relegating its source to the world of demons, i.e., to the unconscious, whence the force of passion actually springs.
Exorcistic rites, whose aim is to bring back the soul and release it from enchantment, are similarly effective in causing the libido to flow back into the unconscious.
These mechanism obviously worked in the case of Hermas.
The transformation of Rhoda into a divine mistress deprived the actual object of her provocative and destructive power and brought Hermas under the law of his own soul and its collective determinants.
Thanks to his abilities and connections, Hermas no doubt had a considerable share in the spiritual movements of his age.
At that very time his brother Pius occupied the episcopal see at Rome. Hermas, therefore, was probably qualified to collaborate in the great task of his time to a greater degree than he, as a former slave, may have consciously realized.
No able mind could for long have withstood the contemporary task of spreading Christianity, unless of course the barriers and peculiarities of race assigned him a different function in the great process of spiritual transformation.
Just as the external conditions of life force a man to perform a social function, so the collective determinants of the psyche impel him to socialize ideas and convictions.
By transforming a possible social faux pas into the service of his soul after having been wounded by the dart tearing loose of part of one’s nature; it is the disappearance and emancipation of a complex, which thereupon becomes a tyrannical usurper of of passion,
Hermas was led to accomplish a social task of a spiritual nature, which for that time was surely of no small importance.
In order to fit him for this task, it was clearly necessary that his soul should destroy the last possibility of an erotic attachment to the object, as this would have meant dishonesty towards himself.
By consciously denying any erotic wish, Hermas merely demonstrated that it would be more agreeable for him if the erotic wish did not exist, but it by no means proved that he actually had no erotic intentions and fantasies.
Therefore his sovereign lady, the soul, mercilessly revealed to him the existence of his sin, thus releasing him from his secret bondage to the object.
As a “vessel of devotion” she took over the passion that was on the point of being fruitlessly lavished upon her.
The last vestige of this passion had to be eradicated if the contemporary task was to be accomplished, and this consisted in delivering man from sensual bondage, from the state of primitive participation mystique.
For the man of that age this bondage had become intolerable.
The spiritual function had to be differentiated in order to restore the psychic equilibrium.
All philosophical attempts to do this by achieving “equanimity,” most of which concentrated on the Stoic doctrine, came to grief because of their rationalism.
Reason can give a man equilibrium only if his reason is already an equilibrating organ.
But for how many individuals nd at what periods of history has it been that?
As a rule, a man needs the opposite of his actual condition to force him to find his place in the middle.
For the sake of mere reason he can never forgo the sensuous appeal of the immediate situation.
Against the power and delight of the temporal he must set the joy of the eternal, and against the passion of the sensual the ecstasy of the spiritual.
The undeniable reality of the one must be matched by the compelling power of the other.
Through insight into the actual existence of his erotic desire, Hermas was able to acknowledge this metaphysical reality.
The sensual libido that had previously clung to the concrete object now passed to his soul-image and invested it with the reality which the object had claimed exclusively for itself.
Consequently his soul could speak to good effect and successfully enforce her demands.
After his conversation with Rhoda, her image vanishes and the heavens close.
In her stead there now appears an “old woman in shining garments,” who informs Hermas that his erotic desire is a sinful and foolish defiance of a venerable spirit, but that God is angry with him not so much on that account as because he tolerates the sins of his family.
In this adroit fashion the libido is drawn away entirely from the erotic desire and in a flash is directed to the social task.
An especial refinement is that the soul has discarded the image of Rhoda and taken on the appearance of an old woman, thus allowing the erotic element to recede into the background.
It is later revealed to Hermas that this old woman is the Church; the concrete and personal has resolved itself into an abstraction, and the idea acquires a reality it had never before possessed.
The old woman then reads to him from a mysterious book attacking heathens and apostates, but whose exact meaning he is unable to grasp.
Subsequently we learn that the book sets forth a mission.
Thus his sovereign lady presents him with his task, which as her knight he is pledged to accomplish.
Nor is the trial of virtue lacking.
For, not long after, Hermas has a vision in which the old woman reappears, promising to return about the fifth hour in order to explain the revelation.
“Whereupon Hermas betook himself into the country to the appointed place, where he found a couch of ivory, set with a pillow and a cover of fine linen.
As I beheld these things lying there, I was sore amazed, and a quaking fell upon me and my hair stood on end, and a dreadful fear befell me, because I was alone in that place. But when I came once more to myself, I remembered the glory of God and took new courage; I knelt down and again confessed my sins unto God, as I had done before. Then she drew near with six young men, the which also I had seen before, and stood beside me and listened while I prayed and confessed my sins unto God. And she touched me and said: “Hermas, have done with all thy prayers and the reciting of thy sins. Pray also for righteousness, whereby thou mayest bear some of it with thee to thy house.” And she raised me up by the hand and led me to the couch, and said unto the young men: “Go and build!” And when the youths were gone and we were alone, she said unto me: “Sit thee here!” I said unto her: “Mistress, let the aged first be seated.” She said: “Do as I said unto thee and be thou seated.” But, when I made as though to seat myself upon her right hand, she motioned me with a gesture of the hand to be seated upon her left. As I wondered thereat, and was troubled, that I might not sit upon the right side, she said unto me: “Why art thou grieved, Hermas? The seat upon the right is for those who are already well-pleasing to God and have suffered for the Name. But to thee there lacketh much before thou canst sit with them. Yet remain as heretofore in thy simplicity, and thou shalt surely sit with them, and thus shall it be for all who shall have accomplished the work which those wrought, and endured what they suffered.”
In this situation, it would have been very easy for Hermas to give way to an erotic misunderstanding.
The rendezvous has about it the feeling of a trysting-place in a “beautiful and sequestered spot,” as he puts it.
The rich couch waiting there is a fatal reminder of Eros, so that the terror which overcame Hermas at the sight of it is quite understandable.
Clearly he must fight vigorously against these erotic associations lest he fall into a mood far from holy.
He does not appear to have recognized the temptation for what it was, unless perhaps it is tacitly admitted in the description of his terror, a touch of honesty that came more easily to the man of that time than to the man of today.
For in that age man was more closely in touch with his own nature than we are, and was therefore in a position to perceive his natural reactions directly and to recognize what they were.
In the case of Hermas, the confession of his sins may very well have been prompted by unholy sensations.
At all events, the ensuing question as to whether he shall sit on the right hand or the left leads to a moral reprimand from his mistress.
For although signs coming from the left were regarded as favourable in the Roman auguries, the left side, for both the Greeks and the Romans, was on the whole inauspicious, as the double meaning of the word “sinister” shows.
But the question raised here of left and right has nothing to do with popular superstitions and is clearly of Biblical origin, referring to Matthew 25:33: “And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”
Because of their guileless and gentle nature, sheep are an allegory of the good, while the unruly and lascivious nature of goats makes them an image of evil.
By assigning him a seat on the left, his mistress tactfully reveals to him her understanding of his psychology.
When Hermas has taken his seat on her left, rather sadly, as he records, his mistress shows him a visionary scene which unrolls itself before his eyes.
He beholds how the youths, assisted by ten thousand other men, build a mighty tower whose stones fit together without seams.
This seamless tower, of indestructible solidity, signifies the Church, so Hermas is given to understand.
His mistress is the Church, and so is the tower.
We have seen already in the Litany of Loreto that the Virgin is named “tower of David” and “tower of ivory.”
The same or a similar association seems to be made here.
The tower undoubtedly has the meaning of something solid and secure, as in Psalm 61:4: “For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.”
Any resemblance to the tower of Babel would involve an intense inner contradiction and must be excluded, but there may nevertheless be echoes of it, since Hermas, in company with every other thoughtful mind of that epoch, must have suffered much from the depressing spectacle of the ceaseless schisms and heretical disputes of the early Church.
Such an impression may even have been his main reason for writing these confessions, an inference supported by the fact that the mysterious book that was revealed to him inveighed against heathens and apostates.
The same confusion of tongues that frustrated the building of the tower of Babel almost completely dominated the Church in the early centuries, demanding desperate efforts on the part of the faithful to overcome the chaos.
Since Christendom at that time was far from being one flock under one shepherd, it was only natural that Hermas should long for the “shepherd,” the poimen, as well as for some solid and stable structure, the “tower,” that would unite in one inviolable whole the elements gathered from the four winds, the mountains and seas.
Earth-bound desire, sensuality in all its forms, attachment to the lures of this world, and the incessant dissipation of psychic energy in the world’s prodigal variety, are the main obstacle to the development of a coherent and purposive attitude.
Hence the elimination of this obstacle must have been one of the most important tasks of the time.
It is therefore not surprising that, in the Sheperd of Hermas, it is the mastering of this task that is unfolded before our eyes.
We have already seen how the original erotic stimulus and the energy it released were canalized into the personification of the unconscious complex, becoming the figure of Ecclesia, the old woman, whose visionary appearance demonstrates the spontaneity of the underlying complex.
We learn, moreover, that the old woman now turns into a tower, since the tower is also the Church.
This transformation is unexpected, because the connection between the tower and the old woman is not immediately apparent.
But the attributes of the Virgin in the Litany of Loreto will put us on the right track, for there we find, as already mentioned, the tower associated with the Virgin Mother.
This attribute has its source in the Song of Songs 4:4:
“Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury,” and 7:4: “Thy neck is a tower of ivory.”
Similarly 8:10: “I am a wall, and my breasts like towers.”
The Song of Songs, as we know, was originally a love poem, perhaps a wedding song, which was denied canonical recognition even by Jewish scholars until very late.
Mystical interpretation, however, has always loved to conceive the bride as Israel and the bridegroom as Jehovah, impelled by a sound instinct to turn even erotic feelings into a relationship between God and the chosen people.
Christianity appropriated the Song of Songs for the same reason, interpreting the bridegroom as Christ and the bride as the Church.
To the psychology of the Middle Ages this analogy had an extraordinary appeal, and it inspired the quite unabashed Christ-eroticism of the Christian mystics, some of the best examples of which are supplied by Mechtild of Magdeburg.
The Litany of Loreto was conceived in this spirit.
It derived certain attributes of the Virgin directly from the Song of Songs, as in the case of the tower symbol.
The rose, too, was used as one of her attributes even at the time of the Greek Fathers, together with the lily, which likewise appear in the Song of Songs (2:1): “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
Images much used in the medieval hymns are the “enclosed garden” and the “sealed fountain” (Song of Songs 4:12: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed”).
The unmistakably erotic nature of these images was explicitly accepted as such by the Fathers.
Tus St. Ambrose interprets the “enclosed garden” as virginity.
In the same way, he compares Mary with the ark of bulrushes in which Moses was found:
By the ark of bulrushes is meant the Blessed Virgin. Therefore his mother prepared the ark of bulrushes wherein Moses was placed, because the wisdom of God, which is the Son of God, chose blessed Mary the virgin and formed in her womb a man to whom he might become joined in unity of person.
St. Augustine employs the simile (frequently used by later writers) of the thalamus, bridal chamber, for Mary, again in an expressly anatomical sense:
“He chose for himself a chaste bridal chamber, where the bridegroom was joined to the bride,” and: “He issued forth from the bridal chamber, that is from the virginal womb.”
The interpretation of vas as the womb may therefore be taken as certain when St. Ambrose says in confirmation of St. Augustine:
“Not of earth but of heaven did he choose for himself this vessel, through which he should descend to sanctify the temple of shame.”
The designation (vessel) is not uncommon with the Greek Fathers. Here again there is probably an allusion to the Song of Songs, for although the designation vas does not appear in the Vulgate text, we find instead the image of the goblet and of drinking (7:2):
“Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor; thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.”
The meaning of the first sentence has a parallel in the Meisterlieder der Kolmarer Handschrift, where Mary is compared with the widow’s cruse of oil (I Kings:17: 9ff.):
“… Zarephath in the land of Zidon, whither Elijah was sent to a widow who should feed him; my body is fitly compared with hers, for God sent the prophet unto me, to change for us our time of famine.”
With regard to the second, St. Ambrose says:
“In te womb of the virgin grace increased like a heap of wheat and the flowers of the lily, even as it generated the grain of wheat and the lily.”
These non-Biblical allegories can have their source only in pagan conceptions still current at that time.
It is therefore only just, when considering the vessel symbol, to call to mind the well-known and widespread Gnostic symbolism of the vessel.
A great many incised gems have been preserved from that time which bear the symbol of a pitcher with remarkable winged bands, at once recalling the uterus with the ligamenta lata.
This vessel is called the “vase of sins,”
in contrast with the hymns to Mary in which she is extolled as the “vessel of virtue.”
King contests the former interpretation as arbitrary and agrees with Köhler that the cameo-image (principally Egyptian) refers to the pots on the water-wheels that drew up water from the Nile to irrigate the fields; this would also explain the peculiar bands which clearly served for fastening the pot to the water-wheel.
The fertilizing function of the pot was, as King notes, expressed as the “fecundation of Isis by the seed of Osiris.”
Often there is on the vessel a winnowing basket, probably with reference to the “mystical winnowing basket of Iakchos,” or λîκνoν, the figurative birthplace of the grain of wheat, symbolizing fertility.
There used to be a Greek marriage ceremony in which a winnowing basket filled with fruit was placed on the head of the bride, an obvious fertility charm.
This interpretation of the vessel is supported by the ancient Egyptian view that everything originated from the primal water, Nu or Nut, who was also identified with the Nile or the ocean.
Nu is written with three pots, three water signs, and the sign for heaven. A hymn to Ptah-Tenen says:
“Maker of grain, which cometh forth from him in his name Nu the Aged, who maketh fertile the watery mass of heaven, and maketh to come forth the water on the mountains to give life to men and women.”
Wallis Budge drew my attention to the fact that the uterus symbolism exists today in the southern hinterland of Egypt in the form of rain and fertility charms. Occasionally it still happens that the natives in the bush kill a woman and take out her uterus for use in magical rites.
Then one considers how strongly the Church Fathers were influenced by Gnostic ideas in spite of their resistance to these heresies, it is not inconceivable that we have in the symbolism of the vessel a pagan relic that proved adaptable to Christianity, and this is all the more likely as the worship of Mary was itself a vestige of paganism which secured for the Christian Church the heritage of the Magna Mater, Isis, and other mother goddesses.
The image of the vas Sapientiae, vessel of wisdom, likewise recalls its Gnostic prototype, Sophia.
Official Christianity, therefore, absorbed certain Gnostic elements that manifested themselves in the worship of woman and found a place for them in an intensified worship of Mary. I have selected the Litany of Loreto as an example of this process of assimilation from a wealth of equally interesting material.
The assimilation of these elements to the Christian symbol nipped in the bud the psychic culture of the man; for his soul, previously reflected in the image of the chosen mistress, lost its individual form of expression through this absorption.
Consequently, any possibility of an individual differentiation of the soul was lost when it became repressed in the collective worship.
Such losses generally have unfortunate consequences, and in this case they soon made themselves felt. Since the psychic relation to woman was expressed in the collective worship of Mary, the image of woman lost a value to which human beings had a natural right.
This value could find its natural expression only through individual choice, and it sank into the unconscious when the individual form of expression was replaced by a collective one.
In the unconscious the image of woman received an energy charge that activated the archaic and infantile dominants.
And since all unconscious contents, when activated by dissociated libido, are projected upon external objects, the devaluation of the real woman was compensated by daemonic traits.
She no longer appeared as an object of love, but as a persecutor or witch.
The consequence of increasing Mariolatry was the witch hunt, that indelible blot on the later Middle Ages.
But this was not the only consequence.
The splitting off and repression of a valuable progressive tendency resulted in a quite general activation of the unconscious.
This activation could find no satisfying expression in collective Christian symbols, for an adequate expression always takes an individual form.
Thus the way was paved for heresies and schisms, against which the only defence available to the Christian consciousness was fanaticism.
The frenzied horror of the Inquisition was the product of over-compensated doubt, which came surging up from the unconscious and finally gave rise to one of the greatest schisms of the Church—the Reformation.
If I have dwelt rather longer on the symbolism of the vessel than my readers might have expected, I have done so for a definite reason, because I wanted to elucidate the psychological relations between the worship of woman and the legend of the Grail, which was so essentially characteristic of the early Middle Ages.
The central religious idea in this legend, of which there are numerous variants, is the holy vessel, which, it must be obvious to everyone, is a thoroughly non-Christian image, whose origin is to be sought in extra-canonical sources.
From the material I have cited, it seems to me a genuine relic of Gnosticism, which either survived the extermination of heresies because of a secret tradition, or owed its revival to an unconscious reaction against the domination of official Christianity.
The survival or unconscious revivification of the vessel symbol is indicative of a strengthening of the feminine principle in the masculine psychology of that time.
Its symbolization in an enigmatic image must be interpreted as a spiritualization of the eroticism aroused by the worship of woman.
But spiritualization always means the retention of a certain amount of libido, which would otherwise be immediately squandered in sexuality.
Experience shows that when the libido is retained, one part of it flows into the spiritualized expression, while the remainder sinks into the unconscious and activates images that correspond to it, in this case the vessel symbol.
The symbol lives through the restraint imposed upon certain forms of libido, and in turn serves to restrain these forms.
The dissolution of the symbol means a streaming off of libido along the direct path, or at any rate an almost irresistible urge for its direct application.
But the living symbol exorcises this danger.
A symbol loses its magical or, if you prefer, its redeeming power as soon as its liability to dissolve is recognized.
To be effective, a symbol must be by its very nature unassailable.
It must be the best possible expression of the prevailing world-view, an unsurpassed container of meaning; it must also be sufficiently remote from comprehension to resist all attempts of the critical intellect to break it down; and finally, its aesthetic form must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it on that score.
For a certain time the Grail symbol clearly fulfilled these requirements, and to this fact it owed its vitality, which, as the example of Wagner shows, is still not exhausted today, even though our age and our psychology strive unceasingly for its dissolution.
Let us now recapitulate this rather lengthy discussion and see what insights have been gained.
We began with the vision of Hermas, in which he saw a tower being built.
The old woman, who at first had declared herself to be the Church, now explains that the tower is a symbol of the Church.
Her significance is thus transferred to the tower, and it is with this that the whole remaining part of the text is concerned.
For Hermas it is only the tower that matters, and no longer the old woman, let alone Rhoda.
The detachment of libido from the real object, its concentration on the symbol and canalization into a symbolic function, is complete.
The idea of a universal and undivided Church, expressed in the symbol of a seamless and impregnable tower, has become an unshakable reality in the mind of Hermas.
The detachment of libido from the object transfers it into the subject, where it activates the images lying dormant in the unconscious.
These images are archaic forms of expression which become symbols, and these appear in their turn as equivalents of the devalued objects.
This process is as old as mankind, for symbols may be found among the relics of prehistoric man as well as among the most primitive human types living today.
Symbol-formation, therefore, must obviously be an extremely important biological function.
As the symbol can come alive only through the devaluation of the object, it is evident that the purpose it serves is to deprive the object of its value.
If the object had an absolute value, it would be an absolute determining factor for the subject and would abolish his freedom of action absolutely, since even a relative freedom could not coexist with absolute determination by the object.
Absolute relation to the object is equivalent to a complete exteriorization of the conscious processes; it amounts to an identity of subject and object which would render all cognition impossible. In a milder form this state still exists today among primitives.
The projections we so often encounter in practical analysis are only residues of this original identity of subject and object.
The elimination of cognition and conscious experience resulting from such a state means a considerable impairment of the capacity for adaptation, and this weights the scales heavily against man, who is already handicapped by his natural defencelessness and the helplessness of his young.,
But it also produces a dangerous inferiority in the realm of affect, because an identity of feeling with the object means, firstly, that any object whatsoever can affect the subject to any degree, and secondly, any affect on the part of the subject immediately includes and violates the object.
An incident in the life of a bushman may illustrate what I mean.
A bushman had a little son whom he loved with the tender monkey-love characteristic of primitives.
Psychologically, this love is completely autoerotic—that is to say, the subject loves himself in the object.
The object serves as a sort of erotic mirror. One day the bushman came home in a rage; he had been fishing, and had caught nothing.
As usual the little fellow came running to meet him, but his father seized hold of him and wrung his neck on the spot.
Afterwards, of course, he mourned for the dead child with the same unthinking abandon that had brought about his death.
This a good example of the object’s identity with a passing affect.
Obviously this kind of mentality is inimical to any protective tribal organization and to the propagation of the species, and must therefore be repressed and transformed. This is the purpose the symbol serves, and to this end it came into being. It draws libido away from the object, devalues it, and bestows the surplus libido on the subject.
This surplus exerts its effect upon the unconscious, so that the subject finds himself placed between an inner and an outer determinant, whence arises the possibility of choice and relative subjective freedom.
Symbols always derive from archaic residues, from racial engrams (imprints), about whose age and origin one can speculate much although nothing definite can be determined.
It would be quite wrong to try to derive symbols from personal sources, for instance from repressed sexuality.
Such a repression can at most supply the amount of libido required to activate the archaic engram.
The engram, however, corresponds to an inherited mode of functioning which owes its existence not to centuries of sexual repression but to the differentiation of instinct in general.
The differentiation of instinct was and still is a biological necessity; it is not peculiar to the human species but manifests itself equally in the sexual atrophy of the worker-bee.
I have used the vessel symbolism as an illustration of the way symbols are derived from archaic conceptions.
Just as we found the primitive notion of the uterus at the root of this symbol, we may conjecture a similar derivation in the case of the tower.
The tower belongs in all probability to the category of phallic symbols in which the history of symbolism abounds.
The fact that the tower, presumably symbolizing erection, appears at the very moment when Hermas has to repress his erotic fantasies at the sight of the alluring couch is not surprising.
We have seen that other symbolic attributes of the Virgin and the Church are unquestionably erotic in origin, as already attested by their derivation from the Song of Songs, and that they were expressly so interpreted by the Church Fathers.
The tower symbol in the Litany of Loreto has the same source and may therefore have a similar underlying meaning. The attribute “ivory” is undoubtedly erotic in origin, since it is an allusion to the tint and texture of the skin (Song of Songs 5:14: “His belly is as bright ivory”).
But the tower itself is also found in an unmistakably erotic context in 8:10:
“I am a wall, and my breasts like towers,” which obviously refers to the jutting-out breasts with their full and elastic consistency.
“His legs are as pillars of marble” (5:15), “thy neck is as a tower of ivory” (7:4), “thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon” (7:4), are equally obvious allusions to something slender and projecting.
These attributes originate in tactile sensations which are transferred from the organ to the object.
Just as a gloomy mood seems grey, and a joyous one bright and colourful, so also the sense of touch is influenced by subjective sexual sensations (in this case the sensation of erection) whose qualities are transferred to the object.
The erotic psychology of the Song of Songs uses the images aroused in the subject for the purpose of enhancing the object’s value.
Ecclesiastical psychology employs these same images in order to guide the libido towards a figurative object, while the psychology of Hermas exalts the unconsciously activated image into an end in itself, using it to embody ideas that were of supreme importance for the minds of that time, namely, the consolidation and organization of the newly won Christian attitude and view of the world. ~Carl Jung, CW 6, Para 375-406