My very first class of graduate school was titled The Faust Legend, and it was the entire reason I had signed up for two years of torture in the first place.
I was a baby Jungian, a tried and true devotee to the brilliance of that old Swiss, and I had noted his fangirlish references to Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust over and over. So when the idea of getting a degree floated through my mind, and I saw this class was being offered the following semester, my fate was set.
Although the class was extraordinary and compelling and challenging, I didn’t quite uncover all those secrets of life I thought I would. The Faustian is story is just about a guy who wanted to be more than he was—something godlike—and asked for the devil’s help. Faust is no hero, and though he does mess with some real evil, he’s no villain either. He’s just—Faust.
But when we finally read Goethe’s version of the folktale, I was stunned. Every previous version ended the same way, with Faust getting sucked into hell or having his brains smashed against a wall by a demon. But Goethe’s version mysteriously ended with Faust’s salvation, and more bewildering than that, his salvation by a goddess.
“Das ewig-weibliche zieht uns hinan”— the Eternal Feminine draws us ever onward—is the eerie last line that’s haunted me, and countless others before. And trust me on this, as someone who’s read this two volume, 12,479-line, 21 hour long play two and a half times, it’s an extremely odd ending. Because the play has nothing to do with the “feminine”. It’s about a selfish dude who only cares about his own progress, who thinks he’s entitled to too much. And yet somehow he’s not drawn down into the bowels of the earth to be dismembered for eternity, but drawn up into heaven to sit in the lap of the “Eternal Feminine”, whoever she is.
I remember walking into class after I finished those last lines with what the fuck was that about heaving in and out of my lungs. Here it was, the great reveal I’d been waiting for. But after ten minutes, thirty, ninety, no one really brought it up. I tentatively raised my hand (I had a mean case of imposter’s syndrome in that classroom) and asked, “Why does the ‘Eternal Feminine’ save him? And what is that even supposed to mean?”
The professor shrugged, and answered with a grin, “Well that’s the question isn’t it.”
It is the question. It’s the question that ultimately launched my master’s thesis, and it’s the question I still contemplate constantly. What is the Eternal Feminine? What is her power? What is her mystery? And why do we still not know, two-hundred years after she was first named by a German playwright?
In the modern spiritual community, we talk a lot about the Divine Feminine, and I think most of us have more of an intuitive than concrete connection to who and what she is. The Divine Feminine is not something that instantly takes shape in our minds. When we envision her we could be picturing anything—a young girl, an old priestess, a smiling mother. We could be conjuring Mary or Hecate or Isis. Unlike the Divine Masculine, which we have historically named God and viewed as an old, knowing man, we don’t immediately conjure the archetype in specific form. She is anything, and everything, and mystery that sparks us and stumps simultaneously. My research into the Eternal Feminine has always had this question at its heart: Why is she such a mystery to us? And the answer I arrive at, over and over, is patriarchy.
Patriarchy is the dominion of the male over the female, the masculine over the feminine, and to enforce this domination the masculine had to eclipse, malign, and repress the feminine. In the pre-patriarchal world, the Feminine was revered, worshipped, and utterly mysterious. But when the patriarchal paradigm began establishing itself as the dominant one, that mystery had to be annulled in order to assert control. Women are quite powerful afterall, and magical.
But patriarchy could not solve nor dispose of the great, mysterious Feminine, and so it hid it. It hid it so deep that even the women who were born into the legacy of the Eternal Feminine could no longer touch it, feel it, sense it even. For thousands of years everyone who approached the Eternal Feminine had to do so through the masculine perspective. And so the great and divine mystery of Femininity was just a weak thing, a malignant thing, a wild thing, and a thing to be kept in the darkness.
Until Goethe penned her back to life, identified her as being the thing that would save not only Faust, but us all. Since then the Feminine has been slowly reentering the world, reemerging in not only in women’s but everyone’s hearts. But the process is slow, and a little painful. Because the more we slowly sense, then feel, then touch the Eternal Feminine, the more we recognize the incredible loss of her absence in our world.
When you reclaim the Eternal Feminine in you, you reclaim your power. When you recognize that the Divine Feminine is not just some witchy rhetoric, but a real wound for women and men alike, the more you will understand the essential need you have for her in your heart. When you allow the Eternal Feminine to be a force of mercy and grace and wisdom and strength in your life, you will understand that the Eternal Feminine is the encapsulation of the raw power of womanhood, thriving Femininity. The more she swells in your heart, the less the suppressive hand patriarchy can grip it.
On a final note, I think the Eternal Feminine saved shitty Faust because he represented the shitty patriarchy. I think it, too, was just a selfish thing concerned only with its own progress, believing itself to be entitled to a bit too much. I think that through the Eternal Feminine we can find the world’s good, accept it, and draw it to redemption and glory.