Symbolist Art: The Mysteriarch (The One Who Presides over Mysteries)

In volume V of Collected Works (Symbols of Transformation, par. 299) Jung quotes a passage from Goethe’s Faust, in which he hero must descend to the realm of the Mothers:

“MEPHISTOPHELES: This lofty mystery I must now unfold.
Goddesses throned in solitude, sublime,
Set in no place, still less in any time.
At the mere thought of them my blood runs cold.
They are the Mothers!
… … … … … …
Goddesses, unknown to mortal mind,
And named indeed with dread among our kind.
To reach them you must plumb earth’s deepest vault;
That we have need of them is your own fault.
FAUST: Where leads the way?
MEPHISTOPHELES: There’s none! To the untrodden,
Untreadable regions—the unforgotten
And unforgettable—for which prepare!
There are no bolts, no hatches to be lifted,
Through endless solitudes you shall be drifted.
Can you imagine Nothing everywhere?
… … … … … …
Supposing you had swum across the ocean
And gazed upon the immensity of space,
Still you would see wave after wave in motion,
And even though you feared the world should cease,
You’d still see something—in the limpid green
Of the calm deep are gliding dolphins seen,
The flying clouds above, sun, moon, and star.
But blank is that eternal Void afar.
You do not hear your footfall, and you meet
No solid ground on which to set your feet.
… … … … … …
Here, take this key.
… … … … … …
The key will smell the right place from all others:
Follow it down, it leads you to the Mothers.
… … … … … …
Then to the depths!—I could as well say height:
It’s all the same. From the Existent fleeing,
Take the free world of forms for your delight,
Rejoice in things that long have ceased from being.
The busy brood will weave like coiling cloud,
But swing your key to keep away the crowd!
… … … … … …
A fiery tripod warns you to beware,
This is the nethermost place where now you are.
You shall behold the Mothers by its light,
Some of them sit, some walk, some stand upright,
Just as they please. Formation, transformation,
Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation.
Thronged round with images of things to be,
They see you not, shadows are all they see.
Then pluck up heart, the danger here is great,
Approach the tripod, do not hesitate,
And touch it with the key.” (1)

Mysteriarch is a plaster bust by George James Frampton, a British sculptor (1860-1928). The title means “the one who presides over mysteries.” The emblem or brooch in the central part of her dress include the Medusa and the bat while her headdress is made of bird feathers. A golden halo with swirling motifs surrounds her head. The most striking element of the sculpture, though, is her enduring, otherworldly gaze, haunting and hypnotic at the same time. She seems to have all the qualities of the mysterious Mothers, who for Jung symbolized the Unconscious with its simultaneously redeeming and perilous qualities. Like the Mothers, she encompasses the depths and the heights, the light and darkness. She gazes into the eternal void, which is “thronged with images of things to be.”

28.57.23 front

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8 Responses to Symbolist Art: The Mysteriarch (The One Who Presides over Mysteries)

  1. Jeff Japp says:

    It’s been many years (maybe 20) since I last read Goethe’s Faust. I read Marlowe’s Dr Faustus about 10 years ago, good, but not Goethe. Was actually thinking about rereading Faust, or Sorrows of Young Werther, another brilliant work by Goethe. Just way too much to read and too little time. Hope you are well. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jeff, great to hear from you. I have been devouring novels recently, for example rereading “The Idiot” – my favourite book of all times. Also I have discovered “The Handmaid’s Tale” – wow, how did I miss that one? Finally, I decided to reread “The Death in Venice” but this time in German – it is so beautifully written. Faust is always worth coming back to, but I have never read Marlowe’s. Agreed about The Sorrows of Young Werther – an amazing novel.

      Be well


      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff Japp says:

        Ahhh. I have never read Idiot, though I have read Brothers K, Crime/Punishment, and Notes from Underground, so I feel like I at least have some Dostoevsky in my mind. There is so much I want to read, but a lot of my mental energy is taken up with work these days, which is a lot of research and statistical analysis that makes my brain hurt, so I find myself generally just reading a little to unwind in the evenings. But I am grateful to be working in these strange times. Curious to see what will happen in our election tomorrow. Take care.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Keeping my fingers crossed for the US.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I recognise that look on the face of the Mysteriarch as one I saw often (on my own face) as a child growing up deeply saddened by her yearning to return home. Somewhere in my forties that ‘look’ and ‘yearning’ dispelled but today your post brings it all back to me in such sharp and sweet relief. Thank you Monika. Blessings always, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Susan Scott says:

    What an apt name – The Mysteriarch. Her gaze says it all. And do the words of Faust. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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