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The Archetypal Feminine in Heinrich Von Ofterdingen

by Carol Ann Hawkes

According to the psychological theories of C. G. Jung, psychic health is based upon the principle of balance: balance of opposites. Asserting that there can be no reality without
polarity, he characterizes the self as a “complexio oppositorum,” within which, for proper individuation and orientation within the conscious world, must be maintained a sense of balance among a number of opposites.1 The psyche is predicated upon this principle of opposites, the union of which must be realized in order to bring the whole into a balanced totality.

While enumeration of all the opposites identified by Jung as essential for the proper functioning of the psyche would be neither possible nor appropriate within the scope of this article, the most essential can be seen in the division between consciousness and unconsciousness. Jung divided both of these states into a personal and a collective division, thus resulting in a quaternity: a configuration of two opposing yet intersecting
bi-poles. Within this quaternity, consisting of personal and collective consciousness and personal and collective unconsciousness, can be found the sense of balance, completeness, and integral wholeness essential to psychic health.

The balance among all opposites (within the quaternity) suggested by Jung is not to be achieved as a result of negation, in which one pole cancels out or in some way negates the effect of the other, thus resulting in a state of nothingness. Rather, the balance proposed by Jung implies a union, a fusion of opposites which, rather than denying or negating opposing elements, includes both. The conjunction of the opposites, the point at which all are bound and fused together, is found at the center.

This union of opposites is often achieved through symbols, which Jung felt were the means of expression of the unconscious to the conscious mental contents.2 Symbols act as
bridges between the conscious and unconscious portions of the psyche on both the personal and collective levels. For Jung, a symbol was something in psychic life which expressed meaning and helped to formulate that which was inexpressible. Through
symbols, meaning could be expressed from the unconscious, thus diminishing the imbalance often resulting from too great an emphasis on the conscious alone. Just as balance is essential for psychic health, symbolization is the essential means of
bringing it about. Jung once said that the psyche needs to know just like the body needs food, and not just any food or knowledge, but that which is appropriate and necessary for its existence.3 Symbols are made up of cultural contents, used as metaphors and analogies through which they can express meanings never before stated. As such, they provide
communication between the conscious and unconscious which leads to transcendence from the former state of one-sidedness and transformation into a new state of being with new meaning: a state of equilibrium, a state of Gesundheit, a state of health.

Jung stressed the hermeneutic function of symbolization on both the personal and collective levels, yet is often remembered primarily for his identification of symbols emerging from the collective unconscious. In 1919 he adopted the Platonic-Augustinian term archetype to account for such expressions of the collective psyche. These symbols or archetypes, he felt, were manifest in several ways. Dreaming is one of the ways in which
a symbol is likely to make its first appearance: such dreams sometimes later developed into myth, which Jung characterized as “a series of images that formulate the life of archetypes.”4 Such symbols, dreams, archetypes, mythologies arise from man’s unconscious; they are never made up consciously. 5 They express meaning about all manner of experience in which man finds himself engaged.

Jung expended a great deal of effort in an attempt to recognize these expressions of the collective unconscious. One of the most basic of the archetypes he identified as the mandala, which is Sanskrit for the configuration of the circle.6 He established this as fundamental to all human experience, assuming within the personality the need to symbolize a centering tendency or need. “Circles impel us to consider their centers, as we draw our eyes and attention ‘within’ the circumference, hence ‘inward’ to the heart of the figure very naturally. ” 7

While Jung would undoubtedly suggest the mandala as the single archetype encompassing all of human experience, he also recognized the importance and ubiquity of one of its subsets: the male and female principles, the archetypal masculine and the archetypal feminine. These two symbols, he felt, pervade every aspect of human consciousness, and only through symbolic meaning created within the realm of consciousness can these opposing elements combine into a balanced totality.

Erich Neumann, in his monograph, The Great Mother, has done an extensive study of the archetypal feminine, identifying some of its most common characteristics and associative properties. The Great Mother archetype is the symbol of origin, of all the elements intermingled. Within it is found symbolically the state of things at the time preceding differentiation, the time of wholeness and totality of both physical and psychic existence. In addition to this rather static elementary character of vessel or container, within which all things are held, the archetypal feminine is also seen as the embodiment of the creative principle: not the totality of nature in original unity destined ever to remain so, but the dynamic, vital source from which all life arises and unfolds. The central symbolism of the archetypal feminine carries us back to the wholeness, the totality of the mandala. The central symbolism of the feminine is the Great Round: the earth, the vessel, the woman, the womb.8 The elementary character of the feminine holds, contains, surrounds, sustains, protects, nourishes. The Great Round, the Great Mother, encompasses and is heaven and earth, the primeval darkness and the night sky, the underworld and the primordial ocean. To her belong all waters, streams, mountains, ponds, springs, as well as rain. The Great Mother is over all. Within her are united the elements of earth, water, fire, and air.

Yet in addition to this elementary character can be seen a generative, transformative character: the creative aspect of the Feminine which creates and transforms, giving life and vitality to all around her. She is the mother who gives life and birth. Within her are the mysteries of creation and transformation. She is the mother of all vegetative life and holds the deep secrets of conception and generation upon which all life is based.9 This mystery of creation, of transforming that which is dead into that which has life, is the province of the Great Mother. So also is the higher transformation in which the spirit comes into being. 1 ° Creation, generation, development, transformation, as well as sustenance, protection, and nourishment: all are part of the Great Round, the Great Mother, the archetypal feminine.

“The archetypes of the collective unconscious are manifest, as Jung discovered many years ago, in the mythological motifs that appear among all peoples at all times in identical or analogous manner, and can arise just as spontaneously–i.e., without any conscious knowledge–from the unconscious of modern man.”11 Indeed such archetypes present themselves in every aspect of our existence. Nothing stands outside the range of their influence. Literature bears abundant evidence of this. A rich demonstration can be found through examination of the Great Mother archetype in Heinrich von 0fterdingen, the quest-romance by the late eighteenth-century German romantic writer Novalis.

We are first alerted to the mythic character of the work by the initial exposition, relating Heinrich’s dream of the blue flower, die blaue Blume. According to the story, in his dreams he wanders over all the earth, coming at last to a meadow at the slope of a mountain. Not far distant he finds a passageway cut into the rock which leads into the depths of the mountain into a great cavern or cave. There he bathes in a mysterious fluid which refreshes and strengthens him and which brings “new images never seen before” into view. Here also he first sees the tall, pale, blue flower and first experiences its compelling attraction.

Upon hearing this strange experience related by his son, Heinrich’s father is prompted to relate a similar dream which occurred early in his life. In his dream he, too, was led into a cave within the depths of a mountain where he came under the influence of a similar flower.

It is significant that both experiences occur in dreams, the most frequent and obvious matrix for archetypal manifestation. Both Heinrich and his father seem to be “led” to a path which leads to a mountain, then within, into its cavernous depth. According to Neumann, the archetype of the Way refers to the originally unconscious behavior of man moving toward a sacral goal. The archetype, which seems to have appeared first in the prehistoric men of the ice age, is repeated in the dreams of both Heinrich and his father. In earliest societies, “the way led .. . into mountain caves, in whose hidden and almost inaccessible recesses they established ‘temples.’ ” 12 Only within the depths can the deeper mysteries of creation and transformation be learned. Traditionally the “worshipper is compelled to follow a ritual way from the periphery to the center, the shrine.” 13 In
just such a fashion both Heinrich and his father are led to the center and the flowers of their respective dreams.

The cave itself and the mountain of which it is a part are both manifestations of the archetypal feminine. The mountain is part of the Great Round, and descending into it is equivalent to entering into the womb, the belly, of the earth. The cave, the chasm, and the depths and darkness of the cavern all indicate a return to the origin, the source and primordial center from which all life arose. In the cave the elementary character of the Feminine predominates, yet the transformative character is also strongly evident in the regenerative effect of the fluid which Heinrich drinks and in which he bathes.

The goddess of all vegetative life, the Great Mother receives an even more complete manifestation in the flower. Here again both the elementary and transformative characters are represented. Rooted in the earth, descending into the depths, yet rising from them and transcending beyond, the blue flower represents simultaneously both permanence and change, origin and development. The appearance of the delicate face in the center of the corolla (a mandala symbol) makes the archetype complete.

We then follow Heinrich on another journey, in some ways a realization of his former dream. He sets out on his own journey to the center, the source, to learn the secrets, the mysteries, which will enable him to transcend his former existence and enter a new realm, that of the poet. The journey illustrates aspects of the Bildungsroman or Erziehungsroman in which the attempt is made to participate in the transformative character of the archetype. The return to the source in order to transcend it is an attempt at rebirth and regeneration . Yet the transformation into a new being necessitates the death of the old. In order to enter the new realm Heinrich must forsake the old. 14 The death, the separation, is painful at first:

Es ward ihm jetzt erst deutlich, was Trennung sei ; die Vorstellungen von der Reise waren nicht von dem sonderbaren Gefohle begleitet gewesen, was er jetzt empfand, als zuerst seine bisherige Welt von ihm gerissen under wie auf ein fremdes Ufer gespiilt ward.. . Eine erste Ankiindigung des Todes, bleibt die erste Trennung unverge,Blich. ”

[Now for the first time it became clear to him what separation means. His preconceptions of the journey had not been accompanied by the strange feelings he now had when first his familiar world was torn from him and he was washed up as it were on a foreign shore …. Like a first premonition of death, the first separation remains unforgettable. ]

Yet in the separation Heinrich is comforted by the presence and sustaining influence of his mother.

The journey takes them from Eisenach to Augsburg, the city of his own mother’s birth, the city where his parents were first brought together-in a very real way, the city of Heinrich’s origins. The journey is an attempt at transformation, an attempt at entering upon a new type of existence. Interesting, then, that the journey should be one from a place of lifeless
iron, Eisenach, to one characterized by vision and life, Augsburg.

During the journey they participate in a discussion about poetry and the poetic art. The poet and poetry itself exist on a level other than that of the external world: “Die Sanger hatte gottliche Gunst noch geehrt, so da/3 sie, begeistert durch unsichtbaren Umgang, himmlische Weisheit auf Erden in lieblichen Tonen verklindigen konnen.” 16 [“Divine favor had highly honored the bards so that, inspired by invisible communion, they could proclaim heavenly wisdom on earth in sweet sounds.”] Through participation in the mysteries of creation and generation, man is transformed into a poet. Then, having been transformed himself, he works a similar effect on others with his words.

Er wei/3 jene geheimen Krafre in uns nach Belieben zu erregen, und gibt uns durch Worre eine unbekannte herrlich Welt zu vernehmen. Wie aus tiefen H ohlen steigen alte und kUnftige Zeiten, unzahlige Menschen , “wunderbare” Gegenden , und die seltsamsten Begebenheiten … eine magische Gewalt Uben die SprU che des Dichters aus. 11

[He knows how to stir those secret powers in us at will, and by means of words he enables us to perceive a glorious unknown world. Within us as out of deep caverns there rise ancient and future rimes, countless people, marvelous regions, and the strangest occurrences …. The sayings of poets exert a magical power.]

By its very nature poetry is bound to the Great Mother, the source of all creation and transformation. According to Neumann, in the inspiration of poetry is summed up “everything mantic, religious, prophetic, and poetic which … is [everywhere] imputed to the … transformative character of the Feminine. ” 18 Heinrich’s encounter with an oriental girl and an account of the crusades introduce the Christian tradition. The Great Mother is symbolized in the Virgin Mary. Veneration of her purity, recognition of her transforming influence, and seeking for the protection of her love are all very much evident. Reference can also be found to the death and rebirth so much a part of the archetypal feminine. The entire Christian tradition is based upon the transformation of man into God. The cross can be viewed as a mandala symbol: it unifies the paradoxical elements of man and God, outer and inner, nature and spirit, human and divine. The transformation takes place only through death, the forsaking of a former type of existence, entry into the sepulcher (re-entry into the womb of the earth) and coming forth in a newness of life. Christ’s way, the way of his destiny, is a way to the center which becomes the way of redemption.

Heinrich next encounters a miner. The association of mining with the Great Round or the Great Mother is clear. Descending into the depths of the mine parallels the descent into the depths of the Great Mother, the womb of the earth, the source of life. A feeling of reverence pervades both attempts to learn the mysteries. In the words of the miner:

Meine ki.infrigen Genossen kamen mir wie unterirdische Heiden vor, die tausend Gefahren zu i.iberwinden hatten, aber auch ein beneidenswertes G li.i ck an ihren wunderbaren Kenntnissen besa,8en, und in dem ersten, stillen Umgange mit den uralten Felsensohnen der N atur, in ih ren dunkeln , wunderbaren Kammern , zum Empfangnis himmlischer Gaben und zur freudigen Erhebung i.iber die Welt und ihre Bedrangnisse ausge ri.istet wi.irden.1•

[My future companions appeared to me like subterranean heroes who had to overcome a thousand dangers, but also possessed an enviably happy lot in their wonderful knowledge. And in their quiet, earnest association with the primeval rocks within nature’s dark and marvelous chambers it seemed they were equipped to receive heavenly gifts and to be joyfully exalted above the earth with its afflictions.]

Within the labyrinth of galleries, in the deep chambers of the earth, are to be found the deepest secrets and mysteries of the Great Mother, the great vessel and container of all. The earth is seen as the source of knowledge, wisdom, and thereby joy, who yields up her secrets to those inspired only with desire for knowledge. Through the noble art of mining, “dieses ernste Sinnbild des menschlichen Lebens” (“this solemn symbol of human life”], concealed ” in dem Scho/3e der Felsen” (“in the womb of the rock”] can be brought to view. 20

That man is lord of earth
Who fathoms well her deeps
And finds his peace and mirth
Where she her treasure keeps.

And who can comprehend
The secret of her hills,
And fearless will descend
Among her working mills.

His bosom friend is she
And near to him allied;
Inflamed by her is he
As though she were his bride.

Here the earth, the mine, is seen as not only mother but wife. Entry into the depths of the mine symbolizes union with the feminine principle, making possible both birth of the creative spirit and rebirth of the hero, Heinrich.

Both aspects of the Great Mother are here evidenced; the depths of the mine illustrate her nurturing and containing aspect, while the waters signify the more active transformative character. The inner secrets and mysteries of life that carry the powers of generation and transformation are to be found only by descending to the depths. The principle of opposites here again reveals itself; one must first die in order to live; one must first go down in order to rise.

Heinrich descends with the miner into the womb of the earth. He is led back in nature “in jene fabelhafte Urzeit zuriick, wo jeder Keim noch for sich schlummerte, und einsam und unberiihrt sich vergefi}ich sehnte, die dunkle Fiille seines unerme/3lichen Daseins zu entfalten …. Es war ihm, als ruhte die Welt aufgeschlossen in ihm, und zeigte ihm, wie einem Gastfreunde, alle ihre Schatze und verborgenen Lieblichkeiten.” 21 [“back to that mythical primeval age when every bud and germ still slept by itself, lonely and untouched, yearning in vain to unfold the obscure wealth of its own immeasurable existence .. .. He felt as though the world lay unlocked within him and was revealing to him as an intimate friend all its treasures and hidden charms.”] As both container and revealer of the secrets of life, in the mountains and caverns of the mines appears the archetypal feminine.

But it is not only the caverns and chasms of the mines that symbolize the Great Mother. According to Neumann, “rock and stone have the same significance as mountain and earth. [Thus] it is not only the mountain that is worshipped as the Great Mother but also rocks representing it-and her.” 12 Fascination with the stones themselves and magical properties is evidenced particularly in the great interest in alchemy. Behind the efforts to tum lead into gold can be seen the greater desire to learn the secrets of transformation, the means by which a natural material could be transformed into a higher state. The “liberation of God from the darkness of matter” was sought in order, then, to apply the secrets to other matter. This constant interest in change, whether applied to animal, vegetable or human life, is ever associated with the transformative character of the archetypal feminine.

In Augsburg, Heinrich’s vision and perception is expanded and transformed through his contact with the poet Klingsohr and his daughter Mathilde. Both play very important roles in his more complete transformation. In the poet is embodied that gift of poesy which is able to generate and transform. In Mathilde can be found the totality of the feminine archetype, reminiscent of Heinrich’s earlier vision of the blue flower.

Indeed in Heinrich’s description of her, we are subtly reminded
of the flower of his dream:

Auf einem lichthimmelblauen Grunde lag der milde Glanz der braunen Sterne. Stirn und Nase senkten sich zierlich um sie her. Eine nach der aufgehenden Sonne geneigte Lilie war ihr Gesicht, und von dem schlanken, wei/3en Halse schlangelten sich blauen Adern in reizenden Windungen um die Zarten Wangen . … und das braune lokkige Kopfchen schien iiber der leichten Gestalt nur zu schweben. ”

[On a light-sky-blue background lay the soft gleam of her dark pupils. Her brow together with her nose formed two elegant curves around her eyes. Her face was a lily leaning toward the rising sun, and from her slender white throat blue veins wound upwards in charming meanders over her tender cheeks . . . and her little head with its brown curls seemed to float above her dainty form .)

Later in the evening the association is furthered: “Jenes Gesicht, das aus dem Kelche sich mir entgegenneigte, es war Mathildens himmlisches Gesicht.”24 [“The face which inclined to me out of the flowery calyx, that was Mathilde’s heavenly face.”] here Kelche, a vessel, is a typical manifestation of the nurturing, containing aspect of the feminine. The transformation continues: “Flir Mathilden will ich leben, und ewige Treue soll mein Herz an das ihrige knlipfen. Auch mir bricht der Morgen eines ewigen Tages an.” 25 [“I want to live for Mathilde, and eternal loyalty shall join my heart to hers. For me also there is dawning the morn of an eternal day.”) Through the power of generation and transformation he is reborn; he has entered a new existence.

The association between Mathilde and the mandala symbol of the blue flower continues. In his dreams he is joined with her amid the blue waves. She is his pure and precious sapphire. The blue color of both the waves and the sapphire remind one of the blue flower, the object of his quest. Sapphire is an obvious allusion to treasure, always associated with the quest-romance. The water of the waves is also one of the most characteristic representations of the generative principle.

He is taught the secrets of poesy by Klingsohr and feels them work within. Inspired by his love for Mathilde, he rises above the level of common existence to partake of infinity and eternity.

Following the marriage of Heinrich and Mathilde, the poet Klingsohr tells an elaborate fairy tale which traces the transformative power of poesy. Through the realization of such a transformation, Eros is refined into true love, Fable develops into true poesy, so that Sophie (wisdom) may be wedded with Arcturus (time)-all through the power of the transformative character of that source of all change and generation, the Great Round, the archetypal feminine.

The novel concludes with the manifestation of Mathilde in another representation of the Great Mother, the tree. As in the flower, both aspects of the archetypal feminine are evident in the symbolism of the tree. The center of vegetative symbolism is the tree. It embodies in its roots that extend into the earth the unchanging, stable, conservative aspect of the elementary character. It holds fast to all that springs from it. Yet at the same time, in the branches, leaves, and fruit is evidenced the dynamic, generative, fecund aspect of the transformative character. 26 It is in this blending of opposites, this fusion of forms, this symbol of wholeness and totality, that the archetype makes her final manifestation. She is the mother of all vegetation, the mother of all life, who sustains, holds, nourishes and protects even as she moves, generates and transforms. Through her, Heinrich, the pilgrim, acquires even deeper secrets. Through her his transformation continues to an even higher level of consciousness. As he plumbs the depths of knowledge and experience, his soul climbs higher and his poesy becomes more pure, spontaneous, and divine. The transformation seems near completion ; so does his education, his Ausbildung. His way to the center has led through a variety of experiences, each a part of his enactment of ritual conflict, separation, and death, followed by rebirth, transformation and change.

You have awaked the noble urge in
To gaze into the wide world’s soul
and meaning;
I found a trust while on your kind arm leaning
That bears me safe through every
stormy sea.

Dear Love. I consecrate myself to art
For you, since you will be the Muse
that pours
Her genius on my songs and fills my

The swelling breasts of song my
strength have nourished,
By her I grew to all that I could be;
Through song my face has shone, my
joy has flourished.

With each succeeding manifestation in earth, water, tree, flower, poesy, or song, the archetypal feminine aids in Heinrich’s transcendence and ultimate transformation. The Great Mother is the means through which he gains life. Through her he is nourished, sustained, and protected.

Awareness on one level of existence is attained. It is through her that he is held, yet it is also through her transforming character that he is able to move beyond that static existence. Through descent to the center, entry into the Mother and union with her, he is able, in descent and death, to learn the secrets of transformation and generation, the secrets of life, growth, and ultimate transcendence to the realm of the Ideal. For Heinrich, as for Novalis and many romantics to follow, “Das W eg nach Innen,” the way to the center, is the way to the Divine. The way of myth, the way of paradox, the way of descent is the only way to rise.