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of an increasing ambivalency of emotion (for as such we must regard the translation of the gods to the skies), was repeated when the authority of the anthropomorphic deities became endangered. The ancient peoples could conceive of the gods as walking the earth in bodily form and dying a bodily death; it was later that they were made immortal, dwellers in the heavens.
In this religious conception, the effects of unconscious hate-tendencies and of feelings of love and veneration (strengthened as these were by force of reaction) become clear.
The Sphinx must in some definite way have participated in the long process which made of the animal-god on earth an animal-god in the skies. As Horus was changed from a totem to a sun-god, the Sphinx, his image, may have represented the sun itself, and attributes and functions of the sun-god, incompatible with its original totemistic character, may have been assigned to it. It is amazing how successive features of a long, slow cultural development appear side by side in the figure of the Sphinx, as if the Unconscious of the race, indestructible and immortal, could not wholly divest itself of ideas and feelings long since superseded and laid aside.
In the history of the celestial gods the bird has a special significance. Here we arrive at one of the most striking attributes of the Sphinx: its wings—an attribute seemingly incongruous in conjunction with its lion's body. Doubtless, in the mind of primitive man, wings stood for swiftness, but beyond this obvious interpretation lie others of great moment. Wings were bestowed in ancient religion and mythology, not only upon divine hybrid-creatures, but upon anthropomorphic deities, e.g. Mercury, and on the messengers of the gods, e.g. cherubim, seraphim and the angels. In the totemistic system there must have been some definite point at which birds, e.g. the eagle, were made into totems.
To primitive man, the flight of the bird was a mystery. He was impressed by its swiftness, and its power of maintaining itself in the air, while its disappearance and reappearance may have served to suggest the omniscience and omnipresence of the gods. The later conception of the soul's embodiment in a bird probably arose from the fact that birds were observed to settle upon dead bodies, feed upon them and fly away:
It is likely that the totemistic significance of the bird belongs to a late phase of religious development. The bird winging its way to the sun-god represents the soul, and its flight prefigures the translation or resurrection of countless heroes from Moses and Elijah to Jesus.
It is at present impossible to indicate the precise point at which the bird enters into the totemistic system, but it appears that it had its rôle and task assigned to it in terms of totemism when that system was already declining. Later the bird may have been the theriomorphic representation of the saviour or the hero. The vulture of the Egyptian deities, the dove of Aphrodite, the raven of Wotan, the birds whose flight was of oracular significance, the dove sent out by Noah, the dove of the Annunciation-all these birds were originally gods, who at a later date became the helpers and messengers of anthropomorphic deities.
So too the Sphinx became a winged watcher in the service of the gods, like other more familiar figures. These had their place in the Pantheon before they became mediators between Jehovah and men in the persons of the winged angels whose totemistic origin we recognise in the Old Testament descriptions of their predecessors, the Cherubim.
(Note that the oldest Sphinxes were not winged; the wings only became general in the Greek figures.)
We have been compelled to trace the long and difficult path trodden by primitive humanity up to that stage in religious development at which we encounter it in early antiquity. As the rings in the tree trunks mark the passage of the years, so in the Sphinx figure we recognise signs of long-past stages of development. It is due to the remarkable conservatism of primitive cults that the old did not vanish as the new arose, but was assimilated, transformed, and finally entirely divorced from its original meaning.
It is possible that this consideration may throw some light upon the peculiar bisexual character of the Sphinx figures. We know that male Sphinxes were predominant in oldest Egypt, but that, later, female Sphinxes were found in increasing numbers side by side with the male figures, till in Greece the latter were completely superseded.
How does the appearance of the female type fit in with our explanation of the totemistic derivation of the Sphinx? We conclude that the original male form was, by a process of historical development, replaced by the female, the penis being retained as a relic of the earlier male figure.
In order to make this hypothesis acceptable, we must cite in its support certain facts from prehistoric times.
We know that the present form of the family was preceded by the matriarchy, under which the members of the horde were grouped round their natural centre, the mother. Where relics of matriarchal organisation are still to be found, as in the case of certain aboriginal tribes, we have, even when we make allowance for the manifold changes wrought by the passing of thousands of years, a fairly accurate presentation of the primitive organisation of groupmarriage.
It is difficult to detect the influence of matriarchy on religion, for we have no direct approach to that prehistoric stage in human development. Freud suggests that the great mother-deities may universally have preceded the father-god", and two facts seem to confirm this: (1) the relatively late character of totemism, which, judging by its origin, presupposes the existence of the brother-clan, i.e. a more highly developed form of the family group, and (2) the improbability that the libido-invested figure of the mother, so long the centre and head of the family, should not have been apotheosised by primitive man.
Nevertheless we must counsel caution in the adoption of the hypothesis of an original mother-religion. The Oriental cults of mother-deities, e.g. of Isis, Ischtar and Cybele, and other embodiments of the ‘Mater Magna,' originally bore a totally different character from that of the father-religion. Laying stress as they did upon the sexual, the celebration of the fruitfulness of humanity and of Nature, they stand in contrast to the father-religion, which brought into prominence the social motive, and in the consciousness of guilt gave rise to a sort of social fear. Even if we regard these cults as later developments, we must yet assume that in their rudimentary, prehistoric stages they possessed their peculiar characteristic features without any of their subsequent cultural modifications. We do not admit the contention that the difference between the cults of male and female deities rests upon externals, for those very externals, which no later artistic assimilation sufficed to erase or destroy, are the mark of a deepseated difference which has its roots in instinct.
Now in considering the development of the race it is merely a question of nomenclature whether the existence of religion be admitted at this or that particular point, or whether it be dated from some later period. But the social bond and, with it, that powerful agent, a sense of guilt, appear to be necessary and integral parts in the structure of religion. These characteristics are lacking in the mother worship at the time of the matriarchy. Hence we cannot speak definitely of a religion.
(Note: the point must be emphasised that the rough indications here given
1 Totem u. Tabu,
apply only to prehistoric times: in the ancient mother-cults of the East there is manifestly a genuine mother-religion.)
The mother in matriarchal times was honoured with every indication of sexual-overestimation, typifying the object-choice characterised by dependence. It is certain that through a long period the mother was the love-object to which, above all others, the crude libido of primitive man was directed, and, mainly on account of the urge of heterosexual impulses, she became his idol. It is just here, in this very factor of the initial choice of the love-object and the sexual overestimation, that the difference between the original motherworship and the primitive father-religion becomes manifest.
As the mother became the idol of the first organisation of the matriarchal period, so the father of the original horde subsequently became the father-ideal to the members of the brother-clan.
From the contrast of mother-idol and father-ideal we may deduce not only an essential feature of the attitude of primitive man to the archetypes of his religion but the very nature of the object-choice upon which highly important developments depend. That is to say that in primitive times the object-choice of which we find indications in the matriarchal period belongs to that type which is characterised by dependence, while later the narcissistic type assumes prominence.
The libidinous worship of the mother, bound up as it was with the glorification of the crudely sexual, was naturally capable of becoming a religious cult in a more or less sublimated form, but before this could take place the deity as such must come into being, and the father-religion, in the form of totemism, enter into the history of the race.
The deification of the mother took place later, after the pattern of the father-religion. She now appears as the rival of the father, but the latter, as the prototype of every god, could still claim to have been the originator of religion, and this claim does not rest on the primary and unbroken force of the first libido-investment, but on the strength of the longing for the father, subsequently operative, strengthened and deepened as it was in virtue of reaction.
The features of mother and lover, combined in the first love-object, remain blended in the original feminine deities, the maternal aspect becoming more and more strongly emphasised, while the sexual element is forced more into the background or appears in the more spiritual form of universal grace
and charity or womanly loving-kindness. Even in the most advanced stage of development the sexual element is never wholly discarded—the goddesses always remain the guardians of love and marriage. Gretchen in Faust, addressing her love songs to the Virgin Mary, is only a modern representative of countless sisters of old, who, in a similar situation, fled for refuge to their native goddesses. The matriarchy has originated many an important cultural development in human society: it did not produce religion as such.
In the contrast between mother-idol and father-ideal lie those forces which later, with the greater inwardness of religion, were to assume such importance. The cults of the mother-goddess led to an excessive extolling of the sexual, and only at a very late period did they attain to a partial sublimation, as in the case of the worship of the Madonna. They acted always as the impulse to the overthrowing of the laws, prescribed although unwritten, of the fatherreligion, for they found constant reinforcement in the springs of passion. The strength of Antaeus as he fought was renewed as often as he touched mother
earth. The father-ideal, viewed as a divinity, became the hidden lawgiver of mankind, its personified conscience, its guard against the storm of passion threatening to break up society.
In the struggle of these principles, one of the most important instances of the invasion of sexuality into the social institution of religion is to be found; the conflict between the mother- and father-religions corresponds to the lifelong oscillation of the individual between male and female love-objects.
We have accepted the hypothesis that the father-religion, in the form of totemism, preceded the deification of the mother, and we can comprehend how it is that the Sphinx (originally a male god), now assumes a female form. It is tempting to connect this form with the victory of anthropomorphism and to conclude that, when the totem was to be superseded by a human god, the image of the mother-goddess first appeared. In any case the female Sphinx is a secondary conception, seeing that totemism, of which it is a very late relic, was a pure father-religion, the creation of associations of men.
The totem animal had the same characteristics as the prototype of the god, i.e. the father of the primitive horde, a stern, powerful and awe-inspiring chief, of whom traces survive in Jehovah. These features could only be transferred to the mother-goddess if we suppose that far-reaching changes had taken place in the relations of the sexes. The picture painted by C. G. Jung of the Terrible Mother is, even if we leave out of consideration his anagogic interpretations, no primary conception, and presupposes definite changes in the psychic relation to the mother. Owing to great modifications in the conditions of life, the tender feelings towards the mother must have undergone a radical change before she became the Terrible Mother.
Considerable light is thrown on this point, in the study of neuroses, by those unconscious psychic processes which lead to the inversion of the Oedipus complex. In such cases the mother appears as a terrible and hateful woman, often indeed a persecutor and tyrant. Analysis shows that this peculiar psychic attitude is a late transformation of the original positive affect, which has taken place under the pressure of definite psychic needs.
Chief amongst the forces which bring about the destruction of the original relationship to the mother, are intimidation in the sexual field on the part of the father and the fear of castration. The intercourse with the mother, urgently desired by the Unconscious, involves for the child the loss of the highly-prized bodily organ. For that reason the beloved mother becomes terrible, an object of abhorrence.
A good analogy to this individual development is found in that of the mass psyche. We may infer that the stern commands of the fathers as regarded incest were first enforced on the younger generations from without, and later became their psychic possession.
The creation of the mother goddesses gave only a partial outlet to the impulse to incest, for, with the deification of the first love-object, which seemed to stimulate to the carrying out in reality of those infantile desires, the longinherited prohibition of incest made itself unconsciously felt, changing the love-object into a fear-object, and threatening calamity. This process was reflected in the bestowal on the mother-imago of the characteristics of the father. The command had issued from the father and was supported by the unconscious homosexual tendency directed towards him.
The fact that the totemistic father-god blended with the image of the mother-goddess indicates that the homosexual tendency, so powerful a factor in religious development, had frustrated the invasion of the impulses to incest and foiled the attempt to substitute for the dreadful totem god the more lovable image of the mother, for that image, even as goddess, was bound up with the taboo of the incestuous love-object. These homosexual impulses, represented in the Sphinx by the lower parts of the male animal and the later retention of the penis, were transitory. The female nature became more clearly manifest, and the Greek Sphinxes have gracious, gentle faces, very different from the gloomy and grave, masculine type of features of the Egyptian Sphinxes. The animal body continued as a token of their origin and dangerous character.
From this genetic investigation several points have become clear:
(1) it solves the riddle of the bisexuality of the Sphinx figures, emphasising the fact that their formation reflects the process of the supersession of the heterosexual by the homosexual love-object at a later stage of development;
(2) it explains the interchange of male and female figures and connects it with religious development.
This has a bearing on psycho-analysis.
In the penetrating interpretation of the Oedipus myth, contained in Rank's book on the incest complex, he recurs to the infantile sexual theory, demonstrated by Freud, according to which women also are possessed of the penis. Rank also cites the homosexual anxiety dream in his explanation.
Whether these explanations be right or not, our historic interpretation may claim to have thrown some light on the psychic processes which go to the formation of the Sphinx figure.
Our interpretation involves a radical modification of Jung's conception of the Sphinx. A critical review of Jung's exposition shows clearly the inadequacy of the symbolic interpretation of the Swiss School. As in the analysis of the individual, so in investigations into religion, Jung altogether fails to go back to the earliest stages in the development of psychic conceptions. It is probable that at a very late stage of advanced cultural development, the Sphinx was a theriomorphic representation of the libido and is to be recognised as the half-animal portrayal of the mother-imago, in its 'terrible' aspect. But we do not think that this symbolic portrayal furnishes any real explanation, or makes it clear how such a conception as that of the Sphinx was arrived at, or that either the psycho-analyst, or the scholar who makes researches in the realms of religion and culture, can be satisfied by explaining the Sphinx as "an incestuous amount of libido detached from the bond to the mother.” For this interpretation by means of lofty modern symbolisation contributes nothing to the explanation of the Sphinx figure of early antiquity, and at the outset refuses to enter into the contradictory constituent elements of that figure or to treat of them in detail.
With the new insight we have gained, we may now return to the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx, and it is to be expected that fresh light will be thrown on the still hidden meaning of the Sphinx-episode in the old myth by a consideration of the meaning of its incorporation there.
We have supported the theory of the common origin of all Sphinx figures, and believe that the Theban monster of the story must be sufficiently true to type for our present findings to have some bearing on the meaning of the dark rôle it plays in the fate of Oedipus. Before we can solve the riddle of its being, we have to find out what the mythologists and philologists regard as