Man, Woman, and Self

In Emmanuel Swedenborg’s interpretation of Genesis, Eve appears as the “self” of Adam. The male principle is the Intelligence and the female principle symbolizes the Will. The Will is the “nucleus, the inmost heart of the human being.” The True Will, then, is man’s true self …

How then does a man know his true Self, which is not something that can be observed directly, as one of the objects in the world? E. F. Schumacher outlined the four fields of knowledge. So, if I cannot adequately answer the question “Who am I”, then there is the question, “Who do you say I am?” A person usually deludes himself about who he is, whereas others easily see through his pretenses.

If Swedenborg is providing the esoteric interpretation, the exoteric understanding is not precluded; to the contrary, it is necessary. For Adam, the Self is dead, represented by the rib since the bones are the last to decay. That rib is vivified by Eve, who appears therefore as the exteriorization of his own Self. She is almost his identical twin, genetically the same apart from her having two X chromosomes, his “reciprocal”. Hence, she is the perfect woman for him. In knowing Eve, Adam is knowing himself.

Every woman desires a man who “gets” her, that is, someone who understands her in a deep way. The converse is not identical. A woman, too, wants to know her man, but not always just in his actuality, but also in his potentiality. This often comes across as a desire to change him, leading to a degree of conflict. If this conflict subsides, it indicates she has decided to “settle”, as they put it. On the other hand, it may impel the man to exceed himself. In Gnosis, Boris Mouravieff provides, as examples, Wagner and Goethe who achieved great moments of creativity, inspired by such deep relationships.

Sometimes, even among the Medievalists, a woman is represented as an imperfect man. However, that is putting her on the wrong scale, as there do exist imperfect men on the scale whose peak is the Absolute Male. A woman can only be represented on the corresponding scale with the Absolute Female at its peak.

This is a difficult teaching. If the woman is the perfect helpmeet for a man, why is it not always experienced that way? In a relationship, a man is, in some deep way, confronting his own self. To the degree that he lacks self-awareness, the less he sees that. Mouravieff writes:

just as one particular woman produces a different effect of carnal attraction on different types of men, so, on the psychic plane, the creative spirit of a man produces a different psycho-sexual attraction on different women.

The complexities of attraction must be understood on the three levels: carnal, psychic, and spiritual. So called “success” at the carnal level can be mastered if desired. An intelligent man can make changes to himself as he learns to master himself. However, although that is celebrated in the modern world, it is not likely the best use of one’s inner resources. Often, a man will entangle himself in harmful karmic relationships that become difficult to extract himself from.

The lower a man is on the scale of the Absolute Male, there is less and less differentiation. Hence, the woman attracted by such a man is likely to be very much like him. At the lowest levels, the lack of differentiation may even appear as an attraction to the same gender. There is little challenge in this case and hence less possibility of achieving self-knowledge.

The higher on the scale, then, the woman will also be correspondingly higher, thereby deviating more and more from each other. That is, ultimately the Absolute Man will attract the Absolute Female, and their respective qualities will be quite different from each other. This hardly means that things go so smoothly, as the higher stages of self-realization get more difficult. In one incident, Dante passed Beatrice and two of her friends on a street in Florence. When she snubbed him, he was so upset he hid in an alley and cried for hours.

Yet Beatrice was the one who prayed for Dante on his journey to Paradise, and became his ultimate guide to the Supreme Identity. Scholars today still debate the identity of Beatrice. But Gornahoor readers now know exactly who she is.


For further reading, see Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam by Henry Corbin.

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