Gérard de Nerval's Isis and the Cult of the Madonna

Abstract: 

Nerval's narrative Isis (1845) is an expression of his syncretistic approach to religion; an example of the immense role played by the Feminine Principle in his cosmology. An examination of the meaning of both Isis and the Virgin Mary with regard to Nerval is first undertaken; then an analysis of Nerval's projection of this Feminine Principle on to Apuleius's Golden Ass. 1. Isis, for Nerval, was a positive manifestation of the Great Mother Archetype. He viewed her as he did the Virgin Mary, as a figure with outstretched arms, always ready to comfort and hold him in her embrace. Nerval pointed out many similarities between Isis and the Virgin Mary. Not only are there "a thousand analogous details in the ceremonies" involved in their worship, but in the many concrete depictions of them. A list is then given of these similarities. A brief history of the Feminine Principles in other religions is offered and the continuation of such a tradition in early Christianity. St. Paul, the harbinger of patriarchal Christianity, did his best to unseat matriarchal worship (Act 19). The extreme need Christians felt for the Female Principle became manifest in the 20th century with the proclamation of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary as dogma. For Nerval, Isis and the Virgin Mary filled an aching void in his heart and soul. 2. Reasons for Lucius's transformation into an ass, his suffering and humiliation. Similarities between Nerval's distress and Lucius's. Isis appeared first to Lucius in a dream. Significance of dream for Lucius and Nerval. Nerval does not merely translate Lucius's description of Isis in his narrative, but rather paraphrases it, permitting his own subjective feelings to be incorporated in the picture. An analysis of the description from a psychological, philosophical, and alchemical point of view. Lucius's initiation into the Isis mystery cult. Meaning of initiation. Nerval's need of both Isis and the Virgin Mary in his initiation or descent into self or darkness! (BLK)

Author: 
Knapp, Bettina L.
Release Year:
Volume: 
1974-1975 Fall-Winter; 3(1-2): 65-79.