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The Rhinegold: Page 193
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which Wotan surrounds the sleeping Bruennhilde to insure that only a fearless hero (Siegfried) wakes and wins her. Ultimately, #43 gives birth in turn to the motif which represents Hagen’s potion, #154, the means whereby Hagen makes Siegfried forget his true love Bruennhilde and fall in love with the Gibichung Gutrune instead. Dunning, differing with Cooke, considers that #48, the Dragon, or Serpent, Motif, also belongs in this family.

Since Loge represents mankind’s capacity for artistic self-deception, the two Tarnhelm motifs’ derivation from Loge’s motif #35 suggests that the Tarnhelm’s properties, its power to transform forms, represents the imagination. Initially, Alberich employs it to make himself invisible, but as we will see, it can also be used to alter one’s own form, or to travel in an instant to another place. It is an expression of the mobility of the human imagination, an aspect of the power of the human mind, or Ring. For through man’s imagination he can either segregate and organize various aspects of experience for analysis, or reconstruct experience according to his subjective desire. He can travel in time through memory of the past and imaginative anticipation of the future, or travel in space in an instant by imagining things which are not present to the senses. Currently, Alberich employs the Tarnhelm as the invisible spur to compel men to undertake hard labor in order to obtain a treasure from the bowels of the earth (Erda). We will soon discover that Wagner means by this something much more impressive than mere mining for gold.

After employing its power to render himself invisible to Mime, Alberich whips Mime in triumph, boasting that now Alberich keeps him under guard, and that rest and repose are gone. He adds that Mime and the other Nibelungs must toil for Alberich where they cannot see him, and, most importantly, they will find Alberich where they least expect him. Thus, Alberich declares, Mime and the other Nibelungs are subject to him forever. Alberich will later teach all of his fellow Nibelungs this same lesson. Alberich’s boasting has very serious implications, for he is suggesting that his own egoistic motives are the hidden, invisible influence of the mind upon the actions of all men. He is saying also that all man’s restless striving, which we have previously described as the product of man’s inherent inability to accept things as they are, but to always strive to surpass his current limitations, is human nature itself. The Nibelung dwarfs are Wagner’s prosaic vision of human nature, what men are in reality rather than ideally, whereas the gods represent mankind as an ideal. With respect to Alberich’s ego’s invisible yet all powerful and omnipresent influence, Feuerbach noted, interestingly, that because the operations of man’s mind (i.e., the Ring, or in this case, one of its special powers, represented by the Tarnhelm) are invisible to the earliest men, who were ignorant of the physical process behind thought and higher feeling, man mistook thinking for something transcendent and spiritual:

[P. 154] “… the spirit and its activity – for what is the spirit but mental activity, hypostatized and personified by human imagination and language? – are also physical activity, the activity of the brain, which differs from other activities only insofar as it is the activity of a different organ, namely, the brain. But … because the activity of the brain is the most hidden, withdrawn, soundless, and [P. 155] imperceptible activity, man has come to look upon this activity as an absolutely disembodied, inorganic, abstract being, to which he has given the name of spirit. But since this being owes its existence solely to man’s ignorance of the organic conditions of thought and to the imagination with which he compensates for his ignorance; since this ‘spirit’ is therefore merely a personification of man’s ignorance and imagination, all the difficulties it involved are dispelled.” [242F-LER: p. 154-155]

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