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The motif Prohibition of seeing or coming near God in HCA : The Marsh King's Daughter (1858)
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The motif Prohibition of seeing or coming near God in HCA : The Marsh King's Daughter (1858)

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Keywords:

Vision, sight, man, God, insight, hubris/hybris, nemesis, pride, arrogance, humbleness, fearing God

Description of this motif:

The prohibition of seeing god has to do with fearing and standing in awe of God. God forbids Moses to see Him in Exodus 33, 18-20, where Moses asks: "Show me your glory." and God answers:

"I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy." And he said, "You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live."

The divine is not for the deadly. The point is the same as in Hans Christian Andersen's tale "The Buck Wheat", in which the arrogant buck wheat is warned by more pious plants, that it should bend its head and see away from the lightning, "for in the lightning one can look into God's Heaven itself, and that sight will strike even human beings blind! So if we, who are so much less worthy than they, dared to do it, what would happen to us!"". In Andersen's fable about the buck wheat the prohibition is modified; the punishment isn't death, and what can be seen isn't God. The buck wheat is burned as a punishment for its arrogance.

Example :

Once, they said, the ostriches were a race of glorious and beautiful birds with wings both wide and strong. One evening the other large birds of the forest said to the ostrich, "Brother, shall we fly to the river tomorrow, God willing, and quench or thirst?"

"Yes," the ostrich answered, "so I will." At dawn, away they flew. First they flew aloft toward the sun, which is the eye of God. Higher and higher the ostrich flew, far ahead of all the other birds. In his pride he flew straight toward the light, vaunting his own strength and paying no heed to Him from whom strength comes. "God willing," he did not say.

Then, suddenly the avenging angel drew aside the veil from the flaming seas of the sun, and in an instant the wings of that proud bird was burned away, and he wretchedly tumbled to earth. Never since that day has the ostrich or any of his family been able to rise in the air. He can only flee timidly along the ground, and run about in circles. He is a warning to us that in all human thoughts and deeds we should say, "God willing."

Helga bowed her head in thoughts. As the ostrich rushed about, she observed how timorous he was and what vain pride he took in the size of the shadow he cast on the white, sunlit wall.

She devoted herself to more serious thoughts. A happy life had been given her, but what was to come of it? Great things, "God willing."

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