Archetypes / C.G.Jung / Literature / Philosophy

Faust and C.G. Jung – What holds the world together at its core

Goethe and C.G. Jung

“Faust I”, the Germans’ favorite drama is about a scholar who wants the impossible, who wants to know what keeps the world together at heart. Goethe’s Faust failed on this worldly question, which ultimately leads either straight to Augustine’s heaven or Dante’s hell. Therfore Faust needed and accepted diabolical assistance. But what keeps the world together is also a fundamental question of today’s particle physics. The essay approaches Faust’s complex question from philosophy,  depth psychology, religion and science. Many suggestions and thoughts derived from a monastery-retreat with that title and C.G. Jung, who was aware and fond of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Faust I
To enlighten me more,
What Holds the world together at its innermost core
All this potency and seed I shall see,
And stop peddling in words that mean nothing to me.
Daß ich erkenne, was die Welt
Im Innersten zusammenhält,
Schau alle Wirkenskraft und Samen,
Und tu nicht mehr in Worten kramen.

Faust’s path leads from science to magic from humanistic enlightenment to liberal entrepreneurship, from Troy’s  Helena to artificial intelligence ultimately to  Christianity. Mephisto is not an archetype, but a very personal and likable devil, partly spirit of good and action, partly evil. Faust II and especially Faust I contains the classic devil’s pact (Teufelsbund) motive.
Faust embodies that human curiosity that was the moving principle of modern Enlightenment. Mephisto teaches the magic of FIAT money creation, through which capitalism became a dominant force. That “spirit” is emancipating itself from ecclesiastical institutions, which exposes the internal corruption – in Faust II – by power and money.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe worked extensively on Faust for more than 60 years. Between 1773 and 1775, in the area of enlightenment and four years shy of the French revolution, the Urfaust was born.

TimeLine of Faust Genesis

In 1808 the first part of the Faust tragedy appeared during the German Classic period and German Romanticism. Historically this is the Napoleonic era, which begins roughly 1799 with Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état. Napoleon’s armies soon conquered the Iberian and Italian peninsulas, occupied lands, forced feudal Austria, Prussia, and Russia to ally with him and respect French hegemony in Europe until the Battle of Waterloo 1815. The Congress of Vienna quickly restored Europe to pre-French Revolution days, restore Feudalism that is to say.

“Faust II” was written in 1825 until the summer of 1831, was published in 1832 (a few months after Goethe’s death) and was a continuation of “Faust I” but integrated the classical Helena part, written long before. The second part of the tragedy, however, differs markedly in its narrative structure and style from its predecessor. In the first part, the play deals exclusively with the tormented soul of Faust (inner world). In the second part, Goethe places the figure of the scholar in a historical, cultural and political context of 19th century, at the time of the beginning capitalism (outer world) .

Synopsis Faust I and II

Faust I

Who is more likable

Goethe’s “Faust – The First Tragedy” contains  many elements of a tragedy, and can be divided into three parts: Exposition (“Prologue in Heaven” and the “prelude to the theater”), Scholar tragedy (Devil pact) and Gretchen tragedy. So Mephisto will try again and again to pull Faust into nothing and yet fail in the last. The sparks of good will always strike from magic, from the destructive, that is, from the evil intended and affected by Mephisto. Faust, after the conclusion of pact and bet, renounces “knowledge” in favor of “sensuality,” the secluded scholarly existence. After rejuvenation in the “witch’s kitchen” begins the love drama. But sexual desire creates the mystery of the love of Faust and Gretchen, which Mephisto cannot destroy. Mephisto does manage to pull Faust and Gretchen down into the criminal (death of the mother and Valentine, Gretchen’s infanticide, Gretchen’s death). At the end of Faust I, four tragic deaths have occurred.

Faust II

Faust I kills Grete’s Brother

On the other hand, “Faust – the tragedy of the second part” corresponds in its formal structure to the dramatic poetics of Aristotle and the classical German drama: in five acts Goethe designs the story of his protagonist. But the strict five-act structure is only the outer framework. A series of sometimes confusing acts that tell self-contained stories, as well as interludes, mythical scenes with ancient figures and different stages of time through which Faust lives, complicate the overall understanding. It begins with Goethe’s outrageous idea of having Faust awaken on the classical soil. Faust is now brought back to his former study, the student scene repeats itself with exchanged omens: now the “old man” Mephisto is cornered by the advancing Baccalaureate Studiosus. Wagner, as a kind of Prometheus caricature, seeks to fabricate a human being from the retort, which is indicative of the hubris of a technical science. Faust becomes an entrepreneur, again fails morally but ultimately goes to heaven. Not because he was good, but at least endeavored.

The inner world – C.G. Jung’s view

The anima / animus theme

Faust I u Grete II

Faust I u Grete II

The Faust in the first part is in a serious life crisis because he despairs on the borders of traditional science. He makes a pact with the devil to help him. If that succeeds, Faust must leave devil his soul as a reward.
Something ostensibly has C.G. Jung with his lecture ‘Faust and Alchemy’ [2] given the alchemical reference and also on the anima/animus theme – especially to scholars this has spoken extensively. Many such Jungian papers say more about the imagination than about the ‘Faus’ and seem to have emerged without any involvement with the many other interpretations of Faust.
The Gnostic C.G. Jung is fascinated by the neutral evaluation of sin as inner preparation and the role of evil in the salvation of men in Goethe’s Faust. As in Luke’s Gospel, sinners are especially soft-painted (Luke 11:37). Also, the meaning of the individual figures and the events of the Faust tragedy can – symbolically – be understood as (failed) individuation process.

Faust I kills Grete’s Brother

Mephisto quickly leads the lonely housemaid in Faust I to erotic ways; Faus promptly falls in love with Margarete (Gretchen), his anima, who admires him, the scholar. The catastrophe takes its course: she kills unkowningly her mother with Mephisto’s “sleeping aid”, becomes pregnant by Faust; he stabs her brother Valentin, who wants to take revenge on the scholar. Margarete finally murdered her (and his) child. The court condemns them to death, but at the end of the tragedy, God saves their soul. Faust, together with the devil, seeks his shadow and wakes up in the second part of the tragedy from a healing sleep. A series of evil – four dead bodies- on Faust’s account still lead at least for Gretchen to salvation.

Augustine’s heaven or after Dante’s hell?

Mephisto and God – Evil and Good

The nullity of evil comes from Augustine because God could not and should not be thought of as the author of evil. The entire proof of the nullity of evil is thus directed against the Gnostic (Manichaeism) dualism. Augustine, at an early stage of his intellectual development, was a follower of the Manichaean sect, a Gnostic religion founded in the third century AD by the Syrian Mani. But since Augustine, with Neo-Platonism against the Manichaean concept, emphasizes the ontological vanity of evil, he must find another explanation for the obvious malum in the world. His answer: Man, by removing himself from the good, and willingly. Although this relieves God of the responsibility for moral evil, man now carries it himself, since he has the freedom to act morally evil. In the course of the development and execution of his theory, Augustine

establishes this “evil will” (to which man freely decides) by means of original sin, which makes him a priori rejected, who can only be redeemed by the grace of God.


This contradicts C.G. Jung, he even felt “recognized” in Goethe’s Faust, for in the division Faust / Mephisto he found his inner discord described: “It poured like a miracle balm into my soul. Finally a human being, I thought, taking the devil seriously and even concluding a blood pact with the adversary … Finally, I had found confirmation that there were or had been people who saw the evil and its global power and more that is, the mysterious role it plays in the salvation of people from darkness and suffering. To that extent Goethe became a prophet to me … “[3.65-66].
The Enlightenment, especially some French enlighteners and German Romantics, were, however, convinced that man is good by nature. Of course, Rousseau, an opponent of Voltaire, meant it requires their re-education so that they accept virtuous, peaceful and happy the common good as a will of their own. In this context, C.G. Jung fit Goethe’s Faust in his Gnostic worldview;

“Faust triggered a resonance in me and hit me in a way I could not understand otherwise than personally. Above all, it was the problem of the opposites of good and evil, of spirit and matter, of light and dark that touched me deeply. My inner contradictions appeared dramatized here. In a way, Goethe gave a basic drawing and a scheme of my own conflicts and solutions. The division Faust – Mephisto drew me together in a single human being, and that was me. In other words, I was affected and felt recognized, and since it was my destiny, all the peripetia of the drama affected me as well “[3,238-239].
Exactly the good, as well as the evil, was invested by Goethe as two individuals. For Faust, this Manichaean conception means in the (unchristian) consequence that man is not wholly responsible for his evil actions. Goethe’s answer is of his time, that of enlightenment and romanticism “omne bonum ab homini” or, as Kant says, at least his inclination to do good.
C. G. Jung’s point of view about the “summum bonum” and negation of man as “omne malum ab homini” is an idiosyncratic synthesis of Gnosticism and Augustine of Hippo. It seems that C.G. Jung recognizes a theodicy in Goethe’s Faust, a Christianity in need to add to his own always more theses (theory of the will, the theology of the original sin) and in fact arrives at the very dualistic model it denied.


The Red book: Jung, Salome, Elijah

In the chapter about life after death in [3] C.G. Jung touches the famous final scene of Faust II (3,312), not only because Jung resumes the Septem Sermones ad mortuos here (3, 310 f.), but also because he also outlines a vision of life purpose that is probably his own and his vision of a successful individuation:
“The unconscious wholeness appears as the actual spiritus rector of all biological and psychic events. […] Consciousness is a culture in the broadest sense, and self-knowledge, therefore, the essence and heart of this process.” (3,327).
What Jung describes here defines precisely the psychological dynamics that he also illustrates in his Red Book: Like [all do-gooders], [the spiritual deaf] will fall victim to unconsciousness. On the contrary, the aim of man would be to become aware of transcendence pressing from the unconscious, in order to become authentic [and good].

The mystic world – Faust as an alchemist

The Lapis (Alchemy) Quaternia

The Lapis (Alchemy) Quaternia

Alchemy did not appear to be consistent in the early modern period. A distinction should, therefore, be made between the “Alchemia transmutatoria”, the art of metal transformation, as found, for example, in the alchemistic “Florilegium Rosarium phosphonium”, the “Alchemia medica” which tried Medicines against diseases produce and last but not least the “Alchemia mystica”, which tried to reconcile “mystical-Christological elements with science”. The origin of the Alchemiet, which can certainly be regarded as a precursor of modern chemistry was classical Greece, Hellenistic Egypt. The ‘philosophers’ of medieval alchemy: seem to have called, based on the sweeping, Egyptian’ enthusiasm, on the mysteries and revelations of the Nile: the God Thoth, later the Greek Hermes, originally a magic demon, equated with the hermetic writings ascribed to him as the oldest authority,


In this context, natural-philosophical aspects lay the foundations, on which Goethe created a being that is without any precedent in literature. Paracelsus and his natural philosophy are regarded as the source and model for Goethe’s Homunculus, so here too a historical basis must be created. Above all, it is Goethe’s scientific knowledge, which is important in terms of decoding the homunculus, without forgetting the alchemical origin or wanting to interpret the homunculus purely biologically.
In the words of Wagner that describe so aptly what happens in the laboratory scene, because “it is made a man”. The creation of a human being is less reminiscent of the creation myth than of modern genetic engineering and of today’s reproductive medicine and the Artificial Intelligence under development.
In Faust II, Goethe presents himself as a “progress-oriented poet” who deals with “forward-looking topics and visions”. Unlike to the first part of Faustus, which presents a homogeneous unity of persons and action, the second part breaks down into broadly unfolded individual scenes, in which the abundance of symbols present the fast üacing time.

Political utopias and its nasty realities

Faust I u Grete IV

Faust meets Grete in prison

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe undertakes in Faust II the daring attempt to guide his protagonist through the history and myths of the Medival Ages to the upheavals of the Enlightenment, right up to his own time the begin of capitalism and entrepreneurs. In his period, there were a number of significant political and social upheavals and changes, to which Goethe refers to his work. Above all, the disintegration of the feudal late medieval society in the transition to entrepreneurship with the current monetary system and the French Revolution with Rousseau’s totalitarian utopia and restoration represent central themes in “Faust II”.

This period is based on an important feature of the Enlightenment: man is portrayed as something good. The most important content-related features of the classical period are: harmony, self-determination, humanity and tolerance, beauty and the French Revolution were influential. In the French Revolution, people advocated that the same rights should apply to all. But the success achieved with the Declaration of Civil and Human Rights did not last long. During the reign of Robespierre, people went through a time of terror and terror. It was not until 1795, after Robespierre was overthrown, that there was a transitional government. This held until four years later, Napoleon came to power and in 1804 even became emperor. He stood after this troubled time for (not feudal) order and security – and for wars and oppression. Meanwhile, significant reforms were initiated in Prussia to liberate and educate the population. At the Battle of Waterloo (1815) Napoleon’s reign ended with his defeat. In the same year, the reorganization of Europe was sealed in the Congress of Vienna, which provided a restoration of the old order before Napoleon’s reign.

Still, there is a lot of utopia and criticism of the capitalism felt in the second part of Faust. Or no? Faust dies in anticipation of the fulfillment of his utopia of creating an earthly paradise in which many people can live in a “free country in freedom”. This promised paradise on earth became in the 20th century several times and inevitably hell on earth. Faust indulges in materialism and loses his bet and therefore his soul to the devil. He still focuses his gaze on the here and now, not the hereafter. The megalomania of an ideology destroyed Faust. But still, the angels wrest the prey from the devil. They raise Faust to heaven because they have always endeavored – to do good things according to the Calvinistic work ethics which was the core of the industrial revolution. Goethe only gives us the subtle, but inconclusive hint.

During the mentioned weekend retreat we approached Faust’s question from the angle of science and philosophy. A monk and priest with a somewhat fitting Faustian cv, who had worked for 12 years in his former profession as particle physicist gave lectures and moderated the discussion.

Science and Religion

Quarks and leptons keep the world together

Credits Contemporary Physic Education Project

Science has come a long way to answer basic questions. What does matter consist of? How is the universe structured? How did it come about? What is the nature of space and time on both a large and a small scale? What is the role of humans and the earth in the cosmos?

For this purpose, the basic components of visible matter, the quarks and leptons and the most important composite particles are named in the standard model. Of course, this is not (yet) a philosophical outline of the meaning and universality of our laws of nature throughout the universe. The standard model is a hugely successful theory of fundamental particles and how they interact. It incorporated all that was known about subatomic particles today and successfully predicted the existence of additional particles as well. There are seventeen named particles in the standard model, organized into the chart shown above. The last particles discovered were the W and Z bosons in 1983, the top quark in 1995, the tau neutrino in 2000, and the Higgs boson in 2012.

The fine tuned universe and the anthropic principle

The Fined Tuned Universe

The Fined Tuned Universe

The peculiarity of our theories, however, goes even further. If the values ​​of many constants of nature were only slightly different, life in space would hardly be possible. For example, the stable ground state of carbon, without it, there would be no heavy elements that allow for complex chemistry, and correspondingly no life. So our existence depends on the thread. Points such a coincidence to intelligent design?
There are some physicists and philosophers who deny this question and refer to the so-called anthropic principle: in its weak version, it simply says that the very fact that we exist answers why the universe must be such that it exists can.
Some are not very satisfied with this form of the anthropic principle because, strictly speaking, it nevertheless does not explain why our universe is now exactly as it is. String theory has a more sophisticated to muddle the water. It assumes that we live in a multiverse that hosts a multitude of universes. All of these universes have different properties, different values ​​of the natural constants. Ironically particle physics arrived at a level of speculation that cannot be falsified in the Popperian sense. Structurally, we are no longer so far from religion, which likes to say that you can not prove the non-existence of a god. If empirical data becomes too scarce, the problem of underdetermination of theories is means, we can no longer decide on the basis of empirical evidence how to interpret the data, but we can only believe. Or not.

Of course, sub determination is not limited to astrophysics but occurs in all sciences. However, astrophysics and particle physics might support (but not answer) philosophical questions, because they are dealing with the unimaginable vastness of the cosmos and creation  – and this borders to traditional cosmology.

I like the approach of the legendary String Theory developer Leonard Susskind, who wrote 2006: “Let me be up front and state my prejudices right here. I thoroughly believe that real science requires explanations that do not involve supernatural agents… Evidence has been accumulating for an explanation of the ‘illusion of intelligent design’ that depends only on the principles of physics, mathematics, and the laws of large numbers. This is what ‘The Cosmic Landscape’ is about: the scientific explanation of the apparent miracles of physics a cosmology and its philosophical implications.” ( [4] Pg. xi)

He continues, “On one side are the people who are convinced that the world must have been created or designed by an intelligent agent with a benevolent purpose. On the other side are the hard-nosed, scientific types who feel certain that the universe is the product of impersonal, disinterested laws of physics, mathematics, and probability—a world without a purpose… By the first group… I am talking about thoughtful, intelligent people who look around at the world and have a hard time believing that it was just dumb luck that made the world so accommodating to human beings.”( [4] Pg. xi)

It is, therefore, unwise when gifted astrophysicists overreach their philosophical expertise and make theological claims like God did not create the universe Nor hold  theistic arguments any weight in science.


[1] Goethes Faust (Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von / kommentiert von Erich Trunz) Beck, C.H, 1998, Leinen

[2] Faust und die Alchemie. Von JUNG, Carl Gustav: Vortrag im Psychologischen Club, Zürich, vom 8. Oktober 1949. Sowie DIENER, Gottfried: Fausts Weg zu Helena. Urphänomen und Achetypus. Darstellung und Deutung einer symbolischen Szenenfolge aus Goethes Faust. Stuttgart 1961, S. 249.

[3] Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken von C. G. Jung Aufgezeichnet und herausgegeben von Aniela Jaffé, WALTER VERLAG ZÜRICH UND DÜSSELDORF

[4] The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design | Leonard Susskind, Back Bay Books; Auflage: Reprint (2006)

[5] Goethe als Alchemist. Von Gustav F. Hartlaub (Heidelberg). Euphorion : Zeitschrift für Literaturgeschichte 3. Folge, 48 (1954), S. 19-40

[6] KOSTRETSKA, Antonia: Der künstliche Mensch. Vergleich auf der Grundlage der Texte von Goethe, Shelley und Bulgakow. München 2011.

[7] ARENS, Hans: Kommentar zu Goethes Faust II. Heidelberg 1989. (Beiträge zur neueren Literaturgeschichte, Folge 3, 86)

[8] Vgl. u.a. HARTLAUB, Gustav Friedrich: Der Stein der Weisen. Wesen und Bilderwelt der Alchemie. (Bibliothek des Germanischen Nationalmuseums Nürnberg zur deutschen Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte, Band 11, Bilder aus deutscher Vergangenheit). München 1959.

[9] Faust-Festival München Kulturjournal “Vom Himmel durch die Welt zur Hölle”

[10] Mephisto: Roman einer Karriere Karriere von Klaus Mann –  Film

[11] Foto Credits:  Faust I (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) Will Quadflieg, Gustaf Gründgens Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, 1960 youtube

[12]  Interview Günter Gaus im Gespräch mit Gustaf Gründgens (1963)