Alexandra Genetti
Goethe's Faust

Mephistopheles speaks:

"I am the spirit that ever denies!
And justly so; for all that's born
Deserves to be destroyed in scorn.
Therefore 'twere best if nothing were created!
Destruction, sin, wickedness - plainly stated -
All of which you as evil have classified,
That is my element, there I abide!"

Goethe's Faust (part one) was originally published in 1808 and has long been considered one of the finest works of German literature. It tells the story of Heinrich Faust a scholar and seeker after wisdom and understanding. In his constant reading he has remained unsatisfied with the knowledge he has obtained through science and the humanities and has turned to alchemy and magic. Mephistopheles has made a pact with God that he can turn Faust from his respectable seeking to less noble goals and appears to him in his study. He promises to serve Faust during his life and in return Faust will serve Mephistopheles in Hell after he dies. The work is full of contradictions and, in the end among other things, seeks to show that good and evil are not absolutes or polar opposites but bound together in subtleties and shades of grey.

In the card we see Mephistopheles, the Devil appearing to Faust in his darkened study to promise him the world. Faust, seated to the right, looks defeated by years of study that have never yet provided meaning for his life. Mephistopheles promises him whatever he desires, including a girl - pictured as the vision that the Devil conjures for Faust. This is Margaret (Gretchen) Faust's neighbor who becomes his lover and who's life is ruined through the interference of Mephistopheles.

In the traditional versions of the Tarot Devil we often see that the Devil has captives, human beings sometimes in chains, that suffer through the evil that the Devil brings to life. Gretchen and Faust are both tied to the exploits of Mephistopheles and both suffer for it. In the center of the card is an alchemical model of the world showing us how humankind are forever suspended between God and the Devil whose realms seem to interact to create our world. The drawing implies that the perfect and sublime world of Heaven cannot exist without the darker world below and that we exist not just at the command of God but as an interaction of opposing forces.

This indeed is what the inclusion of the Devil card amongst the Major Arcana states - that we are the subtle mixture of the forces of light and darkness - white light contains the colors of the world, just as black is made from all pigments and so between the black earth and the brilliant sun are all the colors of the world.

XV - The Devil

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