David just sent us this from Rome, with actually a warning about things like therapy, at specific times, anyway, because the crisis can be precisely talking and not acting. Who wants navel gazing, in the face of life?! But having actually been branded evil, it is about what Goethe has to say about the devil. Or in fact that very spare ‘Jungian’ writer, Frank F Johnson. He underlines the difference between Marlowe’s Tragedy of Dr Faustus and what is happening in Goethe’s play. It’s done from memory, so forgive any errors.
Dr Faustus is of course the man of genius, the alchemist and philospher, who strikes a bargain with the devil to know all, and is also offered the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy. But in the end he losses his soul, and discovers he has been gazing into a magic mirror that has denied him life and reality, and caused his own damnation. Big words, out of a believing age, and perhaps the archetypal symbol of the writer, dreaming up and living above the world.
But what Goethe does with Faust, perhaps on the cusp of an age that a hundred years later began to talk of psychology, is rather different. He actually redeems the devil. Mephistopheles is the figure of pure genius, almost a thrilling primal energy, cynical about man, ruthless and tempting Faust, but also reconnecting him with the world. In Faust’s fall he is especially callous to the figure of Gretchen, the loyal and loving prostitute. But Johnson makes points about where Goethe is summoning these characters from, every time Mephistopheles enters, with his fire trailing dog.
To him, though a writer writing a play or story would be intuiting it, they are those firey regions of the unconscious, perhaps primitive animal nature too, the place where the devil lurks, in revolt against the God of consciousness and control. Like the image of Satan perhaps in Blake, Lucifer, the light bringer, another source of energy and revolt. It is seeing Gretchen’s love of Faust that Mephistopheles turns and begins to ask questions about the very perculiar animal – Man.
Johnson believes that there are almost clear stages in the evolution of Human Cosnciousness that have been marked by truly great works of literature. One is Shakespeare’s Hamlet, though written in the 16th Century, almost the archetype of modern and alienated consciousness. Caught between the word and the act, a new level in the self awareness of man, a self awareness that can become absolutely paralyising. Another to him is Goethe’s Faust, stepping out of the clutches of externalised religious forms, and placing the struggle entirely inside man and consciousness. So explaining that the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are necessary forces within us all.
It is not enough though just to quote a line from Hamlet like “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” although that is indeed a state of advanced self awareness. Hamlet’s is a tragedy too though, filled with death, the spectre of incest, though one that steps far beyond the normal dynamics of plot driven tragedies. A man whose ‘vicous mole in nature, wherein we are not guilty, for nature cannot choose its origins” is in part the heralder of the calamity and for Hamlet the rest is silence, just as life once again intervenes with a marshal drum.
Johnson is also very good on the echoes of Christian stories, to the story of man. He points out repeatedly that Christ, as real figure, or summoned biblical and literary one, kept saying “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.” He also points out that an all powerful and all loving God, would supposedly, at the end of time, redeem Satan too. Now to a psychologist who believes in the existence of the Unconscious, and a Universal Unconscious where in a sense man evolves culturally together, we cannot do without the psychic energy of the ‘devil’. It is when the manipulative will of Mephistopheles is unleased though that problems arise.
We fight ourselves, we fight others, but Johnson’s most beautiful take on life’s big secret comes in a very slim book on men, retelling the great myth, for a pre-Hamlet consciousness, of The Fisher King and The Grail Castle. Not everyone will get on with it, but a storyteller and story lovers will. It has Parsifal in search of the holy grail. Inside the Grail Castle, inside consciousness, he finds The Fisher King, wounded in spirit and in sexuality, able to watch the nightly panaoply of life and the Court, but unable to drink from the cup of life, the Grail.
There are many things at play in the texture of that story, most especially for Johnson what it says about real Manhood. Parsifal, able at last to take off his mother’s homespun, fails to ask the vital question “Who does the Grail serve?”. The question that only in the asking, at the right time, would heal the wounded King. So the magic precession vanishes, and Parsifal is banished from the castle, its drawbridge cliiping his horse’s hooves in stern reminder. For twenty hears he wanders in search of it, through blight, death, war and famine, until an old man tells him it is just around the corner, to the left. Johnson points out that the left in story, the sinistre, is most often associated with what is hidden, the occult and my extension the psychological, unconscious realm.
The story, that popular Christian myth, does not really have a satisfactory conclusion and Johnson believes that it needs re-writing, or continuing, to move mankind on again. He has some quite ravishing lines on the problems of Man, nature and the world today, fighting for resources, consuming the planet, but what might happen when the Kingdom of the Self is perfectly in balance outside and in. The bubbling spring of life, making everything bloom.
We had an idea to try with Percy Fell and The Magic Cup, set in New York city! A bit Harry Potter,
but perhaps that is the point. The intrinsic magic of the psyche has to move away from the conflicts of religion, to find new ways to address the battles of good and evil, conscious and unconscious and reintegrate the vital language both of science and psychology, with the language of the self and the creative spirit. Is there a crisis now? Many people live perfectly happily without any language of God. Perhaps it is enough to understand what Einstein was saying about langauge, and Science, when he said “you can either see everything as a miracle, or nothing as.”
Perhaps it just depends on what philosphy you inhabit, except when you get specific evidence of a link between the psyche and external reality, or coincidences became too great. Very unhappy evidence too, though fear is the worst in life. Reality and storytelling are too different things, and demand different responsibities. Joseph Campbell said the only real sin is when you try to speak from ‘the two worlds’ at the same time, because it can cause harm. But since there is so much harm, danger and hurt in the ‘real world’, scientifically brilliant as we are, and perhaps as rationally irrational too, maybe the harm is not to talk about it.
Paulo Coehlo writes hugely successful and very simple books, out of something that happened that concinvced him of both ‘God’ and the ‘Devil’ as important concepts. They are almost parables. We thought they were almost rubbish, but when you have obviously gone so far out, perhaps it is the only place you can go. Maybe he should write into that Fisher King story, though David actually thinks we need to hear from a modern woman.