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Faust Legends

By Edited Jan 3, 2014 0 0

Despite his unsavory reputation as a wandering trickster, diabolist and voluptuary, the historic Doctor Johann Faust (see: Johann Faust, the Notorious Magician, Alchemist & Astrologer) was very well-educated. This was reflected in the many legends that were told about him, and said to have been the cause of his desire to sell his soul for forbidden knowledge. According to the Faust Chapbook of 1587 he "proved himself a scholar, mastering not only the Holy Scriptures, but also the sciences of medicine, mathematics, astrology, sorcery, prophesy, and necromancy. These pursuits aroused in him a desire to commune with the Devil." 

The legendary conjuration is most commonly said to have taken place in the forests outside Wittenberg. While travelling through Wittenberg in the 17th century, Fyne Morrison wrote that "...they shew a house wherein Doctor Faustus a famous conjurer dwelt. They say that this Doctor ... had a tree all blasted and burnt in the adjoyning Wood, where hee practised his Magick Art, and that hee died, or rather was fetched by the Divell, in a Village neere the Towne."

According to the, Faustbook the sun was setting as Faust left the town and struck out into the forests, stopping when he reached a crossroads. Night had fallen by the time he had finished inscribing the elaborate arcane sigils needed to cast the magick circle, after which the rite took place. In this and many other earlier versions of the story, Faust summons not the Devil himself, but the Spirit Mephistopheles, charging him to appear in name of Beelzebub.  

The infernal powers resisted the Will of the magician, so that the forest was full of fearsome howling winds, thunder and lightning, and other terrifying sounds, "as if the whole word, to his seeming, had been on fire." Faust endured, until the dreadful cacophony suddenly gave way to enchanted music. The magician renewed his invocations, and a mighty dragon suddenly appeared hovering over him. According to some accounts, Mephisto falls like a lightning bolt into the forest, turns into a globe of fire and morphs into various shapes before finally assuming "the manner of a grey friar." In Marlowe's The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, Mephisto introduces himself as "servant to great Lucifer." Greatly satisfied with himself, Faust remarks "Such is the force of magic and my spells," and the two of them begin laying out the terms of the pact.

According to some versions, Faust had kept to the comfort of his chamber while thrashing out the details of the pact before he actually ventured into the forests to perform the summoning. The articles to be observed by Mephisto were that he would be obedient, that he should bring anything that Faustus desired, and that he should always tell the truth. Mephisto refused to sign, claiming he did not have executive powers and had to check with the Devil first. Faust demanded further explanation and made Mephisto swear to return the following evening.  

In the interim, the magician added more conditions to the pact: that Faust would be transformed into a spirit like Mephisto after his death rather than being consigned to torment in hell, and that Mephisto should attend on him while remaining invisible to all others. Upon returning, Mephisto agreed to the pact on condition that Faust observe the following articles: that he should sign over body and soul in a contract written in his own blood, and that he would deny the Christian faith and not let anyone talk him out of it.

Faust agreed to the pact. According to the Faustbook, "he thought the Devil was not so black as they used to paint him, nor hell so hot as the people say," and it was agreed between both parties that Faust would be given "certain years to live in health and pleasure, and when such years were expired, that then Faustus should be fetched away."

After having made a pact with the infernal powers, legend finds Faust wandering throughout Germany performing various feats of magick and indulging in an extravagant lifestyle. 

While in Erfurt, Faust (both historic and legendary) gave lectures as a professor at the Collegium. On one occasion his students found his descriptions of heroic figures from classical antiquity so compelling that they spoke of their wish to see them with their own eyes. Faust responded by conjuring the spirits up from the underworld, causing awe and amazement until he conjured up the giant Polyphemus, which terrified the students to such a degree that they no longer would attend Faust's lectures.

On another occasion, Faust was out late at night drinking when he amazed onlookers by tapping exotic wine straight from a wooden table. He shared this with his companions until all were drunk. Faust then conjured vines which grew from the table as if by magick. The vines bore grapes, which he mischievously told each member of the party to cut from the vine at his signal. When their knives were ready to cut the grapes, Faust dispelled the enchantment and the bewitched drinkers found themselves holding their blades against the noses of the person beside them.

Faust was also reputed to be capable of flying out through chimneys and riding magick cloaks, after the fashion of witches. As his devilish reputation spread throughout the town, Faust began to receive hostile attention from ecclesiastics and academic rivals, until he was driven out of Erfurt around 1513. 

As he wandered throughout Germany, Faust was reputed to travel with several supernatural familiars, including a demon horse and a dog which would sometimes transform into a servant. He was also noted for procuring goods by unnatural means. One account given claimed Faust had taught the forbidden arts to a man with a crooked mouth, who afterward had the power to summon a wild hare that would run straight into his hands. Later, in 1548, Johannes Gast claimed to have met Faust in person at a feast, where he mysteriously produced strange poultry for the cook. Faust was also notorious for paying innkeepers with gold that would later change into coal or some other commodity of negligible value, as well as playing tricks like causing a herd of pigs to transform into bales of straw.

At one point Faust found sanctuary in the monastery of Maulbronn, where he was enlisted as an alchemist for the Abbot Entenfuß of Evisheim. Here Faust reputedly triumphed in the great work and produced gold. 

Faust was later at Boxberg Castle as a guest of the von Rosenbergs. During a bitterly cold winter day, Faust walked with the nobles throughout the snow-covered grounds. The ladies complained about the frost, and by his magick art Faust caused the sun to begin to shine so warmly that the snow melted and the frosty ground turned green. A profusion of violets and other flowers sprang into full bloom, and at another command from the magician the trees blossomed and bore the very fruit most desired by each of the nobles. 

Also at Boxberg Castle, Faust was expected at a banquet at the strike of twelve, yet had only a quarter of an hour to make the journey. This amount of time was insufficient to travel the necessary distance, so Faust summoned a demonic carriage drawn by four black horses, which raced away as fast as the wind. Peasants laboring in the fields and forests claimed to have seen horned spirits paving the way in front of the demon carriage, while other spirits followed behind and flung the stones up again so that no trace remained. 

Later in his travels, Faust was laughing at wine porters who were unable to move a huge wine barrel out of Auerbach's cellar. This enraged the porters, who challenged Faust "in the Devil's name" to move the barrel if he thought it possible. A crowd of onlookers gathered. The cellar master, also convinced that moving the barrel would be impossible, offered a reward to anyone who could do so. Faust descended to the cellar and shortly afterward shot out of the cellar like a champagne cork, riding atop the barrel. The cellar master grumbled that Faust had moved the barrel by unnatural means, but nonetheless kept his promise and paid Faust the promised reward. Faust then the proceeds and threw a boisterous feast that lasted for several days, until the huge wine barrel was empty. 

Less congenially, Faust was recorded in Gast's Of Faustus the Necromancer as having summoned a poltergeist when monks at a wealthy monastery refused to give him the best wine in their possession. Faust had put up for the night at the cloister while wandering the land, and after being shown inside he was displeased to have been given a "vile wine" by a monk. He asked instead to be given wine from the best cask available, as would customarily be given to nobles. The monk dissembled, claiming he did not have the keys, and declared that it would be a sin to awaken the prior. Faust however had seen the keys lying in a corner, and told the monk to use them to open the cask. The monk refused and Faust became angry, storming from the chamber declaring: "In a short time you shall see marvels, you inhospitable brother."

Faustus had vanished by the next morning, but the monks soon discovered that the exasperated necromancer had summoned a "furious demon" and commanded it to go to the monastery to cause a poltergeist. The infernal spirit did as it was commanded and began to raise a hellish clamor at the monastery, throwing things about in the church and the monks' cells. The Count Palatine eventually took charge of the monastery and removed the monks, who could not set foot inside the haunted rooms for more than a few moments before Faust's demonic servitor caused an intolerable tumult.

Faust was also said to have conjured up of seven of the greatest beauties in Germany, in whose company "he began to live a swinish and Epicurish life," according to the Faustbook. He was even credited with the conjuration of magickal armies and castles by some legends.

 After Faustian rumor spread and evolved into folklore and legend, numerous grimoires were attributed to Faust, such as "Geister Commando" and "Doctor Faust's Great and Powerful Harrowing of Hell." These often provide instruction to summon and subdue infernal spirits until they could be persuaded into enter into pacts and contracts. Procuring gold and buried treasure by supernatural means was one popular objective behind such rites, and it was common for a clause to be added stipulating that the gold will not be transformed into anything else after the release of the conjured spirit.

One legend of Faust's occult treasure-hunting finds the necromancer skulking in the ruins of an old chapel in Wittenberg, where he sought buried treasure. Faust summoned the Devil to point out the place to dig for the treasure, and after this was done the magician uncovered a glowing hoard "like a huge light burning," guarded by a "mighty huge serpent." Faust charmed the serpent, but found that the glowing pile of treasure was composed of burning coals. Undeterred, Faust hauled these away and dragged them back to his den, where they transformed into gold bullion. According to the Faustbook the hoard was recovered after Faust's death, and valued at around a thousand guilders.

More Faustian legends compiled from a number of different sources are available online here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/faust.html

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