Science has proven that nature operates by the law of opposites. Jung based his psychology on that basic fact, and alchemy provided much philosophical material for his research.
It’s best illustrated by analogy, and Goethe was a master of its poetic form. His story of Faust, the alchemical doctor who confronted his inner opposite in a ‘pact with the Devil’, was a continuation of the symbolic tale of conscious development which earlier appeared in Job:
The bargain between Jehovah and Satan foreshadowed a personal dialogue with the spirit in which consciousness began to take an active role. Developmentally, it meant a capacity for choice, to question and doubt — even the authority of God, so that man could participate in his own fate.
The depth of Goethe’s experience was described by Jung as a spiritual advance; a foreshadowing of the religious task confronting modern man. As with Job, a new perspective of the inner world and the personal responsibility it carries with it, means a confrontation with collective values.
Faust’s inner journey begins when rational thought no longer serves the purposes of development. He feels the dark influence of the earthly spirit: “No dog could live thus any more!/So I have turned to magic lore…” It signals the mid-life stage when the paradox of individuality asserts itself.
The spirit’s energy exceeds consciousness; as it steadily accumulates over the first half of life, it can be frightening when it first emerges: this spirit confronts Faust as he reflects on the the depth of its symbol: “…what a pitiable fright/Grips thee, thou Superman! Where is the soul elated?/Where is the breast that in its self a world created?/… Is it thou, who by my breath surrounded,/In all the deeps of being art confounded?“
This inner challenge is not a one-time experience; it informs a subtle invasion of consciousness that makes Faust question the primacy of collective values. The creative power continues to work in him as he strolls home with Wagner, his rational counterpart. Suddenly, a black dog appears and circles around them curiously. Faust senses a strange connection to his dark preoccupations:
“He seems in magic nooses to be sweeping/Around our feet, a future snare to bind.” The rational part sees only the thing itself, and Wagner responds: “I see he doubts, he’s timidly around us leaping/Two strangers — not his master — does he find.” Faust perceives its symbolic portent: “The circle narrows, he’s already near!” Wagner can’t see it: “You see a dog. It is no spectre here.“
Faust befriends the black dog and lays a cushion for it behind the stove in his study. He begins translating the Bible into his beloved German. He ponders the first line, ‘In the beginning was the Word’ and concludes: “It seems impossible the Word so high to prize, I must translate it otherwise.“
So begins Faust’s confrontation with traditional religious philosophy. The black dog begins to sniff and snarl behind the stove. Suddenly, it swells into a terrifying beast in a cloud of smoke, red eyes glowing through the mist. Faust casts a spell, and out of the vapor steps Mephistopheles (he with the cloven hoof) dressed as a scholar. Faust asks who he is:
Mephistopheles: “The question seems but cheap/For one who for the Word has such contempt,/Who from all outward show is quite exempt/And only into beings would delve deep.” Faust senses his uncanny power and again asks who he is:
“Mephistopheles. Part of that Power which would/The Evil ever do and ever does the Good./Faust. A riddle! Say what it implies! /Mephistopheles. I am the Spirit that denies!”
Faust is confused: “You call yourself a part, yet whole you’re standing there.” Mephistopheles: “A modest truth do I declare./A man, the microcosmic fool, down in his soul/Is wont to think himself a whole.“
He explains: “… part of the Part of Darkness which gave birth to Light“; the ‘haughty’ light which ‘disputes the ancient rank of its mother’, the unconscious guiding principle which Faust’s rationalism has attracted through the “chance” meeting with the earthly, animal spirit.
Goethe’s intuitive nature met the spirit through the inner opposite; a profound increase in man’s moral awareness: the recognition of two opposed yet related principles which Christian philosophy has divided into two irreconcilable halves. A new stage of psychic evolution was forming.
The identification of good with conscious desire and evil with the fear of what opposes it results only in unconsciousness. That they’re two side of the same coin is not only a paradox of the unconscious psyche but of life itself.
The world is smaller today even than in Jung’s time; the more pressurized and compact technology makes it, the greater our adverse impact. The damage we’ve done to our environment in just the last century seems only to predict a darker future than any past history has seen.
I read an interview with Stephen Hawking in which he said that man’s future is in space; that we must accustom ourselves to the idea that we will one day live on a distant planet. He was as convinced of it as any religious zealot’s dissociated ego-projections into the unknown.
Who would want to live on a dead planet in a plexi-glass bubble, subject to a mass of artificial contraptions contrived to keep you alive? What would it say of us to have sacrificed the beauty and mystery of a living Eden for the dry, arid pursuit of a dissociated intellect — and for not much more than self-worship and the projected fear of our own natures? Which witch is which?