Originally written around 1570, the tale of Doctor Faustus has become an enduring legend of the man who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for supernatural powers, forbidden knowledge and riches for 24 years. Heretical in content, the story is in essence a tragedy about the consequences of dabbling in the dark arts and deviating from the path of Christian morality.
Ramona Fradon’s unique study of the Faust myth is remarkable. Through careful analysis, The Gnostic Faustus: The Secret Teachings behind the Classic Text attempts to uncover a secret code encrypted in the original version. The author effectively deciphers this hidden message and demonstrates that the story is in every stage a metaphor for the process of spiritual salvation as revealed by the Gnostics:
“The Faust Book is, in fact, a cleverly disguised Gnostic composite creation myth consisting of passages from a collection of Gnostic, Christian Gnostic, and Sethian revelation myths, hymns, polemics, gospels, and Hermetic dialogues.”
With great detail and attention, Fradon compares each verse of the Faust tale to narratives she believes that the text is compiled from. These include the Pistis Sophia, the Hymn of the Pearl, the Creation according to Mani, Apochryphon of John, the Tripartite Tractate and the Gospel of Truth.
The Gnostic Faustus is engaging and Fradon’s writing fluid. Having a strong interest in the subject, however, is advisable; familiarity of either Christopher Marlowe’s play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1592) or Goethe’s Faust (an epic poem and play written in early 1800s) is knowledge enough to value Fradon’s textual comparisons.
Even though scholars have before drawn hermitic, alchemical and Gnostic affiliations, what is most astonishing and intriguing about this book is Fradon’s Eastern connection to the story. Features of the Faust text are shown to share similarities with Hindu tantra. She often likens Faustus to a guru or yogi in a quest for enlightenment, transcendence of his soul being achieved through worship of the divine feminine: Helen of Troy/Sophia. This is a theme prevalent in tantric practices, particularly Kundalini Yoga, where the female body is perceived as the vessel through which union with the divine can be achieved. Interestingly, Faustus’s conjuration of the Devil is interpreted as a metaphor for the awakening of the Kundalini—a female destructive energy that is also equated with the Gnostic Logos. The soul too, according to Gnosticism and Jungian theory is identified as feminine (the animus), making the link with the Faust story to eastern thought even more compelling.
There is an uncanny accuracy in the parallels observed between the Faust tale and various mythological themes, traditions and symbols which Fradon claims to form its basis; whether they are derived from Gnostic or Eastern philosophies. The Gnostic Faustus shows that The Faust Book is a cunningly crafted heretic model of human spiritual development. Ramona Fradon’s work is ultimately a captivating and worthwhile read fit for academic study.