In the witch’s kitchen, Faust occupies himself by gazing into a mirror:
What am I seeing in this magic mirror?
A form whose beauty is divine!
O lend me, Love, your fleetest wings
and lead me to Elysium!
Here, in the house of the witch and her grotesque apes, in the midst of supreme ugliness, Faust has a vision of the most beautiful woman he has ever encountered. Now, he longs for the potion which Mephisto has promised will make him thirty years younger. As Faust’s desire mounts, the cauldron begins to boil. This is the unconscious. At a point when Faust’s desire is the greatest, the cauldron boils over. Unconscious contents are rising into consciousness.
Faust seems to have encountered the feminine element in the psyche. In the witch’s kitchen, we have a double-image of the feminine: the witch, and the beautiful woman in the mirror. This is simply more of the same kind of dualism that we have found throughout the Faust story.
According to the witch, before Faust can drink the potion, he must be “prepared.” The preparation consists in the drawing of a magic circle and the recitation of spells and incantations. This part of the scene begins to look a little familiar. It strikes me as being quite similar to the Catholic Mass. We may not think of the Mass in the same way we would a magic ritual, but there are similarities, and there are similar goals in mind. In a Mass, the faithful must be prepared to partake of the cup and the bread. The Church believes there is great power in the ritual, power that replenishes one’s spiritual strength. I think what may happen in rituals of this sort is a kind of raising of mental energy, whatever that may mean. I believe Jung called it libido, but not in the same way as Freud defined the word. I know it’s possible because I have had experiences where I felt terribly drained and depressed. Then, I would hear a certain song, or see a certain film, or read a certain story, and all would be better. The depression would lift and life would be enjoyable again. It may have something to do with the power of myth, as Joseph Campbell talked so much about. There is something in stories, music, art, and rituals (the acting out of stories) that is rejuvenative.
The cup, of course, calls to mind the Grail of Arthurian lore, which says that whosoever drinks from the cup shall live forever.
According to an ancient legend, the Grail was fashioned by the angels from a jewel which dropped from the head of Lucifer when he was being hurled into the abyss. I don’t know what to make of that, but it’s interesting, nevertheless. There is definitely a duality there.
Surely, the cup signifies a quest, ala Parsifal. I suppose this is the quest for self-knowledge, which is what Faust is really about.
It is said by depth psychologists that the encounter with the feminine is one of the first experiences on the road to self-realization, along with the encounter of one’s shadow. I think Faust has now experienced both. He has projected his shadow onto both Mephisto and Wagner. Now, after the feminine has been met in the mirror, Gretchen will be the recipient of this projection.
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