Ramona Fradon is the author of "The Gnostic Faustus: The Secret Teachings behind the Classic Text." I have to admit I have always found the tale of Faust intriguing. Ramona has brought to light much more than I ever have thought of regarding Faust. Most assuredly a wisdom filled quest for knowledge upon reading her book. Faustian pacts and enlightenment and so much more to the story than most wouldn't admit brought forth through her perspective. I hope you enjoy this interview. Presenting.
1. Ramona could you give our readers a bit of background on yourself? And most especially I found it fascinating about your history in the comic industry.
RF: I attended the Art Students’ League in NY City. After studying fine art for three years I was unemployable so I became a cartoonist. I illustrated the Aquaman comic for about eight years, co-created a character called Metamorpho, drew House of Secrets mysteries and worked on various other features, including Plastic Man, Freedom Fighters, Fantastic Four and Super Friends. In 1980 I left the world of comic books to draw the syndicated comic strip, Brenda Starr.
I had always wanted to go to college, so in 1977 I enrolled at NYU where I studied psychology and ancient religion. It was there that I became acquainted with the Faust Book and began the effort to decipher it. I also studied astrology and practiced alternative forms of healing, such as hypnotherapy and working with body energy. In 1995 I left Brenda to her own devices and intended to retire from comics altogether. But, instead, I have since designed covers for Marvel Comics, drawn various features for Bongo, Nick and Sponge Bob comics, illustrated part of a graphic novel, The Adventures of Unemployed Man, written and drawn a children’s, book titled The Dinosaur that Got Tired of Being Extinct and I continue to go to comic conventions, which I love, do commission drawings and, oh yes, in 2005 I finally finished writing The Gnostic Faustus.
While a number of comic book writers and artists have used the vivid imagery of the medium to express their Gnostic or tantric experiences, it never occurred to me to put the two together or express one by means of the other. Instead, from 1977 on, I unwittingly followed parallel tracks, drawing simple super heroes on the one hand and writing about the Gnostics on the other.
I suppose it makes sense that some of us are drawn to these subjects, considering the Gnostic, tantric and alchemical imagery of comics. Certainly Superman, who comes down to earth to fight evil is a pop version of Primal Man, the Gnostic hero savior who descends from the Light world to battle the forces of darkness. And what could be more tantric or alchemical than all those super heroes who change their sizes and shapes and walk through walls or fly?
2. What was your prime motivation in creating The Gnostic Faustus The Secret Teachings Behind The Classic Text knowledge wise?
RF: At NYU I was introduced to the original version of the Faust legend-a simple 16th century German folk tale called The Faust Book. I had heard dark references to Faustian bargains all my life, had read Goethe’s Faust and other adaptations of the story, and had even illustrated one myself. So there I was, back in the 16th century, actually meeting the tortured scholar in person. And in such a setting! It had the unreal quality of a dream, with mysterious symbols and numbers and odd, unrelated events. And as dreams always do, it seemed to be masking a hidden message.
When I came to a chapter where Faustus drags a lowly butler out of a wine cellar and deposits him at the top of a tall pine tree, my suspicions were confirmed. I recognized that odd event as a metaphor for enlightenment similar to an early alchemical woodcut I had seen in Titus Burckhardt’s “Alchemy.” It depicts some souls being pulled by the hair of their heads up from the temporal plane through the 24 spheres of awareness to Jesus enthroned at the top. That led me to investigate more seriously the strange world of alchemy and to determine that the Faust Book plot, if nothing else, was a metaphor for the alchemical process.
And then, by a stroke of fate, the collection of Gnostic manuscripts that had been found in a cave at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 came out in English translation. When I discovered it in a bookstore and glanced through the writings, I began to detect a recurring narrative in the various creation myths, one that recalled the Faust Book plot. The theme of temptation, transgression, fall and redemption seemed to be common to them all, save for the anomaly of Faustus’ horrible end.
I was familiar with the notion of the Divine Feminine as a force that uplifts, but in those books I discovered the goddess as a Wisdom figure whose fatal curiosity leads her – as it leads Faustus - to exile, degradation and despair. That is one of many roles he plays from the underlying accounts. By their words and actions, he and Mephostophiles parody or directly enact all aspects of the themes that underlie the Faust Book plot.
Two of the themes are introduced when Faustus conjures up the devil. He plays the role of the doubting disciple in the underlying myth who is visited by the Holy Spirit and receives a revelation about the cosmic creation. The Holy Spirit appears to the disciple in a field of light that contains three forms representing the triple powered godhead, and in the Faust Book, the devil, or Mephostophiles, steps out of a ball of light that contains three forms as well. In this scene Mephostophiles also represents a guru whom a tantric disciple has been seeking. His association with the ball of light, which in the myth reflects the mystery of the godhead, refers to the tantrist notion that the guru is inseparable from his sacred teaching. These transformational themes fit together by virtue of their similar structures and take place on the cosmic, divine and human levels.
Perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered as I went along is that the Faust Book’s wording was borrowed from some of the myths. The story is a paragraph by paragraph parody, metaphor or simile of wording taken from selected features of the different texts. They were pieced together to form the composite creation myth on which the surface plot is constructed. Ultimately, the Faust Book is a multilayered account of a spiritual initiation that is far deeper and more complex than its humble exterior would suggest.
3. Would you share some of the most fascinating things about the story of Faust and what secret teachings they contain?
RF: I think the most interesting thing about the Faust Book is how long the deception it created has lasted. While the story of the doomed German scholar has grown in influence over the centuries, inspiring artists, and spawning a great modern myth, its secret message of transformation and redemption remains largely invisible. It is the perennial call of the early church, a healing stream that has flowed beneath western civilization since it was driven underground by the Roman establishment in the early Christian centuries. From time to time its message of renewal has resurfaced, but only in disguise - in folk and fairy tale, myth and Arthurian romance, as it has in the Faust Book.
It involves a belief, expressed in the composite Gnostic myth encoded in the Faust Book, that there is a god of love and Light beyond the ignorant one that created this world. The universe is seen as a conscious, polarized energy field issuing from that source, and we reflect that polarity in our divided natures. Our task, then. is to reconcile our inner conflicts and experience the light that flows from unity, or the god within.
That message is hidden in the Faust Book. While the disciple pursues the task of transformation in the underlying account, Faustus embarks on a profligate life, and only by a symbol is the opposite story revealed. The devil allots him twenty -four years, before he must die and surrender his soul. For alchemists the number twenty- four denotes the successful completion of a cycle. Its mention suggests that Faustus is committing himself to complete the effort of self–transcendence, not to die a gruesome death. By symbols and reverse metaphors such as these, the Faust Book conveys its heretical message.
There are two specific practices designed to achieve the goal of enlightenment that are associated with the Gnostics. They are alchemy and tantra, the yoga of sex, and both are encoded in the Faust Book. To the Church, seeking salvation without priestly intervention was heretical and all such practices were the work of the devil. While the Faust Book made the devil unpleasant enough to appease the Church and help it suppress dissent, the outrageous staging of Marlowe’s Dr. Faust some 20 years later, made him and his shrieking demons utterly terrifying. In such an atmosphere, the message of love and healing remained out of sight. Over the centuries, Faustus’ longing for a direct experience of god has remained invisible; transformed according to changing values into a longing for women or power or gold.
4. Faust seems torn between heaven and hell and most everyone knows the story of him making a deal with the devil. Could you elaborate at bit more on this scenario and why he did it?
RF: In Gnostic myth Adam, the first man, was created by Sophia’s “error,” the god who rules the material world. Adam’s body lay lifeless until Sophia came down and breathed a portion of her spirit into it. His nature was divided as a result and so are we, his descendants. In Gnostic speculation this division reflects the positive and negative polarities in the universe, and is reflected in myth as a cosmic war between Darkness and Light or, as some Gnostic schools asserted, between ignorance and knowledge of god.
Some Gnostic sects believed that there were three races of men - Pneumatics who were wholly spiritual, Psychics who were a mixture of spirit and matter and were capable of being saved, and Hylics, who were wholly material and beyond salvation. The Faust Book concerns itself with the mixed, or divided soul and that is the role that Faustus plays. While he is said to be seeking the devil’s forbidden knowledge, in the underlying message he is responding to the pull of his spiritual nature which longs for a direct experience of god.
Some early Gnostics employed specific techniques to achieve that end. Among them was tantric yoga whose methods were designed to unite male and female polarities by awakening the Kundalini serpent power that lies coiled at the base of the spine. It is a raging, elemental force that, if not controlled, can stimulate lascivious behavior, an inflated ego and other negative traits. Faustus enacts all of these things as he plays the role of a tantric disciple, while Mephostophiles, as I mentioned, parodies the actions of a guru.
Tantra involves intense breathing techniques and development of an iron discipline, for the student’s passion, when aroused, must be directed. Contemplation of the female form is a central feature of that process. Tantrists identified their Kundalini energy as feminine and worshipped it as a goddess; its movements brought the bliss that they imagined in their dreams and meditations
Hermetic alchemists shared the tantrist’s worldview, and their goal of reconciling opposites in their metals fit the tantric model in theory and in practice. Chinese and Indian alchemists are known to have worked with tantra and it is strongly suspected- not least by the evidence of the Faust Book- that secretive western alchemists did the same.
Stages of the alchemical process correspond to stages of a tantric initiation as, for example, in the oscillation of the alchemist’s metal between dissolution and fixation. It mirrors the rhythm of Kundalini energy as it rises and falls along the tantrist’s invisible spine. The purpose of both is to reconcile opposites and promote a higher awareness. The fire that catalyzes the alchemist’s metal and promotes its change is equivalent to the transforming passion aroused in the tantric disciple as he contemplates the female form.
At the time the Faust Book was written it was widely believed that alchemical processes underlay the workings of the universe and determined the path of transformation. That belief is encoded in the Faust Book where alchemy is featured throughout, not only in relation to tantra, but as a foundation for events in the creation myth.
5. I see that you say the book has messages from other texts in it like the Pistis Sophia and the Hymn of the Pearl. What do you mean by this?
RF: The composite creation myth that underlies the Faust Book is made up of a number of Gnostic, Hermetic and Christian Gnostic texts, and the most important are The Hymn of the Pearl, the Pistis Sophia and the Apochryphon of John. The first is an allegory of a search for Gnosis and epitomizes the myth of the alien pilgrim savior who is redeemed by recalling his divinity. Faustus’ story is a paraphrase and metaphor of essential features of the hymn.
Following is a brief comparison to demonstrate how the Faust Book borrowed from it.
The savior leaves his wealthy home in the light world to find the lost pearl (inner wisdom) and Faustus leaves the home of his wealthy parents to pursue forbidden knowledge. The savior puts on “filthy garments” (the body) and Faustus pledges himself to the devil. They both fall into bad company and indulge in worldly pleasures. The savior forgets his heavenly origin and Faustus abandons god. A letter from his parents reminding the savior of his mission and his origin, while Faustus gets a mysterious call from above and is taken on a journey through the heavens. The savior seizes the pearl from the dragon who guards it and Faustus goes to Rome and steals silver from the Pope. The savior puts on his robe of light and Faustus sleeps with the numinous Helen. They have a miraculous offspring. The savior is greeted by his father and Faustus dies. Here again, redemption in the underlying message is disguised. In fact, the miraculous child that results from Faustus’ and Helen’s union is a version of alchemy’s Philosophical Child, who represents the union of opposites or the final stage of enlightenment.
The Pistis Sophia concerns itself with matters of salvation and supplies the soteriological underpinning of the myth. Jesus answers questions from the disciples about the nature and workings of the light world, about their purpose here on earth, where they come from and where they are going, and whether the damned can be saved. Their questions are reflected in the Faust Book in the several discourses Faustus has with the devil.
The book syncretizes various strains of Gnostic thought including elements of astrology, magic, Christianity, inspired visions of the cosmic creation, the belief that Christ was a spiritual being and did not really die on the cross, and bizarre features from the Manichaean creation myth. It features an account of Sophia’s fall and redemption, leaving out her role as creator of the material world. Her hymns of hope, as recounted in the Pistis Sophia, run throughout the myth and offer consolation for Faustus’ tragic plight.
The Apochryphon of John, tells the other side of Sophia’s story. A creation revelation that encompasses the body of Gnostic myth, it was a central work of their scripture. The Faust Book author borrowed heavily from it to flesh out details of his myth. The Apochryphon account follows Sophia into the abyss where she gives birth to an abortion, the ignorant Yaltabaoth, who creates the material world with its harsh conditions and retributive laws. These are the laws that ensnare poor Faustus and punish him for “loving what ought not to be loved.”
There are several other texts that contribute highlights to the underlying myth and wherever they appear in the narrative they amplify its meaning and shed further light on Faustus’ actions.
6. What are some examples of the divine feminine encoded in the book that you can tell us about?
RF: The goddess Sophia was called the World Soul because her journey from ignorance to wisdom was thought to be the model for human transformation. Faustus’ story is a metaphor for hers. Her sin was hubris; she longed to see the unknowable god directly, and in approaching his light, she broke the foremost rule of the light world. She was banished into outer darkness, and as she fell deep into the abyss, her light grew dim, then cooled and hardened into matter. In a parody of Sophia’s longing and transgression, Faustus tries to satisfy his own forbidden desire by approaching the devil, who corrupts him and hardens his heart.
As Sophia falls deeper into the darkness she experiences doubt, fear, grief and repentance. These are precisely the emotions Faustus speaks of when, realizing what he has become, he feels abandoned by god. Unlike Sophia, however, he is unable to repent. In her exile, Sophia assumes a material body that obscures her spiritual light. Succumbing to its desires, she begins to live wantonly and forgets her heavenly origin. Faustus lives wantonly too. He acquires the devil’s powers, and “no longer revering God’s words,” indulges in wine, women and all manner of vices.
Sophia is represented in the Faust Book by the bewitching Helen, a phantom figure conjured up by Faustus who arouses passion in his students. She appears in a setting that suggests a tantric initiation, for just as Faustus offers Helen’s tempting figure to his students, the tantric guru encourages his pupils to visualize and even dream about beautiful women, to imagine touching them and eventually having intercourse with them- while all the time practicing detachment. This enables them to control and reverse their sexual drive, forcing the sacred kundalini energy located at the base of the spine upward to the cranial vault where it is said to unify polarized consciousness and produce immeasurable bliss. This technique is parodied ingeniously in the Faust Book by symbols and numbers as well as metaphorical images.
As an object of desire, Sophia stands in the tradition of Isis, whose temple priestesses performed sexual sacraments with their followers that were designed to unite male and female polarities and turn them into gods. This was also a symbolic restoration of the divided godhead that was scattered when Sophia committed her transgression. These priestesses were called temple whores and Sophia was referred to as a whore in her fallen state.
At length the fallen goddess repents and waits patiently to be saved, sustained by her by faith and hope. As she languishes in the darkness, she sings 13 hymns of hope and praise to Jesus, hymns that are referred to in the Faust Book by the appearance of the word hope 13 times in an otherwise gloomy discourse on hell that the devil gives to the frightened Faustus.
For the Gnostics, hell was the world we live in, a product of undisciplined emotion and a mind that is ignorant of god. Pulled by the body ‘s desires it was said to produce nightmares, terrors, delusions and all the ills that beset mankind. Repentance, faith and hope were the only way to escape from this “world of oblivion,” and in the surface story Faustus failed to repent, had no faith or hope and was doomed to suffer in hell.
7. Faust journeys to the heavens and stars and has divine revelations. Could you share some of your thoughts on this?
RF: When Faustus travels to the stars, he goes on a circular journey that mimics the actions of vapors in the alchemist’s vessel. They rise from the metal’s corrupted body, circulate, and return to penetrate it, causing a transforming chemical reaction. In the course of his journey Faustus watches as the cloud sphere, “as solid and thick as a masonry wall” and “as clear as crystal,” cracks “violently as if it were about to burst and brake the world open.” Here he is referring to certain properties of the alchemist’s vessel and to its tendency to burst open under the intense heat required at this stage of the process, Faustus refers to this heat by pointing out that he left on his trip in the heat of July.
Faustus’ journey, which was preceded by another one down to hell, was a classic baptismal sequence. As he plunges down to hell and back again, he follows the path of renewal that Sophia and the other saviors take: “down through the path of evolution and upward through the gate of the Lord.” Gnostics believed that incarnation was a descent into darkness and they equated it with drunkenness and degradation, as Sophia’s descent demonstrates. In Faustus’ third circular journey, he travels to Rome and steals the aforementioned silver from the Pope that signifies enlightenment. He has transcended the bounds of ordinary reality and will soon display extraordinary powers.
Faustus’ circular journey down to hell traces the path of the Kundalini whose polarized energy rushes down to the first chakra, or lowest of the energy centers, then unites and goes upward through the invisible spine to bring bliss and unified consciousness. There is a profusion of alchemical and Hermetic symbolism in this chapter as well as dramatic imagery that indicates the terrors and physiological effects that accompany movement of the Kundalini.
8. What about Mephistopheles can you share with us in your perspective?
RF: Mephostophiles is the most misunderstood and maligned figure in all of literature. Rather than being an evil fiend whose temptations seduce poor Faustus and bring him down, he is actually a force for change. His elusive and manipulative ways mimic the actions of mercury in the alchemist’s vessel, which corrode and dissolve the imperfect metal and prepare it to be reformed. Sulfur is Mercury’s antagonist. It is fixed and rigid and coagulates the corroded metal. The two bite and tear at each other in the vessel in the same way Faustus and Mephistophiles struggle with each other, the one trying to exert his will and the other trying to break it down.
The tantric guru works in the same way. His shifting methods are designed to overcome his pupil’s ego defenses and prepare him to receive a new awareness. Mephostophiles’ sudden changes of behavior toward Faustus are determined by the guru’s actions as he assesses the progress or needs of his pupil. At one moment he encourages him, and in the next he frightens him or deflates his ego. He may refuse to answer questions or may be a patient teacher, but all the while he is guiding the initiate to a higher understanding.
The name Mephostophiles represents a special power in the tantric process as well as in the Gnostic myth. It is a mysterious vibration, which is said to be one of the Father’s many names. This Word has a transforming power which one of the texts says “separates the light from the light and causes a mingling of the primary powers outside of the godhead.” In other words, by means of this vibration the godhead radiates a power which mingles with another to form a Logos whose divine attributes reflect the godhead. In the Faust Book, a parody of this divine event occurs when Mephostophiles speaks his name. Faustus “cuts himself off from God” and “becomes a liege of the abominable devil.” The guru’s mantra has a similar effect. When he whispers it into his pupil’s ear its vibration produces super conscious feeling states and constitutes a transfer of power that bestows the attributes of a deity on the receiver.
Mephistophiles stands at the heart of hermetic thinking, which holds that we are all one, and all capable of transformation, but like the alchemist’s mercury or the tantrist’s guru, his methods are not always pretty. He has an unpleasant tendency to force unwanted change and humble stubborn will.
9. Is the total outcome truly the damnation of Faust's eternal soul in the book or is there more to it than that after he makes his pact?
RF: Without a doubt the Faust Book’s greatest deception is Faustus’ death, a punishment designed to satisfy Church authorities. We are told that he turned away from god, lusted after wine and women, corrupted his students, refused to repent and was doomed. Yet in part three we find him selflessly walking for miles to answer calls for help, to mend marriages or heal and comfort the sick. In this role he represents Jesus Patibilis, a Manichean savior whose death provides a joyful outcome in the underlying text. This Jesus was a healer, a “physician who walked on every road.” He was also the life force of plants that were “beaten, plucked and torn to pieces every day to nourish the animals,” but every day he was born anew from a dunghill. In the end Faustus was torn to pieces, too, and his bloody remains were found twitching “on a heap of dung.” While Faustus’ death was final, Jesus’ death in the myth promised new birth and eternal renewal.
10. What else would you like to share with our readers from the book? Also any future books or projects or links you would like to share with us as we depart? Thank you.
RF: As for any other projects, I finished my children’s book, The Dinosaur That Got Tired of Being Extinct and it’s on Amazon along with The Gnostic Faustus. At this moment I am busy doing commissioned drawings and have no other immediate plans.
“Fradon’s comparative study of the hidden origins of the ‘original’ Faust tale not only illuminates the gnostic, hermetic, and alchemical substrata that have been hinted at by previous scholars but also breaks new ground in pointing out uncanny tantric resonances in what superficially appears as a lurid sixteenth-century German chapbook.”
--Michael Moynihan, author of Lords of Chaos and The Secret King
In The Gnostic Faustus, Ramona Fradon shows the legend of Doctor Faustus to be a composite Gnostic creation myth that reveals the process of spiritual salvation. Nearly every element of the original sixteenth-century text is a metaphor containing profound spiritual messages based on passages of Coptic and Syrian Gnostic manuscripts, including the Pistis Sophia and The Hymn of the Pearl. Fradon identifies many hermetic, alchemical, and tantric symbols in the Faust Book that accompany the story of Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, whose troubled journey to salvation is a model for human spiritual development. Extensive line-by-line text comparisons with these Gnostic manuscripts show that Faustus’s corruption by the Devil and his despair parallel Sophia’s transgression and fall, and that his tragic death is a simple reversal of her joyful rebirth, so written in order to make an otherwise heretical story palatable to Church authorities at that time.
Fradon demonstrates that the Faust legend is a vehicle for transmitting antiquity’s secret wisdom. It provides an account of spiritual initiation whose goal is ecstatic revelation and union with the divine. The elements of alchemy, sacramental sex, and worship of the divine feminine that are encoded in the Faust Book reveal the same hidden goddess-worshipping tradition whose practices are hinted at by the writings of Renaissance magi such as Cornelius Agrippa and Giordano Bruno.
RAMONA FRADON has been investigating the Faust legend since 1978 in order to decipher the mysteries of its spiritual framework. She has also practiced astrology and energy healing and studied shamanism and hypnotherapy. is a visual artist with extensive illustration credits in the comics industry. She was the artist for Aquaman, Metamorpho, and the comic strip Brenda Starr. In 2006, she was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame. She lives in upstate New York.
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