Since the publication of Faust, a Tragedy in 1832, critics have lauded Goethe's masterwork with innumerable accolades. C. G. Jung, for example, refers to it as "the grandest work of alchemy." Faust, Part One, however, contains only ten lines dealing with alchemy, while alchemical allusions in Part Two are predominantly comic, whimsical, or utterly bewildering. In what sense, therefore, is Faust a work of alchemy at all, much less "the grandest"?
Jung viewed alchemy less as a hopelessly misguided effort to magically convert base metals into gold, and more as a metaphor for spiritual transformation, a process he referred to as "individuation." The core of the alchemical project–the "central idea"–was, according to Jung, the coniunctio or union of opposites, most commonly symbolized in medieval alchemical texts as a marriage between a male and a female, often royal figures. Jeffrey Raff, in Jung and the Alchemical Imagination, has refined Jung's notions of the coniunctio and carefully laid out three successive stages of the transformation it promotes.
I argue that these three levels of the coniunctio are exemplified in Faust, thus marking it as an alchemical work, at least by Jung's definition. In Part One, Faust joins with Margaret/Gretchen in the first, "earthly" coniunctio, which takes place on a worldly plane. In Part Two, he unites with the mythic Helen of Troy in the second, "psychic" coniunctio, the realm of imagination. Faust ends with the protagonist in the heavenly presence of the Mater Gloriosa. This is the third and final coniunctio , the "angelic" or "spiritual" sphere, which Raff designates as "psychoid."
I demonstrate, additionally, how Faust undergoes a convincing color change, from black to white to red, to epitomize a fundamental feature of alchemical progression dating to its origins in Greco-Roman Egypt. The poem further exhibits the alchemical features of patience and perseverance, gradual spiritual transmutation, and, hidden in the last scene, complex alchemical clues. I conclude that Faust does, indeed, represent a great work of alchemy, if not "the grandest," and that it embodies Goethe's vision of a world animated by love and, ultimately, devoted to sexual equality.