A legendary occult magician of the sixteenth century, famous
in literature. There is some evidence that such a person
existed. Trithemius mentioned him in a letter written in 1507,
in which he referred to him as a fool and a mountebank who
pretended he could restore the writings of the ancients if they
were wiped out of human memory, and blasphemed concerning
the miracles of Christ. In 1513 Konrad Mudt, a canon of
the German Church, also alluded to Faust in a letter as a charlatan.
In 1543 Johann Gast, a Protestant pastor of Basel, apparently
knew Faust, and considered a horse and dog belonging to the
magician to have been familiar spirits.
Johan Weyer, who opposed the excesses of witch-hunters,
mentioned Faust in a work of his as a drunkard who had studied
magic at Cracow. He also mentioned that in the end Satan
strangled Faust after his house had been shaken by a terrific
From other evidence it seems likely that Faust was a wandering
magician or necromancer whose picturesque character won
him notoriety. No doubt the historic Faust was confused in legend
with Johan Fust, the pioneer of early printing, whose multiplication
of books must have been ascribed to magic. By the
end of the century in which Faust flourished, he had become
the model of the medieval magician, and his name was forever
linked with those of Virgil, Roger Bacon, Pope Silvester II,
and others.
The origins of the Faust legend are ancient. The essentials
underlying the story are the pact with Satan, and the supposed
vicious character of purely human learning. The idea of the
pact with Satan belongs to both Jewish and Christian magicoreligious
belief, but is probably more truly Kabalistic. The belief
can scarcely be traced further back, unless it resides in the
idea that a sacrificed person takes the place of the deity to
which he gives up his life.
The Faust tale soon spread over Europe and the story of
Faust and his pact with the devil was celebrated in broadside
ballads. The first dramatic representation of the story was
Christopher Marlowe’s Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus. The
dramatist G. E. Lessing wrote a Faust play during the German
literary revival of the eighteenth century, but it remained for
Goethe to grant Faust some degree of immortality through the
creation of one of the great psychological dramas of all time.
Goethe differed from his predecessors in his treatment of the
story in that he gave a different character to the pact between
Faust and Mephistopheles, whose nature is totally at variance
with the devils of the old Faust books. Goethe took the idea of
Faust’s final salvation from Lessing. It may be said that although
in some respects Goethe adopted the letter of the old
legend he did not adopt its spirit. Probably the story of Faust
has given to thousands their only idea of medieval magic, and
this idea has lost nothing in the hands of Goethe, who cast
about the subject a much greater halo of mystery than it contained.
Fat of the Sorcerers Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Bates, Paul A., ed. Faust Sources, Works, Criticism. New York
Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968.
Grim, William E. The Faust Legend in Music and Literature.
Lewiston, N.Y. Edwin Mellen Press, 1988.
Palmer, Philip M., and Robert P. More. Sources of the Faust
Tradition from Simon Magus to Lessing. Oxford Oxford University
Press, 1936. Reprint, New York Haskell House, 1965.