A Most Mysterious Union: The Role of Alchemy in Goethe's Faust



Readers today are especially thrilled by the prospect of good news. Drought and global warming, civil war and famine, poverty and economic inequity--yes, bad news abounds. This book by Dr. Stephen Wilkerson, on the other hand, is about hope and optimism for the future. The recorded history of our world is largely one of a sometimes worthy patriarchal striving. It has, however, all too often been tarnished, marred, and horribly disfigured by the hatreds, intolerance, and destruction that have accompanied it. And the good news? There is another way, poignantly and persuasively outlined nearly two hundred years ago by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, involving the Divine Feminine.

Goethe's masterpiece, Faust, involves an immensely intelligent but profoundly narcissistic man, who cruelly and selfishly exploits and ultimately ruins the life of an innocent maiden. In the legend on which Goethe's great work is based, Faust understandably winds up in Hell, just as he does in virtually every version of this well-known wager with the Devil. But in Goethe's interpretation, the deeply flawed protagonist is received into Heaven by the Mother of God Herself.

How and why can this be? Mankind's long history of heroic accomplishment has never been sufficiently tempered by a sense of global community and cooperation that mitigate the horror and devastation that ever seem to march along beside a single-minded struggle to achieve and prevail. And how may this missing unity be brought about? Alchemy as understood in this book has nothing to do with an early and misguided chemistry and everything to do with the sort of individual transformation necessary for a better, more gracious, more inclusive world.

The millennial patterns of blind violence and repression can only be ameliorated by a thoughtful and genuine embrace of open-minded reception of difference and heart-felt valuation of a larger, borderless world in which all grow together rather than further apart. Such is the promise of the final words in Goethe's Faust "The Divine Feminine leads us forward."

Product Details

Price: $31.20
Publisher: Chiron Publications
Published Date: July 22, 2019
Pages: 386
Dimensions: 6.0 X 0.86 X 9.0 inches | 1.24 pounds
Language: English
Type: Paperback
ISBN: 9781630514105
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

The son of medical missionaries to China, Stephen Wilkerson was born in Shanghai in 1949, although he later moved to and grew up through high school in central Taiwan. Like Faust, pulled in two directions, he received an M.D. and also a Ph.D. in history from Duke University and has been vacillating between science and the humanities ever since. Most of his professional career has been in the field of medicine, first in the U.S. Navy, then in the U.S. Army, and finally in private practice in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. His time as a physician, especially in the military, provided many opportunities for teaching, which he has done in some capacity or other ever since working as a tutor and English language instructor in high school. After retiring first from the Army and later from civilian practice, he entered a program at Pacifica Graduate Institute, from which he most recently received a Ph.D. in mythological studies. He has for ten years co-chaired the area on mythology of the national Popular Culture Association, and continues his interest in teaching now primarily for Road Scholar and other adult continuing education programs. He has published a number of papers, particularly in medicine, but this is his first book. He is now living in Black Mountain, North Carolina. His wife works there as a Jungian psychotherapist. His son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter live in West Asheville; a daughter recently began work in Charleston, South Carolina; and another daughter is invitingly not too far removed in St. Petersburg, Florida.


"Dr. Stephen Wilkerson has created a masterful piece of scholarly work in his book concerning the role of alchemy in Goethe's classic poem, Faust. Essentially, Wilkerson maps Jung's process of individuation, through Faust's narrative, as the alchemist projected this psychic dynamic on to the alchemical process. The flow of this seminal work by Dr. Wilkerson is toward one of ultimate, 'coniunctio, ' or union with the Whole. Folded within this novel approach is a complete, yet concise biography of Goethe and Jung and history of alchemy. One closes this book with a greater knowledge of analytical psychology and a clearer sense of what is needed in the 21st century is the union of opposites in the inner and outer world."

-J. Pittman McGehee, D.D., Diplomate Jungian Analyst

"Stephen Wilkerson's sensitive and probing exploration of Goethe's classic poem rests on both a promise and a belief: that humankind thirsts for an alchemical transformation of spirit but may not yet fully realize how to initiate such a quest. His study reveals, by way of Goethe's genius and Jung's exploration of alchemy, that the poetic imagination has the capacity to inform, reform and so transform the individual into a more receptive, porous and compassionate worldview by embracing the energies of the Feminine in her earthly and divine figures. Such a conjunction would unite us in a sorely-needed communitas, without which we are destined for greater divisions and intolerances."

-Dennis Patrick Slattery, author of The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh and Our Daily Breach: Exploring Your Personal Myth through Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

"While literary critics have variously regarded Goethe's Faust as a 'failure, ' as 'a bizarre monster, ' or as 'a convenient depository for all sorts of extraneous thoughts and allusions, ' Jungian critics have tended to assign to the work's characters roles in a psychological theater of the soul. In this fascinating study, Stephen Y. Wilkerson argues the case for supporting Jung's assertion that Faust is 'the last and grandest example of an alchemical opus.' Its readers will want to dust off their copies of Goethe's Faust and Jung's Mysterium Coniunction is to search themselves for the most mysterious union of all."

-Paul Bishop, William Jacks Chair in Modern Languages, University of Glasgow; author of Analytical Psychology and German Classical Aesthetics