A few weeks ago I acquired a fascinating book entitled Opus Magnum (‘The Book of Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, Magic, Astrology, the Kabbala, and Secret Societies in Bohemia’). It was published in Prague in 1997 to accompany a major exhibition devoted to these esoteric subjects—the first event of its kind ever staged in the Czech Republic. The book comprises numerous richly-illustrated essays (in Czech, but with English translations in an Appendix), one of which, by D.Ž. Bor, is concerned with the several ways in which the Faust legend is connected with the city of Prague. Bor explains that one tradition asserts that the handbook used by Faust to conjure spirits was first published in Prague in 1509, a legend that was belatedly and fraudulently substantiated by a number of books and manuscripts purporting such an origin, and bearing titles such as Dr. Fausts großer und gewaltiger Höllenzwang…
One such manuscript, dating from the eighteenth century, and now in the collection of the library of the National Museum in Prague, is the source of the present images. This manuscript, writes Bor, has a ‘peculiar atmosphere radiating from the text written in white on a black ground and from the naïve illustrations accompanying it.’ Pseudo-Faustian Höllenzwangs had been appearing since the early seventeenth century, and continued to exert a lasting fascination through the Age of Reason and beyond, as is indicated by a contributor to Notes & Queries in 1850:
Scheible, of Stuttgart, […] has just commenced a new Library of Magic, &c., or Bibliothek der Zanber-Geheimnisse-und Offenbarungs-Bucher. The first volume of it is devoted to a work ascribed to that prince of magicians, our old familiar, Dr. Faustus…
…and bears the imposing title Doktor Johannes Faust’s Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis, oder Dreifacher Höllenzwang, leiztes Testament und Siegelkunst. It is taken from a manuscript of the last century, filled with magical drawings and devices enough to summon back again from the Red Sea all the spirits that ever were laid in it. It is certainly a curious book to publish in the middle of the nineteenth century.
And, even today, one may purchase a dreifacher Höllenzwang, courtesy of Amazon! The earliest printed accounts (ca. 1587) of Doctor Faustus’s ‘damnable life and deserved death’ included mention of the doomed Doctor having visited Prague:
From [Vienna], hee went unto Prage, the chiefe Citie in Bohemia, this is devided into three partes, that is, olde Prage, new Prage, and little Prage. Little Prage is the place where the Emperours Court is placed upon an exceeding high mountaine: there is a Castle, wherein are two fayre Churches, in the one he found a monument, which might well have been a mirror to himselfe, and that was the Sepulchre of a notable Conjurer, which by his Magick had so inchanted his Sepulchre, that who so ever set foote thereon, should be sure never to dye in their beds. From the Castell he came downe, and went over the Bridge. This Bridge hath twentie and foure Arches. In the middle of this Bridge stands a very fayre monument, being a Crosse builded of stone, and most artificially carved.
From thence, he came into the olde Prage, the which is separated from the new Prage, with an exceeding deepe ditch, and round about inclosed with a wall of Bricke. Unto this is adjoyning the Jewes Towne, wherein are thirteene thousand men, women, and Children, all Jewes. There he viewed the Colledge and the Garden, where all manner of savage Beasts are kept; and from thence, he set a compasse rounde about the three townes, whereat he wondred greatly, to see so mighty a Citie to stand all within the walles.
There was a folk tradition that Faust owned several houses in Prague: in time this association came to be transferred on to a building on Charles Square, still known as Faustův dům (‘Faust’s House’), which is currently used by Charles University’s Faculty of Medicine, and which stands on a site that had, at one time, been associated with the notorious charlatan Edward Kelley.
Other stories claimed that Faust had, in fact, been of Czech origin: that he came from the Bohemian mining town of Kutná Hora, and that his given name was Šťastný (literally ‘fortunate, happy’ i.e. synonymous with the Latin Faustus). According to these narratives, Šťastný had been obliged to flee Bohemia during the Hussite riots of the 1420s, travelling to Germany, where he first began to sign his name as Faustus. Some of the exploits attributed to Faust, (writes Bor), had previously been associated with a legendary Czech magician named Žito, (quite likely the ‘notable conjuror’ mentioned above) who lived at the court of the Czech king Wenceslas IV. Click on the images above to see them enlarged, and click here to see the title-page of this particular Dreifacher Höllenzwang.Posted by misteraitch at August 25, 2006 02:05 PM