The real Faust lived in Luther's time and was already a legend.
A great deal has been written in recent times on ‘witches’ in 14th- and 15th-century Germany, so much so the reality has been crowded out by cliches and bumpersticker simplicity. Certainly ‘witches’ were thought to exist in those days and be a source of evil. That was but one drop in a sea of evil. A period of history that yielded the actual living, breathing Dr. Faust deserves treatment of the full range of malicious characters.
“Much has been said of Faustus, who called the devil his brother-in-law and let himself be heard from. If I, Martin Luther, had done no more than extend my hand to him, he would have destroyed me...” [No. 3601 (1537), ‘Table Talk’ recorded by Lauterbach and Weller, in LW v 54]
The hag, one of C.S. Lewis' Longaevi
There was no lack of sorcerers. Throw in what medievalist C. S. Lewis called Longaevi - trolls, gnomes, hags, and other almost immortal miscreants that lived in dark lonely places - and our menagery of malevolence lurked everywhere. Be assured this was a teeming world of depravity that Martin Luther had known since childhood. He was a ‘peasant’ boy, as such he was not protected by knights and thick castle walls. No, little Martin had nothing between himself and the world of evil but thin walls, a thatched roof and quick wit.
Luther said many things about witchcraft, about asthma and nightmares, and how his mother had been tormented by a neighbor woman who was a witch: “She was compelled to treat her neighbor with deference and try to conciliate her, for the neighbor had through witchcraft caused her own children such sharp pain that they cried themselves to death. A certain preacher taxed her for this, though in general terms; he, too, was poisoned and had to die, for nothing could restore his health. She had taken the soil from his footsteps, had cast a spell over it, and had thrown it into the water; without this soil he couldn't be healed.” [No. 2982b (1533), ‘Table Talk’ recorded by Cordatus, in LW v 54
“There are many demons in the woods, water, swamps, and deserted places who may not injure people. Others are in dense clouds and cause storms, lightning, thunder, and hail and poison the air...” [No. 2829 (1532), ‘Table Talk’ recorded by Cordatus, in LW v 54]
When Luther was no longer a child he kept his belief in such beings but he believed one great evil orchestrated all the evil-doers: Satan. The devil, according to the mature Luther, also caused disease and bad weather but for this discussion the devil’s army of diverse malefactors is enough. Because the devil was a fallen angel, even angels could not be trusted.
“This is where dreams come from. Man's spirit can't rest, for Satan is there even when a man is asleep, though angels are also present. The devil can so frighten me that sweat pours from me in my sleep. I don't pay attention to either dreams or signs. I have the Word, and that I let suffice. I don't want an angel to come to me. I wouldn't believe him now anyway...” [No. 508 (1533), ‘Table Talk’ recorded by Dietrich, in LW v 54]
Such was Martin Luther’s world of ‘reality’. And we have not even mentioned the papal apparatus, wrong-headed princes, conniving clerics, beastly peasants and Christendom’s favorite human scapegoats, the Jews. Luther embraced the Jews in his early days but then turned against them full force. He fumed against their evil ways to
his very end.
‘Table Talk’ quotations from Theodore G. Tappert, ed./trans., Table Talk V 54 of ‘Luther’s Works’ (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1967).
Q: Do you think this great variety of miscreants is found in the New Testament? The Old Testament?
Next: Did Luther thus believe in astrology as so many of his contemporaries did?