Bulgakov’s Devil: Not so evil after all: Gnostic Elements in The Master and Margarita
The devil is a common literary icon. This enemy of God has generally been established as an unwavering representation of evil—a figure out to trick and torment his arch-nemesis and readers alike. Whether making pacts with mortals to sell their souls or raising armies against Heaven, literary representations of the devil have been largely concerned with religious themes, quite often concluding with a crescendo of either God’s heroic defeat over evil or Satan’s tragic ‘fall’. Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, however, complicates the role and characterization of the devil, a foreign “professor of magic” visiting Soviet Russia who is clearly established to be Satan on earth, unleashing his inherent wickedness on other characters. Though Bulgokov’s character of Woland is the devil per se, it is the purpose of this wicked role that can lend to readers a new reading of the text. This paper will seek to analyze three major characters of the novel along Gnostic parameters: Woland, Yeshua and Margarita. In doing so, Woland can be read as a counter-part of God: a figure representative of the dualistic quality of dark. By this understanding, Woland is the dark to the character of Yeshua Ha-Notsri’s “lightness.” In a Gnostic system that is defined by oppositions rather than connotations, Woland becomes a device, much like Yeshua, to serve a higher end. The ultimate purpose of this paper will prove that though Woland may be the “devil,” a Gnostic interpretation of the text will allow readers to take a step away from the typical horned enemy and towards a role more characterized as a “co-conspirator:” a character that walks the thin line of a literary (and Gnostic) balancing act, and even an apologist for the existence of the spiritual realm.To interpret Woland along Gnostic lines, it is crucial to identify the general Gnostic elements that run prevalent in Bulgakov’s text. Though there are a variety of Gnostic sects, there are key elements that remain common to each. Once identified, readers can clearly see this ideology at work in The Master and Margarita. According to Dr. Denova’s article, “The Gnostic Cosmology,” “The most important feature of Gnostic thought is the radical dualism that governs the relation to God and the word, and correspondingly, man and the world” (Denova 1).
Woland himself is the messenger of this Gnostic theme of dualism in the novel, describing the necessity of “good” and “evil” as mere pole and anti-pole, stating,What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it? After all, shadows are cast by objects and people. There is a shadow of my sword. But there are also shadows of trees and living creatures. Would you like to denude the earth of all trees and all the living beings in order to satisfy your fantasy of rejoicing in naked light? You are a fool” (Bulgakov ¬¬“The Fate of the Master and Margarita is Decided”).As Woland himself says, one cannot know light without first recognizing shadows; these two dualistic forces are co-operative and co-dependent. As a result of this inherent dualism, there is a clear separation between the physical and spiritual worlds: the spiritual is seen as a realm of light and the physical as a realm of darkness. Further, the Gnostic universe works to focus on man’s distinct separation from God himself. This “transmundane” God is physically and figuratively hidden from those in the physical world, completely unknowable by natural concepts; he cannot be discovered without “revelation.” In the Gnostic view, man is composed of a body, soul and spirit. The body, resultantly, is part of the physical world. Importantly, though, the soul of man is alleged to contain the pneuma (spirit), also called the divine spark. This spark, a piece of the divine realm that has “fallen” and become trapped in the physical realm, comes to play a major role in Bulgakov’s novel. Along with the idea that the common goal of Gnosticism is to “release” this spark back to where it belongs. Denova describes this spark as a latent spiritual element that is present in all men. However, this divine spark can only be awakened and liberated through knowledge (gnosis). One who achieves this knowledge of the divine that is present within himself is said to be “saved,” and in doing so, releases his divine “inner self” back to the realm of light—where it had fallen from originally. This bizarre process is easier said than done. Recalling that man is ignorant until undergoing a revelation, there of course must be a lynch-pin in this process. Enter: Woland and Yeshua. Even vague outline of this Gnostic cosmology sheds light on the allegory of Woland [the devil; darkness] and Yeshua [the bringer of light; Jesus Christ] as images of Gnostic go-betweens for these opposing realms, with Woland being the primary agent of the ‘dirty work’ on earth. Thus, while Woland exploits the unenlightened people in the physical realm, Yeshua does the opposite in the Master’s novel—he brings the spiritual to the physical world, and the knowledge that comes with it. Bulgakov’s character of Yeshua fits the exact description of what Gnostic savior is: “He is a messenger from the world of light who penetrates the barriers… awakens the spirit from its earthy slumber, and imparts to it the saving knowledge ‘from without’” (Denova 2).
Additionally, according to this definition, the character of Woland is also not simply the devil on earth, but a symbol of a humankind that is existent “from without.” According to A.C. Wright’s article, “Satan in Moscow: An Approach to The Master and Margarita,” “Woland regards darkness as the other side of light, to which he is not opposed: there is no indication that he wants to thwart God’s purposes or even bring about man’s damnation” (Wright 1163). This argument that Woland is not in fact a “damning devil” but rather a co-conspirator type of figure can be readily interpreted from many of his physical acts throughout the novel. It particular instances, Woland’s primary objective is to prove the existence of the outer realm, and much as he snaps at Berlioz for proclaiming God does not exist early in the novel, readers can witness a symbolic parallel incident: his magic show. For example, in George Bengalsky’s introduction of his magic at, he states to the audience, ‘Well, as I was saying, you are about to see a very famous artist from abroad, M’sieur Woland, with a session of black magic. Of course we know, don’t we… ‘Bengalsky smiled confidently, ‘that there’s no such thing really. It’s all superstition—or rather Maestro Woland, with a is past master of the art of conjuring, as you will see from the most interesting part of his act in which he reveals the mysteries of his technique’ (Bulgakov “Black Magic Revealed”). These lines contain huge Gnostic symbolism that bolsters this type of reading of Woland. First, Bengalsky’s statement that Woland is a professor “from abroad” is precisely who the Gnostic Woland is—a visitor from the spiritual realm. Further, it is significant that as Bengalsky so emphatically insist, just as Berlioz mentions about Christ in the opening pages, that Woland’s magic simply does not exist and that Woland will in fact reveal the mysteries of a technique of trickery. However, Woland uses his magic act to do the opposite, refusing to show the “technique” his technique and instead performing all too realistic acts, physically decapitating a man, and refusing to explain the “trick” to the audience. Woland’s entire magic act can be viewed as a microcosm for his goal in being on Earth. Like the magic act, Woland is not out to harm the people (as even Bengalsky gains his head back); he simply exists to shed “light” on the existence of the realm beyond. If his “black magic” is indeed real, so then, by implication, is its counter-part just as valid and legitimate. In a Gnostic world, Yeshua is indeed the savior who is directly opposed to Woland, as he represents the spiritual realm and provides knowledge of its divine saving quality. Yet he is a savior in a different form: he is the one who brings a way to obtain this spiritual knowledge and thus “unveils” eyes in darkness; his presence alone in the does not make him a savior himself. This fact is represented symbolically: the Master’s text in itself is null without readers having a way to seek the information held within it. As readers can see, Yeshua’s mere presence is not enough to gain salvation. For example, Yeshua’s dedicated follower Levi Matvei is constantly inscribing Yeshua’s words, but when Pilate asks to see the parchment, Levi cannot make sense of the words written on it. It is Pilate himself who needs “awakened” through Yeshua’s words—Yeshua himself, as evidenced by Pilate’s original role in his crucifixion, is not enough to grant salvation. The fact that Yeshua is not readily recognized and interpreted while on Earth is also a testament to this uniquely Gnostic “mysterious savior.” As Bulgakov writes while Yeshua proceeds up the hill to his crucifixion through the crowd, “There was one man, but few could see him” (Bulgakov “The Final Adventure of Koroviev and Behemoth”). Again, this draws the focus not to Jesus the man, who is not relevant in the grand Gnostic scheme, but the knowledge of beyond that he brings to those receptive to the message. The fact that Levi is transcribing nonsense when attempting to write Yeshua’s words and that few could actually see Yeshua perfectly fits the bill of the savior according to the Gnostic Secret Book of John. John states, “There is no way to say, ‘What is his quality?’ or ‘What is his quantity?’ for no one can know him. He is not someone among other beings, rather he is far superior” (Ehrman 147).
Though Bulgakov’s description above describes the physically crowded conditions of the scene, these lines can again be interpreted through alternative meanings—especially when readers know that this unrecognizable Gnostic savior is so typical of the cult. “The supernatural realm, for Bulgakov, is beyond man’s exhaustive knowledge; man can approach it only through metaphors, analogies, symbols…” (Wright 1063) adds Wright. This notion helps to explain why so few can understand what seem to be ridiculous plot strands of the novel, and also why these characters, especially their words, have such a symbolic rather than literal significance. Though Yeshua came to show the existence of the spiritual realm to people in darkness, but, like Pilate, the people must use these words to “release” themselves from the darkness. Following the argument that Woland and Yeshua are Gnostic symbols for light and dark, Woland and Yeshua can be seen no longer simply as “God versus the devil” but rather, opposite but equal forces. Thus, Woland’s sheer existence is yet another example of the existence of the spiritual realm: he proves through his darkness that there exists an opposite force in Yeshua. He may be the “devil,” but he certainly is not out to refute the existence of God; rather, he reaffirms it. This argument is most poignantly expressed in Woland’s own words as he is debating God’s existence with Berlioz. ‘Look, professor,’ said Berlioz with a forced smile, ‘With all respect to you as a scholar we take a different attitude on that point,’ ‘It’s not a question of having an attitude, ‘ replied the strange professor. ‘He existed, that’s all there is to it.’ ‘But one must have some proof. …’ Began Berlioz.‘There’s no need for any proof,’ answered the professor’ (Bulgakov “Never Talk to Strangers”). In no other scene is Woland’s mission so explicitly stated. He is more concerned with providing the “shadow” to the divine’s light, instead of convoluting it. Wright’s article again agrees with Woland’s positioning as this figure in the Gnostic argument and that Woland’s presence is crucial for the recognition of the spiritual realm. He states, Essentially, man is seeking freedom from the tyranny of knowing only what is good, a process that leads to Gnosticim and the worship of a power of evil as a liberation from such tyranny… Once man is free to know good and evil, the concept of the devil seems bound to expand to take care of man’s desire for such knowledge: there is no escaping the logic in this process, neither in popular tradition nor in The Master and Margarita. (Wright 1165). According to this interpretation, the “devil” is not simply an enemy of God; rather, he is a fixture in showing that God is indeed present. As Woland stated, how can one know one without the other? As God is absent in the physical realm of Gnosticism, Woland, together with Yeshua, must be agents and representations of the spiritual realm beyond. Consequently, “Any outlook which denies the ontological reality of the supernatural therefore pathetically inadequate to explain the reality of the human condition.” And even the devil himself will tell readers that (online article). This definition, then, is Woland’s primary function: one that serves a far more noble purpose than simply being an evil deceiver. To also show this dualistic “opposite and equal” representation of Woland and Yeshua, take the examples in which Woland and Yeshua seem to contain an equal amount of knowledge—knowledge that other characters cannot contain or grasp. The many lines in which characters are asked to explain events, responding with “The devil only knows,” though a popular figure of speech, are ironic and in actuality quite literal. These reactions, which always occur in Woland’s presence, occur repeatedly throughout the novel, on over ten separate occasions. This continued statement that the devil does indeed “know” shows that, like Yeshua, Woland also possesses an omniscient knowledge. When Berlioz is run over by a train at the beginning of the novel, for example, Woland shouts “Shall I send a telegram at once to your uncle in Kiev?” shocking Berlioz, who cannot understand how Woland possessed this knowledge of his family members. Though a small event compared to later events of the novel, this scene shows his character’s unworldly foresight. Though Woland is he is in the evil and “ignorant” physical world, he always knows more than the characters in it. Looking at Yeshua and Woland as mere figures on separate poles begs further reasoning. One can deduce that Woland’s representation of darkness also puts him much more in touch with the physical realm throughout the novel, since, as Gnostics postulate, the entire world is in fact in darkness. Woland’s dual connection from the spiritual and the physical realms can be read in a description of him. “His right eye, with a golden spark in its depths, piercing anyone it turned on to the bottom of his soul; and the left, empty and black like the narrow eye of a needle” (Bulgakov “The Master is Released”). These lines are a perfect representation of Woland not as evil or even below Yeshua’s character of “good,” but as a necessary object for the understanding of what, as he stated earlier, good is. Woland is both in darkness (or physical reality) yet possesses the enlightening truth of the spiritual realm that Yeshua does. On the other pole, Yeshua’s function in the novel must be to provide the “light” that Woland is opposed to. Pilate’s final words in the novel also elucidate a major Gnostic characterization of Jesus. Throughout the Master’s novel, readers witness Pilate’s internal struggle with how he is to handle Yeshua and the consequences of his crucifixion. Readers can clearly see that Pilate was haunted by his decision to kill the man that, as Pilate begins to realize, was not perhaps even a man after all. Pilate is constantly stating “Even at night, in moonlight, I have no rest,” (Bulgakov “The Master is Released”) indicating that even in the darkness of the physical world, Pilate is not, in fact, ignorant. He was awoken by Yeshua’s message in the Master’s text. Furthermore, almost simultaneously as Pilate is declared to have gained light and the consequent knowledge that comes with it, he utters a statement that is truly Gnostic in its roots regarding Yeshua’s execution. The Gnostics have a truly unique definition of Jesus’s death. Whereas mainstream Catholics declare that Jesus’s death on the cross was truly the act of a man dying, Gnostics appropriately separate the man Jesus from the “divine spirit” of Christ. Thus, according to this view, while viewers of the crucifixion physically saw Jesus the man die, Christ, the true spirit, did not, and was instead released back to his home in the spiritual realm. Consequently, the crucifixion is often considered a “trick” of the eye—there is no bodily death and subsequent resurrection—there is a clear separation between body and soul. Pilate’s final recognition of the true knowledge of Yeshua is perhaps one of the most persuasive elements of The Master and Margarita that one can make in a Gnostic argument. As the Pilate set off along that path of light,He was walking with Banga, and the vagrant philosopher beside him. … They disagreed entirely, which made their argument the more absorbing and interminable. The execution, of course, had been a pure misunderstanding: after all this same man, with his ridiculous philosophy that all men were good, was walking right beside him—consequently he was alive. Indeed the very thought of executing such a man was absurd. There had been no execution! It had never taken place! This thought comforted him as he strode along the moonlight pathway (Bulgakov 278)Pilate’s statement shows his knowledge of Yeshua’s true purpose. Yeshua the person is not relevant when compared to the knowledge that Pilate gained of the divine realm, and, quite literally, Yeshua led Pilate down the “path of light.” Pilate’s “restless” spark could now be released. Through Yeshua, he was able to accomplish every Gnostic’s goal of departure from the physical world and reunification with the light. The Master’s words, “you are free! He is waiting for you!” not only complete the book, but complete Pilate’s own journey down the moonlit path to the light of the divine, a path that Pilate had been attempting to walk since Yeshua’s death. Conversely, Woland poses the critical question as to why the Master should not also “go into the light” as Pilate had. Unlike Pilate’s awakening to the existence of the spiritual realm, the Master is said to have “not earned light, only peace.” This concept again illustrates that divine knowledge of the light of the spiritual realm is not something that simply exists, it is something that all people in do not simply obtain by remaining, as the Master did, completely within the “darkness” of the physical universe. The Master’s close relationship with Woland shows that he was not fully “awakened,” from the darkness and thus, did not “earn” the light. Woland here operates to tear the physical realm out of their delusion. His evil acts serve not to trick and victimize, but exist to show the existence of the opposite. The Master ultimately fails; he only sees Woland’s world. As Gnosticism teaches, access to the realm of light is the ultimate of man’s aspirations—but it has to be gained, and to do so it demands great efforts in life. As evidenced by his attempt to burn his text of knowledge, the Master failed because he gave up.Up to this point, Bulgakov’s text gives significant clues for a Gnostic reading of the characters of Woland and Yeshua; yet the most powerful figure in the novel that almost assuredly gives it a Gnostic translation is that of Margarita. One of the most prominent figures in Gnosticism, and almost exclusively unique to this sect is the figure of Mary Magdalene. Gnostics believe that it is Mary who Jesus revealed his “hidden” teachings to, as she was the most prominent woman in the movement of Jesus’s ministry: the keeper of a vast amount of divine knowledge. This parallel is overwhelming in Bulgakov’s novel. As the heart of the novel’s “teachings” lies in the text of the Master’s book, it is no coincidence that Margarita, the woman who saved the Master’s burned book, is also the “keeper” of the divine teachings of Yeshua. Thus, just as both Yeshua and Woland are required for the knowledge of the spiritual realm to enter the world of Moscow, a vessel to receive such privileged information must also exist: Maragarita is the only person outside of Woland who has access to the Master’s text. On a physical level, the very relationship between the Master and Margarita and Jesus and Mary Magdalene is quite similar. Though the historical Mary Magdalene has been falsely labeled as a prostitute, Jesus of Nazareth met the woman through a cleansing her of sins, as she came to him as a scorned member of society. The Master’s own description of his first encounter with Margarita is quite reminiscent, as he also refers to Margarita’s own isolation stating, “She was carrying some of those repulsive yellow flowers. … She had a look of suffering and I was struck less by her beauty than by the extraordinary loneliness in her eyes” (Bulgakov “Enter the Hero”). As the Master continues his story of how he and Margarita fell in love, the parallels to Mary Magdalene are again quite significant. Although there is little basis for the theory that Jesus of Nazareth was actually married to Mary Magdalene, Gnostic gospels have labeled her as Jesus’s “companion” and “favorite apostle” and have even alleged that Jesus kissed Mary on the mouth. This unique relationship is characterized in the Gospel of Philip:He loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples […]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness” (Ehrman 187).The Gospel of Philip sheds light not simply on the physical relationship between Jesus and Mary, but on Mary’s role in the transmission of the secret knowledge that Gnostic gospels are centered around. Though the Master is no savior, merely a “transporter” of the gnosis brought via Yeshua through his novel, it is still appropriate that Margarita draws parallels to Mary Magdalene in this relationship. Gnostics are not concerned with Jesus, only the knowledge he imparts. Likewise, the Master and Margarita are agents in delivering this knowledge in Bulgakov’s novel. This argument that makes Mary Magdalene and Margarita “vessels” of gnosis, are also bolstered by the lines in her own gospel (also never published in the canon and deemed heretical by the church) that specifically state that she held information that no other apostles had access to. According to the Gospel of Mary, Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them. Mary answered and said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you. And she began to speak to them these words: I, she said, I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said to me, Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the mind is there is the treasure (Ehrman 284). Though most of the Gospel of Mary has been lost, it is significant that Jesus indeed was said to have proclaimed to Mary information withheld from others, and that Mary, through her own Gospel and contact with the apostles, was the agent to spread these truths. In The Master and Margarita, Margarita reads the charred remains of the Master’s story of Yeshua and Pilate. Alone in the Master’s house, she is the only person in the novel who both knows and can save this information. In looking at these parallels, Wright’s essay explains that it is not simply the existence of the manuscript that is relevant, but in knowing what to do with the words contained within. “What happens today has happened before, an idea remains from generation to generation, no matter by whom it is expressed. The Master’s life work is his novel, which he burns and which is saved largely through Margarita. Christ’s “life work” is reported (in its essence if not in its detail) by Matthu Levi in a parchment… But manuscripts do not burn. Neither the Master’s lifework nor Christ’s is destroyed” (Wright 1169). Therefore, armed with the knowledge in the Master’s novel, readers can witness Margarita’s repeated exposure to the spiritual realm as represented by Woland throughout the course of Bulgakov’s novel. Her sheer unwavering belief in Woland’s ability to allow her contact with this other realm is a testament to this; yet Margarita’s case is complicated. Having both knowledge of Yeshua from the Master’s text and knowledge of Woland, Margarita repeatedly decides to work along with Woland, albeit for a good cause. The narrator’s opening lines in describing Margarita reveal her inclination to believe in the spiritual realm as physically represented by Woland and textually through Yeshua in the Master’s novel. “Gods, gods! What did this woman need? This woman, in whose eyes there always flickered an enigmatic little spark? This witch with just the slightest cast in one eye… I do not know” (Bulgakov “Margarita”). Bulgakov’s insistence on the fact that Margarita’s divine “spark” that was lit, yet also calling her a “witch” is evidence that Margarita was indeed on the pathway to gnosis in her fundamental knowledge of the existence of both the dark and the light of the spiritual realm, which as Gnostics contend, is the primary basis in one’s ultimate choice to follow the path to the light. A further example that Margarita is dangerously close to choosing the pathway to light after experiencing the darkness Woland exposes her to is again stated symbolically. As the description of Woland earlier utilized the metaphor of a needle in the brain to categorize the dark, Margarita experiences the opposite of this in the lines, “the nagging pain in her temple, which had troubled her all evening… disappeared as though someone had drawn a needle out of her brain” (Bulgakov “Margarita”). As a vessel of gnosis, like Mary Magdalene, Margarita is not so ignorant as her Soviet counterparts: she clearly knows of the spiritual, yet her deep interactions and reliance on Woland show that Margarita, in order to complete her mission of reuniting with the Master and his book, perhaps was forced to divulge in the darkness. However, by the conclusion of the novel, Margarita’s objective has been completed. Like Mary Magdalene, she exclusively saved the Master’s script and the knowledge within, serving as a connection between the two realms—a unique individual who had experience of both the darkness and light. Yet, perhaps identically like Mary Magdalene, Margarita cannot be taken to the light; as Jesus left Mary on Earth armed with his teachings, Margarita also remained away from the light of the spiritual realm. A vessel of the saving information, she herself cannot be directly saved by it. The ending of the novel can be interpreted a variety of ways. However, there is an interesting shift in that Matthew Levi, speaking “from Him,” as “[he] is his apostle” is working directly in cooperation with Woland. Levi states, “‘He has read the Master’s writings… and asks that you take the Master with you and reward him by granting him peace.’” When Woland asks why Levi would not simply take the Master with him to the light, he responds that “He has not earned light, he has earned rest… He asks you also take the woman who loved him and who has suffered for him’” (Bulgakov “The Fate of the Master and Margarita is Decided”). Margarita, [and the Master] like Mary Magdelene’s suffering in her condemnation for spreading Jesus’s words, has completed her role in aiding to the eventual gnosis of Pilate through saving and completing the Master’s text; yet in order to do so she had to go through darkness. Again giving readers an ambiguous interpretation that mixes Margarita’s own personal pathway between darkness and light, at the end of the novel Margarita both cries out “The Great Woland!” thanking him for saving her to be reunited with the Master and his script, yet at the same time clings onto the saving knowledge in the Master’s book as they are forced out of their building. Almost simultaneously as she is praising Woland, Margarita interjects to the Master, “But the novel, the novel!… take the novel with you wherever you may be going!” The Master replies. “‘I can remember it all by heart, … Don’t worry, I shall never forget anything again’” (Bulgakov “On Sparrow Hills”). Here, it looks as if both the Master and Margarita are fully aware of the spiritual realm in the Master’s text, yet are too far intertwined with Woland to choose one path: their path has been chosen for them. By Margarita’s reliance on Woland to reunite with the Master and finish his text, she in a sense sacrificed herself to the dark in order to release the light of Yeshua and Pilate’s story found within. The explicit denial of the Master and Margarita into the pathway of spiritual enlightenment occurs in lines, “Am I to follow him [down the pathway to light]?” the Master asks Woland. Woland responds by telling the Master, “No. Why try to pursue what is completed?” Woland’s words signify that the Master and Margarita are well aware of Yeshua’s saving knowledge present in the Master’s text. Though they both again were aware of the world beyond theirs, both the Master and Margarita had to stick by Woland, remaining in darkness. Their remaining in Woland’s dark world was necessary in bringing about the salvation of Pilate, but by consequence, they themselves will not enter the light. However, Woland explains that the Master and Margarita are not to revert back to their physical lives either. As he disappears down his own path or darkness, the Master and Margarita are truly given their peace: a home wherein they can be together and alone. This ending for the title characters shows their true purpose: vessels of a mix of good and evil and the sole possessors of the story of a “savior” who can bring others into the light. Like Mary Magdalene, Margarita suffered with the Master and his novel ultimately saved Pilate. However, neither the Master nor Margarita are Gnostic heroes. They had the tools to be “enlightened” in Yeshua’s tale, but ultimately their conscription to Woland puts them square in the middle of light and dark. “As for their psyche, it had undergone great changes,” (Bulgakov “Time to Go”) the narrator speaks. However, readers are never told what changes these are. The Master and Margarita, knowing thoroughly the existence of this spiritual outside world, uniquely do not gain access to the light as Pilate had, nor the dark abyss that Woland descends to. Yet as matter in Gnosticism is evil, the Master and Margarita do not deserve to stay in the darkness of their physical surrounding. Their new home in a land of peace is an appropriate option to the darkness of abyss, light of the Savior, or ignorance of the physical world. As go betweens for the saving knowledge of Yeshua and deep interactions with the darkness of Woland, both the Master and Margarita are uniquely both dark and light. Appropriately, The Master and Margarita ends on a type of decrescendo, as the events of the world(s) throughout the book conclude and readers are left with an image of the ever darkening night, leaving them where they began. “Night overtook the cavalcade, spread itself above them and threw out here and there in the saddened sky white specks of stars. Night grew more dense, flew side by side with the riders, catching their cloak, pulling them off, uncovering deceptions” (Bulgakov, “Absolution and Eternal Refuge”). The darkness, here, appears as a constant from the beginning of the novel until the end. Like Woland, it is a vital part of nature—without it, one could never truly see the difference that light is. According to this Gnostic interpretation then, Woland is no enemy of life, he is merely set in opposition to it; he must exist there. Furthermore, he actually promotes the spiritual realm. Woland provides evidence that there is more. His aim is not to annihilate, but to reveal a higher order and the existence of God. Therefore, he can be interpreted as the mirror of evil. He shows humanity’s real face and exposes greed, corruption, egoism and so forth. Woland and his entourage are not very restraining in their efforts. Two people die, some are driven insane, and physical property is completely destroyed. This, however is Woland’s way of working good through evil. Certainly, his primary element is evil, but his evil is necessary because only its existence and man’s knowledge of it can liberate man to “escape” back to the spiritual realm, where he ultimately belongs. As the very being of matter is seen as evil in Gnosticism, Woland is consequently the devil—there is no real dispute to that, even in a Gnostic reading of the text. However, as the character of the devil, one cannot ignore the historical literary interpretations that are so often connected to the term. The Master and Margarita certainly does not need to be complicated further, but as the novel itself shows readers, all is not what it appears at face value. Bulgakov’s establishment of Woland and Yeshua—though operating in completely different “worlds” within the text—as “opposite but equal” forces instead of quintessential enemies between heaven and hell gives the novel Gnostic undertones. His insertion of Margarita as a divine vessel in transporting a type of gnosis through the Master’s text is an overwhelming parallel to the Gnostic heroine Mary Magdalene. In this reading of the text, then, Woland becomes much more than God’s horned adversary, he is a crucial fixture in illuminating God’s cause. In a dualistic Gnostic universe aimed to separate the spiritual realm from the physical, light from dark, one must understand the dark in order to achieve the light. This is his release to the spiritual realm: the chief goal of every Gnostic. Thus, keeping Gnostic elements in mind while reading this novel, readers can also release themselves from the conventional chains surrounding “good versus evil” in literary representations of the devil. Woland may be the devil alive and well in the USSR, but a reinterpretation of his function, rather than his mere presence, can be enough to shake up common characterizations of the devil in literature. In The Master and Margarita, removing Woland from a stereotypical role, then, creates a refreshing reading of the text that is particularly Gnostic: without darkness one cannot know light; consequently, without Woland, characters cannot ‘know’ Yeshua. After all, Woland may not be the devil always conspired against, but a co-conspirator, one who works with God, not against him.
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Fidessa’s character in Edmund Spenser’s “The Fairy Queene”, introduced in the second canto of book 1, is essential to the understanding of one of Spenser’s main messages in the poem: […]
Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, has borne a burden of criticism and speculation since its initial publication. While many past critics have chastised Chopin and condemned the novel for the […]
In The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Lily Owens defines herself by her mistakes; the memory of her mother’s death haunts every aspect of her life. By […]
George Farquhar’s 1706 play The Recruiting Officer delves into the careers and personal antics of a male ensemble cast in Restoration era Shropshire. Among these men are the two competing […]
In the coming-of-age story “The Flowers,” Alice Walker effectively portrays an endearing, innocent African American girl whose transition to adulthood comes suddenly and without warning. It begins with a rosy […]
The devil is a common literary icon. This enemy of God has generally been established as an unwavering representation of evil—a figure out to trick and torment his arch-nemesis and […]