Dreams and Visions of St. Niklaus Van Der Flue by Marie-Louise Von Franz

Lecture 3 Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Van Der Flue

Jung Institute May 22, 1957

Last time a member of the class enquired about Walter F. Otto’s attitude towards the interpretation of the archetypes, and has been kind enough to lend me a copy of his book: Theophania, der Geist der Alt-Griochisehen Religion.

Otto first makes an attack on the 19th century fashion of interpreting pagan gods as vegetation gods, year gods, weather gods, spring or winter gods, and says that this is a rationalistic interpretation and that we project our view of nature into these gods as though they were a personification of vegetation.

He is also against depth psychology which he considers to be very negative and says that the idea of the collective unconscious is quite ridiculous.

The real gods, as he thinks of them, are a personification of what he calls the coming to life of the open world, the open cosmos.

This, he says, has nothing to do with the morbid experiences of neurotic individuals.

You see from this that he commits two errors: Namely, he thinks that the gods are in the cosmos, whilst we have the idea that the gods come from the sphere of the subjective psyche, and that that is a very small phenomenon, while for him the god; are a cosmic reality.

He thinks that we have scientifically established the borderlines of the unconscious, whilst actually we have left the question completely open. He first projects into us a narrowing of our concepts and then attacks their soundness.

The other point, and that is what ties in mere closely with our subject, is that he makes a difference between the neurotic person, who, he thinks, has no inner spiritual life, and archaic man, a kind of superman who in open to the cosmos and quite another class of human being.

I think the personality of the man about whom I am lecturing is a wonderful demonstration of the arbitrary nature of Otto’s views.

Nobody could contend that St. Niklaus appeared to be a schizoid person who managed just to keep himself from going completely mad.

On the contrary, he has been recognized by Switzerland as a great saint and canonized by the Catholic Church.

One can even take this saint as an illustration of the difference between a schizophrenic personality and a person who has had a great religious experience.

If people get highly excited, and in a state of exaggerated tension hear voices and believe that they have had a vision of God, they are automatically classed as schizophrenic by certain psychiatrists.

In the Napa-Valley State Hospital near San Francisco a regular question put to a new patient is whether he has ever seen or talked to God, and if the answer is in the affirmative, that is a point for a schizophrenic condition. Imagine anyone speaking of such an experience in front of twenty strangers! I saw a Negro who refused to answer such a question, and it was made a point against him.

To have had an experience of this kind does not prove to us that a person is schizophrenic, to us the difference between the normal and the schizophrenic person is in the reaction towards the vision or voice, not the voice itself.

Jung says that he is convinced that the vision of God seen by a schizophrenic is as true as the vision of any other person, but the one has a morbid reaction and the other is capable of standing his experience, and that is a very great difference between the two.

In the schizophrenic reaction there are always two facts involved: first, a tendency to identify with the vision in a wrong way and make it a feather in one’s own cap, and then the coming up of an outer arbitrary consciousness, generally due to the fact that the schizophrenic is unusually narrow in mental and ethical qualities and too weak to be able to stand a great inner experience.

If, for instance, a narrow-minded, lazy man has a vision of God, he may have the wonderful idea that he is Jesus Christ and need not go to the office any longer! He thinks: “Now I am God and a great Saviour:”

If you watch such a phenomenon in reality you will observe that either the heart or brain is too small and the morbid reaction to an inner experience is the cause of such people becoming insane.

As the Esquimaux say, it depends on what you do with the experience: You see this polemic of Walter F. Otto’s draws an artificial line between a neurotic person and the archaic man who had the genuine experience of the cosmic gods, which shows that Otto has never enquired into the reality of what happens in an analysis and has not read Jung’s books before starting to oppose them.

I wonder what Otto would have said of St. Niklaus? Would he have taken him as an archaic person who had a vision, or as a modern neurotic individual?

Last time I spoke of the restlessness and depression into which St. Niklaus lapsed during the middle of his life and marriage, when he was so restless and unhappy that he became irritated with his family and could not stand it any longer and that during this time he had visions which, if you interpret them symbolically, show that there was a split between the process of development of his inner personality and his conscious idea of a religious attitude, that the difference in his conscious attitude and basic instinct had caused a split and brought him into conflict with himself.

During this same period he had the following vision: As he sat watching his cows and horses in a meadow and, as was his habit, started to pray and to give himself up to divine contemplation, he suddenly saw a beautiful white lily grow out of his own mouth and reach up to Heaven, and from it came a wonderful perfume.

But a little later when his cattle (which one chronicler says constituted his fortune) passed by, and he looked down at them, he saw that the lily which grew out of his mouth curved down towards his best horse, and that this horse which was also his favorite, snapped at the lily and completely consumed it.

Klaus interpreted his own vision in the sense that those who want to keep the treasure in Heaven cannot do so if they combine it with the worries and interests of earthly life.

This is like the seed of the word of God which is suffocated among thorns.

The chronicler Wolflin, was a humanistic and learned man who wrote in Latin and unfortunately in a rather pompous manner.

Thus we have to keep to the basic facts.

Klaus said that the lily represented the striving of his own soul towards the divine, and that to have pleasure in his horse meant that he was falling for the earthly pleasures of a peasant, to whom horse and cattle are of the greatest value.

He thought it meant that he was still too much involved in his peasant interests

which naturally increased his irritation with his family. He felt that his personal life

prevented the full development of his inner life.

As Professor Blanke points out, it is possible that Klaus saw the motif of a lily growing out of someone’s mouth first on a picture of Christ because at that time such pictures did exist.

There is one of the Last Judgement in which the lily grows out of His mouth.

In Revelation XIX, 15, it is said: “Out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword” for He is the judge of the world. The sword coming out of the mouth of the Son of Man is in some pictures replaced by a staff with flowering lilies on it.

Such pictures have been seen in churches in Switzerland and Blanke thinks Klaus may have got the idea in this way.

The lily growing out of Christ’s mouth would represent, according to the Church Fathers, the soul of Christ, for the bride in the Song of Solomon is called the lily of the valley, and she was the soul of Christ.

The lily also became a symbol of the Virgin Mary who is at the same time the mother, the bride, and the sister of Christ.

That  would be the Christian tradition of the lily.

In Germanic pagan mythology it is the royal flower, it was the symbol of the King and of the Merovingian dynasty and it is to be found in the heraldic arms of the old French monarchy.

The Anglo-Saxon King, Alfred the Great, is also represented as sitting on his throne holding a branch with lilies on it. Lilies were looked upon as representing the white women, the Valkyries.

In Germanic mythology the anima is represented as a group of women in white.

These women, of ghostlike colour, followed the dead from the battlefields and accompanied the god Wotan.

The warrior is invisibly connected with the white woman who takes him to Valhalla.

They foretell the hero’s death and are sometimes seen in visions during lifetime.

The lily also belongs to Ostara, the sister of Donar or Thor, whose name survives in the word Easter.

The lily, among other flowers was one of the symbols of the Goddess Ostara.

We can therefore say that in the field of Germanic mythology the lily represents the royal, superior kind of anima.

It appears only in the anima figure of a man who has a royal or outstanding; destiny, where it is a protecting spirit, the personification of his unconscious in a specific way.

The royal aspect is emphasized and the white colour.

Ghosts are usually represented by black or white, they are out of life.

If people make psychological pictures of the unconscious in black and white it is generally taken as an indication that they are detached from life, there is no emotion – as in the colour.

If an anima appears as a white woman there is no feeling or emotional connection with her, she is completely split off in the unconscious — a strange fate with which one cannot connect, which just breaks into your life from outside without connection with the feeling or inner life.

This would be the uncanny, ghostlike aspect.

As the early heroes were very emotional, the white women had the compensatory function of being the factor which leads to higher consciousness by being more detached.

In Christian symbolism, white represents innocence and the candid (white) soul, one is not emotionally involved with the dirt of this world, one is au-dessus de la mlee.

We get involved in the dirty aspects of life through our emotions and therefore it has always been a tendency of this introverted saint to keep out of being involved and to concentrate on his inner life, therefore the white might refer to this.

A lily is thus the symbol of the innocence of man and we can say that when it comes out of St. Niklaus’ mouth, it represents the royal contemplative attitude, and his tendency to detach from emotional involvement in this world.

The following local story might also come into consideration.

In 1430 when a chapel was being built in Hildisrieden near Stans, a corpse was found,

and out of its heart there grew a lily.

In 1444, the same thing was found in Sempach – a corpse out of whose heart there grew a lily, and the story spread through Switzerland.

These stories naturally are the revival of an ancient archetypal idea that flowers which grow out of a corpse represent their surviving soul – a princess gets killed and a beautiful rose grows over her grave, the lover comes and picks the flower and revives the human being.

The old Egyptians when mummifying their corpses put bulbs or flowers into them and when these began to sprout that was the symbolic announcement that the dead had resurrected.

If this association is followed we are confronted with a very strange situation, because if Klaus had a vision that a lily grew out of his mouth it was tantamount to saying that he was a dead person.

Hitherto such a phenomenon had only appeared to Christ or to a dead person, now it has happened to someone living, but if we consider how Klaus

has worked on his own mortification for many years, in a way he was dead, he had died as far as the world was concerned as far as he could.

He was practically already a corpse, and therefore something happened to him which expressed the fact that his soul had become a flower, which normally only happens after death, when the corpse or the soul is transformed into a vegetative symbol.

Such an archetypal motif I consider to be a wonderfully pious analogy, but rather too poetical and one would like to know more exactly what it means.

How would such a thing manifest practically.

Niklaus’ greatest achievement, and the reason why he was looked up to as a saint by

those around him and was later canonized, was the miracle that apparently he did not eat any solid food for twenty years, according to tradition.

He was said only to take the host two or three time a week, though he sometimes drank water.

What made him so interesting to people was that he could live so long without eating.

The witnesses to this fact are widespread and show that he was closely watched and his whole personality has so few other symptoms of hysteria or lying that one is faced with a problem.

He is, however, not at all the type of an hysterical person and he was never caught out in lying.

Therefore one must give him the credit of the doubt and say it might be true, which would make a parapsychological phenomenon which we cannot explain scientifically.

Jung, in a journal of parapsychology said that he had no explanation for this phenomenon, but that he was inclined to look for it in the field of parapsychology.

He said that he had once been present at an experiment made with a medium.

An electro-engineer measured the degree of ionization of the air surrounding

the medium and found that on the right side, the side on which the ectoplasm

appeared, the ionization was more than 60 times as much as was normal.

Therefore, if such things can happen, it is just possible that people around such a person can become a source of ionization (that is, such persons can pull it out of those who surround them).

There have also been séances at which the medium has sat on scales and the weight, when taken, has proved to have diminished physically to a great degree during the session and to have been restored afterwards, as though something left the body of the person and later returned to it.

Such things occupy a kind of borderline realm of which we know very little, but it looks as though particles of the body leave and return later.

Under these circumstances; Jung thinks it possible that molecules can wander from the surroundings to the body of such a person who might thus feed on his surroundings, which could explain how it was possible for him to survive without food for such a long time.

This seems to me to link up with the fact that the visions compare St. Niklaus to a dead person and his only life is like that of a plant which draws its food from the surrounding earth.

If we bring the fact of the vision and his abnormal way of feeding together we could say that he has transformed himself into a plant, drawing his food from his surroundings, and not, like a human, by eating animal and plant food.

This is a bold hypothesis by which one can link the fact of the miracle with the strange facts of the inner development of this man.

I may have shocked many by such a cold hypothesis, but it is just a hypothesis, and I do not pretend that it is an explanation of the truth. It is a possibility which might be considered and should be studied further.

Jung said that he generally discovered in the surroundings of such people someone who is fed upon and in a very miserable physical condition, so that you had the impression that the saintly person was feeding upon the other’s vitality.

On a minor scale, we know that if you get in touch with a latent psychosis you have a feeling of being supernaturally suddenly tired.

Some people are so very tiring that if you are with them for a certain time you feel completely sucked.

There are people who tire you simply by a difficult interview, but that is quite a different thing, for these others are not demanding, yet they exhaust you completely.

It is a fact that there is such a thing as drawing on another person’s vitality.

People with split-off contents do this, if there is a latent psychosis.

They cannot draw the well of their life from within if there is a schizophrenic split, for they have no well of life within themselves, they are always empty and hungry because they have not found the fountain to make their own inner desert bloom and want others to fertilize it and that gives this strange sucked dry or vampire effect experienced in the surroundings.

We imagine this only happening in the psychological field, while in the parapsychological phenomenon it would be a physical thing and here we are on dangerous ground for this is not really proved, except for the few experiments showing loss of weight.

It seems that Bruder Klaus did not feed on others and I do not know where he got his food.

If we leave it in the psychological realm and do not venture into psycho-somatic fields, we can say that this vision represents the anima of Klaus, and when the lily grows up towards Heaven you can say that that gave a beautiful symbol of his striving towards spirituality, his attempt to reach Heaven with his soul but then suddenly his eyes lower and he sees the lily eaten by his favorite horse.

What seems to me not to be objective in Niklaus’ own interpretation, is that he accuses himself of what happens – he says: “I am the sinner,” but it is the lily which bends down to the horse, not Niklaus, so if anything fell in love with the horse it was the lily, he only looked benevolently at the animal, but the lily got interested in it, it was no longer interested in Heaven, it wanted to touch the horse.

We have now to go back to the symbolization of the horse.

We know that the horse is a symbol of Wotan and that, especially in these countries, Wotan still survives in the form of a horse.

We have a chronicler of the 16th century, Renward Cysat, who wrote 200 years later, and his writings show that the old Wotan Sagas survived to a much later date.

says that near the Alps and around Stans, on stormy nights people ride round on horses. Sometimes you can hear them all through the night near the Pilatus and round Luzern and people call them the “Turst” or the “Wuetisheer.”

The name “Turst” still exists in Swiss folklore and means the wild night demon who rides round on stormy nights and possesses people – doors and windows must be kept shut. He is the leader of the “furious army” (“Wut” – fury, rage; “Heer” – army), of the wild army rushing through the night.

Actually, it simply means the army of Wotan, and Wotan is the god of furious impulses and emotional upheaval, and still survives as the leader of such an army rushing through the woods.

He very often appears as a man with his head under his arm, or with only one eye, or in a group of racing horses whom the peasants see in the night.

The God Wotan is still much alive and is often personified as a horse.

His sons are Hengist and Horsa (Hengst – a stallion, and Horsa – a horse).

The horse was his sacred animal.

Tacitus says that horses were more intimate with the god of the Germans than even the priests and you know that the Germans had the habit of sacrificing horses and nailing their heads on oak trees and using them as oracles.

Wotan was also known as Yak, a castrated horse, or “The One who has a Horse’s Beard.”

The horse is an animal symbol which is rather difficult to interpret as it is not very specific.

Animals are usually interpreted as the personification of animal instincts, as showing different aspects of the different instincts.

Anyone who gets drunk, for instance, releases the sow, who wallows in the mire.

The cat is connected with the “catty” woman, and so on.

Thus different animals represent different tendencies and manifestations so we have to think of the kind of animal: the fox would stand for cleverness, cunning; the cat for cattiness; the dog for loyalty and submissiveness; the pig for uncontrolled behavior and lust, but the horse does not seem to represent a specified instinct.

I would call it the vital libido, its name has become the standard name for driving; power.

You speak of the horsepower of engines, horsepower has become an abstract idea of vital energy, it has to do with physical vitality, the life and energy which it has at its disposal.

Mythologically, the horse can see ghosts, like chicken and sheep, it is inclined to panic

like sheep.

If someone dreams of horses watch out, for the dreamer may have an attack of panic.

A horse is a mixture of intelligence and stupidity because of this liability. The death of the mater of the house used always to be announced to all the animals, but especially to the horse.

The horse is sexually a neutral symbol, while the mare stands for the mother and has a definite quality, it can also stand for power.

The horse was said to be able to stamp out wells with its hooves.

It personifies the excitable, temperamental aspect of a person.

You will see that St. Niklaus soon afterwards got caught in a tremendous panic and imply wanted to run away from home, so that our interpretation is to the point.

The horse also stands for the physical nature of man and dreams about dead or sick horses should be taken seriously as they often announce physical disturbance.

Nowadays such symptoms are sometimes replaced by a car.

When I get overtired, I always have a dream that my car has sand in the engine and then I know: This alternates with the horse being very tired – the store of vital energy has run out.

The rider of the horse personifies the right kind of combination of the conscious personality with the instinct, if the horse goes with the rider, that is ideal for then the conscious and instinctive personality are in tune.

Now the lily bent down towards the horse voluntarily.

I think St. Niklaus interpreted his dream too negatively when he took the horse as his own worldliness which devoured the lily.

We would say that the lily bent down to the horse.

We might say that this is a Just So story: the lily bends down to the horse and gets incorporated by it.

We could say that the vision represents an enantiodromia.

The alchemists say that the philosopher’s stone first flies from earth to heaven and then leaves heaven – return to the earth.

This circular movement of the Self is represented the opposite way in Christian symbolism for Christ came from heaven and then returned to heaven.

The lily first grows upwards and then goes down again – the opposite direction from the Christian.

We can say therefore that the lily, which is a symbol of the spiritual anima, suddenly returns towards a symbol which represents physical vitality and animal life and which has a certain connection with the physis.

So, if we had to interpret the vision to a modern person we would say – watch out, it seems that an enantiodromia is taking place in your inward development, what pulled you upwards new tends to turn back to the earth, this movement means that it wants to incarnate in physical reality.

To us, a process of individuation is only fulfilled if the spiritual becomes feasible in

ordinary human life and does not remain an abstract theory of some kind.

Perhaps it also corrects a wrong conscious attitude of the saint who consciously has the completely one-sided idea of for ever going up and up. St. Niklaus did not conceive of the idea of such a chance but, blocked by his Christian prejudice, he misinterpreted his inner vision and increased his inner tension.

If we say that the horse represents not only physical vitality but is also a symbol of the god Wotan, we can say that his Christian soul begins to bend towards the divine image of Wotan and not towards heaven.

There is a great transformation within his psyche, the image of God tends to be replaced by the horse-god Wotan and his Christian soul unites with a god below.

At this period of his life, Erny an der Halden reports that Klaus told him that he went out of his country one day with the intention of leaving his wife, children and farm and all he had in order to live in a foreign country and to finish his life there, that is, he suddenly ran away.

He went north-west in the direction of Basel, perhaps to go to the Friends of God who lived near the Rhine. He came to Liechtstal (Liestal) near Easel when it suddenly seemed to him that the whole town and everything in it turned red and he was so frightened that he at once went to a lonely farm to seek contact with someone and talked to the peasant there.

He told him of his intention to leave Switzerland and go to a foreign country, but the peasant did not approve of the plan and said that he should rather go home to his people and serve God at home, for God would like that better than if he lived with other people and became a burden on them and also that he was a Swiss, and that the Swiss were not popular everywhere.

After this conversation, Klaus left the peasant and went into the fields and lay down near a fence and hid there, and there he had a vision of a shining light which came from Heaven and touched his abdomen where he had a pain as though he had been cut open with a knife and that showed him that he should return to the Ranft, which he did.

This is a very strange episode.

Klaus did not return to his people but went to Klisterli in the Melchtal and hid there where he lived like a wild animal, without food or drink, and there his brother, Peter, by chance found him, in rags, and with a strange expression on his face.

Niklaus said that he should be left alone but Peter fetched others and they talked to him saying that he should not continue like that.

So he talked it over with the local authorities and he decided on a compromise, namely to live like a weed hermit in a little hut which his brother and others helped him to build in the Ranft – a damp dark valley without any view.

It was the place he had seen in his vision.

By letting people follow their instincts they sometimes cure themselves for if they can get into Nature – perhaps sit up in a tree – they have a chance to gain control over their emotions and not be burst open by them.

To carry on in the outer world may be too much at such a time and therefore such people cut off one part of life in order to be able to catch the inner experience, after which they can return to normal life again.

They have saved their vital energy to digest the inner experience.

I think this is a reasonable and sound instinct and that the reaction of running away can be a normal one though it is very much on the razor’s edge.

What was absolutely normal and not schizophrenic was that Niklaus went to another peasant and discussed his situation with him.

A schizophrenic would have cut every contact and have known everything better himself, but his peasant-like simplicity and humility enabled Niklaus to behave as he did and go to another peasant.

Running away to a foreign country was a national disease among the Swiss of that time, and still to some extent continues. It is a phenomenon of possession by Wotan and the result of being overcome by a tremendous rage or emotion.

For example, in the 16th century a peasant’s son quarreled with his father about money and went into the woods.

There he saw a very elegant warrior who asked what the trouble was and told the boy to follow him.

After walking and walking for days like someone possessed, the boy turned up in Einsiedeln where he was recognized and asked what he was doing there.

The boy did not know but after getting a good scolding from his friends he returned home.

Dr. Riklin had a peasant patient who sometimes got caught by his autonomous complex and would get up in the night and ride off on his motor cycle in his night clothes and be found in Schaffhausen or elsewhere and be brought back.

This happened whenever the schizophrenic field was touched upon.

It is the motorist’s form of running away.

Motor cycle racing is often an underground way of getting rid of the Wotan impulse.

Bruder Klaus was conscious all the time, but the phenomenon is much the same.

The Swiss are imprisoned in the narrowness of the Alps and village life and affects burst out in the blind runaway primitive impulse, known to be a characteristic of the Germanic race, what the Germans call “going berserk.”

I would say that psychologically it represents a tremendous desire to become free and burst the chains of outer reality and its obligations and the narrowness of our consciousness and be one with the totality.

Many people have this impulse and say they have moments when they would like to take their passports and disappear, they don’t know where.

This is a religious instinct of wanting to be free and only oneself, but if takes this concretistic form it is like an archaic form of possession by an autonomous emotion.

The red colour of Liechtstal has been interpreted as the setting sun.

Others say there was fire, or that the light was supernatural. But why did it give Niklaus such a shock?

The colour red is associated with red hot fire, with blood, emotion, and passionate

feeling. We speak of “seeing red”. Red was the color of Seth in Old Egypt.

If the world is dipped in red, it suggests war and bloodshed.

The Valkyries, the white women, speak of the red death that goes through the country, that bloody cloudy pass over the sky and the air is red with the blood of heroes.

In many countries, for instance in Borneo, red is worn for evil magic and is the colour of death.

Sarcophagi and coffins were often painted red.

The analogy is to losing one’s blood when wounded, so that red came to mean death.

The war dress of many primitive tribes is red to indicate the state of passion required for war.

The colour has a double aspect and can also represent the life-giving emotion.

In the saint’s vision the colour red had a frightening effect and Klaus did not proceed with his plan so that here we should emphasize the negative aspect and say that the idea of going to the foreign country was laden with destructive emotion.

He projected his inner destructive emotion on to the foreign country which then stood for destruction and dissolution.

His tremendously passionate temperament is again obvious here for he must have been a very passionate and emotional person with all the dangers that that entailed. His vision of the tower at the age of 16 showed that he could only transform and integrate his passionate nature by restraint and selfdiscipline and that otherwise he would be burst open by his own passion.

One of his chroniclers states that once, when Klaus was sitting at an assembly as one of the judges, a man made a very destructive and unfair speech and that Klaus saw flames

coming out of the man’s mouth which gave him such a shock that he decided never to officiate in this way again.

We have to ask ourselves why this made such an impression on him – there must have been a shadow connection.

He himself also had such a passionate nature which could explode when he got into touch with the world. For the introvert, contact with the world is the dangerous field for there he touches the area of his inferior function where he soon becomes emotional.

If such people go out even a little, they get tremendously excited afterwards.

They tend to have an over-emotional reaction to the outer world and everything that has to do with it causes an explosion within.

Schizophrenics are often hungry for contact with the outer world, from which Niklaus voluntarily retired for he had enough instinct to do the therapeutically correct thing.

His reaction was healthy, namely to keep his emotions within and try to cope with them inwardly. ~Marie-Louise Von Franz, Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Von Der Flue, Pages 19-27