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

Lecture 4 Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Von Der Flue

May 29, 1957 Jung Institute

At the last lecture we discussed St. Niklaus’ strange experience when he ran away from home intending to go to a foreign country.

The old German word “Elend” (foreign land) means “misery” in modern German and “to go to the Elend” at the time of St. Niklaus meant to go somewhere where one

would be very unprotected and insecure, somewhere where one could even be murdered.

You will remember that after the shock he experienced when he saw the town of Liestal bathed in red, Klaus went and talked to a peasant and was advised to go home and that later, when he fell asleep, he had a vision of a light which hit him and gave him such a pain in the abdomen that he felt as if he had been cut open with a knife and then pulled as with a cord, which, according to some reports, was pulling him home.

The next morning he went home and hid first in his own stable and then inan Alp he owned where he was later found by his brother.

We began to discuss the red colour and I said that it had an affinity with consciousness and the motif of death on the one hand, and with life on the other; on the one hand it is linked with death, bloody war, evil, destructive fire, and on the other with feeling, warmth, the life blood and positive aspects. It can therefore be interpreted as the emotional emphasis the world had for Bruder Klaus, a supposition supported by the fact that once when he attended the village Council he had a vision of fire of fire coming out of the mouth of one of the men present and thereafter he  retired from all worldly duties because, he said, it was so difficult to deal with worldly affairs.

To him they were a tremendous responsibility and so difficult that one could be pulled out of oneself.

It could be said, that to a certain extent, every introvert has this attitude.

Usually an introvert has a primitive, extraverted shadow, much attracted to the world and worldly affairs, but outer things have such an emotional overemphasis that he tends to withdraw from them.

I venture to make the hypothesis that Bruder Klaus had a violent and emotional temperament and was in very grave danger of blowing up, of getting angry, or disturbed and upset by outer events, and that the sight of evil deeds which he was unable to prevent worried him excessively.

There are people who cannot just stand by and witness evil, they feel that it should be stopped, but they also realize either that they are helpless, or that if they get too emotional they get out of balance, psychologically, themselves.

Therefore without the realization that it is the individual’s own emotionality which conditions the experience, the evil of the world is very


But to attain such realization would require a certain psychological insight, a possibility which did not exist in those days and in Bruder Klaus’ time, and he therefore retired from activities where such destructive experiences could hit him.

Seeing the world dipped in red is a theme which occurs in an alchemical text, the Turba, where it is said that when the red spirit appeared the adepts began to notice for the first time the original substance of the world – its basic substance – and from then on it could be transformed into the philosopher’s stone.

For the alchemists, it was a sign that they had reached the basic matter of the world, i.e. that form of psychological emotional energy which builds up our picture of the world; it is the moment of realization of the psyche as a principle of its own.

The alchemists say if you have found this “red spirit” that then you can build up a new inner world.

This amplification ties in very well with our text for Bruder Klaus built up a new inner life after his experience of the “red spirit”.

Niklaus’ reaction to his experience is strikingly not that of a schizophrenic.

He did not cut himself off but, on the contrary, his healthy instinct told him immediately, that it was the moment to keep in contact with human beings and he had the simple humility that enabled him to go and consult a peasant.

There is no sign of megalomania; he never adopted the attitude of being specially favored and unable to contact simple people.

A schizophrenic would be more likely to retire into isolation, being caught in the archetypal experience and unable to keep his feet on the ground.

It seems that Bruder Klaus did not discuss his inner experiences with the peasant but kept them to himself and thus neither lost the subtle feeling of the mystery by talking too much, nor shut himself off in arrogant isolation to be “alone with God”.

He kept a middle way between the two extreme reactions – the difference between a schizophrenic and a normal person who had had a religious psychological experience.

It is interesting that when the peasant tells him to go home and serve God at home, that he agrees, and then hides and has the further experience which confirms him in his intention of returning home, for he feels “as though a cord were pulling him”.

The peasant lived near the border and knew how the Swiss were treated when abroad. In listening to him Klaus showed humility and common sense, proving that he had preserved his inner balance.

Such a healthy reaction is something one has or has not, though when people succumb to such an experience one feels that it is either through some kind of stupidity, or obstinacy, or vanity, or small-heartedness.

One feels that the person should not have snapped, but should have accepted the experience and not been so childish, but it is a tragic fact that some can hold it and others cannot.

One cannot judge – some vessels break, others do not.

I think it is best to have a double attitude:

to convey to the person that you think it would be wrong to run away, but, if they cannot stand it, to remember that one is not God and cannot judge.

Ultimately, I think it is the simplicity of the instinctive reaction which is the deciding factor.

Later, towards the end of his life, Klaus had a terrifying vision of God and says that “he threw himself on the ground – lest his heart should break.”

He knew that it was too much for him. The heart breaking would mean schizophrenia and this Niklaus prevented by flinging himself flat on the ground and not looking at the vision any further.

One might say that it was a sign of reverence and of his simplicity.

He never lost the spontaneity of his basic personality, the final criterion which preserved him.

The alchemists call the philosopher’s stone the res simplex, the ultimately simple thing, the not composite thing, a unit so condensed that it cannot be further split,

the homo simplex, the, simple soul.

That is simplicity in the positive sense. In Latin, homo simplex means a naive and not very differentiated person.

In an alchemical parable of the 16th century, a king enters a well which he is dissolved in and he reappears reborn, representing the making of the philosopher’s stone.

In his bath he is assisted by one person only, the homo simplicicus, the basis for the whole transformation without which nothing could be done in alchemy.

It is clear, therefore, that the homo simplex is an aspect of the Self, an image of the Anthropos, just an anonymous, humble human being, man himself, who has the basic quality of being human.

If the “homo simplex” turns up within us, that is the saving and transforming aspect through which one can stand such tremendous experiences without breaking.

Wherever anyone is deeply split or dissociated, it is always a question of whether this aspect will appear.

If it does, the situation is saved and if not then things become very tragic.

One could say that this simplicity of human reaction is something divine in man.

Professor Jung describes it as Nature’s answer within man which has immediate access to consciousness.

From the depths of Nature something reaches ego consciousness with an immediate impact.

Bruder Klaus had this simplicity.

There is the same idea in Zen Buddhism where instruction is directed to first bringing the pupil into complete dissociation with himself, a condition which is reinforced until, as the Zen Buddhist says, the “original man” turns up from within, when it is possible to look into one’s own nature, or the original man manifests from our own depths.

That is the moment of enlightenment.

It is the same idea as the alchemist’s homo simplex and is what manifested in the reactions of Bruder Klaus.

The motif of the pulling cord plays a great role in the ancient rites of the Shaman initiates, the rites of the circumpolar initiation.

The initiate has to climb a birch tree and a rope is attached from this tree to another in which an old Shaman is hidden who sends over the rope the magic tools required by the initiate in his future work:

the drum, and all the different staffs, and implements of the Shaman.

The rope establishes a connection with the Beyond and the spirit world from which the initiate gets all his gifts for his future duties.

They also assert that the original Paradise and spirit world was at one time right in our world and that everything was in a blissful state, but that later, because of the sin of man, the spirits retired, though Kings and Shamans still have a cord with which they can cross to the other world, which is why they wear such a cord themselves.

Thus the cord represents a connection with the collective unconscious, it is an understanding which links one with it and it has also, like all archetypal symbols, an instinctive basis.

Professor Jung says that every archetype we know has an instinctive basis; the archetype of the tower would be the instinct for self-defense and so on, so that one can ask, “What is the instinctive basis of the archetypal image of the cord?”

I think it has to do with the animal’s instinctive dependence on a certain piece of ground.

According to Professor Hediger, it has to do with the umbilical cord. Hediger speaks of the attachment of an animal to a certain area of terrain for each animal has its specific terrain.

A possible intruder who remains outside the area is not attacked, unless he comes within a certain distance.

It has been proved by measurement that animals have definite limits to their territory.

If the animal is removed from its terrain, it will walk back as far as a thousand kilometers.

Mice will slowly walk back taking weeks and weeks to do it.

If the distance is greater they won’t attempt it, the frontier coincides exactly with their minimum chance of getting home.

The animal is safest within his own terrain where it knows all the hiding places, whereas if it has to search or is uncertain, a slight delay may mean exposure to the enemy.

Beyond the thousand kilometers chances of survival are too small so an effort is made to establish a new home by attacking another mouse.

This instinctive attachment to one’s own ground is very strong, and we have reason to believe that the human being has the same instinct.

Hediger believes that this connection with the terrain is a secondary development, the first being the umbilical cord and the connection with the mother.

He cites the kangaroo, where the mother’s body is home and the same instinctive attachment is later transferred to the place where the animal lives.

One speaks of the mother country, the maternal body on which we ]]live.

We are the children of mother earth. Attachment to one’s own terrain comes instinctively to mind here.

Strangely enough it exists also on a spiritual level, it comes from the instinctive feeling that one belongs somewhere and deals with the mythological image of having an inner spiritual home.

The word “home” becomes a religious symbol of the Self, like the heavenly Jerusalem.

Paradise and the return home after death have to do with this archetypal constellation.

It seems to me that this theme appears when Klaus realizes that he has to go home – now the moment has come when he has to find where he belongs; he could not go on in his split, restless condition.

And then he had the strange experience of a light coming down which cut him open.

We may assume that this light which comes clown from heaven has to do with the star of his pre-natal vision which has now come down to him.

We interpreted it a the principle of individuation projected by him onto the star.

It was then a far away idea, far from his consciousness and in cosmic realms.

Now the light touches him and expresses the moment when he has been reached by the emotion of what it meant.

That is why the light hit him, or cut him open. Into the belly we project the

seat of desire or emotion. In the Greek language all this part of the body stands for desire, hunger and thirst, and sexual appetite.

All the emotions were said to be seated in the belly. In the order of the Chakras in Tantric Yoga, the belly is the Manipura-chakra, the seat of emotional realization.

In a certain African tribe they say, do not make me think so much, it gives me a belly ache, showing that they think and react in this region.

Jung, in a discussion with an African chief, said that the earth was a sphere, but the man replied that it was flat, so Jung asked: “When you see a ship coming over the horizon what do you see first?”

The man replied “The chimney, the smoke, the middle, and then the whole of the ship.” So Jung said that that showed that the earth was round.

But the man said “No, in the Koran it is said that the world is a big bull which Allah had thrown into the sea, but one horn sticks out, which is the earth, but please do not make me think any more, because it gives me a belly ache.”

It does happen that if something moves us very deeply we may have to go to the toilet. It may be that this light which came from heaven was a sudden enlightenment which did not touch his conscious person, but the depth of his animal personality.

Jung interprets this as an enlightened realization, corresponding to a latent unconscious content.

Of the content itself, we only know that it was an experience of being enlightened

without the ability to name the content.

The later visions show that it is an anticipation of a vision of God, but for the moment Klaus is touched by a light and does not know what it is, but the effect of it was his retreat from the world.

The process of individuation has hit or reached him as an emotional reality, not yet as a thought or feeling reality, but he is gripped by it, and acts unconsciously in accordance with its message.

It is the religious experience which you find in all countries.

For instance, a Zen Buddhist Master says: “Change your body and your spirit into a bit of nature, like a stone, or a piece of wood.

When you are completely turned inwards so that all signs of life disappear, then suddenly a plenitude of light will enter you, like light out of the deepest darkness, then you will find the Self, the original face of your own being, then you will find the marvelous landscape of your original home.

All the symbols are there. There is only one direct way open and without hindrance and you can enter upon it as soon as you have given everything away.”

Thus it seems to me that the “going home” of St. Niklaus is symbolical and has the same meaning as turning to “the marvelous landscape of his inner home”, giving himself to the process which drove him to future development.

But the enlightenment has the character of a very painful lesion.

There is a close parallel in Nordic Shamanism and medicine man initiations of other primitive peoples.

As Mircea Eliade says, being elected as a medicine man is generally connected with a

psychological crisis.

Frequently the man is hit by enlightenment, which is taken as a sign that he will become a Shaman.

Or a meteorite may fall to the ground near him – the star and the stone coming together on the earth. Initiates often say that the Master has taken out their insides and put magic stones into them for the renewal of the body.

There is an Australian report of a medicine man initiation where it is said that the Master had put a lot of little stones into the man’s belly which had this effect.

The motif of lightning is also very frequently observed and has to do with acquiring a protecting spirit.

The protecting spirit tells the Shaman how to act.

One Nordic Shaman said that the protecting spirit Angakok consisted of a mysterious light which he suddenly felt within his body and by it he could see in the night and into the hidden thoughts of others.

When people came to Bruder Klaus for advice he knew before they spoke, from the inner light which he felt in his body, why they came and what was in their minds.

We can say that the symbolic meaning of the cutting open of the person and through that transforming him into a medicine man means that the naive, natural unconscious personality is renewed by the process of individuation, or by the realization of the Self.

To become involved in the process of individuation is not sheer pleasure, but a very severe lesion of the personality which accounts for the regret many people feel that they ever entered upon it.

They look back to the happy time when they were just going along in life and did not have to deal with the difficult task of coming to terms with their unconscious.

Carrying the process of individuation is a very heavy burden.

St. Christopher who took the Christ child across the river nearly broke down in the middle, for he realized he had taken the whole cosmos on his shoulders.

One may have entered analysis to get rid of disagreeable symptoms but gradually one realizes that one has taken on the obligation of becoming oneself.

In the Sumerian (and Babylonian) epic, before Gilgamesh met Enkidu, his double, he dreamt that he saw a lot of stars in the sky and that one fell on him.

Later he dreamt that a mountain fell on him.

As Frau Dr. Kluger interpreted this in her lecture, this dream announces the coming of the moment where the process individuation begins.

Painful cutting open is a motif also very often found in alchemy.

Professor Jung has interpreted the text of Zosimos, one of the earliest Greek alchemists of the 3rd century A.D. Zosimos had the vision of an altar in the form of a shallow bowl with a priest standing on it who said: “I am the priest of the innermost hidden sanctuaries and I am undergoing a terrible punishment.

In the early morning someone came running in great haste and cut me into pieces with his sword.”

Zosimos saw at that moment how to change himself through great suffering into a spirit.

As Jung says Zosimos’ interpretation that it is a punishment is probably a projection of the dreamer.

It rather symbolizes the unconscious man, caught in matter, who can only become conscious through being dissected and cut apart in such a way, which means the act of self-knowledge.

Analysis expresses that, it means dissolution.

We accept the fact that we are investigated, cut open and dissected, and then there is a new synthesis of the personality.

We can say that the beginning of the process of individuation is a death experience.

Or, as Jung says, it is a heroic and tragic task entailing great suffering for the ego, for the ordinary empirical man has to submit to a power greater than himself and the ego has to give up its self-will, it is, so to speak, raped by the Self.

We can compare this to the suffering of God under the injustice of man and the darkness of this world.

People frequently dream and have visions of the suffering god-man, or even of the crucified Christ.

As Jung said, human and divine suffering are complementary and if man can understand that it is the divine power which suffers because it has to enter the world, and that he suffers because he is on the way to his inner totality and his ego is beginning to submit to the divine power, his suffering is more bearable.

What appears as the suffering of the god is a process of incarnation which the human experiences as individuation.

The ego has to be enlarged for the Self by suffering, and for the Divine it is as though it had to be narrowed into the individual, the moment of incarnation.

In the Apocryphal Acts of John, Christ says to St. John: “If you dance with me, think

about what I am doing, because your suffering is that human suffering which I want

to suffer.”

It is the suffering of the god who wants to become real in the human being, a complementary process which meets in the moment of extreme suffering.

We can therefore say that there is a transformation process of God with which the

human being begins to participate.

As St. Niklaus had a very intense relatedness to God, he was, as Jung said; open to a tremendous invasion of the unconscious with the possibility of unusual enlargement of his consciousness and personality, for he was from the beginning destined to suffer this complementary process.

Question: “What is the difference between the suffering connected with the process

of individuation, and what we call neurotic suffering?”

Answer: In practical words, you can say that neurotic suffering is felt to be


It is like a puppy chasing its own tail, always milling round in the same circle and something tells us that that is unnecessary.

It seems as thought one could get rid of it if one had a certain insight or realization and therefore it is generally accompanied by a guilty conscience.

One suspects that one could avoid it, that one is tormenting oneself in a meaningless way.

In the process of individuation the suffering is actually much greater, but one has at the same time the deep instinctive intuitive knowledge that it has to be and is meaningful, and thus one can stand it better, but the borderline between the two kinds of suffering is very small for if the ego has not the right understanding, the suffering of the process can become neurotic suffering.

I can illustrate this by a very rude story: An idiot confided to another his depression over the fact that he could not control his urine.

The other said that this could easily be cured by going to a psychologist.

After treatment the two met again and the sufferer on being asked if he was cured replied: “Oh, No, I still do it, but now I get a kick out of it!” (“es macht mir ‘Freud’.”)

St. John of the Cross speaks of the dark night of the soul. A Catholic suffering from

a neurosis on reading that might believe that his suffering was the dark night of the


I do not know how religious people and priests who have to hear confessions,

can judge the difference if they do not know anything about analytical work and dream interpretation.

According to Jung, a feeling of guilt implies guilt.

Question: “If one dreamt of the cord as something inhibiting, how could that be explained?”

Answer: In mythology the cord and the thread stand for a meaningful connection and the acceptance of an ethical obligation.

You could say that God had put you on a leash and that you had to follow Him – that would be an ethical religious obligation.

The negative aspect of the cord found all over the world implies being bound or tied magically, and would apply to infantile dependence.

In a dream either aspect may be emphasized and the context has to be studied as well as the trend of the whole dream, with special attention to the lysis.

One of Bruder Klaus’ friends states that his place of retirement was not an arbitrary

choice, but that Klaus had a vision of four shining lights, like candles coming down

from Heaven, showing him where he should build.

It is in a rather narrow, damp, quiet green valley with woods and a little river at the bottom.

There is no view of the mountains down there.

Normally, medieval monasteries were built in beautiful places. St. Teresa of Avila even said that they should never be built except where there was a beautiful view.

At Klaus’ old home there was still his old father and his brother Peter, as well as his eldest son now 20 years old, so that there were enough people to look after the farm.

Had this not been so, it would have been very irresponsible of Klaus to leave his wife and children alone.

His wife was then about 40 and the youngest son, Niklaus, only 16 weeks old.

His wife had consented to his retirement.

She seems really to have been convinced that he was doing the right thing and was not bitter about it, though it must have been very hard on her.

Apparently she was a pious woman and able to appreciate his reasons.

She used to visit him on Sundays and usually brought some of the children with her so that he had a short talk with the family. He himself said that he never felt the slightest temptation to return home.

From the time that he had the vision of the light he fasted totally and did not eat

again before his death.

But there was an uproar about it all and he was accused of being crazy and of lacking in his duty as a father.

All the pros and cons of the case were discussed in a very humiliating way, which probably accounts for his wish to leave Switzerland.

It is much more difficult to become a prophet in one’s own country, and naturally all his friends and enemies commented on his behavior, and there are still people who contend that he was a misanthrope and a schizophrenic.

Jung, in his paper on Bruder Klaus, says that one cannot speak of his retreat as misanthropic, or compare it with the hiding away of asocial individuals; he says that in this case we should rather see that the impact of the inner experience was so great that for that reason he had to retire.

To retire out of a dislike for mankind is different from retiring because there is something more important to be done.

He could not divide his energy, he had to attend to the inner thing, but he remained an alert person, capable of contact with others and did not grow peculiar, on the contrary, his spiritual liveliness and intelligence and capacity for contact increased tremendously after his retreat.

From the time of his retreat, St. Niklaus devoted every morning to prayer and contemplation.

In the afternoon he sat in the sun or visited another hermit, Ulrich im Mosli, a Swabian of good family who had visited St. Niklaus and become so enthusiastic about him that he had decided to become a hermit too.

He also built a hermitage in imitation of St. Niklaus, but he took a lot of books with him which were a solace to both of them.

It was rumored that Ulrich im Mosli had committed a murder, or done something equally bad, but he became very saintly and even decided to fast like St. Niklaus, but the latter advised him to go slowly.

He managed to keep it up for exactly three days before breaking down.

When St. Niklaus heard of it he smiled and said that he had already asked his wife to cook a meal for him.

But the two were good friends and Ulrich attained a certain degree of holiness and though he was never beatified or canonized he had a good local reputation.

St. Niklaus visited him when he needed company and they talked together.

According to some reports St. Niklaus sometimes left his hermitage and went for long walks.

He frequently went to Einsiedeln where he would attend mass and then walk back.

He always went barefoot.

If he had too many visitors he would leave the hermitage and disappear into the woods.

He became such a “medicine man” that he had about a hundred visitors a day and it grew to be so bad that he had to ask the priest to issue permits to the people.

Some times people had to wait two or three weeks before they could see him.

Crowds arrived daily and sometimes after working till mid-night he had to send people away.

He cured all kinds of psycho-somatic diseases and gave advice to people about their problems, as, for instance, those of a woman who could not control her jealous suspicions about her husband though she knew them to be untrue.

He generally knew what people wanted and surprised them by telling them before they spoke.

He was very witty and ill-intentioned people he generally met with a rather biting and witty remark – though not beyond what was compatible with saintliness – but he retained his peasant wit completely.

He gave sound, simple advice and effected miraculous cures.

Before he was canonized reports about his miracles and cures were collected. He has been described as a good-looking man who looked his age.

He had brown hair, slightly gray, was well built and tall and had a deep, male voice.

He did not express himself as a peasant but as an educated man.

Some people say his hands were always cold and that he looked melancholy, others that his hands were warm and his colour natural, and that he was gay and friendly and open to contact.

This may have depended on the visitor!

One report says that he always had his mouth a little open as though listening or looking at something.

After his great vision of God on December 31, 1478, St. Niklaus must have changed


It is said that people ran away and could not bear to look at him because of the shaken expression on his face.

That tremendous vision must have altered him considerably.

The four lights St. Niklaus saw, descending like four candles, and showing him the place where he should build, were his third light symbol: 1) the star; 2) the light which hit him and cut him open, and 3) the four lights coming down and showing him where to build.

The number four always refers to the possibility of making a content conscious.

If the Self is represented as a circle it has the idea of a totality; if a square it is the totality in its possibility of becoming conscious.

After he has been hit and touched emotionally by the light and the process of individuation then comes the stage of becoming conscious.

People hit by the archetypal processes, which come spontaneously from the bottom of the psyche and who are not connected with the outer world, are often strangely and emotionally moved by something which they feel has taken them out of reality.

They cannot describe what it is and can only say indirectly that something is going on.

If you observe the dreams in such a case you will find that tremendous archetypal contents have been touched and that a new creative content has come up from the depths and since it is completely new, consciousness does not know about it.

A genius with a new idea working inside him cannot either say exactly what it is.

One has to watch the symptoms through which the future realization tries to manifest itself for this is the beginning of the process of the realization of the Self.

Why, in this case, and probably in many others, is the process linked with the motif of attachment to a certain place on the earth?

This is the psychological problem of the genius loci.

Certain specific places contain a genius, say a psychological potency, a kind of psychological factor bound to a tree or a lake and with which a human person can get into connection.

You find that people who go through the process of individuation have become tied to certain places and are forced to stay there.

I confess that I have no explanation but can only give amplification.

It seems as though there were originally the problem of the process of individuation going beyond the personality and into connection with the whole cosmos.

It is a great problem and worthy of thought. ~Page 28-36