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

Lecture 6 The Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Van Der Flue

Jung Institute  June 19, 1957.

We have not yet finished our discussion on the three men who visited St. Niklaus and whom he took for the Holy Trinity and the fact that they laughed in such an odd way when, in reply to their question as to whether he would devote himself to their service, St. Niklaus said that he wished to devote himself body and soul only to the service of God.

I think here that we have to remember that these three men represent the more archaic form of the Holy Trinity, that is, Wotan and the two other gods, Honir and Loki, or Donar and Loki. Wotan frequently walked about the country visiting the peasants either alone or accompanied by these two companions.

He also represents the Nordic form of the trickster god; he has a certain sense of humour and makes fun of and with the people, an aspect of the image of God which has completely disappeared and is something lacking in God’s image in our religion.

The fact that in a number of Christian legends there is a reappearance of the trickster stories, is a proof that the aspect is missed.

There is a story of Christ which says that when sleeping at an inn with St. Peter, he made the latter take the outside of the bed, so that he would be the one to get the beating for not having paid for their food and lodging! Such popular stories illustrate the lack of this element which forms a part of most primitive pagan religions.

The figure of Wotan bears the shadow qualities of the clown and when St. Niklaus’ three figures laugh, there seems to me to be an indication of the trickster, for since Wotan is devil and god in one, St. Niklaus’ reply that he wanted to serve God only, must have appeared very amusing to them.

Another point I want to bring out is something which ties in with what happens later.

In Schwyz, Uri, Obwalden and Nidwalden, local legend has transformed the wild army of Wotan into something a little different from what it originally was.

In all the Germanic countries there are legends and stories about the wild army which rides about on stormy nights, generally led by a man who carries his head under his arm (sometimes the whole army does this) and hunts in the dark.

People who meet the army are said to go mad and peasants who see it disappear for ever, or never recover from the shock.

Sometimes a man goes ahead of the arm to warn people.

Stories and legends persist through the whole of central Switzerland.

The wild army, or wild hunt, with Wotan as leader, with one eye bandaged, is said to produce all kinds of beautiful music and is called “the blessed people.”

Their character has become milder and more agreeable and they have become a band of musicians.

It is the dead who go around like this for Wotan is also a leader of dead heroes.

Lonely people are sometimes visited by the “blessed people” and to be visited in lifetime is a sign of piety and good fortune and a great honor.

This element of the friendly dead who walk around and play music seems to fit in with the local image of Wotan.

This image again shows the same unconscious tendency towards an integration of the “wild hunt” in a positive form in the Christian world.

Now we turn to the next great vision because the motif of music reappears in it.

The text of these visions, hitherto unknown, was found about 1923 in a monastery.

Though the visions seem to have been accurately reported, unfortunately the manuscript begins in the middle of a sentence, though probably at the beginning of the vision. It starts off: “…. which he knew.”

The text afterwards is as follows: In a vision he saw a man who came as a pilgrim with a staff in his hand and his hat bound on his head as though he were going walking, and he carried a coat.

And in his spirit he knew that the pilgrim came from the sunrise or from far away.

Though he did not say so, he came from the place where the sun rises in the summer and he came to him (Klaus) and as he stood before him he sang the word “Alleluia.”

And when he began to sing, his voice echoed and everything between heaven and earth held (that is supported) his voice as a small organ does a large one.

And he heard three perfect words which snapped back in a lock, like a very strong spring.

And when he had heard the three perfect words, all of which were quite separate, he yet did not want to speak of them as separate words.

And when he had finished the song he asked the man (Klaus) for money.

And he (Klaus) had a penny and did not know where he had got it.

And the pilgrim took off his hat and received the penny in it.

And the man (Klaus) had never known what a great honour it was to receive a gift in a hat.

And the man (Klaus) wondered very much who he was and where he came from and the pilgrim said: “I come from there” and would not say any more.

And he (Klaus) stood in front of him and looked at him.

And he (the pilgrim) had changed and showed himself without a hat and wearing a coat which was blue or gray, but he did not see the cloak any more, and he was such a noble, well-built man that he (Klaus) could only look at him with longing and desire.

His face was brown, which gave him a noble appearance.

His eyes were black like a magnet, his limbs were so well formed that they were of particular beauty.

Although he was dressed, yet his clothes did not prevent his limbs from being seen.

And as he (Klaus) continued to gaze at him, the pilgrim turned and looked at him.

And then many great wonders came to pass: the Pilatus mountain crumbled away (became flattened out on the ground) and he, the pilgrim, opened up the whole world so that it seemed to him that all the sins of the world became manifest, and a great crowd of people appeared, and behind the people the Truth and all had their faces turned towards the Truth, that is, they stood opposite it.

And on the hearts of all there was a large bodily defect as big as two fists put together.

And this defect was egoism which deceives people (leads them astray) so badly that they could not look at the face of the pilgrim, just as little as man can bear the flames of fire, and, terrified, they wandered around and back again, scolding and affronted so that he saw them from far away.

And the Truth which stood behind them remained there. I will anticipate a little here.

After the first part of the vision, it is said that the pilgrim changes “like a Veronica”.

This is an allusion to the fact that St. Veronica, according to the Christian legend, had seen Christ carrying the cross and had offered Him a kind of large handkerchief to wipe the blood and sweat from His face, and that Christ pressed it to His face which thus became imprinted on it. In the legend, St. Veronica is depicted as holding the cloth with on it the imprint of Christ’s suffering face.

There are other versions in which she is distressed at the thought of Christ being  crucified and that He came to her in her house and said He would give her a picture of Himself to keep and that He pressed His face on a piece of cloth and gave it to her.

This relic later developed healing qualities and was said to have cured the Emperor Tiberius.

Then there is an old custom, carried out in very bad taste, which consists of making a wooden image with a central picture and one or more pictures super-imposed, so that you get a different picture according to the angle from which you look at it.

It is a trashy kind of picture and changes all the time which gives the connection to Klaus’ description that the pilgrim changes all the time “like a Veronica”.

Naturally the Christian and traditional interpretation is that the pilgrim is Christ and that the three perfect words he sings – which are one yet do not touch each other – refer to the Holy Trinity and the name of the Godhead.

This seems to me to a certain extent to be correct.

If we take Christ as an image of the Self, we can say that it is an archetypal symbol of the Self, which would be an analogy to Christ with certain different features.

On the other hand, the Wanderer also refers again to Wotan, who is called “The Restless Wanderer.”

Some of his other names are: “The One who is accustomed to the Road,” “The One who is tired of Walking,” or “The One who goes from Place to Place giving Advice.”

Frequently he wandered about singing and begging for money, or, like a strange ghost, would come to the King’s Court and tell stories, appearing as a one-eyed man in the hall where there was a big fire.

Here he would sit down and tell story after story, fascinating everybody, until suddenly he would get up and disappear and people would recognize the fact that the god Wotan had been there.

He went about wearing a big hat and generally his coat was blue or gray.

He was sometimes described as looking noble and it was said that he had a long beard, but only one eye.

(The pilgrim in the vision has two eyes.)

He is sometimes said to be fascinating, beautiful, and young, and as having a homosexual attraction.

One Icelandic reporter, Snorri Sturluson, says that everybody was fascinated by his beauty on seeing him and Bruder Klaus’ vision gives the same nuance.

He says that “his limbs were so well formed that they gave him a special beauty and that they were visible through his cloak.”

Wotan was the lord of love and of homosexual love.

Homosexuality between young men, and especially among soldiers, was very prevalent and he was the lord of such men.

Germans still have the tendency to emigrate and wander about.

Before the war they went everywhere and the habit is recommencing for young Germans still roam about in this restless way and Wotan is responsible for this tendency.

It is an expression of an inner longing and restlessness.

On a higher level, there is the same motif in the Nordic idea of the Shamanistic journey.

Most Shamans are able to make “journeys in the spirit”; they fall into a trance and wander away in the spirit and when they return say where they have been and often they have grasped, in a telepathic sort of way, a knowledge of the far away place they have visited.

This is the “journey of the soul” which you read of in material on the primitive medicine man and here it seems to be projected into the form of the wandering god.

Wotan followers generally have this tendency to restlessness in a physical sense, or, on a higher level, to such spirit journeys, as in the case of St. Niklaus.

When Klaus ran away to Liestal, he ran away from the world, but this was stopped.

Later he began to make journeys in the spirit; he would be found in his hermitage with his eyes open and when he returned to consciousness would say he had been to visit friends.

He never gave more details and legends grew up of his having been seen in all sorts of places.

Actually, he did sometimes leave his hermitage and wander round, so that is really true, and the legend of his wanderings has been built up around that.

When we go to the Ranft you will see the monument (given I think by the 41st, 42nd and 43rd Companies of the Swiss Army) which stands on the brow of the hill at the foot of which Niklaus had his hermitage.

These Companies were on the German frontier during the last war at the time when Switzerland was nearly attacked.

Hitler had made a double plan to break through into France from Holland and Brussels and Switzerland, attacking both ends at the same time.

The Germans could easily have done it, but the Swiss army was good and it would have cost a lot of blood and they would have had to continue to keep the Swiss under control.

So they began the attack at the Dutch end, intending if they could not get through quickly there to make an attack on Switzerland.

There were a few days during the war when everybody expected an attack any moment and if France – unhappily for her and luckily for Switzerland – had not broken down so quickly this would have happened.

But during those few bad days, when everyone expected the attack, a few Swiss men from Schwyz had a vision of St. Niklaus protecting Switzerland and the story of this vision spread through the whole country and people were convinced that it was St. Niklaus who protected them.

Small groups of people were asked to volunteer to protect the bridges and fight to the death and the Companies in question were formed of such men.

They were all facing death.

After this collective vision they collected money and put up the monument which we shall see.

Thus St. Niklaus is still a living archetype in Switzerland which illustrates the tremendous impact of his personality.

To return to our vision.

The pilgrim sings the three words which bring an echo from the whole cosmos – earth and heaven and everything between answer so that there is complete harmony and the pilgrim seems to have a key position in this harmony.

This could be explained rationally as an inner experience where suddenly everything falls into place and becomes meaningful.

This is what the Chinese call being “in Tao”. It is the experience of the totality of the cosmos.

When such an archetype is constellated, there are generally all sorts of synchronistic phenomena and thus the whole cosmos actually ties in, there is a oneness in the whole reality which is in a meaningful eternal connectedness beyond sidereal time and place.

Suddenly Klaus has the feeling that the three words are shut up like the lock of a door, or a very strong spring.

This seems a strange expression. Psychologically, we can say a thing “clicks”.

A mysterious event which we cannot account for rationally but where we can see that something clicks, as in a dream which you interpret, and you have the feeling either that it clicks or not.

There may be an interpretation to which you have an emotional reaction and then you generally get a kick out of it and a lot more vitality and you feel that you are again in Tao and on the right track, and these interpretations which “click” are those which bring forward the inner process of development for these are the rare moments when “It” clicks.

We might say that here a part of the unconscious energy gets associated with the ego complex and goes over into the ego.

You can describe it as a dynamic event, but it is a very mysterious process for something gets assimilated to the conscious personality which was not there before, something has snapped into place.

Every true cognitional process has this feature of a widening of consciousness.

Pauli, the physicist, defines cognition as the “click” of concepts with the experimental results.

If the experimenter has a model of the reality of the atom and it clicks with what the

experimental results show, he feels that he is on the right track.

Therefore physical recognition would be the click of the inner model with the outer reality.

Naturally, this is not only true for the scientist, but also for the psychologist who tries to find the thing which brings about the click, the way of approach, which can open things.

That is the famous symbol of the key.

You can open up connections if you have the right knowledge of something for then you can bring order into the chaotic state. St. Peter has the keys of Heaven and the Catholic Church has the right knowledge which anybody can use (Apocalypse 3, 7).

In alchemy there is the symbol of the philosopher’s stone as a key.

It provides the right method of getting along with the outer and inner reality, through it you can make things click, a working hypothesis.

You have the reaction: “Ah-ha, now I see!”

It seems to me that this pilgrim has the essence of what makes things click, he has the key position of cosmic harmony, which shows that he is a symbol of the Self.

Singing, combined with the idea of a lock is also found in Nordic tradition, There is a

Greenland report of a woman Shaman who had, to exorcise some ghosts.

She first called the women of the village and said that they must sing a certain song, so that the spirits would he attracted.

The song was called “The Locking Song.”

There you have the same combination, namely that a song is like a lock which opens or shuts, it opens for the right spirits and shuts for the ghosts.

We have the same idea in the vision of St. Niklaus for after the pilgrim has finished his song the vision of the Truth comes.

So his song opens up the inner truth and Klaus suddenly sees with the eyes of the spirit the Truth standing behind the world.

The god Wotan was supposed to be able to open through his song what had been shut or locked up.

If we try to define this psychologically it would refer to the so-called frozen affect which can be studied in schizophrenia, but is found also in the realm of the normal person.

If an affect reaches a certain climax, it is no longer “hot” but becomes “cold.”

If you are really furious, you set into a cold rage and freeze up in bitterness and anger.

This is the climax of the affect of rage; or any exaggerated emotion can lead to coldness and a feeling of lameness.

All very strong affects have a tendency to freeze if they reach an exaggerated climax.

People say it was “as though something snapped in me and I had no further emotion.”

Strong emotional shock affects can bring about this reaction.

People in the war in a moment of terrified shock instead of experiencing a tremendous reaction felt nothing, they would be quite calm and reasonable – but not quite there.

Normally, the emotional reaction comes later, but the longer the state of being “frozen” continues, the worse people are neurotically affected afterwards and the greater the damage.

Very sensitive people have this condition frequently.

There are people who remain frozen for a lifetime, for a corner of their psyche is not linked up and leaves the whole as though dead, and if touched may produce such an effect that it has to be left locked up.

If you have to treat such a situation you have to see what the dreams say.

What I have seen in such cases is that a tremendous amount of symbolism appears, Wotanic if the background is Germanic, and Dionysian if the background is a Mediterranean one, for Wotan is a god with many similarities with the Mediterranean Dionysus.

If a person in such a condition can be helped it is generally by a tremendous religious ecstatic experience which breaks through suddenly and then the affect, so to speak, falls into its right place because it serves the Divine.

You might say that only a numinous archetypal reality is worth such an affect.

In primitive religions all strong emotions are given to the Divine and tie into the religious devotion, really deep emotions serve the religious realm, which explains why you find tendencies to such ecstatic cults in which frozen affects are realized in the service of a god or goddess, and it seems to me as if in the dreams of modern people you still find the same tendency.

That is the symbolism of being “locked up” (verschlossen) for the person cannot break out.

The ecstasy in drunkenness has to do with this condition.

The ecstatic, dark emotional side has been shut out from the Christian religious experience and teaching.

In the early cults it held an important place, but the Christian religion has cut it out, which is unfortunate for people who have this side in them for they cannot be redeemed by the Christian faith.

They say that it does not touch their depths, and they prefer a Communist assembly where there is emotion and shouting, they have the feeling of being moved by emotional impulse.

Therefore the fact that our religion does not deal with the emotional aspect is dangerous for it may then burst out and make mischief where there should be reason.

We might say that the pilgrim is Wotan, but he sings the definitely Christian word “Alleluia”, and you would have to say that Wotan worships the Christian God.

The word “Alleluia” does literally mean “praise the Lord” and here there is the idea that the pagan god sings praise to the Lord.

The three visitors also sometimes spoke as though they were God and sometimes as though they wore not.

This double aspect seems to point to the fact that it is an appearance of the archetypal image of God which does not coincide with the Christian image but has something complementary to it – the same thing, but different.

One cannot understand it, I think, without the key given by Jungian psychology.

The archetype of the image of God appears afresh in the soul of St. Niklaus.

The Alleluia song seems to represent a tendency to the unconscious for a more emotional idea of God, not a contrasting, but a complementary one.

The Wanderer and St. Niklaus look at each other and suddenly the Pilatus crumbles and there appear many people and beyond them the Truth personified.

This again fits with the symbolism of Wotan who bears the title of the True One, the One who manifests everything which has been hidden, and so the song of Wotan opens the whole world.

When we have our outing you will see that the Pilatus shuts out the north-west and makes the place where St. Niklaus sought out his hermitage into a lonely corner of the world.

Pilatus is a place where Wotan “spooks” and also where pagan Celtic remains have been found.

Animal sacrifices must have taken place there and the pagan Germans took over the Celtic cults.

They had no temples, they worshipped their gods in woods and on mountains.

The old name for the Pilatus is Mons Fractus, the broken up mountain, so naturally it lends itself to the idea that the mountain would break up and disappear.

It opens not only a side of the world but the inner situation of human beings, suddenly Klaus sees the inner situation of the world, of humanity.

So we might interpret the mountain as a kind of symbol for an emotional blockage, for something which has been blocked.

A frozen affect, for instance, is such an emotional blockage which covers the collective unconscious and when it breaks down the deeper situation manifests itself.

St. Niklaus had the gift of the Shaman or medicine man and could see what was hidden in the hearts of men.

People had no need to talk, it is as if the blockage which prevents us from seeing what is in people had fallen down in his soul and this gift the god Wotan had given him, for Wotan is the lord of ecstatic love and of complete devotion, the love which devotes itself without condition or discussion, just undivided devotion.

The lord of such an emotional attitude breaks down the blockage, and thus it becomes manifest that the great disease of the collective situation of that time was egoism

(Eigennutz), the desire always to profit oneself, to save one’s own skin; the opposite of love, a mercenary spirit which, as we know from history, was a very obvious

disease of the Swiss at that time.

It is, in general, a disease of the peasant who has such a hard time working on the soil and is in danger of losing the spirit of love.

But I do not think we should project it on to them only.

This idea of mercenary profit is a disease and strangely enough is especially apparent in Christian civilizations which preach a religion of love.

We are the most mercenary people in the world: I think that has to do with the fact that the Christian symbol has lost its root in the archaic layers of the personality; it has dried up and become so intellectual and has taken away from people the gift of being moved and generous.

The spirit of generosity is connected with the depth of ones own emotional nature for if we are not connected with our instincts we cannot be generous; people who live only in their heads cannot be generous for this side can only be lived by someone who has accepted his animal nature.

We are social beings and if we reject the animal side we can isolate ourselves in intellectual egoism and not share in our fellow creatures’ sorrows and difficulties.

The great god of ecstasy and love makes manifest the disease of the 15th century.

We have become the opposite of what our faith professes, mercenary and egotistical. In the middle of the last millennium, the Gothic attitude came to an end and was succeeded by that of wanting to take possession of the earth (colonization, etc.).

It is this cold, mercenary spirit which makes us so much hated by other races.

It is as though St. Niklaus saw the nations turning their backs on the truth, they turned, so to speak, from their inner truth and ran into their disease of egoism.

The vision then continues as follows:

And his, the pilgrim’s, face changed “like a Veronica” and he (Klaus) had a great

longing to look at him further.

And he saw him again, as he had seen him before, but his clothes were changed and he stood before him in trousers and coat and with a bearskin over them.

The bearskin was sprinkled with a golden colour.

But he saw and recognized it very well as a bearskin.

The bearskin suited him particularly well, so that the man (Klaus) saw and realized that he (the pilgrim) had a specific beauty.

And as he stood in front of him (Klaus) and let himself be looked at, so elegant in the bearskin, Bruder Klaus realized that he must leave him.

He said to him: “Where do you want to go?” He answered him: “I want to go up the country.”

And more he would not say. And as they parted, he (Klaus) gazed at him continuously.

And then he saw that his bearskin shone, more or less as though one passed a shining weapon over it, the glittering of which one can see upon a wall.

And when the pilgrim was about four steps away, he turned round and he had his hat on again, and took off his hat and bowed to him (Klaus) and left him.

Then he (Klaus) knew such love for him, that he was quite one with him and he (Klaus) realized that he did not deserve this love, that the love was a part of him.

And he saw in his spirit that his face and his eyes and his whole body was as full of loving humility as a vessel filled with honey into which not another drop can be introduced.

Then he saw the pilgrim no more but he was so saturated with him that he needed nothing more of him.

It seemed to him (Klaus) that he (the pilgrim) had made known to him everything that was in heaven and on the earth.

This motif again fits the god Wotan, for he is the one who changes all the time.

Wotan could transform himself continually, like Hermes in Greek mythology. In his naiveté St. Niklaus describes this ability to change as a Veronica and now Wotan reveals

himself in a bearskin which gleams with a shimmer of gold which strikes him as beautiful.

In Lithuanian mythology the bear is called “gold foot,” he is the king of the beasts.

Gold represents the highest value and incorruptibility. In alchemy the gold would also represent this.

The bearskin I have already interpreted with the Berserk, the one who wears the bearskin.

God is now a Berserk, and has the quality of “going Berserk,” which originally had not the negative connotation but meant being possessed by the god of war and having the capacity to accomplish great deeds in a state of ecstasy.

The idea of affect or the dangerous aspect of the man in the bearskin is like the sharp brilliant weapon which reflects in the light.

To St. Niklaus it represents a great mystery.

The one problem which Christianity has not solved and which is therefore the great

problem of our civilization is how to deal with evil.

As Jung has said in Aion, Christianity suffers from the dogmatic idea that evil is only the lack of good, the privatio boni.

Darkness is said to have no substance in itself but to be simply a lack of light and evil only the lack of good.

As Jung says in Aion that is as though somebody had forced me to put my hand in the fire and then said that it was not hot, or that in the North Pole it is not cold, there is only a lack of warmth.

Intellectually, you can pretend that this is so, but normally and practically, and that is the aspect we have to deal with in psychology, evil is as great a reality as good.

If I am jealous or envious, that is a reality.

If my We have to admit that evil is a very strong reality in us and not just the lack of good.

If you deny it, it just gets at you from behind.

To slaughter a few million Jews and make soap from them and then say that is “only a lack of charity” is cynicism.

Such mass murder is constantly breaking out among us and Christian teaching does not prevent it.

Therefore it might be wise to take the problem of evil more seriously.

We have to admit that in us there are evil tendencies and it does not help us to say that they are not there for we cannot talk them away and if someone overcomes an evil quality it is a great event and I think one might better overcome it if one first accepted it.

The greatest sin of mankind is unconsciousness and the evil that people do is the result of that.

Intellectual realization is not consciousness, there has to be a full realization with an ethical impact and shock, and then sometimes the evil does stop, but it must be a realization by the whole person.

If the shock is great enough people may cease from the evil, but it takes a very bad shock.

Assume that a mother is eating her child and realizes this during the analysis, really realizes that she is killing or castrating her son, a real shock may stop her, but if she sees it only intellectually, she will go on.

If the shadow is to a great extent integrated, then the individual is touched and can deal with it in its immediate surroundings and does not contribute to its evil any longer.

What is not seen in the shadow contributes to the collective evil and everyone who accepts his share lessens the collective evil.

The iniquity in the godhead is a mystery beyond human comprehension, but we might try as far as our personal evil is concerned and it is more helpful to accept the fact of evil.

We should take it as an immediate and very real reality and try to deal with it.  ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 46-53