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

Lecture 7 Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Van Der Flue

Jung Institute June 26, 1957.

Last time I mentioned the problem of evil with a specific purpose in mind, namely to illustrate the problem presented by this vision where Christ appears wearing a bearskin, as this seems to me to represent an attempt by the unconscious to integrate the destructive animal side into the symbol of the Self – to make it one thing.

The dark animal-possessed man is here harmoniously fitted into the symbol of the Self. Such a figure of Christ is perhaps less pure than the dogmatic figure, but, on the other hand, the bear has obviously lost some of its dangerous features for the man wearing the bearskin even evokes in St. Niklaus a great feeling of love and “Minne” – a specific kind of love – so that we have here a living example of the idea of integrating evil and destructiveness into wholeness.

This man who has the bright reflection around him, like that of a polished weapon – a dangerous association – has nothing dangerous in himself, but, since he wears a bearskin and shines like a weapon, he might represent something one would not like to attack, but there is nothing destructive or aggressive in the figure.

On the contrary, it evokes a deep feeling of love.

To my mind, this represents another way of dealing with evil, not by asserting that it does not exist, so that it gets at you from behind, but by facing it and finding out what it is, and its emotional and animal nature, for much of our destructiveness is due to animal unconsciousness.

If integrated into the totality it loses its maliciousness and autonomous destructiveness.

The bear and Christ are then one thing and Christ acquires a slightly uncanny feature, since He does not just represent the man of kindness with the sweet pardoning nature, but it is a figure which wears a bearskin and wanders about.

Yet, at the same time, he has the power of love, a love with a stronger flavor than the watered down Christian charity which we like to believe in.

The Berserk is a richer symbol of Christ, brought up by the collective unconscious.

As you know, Jung studied alchemy and all these strange traditions because he felt that in them were themes of the collective unconscious to complement the one-sided aspects of our idea of Christ – the incompleteness of the dogmatic figure.

The unconscious has tried to enrich the figure from below and to make it a more real symbol of totality and of the Self.

We could say that this vision of St. Niklaus is also an expression of the time – a compensation – for the people of that time killed, hung and robbed to the most amazing extent; there was no thought of loving Christianity and very few made an honest attempt to live the Christian life.

One could say that that was man’s fault, but, psychologically, we can say that it is the fault of the dogmatic figure which does not grip man enough, or convince him sufficiently to induce him to make the great effort.

Man does not live up to his ideals if they are too pale and unreal, they do not convince us, and here the unconscious tries to correct this oversight and show a new ideal man, an attitude which is worth striving after and living for.

If we take it less on the collective level, though I think it is mainly a collective symbol of the time, we could remember, as I pointed out to you before, St. Niklaus’ emotional nature and emotional feeling, as instanced when he saw the flames coming out of the man’s mouth – a projection of his own emotion – and after which he took the decision to retire from the world which would otherwise have eaten him up.

His deep emotional side, which in a schizophrenic person would have led to an outburst of emotion, was kept within by his retreat from the world, so that his “bear” side became integrated into his totality and thus lost its negative features and his personality became transformed and acquired depth and verity.

You see again and again that if someone succeeds in integrating emotion instead of letting it out, then it adds to the personality, it is as though the person had become spiritually richer, for the autonomous destructive character which came from the emotion and was not integrated, has disappeared.

The unconscious usually symbolizes emotion by fire which can destroy, or can produce light, and when one is over-emotional over an incident one can ask oneself why, what is behind it? Why do I react with such an over-dose of emotion?

If you ask that question in objective honesty, you will always discover an unintegrated shadow, for the exaggerated emotion points to an autonomous complex.

If you make an honest attempt to find out about your emotions you will increase your self-knowledge and gain in totality.

Therefore emotion is a secret liberator.

One does not know how to begin in the search for self-knowledge but the simplest way is to find out where you become over-emotional, to see where the “bear” is and that will lead you to unintegrated complexes and totality.

In the apocalypse when Jesus is asked: “Who will lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven?”

He says, “The fishes in the sea and the birds in the air.” It does not matter what fish, or what animal it is.

With St. Niklaus it is a bear, the bear comes twice – with the bear’s paw and in the bearskin.

What brought him to the Kingdom of Heaven was his vision, for he learnt to integrate his aggressiveness and hidden rage about what was unjust.

Question: Have all animals such a meaning, or are there differences?

Answer: If St. Niklaus had had a vision of a lion, I would have said that it pointed to a power drive.

The elephant would be in another category, for the elephant is unique among the animals. The Bushmen say that any superior man get the title of “Lion,” the highest title, but they never call anyone elephant because the elephant represents wholeness and outstanding genius which only appears every 6,000 years on this earth.

In India the elephant represents an aspect of one avatar of Buddha.

The elephant is the god-man among the animals and represents the greatest, the most integrated wisdom of nature, it is in a different category from the bear or the lion.

The serpent is a very complex factor, difficult to sum up, it would represent the basic tendency towards unconsciousness still hidden in somatic sympaticus reactions and the deepest unconsciousness in man.

We cannot make any rapport with a snake except by magic, or music, or by going into a trance, while with all other animals you can make contact by talking to them.

Thus in a snake there appear layers of the unconscious which you can only meet by the trance, but it is also the greatest bringer of light and wisdom.

The snake stands for uncanny, very far away contents of the unconscious to which we have no feeling or intuitive relationship, one is faced with a riddle.

The tiger is sometimes represented as the wife of the lion, it has definitely more feminine features and is closer to the earth mother; the jaguar is also the earth mother, the devouring mother of life and death.

In China the tiger is the symbol of the Yin principle while the lion is, so to speak, a warmer animal and has more to do with affect and the heat of the summer sun.

It is the kingly animal.

Negatively it would represent a power drive and positively generosity for it lets the smaller animal go free.

In Walt Disney’s film the male lion is too lazy to kill, but you can say that he is generous.

As animals, lions are famed for their non-aggressiveness.

An elephant is said to fear snakes, mice, drunkards and pigs. His fear of the mouse has a physical cause, since it may crawl up his trunk and suffocate him, mythological projections on animals usually have a hook in reality.

The elephant – being very Victorian – is said only to mate once in a lifetime.

He washes morning and evening and after his bath perfumes himself with flowers.

The integration of the animal nature of man is one of the greatest questions and problems and one to which Christianity has given no answer.

What can I do with my animal nature without repressing or killing it, or letting it loose on others?

The problem came up in Bruder Klaus’ time and you see the answer in his unconscious.

When the Berserk-Christ figure said “Goodbye” he saw something shining, like a polished weapon which hung upon a wall.

A polished sword gives a reflection and Klaus saw in this something hidden.

We can speak of mental reflections as reflection, using the word in the psychological sense and meaning that, instead of having subjective opinions, we try to get objectively inside ourselves.

Most people are concerned with their own egos and think they are this or that and consider that as reflecting about themselves, but this is just day dreaming – the ego mirrors the ego – introverts especially like to consider this as deep reflection.

If you try to reflect on your unconscious material you gain a kind of scientific insight into your inner features which is objective reflection and this would be in the nature of an honest attempt.

One can also say that the weapon represents decision and discrimination.

The sword stands for discrimination and aggression, with a sword you also cut things.

Alexander the Great cut the Gordian knot.

But here, instead of being used as a weapon to kill others, it emanates light – integrated aggressiveness.

If every time someone annoys me, I say “Stop” “Why do you get emotional?” then I replace aggression with insight, which would be the same as replacing aggression by discrimination.

Klaus says this is something hidden. It is a mystery to him how this can be integrated.

The sword, according to an alchemist (G. Dorn) stands for the wrath of God.

The angel at the entrance to the Garden of Eden also had a sword and his fiery sword appears as the symbol of the avenging affect of the Old Testament God.

In the change from the Old to the New Testament, when God tried to incarnate in man, He changed the sword of wrath into the hook of love, so you see the sword meant this dark, judging side of the Divinity.

When God appeared in the Vision of St. John in the Apocalypse, a sword came out of his mouth – some are redeemed and others condemned.

This sword should he transformed into the spirit of love, something which takes place here because the Berserk figure emanates love.

If we look at the roots in Germanic mythology of the words “sword” and “shining,” we find that the word bright or shining always implies a definite mana emanation – the Shining One, the Splendour of Victors, The Trembling Shimmering Thing – are all names of famous swords.

“To shine” in old Nordic mythology has the meaning of a clear sky, of a good mood – for you are either like a thunder cloud or like the bright sky, in a good mood.

Ziu (Anglo-Saxon Ti or Tiig from which we get Tuesday) is the god of the bright sky.

The Latin word and the Indian word – Deus and Deva respectively – go back to the etymological root and refer to the brightness of the day sky, and this gives the same association with bright and shining in reference to the divine, and to enlightenment.

This figure which emanates such splendor, emanates consciousness and has a divine quality.

Bruder Klaus also experiences fascination and physical attraction when he looks at the Berserk figure, there is a slight homosexual tinge, and he feels so full of love that he is overflowing with it, for he feels that the beaker overflows with love like a pot full of honey into which not another drop could he introduced.

“Minnie” is a very interesting word. Martin Nincke says that it implies more than our word love and means sexual love, affection, and everything which we would call love as well as the loving thought for absent friends – the strong connection with someone not physically present, away on a journey, or dead, and the connection of man with God, whom man does not see physically.

It has to do with the telepathic connection with absent or distant people, like the sudden telepathic connection of a woman whose husband is away.

The true psychic relationship of two human beings is brought about by “Minne.”

In olden days, at German parties one drank to the god “Minne” and got another beaker to drink to the dead and that was called the “Minne Beaker”, when in loving concentration one became united for a minute with those absent.

Honey ties in here for, as Paracelsus says, honey is the sweetness of the earth. It was thought that honey conveyed a poetical gift and quality.

If you smeared honey on your tongue you could speak in ecstasy.

“Take some milk and honey before sunrise and you will find magic in your heart” is an old recipe.

Honey was used as an offering to the gods.

In the Bhagavad Gita Upanishad II, 5, is another connection between the symbol of honey and the realization of the Self, for there it is said: “This Self is the honey of all beings, to this Self, to this Atman, all creatures are honey.

And what is the Purusha, the divine man, than the Self made from light, energy, and from immortal substance.

What this Atman is, i.e. this Purusha which is made from light, energy and immortal substance, that is this undying thing, this Brahman, this is the cosmos.”

So you see the honey in the first part of this sentence means the loving contact between the Atman and all beings, the connection with the divine, with the “Anthropos” figure, which in India is the Purusha.

We might therefore say that the honey motif is like a transformation of the red color which when Klaus saw projected into the outside world at Liestal had a threatening aspect, but now when the red principle is within has turned into honey.

When Klaus realized that the Berserk was like a pot full of honey and could take nothing more, then he knew everything which was between heaven and earth.

His realization is a realization of love and of knowledge and when he feels this he knows everything between heaven and earth, every inner question is answered, then the Berserk is as much a symbol of “gnosis” as of love.

We always like to think that intellect and heart are opposites, but here the two principles are united in loving understanding, they are not really opposites.

Jung speaks in Von den Wurzeln des Bewusstseins (The Roots of Consciousness) about the blood substance as seen in alchemy.

In alchemy, he says, they were greatly concerned about the so-called rosy coloured blood and often compared it to healing power.

Jung says that this blood substance symbolized a certain aspect of Eros, also symbolized by the rose, which unites the one with the many, making them whole,

being thus a panacea and an elixir pharmikon.

This aspect of Eros, Goethe described very aptly in his Secrets.

This phenomenon, like the idea of the Christian caritas, always points to the fact that in social life there is a deficiency which should he compensated.

In antiquity the lack of love was obvious (slavery demonstrated the lack of human love) and this still survived in the Middle Ages with its cruelty and unreliable jurisdiction and feudal conditions which ignored the rights and dignity of man.

One would expect that Christian love would take its right place under such awful conditions, but what happens when Christian love is blind?

Love alone does not help if not accompanied by understanding.

To make the right use of love a wider consciousness is required, a higher standpoint to enlarge the extent of the horizon.

It is quite true that love is necessary, but it must be coupled with insight and understanding.

The function of love is to light up the areas which are still dark and to bring consciousness to them through understanding (durch “begreifen” – to grasp the objective dignity and meaning of the other individual and to love the other in objective understanding.) outside in the world as well as within in the inner world of the soul.

The more love is blind, the more it is “driven” and the more destructive are its results for it is a dynamic which needs form and direction; the more love is not blind, but is enlightened by understanding, the more we have what could be called real Eros.

We can say that the Berserk with his “Minne” principle typifies such an idea of love and understanding as one thing, complete understanding and loving acceptance of the other’s condition and of the surroundings.

You could also call this “absolute knowledge” in the cosmos, which is connected with the experience of the Self.

This, I think, is one of the deepest experiences Bruder Klaus had of the symbol of the Self and one of the most impressive symbols of the totality.

It is, I think, the vision from which came much of his later attitude, such as his prayer to God asking that he might be taken away from everything which took him from God.

There is no reflection or ascetism in it.

He had a very deep and wise love and understanding of his fellow beings which he demonstrated in his consultations where he evinced real comprehension.

Even sharp criticism was always accompanied by consideration for the other person.

The Vision of the Fountain: Through his suffering, and by the will of God, Klaus’ sleep was broken. And he thanked God for His martyrdom and His sufferings.

And God gave him grace so that he found support and happiness in it.

Thereupon he laid himself to rest and it seemed to him in his sleep, or in his spirit, that he came to a place which belonged to a community.

There he saw a crowd of people who were working very hard but were very poor.

And he stood and looked at them and marveled very much that, in spite of all their work, they were yet so poor.

Then there appeared on his right a well built tabernacle.

(The tabernacle is the small receptacle in which the monstrance with the host is kept – it houses the host. In Latin the word is “tent.” It has now acquired a religious significance. Here it must have been a small construction, or tent, in which the holiest and most sacred divine symbol was kept.)

In the tabernacle he saw an open door and he thought to himself: “You must go into the tabernacle and see what is in it, you must soon go in by the door.” Then he came to a kitchen which belonged to a whole community.

On the right he saw stairs going up, about four steps, and he saw some people going up, but only a few.

It seemed to him that their clothes were sprinkled with white.

And he saw a fountain flowing down the step by a big trough to the kitchen and the fountain was of three substances: wine, oil and honey.

This stream flowed as quickly as lightning and made such a loud noise that the place echoed as if a horn were played.

And he thought: “You must go up the stairs and see where the fountain comes from.”

And he marveled very much that the people were so poor and that nobody went in to draw from the fountain which they could quite well have done for it was common property.

(That is, why did not these poor people use the wine, oil and honey?)

And he went up the stairs and came to a wide hall.

And there, in the middle of the hall, he saw a large square box out of which the fountain flowed. And he went to the box and looked at it.

And as he went to it he almost sank, as though he were crossing a swamp, and he drew up his feet quickly (had to walk very quickly) and came to the box.

And in his spirit he realized that whoever did not walk quickly would never get to the box.

The box was reinforced on all four sides with strong iron plates.

And the fountain flowed through a pipe and sounded so beautiful in the box and in the pipes that he marveled very much.

And this stream was so clear and pure that one could have seen a hair lying at the bottom.

And however strongly it flowed yet the box remained full and overflowed.

And he realized in his spirit that however much flowed out of it, there was always more there and he saw how it leaked through all the cracks.

And he thought: “Now you will go down again.”

Then he saw great streams flow from all sides into the trough and he thought to himself: You will go out and see what the people are doing, why they don’t come in to draw from the fountain which has such a great overflow.”

And he went out through the door.

And he saw the people working very hard, but yet they were very poor.

And he watched what they were doing.

And he saw that someone had built a fence through the middle of the square and in the middle of the fence there was a lattice door which a man held with his hand (He invented the Customs and taxation;) and he said he would let no one in or out unless they paid him a penny.

And Klaus saw how someone turned a thumbscrew on one of the people and how he said: “That is to force you to give me the penny.”

And he saw a piper who played and who demanded a penny.

And he saw a tailor and a shoemaker and the other craftsmen who all wanted pennies.

And they were all so poor that they could hardly manage to pay.

And he saw nobody go in to draw from the fountain.

And as he stood there and watched, the place was suddenly transformed into a dreary slope like the place where Bruder Klaus’ church was and where he lived and he realized within himself that the tabernacle was himself, Bruder Klaus.

This time the tabernacle, as is said at the beginning of the vision, appears on the right

side of the dreamer which shows that it is a symbol closer to his consciousness.

This might have been a vision of St. John of the Cross, or of any other saint, for it is close

to Christian symbolism. P. Alban Stoeckli quotes the famous sermon of Johannes Tauler who speaks of turning to the inner soul.

He says if you turn towards your own inner soul you will find there that from its very depths there is a spring welling up all the time and that is the loving (Minne) intimacy of the Holy Ghost which the mystic finds at the bottom of his soul.

In former times, among the Church Fathers, Christ was often spoken of as the rock from which the water of life flowed forth, the fountain of life.

The water is interpreted psychologically as the immediate fusion and contact with God which wells up from the depths of the mystic’s soul.

Medieval art produced many representations of this well of life.

When Christ’s side was pierced and some of the lymph flowed out it was said that this would continue to flow in the Catholic Church, just as when Moses struck the rock and the Children of Israel drank from it.

This is a simile frequently repeated in the sermons of the Church Fathers.

The famous painting of Van Eyck shows the blood of Christ flowing from his wound divided up into four fountains and distributed through the whole world.

It is a parallel to the Holy Grail, a vessel which contains the blood of Christ.

Christ in a supernatural appearance is supposed to have given the grail to Joseph of Arimathea.

Afterwards it was transported to France and later became the mystical centre of Arthur’s Round Table.

There are many representations of the idea that the blood of Christ is the secret well of life which nourishes man, it stands for the eternal food, the blessing of life which is distributed to everybody.

We could also compare this square contained with the altar in the shape of a vessel which appears in Zosimos’ vision.

He sees this large altar in the shape of a vessel in which people are cooked and transformed into spiritual beings.

The water in this connection symbolizes the meaningfulness of the unconscious.

What it is in itself we do not know, but we know that if we can extract the meaning from a dream and integrate it, it has not only the aspect that we know more and have a greater insight, but we obtain at the same time a revivifying affect, and that is the immediate effect of such an understanding, therefore such an experience has always been compared to the “water of life”.

In Church symbolism the water of life is a good sermon; if I leave the Church with a better feeling then I have got some of the water of life.

The Catholic Church speaks of the water of the doctrine and says that it has a

revivifying effect to get water when you are thirsty is an indescribable feeling.

“My soul thirsteth for the Lord” says the psalmist, but if you have this experience the thirst vanishes and there is a feeling of well-being and satisfaction and of being embedded in something meaningful.

Water also has a purifying effect.

There are three stages in this vision: the courtyard, the kitchen, and the four steps going up, and then the square well with the water in the centre.

Only a few people go through, it is too difficult for the others.

Then comes the cubic symbol of the reservoir and round this is the swamp where if you don’t walk quickly you sink.

From there the water flows down the stairs, it is not quite clear how, and is then distributed by the three pipes into the basin below. Klaus marvels that people do not make use of it.

The few people who go up have white spots on them – alchemically are close to the

Albedo, they are beginning to be purified, beginning to be more conscious and get more enlightenment – but Klaus is amazed that there are so few.

But still in this courtyard of working people there is an effort to become conscious, namely in the kitchen, but there are still fewer who make the mystical further development illustrated by the four steps to the centre, the symbol of the Self.

From the point of view of value, it is interesting that in the kitchen, wine, oil and

honey are distributed, all very expensive substances, but higher up and of more value

is the water, the cheapest thing is the thing of the greatest value, not the refined

substance, but the cheap water, the aqua vilis.

Wine, oil and honey are substances which have to do with the Christian symbols: the wine – blood, the oil – chrism.

The honey, though not really taken as a symbol in the Catholic Church is regarded as a simile of love.

All three substances are associated with human effort so that you might say that they are aspects of the unconscious which are acquired by effort.

But it needs no outer effort to reach the water, the thing which is everywhere and in the richest profusion.

Beyond the Trinitarian principle with its idea of a spiritual effort and the Christian way of life, there is a fourth step and a fourth substance and this fourth step is not a step higher up, it is rather a re-descent into complete simplicity.

In Zen-Buddhism one finds this same symbolism of the descent after the great effort.

A series of pictures symbolize the process of enlightenment.

The first is concerned with the taming of the runaway oxen, first with the whip and afterwards without.

This is the overcoming of the demands of the animal nature. In western meditation texts

undisciplined animal nature is overcome by meditation and fasting.

Then, having put the whip aside, the adept kneels down and then comes the realization of the Self; there is just a circle, without content.

Then the man has disappeared into the spiritual experience of the Self, and you would say that this is the climax of human development.

When you have got there, you have got as far as a human can go.

But then comes a last picture; it is of a fat beggar man with a big belly who has a kind of

senile smile on his face and a pupil beside him.

He goes now to the market and begs for his food, but wherever he walks the cherry tree blossoms.

It is the return to the water itself after the great enlightenment, the return to being a completely unconscious human being.

He does not intend to do any good, he is even a beggar, and others do something for him.

He has no motive, he is a nobody, but the cherry tree blossoms as he walks by, perhaps he is even so unconscious that he does not notice it.

There is the idea that as long as there is any conscious striving towards becoming

conscious you cannot avoid the ego in the endeavour, for you never get there unless

you take your analysis seriously, or do not try to understand your dreams.

You have to go up the stairs with an effort and this is a stage which cannot be skipped and it leads to a certain very deep inner realization of the Self, but this is not the whole thing, because after that comes the experience of the water which is an experience of the Self in a new aspect, a complete return, away from any conscious striving towards goodness or understanding.

The alchemists, with their strange and more complex way of putting things have the same idea.

They said that the most precious thing in the world was the cheapest and that was the water, which had no price, but that is the most precious substance for those who knew what it is, for those who know the mystery of the permanent water.

In olden times the peasant drew the water from his own well and the container in those days was a wooden box reinforced with iron.

Practically every farmer had one, there was no organized distribution.

People will not look at what is under their noses, the mystery of self-knowledge and of humbly looking at oneself does not cost

anything, but it is not liked.

The many in the courtyard could have it but they do nothing.

They have no libido, and yet it is distributed without charge.

The Chinese rainmaker who has been sent to cure the drought says that when there is a drought everything is out of Tao.

When I got to the place, he says, I was at once out of Tao myself, and therefore I asked to have a hut made and in the three days I have spent in the hut I have done nothing but get myself back into Tao, and then, he says, with a wicked old man’s smile, and then, naturally, it rains!  54-61