Dreams and Visions of St. Niklaus Van Der Flue by Marie-Louise Von Franz
Lecture 8 Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Van Der Flue
Jung Institute July 3, 1957
Last time we spoke of the four substances: oil, honey and wine, and then, in a class of greater value, the cheap, ordinary water of the spring.
I quoted texts from the German Fathers who compare the body of Christ and the vision of God with the spring or well of water within the depths of the human soul.
The swamp, psychologically, is quite relevant in the approach to the fourth, the dangerous element.
In going to the kitchen and taking the wine, and honey and oil, there is no danger, but in approaching the fourth, the central symbol, we come to the dangerous problem of the step from the three to the four; it is a moment when one might be swallowed up by the unconscious, it is the psychological problem.
Technically, we can say that the swamp comes about through the water overflowing, as it would do in an ordinary fountain in a country place, creating a dirty swampy place around.
This would probably be the association here.
One could say that the water itself stands for the immediate spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious psyche and that the box in which it is kept would refer to the fact that such contents should be realized and retained by human understanding.
All our activity in psychology is directed to the effort to catch the water of the unconscious, so that it should not build up a swamp in the person’s psyche, but remain pure and have a revivifying effect.
If spontaneous unconscious manifestations are not grasped and realized in some form, they degenerate in the psyche and create unconscious possession: unclean phantasies of a destructive nature.
Jung even says that we can cure schizophrenic conditions to the extent that the patient can be got to give form to his inner contents.
Otherwise there is the situation of the swamp; one is swamped by the unconscious overflow of impure phantasies in which the most sacred and the most profane ideas are intermingled.
If you study a schizophrenic’s flood of talk you will find a juxtaposition of contents of the most numinous feeling value with the most profane. e.g. such an individual will simultaneously carry on a telephone conversation with the Virgin Mary and storm and rage about the non-arrival of food or tobacco.
Jung once had a patient who would disappear into herself “to telephone to the Virgin Mary.”
This blurring of values, of the important and unimportant, has to do with the affect and feeling life of such people and it is this confusion which creates the swamp around the well.
Therefore the inner well has to be purified and kept pure by conscious understanding.
Whether it creates a swamp or a well of life in the psyche depends on the human conscious understanding.
The official Church interpretation would be the swamp of sin, but I think for this vision that would be too narrow for here we are concerned with the innermost sanctuary.
I think it has rather to do with the danger of degeneration of the inner fantasy which is not understood, for if we are unable to explain and understand the most important creative impulses of the unconscious psyche they degenerate into power and profane sex fantasies, or, into possession by a power figure such as Hitler, for instance, who identified with the archetype of the inner god so that he became megalomanic.
It degenerated into a wrong kind of fantasy life.
The fact that St. Niklaus has to cross this swamp to reach the central symbol reminds one of the crossing of the ford or the waters, which plays a great role in religious systems.
In the Gnostic sect of the Perates, their central symbol represented such an idea. The Perates lived about the time of Christ.
The name came from the Greek word meaning “to cross” and the Perates are those who went over the water and crossed the big ocean.
They say that they have given themselves this name because the world is a big swampy sea and they are the people who went beyond it to the “other shore.”
In the sea the people without “gnosis” sink and are drowned, but the Perates cross over and get to the place of peace and inner salvation.
They quote the crossing of the Red Sea by the Children of Israel saying that the drowned were those without gnosis.
The gods of the lost and the gods of salvation are together in the place of the utmost union of the opposites; they live together on the other shore which is what the Perates try to reach.
Jung quotes this in Mysterium Coniunctionis Vol. I, p. 217, where he says that the Red Sea is the water of death for unconscious people, but for the conscious it is a baptismal water of rebirth and the going over into the Beyond.
The unconscious people are those who have no realization as to the essence and meaning of man within the cosmic realm; in modern language, those who do not realize the personal and collective contents of the unconscious.
The first part would be the shadow or inferior function which would refer to the sin and impurity of the neophytes.
The collective unconscious is expressed in the teaching of most of the mythological mystery cults which reveal secret knowledge as to the origin of all things and the way of salvation.
Unconscious people who have not been cleansed from the shadow and are without guidance, drown, that is, they no longer continue to develop psychologically.
To go over and reach the other shore they should realize something hitherto unknown to them, namely the inner opposites, all those contents which are predominately in opposition.
I think what Jung says there about the origin of Christianity what was to a certain extent true at the time of St. Niklaus, for the realization of the opposites was lacking then also.
His unconscious made a serious attempt to unite the light and the dark and to bring the opposites into one reconciling symbol.
In the vision, the swamp and the well of life are in the same place and St. Niklaus succeeds in stepping across the swamp and not being drowned in it.
Probably, without the meditation exorcises he did at that time he could easily have been drowned in the unconscious and become a funny day-dreamer, walking about and talking to himself.
If such people open up to someone, they spill out material consisting of dissociated unconscious and dissolved fantasies.
They are a good picture of what it means to get stuck in the swamp, but St.
Niklaus was able to get a more central symbol for he concentrated on what was
important and allowed his feeling function to focus on that and to grasp it.
His Directeur de Conscience, Heiny am Grund, had given him exercises which consisted of prayers to be made every three hours on the theme of the suffering of Christ.
These prayers were undertaken as follows:
At 6 p.m.
He thanked his Christ for the love He gave mankind as demonstrated by His washing the feet of his disciples and by the Eucharistic meal;
At 9 p.m.
He thanked his Redeemer for His love in having suffered and sweated blood for mankind and Niklaus begs Him to free him from the fetters of evil;
After midnight: He says Mattins and thanks Christ for His love and for His sufferings in the house of Chiapas where He was despised and spat upon.
By the shameful treatment He suffered, Niklaus begs to be forgiven the shame of his sins; in the early morning: He thanks Christ for the love which enabled Him for Niklaus’
sake to be mocked by Herod and his soldiers and begs Him for grace with which to bear all attacks with the same patience;
At 9 a.m.
He thanks Christ who through His love submitted to the scourge and begs that he, Niklaus, might be scourged on earth so that he might be spared punishment in eternity.
At 12 midnight: He thanks Christ for allowing Himself to be crucified.
At 3 a.m. He thanks Christ for His death and for having died for him upon the cross.
This meant getting up several times in the night.
At the time when he had his depressions and consulted Heiny am Grund he was advised to do these exercises arid to pray daily at definite hours.
This helped him to a certain extent but the depression, only really stopped after he went to Liestal and decided to become a hermit, though the exercises lessened his sufferings and gave to his personal conflict a super-personal point of orientation which enabled him to understand that his sufferings were parallel to Christ’s and not just that of the ego in conflict, but of the Self and its demand: for incarnation.
God’s wish for incarnation is the real reason for his sufferings and takes away some of the neurotic aspect but naturally does not banish suffering.
The next thing I want to discuss is the motif of the profane court to which Niklaus returns and where he wonders why the people behave so peculiarly.
In an individual this is normally the problem of the inferior function, the function by which the inner person relates to the super-personal, so that it even becomes the function of religious experience.
One has a religious approach through the inferior function because the latter is contaminated with the whole unconscious and, not being differentiated; it carries the whole thing with it, the Self as well, so that the unconscious totality of the person is touched.
The inferior function cannot be integrated totally, one can only adapt to it to a certain extent.
By working on yourself you fish up one auxiliary function and then another and in time have the three out of the chaos of the unconscious and so far you have not had to give up your standpoint and you can fish up all the time.
But then comes the crucial moment for you cannot put down your hook and get up the fourth, you have to go down yourself, so that the whole process of development changes.
The ego must give up its superiority and humiliate itself and agree to things which seem foolish and unnecessary, it has to let itself be over-run in order to assimilate the fourth function.
One has to give up the claim of being master in one’s own house voluntarily: only through this voluntary submission can one relate to the fourth function.
It can become something close to you by which you can relate to the unconscious, but you can never integrate it.
You can say that there are four functions but only three steps and, as Jung says, this corresponds to the Christian idea of the three ages.
First comes the state of mind of man in the Old Testament where there was no problem of the opposite, of light and dark.
The contradictions in God Himself did not bother Him.
The image of God mirrors His own mood: He wants to bless man, but then is angry with him and drowns him and then has to make a rainbow to remind Himself.
Jung illustrates this by the example of the Elgonyis (an African tribe) who, as long as the sun shines say that life is wonderful, but when the night comes they disappear into their huts and say that everything is wrong – they have forgotten the daytime where everything was good.
We know from our own childhood that we were like that, at one minute everything
was all right and the next, when you were thwarted, everything was wrong – you just
switched, and that is the state of deep unconsciousness.
Then comes the age of the New Testament and the first realization of the problem of the opposites as an ethical problem.
In the first stage people do good and then wrong, but do not suffer from this, and if you reproach such people they evade the point.
There are many people still in this stage who have no real shadow problem because the shadow, though it appears to them from time to time, does not become a crucial ethical problem to them.
In the next stage, however, it does become a major ethical problem and there is a serious and whole-hearted attempt to take it seriously and try to solve it.
This leads to the cross and crucifixion and that is what the Christian teaching meant, the problem of the opposites.
But the cross is death, i.e. it leads to an impasse and anybody who has tried to go on with that attitude too long has to give it up after a time.
There have been saints who have tried their utmost but they have come to the conclusion that there must be something which leads beyond it.
St. John of the Cross, for Instance, says there are three ways for the inner development of man, to the right – the way of the world, to the left – the way of asceticism and mortification (the Carmelite Order to which St. John belonged was dedicated to this and this is what they practise in that Order).
St. John practiced it to an extreme degree.
He says this way leads, to a certain extent, to inner development, but then becomes a cul de sac, for it is as bad as the other.
It must be given up again and a middle way found for development.
Pushing the problem of the ethical opposites and striving for one or the other, results
in a dead end, it is against life, you cannot go further.
If you stick in the second stage, you have to die.
The early Christian martyrs chose death; they lived the second stage to its bitter end.
But if one does not wish to follow a religion which leads to death, one has to find the third stage that of the Holy Ghost, as Joachim of Fiore put it.
Psychologically, that means an attitude of no longer trying to solve the problem with the ego consciousness, but by submitting to inner guidance, the spiritual guidance of the unconscious, when the ego gives up its own standards of good and evil and submits to guidance, and that is St. John of the Cross’ third way.
So we have four elements and three procedures.
The same is true within an individual faced with the integration of the fourth function for then all ethical values and evaluations of consciousness which one hitherto held have to be given up.
Sometimes one has even voluntarily to suffer the defeat of consciousness, the thing for which one strove most, that very thing is in this stage thrown away.
In this one gains the whole totality in which the fourth element is embedded because one submits and goes down into it and gets the human contact with nature and the super-personal elements of life.
Analysis becomes synthesis at this moment and the whole attitude changes, and the whole method of the unconscious changes in this phase.
The three procedures are very beautifully illustrated by a German mystic, Heinrich Seuse, who says that the religious inner life consists of three steps; first, the way of purification in which one has to practise mortification and suffering and sink into a stage of feeling lost and helpless.
Then the way of elevation and realization of the sufferings of Christ, the Christians, and the worship of the Virgin Mary.
Then, the third step, in which contemplation comes in and in which the grace of sanctification begins to act and in this third step one reaches the gift of wisdom.
Jung illustrates the same idea when he speaks in The Psychology of the Transference (The Practice of Psychotherapy) of the stages of the anima figure, beginning with the biological as represented by Eve, then Helen on the aesthetic level where woman has already acquired some value as an individual, then the realization of the Virgin Mary, a spiritual form of the anima, and then one could not go higher, so the way goes down, because the fourth is wisdom and wisdom is a bit less, and then it is wisdom to lessen again.
It is more to be wise than to have a white attitude, though apparently, looked at from the outside, it is like going down again being less super-human and less white.
Seuse says something similar when he speaks of the worship of the wisdom of God – a contemplative attitude towards the inner things.
There is a certain parallelism here.
Christians who have had the courage and the uncompromising attitude to try to live according to Christian teaching have come to the conclusion that a bit less is even more than the one-sided spiritualization with its cramped attitude.
St. Niklaus also said that a state of contemplation was like enjoying a dance, and people said of him that in a good mood he was incredibly gay.
A young man once asked him if he should contemplate and Niklaus said “Yes” that he should, “it was something wonderful, like dancing.”
The young man looked shocked and Niklaus repeated what he had said.
He had a mind of simple cheerfulness.
When theologist’s came to check up on his orthodoxy and tried to catch him out and prove that he was a fraud, he would say that he was a completely unlearned peasant and could not read or write, and would they please not ask him such difficult questions.
In that way he was not at all oily and pompously saintly.
We have now to discuss the problem why in the first courtyard people are troubled by unnecessary activities and try to extort money from each other: they make fences, they tax, there are different crafts, etc.
They work and work and destroy themselves and are not much better off at the end.
So Niklaus wonders very much why they do not go a bit further and find everything they need.
This at first seems easy to interpret, if one forgets to look at it from the subjective level. You could say that it was the beginning of the Renaissance of degeneration into worldliness, the age of horizontal expansion, of the discovery of new continents and the development of trade, etc., and that the spiritual realization of the Middle Ages had turned over into powerful and driven worldly expansion, that the increase of self-discipline and consciousness of Christianity in the Middle Ages was now used to conquer this planet.
The destructive features which make Christians so much disliked among the family of man because we have more concentration and more brain and have increased the boundary of our consciousness, began to be evident at this time.
We owe much to Christianity but make bad use of it and this mercenary spirit of the white man is in a very immediate way linked with our religious development and has led to all the dubious phenomena of Christians who believed that their contradictions could he reconciled with their religion.
The illegitimate child of Christian teaching – egotism – is what manifests in this atmosphere of the courtyard and is the shadow of the 15th century, so to speak. St. Niklaus repeatedly said that the men of the Church were eaten up a mercenary spirit: parsonages were bought, and so on, the mercenary spirit overwhelmed Christian life and the State began to put out its claws over people.
That is how it looked from the outside and how the problem of the time was constellated, it was the beginning of worldliness and its dangerous consequences.
But there is still more to this motif.
In the other vision there was the bearskin Christ who asked for a penny from Niklaus.
In this present vision He is a profane plurality of people who are the beggars, so we must say that these profane beggars must be connected with the beggar man in the former vision.
We have experiences in our time which show exactly what is meant.
If a claim of the unconscious, a claim towards individuation receives no attention, it is replaced by an inner mass spirit.
People who have realized what the problem from within might be are put before the choice of either going the way of individuation or becoming one of the mass.
But what is even more important, is the fact that, whether Communism gets our country or not, we are all on the way to become communistic from within – something you can observe every day in your practice.
People dream about it all the time and you are continually confronted with: “Oh well, what is the use of making such an effort inside, there are thousands of other lives, so what is the meaning of mine?”
Or, in a woman it is the animus which thinks: “One ought”, “It should be done”, “Everyone thinks so.”
The animus of a woman is a doctrinarian, an announcer of collective rules and not of rules for one person and no one else.
As soon as one notices: “One should” or “I know it is so”, as soon as I do not take myself seriously any more in any way I am, psychologically speaking, on the road to inner Communism, I am building a road for the mass man, where the individual is unimportant.
It is necessary for young people to adapt to collective consciousness that is a normal phase of development, but not all share in this, some do it outwardly only, but a certain amount of normal adaptation is necessary.
If we are on the way to individuation we do not begin to walk about naked, just to annoy others, it does not mean to be ill-adapted.
But to allow oneself to think in a collective way is always destructive, even in puberty, instance, if a girl starts to “date” boys because “One has to” she is already on the way to a love life of prestige instead of feeling.
Whenever one feels compelled to behave like the others that is already animus possession.
The Communists say that time works for them and psychologically they are right, because more and more people come under the spell of the “mass” from within.
There is perhaps national resistance to Russian methods, but all “isms” prepare the way and one can eve be anti-Communist in a collective way.
One should stop thinking in collective terms and try to make an honest attempt to a re-evaluation of the individual and its importance and instead of fighting, turn away and concentrate on what is more important.
The bearskin Christ figure refers to the Wotan experience and later historical events have shown what has happened. In Professor Jung’s article on Essays on Contemporary Events you will see that he evaluates Nazism as Wotan-possession which has not been recognized as a religious experience.
Instead of being that it has become a completely destructive mass movement.
Its centre would have been a Wotan experience had the Germans been able to keep it within and not allowed it to become a collective movement.
If it had been kept on an inner mystical level it would have led to such experiences as St. Niklaus had, but instead it became a mass movement and thus the process of individuation becomes demonic possession.
In this vision the danger is already expressed; the beggar who wants the penny could become a profane greedy man.
In the background of Nazi wishful fantasies is the desire to establish a superior kind of man and a kingdom of justice.
The same wishful fantasy is in Communism.
With a religious attitude, this would have been right and would not have led to destruction, murder and war, but the ideas were projected into concrete reality and became destructive.
In the vision suddenly the whole place changes into the place where St. Niklaus
himself lived, and he realizes that he was that tabernacle.
The end of the vision hints at the fact that all he saw was happening within himself, though it did not come from him personally.
The people who ask for the penny could refer perhaps to his own doubt as to whether he was not just a queer sort of fool who wanted something extra for himself – not saintliness, but just a queer impulse – in modern language a schizophrenic condition.
The doubts he had would stand for the collective within him which questioned the rightness of his lonely way.
Everybody told him that he should not leave his family and that he could serve God just as well by staying at home and that to leave his wife and children was a mean thing to do.
He did really put such questions to himself; he had the collective element which is personified in this vision.
He wondered whether in continuing his lonely way as a saint, he was not pursuing a kind of personal ambition.
The Swiss especially hate to be eccentric, for their idea that everyone should try to be alike, there is a strong collective atmosphere which is even more emphasized among the peasants and anyone outside the average is viewed askance.
St. Niklaus was surrounded by that atmosphere.
To be a peasant in the country and then to become a local saint in the same place was a great affront to collective feeling and he must have felt the impact from within as much as from without.
He knew how foolish he looked to others and he had to have the backbone to stand up to that.
This inner conflict was responsible for his depressions, for he was not yet quite sure what he should do.
The Third Vision St. Niklaus’ sleep was broken through God’s and his own sufferings and he thanked God for His suffering and for His martyrdom.
And God gave him grace so that he found support and happiness in it.
Thereupon he laid himself down to rest.
And when his spirit was bound, though he thought that he was not yet asleep, it seemed to him that someone came in by the door and stood in the middle of the house and called out to him in a strong clear voice and asked him what his name was, saying: “Come and see your Father and what he is doing.”
And it seemed to him that he arrived quickly at the target (that is, the distance which an arrow travels) in a beautiful tent in a great hall.
There a few people lived and the man who had called to him stood at his side and acted as his intercessor.
And though this man spoke, yet St. Niklaus did not see his face and did not even wonder about it, and he spoke for St. Niklaus and said: “This is the man who lifted up and carried your Son and came to His help in His fear and distress. Thank him for it and be grateful to him.”
Then there came through the palace a beautiful and stately man whose face was like a
shining light and who wore white robes like a priest’s alb.
And he put both his arms round Niklaus’ shoulders and pressed him to Him and thanked him fervently for having come to the help of His Son in His distress.
And Niklaus was cast down and felt very unworthy and said: “I do not know that I have ever done your Son a service.”
Then the man left him and Niklaus did not see him again.
And then there came through the palace a beautiful, stately woman also dressed in
white and Niklaus saw clearly that the dress was freshly washed.
And she put both arms round his shoulders and pressed him warmly to her heart with overflowing love because he, Niklaus, had helped her Son so faithfully in His distress.
And Niklaus felt unworthy and said: “I do not know that I have ever done your Son a service except that I came here to see what you were doing.”
Then she left him and he did of see her again.
And then Niklaus looked round and saw the Son sitting in a chair beside him and he saw that He was also dressed in the same way and that His clothes were spotted with red as though they had been sprinkled with a brush.
And the Son leaned towards Niklaus and thanked him profoundly for having helped Him in His distress.
Then Niklaus looked down at himself and saw that he also was dressed in white sprinkled with red, like the Son.
And that surprised him very much for he had not known that he was dressed like that.
And then suddenly he found himself in the place where he had lain down so that he thought he had not slept.
In the writings of German Christian mystics, like Teuler, when the human soul appears before the throne of God, God comes down and embraces the soul and thanks it for its sufferings, for anyone trying to live a Christian life is actually helping God.
Such an idea was to be found in many mystical texts of the time and compensates a doctrine which ascribes everything to God the Redeemer.
But the Divine and the human are intertwined, since man does something for God.
It is interesting that the Holy Ghost tells God to thank Niklaus.
He is ordered to do so.
The Virgin Mary does not need to be told, for she has more softness and she thanks him for what he has done for her Son.
The Unknown Being with the clear, strong voice seems to be the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the Comforter and Counselor, and Niklaus is confronted with the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary as the fourth parson.
Imagine what this vision meant in the 15th century!
Already there we have the whole background of the dogma of the assumption of the Virgin Mary, she is already the fourth person of the quaternity and from the white robe which she has like God’s, she is equal to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
She is now the queen of heaven, but not yet a goddess.
She is the mistress of heaven and earth but is still denied the title of a divinity; she is nearly, but not quite the same.
The dogma lags a little behind the development of the time, but it is amazing that in the 15th century such a development appears.
As Professor Jung says in his comment on the Assumption of the Virgin in Answer to Job, the Assumption has to do with the idea that a further incarnation of God, which began with Christ, is still going on, and that it now reaches ordinary man and not only one chosen man, Christ.
The Assumption of Maria therefore expresses a great hope, the great longing in the human soul for the union of the opposites.
What I said about the unity of the three you can apply to the dogma of the Virgin Mary.
Probably the Pope was very much concerned at the political situation of the time, but Niklaus had these visions because he himself was torn by the ethical conflict and the Virgin Mary in this situation became the reconciling symbol.
It is in the nature of woman not to intensify the opposites, not to put them against each other, but to strive for relatedness and peace.
A woman can stand a blurred situation without being upset by it as a man is. Jung always quotes Anatole France’s anecdote where the short-sighted saint went to a lonely island and saw a lot of men in smoking jackets walking about and from the boat gave them a collective baptism.
He had not noticed that they were penguins!
That put Heaven in a tremendous difficulty and the heavenly assembly got into a great to-do because if a being is baptized it has an immortal soul should one therefore bestow immortality on the penguins?
So all the Church Fathers assembled and here was a great discussion, but in the end God thought it better to ask Catherine of Sienna, and she said: “Oh just give them a soul, but a little one!”
For a woman that was quite simple!
The same applies if someone gets into a dead issue in a fight with the shadow.
A man in such a case would need the reconciling appearance the anima that brings in Eros which is beyond the opposites.
Niklaus was attacked by the devil several times at the beginning of his retreat and the Virgin Mary frequently appeared and comforted him.
She could smooth the ethical conflict when it got out of hand.
On one occasion she appeared to him the top of an apple tree.
That is original role of the feminine principle, reconciling through love what is irreconcilable from a logical standpoint, by being human and having human
understanding for the other.
The patriarchal tradition in the Christian religion has cut out this female element too much. Everything must be clarified.
That has its advantages, it has pulled us out of a certain swamp but it also has destroyed a certain Eros attitude, the reconciling attitude, which is why the Assumption of the Virgin Mary creates a new healing symbol, a symbol which may point to a possible way out of the present situation.
The split in the world, between East and West, is once again the problem of the shadow which each projects on to the other, neither wanting to give in.
Actually, as Jung says, we have an iron curtain between ourselves and our shadows and there we would have to begin to be human and have human understanding.
So we have the first amazing attempt of the unconscious to integrate the female element and build up a quaternity symbol.
St. Niklaus is rather lost, and says he has not done anything, but in the end he discovers that he is completely identified and assimilated with Christ, he is a second Christ. ~Marie-Louise Von Franz, Dreams and Visions of Niklaus Van Der Flue, Page 62-70