The Eranos Conferences originated in Ascona-Moscia in 1933 at the initiative of Olga Frobe-Kapteyn (1881–1962).
They represented the most important interdisciplinary meeting point between Jung’s complex psychology and scholars of different backgrounds—depth psychology, history of religions, theology, anthropology, ethnology, philosophy, as well as natural sciences—who shared a common interest in the ‘archetypal structures’ underlying religious phenomena.
Jung attended Eranos for the first time as a speaker in 1933 and, up until 1952, gave fourteen lectures and one seminar.
In 1944 Jung missed, for the first and only time, the annual event in Ascona.
In 1943, although immersed in the writing of Mysterium Coniunctionis (Jung 1955–1956), Jung, none the less, went to Eranos as a listener; at the close of the conference, he had held an improvised seminar, for a limited number of students, on a series of drawings from the Codex Palatinus Latinus 1993, a medieval miniature codex attributed to the cleric, cartographer, and mystic Opicinus de Canistris (1296-c.1352).
Alwine von Keller (1878–1965), a pupil of his who, in those years, had opened a professional consulting room in Eranos, at Casa Shanti, was to document this seminar in a series of notes only recently rediscovered (Quaglino, Romano & Bernardini 2007, pp. 161–97; 2010; Bernardini 2009; Quaglino & Romano 2010, pp. 106–10).
At the beginning of the summer of 1947, despite having almost completely recovered from the heart attack which he had suffered the previous autumn, Jung’s commitments relating to the foundation of the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich, again, prevented him from preparing the lecture which he had anticipated holding at Eranos on the alchemistic motif of the Filius philosophorum.
Nevertheless, he also went to Ascona that summer, participating actively in the discussions which took place on the large terrace (Quaglino, Romano & Bernardini 2007, p. 100).
In 1949, too, despite having initially planned not to go to Ascona, as Jung himself wrote to Alwine von Keller on 2nd January 1949 (Jung 1973–1975, pp. 515 f.), he did attend the symposium as a listener; the same would happen in 1952, the year of his last participation in the conferences (Quaglino, Romano & Bernardini 2007, pp. 130 f.).
In 1944 things went somewhat differently. In the winter of 1943–1944, in fact, while he was in hospital in Zurich for a fracture of the fibula, Jung suffered a coronary thrombosis which almost cost him his life (Jung 1961, pp. 289–98; Ostrowsky-Sachs 1965, pp. 40 ff.; Hannah 1976/1997, pp. 276 ff.; Bair 2003, pp. 496 ff.).
His lecture on the theme Mysterium und Psychologie (‘Mystery and psychology’), scheduled for the Eranos Conference the following August, was cancelled (Quaglino, Romano & Bernardini 2007, p. 87).
Hannah would remember Jung’s notable absence at the symposium with these words: ‘Marie-Louise von Franz and I had been to the 1944 Tagung [Conference] and, quite apart from missing Jung’s lecture, were very much struck by how much the whole atmosphere changed when his dynamic personality was not there to act as a centre for the group. This was noticed by everybody present, not just by us’ (Hannah 1976/1997, p. 290).
During that time, though, Alwine von Keller took pains to keep Jung informed via letter of progress at the conference, held from 3rd to 11th August on the subject of ‘The Mysteries’.
In a missive of 21st August, Jung replied to Alwine von Keller saying how ‘extremely glad’ he was that that year’s symposium had gone so well, even without his presence (Jung 1973–1975, Vol. 1, p. 345).
On 27th September 1944 Alwine von Keller left Ascona to pay a visit to Jung, who was still convalescing, in Zurich.
Alwine von Keller at Casa Shanti in the ‘60s (Ph.: unknown; Eranos Foundation Archives).
- Alwine von Keller
It may prove interesting to touch briefly upon the author of these notes, who, on account of ‘her relationship and her work with C.G. Jung, her bond and friendship with Olga Frobe-Kapteyn, played a minor role, certainly, but one not without importance in the development of Eranos’ (Ritsema undated a, p. 59).
Alwina (Alwine) von Keller was born in New York on 10th June 1878 to parents of German origin.
She was raised in the reformed religion, although her parents were not church-goers.
Her father, as well as being a decent pianist, had inherited an important trademark from Alwine’s grandfather, while her mother belonged to an affluent family in German high society.
Having returned to Munich with her parents, she soon began to feel a certain intolerance for the worldly, bourgeois milieu into which they would have wished to introduce her.
She qualified to teach English, but her interest in studying met with the opposition of her parents, who had imagined for her a life devoted solely to marriage and the family.
She found, however, amongst the children and pupils of the philosopher Gustav Teichmuller (1832–1888) a stimulating intellectual environment, in which she could freely learn and discuss art, poetry, literature, philosophy, and politics (von Keller undated b, pp. 49 ff.).
One of the philosopher’s children, the young lawyer Hans Teichmuller, would become, in 1898, her husband and father of her daughter Ellen, born in the same year.
Left a widow when, two months after their marriage, Hans died of pneumonia, Alwine remarried in 1901, taking Franz Horneffer, at the time a student of romance languages in Paris, as her husband.
With Horneffer she would have a son, Franz, born in 1902.
Her second husband, though, also died shortly after their marriage, contracting typhoid fever during a holiday in Macugnaga, at the foot of Monte Rosa (Ritsema undated, p. 71).
After an experience of teaching English language and German literature in the Hellerau school, run by pedagogue Rudolf Borsch, Alwine’s interest in educational matters was even more greatly stimulated by her meeting with Paul Geheeb (1870–1961), thinker, theologian, physician, pedagogue, and pioneer of the ‘New Education’.
In 1910 Geheeb had founded, along with his wife Edith Geheeb-Cassirer (1885–1982), a school named Odenwaldschule at Heppenheim, between Darmstadt and Heidelberg, in Western Germany, with the objective of putting into practice his new ideas about education.
Edith’s father, the politician and entrepreneur Max Cassirer (1857–1943) and an uncle of the famous philosopher Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945), built for her daughter a little village surrounded by nature, in which the Odenwaldschule was erected.
Each house in the village was given the name of a great philosopher or writer.
The Odenwaldschule project drew on the same background as the avant-garde pedagogical institutes of the time, known also as Waldschulen.
Geheeb believed that to achieve harmony in individual existence and a better understanding amongst men and amongst peoples it was necessary to begin with a correct education of children.
He was also convinced that every child needed individual attention and could be guided to full development only if their education took into account their personal strengths and weaknesses.
In his school, every child was given complete freedom to act and to express their own thoughts without fear.
A vegetarian diet, group games, long outings in the countryside, and both artistic and manual work would contribute to their growth.
Cardinal principles of the Odenwaldschule were co-education, the idea of learning through ‘brain, heart and hands’, according to the child’s specific aptitudes, the recognition of the pedagogical importance of music, drawing and theatre, and the acceptance of children of any nationality, race or religion (Cassirer, Liesegang & Weber-Sch¨ afer 1950; Cassirer et al. 1960; Geheeb 1975; Ecole d’Humanit´e 1982).
Alwine found the Odenwaldschule environment compatible with her ideas on education and, in 1916, joined Paul and Edith Geheeb’s project (von Keller 1929, 1950).
She taught English to the youngest children and English literature to older ones, in return for bed and board and for allowing her children to attend the school (Ritsema undated, p. 112).
After her years spent at the Odenwaldschule, the desire grew in Alwine to visit India.
In the last years of the nineteenth century Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s (1836–1886) message had been spread all over the world through the teachings of Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) and the activities of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission, winning over thousands of people and contributing to make many westerners begin to take an interest in the philosophy and religions of India.
One such person was Alwine.
Her contact with India was represented by her American friend Josephine MacLeod who had been a friend of Swami Vivekananda since meeting him in 1893, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago.
Josephine MacLeod would dedicate herself to philanthropy in India, helping the poor of Bengal and, at the same time, busying herself with the setting-up of a number of Sri Ramakrishna centres in Europe and America (Prugh 1999).
She described these Indian experiences to Alwine and, at a certain moment, invited the latter to join her.
Alwine arrived in India in 1929 and was thus able to see for the first time ‘the land of the Upanishads and of the [Bhagavad] Gita’ (von Keller undated a, p. 101) with her own eyes.
She travelled from Madurai, at the southern tip of India, as far as Almora, in the Himalayas, giving numerous lectures (to the ‘All India Women’s Congress’ of Bombay, amongst others) on new Western concepts in the field of education.
She spent most of her six-month-stay in India in the Sri Ramakrishna Mission at Belur, Calcutta, where Josephine MacLeod also lived.
She would later describe this as her ‘most important period’.
Alwine demonstrated affection and admiration both for Gandhi (1869–1948), in whose ashram she briefly stayed, and for Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941).
She was deeply struck as much by Gandhi’s educational reform as by Rabindranath Tagore’s school in Shantiniketan, in which ‘Indian arts with a religious inspiration, brought to new heights, contributed to students’ growth as fully-rounded human beings’ (Rajalakshmi undated, pp. 6 f.).
Returning from India in the same year, Alwine moved to Berlin and, there, began Jungian analysis with Ernst Bernhard (1896–1965), a pupil of Jung’s and a pioneer of analytical psychology in Italy.
On the rise of Nazism, she decided to abandon Germany and pursue her analytical training in Rome, where, in the meantime, Bernhard had settled (Bernhard 1969, pp. 7 ff.).
She later underwent analysis with Jung in Zurich (Ritsema undated, p. 82; von Keller 1989, p. 41).
In a letter of 4th July 1943 to Eva Cassirer, Alwine spoke of her analysis with Jung with the following words:
I Ching before the first consultation [with Jung] in 1940: ‘The receptive’ [K’un, hexagram 2]. Appropriate for the whole period of work undertaken here in Switzerland with Jung. Not only because I have absorbed a great deal and . . . I have had to accept a great deal, since this is not so typical. But Jung, beyond the analytical, constellates woman in every woman. He is so absolutely a man, in the sense of the masculine male and of the masculinely creative, that this has a profound influence on the woman’s unconscious. In many cases, this leads to a serious conflict in the soul of the patients. In some, a reaction of the Animus occurs; in others, more frequently, a tie which may border on a dependency so strong that it consumes all. But this prodigious stimulating and being fecund was for me benefit and gift. Manheimer (sic): rigorous, unshakably rigorous, intelligent, rather, wise, fair, in human and spiritual relations univocally [eindeutig] responsible. No, my great friend he is not. His gods may hesitate, withhold the answer, tempt him, and on occasion even lead him astray. Each of them has the face of Janus. All is reciprocally relative; the centre, often, is only reachable crossing and overcoming the opposites. True, he may find his way using what has been passed down to him, but often he cannot, of course, go by this alone; he is then obliged to follow the path of experiment, even of risk; he may often be animated by ambiguous [zwei-deutigen] gods; he has been through hell and bears the signs. Besides being that admirable wise man, that person who gives precious suggestions and weighs up things carefully, and that rooted farmer and citizen, is a man fatigued, overburdened, controversial, demonic; he bears a Faustian-Mephistophelian element. He is a Swiss-German and has both things in himself: the German issues and the feet firmly planted on the ground of the Swiss. Beyond all this, though, he is himself and, in a Goethean sense, a man and a cosmopolitan. (von Keller 1943)
Alwine had met Emma Helene von Pelet-Narbonne (1892–1967), novella writer and translator of authors such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ramakrishna, Mary Esther Harding, Jean Herbert, and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, in their Odenwaldschule years.
Like Alwine, Emma von Pelet, too, had decided to leave Germany when Hitler took power.
After a stay in Florence, she had purchased Casa Shanti in 1937, in which Olga Frobe-Kapteyn had until that moment put up friends and Eranos lecturers, but which she had been obliged to put on sale to cover the ever more onerous costs of her project.
Emma von Pelet would also undergo analysis with Jung.
In 1937, Alwine joined Emma von Pelet at Casa Shanti, which the two women would share from that moment on.
Alwine subsequently used the ground floor of Casa Shanti as a professional consulting room, where she received the patients sent to her from Zurich by Jung.
Alwine’s decision to become a Jungian analyst, arrived at slowly, is reflected in her words:
‘I began to work on the Interior Life in my own Anima and only gradually, gradually, on the very same, invisible treasure in others. This was my work’ (von Keller undated a, introduction). She is remembered as an analyst endowed with great intuition, sensibility, and capacity for empathy. We are able to understand her vision of psychotherapeutic work from some notes taken from her diary: ‘I consider psychological work to be a way to allow the unfolding of the metaphysical nucleus of the soul and to contribute to its realization in time and space. Since the meaning of life is for me contained in this very unfolding and in its reference to our day-to-day existence, I liken this work to yoga, which is to say, a continual religious exercise, which, accordingly, takes first place, in whatever way it is performed’ (Ritsema 1966, p. 4).
Testimony of Alwine’s close tie with Jung is provided to us by the announcement which the pupil prepared in November 1961 for a meeting to be held in memory of her late master.
We quote it here in its entirety:
I am unsure as to how to accept your kind request that I contribute to the meeting commemoration among friends and students of C.G. Jung. Where to begin? What to
choose amongst the very many treasures which he so generously bestowed upon us? It may be of service, perhaps, to speak to you of my first impressions of his personality and, who knows, relate an interpretation of a dream which still lives in my memory, in this time of ours of looming menace?
Personally, I believe that his capacity for integration was my first, true impression of the greatness of C.G. Jung. It seemed to me typical of him to praise the Earth for its goodness in sustaining the just and the unjust with equal magnanimity. I was witness to the charitable attention which he reserved for the smallest just as well as the greatest events and problems of man, and to how this sensibility of his was accompanied by his natural, tough resolve. I was not therefore surprised when he told me of how, when he was at Caligat – the temple of Kali in Calcutta, he had not run the risk of losing his senses. The other visitors were in fact terrified at the sight of the sacrifices of live animals to the insatiable many-armed goddess, garlanded with human skulls; the ritual blood was used as a means to placate her ire. Not Jung, although after the visit to Caligat he did fall seriously ill. The frenetic dance
of Time was for him the supreme challenge to confront the arid darkness of our world and to ponder on both sides of the Divine. You all know how he integrated this mythological reality into his complex work and how he used to work, in the course of his analysis of dreams, on the acceptance of the dark side, transforming weakness and despair into understanding and courage: that very spiritual courage of which we, today, are so in need. Dr. Jung, I believe, would not have objected to my use of the word ‘spiritual’ as a synonym of ‘psychological’! His training work reached, with us, the furthest depths of the conscious and of the unconscious, of the rational and of the irrational, of the personal structure and of the transpersonal one of our psyche, where Kali stands beside the benign goddess Durga. The integration of opposites shone through in his every statement, showed through his sceptical smile, his indulgence tinged with humour, his candid frankness, his mature wisdom and his rigour.
I will now try to illustrate with what subtlety he worked on this integration in the course of the dream analysis, and I will take the liberty of referring, by way of example to my dream. I had this dream in 1940, after the end of the drole de guerre. Holland and Belgium were occupied by the German troops, who were now marching towards France, where the army and the entire population were in flight; German aggression against England approached inexorably. All this put in danger our culture and fed our concern for our dearest friends. I dreamed that I was in a dark room; a man, taller than me, was making me spin holding me in a tight embrace in a dance of death in which, little by little, I was losing consciousness. The walls of the room exuded blood, which dripped down to the floor. I implored that man to let me go. When he did finally loosen his grip, I was able to drag myself from the middle of the room to the wall and, immediately, I tried to wipe up the blood which was dripping down. Unable to cope with such a condition of despair alone, I related the dream to Dr. Jung, who listened to my account with that special attention of his, repeating the dream slowly as if it had been his own: objectifying, in this way, my horror and that of the others, with his participation, ‘Yes – he said – we are in this war. And you yourself are the battlefield. What can we do? Resisting the Devil transfers to him all the force deriving from our failure to accept, to the point where we fall into unconsciousness! Then, indeed, all is lost! We must remain vigilant, we must be witnesses, we must not risk identification. Interrogate the devil then; ask him what he wants from you, now that he is destroying your values, the sense of what is right and of what is wrong, your plans, your wishes, the whole world of your Ego. Have compassion for the dark side of God, who so intensely labours on us at this moment! Resist not Evil! – he repeated several times – Resist not Evil!’.
The words of Christ pronounced by Jung were utterly persuasive: they were firsthand knowledge, supported by the force and suffering of his whole personality, with which he had always fought ignorance and its such fatal consequences for individuals and nations. Throughout his life he taught how to identify the specific problems of each moment, without ever generalizing. After leaving Seestrasse 228, I headed towards the station, stopping first, though, for another hour and a half in my little hotel to put down some notes. With my unconscious alive and vibrant, I understood that my dream had become one of those seminal dreams in which our future is invisibly contained (von Keller 1961).
Alwine von Keller and Emma von Pelet worked very closely on the Eranos project, participating not only in the official meetings but also in the impromptu seminars which took place there.
The relationship between Olga Frobe-Kapteyn, who lived in Casa Gabriella, and the two guests of Casa Shanti soon developed into a normal relationship of good neighbourliness.
Still, if Emma’s stern, rigid, and very methodical temperament prevented a sincere and spontaneous friendship forming between her and Olga, the relationship with Alwine was, in contrast, very positive for Olga.
Alwine’s open and profound nature allowed Olga to break out of her own introversion, enabling a true friendship, based on reciprocal attention and on an understanding of their respective practical, psychological or spiritual problems, to develop between them.
According to Catherine Ritsema, a genuine analysis was never established, but Alwine was of great help to Olga and her work (Ritsema, undated, p. 83).
A testimony of Alwine’s profound attachment to Olga Frobe-Kapteyn and Eranos is to be found in the letter which she wrote for Olga’s seventieth birthday, on 19th October 1951.
We quote it in its entirety:
You have asked me to express, for you, what, from my point of view Eranos represented, and represents still; I cannot do this, however, save on a purely personal level.
I was attracted by the Eranos project right from our [first] meeting in Florence in 1937. I recognized even then the archetype of the ‘All’ as supreme value in the project of your life; my interest was awakened, then, by the idea to which you have devoted all you possess and all you are. This force, which rose from the depths of the unconscious, convinced me to turn my attention to the Eranos phenomenon. The link between your work and that of C.G. Jung, which had already given me so much, was evident and persuasive.
The first session of Eranos which I attended met my expectations fully. I was touched by the meeting with wise men such as Jung, H.[einrich] Zimmer, [Erwin] Rousselle and the other eminent professors of psychology, mythology, and other fields of research, all of whom, each from his own point of view, presented single aspects of the same ‘Eternal Image’ to an attentive and curious audience. And the atmosphere of Eranos was one of the liveliest.
In the years which followed, through the war, the conviction took hold that both the lecturers and the audience were participating actively in the construction of a new ‘science of man’, on the basis of the psychological concept of ‘becoming conscious’. This concern, paramount since ancient times, became the urgent problem of our age: what is this human being? What is it, in relation to the forces which are in him and outside him? This question, in its various specifications, became the theme of all the Eranos meetings.
This search for a new Image of Life in its temporal and eternal totality allows one to integrate often heterogeneous data and represents Eranos in its innermost essence. But, I must add, Eranos could never have been such a meeting place if you yourself had not been constantly devoted to the work, predisposed and attentive, one might say, just like an elderly alchemist who surveys the mysterious work of the transformation of lead to gold.
Your personal work and your spiritual growth to attain ‘correct perception’ are the foundation stones of Eranos.
All my congratulations and my affection on your birthday, and my best wishes for the years of work to come and the realization of your work. Alwine von Keller (Ritsema undated, pp. 86 f.)
Jung used to come to Ascona-Moscia not only to discuss questions regarding Eranos with Olga Frobe-Kapteyn, but also to spend some hours of leisure in the company of the guests of Casa Shanti and to enjoy their splendid terrace looking onto Lake Maggiore (Ritsema undated, p. 83).
A series of photographs by Margarita Marianne (Margarethe) Fellerer (1886–1961), the Eranos official photographer from the early thirties until the mid-fifties (Bernardini 2007, pp. 133 ff.), portray Alwine in conversation with Jung on the terrace of Casa Eranos, in August 1942.
Alwine’s patients, for the most part sent by Jung, were becoming, in the meantime, ever more numerous; moreover, like Emma von Pelet, she too was dedicating herself with greater and greater involvement to writing poetry.
She decided, therefore, to look for a secretary, and found one in Dati Busse, whom she had met in the war years at the Odenwaldschule and who now worked at the Ecole d’Humanit´e on the Schwarzsee.
Moreover, since they had emigrated to Switzerland due to Nazi persecution, Paul and Edith Geheeb-Cassirer had been able to enjoy even closer contact with the two guests of Casa Shanti.
Alwine would only leave Casa Shanti in the 1960s, when her advanced age made the steep staircases of Eranos too difficult to negotiate, accepting Dati Busse’s invitation to move to Interlaken, where the latter’s husband ran a pharmacy.
Alwine died of a heart attack in Interlaken on 31st December 1965, at the age of eighty-six years.
Emma von Pelet, who was to die two years later, arranged in her will for ownership of Casa Shanti to pass to a Foundation, whose sole purpose would be the support of Eranos, to which she gave the name of her great friend: Fondazione Alwine von Keller.
Alwine von Keller and Carl Gustav Jung on the terrace of Casa Eranos, August 1942 (Ph.: Margarethe Fellerer; Eranos Foundation Archives)
Alwine von Keller and Carl Gustav Jung on the terrace of Casa Eranos, August 1942 (Ph.: Margarethe Fellerer; Eranos Foundation Archives)
- The visions of 1944
Jung’s illness of the Autumn of 1946 was certainly serious, but not as serious as that of 1944.
In 1946, it was a matter of a disturbance of the neurovegetative system, causing attacks of tachycardia, which Jung would attribute to his having been seized by the enigmatic problem of the hieros gamos, that is the mysterium coniunctionis, regarding which he had not yet succeeded in finding a solution (Hannah 1976/1997, p. 294).
In contrast to what had occurred in 1944, on this occasion Jung did not lose consciousness, and was not even hospitalized, even though his doctor, Professor Rohr, would have wished it.
Rohr managed to persuade the irascible Jung to, if nothing else, accept the assistance at home of a nurse.
As nurses from Zurich were rather superstitious when it came to ‘head doctors’, it was Olga Frobe-Kapteyn herself who found one in Ascona who
From the left: [unidentified,] Ellen Sharma-Teichmuller, Alwine von Keller, Emma Helene von Pelet-Narbonne, and [probably?] Carl Gustav Jung on the terrace of Casa Shanti, 1937 (Ph.: unknown; Eranos Foundation Archives)
knew nothing of the elderly gentleman’s reputation.
From the left: [unidentified,] Ellen Sharma-Teichmuller, Alwine von Keller, Emma Helene von Pelet-Narbonne, and [probably?] Carl Gustav Jung on the terrace of Casa Shanti, 1937 (Ph.: unknown; Eranos Foundation Archives)
The woman, then, together with a colleague, joined Jung in Kusnacht and took care of him (Bair 2003, p. 524).
As Mircea Eliade also remembers, on recovering from the illness, Jung is supposed to have confessed to Olga Frobe-Kapteyn:
‘It is as if I had been in a valley littered with diamonds. I was allowed to fill my pockets and hands with as many as they could carry, but no more. I still have some more years to live and I would like to say as much as possible about everything that I understood when I was ill; however, I realize I am unable to express more than a fraction of this, to show more than one or two diamonds, despite having my pockets crammed with them’ (Eliade 1973/1991, 2nd June 1953).
The illness of 1944 represented an even more fundamental experience for Jung. Hannah speaks of it as the ‘the greatest milestone in Jung’s attainment of wholeness – with the solitary exception of his “confrontation with the unconscious’” (Hannah 1976/1997, p. 276). It is worth briefly recalling the episode.
On his return from his journey to India in 1938, Jung had got back into the habit of walking as far as possible.
He observed a physical regime prescribed to him by his doctor after he had recovered from amoebic dysentery and walked one or two miles a day.
On 11th February 1944 he went out for his routine daily walk.
Instead of his usual walks along the Seestrasse or other routes on the lakefront of Zurich, that day he opted for a more demanding walk, which would see him reach the summit of the Kusnacht Almend.
It was here that he slipped badly on the icy snow.
He realized immediately that he had caused himself a serious injury to the leg.
Limping, he reached the nearest house and, from there, he telephoned for a taxi to collect him (Hannah 1976, pp. 276 ff.; Bair 2003, p. 496).
His doctor, Dr. Jakob Stahel, Sr., was absent, and he was examined by the latter’s son, Dr. Jakob Stahel, Jr., a recent graduate.
The latter formulated a correct diagnosis of fracture of the fibula and persuaded him to have himself admitted to the Klinik Hirslanden, a private hospital situated in the suburbs of Zurich, not far from Burgholzli.
He was operated on by a young surgeon, who insisted that the fractured limb be immobilized.
The treatment, while perfect for the type of injury, was not to the liking of a man who had always been physically active and who was close to his seventieth birthday.
Ten days after his admission, Jung, in fact, suffered a grave myocardial infarction, caused by an embolism which had formed in the immobilized limb: two emboli reached the lungs and another the heart. Jung, who was at death’s door for many weeks, owed his life to Dr. Theodor Hammerli-Schindler, probably the best heart disease specialist of the day, at least in Switzerland (Jung 1961, pp. 292 f.; Hannah 1976/1997, p. 277; Cabot Reid 2000, p. 460, n. 1; Bair 2003, pp. 496 f., 811, n. 3).
In the instant in which the emboli were migrating, Jung lost consciousness.
He was treated with a combination of oxygen and camphor, which brought about a condition which he subsequently described as ‘the extreme limit’, that is a condition between ‘a dream and an ecstasy’.
It was during the period of this particular psycho-physical condition that Jung experienced a long series of visions, described in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Jung 1961, pp. 289–97).
In his autobiography Jung would speak of the importance of this experience:
After the illness a fruitful period of work began for me. A good many of my principal works were written only then. The insight I had, or the vision of the end of all things, gave me the courage to undertake new formulations. I no longer attempted to put across my own opinion, but surrendered myself to the current of my thoughts [ . . . ]. Something else, too, came to me from my illness. I might formulate it as an affirmation of things as they are: an unconditional ‘yes’ to that which is, without subjective protests—acceptance of the conditions of existence as I see them and understand them, acceptance of my own nature, as I happen to be [ . . . ]. It was only after the illness that I understood how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny.
In this way we forge an ego that does not break when incomprehensible things happen; an ego that endures, that endures the truth, and that is capable of coping with the world and with fate.
Then, to experience defeat is also to experience victory. Nothing is disturbed – neither inwardly or outwardly, for one’s own continuity has withstood the current of life and of time’ (Jung 1961, p. 297)
In a private conversation with Margret Ostrowski-Sachs, a pupil of his whom he met often at Eranos, Jung told her that, before his illness, he had often asked himself if he were permitted to publish or even speak of his ‘secret knowledge’ (geheime Erkenntisse).
Later, he set it all down in Aion.
He realized it was his duty to communicate these thoughts, yet he doubted whether he was allowed to give expression to them. During his illness, he received confirmation and he finally knew that ‘everything had meaning and everything was perfect’ (alles war mit Sinn und alles war vollkommen) (Ostrowsky-Sachs 1965, p. 41).
The pages which follow constitute the transcription which Alwine von Keller made of her meeting with Jung in the winter of 1944, while the latter was recovering from his grave illness.
- A visit to Jung by Alwine von Keller
‘First of all, on what he is writing: he is working at this moment on the sea (he shows me manuscripts and method of work, to which he dedicates himself passionately).
Sea = the world (‘world’ in a Christian sense).
In the sea = salt and also sulphur: the bitter and the devil.
The alchemic process = initially bitterness, muddiness, and boredom.
In bitterness, the sentiments are differentiated.
Without it [it does occur] no differentiation (‘one does not see the plank in one’s own eye’).
From bitterness, and from the sentiments which are differentiated, springs forth wisdom.
Wisdom impossible, without [that] previous differentiation.
If, though, one remains in the salt of bitterness, then one becomes hardened, encrusted.
Then he began to speak of his experience during his illness.
Only now had he understood what alchemy truly meant in many of its stages which had until now remained incomprehensible.
He had read, for example:
‘He who experiences the Conjunctio and tells its secret, becomes mad or is pierced by poisoned arrows’.
Now, the emboli did actually go through him, like arrows through the lung, the heart and the leg and he believed that it was [really] his end.
And then the delirium of the fever. No, he was not spared a thing.
But he [also] had, over three weeks, nights of the most inexpressible happiness.
At first, he did not believe that such great happiness existed and that such fullness could submerge anyone.
By day, he felt weariness, pain, suffering, but he cared little because the night would come.
Then [come the night] he immersed himself in a deep sleep and entered the infinite.
There, no bed stood any more, no body.
And every time that he suffered during the day, he said to himself: ‘What harm can all this do me: for now the night is upon us!’.
At 12, then, he would wake, bathed in happiness.
Of an existence full of meaning.
On one of those nights he travelled across southern India, Ceylon or the Malabar Coast.
Through an arch he entered a cavern in the rock.
Inside there were thousands of little flames, lamps probably burning oil, as in the Indian
At the centre of the cavern there was a large, round stone.
On the table, in position of meditation, there sat an extremely old Indian.
His face was jet black, his coat white.
Then [Theodor] Hammerli[-Schindler] arrived, he was wearing around his forehead a gold band and, on his chest, a medallion with his own image, a half-length portrait; it was the prince of the island of Kos, sanctuary of Asclepios.
Jung himself was taller than in reality, two-three metres tall, but knew that was just fine and also that the Indian and Hammerli were having a medical consultation (the Indian was, as far as I remember, the prince of doctors).
He had fully realized he was in the fullness of the sense and said:
‘Now it’s going well. Now it is as it ought to be. This is the real’.
When he saw my picture of the triumphing flame, he said that blue and gold were his heraldic colours.
And, in reference to blue, he said that he had seen the Earth from space, it had been fifty-thousand kilometres away, that he had seen it as it must appear seen from the Moon: absolutely marvellous—a saturated blue, unheard of, with a magnificent azure enveloping it, intense, large.
And the sky around it (which enveloped it) was, in its turn, of a deep blue.
And, in it, floated the square stone of solid, brownish granite.
He himself was a point in the infinite. He had dissolved.
He circulated [kreiste] in the All.
Then he was a fish. With gills, and barbels.
One day, he happened to brush his ear with his hand. He was amazed.
He said, astonished: ‘Ah, what is this?’
So, they had given him—the fish, which was him—a human ear! Yes, but this was his (Jung’s) human ear! Where did it come from?
One day he touched his head. Yes, it was indeed a human skull?!
One day the trunk. Yes, how come a trunk?
He could only understand his existence as a fish, not as a human.
Then, as if he were a point, he moved about in a circular space around a centre; he aspired to, longed to go out into the open space, but, none the less, he circled, orbited closer and closer to the centre.
This began to whirl, and he entered the vortex.
The vortex described an anti-clockwise movement, in which he was now trapped.
Then, from this vortex of stones, sand, gravel, there rose, forming slowly, taking shape, an island on which he stood.
The island rose higher and higher, towering more and more, it grew.
At this point, a delegation of Americans arrived, optimists, with plans for reform and organization. He thought: how stupid! Damn fools! They brought machinery.
They wanted to organize, reform a fifth of the Earth.
He continued to think: ‘Stupid people! Stupid people!’
They told him that he had signed a contract of co-operation with them.
They were a cooperative company.
He absolutely denied having signed any contract whatsoever, he had never dreamed of doing anything of the kind.
Then they formed a circle, they placed their arms on their neighbours’ shoulders, as if they wanted to sing: ‘You’re a jolly good fellow’.
By then he felt that he could not stay there loafing around so stupidly; he slipped in amongst them, and this constituted joining the circle and signing the contract.
And with this began his convalescence.
One evening, he realized: I have been returned to the Earth.
He pushed through a heavy blanket of dense steam, of heaviness; it was as if he were entering something in which there were very rough surfaces and rugged edges, which squeezed him terribly, they pressed on him, they hurt him; he defended himself in vain, now he was inside.
Before it was: ‘Wo fass ich dich, unendliche Naturihr Bruste, wo . . . ’
One evening he realized: now there was no longer the night-time party, but, rather, fitful sleep, pain, sickness.
He said that this corresponded to the [stage of] coagulation in alchemistic works; that he had been dismembered, and now the body parts were pressed together.
Afterwards he could not find Dr. Hammerli’s face again.
An Arab proverb says: ‘The face slips away from the dying’.
He always thought: ‘But doesn’t he know who he is? Does he believe he is really the image he wears on his chest?
Does he not see himself?’ (He had seen H.[Hammerli] as the prince of Kos in the sanctuary of Asclepios as an avatar.
I understood that he [i.e. Hammerli] [there] wore the image of Hammerli, now incarnate, but perhaps Jung meant just the opposite. I must ask him, sooner or later).
The three nurses who attended to him in Hirslanden were for him initiatrixes.
The first nurse of the day, in his imagination, was an ancient incarnation of Venus (in reality, she absolutely was not), but one who communicated the initiation only to primitive patients.
With the second, he always had the feeling of, or rather perceived the smell of blood and martyrdom.
She, as a martyr, could confer initiation in the Christianity of the third century.
His actual nurse, the initiatrix, was the nurse [on duty] in the night: an old Jewish woman of about sixty-five.
Every night she administered to him the ritual food: she was a character linked with the pomegranate of the Qabbalah, with the Rosarium of alchemy, with the heavenly garden of the Renaissance.
In reality, she was a Berliner of about forty years of age17.
She must, though, have grasped something, although he believes he has not spoken at night of what was taking place inside him.
And it was indeed a remarkable coincidence that she should become his night nurse, since just before receiving this position she wanted to commit suicide.
Now, though, she has received a bit of analysis! Night after night, while he was eating something, she would tell him the story of her whole life and of her pain.
And, in the end, there was no more question of suicide.
At some particular moment he said, again as if in passing, he had always spoken of ‘psychology’—that is, that this [of what he had spoken to that nurse] too, was psychology.
He said that, if he strayed even if only by a hair’s breadth, then for him it was disaster.
What was allowed of others, was with him a mortal sin.
(I perceived that, in his grandiose account of his second birth, he was bearing witness to the reality of the invisible world. So to speak bent under a load of these proportions, I took my leave).
He said that during his convalescence he had been depressed, because he had feared that he was afflicted with an inflated sense of things, and his experience, then, appeared to him as hybris—On this subject, he irradiated power and evidence [Evidenz]—and the greatest modesty and objectivity.
He referred to his case as if he were giving a [clinical] report’.
- Glosses to the text
From the very first lines of Alwine von Keller’s account, we can deduce that, at the moment in which he received a visit from his pupil, Jung was engaged in writing the ‘Salt’ chapter of his Mysterium coniunctionis (Jung 1955/1956, paras. 234–348).
This seems to be confirmed by the words which open the chapter, where Jung writes:
I shall discuss not only salt but a number of symbolisms that are closely connected with it, such as the ‘bitterness’ of the sea, sea-water and its baptismal quality, which in turn relates it to the ‘Red Sea’ [para. 234] [ . . . ]. Inseparable from salt and sea is the quality of amaritudo, ‘bitterness’. The etymology of Isidore of Seville was accepted all through the Middle Ages: Mare ab amaro [para. 245] [ . . . ]. The salt that ‘comes from the mineral of the sea’ is by its very nature bitter, but the bitterness is also due to the impurity of the imperfect body.
This apparent contradiction is explained by the report of Plutarch that the Egyptians regarded the sea as something impure and untrustworthy [ . . . ], and as the domain of Typhon (Set); they called salt the ‘spume of Typhon’ [para. 246].
The continuity of the theoretical themes evoked by Jung in the dialogue with Alwine von Keller, recalled in particular in the first part of the latter’s account, and his specific interests in that period seems confirmed by a number of elements:
in particular, by the theme of the symbolism of the sea.
In the quoted chapter of the Mysterium coniunctionis, for example, Jung acknowledges his debt to the theologian Hugo Rahner (1900–1968), a study of whose Antenna Crucis ii: Das Meer der Welt (Rahner 1942), had in fact provided him with ‘all the patristic allegories that are needed to understand the alchemical symbolism’ (para. 255) of the sea.
In the seminar held at Eranos the previous year, commenting on Opicinus de Canistris’s Codex Palatinus Latinus 1993, Jung had already referred to ‘the image of the world specific to the Church, as explained by Rahner’ (Quaglino, Romano & Bernardini 2010, p. 405).
In Opicinus’s cartography, indeed, the Mediterranean Sea is actually represented as a demonic world, a dark ‘anti-world’, in contraposition to the luminous world of dry land.
In plate 39 of the Codex, in particular, if Europe is represented symbolically as a figure of male gender and Africa as a woman (in other representations by Opicinus, the sexes of the two continents may be inverted), the Mediterranean appears, however, as a demonic figure—Jung notes—‘with a goat’s beard’ and the Atlantic as a monstrous animal, probably a fish, which swallows up Europe from the North-Western coast of France (Quaglino, Romano & Bernardini 2007, p. 184, n. 10).
Alwine von Keller’s account is particularly impressive for a number of reasons.
She, in fact, shows us a Jung in action, as a scholar, as a seer, and as a shaman.
When she calls on him, she finds him deep in the study of alchemy, he, himself, an alchemist and participant in the unus mundus experiment.
Indeed, when the conversation veers onto Jung’s illness and the embolisms which had threatened his life, Jung coolly applies the principle of the universal correspondence of all things, asserting the link between the illness and his research into the conjunctio.
The Jung of this encounter is the ‘archetypical’ Jung, practically divested of his own personal identity and directly involved in that transcendent reality in which space and time are relativized and sense (‘an existence filled with sense’, says Jung) becomes manifest even if incommunicable by discursive reason.
Jung seems here to reconnect with the visions of 1913 and of the following years, but the images which appear to him now are much more solemn, composed, serene than had been those, often rather troubled ones, contained in the Red Book (Jung 2009).
We are at the end of a journey and mandalic images predominate, just as the Stimmung of all the visions is a sort of mysterious happiness.
In this ‘superhuman’ condition, Jung is able to presage the untimely death of his doctor and to treat his own nurse, of whom Jung reveals the deeper nature: in the guise of a forty-year-old Berlin woman, an old Jewess who re-emerges ‘from the pomegranate garden of the Kabbalah’.
No less striking is the final twist.
He who is too closely connected to the archetypes risks death, and desires it.
The motif is clearly described by Alwine von Keller when, taking up Jung’s words, she writes:
‘He, himself, was a dot in the infinite. He had dissolved. He circled in the All’.
Incidentally, episodes of this type are not rare in persons who have had experiences of death.
But, lo and behold, the coup de theatre which re-establishes the tension between conscious and unconscious, bringing Jung back down to earth.
The delegation of Americans appears, practical types, active, devoted to business and worldly trade, and they have him sign a contract.
Jung must live a while longer, go back to writing, to working, to suffering: life calls him unto itself, and he, albeit reluctantly, honours his pledge and returns amongst us.
The ‘night-time party’ is over. ~Riccardo Bernardini, Gian Piero Quaglino, Augusto Romano, Turin, Italy, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2011, 56, 232–254.
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