Marie-Louise von Franz: Niklaus Von Flüe And Saint Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Their Visions

Chapter 2

The Prenatal Faces and the Baptismal Vision

16 The aforementioned Heiny am Grund reports1 that ((Brother Klaus told him that both while still in his mother’s womb and during his birth, Klaus saw a star in the sky which lit up the whole world and that since living in the Ranft, Klaus had, indeed, seen a star in the sky which so resembled the one he had seen while in the womb, he thought it was the same star.

This means, Klaus went on to explain, that everybody would say that he shone in the world like this star.

Brother Klaus also told Heiny am Grund that before his birth, while still in the womb, he had seen a large stone which he understood to be the stability and steadfastness of his own nature to which he must adhere and not allow himself to be distracted from.

While still in the womb, Klaus also saw the holy oil and, when he was born into this world, he recognised his mother and the midwife and he saw himself being carried to his baptism from the Ranft to Kerns so clearly that he never forgot it.

And he knew all of this at the time he was speaking as clearly as he’d known it when it happened.

And at that time, Klaus also saw an old man at his baptism whom he did not recognize.

But he did, indeed, recognize the priest who was baptising him:’2

This statement of Brother Klaus’s is extraordinarily puzzling and presents us with a difficult problem: Either we are dealing with an utterly unique and incredible miracle of an embryo and a newborn baby being able to consciously recall its perceptions or this statement is false, which would contradict the otherwise well-known integrity and sober straightforwardness of the saint.

In Catholic literature, the veracity of this vision is, to some extent, both doubted and accepted3 without the authors being able to give, in my opinion, conclusive reasons for their standpoint.

Perhaps there is another explanation of how this strange statement came about, namely, that Brother Klaus had a dream about these prenatal occurrences and the events at his birth ( examples of this do exist) and that he was so convinced as to the truth of his dream that he viewed its content as authentic information.

This would correspond to the fact that in mythology and in the history of religion, there are parallels4 of such prenatal psychic expressions of life of an embryo, an idea which seems to have an archetypal basis.

For biblical parallels, Jeremiah I:4-5 could be considered5
” … Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying: Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations:’ Similarly, John the Baptist “recognised” Christ while still in the womb: He “leapt” inside the womb when his mother met the Virgin Mary. 6

The motif of children speaking while  still in the womb appears in various primitive myths.

Such children always go on to become redeemers and heroic figures.7

Is Thus, like many other religious statements, Brother Klaus’s comment is also not to be taken concretely, but rather as being ”spiritually true:’8

It corresponds to an archetypal religious idea and symbolises, as the parallels show, his being chosen as a redeemer

and religious leader.

19 These symbols, which, according to Niklaus, he perceived while still within his mother’s womb and at his baptism are, in themselves, highly meaningful.

There are four: the three symbols made of inanimate matter which he saw while he was within the womb-the

star, the stone and the holy oil; then there is the fourth, which is the symbol of a human being-the figure of an unknown old man whom he saw shortly after his birth.

20 It has long been believed that the birth of an important person is announced by a star, for example the Star of Bethlehem.9

In many places, it was believed that the human soul was a star, either prior to birth or after death.10

In Egypt, for example, a star was used, among other things, to depict the Ba, the symbol of the self and of

preconscious and postmortal individuality.11

The postmortal “starification” of heroes is a widespread mythological motif. 12

In the allegorical tradition of the Church Fathers, stars were thought to represent ecclesiastical dignitaries “who by word and deed should shine on the world like stars:’ They are “afire with the heat of love and are rooted in heaven, in Christ, through their faith, love and hope” and “their influence upon the earth is through the comfort they give to the poor:’13

Or the stars are seen as the chosen Christians, 14 whereby Christ, too, is a star, the stella matutina, which

brings both light to the world 15 and an end to the night of sin.16

Finally, the Church also regarded stars as being the glorified bodies of the “resurrected;’17 which calls to mind the ancient Egyptian concept of the transfigured soul of the dead, of the Ba, which appears as a star.

The star is also a symbol of the alchemical Mercurius as the principium individuationis. 18

As such, it foretells of Brother Klaus’s own archetypal destiny and of the possibility of individuation, which

is why Brother Klaus’s own interpretation of the star referring to himself is apt.

21 The second symbol, the “large stone” or rock, is a part of Brother Klaus’s name, for “von Flue” actually means “of the rock:’ 19 The von Flue family’s coat of arms includes a depiction of a chamois (later an ibex) standing on a mountain or three rocks.20

Klaus interpreted the rock as being a sign of his steadfast and constant nature to which he should adhere and not allow himself to be distracted from. 21

The philosopher’s stone of the alchemists was similarly reputed to be a symbol of the steadfast quality of the self.

The symbolic meaning of a stone is such a broad topic that I would like to mention only a few of the main points made in C.G. Jung’s chapter “The Stone Symbolism” in The Visions of Zosimos. 22

Jung points out that the central symbol of alchemy, the lapis, was, in fact, thought of by the alchemists as symbolizing the “inner spiritual man;’ that is the Anthropos pneumaticos, which the alchemists tried to release from matter as the natura abscondita.

Thus, the stone is, in fact, a god of the macrocosmos hidden in matter.

Every human being is the potential carrier, and even creator, of the stone. 23

The alchemical lap is  actually an image of God, which, in its material state, compensates for the lofty spirituality of the Christ-image, which is too far removed from natural man.

Jung says, ”In the image of Mercurius and the lapis the ‘flesh’ glorified itself in its own way; it would not

transform itself into spirit but, on the contrary, ‘fixed’ the spirit in stone …. 24

The lapis may therefore be understood as a symbol of the inner Christ, 25 of God in man …. Though the la pis is a parallel of Christ, it is not meant to replace him.

On the contrary, in the course of the centuries, the alchemists tended more and more to regard the lapis as the culmination of Christ’s work of redemption … [and] it came not from the conscious mind of the individual man, but from those border regions of the psyche that open out into the mystery of cosmic matter:’26

22 The symbol of the stone, or the image of its divine effect, is, in itself, much oldet than alchemy and can already be found, for example, in a belief of the Australian Aborigines who thought that

children’s souls lived in a child-stone.27

But the idea of magical stones also existed in Europe. Oreste’s madness was cured by means of a stone, and Zeus found respite from his lovesickness by sitting on the stone of Leukadia. 28

In ancient Germanic culture, hollowed-out stones were placed upon graves, and sacrifices were made there,

probably in the belief that the souls of the dead dwelt in the stones.29

Similarly, it was believed that little children came out of such stones. 30

These are the so-called “Bau tar stones.”31

According to the beliefs of other Germanic tribes, the ancestral spirits of the tribe lived either in, or by, the hearth stone, the oldest known burial place, and it was believed that such hearth stones had been cast down to earth by God.32

23 In India, a young man will tread upon a stone in order to obtain firmness of character. 33

Brother Klaus, too, interpreted the stone as ref erring to the ”steadfast nature of his own being:’34

24 The motif of being born from a stone is widespread and can also be found in an Iroquois myth: There are two healers who are twin brothers: the one, “Maple-Shoot;’ is good and the other, “Flint;’ is evil.

In the Wichita tribe, the healer is called the “Great Southern Star:’ who, however, performs his healing work on earth as the “Flint Man:’ He has a son who is called ”Young Flint:’ Once their work is completed, they both return to the sky.

As Jung points out, in this Indian myth, as in medieval alchemy, the Saviour coincides with the

motif of the stone, the star and the “son:’ who is super omnia lumina                                                                                       (i.e., the light of all lights).35

Precisely, this same combination of archetypal motifs is found again in the prenatal visions of Brother

Klaus, a beautiful example of the relationship of archetypal motifs without any influence from consciousness.

25 In myths, a stone often means immortality, which is why heroes are often transformed into a stone in order to prevent the decay of their bodies. 36

In its most comprehensive sense, the lapis is a symbol of the saviour, of the Anthropos and of immortality.

Psychologically speaking, it represents the greater “inner man;’ or the self.

Thus, we can also interpret the stone in Brother Klaus’s vision as being the star that has come down to earth.

26 According to the alchemists, the alchemical lapis is not an ordinary stone, but is a “stone which has a spirit:’ It is identical to the all-healing substance (the medicina catholica or panacea) and thus to the various tinctures of alchemy, such as water, oil, and the elixir of life.

If seen in the light of alchemical amplification, the holy oil, which was the third symbol Brother Klaus saw while still in the womb, is, in fact, a variation of the same basic motif, or rather, a further development of the same archetypal content.

Alchemical mercury was also seen as being an “oil” (oleum), i.e., an aqua unctuosa, and the Christian alchemists themselves often compared it to the Church’s chrism. 37

The Church uses the holy oil in confirmations, ordinations, and in the sacrament of extreme unction. 38

Among other things, it was believed to be the “energized form” of the state of grace of the Holy Ghost (charisma). 39

It means “mana”40 and is a substance which bestows immortality-the fluid star, or stone, so to speak; or, in alchemical terms, it is “the soul of the stone”; and in this third new aspect, it comes, so to speak, even one step closer to the realm of the human soul.

Indeed, it is possible to see a certain development in the sequence of symbols: The star represents that which is “outermost” -the projected image of the self and “inner light” into the far-reaches of the cosmos; the stone is the star which has come down to earth-the tangible star; and the oil is, so to speak, its “hidden soul;’, or, to put it in religious terms, it is a substance in which the Holy Ghost has become manifest.

Thus, the oil symbolizes a meaning which points towards the numinous presence of the divine, a presence which is sensed, for example, in the experience of synchronistic phenomena. 41

A meaning such as this would seem to suggest the existence of a spiritual, or inner, order, even in inorganic material objects.

All three symbols which the saint saw in his prenatal vision point towards his vocation to achieve individuation.

They also indicate what kind of divinity wants to be realized in the life of Brother Klaus-namely, it is the

alchemical lapis, an analogia christi, that wants to become manifest in him.

But, in addition to these three things that depict distinctly alchemical images, i.e., symbols of inanimate matter, there is a fourth that, as such, characteristically represents a marked contrast to the other images, namely, the appearance of the unknown old man at Klaus’s baptism.

The fourth image leads us into a new area, 42 into life on this side, into the here and now, into the human realm.

Nevertheless, it is again unmistakably a symbol of the self.

Jung wrote to Blanke43 that this old man represents the archetype of the wise old man, i.e., of the spirit. In the Christian tradition, he would correspond to the antiquus dierum; in the Cabala, to the senex sanctissimus or caput album as well as to the antiquus dierum.

Here, however, he would be the personification of the granum salis, which the one who is being baptized receives from the Sapientia Dei within whom God Himself is present.

28 Thus, the unknown old man, the star, the stone, and the oil are, in fact, the child’s silent godparents.

The same old man reappears quite often in Brother Klaus’s visions and reveals further aspects of Brother Klaus’s own divine nature.

29 The unknown old man who appears at the baptism of a child is a fairytale motif.

In the Grimm’s fairytale “Ferdinand the Faithful and Ferdinand the Unfaithful:’ it is said that there was once a father who was so poor that he couldn’t find a godfather for his little son, so he asked an unknown poor old man to be godfather.

The old man appears in the church and baptizes the boy “Ferdinand the Faithful:’

He gives him a key and tells him that when he is fourteen years old, the boy will find a castle on a heath to which the key fits and, once inside, he will find his godfather’s gift.

This is, in fact, a white horse. Later, this white horse turns out to be a talking horse that accompanies and advises the boy throughout all his heroic deeds.

Finally, he chases the horse three times round in a circle, after which the horse turns into a handsome prince. In some variations, 44

however, it is said that this horse is really God Himself;45 while in others, the horse is identical to the old man who appeared at the baptism. 46

I mention this fairytale here because this motif of the horse is again important in a later vision of Brother Klaus’s and because, during puberty, Brother Klaus did not find a castle, but a “magical tower:’ ~Marie-Louise von Franz, Niklaus von Flue and Saint Perpetua, Page 13-22