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

Chapter 4

The Time of Depression and Temptation

36 Unfortunately, the information which has been handed down about events in the development of Brother Klaus’s inner life cannot be put into chronological order, which is why I have had to order them according to the likelihood of their inner occurrence.

The period of his married life until the moment of his “cutting off;’ as he called it,

i.e., until he made his decision to live the life of a hermit, is distinguished by two types of visions: The first type mirrors a heavy conflict which finds its resolution in his decision to “cut off’; the second type is the big visions which seem to be an answer to Klaus’s own questions on faith and to those of his time.

The experiences lie had which reflect more his personal conflicts shall be considered first.

Around 1460, Brother Klaus said of his depressive states: “God submitted me to a terrible temptation which tormented me day and night, which made my heart so terribly heavy that even the company of my dear wife and children was tiresome to me:’1

37 During this period of his life, Klaus was tempted by the devil on various occasions.

In the parish register of Sachseln, Erni Rorer reports2 that Brother Klaus told him how the devil made him suffer greatly every day, but how the Virgin Mary always comforted him.

In Klaus’s search for his “true self;’3 “the devil caused him great misfortune, especially on one occasion when he wanted to go to Melchtal to cut down thorn bushes in the meadow and the devil cast

him down a slope with such force that he was badly hurt and fainted when he was picked up:’4

38 Klaus told Reverend Oswald Yassner5 that “it seemed that the devil appeared to him as a richly dressed nobleman mounted on a beautiful horse and, after a long discourse, advised Klaus to give up his pious attitude which would not help him to win eternal life, but rather he (Klaus) should live as other people do:’6

39 In one of Brother Klaus’s major visions, three noblemen appear to him in whom he later recognized the Holy Trinity.

And, on another occasion, a noble traveller appears to him wearing a bearskin of shining gold, a figure that Brother Klaus believes to represent Christianity.

Thus, it is only the content of what the nobleman says which makes Brother Klaus think, in this instance, it is the devil.

But if, for a moment, one disregards this classification within the confines of dogma and views it instead from a

psychological standpoint, a nobleman means nothing other than, indeed, a noble man, and, as such, he symbolizes, presumably, the noble aspect of Brother Klaus’s own being, his own inner, noble, and distinguished personality.

It is interesting to see the great extent to which this inner figure was realized in Niklaus von Flue’s life for,

aside from his inner development, he was, in fact, elevated to the level of the nobility in his outer life and was later often visited by aristocrats, princes and bishops who asked his advice as if he were one of them.

And Ulrich, a nobleman from Memmingen in Swabia, even settled in the Ranft and built his hut beside Brother Klaus’s own place of refuge, in the place known as “Mosli:’

40 Paradoxically, precisely this nobleman advises Brother Klaus “to live as other people do, for he will not win eternal life if he continues on in this way:’

Perhaps Niklaus von Flue consciously strove both too hard and too one-sidedly to achieve the pious goals he had set for himself, i.e., he was too intent upon the realization of his own ideas, and precisely because of this, he lost contact with the natural nobility of his own being.

The somewhat cramped piousness that typified this period of his life was probably not in tune with the


By contrast, the rider and his horse mirror those who are in contact with the animal side of their nature in the right way.7

In the canton of Uri, it is still considered to be a ((sacrilege” to ‘(not do as others do:’8

The desire to be something special challenges the divine powers of both good and evil, which then most often stomp on any such plans.

It is precisely this nobleman who stands out from the mass who unexpectedly advises Klaus to adapt.

So apparently, precisely in this area of trusting in his special destiny, Klaus should not strive to be special according to the dictates of his ego.

Rather, he should remain humble so that the Self can unfold according to its own natural law.

41 While in other circumstances, Klaus correctly interpreted his visions with a rare instinctual certainty, in this depressed period of his life, it would seem he felt confused.

This explains his negative interpretation of the nobleman, that is, of being the devil himself.

42 Another vision from this period shows the same conflict even more clearly.

Welti von Flue reports9 that, among other things, Klaus had once told him that ”Shortly after he had begun his life in retreat, he went to the meadow in Melche to cut the grass and, on the way, he prayed to God, asking for the grace to live a pious life.

At that moment, a cloud in the sky spoke to him and told him to submit to the will of God.

It said he was a foolish man and should be willing to submit to what God wanted of him:’

43 At first, this vision seems to be contradictory, for Klaus asks God for the grace to live a pious life and God scolds him and calls him a foolish man who should finally submit himself to doing God’s will!

Perhaps Klaus’s conscious idea of what a pious life was not what God wanted of him.10

44 In mythology, clouds can appear to encompass archetypal contents coming from the unconscious. Zeus and Hera unite in a cloud, and, in Revelations, the Son of Man arrives on a cloud.

The Virgin Mary was thought of as being “a cloud, a provider of shade and coolness:’ and, at the same time, clouds and fog are said to be the products of the devil, who sends out “the fog of the unconscious”

from the north.11

Clouds, so to speak, represent potential12-they symbolise an archetype in its relatively undefined state upon which

consciousness cannot yet find its bearings.

It was only much later that God revealed His “terrifying” face to St. Niklaus-in his current state, he would not have been able to have borne it.

But in this vision of the cloud, God indicates that what Klaus imagines to be God does not altogether correspond to the reality of God13 in his unconscious soul.

This is the same tragic situation we find ourselves in when we channel all our conscious efforts into doing the right thing, only to be constantly reprimanded by the unconscious for being on the wrong track.

Although we mean well, we are unable to get the message and cannot understand the intention of the unconscious.

It is only after Klaus has a further vision that he is shown how his inner developmental process can take a step forward in the direction of a dramatic denouement, to understand more clearly what his unconscious destiny is aiming at. ~Marie Louise von Franz, The Visions of Niklaus von Flue, Page 27-31