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

Chapter 5

The Vision of the That Was Eaten by a Horse as Woelflin alone reports the following vision of the saint:

“When, on another occasion, Brother Klaus went to a meadow to look at his livestock, he sat down on the ground and, as was his custom, he started to pray with all his heart and to give himself up to divine contemplation.

Suddenly, he saw a wonderfully perfumed white lily growing out of his mouth and extending upwards until it touched the sky.

When, however, a little later his livestock ( which were his means of supporting his family) passed by him and he had lowered his gaze for a moment, his eyes came to rest upon a horse that was more beautiful than the others.

And he saw how the lily in his mouth bent itself down to this horse and was eaten by it as it passed By:’

46 Brother Klaus interpreted the vision by saying that “the treasures of heaven cannot be found by those who lust for worldly pleasures, and that if heaven’s offerings are mixed up with the concerns and interests of earthly existence, they will be stifled like the seed of God’s word is stifled when it is sown amongst thorns:’1

47 As Blanke2 emphasises, it is possible that Brother Klaus had seen an image of Christ with a lily sprouting out of His mouth, for, at this time, such an illustration in which a lily replaces the sword in the mouth of the Son of Man in Revelations existed in various paintings throughout Switzerland.

In this form, the lily is an image of the anima Christi.

The bride in the Song of Solomon is described as “the lily of the valleys;’3 and the Church Fathers interpreted this passage as referring to Mary, the mother, bride and sister of Christ.4

But the connection between the lily and the horse in Brother Klaus’s vision probably also points towards a completely different meaning, one which has closer connections to folklore.

Indeed, according to Germanic pagan mythology, the lily represents the royal flower, par excellence.5

It symbolises the power and force of a kingdom’s law, which is why it also appears in very many royal and noble coats-of arms.

The lily is associated with mermaids, white women, and Valkyries, 6 as well as with the “white woman” and the goddess Ostara, Donar’s sister, whose name lives on in the word “Easter:’7

Blooming or budding plant stalks, especially the switch of an apple tree, are, along with the lily, also emblematic images for royalty, which is why, for example, Alfred the Great’s crown jewels depict the king with two lily stalks in his hand. 8

48 Viewed within the context of such amplifications, the lily, then, is an image for Brother Klaus’s “royal” and purely contemplative anima9 that is focused on the Beyond.

It is, so to speak, a symbol of his unwavering inner search for God that was growing within him like a plant striving towards the light.

At the time Brother Klaus lived, there were still strange stories circulating.

For example, in Hiltisrieden in 1430 when the foundation stone of a curate’s house was being laid, a lily was discovered to be growing right through the heart of a corpse that was found there.

Later, circa 1444, the story moved to a place between Sempach and Hiltisrieden, where Duke Leopold had apparently been killed in battle, and it was said that a lily grew out of his heart. Indeed, there are legends about a lily growing out of the mouth or heart of the dead in several other regions. 10

49 Therefore, perhaps we could say that, while still alive, Brother Klaus had already ‘deadened’ himself to life to such an extent that this “soul-flower;’ which endures beyond physical death, was, in some miraculous way, able to be seen during his lifetime.

Perhaps the appearance of this vegetative form of his anima is connected to his fasting, and Jung writes11 that perhaps one explanation of Brother

Klaus’s fasting is that he was somehow able to draw his nourishment from his surroundings, which would mean he was able to live in a kind of plantlike way.

This explanation is not intended to diminish in any way the miraculous aspect of Klaus’s ability to fast.

so Now in his vision, the lily bends itself over Brother Klaus’s favourite horse, and the horse devours it.

Far more than in the Bible, the horse in Germanic mythology is an immensely important symbol, even more so than the lily.

Indeed, it is the actual form in which the God, Wotan, 12 appears who, by the way, used to storm about in the olden days as a wild hunter or as a group of dark horses near the mountain of Pilatus, that is, very close to Brother Klaus’s dwelling.13

Not only does Wotan almost always appear on a horse, but also as a horse.14

His sons were called Hengist and Horsa (“Stallion” and “Horse”), and Ninck emphasises that “the god’s essence and his totem animal flow together to make an indivisible whole:’ 15

This is why, as Tacitus says, in Germanic mythology, the horse has a closer relationship to the gods than even the priests do.16

Wotan himself is even called Jak (Gelding) or Hrossharsgrani (Horsehair Beard),17 and, conversely, his names are given to horses.

From a psychological standpoint, the horse generally embodies animal like instinctive psychic energy in its pure essence.

It is a form oflibido18 which, with its mythological associations, circles around the maternal and the physical, and around things that come from the underworld as well as ghostly things.19

Horses tend to get excited and panic.

Perhaps we should pay special attention to this characteristic because, not long after this vision, Brother Klaus tried to run away to ”ellend” ( a foreign land) which means there might be a psychological connection between the vision and his impulse to leave.

Brother Klaus considered the horse devouring the lily to be a mishap and thus interpreted the horse negatively.

But, from our modern standpoint of looking at dreams, we would have to say that he overlooked one thing, namely, that the lily itself bends down to the horse (incurvari!).

One could say that the lily <<took a liking” to the horse.

The vision depicts an objective event,20 namely, the uniting of the plant with the animal, the former bending down towards the latter and being incorporated by it. 21

The vision is an image of an enantiodromia, an inner psychic process, the moment in which the upward striving spiritual form of the psyche turns back towards animal life.

The lily comes out of his [Klaus’s] body and then goes back down into a body, the body of an animal that Brother Klaus especially likes.

This movement of the lily reminds one of what is said in the Tabula Smaragdina about the philosopher’s stone: Vis eius integra est, si versa fuerit in terram”  (Its strength is perfect when it has turned towards the earth(!)).

And, “Ascendit a terrain coelum, iterumque descendit in terram et recipit vim superiorum et inf eriorum.”

(It rises from the earth to the sky and descends again onto the earth, and receives the power of the above and below unto itself).22

51 If we take the lily to be a symbol of the anima candida who is detached from the world, then here is a hint that the latter bends towards the matrix23 of the animal like unconscious psyche ( that is, the horse) of its own accord in order to unite with it.24

The beautiful horse, which the lily bends down to, reminds us of the Grimm’s fairytale «Ferdinand the Faithful and Ferdinand the Unfaithful;’ mentioned above.

On a heath where a castle stands, the youthful hero finds a beautiful white horse that is able to speak ( which corresponds to Brother Klaus’s vision of the tower).

In some versions, this white horse is identical to the unknown old godfather or to God Himself.

This fairytale from northern Germany most probably contains old Germanic ideas, i.e., the white horse brings to mind Wotan’s horse, Sleipnir, which, indeed, was often considered to be identical to God.

Seen against the background of such amplifications, the meaning of the lily disappearing into the horse hints at a unio mystica of the soul with the divine, represented by the anima.

52 For the moment, then, the soul-flower of the saint is in the horse, and, accordingly, we could expect Brother Klaus to be gripped by some urge which would correspond to the symbolic nature of the horse, namely by the urge to go on a “ghost ride:’

Indeed, it is not only in Germanic mythology that the horse acts as a companion into the other world, into the spiritual realm. the initiation rites of other races, too, the horse often appears as a psychopomp and as the carrying animal on an ecstatic journey into the Beyond.25

The medicine man, who is the medium and shaman of primitive races, flies upon a horse’s back into the sky or into the realm of the dead.

The horse helps him to reach another world, which is why many shamans carry a staff with a horse’s head upon it.

“The symbolic ride;’ Eliade26 says, “expresses the shaman’s leaving his body and his mystical death:’

is why I believe that Brother Klaus’s horse vision was an announcement telling him that his soul-flower, which

longs for heaven and ecstatically reaches up towards it and which represents his emotional longing for an experience of God, wants to become emotionally active and to take him on a ghost ride into the Beyond.

Indeed, we know that, like a horse, Brother Klaus was once gripped by a desire to roam about the country and leave everything behind him, namely when he took leave of his wife and children with the intention of going away and living in a foreign land. ~Marie Louise von Franz, Niklaus von Flue and St. Perpeua A Psychological Interpretation of Their Visions, Page 33-38