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

Chapter 10

The Vision of the Fountain

The recently discovered handwritten manuscript found in Lucerne shows that the Berserker vision was followed by a second vision:1

Through his suffering and by the will of God, Klaus’s sleep was broken.

And he thanked God for His sufferings and His martyrdom.

And God gave him grace in which he found support and joy.

Thereupon he laid himself down to rest and it seemed to him in his sleep, or in his spirit, that he came to a place which belonged to a community.

There he saw a crowd of people doing heavy work. They were very poor.

And he stood and looked at them and was amazed that, in spite of all their work, they were still so poor.

Then, to his right, there appeared a well-built tabernacle in which he saw an open door and he thought to himself, “You must go into the tabernacle and see what is inside, you must soon go in by the door.”

Then he came to a kitchen which belonged to a whole community.

On the right, he saw stairs going up-about four steps-and he saw some people climbing them, but only a few.

It seemed to him that their clothes were sprinkled with white.

And coming from the steps he saw a fountain out of which a stream was flowing down the stairs into a big trough

and then on to the kitchen and it was composed of three substances: wine, oil and honey.

This stream flowed as quickly as a flash of lightning and made such a loud noise that the place echoed, as if a horn were being played.

And he thought, “You must go up the stairs and see where the fountain comes from”: And he marvelled greatly that the people were so poor and that nobody went in to draw water from the fountain, which they could have done quite easily for it was common property.

And he went up the stairs and came to a wide hall.

And there, in the middle of the hall, he saw a large square box out of which the fountain flowed.

And he went to the box and looked at it.

And as he went to it he almost sank, as though he were crossing a swamp, and he drew up his feet quickly and came to the box.

And in his spirit he realised that whoever did not walk quickly, lifting up his feet, would never get to the box.

The box was reinforced on all four sides with strong iron2 plates.

And the fountain flowed through a pipe and sounded so beautiful in the box and in the pipes that he marvelled greatly.

And the water of this stream was so clear and pure that one could have seen a hair lying at the bottom of it.

And however strongly the water flowed, the box remained full and overflowing.

And he relied in his spirit that however much flowed out of it, there was always more, and he saw how it trickled out through all the cracks.

And he thought, ‘Now you will go down again:

Then he saw great streams flow into the trough from all sides and he thought to himself, ‘You will go out and

see what the people are doing, why they don’t come in to draw water from the fountain which has such a plentiful

overflow’: And he went outside.

And he saw the people working very hard, and yet they were very poor.

And he watched what they were doing.

And he saw that someone had built a fence through the middle of the courtyard and in the middle of the fence there was a latticed door which a man held closed, and he said he would let no one in or out unless they paid him a penny.

And Klaus saw how someone turned a thumbscrew on one of the people, and how he said, ‘That is to force you to give me a penny:

And he saw a piper who played for the people and who demanded a penny from them.

And he saw a tailor and a shoemaker and other craftsmen who all wanted pennies.

And even though they did all this, they were still so poor they could hardly manage to pay.

And he saw nobody go in to draw water from the fountain.

And as he stood there and watched, the place was suddenly transformed into [a] dreary rocky slope like the

place where Brother Klaus’s church was and where he had his house, and he realized within himself, that the tabernacle was himself, Brother Klaus:’

119 This time the tabernacle and the spring appear to the right of Brother Klaus-in the direction of consciousness.3

Correspondingly, this vision is much closer to the conscious, or Christian, world view than the preceding vision was.

In his rendition of this vision, Alban Stoeckli quotes a passage from a sermon by Johannes Tauler in which the latter speaks of turning inwards towards his own soul about which God observes: “and you will find ‘it’ there, gushing forth from the ground, as if from its own source … and the stream flows, wells up and grows:’4 Tauler calls this stream “the loving (Minne) intimacy of the Holy Ghost:’5

120 From time immemorial Christ, too, has been seen as being one with “the inner rock” from which the water of life and mercy flows.6

His body (the Church) forms the Jons vitae for all mankind.7

According to Basilius, the water that flows out of Christ, as the “pneumatic rock;’ is his visionary perception of God8 and the experience of the Logos Christi within the mystic’s own soul.

And in this way, he himself becomes the “treasure house of living water:’9

Furthermore, as a parallel to Brother Klaus’s vision, Charles Journet mentions some medieval illustrations in which this source of life is depicted.10

121 In these illustrations, the Blood of Christ is, for example, often caught in a smaller, four-sided vessel which is encircled by the four symbols of the evangelists or by the symbols of the four stations of Christ’s life: His birth, His sacrificial death, His resurrection, and His ascension.

Christ’s redeeming blood flows out of this initial vessel into a large vessel in which mankind immerses itself to be

cleansed of its sins.11

The same motif is depicted in an altarpiece of Van Eyck’s in the following manner:12

The rays of divine grace descend upon a rectangular altar upon which the Lamb of God is standing.

Its blood flows into a chalice after which it is divided through the seven channels of the sacraments, and from there it flows on into a larger vessel around which the figures of the old and new faiths are assembled.

122 Furthermore, the “four-cornered” box in Brother Klaus’s vision can be compared to the “bowl-shaped altar” which the aforementioned alchemist,

Zosimos of Panopolis, while pondering the nature of alchemical “water:’ saw in his dream vision.13

In alchemy, water was thought to be the instrument of transformation, and in the vision of Zosimos, human beings were transformed into spiritual beings by means of this water,14 just as in Brother Klaus’s vision

human beings apparently attain spiritual life.

123 As Jung emphasizes, the aim of all alchemy is to find the “miraculous” water, the aqua divina or aqua permanens, which is obtained through the agony of fire from the lapis, i.e., the prima materia.

Water was the humidum radicale, which represented the anima media natura or anima mundi, the soul of the stone or metal, an anima aquina as it is also called.15

“Altogether, the divine water possessed the power of transformation.

It transformed the nigredo16 into the albedo17 through the miraculous washing … and therefore possessed the virtue of the baptismal water in the ecclesiastical rite:’18

In alchemy, the whitening ( the albedo) mentioned above refers to the developmental stage in which the withdrawal of projections and the processing of unconscious contents19 are in the foreground, i.e., a state of freeing oneself from being caught up in the world through one’s projections.

This explains why the colour white is a symbol of innocence in the allegory of the Church.

The fact that, in Brother Klaus’s vision, only very few people climb up to the water box in clothing sprinkled with white means that only very few chosen ones will take the path of total inwardness and will allow themselves to be redeemed by the water of the unconscious.

124 Psychologically speaking, the image points to a transformation of a perfectly natural, and therefore unconscious, person into a conscious being.20

Within this context, water has a spiritual meaning21 and symbolises the transforming power of the unconscious, i.e., the numinous experience of the individuation process, the psychic basis of which still remains a mystery right up to the present time.

Thus, it would seem that it is not by chance that there are four “levels” (Seigeln) which lead up to Brother Klaus’s

water box, for the number 4 is often linked to all the natural symbols of the Self.22

Interestingly enough, precisely the uppermost symbol, the box, is characterised by the number 4, whereas the lower symbol is characterised by the number 3 (the three pipes), as if the number 4 were superior to the number 3, which is the supreme number in Christianity.

This emphasis upon the number 4 infers that we are dealing with an immediate and individual experience of a natural symbol of wholeness, and its elevation shows how individual contemplation had become of primary importance.

When the water flows down into the kitchen, it becomes three substances: wine, oil, and honey.

These are three important spiritual, cultic essences, but the fourth, which is above them, is in its original state: It is pure water. In the vision, it is this pure water that is most highly esteemed at the place where it wells up within the soul, so to speak.

126 But a danger lurks around this box of “eternal water”: The ground is muddy, and Brother Klaus must “walk over it quickly;’ as it were, in order not to sink into it.

In so far as the box depicts both the container as well as what is contained within it, one can compare the box to the “vas” of the alchemists,23 as a symbol of their theoria their symbolic understanding of the unconscious.

In Brother Klaus’s vision, the box is overflowing, and thus he is surrounded by this mire which he must cross over.

This overflowing water may ref er to a part of spiritual life which is no longer symbolically “contained” and which therefore constitutes a sphere of dangerous unconsciousness.

In the language of the Church Fathers, it would be the “swamp of sins:’24

Brother Klaus’s crossing of the mire calls to mind the motif of the transitus, which both the Gnostic Peratics and the Church Fathers interpreted as a symbol of becoming conscious.

According to the teaching of the Peratics, the crossing of the Red Sea which the Jews undertook during their exodus from Egypt signifies an exodus from their sinful existence and their temporal bodies into which the

“ignorant” sink.

On the other side of the sea, there is a place in which “the gods of those who are lost” and the “gods of salvation” are together.

As Jung explains, “The Red Sea is a water of death for those that are (unconscious’, but for those that are (conscious’ it is a baptismal water of rebirth and of transcendence.

By (unconscious’ are meant those who have no gnosis, that is, are not enlightened as to the nature and destiny of man in the cosmos.

In modern language it would be those who have no knowledge of the contents of the personal and collective unconscious.

The personal unconscious is the shadow and the inferior function, in Gnostic terms the sinfulness and impurity that must be washed away by baptism.

The collective unconscious expresses itself in the mythological teachings, characteristic of most mystery religions, which reveal the secret knowledge concerning the origin of all things and the way to salvation. ‘Unconscious’ people who attempt to cross the sea without being purified and without the guidance of enlightenment are drowned; they get stuck in the unconscious and suffer a spiritual death in so far as they cannot get beyond their one-sidedness.

To do this they would have to be more conscious of what is unconscious to them and their age, above all of the inner opposite … “25

Seen in the light of Jung’s explanation, it appears that Brother Klaus was able to complete this dangerous transition and to avoid the danger of sinking into the unconscious which, for such a strict hermit, must have been a real danger.

Brother Klaus overcame all these dangerous elements by means of his focused striving towards the centre, the

four-cornered water-box, i.e., the symbol of the Self.

127 These three areas in Brother Klaus’s vision (the courtyard, the kitchen, and the area with the well) also bring to mind the three levelled fountain of wisdom mentioned in a sermon of Nicholas of Cusa:

  1. the common trough out of which cattle drink, the puteus sensibilis;
  2. Jacob’s fountain out of which human beings drink, the source of rational philosophy;
  3. the fountain of “redeeming wisdom” with its “metaphysical waters” out of which the “sons of the All-Highest, whom we call Gods” drink. 26

Here the “outsiders” would be the “brutish” people who drink from the three pipes and who correspond to rationalists.

Only the mystic reaches the aqua sapientiae of the innermost room.

This layering of the vision into three areas ( the area of the “outsiders” who strive hard; the area of those who are in the kitchen where the three essences are dispensed; and the area of the water which Brother Klaus goes up towards) also calls to mind the gradation of the mystical viewpoint, as in the works of Heinrich Seuse and many other medieval mystics.27

On an inner level, spiritual life can be determined on three levels:

  1. the via purificativa, which entails the mortification of the flesh and great suffering, that brings with it abandonment and hopelessness;28
  2. the via illuminative, which includes the mysticism of the Holy Passion and the worship of the Virgin Mary;29 and
  3. Contemplation,30 in which the sacred effect of holy grace takes place31 and leads one to an immediate perception of the divine.

This last level is a gift of wisdom.32

While the second and third levels can easily be compared to the levels in Brother Klaus’s vision, the first level appears to be different for the people at this level are not intentional ascetics, but rather pursue profit-making and thereby become all the more poverty stricken.

In contrast to those who walk the via purificativa, their suffering has become mundane and meaningless.

Therein, perhaps, lies an appeal to Brother Klaus who is asked in the vision to help these people to turn towards the “water of wisdom” once again.

If anyone could help them, then surely it would be Klaus, who has experienced the meaning of willingly accepting his own suffering, and also because originally Klaus, too, had tried to break free and to live his life according to his own free will.

The poor, hardworking people are in contrast to the centre: They are characterised by their self-interest, and they try to forcefully beg a penny from others and from Brother Klaus.

As strange as it may seem, this calls to mind the request of the divine pilgrim for a penny in the preceding vision, and it is not by chance that a piper appears in the crowd next to the money collector and to the craftsmen.

These collective people are, apparently, not aware of the secret of the fountain.

They are the unawakened who have no knowledge of the source of the “divine water:’

They are split off from the centre, and the money collectors amongst them, i.e., the representatives of the profane municipal collective organisations, continue working towards the making of further laws and restrictions.

It is an impressive mirroring of the spiritual development which took place during the Renaissance, i.e., an increase of the ego’s own independence of mind and a loss of religious inner life.

From a psychological standpoint, these people, however, must represent latent psychic tendencies within Brother Klaus himself, that is, those aspects within him which try to achieve their goal by means of their own effort rather than through inner devotion.

Here, too, we see what becomes of the divine wanderer, Wotan, if he is not accepted:

In this instance, he multiplies himself into being a profane collective person who, because he is not guided by an inner centre, only follows the whims of his own ego.

Wotan has always been the one who stirs mass man into action, the creator of dangerous mass hysteria,33 for

everything that is not accepted by consciousness energetically reinforces the unconscious, i.e., the sphere of instinctual drives.

This is why, as Jung pointed out, Wotan, the archaic god, is still the active figure behind the collective catastrophes of today.

128 The fact that the whole place suddenly transforms itself into the area where Brother Klaus lives is indeed a clear indication of the vision mirroring an event which takes place “on the spot:’ that is, within himself.

129 The people’s desire for money shows that those who are excluded from the mystery are asking something of Brother Klaus, as if he were the right person to reconnect them to the centre.

Indirectly, he has done this through his own “banal” reality, including the path of his religious development, for he is the embodiment of the spiritual,

holy, and instinctual man who is utterly at one with nature.

It is only within such a comprehensive totality that the profane excluded ones can be reintegrated.

130 This vision, too, became strangely real for later on, hundreds of petitioners and curious people surrounded the Ranft to ask Brother Klaus’s advice so that, in the end, one had to have a pass issued by the parish to be allowed to go there.

It is altogether impressive how his many characteristics which typify the ‘Anthropos” of his vision begin to shine through after Klaus’s withdrawal to the Ranft.

In the town council’s meeting in Stans, he becomes the mediator pacem faciens inter inimicos, like the alchemical lap is.

In his daily consultations, he is like the overflowing fountain of spiritual vitality.

Furthermore, like the “Truth” in his Berserker vision, he often tore away the mask of those who consulted him and, with a mediumistic clairvoyance, revealed their secret thoughts and sins.

This second vision, more than the first, points towards an inner split of the opposites, and towards suffering and conflict-a contrast that is seen too narrowly if it is taken as a personal conflict between Brother Klaus the realistic farmer and Brother Klaus the mystic. 34

Rather, it is more the conflict of the time which is mirrored in this vision, a conflict which Klaus is also caught up in. ~Marie Louise von Franz, Niklaus von Flue and Saint Perpetua, Page 87-96