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

Chapter 7

Retreat to Ranft

67 After his experience of the light, Brother Klaus returns home and crawls under a bush until his brother convinces him to give up his fasting and his life in the woods.

Then, Klaus somehow makes the decision to build a hermitage for himself in the Ranft with the help of his friends.

Erny Rorer reports1 that the place was described to Klaus in the following manner: He saw four bright lights coming from heaven showing him the place where a hut and a chapel should be built, and it was carried out in accordance with Klaus’s wish and his vision.2

His wife and his children gave their consent for him to withdraw in this way3 and they were at peace with the situation and often visited him at his hermitage, mostly on Sundays.4

Klaus never felt tempted to move back in with them. 5

With his experience of the light, his total fasting began, which he persisted in until his death.

Of course, there is no shortage of voices accusing this saint of being peculiar.6

But, as Jung emphasises,7 we should not liken Klaus to an eccentric who has misanthropically crept away and gone into hiding.

Rather, we must search for the reason for Klaus’s retreat into his singular inner life, a reason which is hinted at in his visions.

These events and experiences were of more value to him than ordinary human existence.

They were probably the focus of his daily interest and “the source of his spiritual vitality:’8

Discussions similar to this one concerning Brother Klaus’s spiritual health occur not only in connection with other saints but also in connection with medicine men and shamans of ethnic cultures.

Drawing upon numerous examples, M. Eliade9 describes how the vocational calling of the medicine men and shamans comes about, namely, sometimes through one’s birthright ( especially from the mother’s side, and we might recall here that the brother of Klaus’s mother was a forest hermit!), sometimes through dreams and trance experiences, and almost always after experiencing a phase of heavy spiritual crisis, which is often understood as being in a state of possession, either by ancestral spirits or some other kind of spirits or gods.10

The knowledge of the medicine-man-to-be is often transmitted to him via dreams.

A love of being alone, of withdrawing into the forest, of immersing oneself in water, and of confused circumstances are the classic symptoms of experiencing a vocation.11

A retreat into the mountains and animal like behaviour, both of which Brother Klaus exhibited after his return home from Liestal, are also characteristic of a vocation coming to light.

6s In shamanism, animal like existence indicates the integration of ancestral spirits in animal form.

The question as to whether or not we are dealing with a pathological situation here seems to me to be answered best by the native people themselves who say that the main difference between someone who is possessed and a shaman is that the latter is someone who has healed himself, whereas a possessed person lacks this ability.12

Thus, the illness of a shaman is a transitional sign of his being “chosen;’13 and this is how we should

understand Brother Klaus’s confusion, which came to an end when he decided to face the inner spiritual demands that were being asked of him.

Evidently, once he had withdrawn into his hermitage, everything settled down.

69 According to H. Woelflin14, from this time onwards Klaus spent the first part of his day in prayer and contemplation.

In the afternoon, he would step outside, sit in the sunshine and, if he felt like it, he would pay a visit to his fellow hermit, Ulrich at Mosli.

Ulrich was a Swabian nobleman from Memmingen who had followed Brother Klaus’s example and built a hermit’s cell near to Brother Klaus’s cell.

Ulrich had many books, and Brother Klaus often discussed religious matters with him. According to other witnesses, Klaus also went to Einsiedeln now and again.

When he wanted to be contemplative and to avoid his all-too-many visitors, he would spend a day or two in the forest.15

Some who visited Brother Klaus have described his outer appearance in the following manner: Hans von Waldheim says of him,16 “he looks like a man in the prime of his life at the age of fifty, with brown hair without any grey in it.

He has a well-formed, thin face with good colour, his stature is tall and thin and he speaks German well and in a charming manner:’

People had told Waldheim beforehand that Brother Klaus always had ice cold hands, was as pale as a corpse, 17 and was always of a sad disposition, but this was not true.

When Waldheim visited him, Klaus had warm hands, and his complexion had the same colour as any other natural, healthy person in good physical condition.

Furthermore, he was not at all sad. Rather, he was affable, happy, and friendly.18

Brother Klaus most often had his mouth half open, a detail which is depicted in the portrait on his gravestone.19

This reflects an attitude of awe-inspired inner contemplation.20

On the other hand, another visitor, the deacon Albrecht von Bonstetten, who, it must be said, visited Klaus after he had had his fearful vision of God on the 31 December 1478, writes:21 “Klaus was of a good height, was very thin, with a brown and wrinkled face.

He had tangled, uncombed black hair with streaks of grey and his beard was a thumb’s length.

His eyes were average-sized and the whites of his eyes were clear.

He had a well-shaped nose.

He was not talkative and was rather dismissive of those whom he did not know.

If one touched him, his hands were cold.

He was always barefoot and wore a grey robe. He stood tall and he had a manly voice:’ 22

70 The four lights23 which Brother Klaus saw descending, shining like candles, at the place in the Ranft24 where he then built his hermitage are probably connected to the star and to the light which struck Klaus in Liestal.

But now the one light in the visions of that earlier time has become four lights.

This may be the result of his earlier psychic wounding through which the Self reached him.

Of course, the number four as a symbol of inner wholeness reflects, as Jung has demonstrated, the quaternion structure of consciousness.

While one light represents the unity of the Self, four lights represent the fact that a conscious realization of this unity starts with, or is made possible by, the four functions of consciousness. 25

Thus, both his return home and the internalisation of his problems have constellated the problem of becoming conscious of the Self for Brother Klaus, for his decision indicates his willingness to subjugate both his

ego and his plans to this unknown inner force, i.e., to the Self, which, in this instance, asks Klaus to commit himself to one place.

Here, as in very archaic cults, the Self manifests as a numen of a place, or as a genius loci.

But perhaps the dark and closed-in wooded valley of the Ranft is to be understood symbolically as the most deep

withdrawal into oneself and as a turning towards the flow of inner life within one’s own soul.

71 Considering what Brother Klaus did from the perspective of several hundred years later, it would seem that he established a pattern, or set an example, which all of Switzerland gradually followed and which he himself urged his fellow citizens to adopt, namely, to confine themselves to a reduit (redoubt) as a defence against the outside world and thereby prevent shadow problems from exploding on the outside.

people then had to deal with these shadow problems on an inner level, it still took the defeat at the Battle of Marignano for the confederates to be convinced by this insight, the “red spirit” of one’s own aggression is transformed into a starting point for the dawning of consciousness.

Jung once said, in Switzerland, we have managed to reach the point of keeping our shadow problems within our own border.

The next step would be for each individual to take on the conflict within himself.26

is the very step which Brother Klaus made by confining himself and his problems to the reduit of the Ranft.

wonderfully clear instinct led him to this solution.

This turning inwards is so meaningful because it was not forced upon him by a clash with the outside world or by a defeat from the outside, and it does not suggest a rift or flight from the world or from the shadow.

It really seems to be more like an act of insight into the                                                                                       meaningfulness of the inner life.

n This concludes our discussion of the visions and experiences which shed light upon this period of inner conflict in Brother Klaus’s life and also indicate the personal suffering he went through until the time of his “breaking away:’

However, within this same period of time, Klaus had four more great visions which go more deeply into a problem that extends beyond the personal realm. ~Marie Louise von Franz, NIKLAUS VON FLUE AND SAINT PERPETUA 51-56