Confrontation with the Collective Unconscious by Marie-Louise von Franz
In this previously unpublished presentation given by Jung’s esteemed student and colleague, Marie-Louise von Franz, at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles in 1976, she discusses the shifting attitudes toward the concept of the collective unconscious and toward the experience of it as a “tremendous psychic reality” in both positive and negative forms.
With her customary wit, von Franz then explores in depth what she identifies as the four stages of active imagination—the method Jung developed for coping with the impact of unconscious contents—and distinguishes it from other methodologies, such as meditation. Using the books by Carlos Castaneda as examples of shifting attitudes, she (sometimes humorously) compares Don Juan’s description of dreaming with active imagination, noting “This Don Juan is a natural genius,” but “I can’t stand Castaneda.”
A fascinating question-and-answer section follows the presentation. Throughout, von Franz remains eminently down-to-earth and genuine in her style of communication even as she covers what some regard as highly abstract topics.
his presentation by Marie-Louise von Franz on the collective unconscious and active imagination was given at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles in 1976.
Dr. von Franz regularly came to California at the end of the 1970s to speak at the prestigious Panarion conference, organized by George Wagner and Tom Laughlin. This time was also an occasion for her to meet with American colleagues, visit the country, and connect more intimately with the analysts and candidates of the Los Angeles Institute, some of whom she had known for decades.
This presentation has a historical value, since for the first time “ever,” as she says, Dr. von Franz mentions the apocalyptic visions Jung had shortly before his death. She would later expand on these visions in her Remembering Jung interview with Suzanne Wagner.
The story of the recording is entwined with my personal life. Ten years ago, I moved from Paris to Los Angeles and shortly afterward started to work at the Los Angeles Institute, first as volunteer, later as executive director. The first volunteer task given to me was to “clean up” the basement, which was in a deplorable condition. This is where I first found out about the cassette of this lecture. A few months later, in December of 2007, two of the Los Angeles analysts, Deborah Wesley and Chie Lee, who knew about my interest in Dr. von Franz’s work, gave me a copy of the cassette at the occasion of the institute’s holiday party.
The gift deeply touched me and reminded me of a dream I’d had years earlier in which I was given all the recordings of Dr. von Franz that were loosely stored in a basement. The difference was that in my dreams, I was given a set of vinyl disks. I clearly remember that at the time of the dream, I felt that the dark roundedness of the disks was the most appropriate medium to store the depth of von Franz’s teaching. A turntable, symbol of wholeness, would be needed to hear again the teaching engraved in the disks. I found myself in a similar situation with the cassette since I did not have any equipment on which to play it. Also I decided to hire someone to digitize the cassette. The result was unfortunately completely inaudible, crippled by a profusion of background noises. It took a few more years before I could acquire the necessary equipment to digitize the cassette myself, then improve the audio quality well enough so that the lecture could be heard again.
Odilon Redon, Hantise (Haunting), 1893–94. Lithograph, 36.1 × 22.8 cm. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1955. Accession Number: 55.501.
A couple of years ago, as I was visiting Monique and Michel Bacchetta, who run a Jungian publishing company called La Fontaine de Pierre, in France, Monique mentioned in the conversation that they were completing a book on active imagination. The idea of publishing von Franz’s lecture had not occurred to me earlier, and suddenly it dawned on me that it might be a meaningful addition to their project. We decided that a copy would be sent to them as soon as I returned to Los Angeles. The lecture was eventually published in 2015, with a translation in French by Monique and Michel Bacchetta, in Imagination Active, Imagination Musical, together with other important essays by Marie-Louise von Franz, C. G. Jung, Barbara Hannah, and Christian Tauber. The English transcript was kindly given to us so that we could publish it in its original language in Psychological Perspectives.
The transcript of this lecture was realized by Monique and Michel Bacchetta and Deborah Keramsi. Christopher Miller and I worked on removing the few lacu-nae left in the transcript. Finally, Margaret Ryan edited the result for publication while preserving the impromptu style of the lecture. A couple of inaudible questions at the end were reconstructed from the answers given by Dr. von Franz. —Christophe Le Moue¨ l
I want first to tell you that I have looked very much forward to coming to the Los Angeles Institute again, and that for me it is rather a kind of sentimental journey after twenty-three years. And I have mainly felt—when I have been invited several times in-between, but I never had time and I couldn’t arrange it to come—I have always felt that I wanted to see my old friends again. And only when, at rather the last minute, I had to make up my mind to talk to you in the Analytical Psychology Club and to the trainees, I got a fright because I suddenly realized how much the situation has changed since I lectured here last time. Last time, we were a small group around Jung. Rivkah Kluger was among us, and Anie´la Jaffe´, and so on. We were a group of younger pupils, and when we had these invitations abroad, Jung always said to us, “Now, remember that by being close around me and hearing so much”—we went to all the lectures and all the speeches and so on—“you know more than these people. So don’t be shy. Your task is to hand on what the people who can’t come to Zu¨ rich want to learn about, what you have learned to hand on.” And that gave one a feeling of a function, that one had something to give.
Since Jung has died, the situation has changed because we could then no longer, for instance, inform people of new ideas he had and had not yet published. We had to draw from our own sources only. We were therefore suddenly in the same situation as the groups abroad were in. And on the other hand, as far as my impression goes, the groups in America—in San Francisco and here and in many other places—have tremendously progressed and developed and have learned so much more about Jung and psychology than they knew when we pupils of Jung first came here that now it is a completely equal situation. Therefore I realized with fright—when I began to think what I could bring, on what theme I should lecture—that these people know all that I know. I have nothing to tell them. I mean, I can still lecture to outsiders and introduce new people to Jungian psychology, but what can I give to colleagues? They do not know less than I do.
So I have picked a subject that is really, perhaps, a bit strange to you because I am going to talk about drug problems and about authors who are from this country, and therefore I am talking about something you probably know infinitely more about than I do. So please take what I say as the impression of an outsider or how an outsider thinks about the situation in this respect—that is, as my reaction to it, and not in any way as something that is important to say. I want to share with you my impression and would prefer to give only a short speech and answer questions and come into a dialogue with you. Because what has also influenced me in saying “yes” to the invitation of coming again to California was the fact that after my last trip here, a lot of people, Americans, came into analysis with me. Jung said, laughing, “Ah, you see how good that is, because you can’t analyze people really if you don’t know how they live. If you haven’t gotten a whiff of the country in which they live, if you haven’t gotten a feeling of the atmosphere in which they normally live, you can’t understand them.” And I must say that really has lasted for a long time—that I had a basic feeling that I understood the people who came to me.
But very lately, for the last year and a half, I would say, I’m not up to it any more. I don’t know what’s going on now here. With the hippy scene I still went along even with enthusiasm. With the drugs, I think I can understand. I’ve never taken drugs, not even have I experimented. I can understand it, though. I can easily sympathize with it—and with all the restrictions to it too.
The question has shifted now to, “How do we relate to the collective unconscious in the right way?”.
When something from the unconscious comes up, its first impact on consciousness is always demonic.
Jung’s method for coping with this impact is active imagination.
But what is happening now I don’t quite understand, and that’s what I would really like to hear also from you: what you think. It seems to me that the situation has now changed for all of us who are interested in Jungian psychology, in that twenty-three years ago in Switzerland, and even to a certain extent here, we had to argue, to fight, to collect facts, to try to show the people the reality of the collective unconscious. Most people used it as a term, but there were very few people who knew the overwhelming reality of the unconscious, especially of the collective unconscious. In Switzerland, we who knew something about it or had experienced it formed a small circle around Jung. Outside you couldn’t even talk about it without being regarded as crazy. I have traveled a bit in the States outside Jungian circles, and I quickly learned that I had also to shut up about the collective unconscious in such contexts if the people wouldn’t listen.
This situation has completely changed. People now use the term collective unconscious. Through the subculture and especially through the experimenting with drugs, there is an enormous number of people who at least know that there is such a dangerous, tremendous psychic reality. They have experienced it in perhaps negative form. They have experienced it through drugs. They have experienced it through mental illness—but, never mind, at least they know what one is talking about. They know the reality of that thing, so that the situation seems to me to have shifted now so that one has no longer to argue that there is a collective unconscious—I mean, there are still rationalists with whom we will have to argue for the next hundred years—but it’s not interesting and no longer relevant.
The question has shifted now to, “How do we relate to the collective unconscious in the right way?” That seems to me the relevant question now, no longer, “Does it exist or does it not exist?” And it seems to me that we have to look at one fact, which Jung points out very clearly in one of the letters when somebody asked him what he thought about the demonic. What are demons? What is the demonic element in the psyche? And Jung says, “Yes, I believe there is such a thing as the demonic element, and it appears as the first impact of the unconscious.” In other words, when something from the unconscious comes up, its first impact on consciousness is always demonic, and you can connect with it—though he does not say so in the letter. If you remember, in his memoirs Jung recounts how when he was in Tunisia, he had a dream that a beautiful young man, an Arab and an aristocrat, attacked him in a building; they fought, the Arab tried to push him under the water, and Jung tried to push the Arab under the water. Jung won out and then they made peace, and Jung forced him to read a book, but I don’t remember what the book was on.
Now, in his papers on alchemy Jung mentions a text in which an Arab alchemist says that the Philosopher’s Stone, when it comes up in the beginning, is an enemy that tries to destroy you, and that the alchemist must have the weapons of resignation and knowledge and patience to overcome it first; and only then will the Philosopher’s Stone become what it is. In other words, even the Self is hostile and dangerous in its first impact. Everything from the unconscious, every powerful content of the unconscious is perceived that way when it first turns up—even that which we would define as the highest value of the core, the highest value of the personality. And I think that is what we are going through now: that the first impact of the unconscious is perceived by most people as a destructive attack on them; when drugs are also involved, the effect is certainly destructive and sometimes even lethal.
Now, we know that Jung’s method for coping with this impact is active imagination. I would remind you of what active imagination really means because there is another problem that presents itself to us: There is a nascent widespread use of all sorts of forms of meditation that resemble, in part, the Jungian active imagination—but only in part, and which are generally lacking some of its aspects and therefore are, at least to my idea, deficient or even dangerous. I would like to subdivide the process of engaging in active imagination into four stages. The first stage is to make one’s conscious mind empty, to stop the train of thought. The Buddhists would refer to stopping “monkey mind”—that thing in us that goes on arguing and thinking all the time, the inner dialogue, you could call it, whereby the ego lives with some of its complexes all the day long. Stopping the mind is very difficult, but not as difficult to teach as it was some years ago, because very many young people nowadays go to Buddhist and other Eastern methods of meditation, and in most of these methods this is the initial stage, this emptying of the ego mind, and therefore many have experience with reaching that stage.
Then comes the second stage. Through making one’s consciousness empty, emotions and fantasies from the unconscious flow into the vacuum, and that is the beginning of a connection with the unconscious. Now there the Jungian viewpoint deviates from the Eastern meditation traditions that recommend that you either chase away or ignore the invading unconscious side of it. Those arising thoughts and images, these traditions teach, belong to the world of illusion and therefore, some say, one should resist them. Some traditions say, “By resisting those images and thoughts, one also gets involved so it’s better to just let them flow by or ignore them, so to speak, let them happen, but not take them seriously.” Now there Jung deviates completely from this standpoint in that, for us, we have to face those contents. Whatever in that moment comes up, we have to have it out with it, to take it seriously, to accept it and to have it out with it—just the opposite of ignoring it or letting it flow through.
I believe that this development in Buddhism to ignore unconscious fantasies and also dreams is a later development. I have one correspondence with a Buddhist tulku who lives in Hong Kong, and when I made a trip to the East I visited him and discussed it with him. He absolutely took the classical standpoint that all these things that come into the mind are only fantasies of the unconscious and we must just ignore them. They belong to the world of illusion and they keep us barred from the illumination. He was a very charming old gentleman, and suddenly he said with an amused smile, “Well, you know, there is an autobiography of Master Han Shan of the seventeenth century. He’s written about his life and he’s written down his dreams in his autobiography. I’ll let you have it.” And then when I left, he patted me on the shoulder and said, whispered, “You see, we aren’t that far away as you think from each other.” Typically Chinese!
Many weeks later I received a translation of this autobiography by Han Shan from my old friend, which he had also published in a book. Han Shan relates that he was persecuted by the emperor and once his monastery was even burned down. He had a terrible life and in certain crucial moments he had the most amazing and obviously genuine dreams. He even reported one of the dreams and commented that from this dream he knew he was inwardly on the right path, because as Buddha says, if you are on the right path your dreams will be good. So, you see, what is now taught by most of the Eastern meditation teachers is not necessarily the last word on the topic. Clearly, there have been different opinions and some have followed our way and have taken their dreams seriously. Certainly the famous Han Shan did so, by his own writings. And I don’t think he is so unique; probably most texts don’t get translated. That text wasn’t translated till I pushed Lu K’uan Yu¨ and then he translated it and sent it to me.
Now, we confront ourselves in a conversation with whatever turns up in our awareness, and there we must keep in mind again this fact that the first impact of the unconscious is demonic. There is a beautiful place in Homer’s Odyssey that illustrates this point better than any modern example of active imagination. Recall when the son of Ulysses goes to Menelaus to ask how he got information from the sea god Proteus because he, the son, wants to know if his father is alive or dead or will return. Menelaus tells the son how to get information from Proteus:
“You put on a seal skin and go to an island to lay among the other smelly seals on the shore. At midday old Proteus will come out of the sea and will count his flock. Then you must jump at him and grab him, whereupon he will turn into a lion and attack you. You must just hold on tightly until he turns into water and flows through your hand. He’ll look like a tree at first, and then he’ll look like something else, and you must not take it seriously. You must hold on. Suddenly he’ll turn into an old man, himself, and he’ll say, ‘What do you want?’ You can ask your question at that point, and he will be the never-deceiving old man of the sea, and he will tell you whatever you want to know, the actual truth. But you must not let that game of changing go on—that typical Proteus game.”
Now I always find that many of our pupils get stuck there, especially intuitives. They can fantasize about anything, anywhere—one wild myth after another, one wild story after another. They don’t hold on to Proteus to get to the stable point where the truth comes out; they go on from the lion to the water, from the water to the tree, and it goes on and on and on, and there is nothing doing. Many think that even this is active imagination. It is not! It’s fantasizing, and anybody who has a rich fantasy life, who is open to the unconscious, has a good intuition, can do that. That is not active imagination, but I always see that this error is still very widespread. These individuals don’t hold on onto Proteus till he is in his true shape, when they could actually talk to him and ask their question.
Jung told us about a patient whom he’d told to engage in active imagination. When she came the next day for her session, she read what she had written down about her experience. She was going to the seashore in this active imagination, when suddenly a lion turned up and then turned into a sheep. At this point Jung interrupted her to say, “That’s all nonsense! That’s not true. If you sit on a seashore and a lion comes up to you, you have a reaction. You don’t just sit there and look at it till it is a sheep. You have a reaction! You are either frightened or you attack it or it attacks you. You’re not going to do that if a lion turns up. That’s not true.” This is what many people do in active imagination: They enter the fantasy with what Jung calls a “fictive ego”—an ego that isn’t their true ego. That woman, for instance, sat on the seashore mainly as a person who’s not afraid of lions. In reality, she is a person who is afraid of lions. So she sits on the seashore only with a fictitious ego, not with her true ego. And then nothing happens. Then you can fantasize till the end of your life and nothing will happen.
I once had a young man in analysis who did that same thing in active imagination, and he did it so well that I could never catch him. I only had a horrible feeling that in his active imaginations he was living a most dramatic transformation, but when I looked at him I felt he was always unchanged. He was just the same neurotic person as before. So finally I had enough. I said, “You know, I can’t prove it to you, but I just don’t believe that. Something is phoney. I don’t believe what you are doing because you don’t change. You’re just the same all the time, and if all that had happened to you, what you read me from your fantasy, you would not be the same man.”
And then he told me, “Oh, yes, I must tell you something. When this and this happened in the second fantasy, I got frightened and I split myself. From then on I was both an onlooker observing the person having the fantasy and the one who lived in the fan-tasy.” In other words, he was no longer a whole person in the active imagination. He split himself into one who lives in the fantasy and one who looks at his fantasies at the same time, and that way he stayed outside of them and nothing actually happened. Entering an active imagination with a fictitious ego is a very tricky business to watch.
Then comes the third stage in the active imagination, the ethical confrontation, when one mainly sits back and reacts with one’s true ego as one would to a real situation. I remember a most fascinating case of a woman who had grown up in Africa. Through that experience, she had gotten very close to the unconscious and had, one might say, “gone black”: She heard voices and was even diagnosed as schizophrenic. But we—Miss Hannah, Dr. Binswanger, and I, with whom she worked in Zu¨ rich—didn’t think she was schizophrenic. We thought that her hearing voices came rather from her African background. She lived through the most [terrible] things. Among other issues, she went with one man and then another one, over and over, with a complete emotional disorder about it all. Finally we found out that each time, she was obeying a voice that told her, “Pick up this man and go to bed with him,” and then suddenly it would say, “Now drop him and pick up that other one,” and so on. And like a slave she did what that voice told her to do.
Draw conclusions from your active imagination as you would do in real life……. If you promise something in an active imagination, it is just the same as if you promise it to a real human being. It counts, and you have to follow through and completely integrate the experience.
So finally we said this to her: “We don’t know if this voice is right or wrong, but you are never to obey it. You are to ask ‘Who are you? I’m not going to do what you say unless you tell me who you are. And then I will make up my mind to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and you must make up your mind too.”’ By the next time the voice told her “Drop him for another,” she had met a very nice male friend. So this time we got her to say to that voice, “No! I am not going to do that. You must first tell me who you are.” Do you know what the voice said? It said, “I’m Pan.” He was just the nature god Pan. And then—she was a very bright person—she had a marvelous answer. She said, “Oh, Pan, but look here. You don’t know history. For almost two thousand years we have had Christianity. Things have changed a bit since your age.
I can’t just do what you say. I must think about it myself and in this case, I prefer my present man friend. So please reconsider.” Pan was absolutely amiable about it and said, “Okay. That’s okay for me.”
They got engaged and then married, and on their wedding night, a marvelous synchronicity happened. She had just crawled into bed to join her new husband when she gave a cry and jumped out of the bed in shock. On the wall opposite she saw a shadow figure in profile with a hooked nose and two little horns: Pan! Her husband had thrown his clothes over a chair and the bedside lamp in just such a way that the resulting shadow exactly pictured Pan. So Pan had assisted on the wedding night by providing for what we could say was a really wonderful synchronicity.
There you see how important it is to teach people that they should not simply do what the voices tell them to do, nor should they repress the voices as schizophrenic and crazy. That is the ethical confrontation in which one has to have one’s own opinion. She had been told to repress her voices, to take a tranquillizer or pills when she heard those voices, that they were evidence of her schizophrenia. We helped her do the opposite by engaging the voice in dialogue.
The fourth stage is simple but difficult—like everything in Jungian psychology: Draw conclusions from your active imagination as you would do in real life. I remember a case that beautifully illustrates my point. I had a male patient who was having trouble in his relationships, so I asked him to talk with his anima. Well, his anima informed him that he neglected her. So in a slightly unreflective moment, he promised his anima that he would talk to her every day, if only for five or ten minutes. His anima said, “Yes, all right, but keep to it.” He promptly forgot all about the promise he’d made to his anima and over the next month experienced the most awful psychosomatic symptoms. I had not inquired about his promise in our sessions because I knew he was an ethical and very decent person and I didn’t want to play the governess. But now, as he was suffering such unpleasant symptoms, I said, “My God, have you forgotten to talk to your anima?” He said, “Yes, I have.” I said, “Well, there you are!” He apologized to his anima and his symptoms disappeared. This case shows that if you promise something in an active imagination, it is just the same as if you promise it to a real human being. It counts, and you have to follow through and completely integrate the experience.
In Europe the people are more skeptical and move more slowly through these stages, but as far as I can tell from my visits here in this country, in the psychological scene here people have achieved the first stage—that is, they realize the reality of the unconscious. Many people have realized half of the first step of emptying their mind to be able to let thoughts and images come up. Some people have realized the second stage of taking those thoughts and images as real and holding onto them. However, the third and the fourth stages, as far as I can see, are mostly lacking. For instance, most psychiatric centers and clinics now provide occupational therapy for patients. They are engaged in painting, music, and dancing. The exception is John Perry’s clinic in San Francisco, where he works quite differently and from a very Jungian standpoint—but most clinics stop short of that level of deep inner work. They don’t discuss with patients what they have painted or try to elicit a reaction toward whatever images they produced. As far as I can judge, there is a certain healing effect from the very fact that the patient creatively expresses his or her problem. For instance, in schizoid or schizophrenic cases, the very fact that patients can paint the archetype that has invaded them is great progress. I have discussed this matter with psychiatrists who have given patients the opportunity to express themselves but have not gone into the meaning of the paintings for the patients. Patients certainly do improve just by expressing their experience creatively, but it takes a very long time. I know from one patient’s history that it took him twelve years to get better by painting series after series after series and series of paintings depicting the problem that had overrun him. Now that outcome is better than nothing, but it’s a bit long! And that overly long time period is due to the fact that this stage involving the right way of ethically having it out with the unconscious content is not realized often enough. The same is true for what is now done very often—for instance, taking a drug un-
der medical supervision—and that approach doesn’t help at all because it has grown out of the idea that it is certainly dangerous for the person with a weakened ego to be confronted with the collective unconscious. Therefore, a medical doctor or a friend accompanies you on the trip so to ward off the dangerous effect. That is completely without merit because it’s the other who does the auseinandersetzung—the confrontation—and not the one who is in the soup.
Therefore I think it’s very dangerous because it’s a technique by which one even deceives oneself—because then it looks as if one is not nakedly exposed to the unconscious, but in fact the person is absolutely nakedly exposed to the unconscious. There is absolutely no use in the doctor’s presence there because it’s the doctor who understands, not the patient. And any guidance, as you know, weakens the possibility of the maturing of the patient. Any guidance, from our standpoint, is a big mistake because it weakens the other.
The patient then relies on the analyst to have it out with the demons, which means putting the patient into an infantile position where a papa or a mama looks after him or her when things become dangerous. Instead the patient needs to know this: “Rather, be more careful and do not go so far, but go alone and face it alone. That makes one a grown-up; only facing these things alone, having to wake up, make up one’s lonely mind or heart about what to do in a dangerous situation. That is what makes one grow up, not if somebody takes one by the hand and says, “Well, in this dangerous situation, you must react that way.” So I think these techniques are very dangerous and devious, leading away from the real thing. I think it is our task now to put forward this perspective and try to stop this wrong kind of technique.
In a way the group experience has a similar effect. We had a long discussion and observation of this point in our Zu¨ rich group. A few years after I went into analysis with Jung, a younger generation came into analysis with him and was called “the younger group” in the Psychological Club. The members of this younger group decided on their own one day to call themselves the “daughter corps of Jung” and began to talk about Jung as the “papa.” They wanted me to join them in this practice, but the very fact that I could have never called Jung papa, neither in reality nor in thought, made it for me impossible to do so. Yet they insisted, and so I was invited to many of theirs meetings, but I attended as a kind of border observer.
And there I saw something very dangerous. When I was in analysis with Jung, and in my animus, in the beginning he was very patient and explained to me, “Now, you are in the animus. Look at that dream.” He explained what the animus was, and so on, in a most patient and friendly way. But after a while, he thought, “Now one ought to have gotten the point!” So when one came into the hour with a blazing animus, he got rather nasty, cold, and cutting, saying something like “I’d hoped that you’d be far enough developed to notice yourself”—which you generally also painfully did in that moment. And you know what that group did? Instead of self-reflecting, they took to the telephone and said, “Jung was very unfriendly to me! He must not feel well today or be in a grumbling mood.” And once they decided that Jung was in a grumbling mood, you see, they had nothing more to think about. The old man was in a grumbling mood. I knew that was projection because very often, having warned me, “You must watch out—Jung is in a grumbling mood,” I would encounter him and he wasn’t at all grumbling. He was most cheerful because, by chance, I was not in the animus!
But they are! I realized how dangerous a group situation is, how one can use it to ward off the lonely impact. Now if you went alone in your hour and Jung was grumbly, then you had to make up your own mind: Is he grumbly or am I in the animus? And you had sometimes a wild battle between one voice saying, “Oh, he’s just grumbling and I am right,” and another voice saying, “Now, come, come, you are in the animus.” And you had a whole conflict there. A few times in my life it has happened that Jung was actually grumbly, but then generally he would very nicely apologize the next hour. He would say, “I am very sorry. Something happened and I was in a bad mood and I want to apologize.” Even before I said something, he apologized once.
So you have to really ask yourself. It could happen that the analyst is in a bad mood and in his anima, for instance, and it’s not you, in the animus. But that’s a lonely conflict that slowly sharpens a certain awareness of how you feel when you are in the animus and how you feel when you are not. And in this group feeling, the members all got themselves out of that conflict. They just decided in the group it was Jung’s mood, and then they had no more conflict. So that shows how dangerous this group dynamic can be. It naturally helps people, though. It can comfort people when they are in a terrible mood. I sometimes felt, “It’s very sad. I have nobody to complain to after a difficult hour.” But I prefer to have it out alone than to be comforted by a group and then not know any more, remaining completely befuddled about, “Am I now wrong or right?” Therefore, analysis should, at all cost, remain the absolute unmediated encounter of two human beings because only that format tests one to the core.
Now with all these things in mind, I have become interested in how much there are other grouping trends toward a confrontation with the unconscious, and I stumbled upon a book written by two brothers, Terence and Dennis McKenna, called The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching (1975). I bought it with enthusiasm because I read in some review that there was something about number and time, and as I am interested in that relationship, I bought the book. I found nothing about number and time in it, but I saw something else that I think is very interesting.
Terence and Dennis McKenna are two young men who decided to experiment with a Mexican hallucinogenic drug, a special one that is called Banisteriopsis [the foremost ingredient of ayahuasca is a traditional medicinal tea from the Amazon region]. It’s a kind of liana [wooden jungle vine] and has similar effects to mescaline, peyote, and all those herbs—just a slightly other variation. The McKennas had already studied some of the others. They were not drug addicts, as far as I could make out from the book; they had a really honest intent, and typically young, adventurous scientific minds, and with a certain curiosity, they wanted to discover the effects of this drug. They had a wild theory that this drug affects the ribonucleic acid molecules, and therefore the bio-electric processes in the nervous systems, and that by exploring the effects of the drug from within the trance, they might influence, or find out a way to influence, these neurological processes or learn more about them. So they had, in a way, a very honorable motivation, except for a certain pure curiosity, but which is very pardonable in young people, I think. And they were certainly very courageous. I mean, they took really big doses and got a bad deal in part. They tried to assist each other in the trance and as they tell it, sometimes one kept his head a bit out of the water and sometimes the other, and by being two together, two brothers, they managed to go through some rather rough experiences.
Now I got very excited about this and I thought, “Now, now, we are going to hear something—this is a fantastic experiment.” I was so enthusiastic that when I read the first twenty pages, I wanted to write to express my enthusiasm in a letter. But then I thought, “No, you better read on”—and then came the anti-climax. They don’t give any detailed report of what they really experienced or saw. They only sum it up, and what they sum up is that (1) they sometimes had the feeling of an invisible presence that was benevolently guiding them and wanting to transmit higher knowledge to them. (2) Toward the end of the experi-
I am personally convinced that great world catastrophes are imminent, and it will need a miracle to escape them, and that therefore those [apocalyptic] dreams have to be take partly, or nearly entirely, objectively. ment this presence faded and they had many insect visions and strange feelings. They noted that sometimes this invisible presence took the hallucinated form of a huge insect.
(3) They had very dominant paranoid fantasies about which they give no detail. And (4) they had apocalyptic visions of the end of the world as imminently at hand. The invisible presence wanted them to know that mankind was frantically building a life-like object, like a UFO, in order to escape to Jupiter, and that the invisible presence was involved with that, trying to help mankind make this escape to Jupiter—but all fail. That’s all we hear about their experience, and we don’t hear even that much coherently, but we have to pick though the book at certain points where they let out that much information.
This information from the McKenna brothers gives us nothing new whatsoever. We know that in schizoid states, when the sympathetic nervous system is excited, there are these insect-like experiences. There is even an ancient example. The emperor Nero, after he killed his mother, or had her killed, had a recurring dream that his favorite horse was dissolving into a swarm of mosquitoes. The dream shows that the vital basis of Nero’s life, represented by his horse, was disintegrating. Nero was latently psychotic before these dreams; with the impact of the dreams, he became openly psychotic. So this is an old theme that you can read in Jung’s works and naturally in innumerable works throughout recorded history.
The McKenna brothers experienced these hallucinated insects, but they didn’t make a connection with the sympathetic nervous system—about which they had explicitly wanted to discover more! The invisible presence is an appearance of the Self. That would be the Arab prince, so to speak, in Jung’s dream, and they lose the connection with him. Instead of building up a connection with that invisible presence and taking the information that the invisible presence wanted to give to them, they lose him. The third, the paranoid fantasy, I can’t say anything about because they don’t give any detail. And the fourth is this apocalyptic vision where the escape does not succeed. There it ends, with mankind frantically trying to run away from the planet.
If you have read John Perry’s book The Far Side of Madness (1974/2005), you can see that these apocalyptic visions are something that regularly occur in schizophrenic episodes. In my experience these apocalyptic themes are now occurring very, very frequently in the dreams of normal people. I am personally convinced that great world catastrophes are imminent, and it will need a miracle to escape them, and that therefore those dreams have to be taken partly, or nearly entirely, objectively.
In this connection I would like to read you a dream of an American who is definitely not schizophrenic, not even schizoid, and who has sent me and allowed me to publish or to use the following dream:
I am walking along what appears to be the Palisades overlooking all of New York City. I am walking with an anima figure that is unknown to me personally. We are both being led by a man who is our guide. That’s the invisible presence. New York is in a rubble. The world, in fact, has been destroyed as we know it. All of New York is just one heap of rubble. There are fires everywhere. Thousands of people are running frantically in every direction. The Hudson River has overflowed many areas of the city. Smoke is billowing up everywhere. As far as I can see, the land has been levelled. It was twilight. Fireballs were in the sky heading for the earth. [It was the end of the world, total destruction of everything that man and his civilization had built up.]
The cause of this great destruction was a race of giants who had come from outer space, from the far reaches of the universe. In the middle of the rubble I could see two of them sitting. They were casually scooping up people by the handful and eating them. All this was done with the same nonchalance that we have when we sit down at the table and eat grapes by the handful. The sight was awesome. The giants were not of the same size or quite the same structure. Our guide explained that the giants were from different planets and lived harmoniously and peacefully together. In fact, the earth, as we know it, was conceived by this race of giants in the beginning of time. They cultivated our civilization like we cultivate vegetables in a hot house. Now they have returned to reap the fruits they have sown.
I was saved because I had slightly high blood pressure. [I have to shorten his account a bit; he has explained his dream very powerfully.] If I had had normal blood pressure, if my blood pressure were not too high, I would have been eaten like almost all the others. I’ve chosen to go through this ordeal, and if I pass the ordeal, I would be become like my guide, a saver of souls.
We walked for an extraordinarily long time. Then before me I saw a huge golden throne. It was as brilliant as the sun, impossible to view straight on. On the throne sat the king and his queen of the race of giants. The ordeal, in addition to witnessing the world’s destruction, was a task I had to perform: to climb up this staircase until I was at their level, face to face with them. I started climbing. It was long and very difficult. My heart was pounding very hard. I felt frightened but knew I had to accomplish this task. The world and humanity were at stake. I woke up from this dream perspiring heavily. Later I realized that the destruction of the earth by the race of giants was a wedding feast for the newly united king and queen. This was a special occasion, as was the extraordinary feeling I have about this king and queen.
There, if you compare this apocalyptic dream vision with the apocalyptic vision of the McKennas, you see that here there is a saving alternative—an alternative which is very, very difficult: to climb up to the wedding of the king and queen. There is a constructive possibility on earth. There is a possibility, not to save mankind, but to save some of it by this man’s effort. Whereas in the McKenna vision, there is only an escape to Jupiter, and that’s very doubtful. I mean, it doesn’t come off in their experiment; it’s only a hope. This man in his dream stays with his guide and is told exactly what he has to do by his guide, whereas in the McKennas’ account, they lose contact with the guide, with that positive invisible presence. So there you see the difference: This man is in Jungian analysis, and he tries as honestly as he can to approach the unconscious with the means available to him. The McKennas tried, in their way through drugs, and you see how the catastrophe ahead is the same in both. That shows that it is absolutely essential that the ego is not knocked out during the encounter with the unconscious; that the ego realizes that the first impact of the unconscious is always demonic. Here you have a beautiful illustration.
You know that in the Book of Enoch [an ancient Jewish religious work, ascribed by tradition to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah], angels marry the daughters of the earth, who then give birth to giants—and the giants destroy everything. Jung interprets this myth in Answer to Job as a too-hasty invasion of the unconscious. And we can say, I think, that is what the dream of this man expresses, and that is the situation we are in now. We have a circle of old-fashioned rationalists in certain countries who still believe in nineteenth-century dogma and who reject the unconscious and are completely off the track that way; and we have another group of people that is now open to the unconscious, but they are open to this too-hasty invasion. They just open the door. They don’t know that this first impact will be the destructive giant and that it will depend on the ethical strength of the ego to face it in the right way.
There is a great difference in attitudes toward the unconscious shown in the books of Carlos Castaneda, which probably are known to all of you, because they were such a best seller a few years ago, mainly among young people. And I must say I have read them also with a tremendous enthusiasm and with a tremendous disgust, because I can’t stand Castaneda with his eternal writing down and doubting and what not. But I love Don Juan, and I have therefore read the books a second time, only reading what Don Juan says, leaving out all of Castaneda’s rational stuff. And then the stories are really marvelous if you do it that way. This Don Juan is a natural genius. When I read some passages, I felt, “Jung could have said that, just literally.”
Now if you remember, Don Juan tries to teach Castaneda, without much success, the art of dreaming and the art of stopping the world. “Stopping the world” is obviously a parallel method to the Zen Buddhist practice of stopping the train of thought. Making oneself open to reread what Don Juan means by stopping the world, one can realize that it’s stopping the ego reasoning and the train of perception of the outer world and building on one’s perception of the outer world a kind of constant ego functioning. That’s clear.
After stopping the world comes the state of dreaming. How Don Juan describes dreaming is exactly, or to a great extent, similar to active imagination. He even calls dreaming “controlled folly,” and Jung called active imagination a “voluntary psychosis.” There are sometimes really amazingly literal connections in the way Don Juan describes the state of dreaming. Once Castaneda gets near to dreaming, he experiences a rush of feeling in images. He gets into fantasizing, he panics, and then he concentrates on Don Genaro and Don Juan and snaps out of it. In other words, he doesn’t dream. He needs the image of the guide and he needs the outer guide, or he would probably fall into a psychiatric state. We don’t encounter him in a dreaming state again in the book.
Still, to a certain extent, Castaneda learns an art that is similar to dreaming, and one thing he learns is that he has to overcome the ally. The ally is obviously the Self. It’s the same as the invisible presence in the McKenna drug experience and the Arab prince in Jung’s dream. It is the Self. When the Self is in its primary attacking form, then it’s the dangerous ally that jumps as a beast on Don Genaro, and he has to free both himself and his other apprentice. (I have forgotten his name.) And so dealing with the ally is very much what we have to learn: to deal with the Self when the Self is still in its first approach to the human being. That is very much what we do in Jungian analysis.
Naturally there is a kind of primitive Indian flavor about the Don Juan stories that is different from our cultural background, but that is not really a great difference. I mean, that kind of surface difference wouldn’t matter. It’s more a slightly different style. But what seems to me completely lacking and what shocked me and raised a certain resistance in me to this method of Don Juan is the complete lack of the feminine. If you look through the books, there is not one male character having it out with the anima and there is not one positive female figure. There is a kind of perfunctory remark at the end of the fourth volume that women can reach this good wise stage too, but … There is no experience of the woman in it, and the only woman who appears is, if you remember, La Catalina: the witch. At the end of the book we learn that she is not really an evil person, she only had to play the role of the evil witch for the initiation of Castaneda. Even after he learns that she isn’t a witch but only appears to be in this staged affair, there is never ever contact with La Catalina. There is a complete lack of anima, and that absence of the feminine is apparent in the terribly rough fighting. You have the feeling that this is a rough, primitive, man-to-man initiation. And insofar as that goes and, for a man who isn’t a man (and Castaneda obviously isn’t a man, at least at the beginning of the story), it’s okay, but there is nothing higher. There is no eros, no feeling development.
Now, I first put that lack of eros onto the fact that Castaneda has obviously suffered a juvenile trauma to which Don Juan alludes several times; that he had had some youth experience that destroyed his feeling. Then I thought, “Well, Don Juan had one, too, because he experienced how the whites massacred his parents when he was a child, and that might have damaged his feeling.” But then we learn in the later books that Don Juan is married and has children. So it looks as if he is not so anima deficient and feeling deficient as it looks like, but we hear nothing about it. So probably it’s rather Castaneda who has no sensorium and who therefore didn’t get that side from Don Juan. He just didn’t pick up that side from Don Juan, and he didn’t write it down in his book because he had no sensorium. So I am giving Don Juan the benefit of the doubt that he knows something about the anima and has gone into this world as well, and that it is only Castaneda’s deficiency that makes the whole representation so deficient. But as it is presented to us, it is deficient.
It seems to me that it is also important for us to see that there are now attempts to confront the unconscious with other methods. There are these dangers. The McKennas obviously take off into a completely unreal speculation; they lose the ground under their feet. Castaneda becomes a lone wolf. You know, you remember also that he stopped to break up his personal history, to break up all his relationships, and to become a lonely warrior. Now, we could not do that. I think it’s the greatest merit of Jung that he has taught us how we can relate to this weird world of the deeper unconscious without breaking up our human relationships or our marriage or whatever our social situation is. He taught us that our active imaginations should not lead us to become lonely asocial hunters of mysteries—what Castaneda becomes with quite a tinge of the vanity of the great magician around it too. That vanity is obviously a form of inflation, which Don Juan again does not have, because Don Juan has a tremendous sense of humor, and he can see himself in his whole misery and ridiculousness. Castaneda cannot: He is pompous; he takes himself seriously.
So, there are different illustrations that now, as far as I can see, a lot of people are experimenting with things similar to active imagination and going off on dangerous tangents. That’s how I see the situation, and that’s the problem I would like to discuss with you.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS1
Question: [Do you know of experiments that led to a succesful confrontation with the collective unconscious?]
von Franz: Do you mean drug experiments? When you say experiments, I would say, “No.” But I have seen people accomplish this, actually right under my nose. We have a maid who is a medium and has heard voices all of her life. I have never touched her psychologically. She is an anachronism. Her soul was born in the Stone Age and by mistake it got into the present age, and that was a rather difficult situation for her to cope with, but she managed very well. Once she realized that she was having conversations with
1Questions in brackets were reconstructed, based on von Franz’s answers, because they were inaudible on the original tape recording. voices, she discovered on her own how to handle them. When she has enough of them, she tells them off. She says, “One must tell these voices and ghosts what one thinks, and one must tell them; otherwise they get the better of you.” I have watched her for many years. She’s been in our family for forty-two years; she came when she was twenty-five, and there she was—really, I wouldn’t say crazy, but very odd. Now she is a completely balanced, humorous wise old woman whom I greatly admire. And nothing can take her out of her sense of humor and her human balance. She has a kind of strange philosophy of life. She said, for instance, that she was renting a room where people call her really bad names, and I told her, “Maria, take another room.” She didn’t want to live in our house because she wanted her freedom. That was all right. But I never understood why she stayed there. Two of those horrible people died. Then she finally moved to a place with very nice people; now she is in paradise. So when she told me this good news, it was so marvelous, I said, “Yes, I’ve always thought you should move.” She said, “No, you see, in life when something is disagreeable, you have to just stick with it till fate has enough! And then it turns. If you go out of it, try to escape it, the evil just runs after you in some other form.” Now, that is a successful human contact, primitive, and it’s on the Don Juan level—you know, the original primitive level with the collective. She speaks to ghosts, she speaks to the dead, and she does it completely successfully in her own way, and the end result is a mature, integrated personality.
Question: The maid’s success was an individual effort. Are there any schools, for example, [schools of psychic development, involved with this kind of method]?
von Franz: I’ve analyzed a lot of people who have done yoga. I’ve analyzed lots of people who did a bit of Zen meditation, you know, but one man in particular stands out: He has done meditation for four years and gotten some of the titles, but as far as I’ve seen, he is not a success. This Zen man has become completely unspontaneous. He seems to wear a mask. Even his handwriting—a very beautiful calligraphy—is completely artificial. His wife got so annoyed with him that she ran away. And I said, “You know, if I were your wife, I’d run away too. Why don’t you give me a real reaction instead of a poker face and a rehearsed wise answer?” The anima was nowhere to be found. The whole gist of the analysis was to bring him back to a more natural state. I mostly didn’t analyze him because he always dragged in his Zen consciousness. Instead I sent him to dancing classes, drinking parties, and dancing parties to undo his unnatural thinking! So, there might be a bit of success. I don’t want to generalize. I can only say, “I haven’t seen any such schools.”
Question: What do you think of Mescalito?
von Franz: I took Mescalito as a form of the Self or the ally. I always wondered why Don Juan takes so much trouble with such a bloke as Castaneda. Why does he waste his time on such a rational fool? And I think Mescalito must have told him to mentor Castaneda. He even makes an allusion that he got ordered to do it. Then he makes his experiments, and because Mescalito appears as a playful dog, if you remember, he draws a conclusion that Castaneda should go into the apprenticeship. I wondered to myself, “Now why the hell did the Self put Don Juan on such an unsuitable (in my opinion) patient? Why did Mescalito not send him a better patient?” And the only thing I could figure out—and please understand that these are my purely personal reactions—was this: The unconscious wanted Don Juan’s wisdom to come into the world and that humankind should hear what Don Juan had to say, and Don Juan would have never written a line. When Don Juan saw the book written about him, he said, “You know what we Mexicans do with books? We put them in the toilet. Toilet paper.” So Don Juan would have never written down his wisdom, and his wisdom is marvelous, and this is a blessing that it is recorded.
Probably fate used Mescalito. Mescalito is Mercurius. He’s just the same as in alchemy. The spirit Mercurius is the great trickster of the unconscious, and Mescalito played that trick on Don Juan for higher purposes that go far beyond Castaneda, who is simply instrumental. That’s how I see it. And I think of Mescalito as the Self or as Mercurius who has all those trickster qualities. Mercurius is also a dog. I mean, even when Mescalito appears, he’s like the alchemical Mercurius.
Question: Regarding the ethical confrontation, do you see a difference in the ability of functions, types, to deal better with this? Is one type better able or is this something to do with the consciousness of that person that lets him or her make that ethical confrontation more easily or less easily?
von Franz: No, I don’t think so. I think each type has its own difficulty. For instance, it’s easy for intuitives to get into fantasy but very difficult to connect it with reality. Recall the man I mentioned earlier who promised to talk to his anima every day and then didn’t do it—he was an intuitive. You see, the actual fact that ten minutes of his heavy working day should be given over to this task—that was hard on him to do because facts or tasks were the problem for him. Now for me, the feeling confrontation is difficult. I’m a thinking type. So, I have the same difficulty with the inner world as with the outer world. In the outer world my difficulties are related to the feelings and in the inner world too. I know a thinking type, a man, who dreamt about a slightly crazy but beautiful girl, a typical anima dream. The dream ended in a funny way: He was attracted to her, and she seemed attracted to him, but nothing came of it—and so I said, “Continue with an active imagination.” He did, and he got into a tremendous fantasy in which he met her and how they talked. He did a really good active imagination. But he forgot completely that he was married! In his active imagination he went with her to Paris and lived with her in Paris, and so on. And suddenly I said, “But, excuse me, you know in reality you are married.” And he said, “Yes, but, uh, well . . . ” With his mind he had just made a split. In one world, the fantasy world, he was married to the anima, and that in reality he was married to his wife. That was the real reality, or however you might call it, and he never saw that there was a feeling conflict. I told him to tell the active imagination girl that he was married! Question: Oh, he hadn’t done that?
von Franz: He hadn’t done that. Now you see that’s typical of the thinking type. He had just put it nicely into a category that it’s the anima in my active imagination and this is my wife in daily life. She is the outer reality and therefore there is no conflict. Now I think a feeling type would not have that worry. He would have others. For instance, the feeling type—I can give you an example. I had a feeling type and therefore thinking was his inferior function. His thinking was very sharp, Cartesian, cynical, depreciative thought, you know, “nothing but” thought, reductive. (In my experience feeling types often show these characteristics in their thinking.) He was charming, very optimistic, extraverted; everything was nice and people were nice. But he always dreamt about a cynical old neighbor who was dead long ago, a Mr. So-and-So. That Mr. So-and-So showed up regularly, twice a week, in his dreams. And I said, “Look here, this is your negative thinking. Somewhere you do think like he thinks, and you think this analysis is bullshit.” He was drinking—that was his problem. He always said yes, because he was a feeling type; he always said yes very nicely. And nothing happened. Finally, I said to him, “Now you must have it out with that man.” Then he went home and made a very good active imagination, and this negative thinking chap told him off and said, “You know, you drink too much, and now you are afraid you have cirrhosis of the liver, and that’s why you now want to run away into Jungian psychology. Your reason for analysis is cowardice. You don’t want to face what you have done. You are just afraid of liver trouble, and you know that leads nowhere,” and so on. Being a feeling type and not able to think well, he was convinced. After about half an hour of conversation in the active imagination, he said to this cynical thinker, “Yes, you are right.”
In that moment he had a heart attack, a really bad one. He just dragged himself to the phone. A doctor came at once, gave him a shot, put him to bed. Then he rang me, as he lived in another town, and he was panting and in fright. He waited a few days till the doctor allowed him to come to Zu¨ rich for an electrocardiogram, after which he was told, “There is nothing wrong with your heart. It was purely nervous.” But the attack had occurred at the moment when he had said to this negative figure, “You are right.” I said to him, “Well, you know, look at it; look at your argument. You let that man lead you along with his argument. What could you say against it?” He said, “Well, logically I can’t say anything against it.” I said, “Well, in your logic there are arguments of the heart. What do you feel about it?” He said, “I feel it’s all nonsense.” I said, “Why don’t you argue with your feeling? You have the right to argue with your feeling as much as with your thought. Don’t fall into your inferior thinking.”
He started again, but the thinking type in him interrupted: “Have you been to Zu¨ rich and your governess told you what to tell me? Ha!” But this time he stood his ground and said, “Yes, in a way that is so, but I must tell you that I myself feel that this is so too, quite apart from what you said. So, I feel that you are wrong.” He led the conversation to a victorious end, and that night he dreamt that he was literally walking behind the coffin in that man’s funeral. I have never seen such a tic-tac reaction in the unconscious. That was the feeling type’s strategy, you see. He can be argued by seemingly logical nonsense, because he can’t think well enough.
Question: I would like to come back to what you said about the apocalyptic dream mentioned earlier. Is there is anything in the apocalyptic dream that is objective and contains a solution to the problems of our time? I remember that Jung, and James Kirsch too, had dreams that something bad was happening in the world.
von Franz: Well, you know, in the BBC interview “Face to Face,” Freeman asked Jung that question too: “Have you now any such apprehensions?” And Jung answered that it is now much more difficult, because before the First World War when he had those apocalyptic visions, nobody thought of a war. But now everybody thinks of such possibility, and if you read science fiction, every third or every second science fiction novel begins with the destruction of the world and a flight to another planet, and so on. We have now a student at the Jung Institute who has written his thesis on motive in science fiction. He’s taken some of the most well-known science fiction, the twenty or thirty of the latest novels he got hold of, and there is practically none that is not catastrophic. People read about it, our newspapers print it, the talk goes on about it all the time. So it is not the same situation. Jung says that in the BBC interview, and having heard that from Jung, I don’t dare to play the prophet. But I can only say personally: I am convinced that quite a lot is going to happen soon. I am only too glad if you can, in ten years, tell me that I was wrong. I’ll be so happy that it hasn’t happened that I won’t mind being wrong.
Question: I’m a little caught by that statement you just made, and when you made it before, and the third principle of active imagination that to reach a place where you would accept that outcome, however grudgingly, seems like on some level not an ethical confrontation with the force that would stabilize the conflict.
von Franz: You mean the fact that I face the possibility of such a destruction is the opposite of ethical confrontation?
Question: Well, perhaps I misheard you, but I . . .
von Franz: (interrupts) Well, if the undertone in me would be resignation, then it would be. But I am not resigned.
Question: Can you say more about that?
von Franz: Well, how could I put that in words? It’s very difficult. Naturally I have moods when I really am resigned, and then I pull up my socks and say, “You had so many miracles in your own life, why shouldn’t there be another?” But the reason why I am pessimistic is something I have not ever told. When Jung was dying, he said to me, “When I shut my eyes, I see great stretches of the earth completely destroyed. Thank God it is not the whole planet.” I had the feeling that that was an objective vision that has naturally stuck with me.
Question: How has that experience affected your [basic understanding of the psyche]? von Franz: Not a bit. Jung once went walking with Miss Hannah and me, and there was a marvelous sunset, and he said, “You know, that sun, our sun system is based on something very unsafe. This sun is a very unsafe luminary or heavenly body. It could explode any minute, and if the sun exploded, every life on earth would be destroyed in twelve seconds. You count to twelve, and there’s nothing left. And that could happen at any minute because it’s unstable.” And then he added, “And, you know, to the psyche that would make no difference.”
So, you see, in a way I say it makes no difference. I have to go on with what my psyche tells me to do. And that’s so difficult that I have enough to concentrate on that. I cannot change the world anyhow; it’s quite hard enough to look after my shadow and my animus and those kinds of things. I am fully occupied—and hopefully occupied because I know there is no difference to the psyche. So I work on the psyche, because there I am working on a ground where these things make no difference. And anyhow, let’s assume that Jung saw the truth. What can we do? We can only build the future that comes after the catastrophe. I mean, if you look at history, there have always been those big catastrophes and the crumbling of civilizations. We can be sure that, one day, we will all be in the dust and then they’ll dig us up. I don’t think there is any chance that our civilization would not go the same way as all the others—one day. But somebody like Lao Tse and what he has built in the spirituality of humankind is still alive. So let’s go on with that and the rest we do what we can against it—in the power area where we can exert our will—and beyond that . . . I can’t influence Brezhnev or Ford or all those people. I don’t want to either.
Question: James Michener tells the story prior to the Second World War in the Pacific. A man in Australia had a vision, knew what was going to happen. There was going to be a war. He felt that Japan would invade Australia, and he was trying to think what he could do to protect his family. He thought one possibility would be to move into the outback area, that the Japanese probably would leave them alone because that would be an intolerable life. So he moved his family to this obscure island in the Pacific that nobody had ever heard of: Guadalcanal. In the end, this man brought his family straight into the lion’s den!
von Franz: On the other hand, a German professor of art history told me about his experience in that last World War, which has the opposite outcome. He was not a Nazi and therefore entered the military service very unwillingly. He was on the Russian front when the news arrived: He and the men in his troop were going to be sacrificed—all killed—as a way to hold one position when the Russians attacked so that the others troops could rearrange themselves in the back and survive. That was the strategy: Push one company forward for the Russians to attack; the men have to hold on till nobody is alive. The men all knew that it was so, and they were all lying there, waiting for the attack and their end, when suddenly in the blazing sun this man, our art history professor, saw a German soldier, but without helmet, with bare head, blond hair, saying to him, “Orders. Come quickly!” He was lying on the ground—but he got up in response to the German soldier’s word and stood there, in front of the Russians. Nobody shot at him. He followed his comrade into the woods some hundred meters. In the meantime he heard how the Russians had attacked in the back, and suddenly that figure of the German soldier dissolved—it had been a hallucination. All the others in his troop were killed; he alone had survived. So I always say to myself, if the unconscious wants to save somebody, it can do the craziest, most unexpected thing. If that man had figured out that he was hallucinating, he would have never saved himself. He was quite resigned to dying. Instead, he was convinced that the vision had been of Christ. He said, “From then on, I believed in Christ.” That was Christ in this man’s psyche, even though the vision itself doesn’t say it’s Christ; it was a German soldier without a helmet, but he believed that was Christ. So I would say, if the unconscious wants to kill somebody, it can kill you in bed, and if it wants to save you, it can save you even in a global catastrophe. So it’s not worth bothering about it too much or in the wrong way!
Question: How do you explain why one person is saved and another person is completely misled into certain disaster?
von Franz: I wouldn’t dare to explain that. I mean, sometimes you see clear, superficial clues, like unconscious suicide desire—a man’s life having become meaningless and at the end, and although he would never commit suicide consciously, he walks to where he’s fittingly blotted out, or so on. I would always only dare to make such a judgment like that if I had real scientific information—let’s say from his dreams or the like. But if I don’t know the dreams of that person, if I have no other information, I think it is cynical and arrogant to judge, you know, to say, “This one was killed for this reason or that reason, and so on.” I prefer to say, “I don’t—we don’t—know.” If I hear about such a case, if I have no information, I say, “I don’t know.” Human life and fate are so intricate. When you hear the actual facts, sometimes the reasons for the death or for staying alive are so tremendously surprising, that you would never expect them. I have given up trying to figure it out myself if I have no information. If you know the dreams, then sometimes you can see how the web, a kind of web, contracts around somebody toward saving him or toward killing him. But Jung very often used the expression, “His number was up.” There is such a thing. Sometimes people’s numbers are just up. It’s not their fault. It’s not anything gone wrong; death comes naturally once to everybody. I think that’s a very bad habit in certain Jungian circles if a member of the club or so dies early, then they say, “He or she must have that and that and that.” I think that’s petty and not right. If we don’t know facts that really prove those claims, I don’t speculate. I prefer to think it’s a great mystery that we don’t know.
Question: I’m very moved right now with what you’re talking about: the knowingness of the unconscious as a tremendous source of help and for unconsciousness.
von Franz: Yes. Yes, I think that is the terrible paradox that the same thing is this destructive unconsciousness and the highest guiding consciousness. The unconscious is the saving thing and the demonic, the destructive thing. That’s why Jung says, “It’s our task to hold those opposites together.” That’s the wedding of the king and the queen, of this big dream. That’s why we have to judge, because the unconscious is the highest—what the Hindu would call super-consciousness—and is utter ridiculous nonsense. Every neurotic nonsense is made by the unconscious. The most idiotic and neurotic nonsense is made by it, and it is the source of highest illumination. It’s up to us to discern the difference. That’s why we have to stand the risk of being wrong and decide and say, for instance, “Now this is utter nonsense. I am going to reject it”—naturally keeping the door open. If the unconscious suggests something that seems crazy to me, I say to it: “Well, I think this is crazy nonsense. I am not going to do it. Go to hell!” Still, I add, “But if it is not crazy nonsense, please send me another dream and then I”ll reconsider.” That means I keep the door open. I don’t judge absolutely. If the unconscious sends me another dream insisting again, I say, “Well, damn it, there must be something done about it.” But that’s . . . one is in constant doubt. One is in constant conflict. And that’s what we owe to the unconscious. We must be in doubt. That’s what it wants.
Question: Could you amplify the third and fourth stages of the active imagination a little bit? You sort of said it was undeveloped here and new thinking.
von Franz: Well, I gave the example of the man who makes a fantasy with his dream anima and doesn’t consider the problem that he’s married. Now as far as I see in these other techniques of fantasizing, they allow the patient to go to a happy South Sea island with an imaginary siren, and, you know, do anything. They never dream the ethical confrontation because they treat it as fantasy, and in fantasy you may do anything. In other words, they treat it as fantasy with the underlying implication that it’s “nothing but fantasy,” whereas we treat it as reality. When the happy island fantasy with the siren is reality, then it’s bigamy, which might not be forbidden but might be a conflict or should be a conflict. That’s the difference between most of the techniques I have seen that allow fantasy. They allow fantasy in a noncommittal way. The fantasy is not committed because it’s “nothing but fantasy,” even if one interprets it as having it out with the anima, or so on. The undertone is always that it is only fantasy. It’s not as real as these spectacles on this stage. But for Jung it was as real as these spectacles I’ve worn on this stage. It’s just as real as the sensual reality and therefore a conflict. You cannot do things in an active imagination that aren’t you. You can read at the end of Mysterium Coniunctionis where Jung speaks about the great danger of entering with a fictitious ego into the fantasy.
Now the man I couldn’t catch, where I finally caught him this way: He was a parson’s son and therefore terribly threatened, naturally, by evil because the father had lived all the while as if evil didn’t exist. This man once had a dream that he was pursued by a dangerous force, so I said, “Well, try to go on, try to find out about this dangerous force.” And then he said he had looked back and had seen a horse hoof: no doubt, the devil. So I knew then the devil was after him, and he ran, and that thing ran, and then suddenly it came closer, and then he got a terrible panic and told the story with a slight change of voice: “And there suddenly was a horse and I swung myself on the horse and without looking back, I rode very quickly and escaped.” And I said, “Thank God!” But then I looked at him and he looked white and cramped. White, I can imagine, but not relaxed, you know, like that. I said, “Look here, I somehow can’t believe you. There’s something gone wrong. I can’t catch what it is, but this isn’t it.” And he said, “No, I don’t see—that was how it was. That’s how I saw it.” And then I shrugged my shoulders. I couldn’t do anything. He went away, and then he wrote me a little letter before the next hour in which he said this: “I think I must tell you that at the moment before that horse appeared, I felt, ‘I can’t stand it any more,’ and suddenly a part of me thought, ‘This is only a fantasy,” and then the other part of me saw that horse had run away.”
So he split from one part of his ego and walked out and said, “There is only that,” and then made a fake escape, so to speak, with the other half. It was no longer genuine. Now, that was completely pardonable because it was just too much for him. I never made him do another active imagination. He just wasn’t up to it. So it was a pardonable mistake, but it showed what can happen. I only tell you the story for the analysts among you. How one can be deceived: that people give you a fantasy as if it really had happened in active imagination. He wrote it down and gave it to me. And therefore it is very advisable to always watch, to look at the person and to say, “Does he [or she] look as if that happened to him?” Because only through that way of observing him did I get the truth out of him: by looking at him and saying to myself, “He does not look as if that had happened to him.” There are those subtleties of not having it in the right way out of the unconscious.
The fourth stage is simple. It is that you see something in the active imagi-
Why don’t we let the wisdom of nature heal every bodily Illness? It does not. We can do things by seeing what’s going on and helping a bit
here and stopping a bit there, and that’s the dignity of nation, you make an oath to do that or this, or you promise a figure and then you don’t do it because you think this is only fantasy. It doesn’t have to do with my daily schedule. Or, for instance, a figure in the dream tells you, “Don’t go out today because it’s dangerous.” And then you go out and have an accident because you just didn’t take the warning seriously. We see that again and again in people: “Well, it’s very disagreeable for me sometimes. When an inner figure tells me not to do something or to do something, it just doesn’t suit me! It doesn’t suit my plans. It doesn’t suit my arrangements and then I get very angry. You have to take the phone and change everything and then you can’t even explain it. You can’t say ‘My psyche doesn’t allow that,’ so you have to find some lousy excuse and it’s very annoying.” But that is taking the fantasy really seriously. Otherwise it’s just toying with it. And as far as I can see, there is much passionate toying with it these days, but many do not take it seriously. Well, the schizophrenics take it too seriously. When a voice tells them, “Kill somebody,” they go and kill that person. They take it kind of too literally. That’s the other way. Or, some schizophrenics even do both: They don’t take it seriously, and they take it literally at the same time. One part of them doesn’t take it seriously and the other half carries it out literally. That’s what you see very often in schizophrenics. We had a case recently in Switzerland involving a schizophrenic in an asylum. He was seemingly good-natured and they let him do the gardening. He made friends with the chief doctor’s little girl, who was nine years of age, and she always talked to him while he was gardening. One day he took a big knife and slowly chopped off the child’s head. When asked why he had done it, he said, “I heard the voice of the Holy Ghost telling me, ‘Kill the child.”’ He wasn’t even condemned. I mean, he was so arguably beyond any competent mental state. I thought a lot about that case. I said to myself, “Now, what would I do if he was working with me?” I thought, “Well, it’s very simple. Probably it was the Holy Ghost and what he should have killed was his own childishness.”
Question: Why would the Holy Ghost though [urge murder]? Wouldn’t [the unconscious] be wise enough to be aware of the possible outcome?
von Franz: No, you see, that’s the terrible thing. That’s why I said before that the unconscious contains both tremendous wisdom and dangerous, misleading nonsense. It would be easy if the unconscious offered only guiding wisdom. That would be ideal. We could all shut our practice in a short time.
Question: I have a problem with that [perspective of the unconscious]. That seems almost like a deliberate diabolical seduction of someone at the point of the person’s Achilles heel.
von Franz: Well, I could imagine! It is like a healing shot going wrong. You know, Jung even says schizophrenia is a healing reaction of nature gone wrong, because it’s probably an auto-intoxication. I mean physically. It has to do with a toxic state. Well, let’s use a simile. If somebody dies from fever, nature didn’t want to kill him from fever. Fever is a symptom of a healing process, but one can also die from it. Nature does these kinds of things. That’s why nature is so difficult to deal with, because even though fever is a symptom of a healing process—the battle of the white blood corpuscles against the intruding bacteria—you can still die from it. That’s why a wise doctor dampens the healing process. Nature tends to overshoot the mark; otherwise human consciousness would be of no use and nature could do it all. That’s why human consciousness is a new invention and a real something. That’s why we have medical art in the physical healing. Why don’t we let the wisdom of nature heal every bodily illness? It does not. We can do things by seeing what’s going on and helping a bit here and stopping a bit there, and that’s the dignity of human consciousness. Thank God. Otherwise the unconscious would be all there is. This is an extreme case with the schizophrenic man. I’m sure that if I had heard a voice saying, “Kill that child!” it would have never occurred to me to kill her. I would have at once thought symbolically about what that child must mean. I would have said, “God, what does that child mean? What must I kill in myself?” It would have never occurred to me to exteriorize the message from the unconscious.
Question: Would you ask, “Is there really something I must kill in me?” in answer to the voice?
von Franz: Yes, I would say that the unconscious wants me to kill something that is childlike, and now I must think. First, according to St. Paul, I must test the spirits: Is it really the Holy Ghost or is it the devil? Second, what does the child represent in me that I have to kill? In what way am I like that child and why should that be killed?
Question: Yeah, that’s what I mean. It isn’t necessarily true that something in you has to be killed. According to what I hear you saying, the voice may be wrong in telling you to kill the child.
von Franz: I think if such a strong voice comes through, it does really want something killed. For instance, you know how you have to sometimes kill something in you—for instance, you have to say, “Now finish with those bad habits; stop drinking and smoking too much,” on the physical level. And there are same bad habits on the psychological level where one knows one slips into a childish habit that one has really outgrown, but there is a big temptation to slip back into it. And then one has to just say, “Finish. No more! Pull up your socks!” That’s killing the child.
Question: It sounds as though the third stage, however, of the active imagination is missing. The fourth is, you do something.
von Franz: Yeah. The third is the moral conflict. The moral conflict, in this case, is to determine if that voice is a good spirit or an evil spirit. Is that my animus? Is a negative childishness meant, or is that a positive child that the animus in me wants to squash? I must test out those two possibilities and figure out the answer. Sometimes you can’t use your intellect; you have to use your feeling. That’s why I call it an ethical matter. You have to evaluate, and finally you have to come to an evaluation and say, “I think this is a good spirit and it means I must kill [that] childishness, or I think this is my animus who wants to suppress my childlike spontaneity and I am not going to obey.” And that’s why I must look at the series of my dreams and I must also ask myself how I feel, if I have a good or bad conscience about being childish or not childish.
Question: What happens to the feeling? What about the repulsion against blood and so on? What happens to that? Or hurting something, voice or no voice?
von Franz: It’s the same thing. You have to sometimes. I have done something awful in my life. I can’t pardon myself but, you know, I saw a blind worm—that just had happened three weeks ago—and it went over the road just before my house, and I love blind worms. You know, they look like snakes but they are not snakes. They are completely harmless. They look like a copper-colored snake, but they belong to the family of the worms. And they live in the gardens. They are completely harmless and very nice animals. And I saw a car run over it and it got so squashed that its entrails came out of his mouth with a lot of blood. And it began to wriggle in agony. And you see, I hadn’t the guts to kill it.
Question: You hadn’t?
von Franz: No. I felt nauseated and ran in the house and then I just thought, “You’ve got to take a knife. You’ve got to take a knife!” But I knew they are very tough, you know, I would have to (pounds repeatedly on lectern). I just couldn’t do it. Now I say that is bad, evil, shunning blood. There are situations where one must not shun blood. I mean, I don’t excuse my behavior. I know I was wrong. Therefore, you see, sometimes blood has to be spilled. There are situations where one has to kill.
Question: Almost like a soldier . . .
von Franz: Yes, like a soldier. “Bite your teeth and kill!” And that is true inwardly too. Sometimes you have to take the inner knife and to say, “Now, no sentimentality. Finish!” Thank God it happens not very often though, because it’s a horrible thing to do, but it has to be done. That’s just living life. ~Marie-Louise von Franz, Marie-Louise von Franz (2016) Confrontation with the Collective Unconscious, Psychological Perspectives, 59:3, 295-318
McKenna, T., & McKenna, D. (1975). The invisible landscape: Mind, hallucinogens, and the I Ching. New York, NY: Seabury Press.
Perry, J. (2005). The far side of madness. Dallas, TX: Spring. (Original work published 1974)