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Marie-Louise von Franz: Niklaus Von Flüe And Saint Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Their Visions
Interpretation of the Second and Third Visions
301 Perpetua’s second vision contains a piece of the more personal side of her problem in a language that is more accessible to her conscious world, although it touches upon the same basic motifs that appeared in the first vision.
302 This is the dream of the little brother, Dinocrates, in the underworld.
The Roman Catholic Church takes such visions very concretely and uses them as a basis for its doctrine of the intercession of saints, which has the effect of succoring the souls in Purgatory. (Perpetua herself seems to have interpreted the dream in this sense.)
303 If, however, we consider the dream on the subjective level-that is, in the first place as an inner event-Dinocrates (like Saturus in the first vision) undoubtedly embodies a spiritual content in Perpetua herself.
His suffering, as portrayed in the dream, is in some way identical with her own painful condition.
This suffering should therefore be understood as the inner need that caused her to yearn for the “fountain of living water;’ the baptismal water.
304 To Perpetua, this little brother who died in early childhood, together with all the memories which are linked with him, represents a piece of her own past, something childlike, a spirit in herself as yet unbaptized for whom the redeeming truth, symbolized by the water, is literally “too high:’
This is shown by the fact that the edge of the piscina (pool) is beyond the child’s reach.
Between Perpetua and this little brother there is a “great distance:’1 which means that consciously she is far removed from this childish spiritual attitude, though it still clings to her.
And this is also corroborated by the fact that she tells us she had not thought of him for a long time.
305 This childish piece of paganism in Perpetua-the dream figure Dinocrates-is suffering from a cancer; that is to say, he is subjected to a state of inner decay which cannot be arrested.
Thus, the dream points to a regression, or rather to a difficulty which has arisen in Perpetua’s inner development, which is perhaps the danger of allowing herself to be influenced by her father, who strove with all his might and all the authority he possessed to have her recant her faith.
(This is probably why her resistance to the Christian attitude is represented as a “child in the Family:’)
Apparently, a more childish unconscious spirit is still alive in Perpetua, one threatened with decay, one for whom the Christian truth is out of reach so that she yearns in vain for its redeeming effect.
306 Franz Josef Dolger, in his essay on the Dino crates vision, points out that this picture of the underworld coincides exactly with the pagan concept of Hades rather than with the Christian notion of Purgatory.
Thus, the pagan in Dinocrates is even more clearly emphasized.2
It also recalls the description of the underworld in the Book of Enoch ( chapter 22), as divided into a dark place for sinners and a light place, in the middle of which there is a “bright spring of water:’
307 The idea that the dead suffer from thirst in the underworld is again an ancient and widespread idea that is also found in the third vision of the Shepherd of Hermas.
Dolger goes on to prove that the vision here refers to the belief, prevalent in antiquity, that those who
had died before their time or had suffered a violent death, underwent particular torment in Hades and could only be delivered through the prayers of the living. 3
308Looked at from a psychological point of view, this idea is the symbolic representation of the fact that contents of the unconscious, which are split off and unable to live fully in reality, become negative and appear as ghosts seeking release, so to speak.
In other words, they cause psychological disturbances, as seems to be the case here where just such a split-off content belonging to Perpetua’s childhood is concerned.
309 When the pagan attitude in Perpetua is represented as a child, the dream may possibly be alluding to the fact that pagan consciousness is relatively infantile when compared to the Christian attitude.
Rufinus, at all events, has expressed this view:
310 He [ a saint] taught all men that they should direct their minds away from the visible and material things to the invisible and immaterial.
“It is indeed time;’ he said, “that we turned to an occupation of this kind, for we cannot always remain boys and children, but must now once for all rise to the higher spiritual things and become grown men:’4
In the third vision, shortly before Perpetua’s death.
Dinocrates again appears to her, transfigured and redeemed by the water of life.
The decaying wound on his face is healed over, and he “went off to play as children do:’
Thus, he had become the image of one reborn in novam inf anti am and, as such, his fate also represents a forecast of Perpetua’s own situation and development.5
For, whereas in the second and third visions she experiences everything in the person of Dinocrates or as an onlooker, in the fourth dream she herself is confined in the dark prison and has to take up the fight with the spirit of darkness in order to receive the bough of the tree of life.
312 A modern dream should be mentioned here, one which contains the same symbolism in a most striking way, and which, moreover, arose out of a situation similar to Perpetua’s.6
It is the dream of the Roman Catholic student Sophie Scholl, a girl of 21 who was guillotined in Munich for spreading anti-Nazi propaganda.
In prison the night before her death, she dreamed that on a beautiful sunny day she was carrying a child in a long white robe to its christening.
The way to the church led up a steep mountain, but “firm and safe” she carried the child in her arms. Suddenly, without warning, a crevasse opened in front of her.
She had only enough time to lay the child safely down before she crashed into the depths.
313 In reality, Sophie died with immense courage.
She herself interpreted her dream in the sense that the child’s white robe stood for the idea for which her own death prepared the way.
The steep path up to the church recalls the ladder of Perpetua’s first vision, which represented the difficult way of individuation.
The fate of the child that has not yet been christened points to Dinocrates.
The abyss is an image of the “jaws of death” which swallow up the mortal side, whereas the Divine Child-the Self in the process of becoming-lives on.
314 One can hardly help being deeply moved and impressed by the way in which the unconscious reacts:
Without the faintest sentimentality but with unerring certainty, it represents the real, significant inner process and conveys symbolically the absolute knowledge which provides real support.
315 The pitiful condition of little Dinocrates in Hades and his redemption recall most vividly the contemporary alchemical concepts of those ”bound in Hades” who yearned for the divine water, the hydor theion.
In the Treatise of Comarius to Cleopatra, for instance, we read that the holy waters descended from on high to visit the dead-prostrate, chained, and crushed in the darkness of Hades-and that the pharmakon zoes (medicine of life) penetrated them and revived them; and he (the spirit) clothed them in divine and spiritual glory, and they came out of the earth.
And it was said:
316 They array themselves in light and glory; in that they had increased in accordance with nature, and their figures had been transformed, and they had arisen from sleep, and had come forth from Hades.
The body of the fire had given them birth. [ Compare Dinocrates’ feverish heat ( aestus)!J … and as they came forth from it they clothed themselves in glory, and it [ the body of the fire] brought them complete oneness, and the image was fulfilled through body, soul and spirit, and they became one. 7
317 Dinocrates drinks the water from a golden flask, which also strikes one as a remarkably alchemical motif.
It recalls the vessel of Hermes (vas Hermetis) which was in some way imagined to be consubstantial with its contents.
In the Hermetic treatise The Krater, we read that after God had created the universe, he filled a vessel,
a kind of baptismal font ( compare the piscina), with Nous and sent it down to earth, so that people who dipped themselves in it should receive a share of ennoia (consciousness, enlightenment).8
318 We find another Christian vision which parallels Perpetua’s in the Passio SS Mariam et Jacobi.
A martyr named Marianus found himself transported in a dream to a heavenly grove of pines and cypresses:
319 In the middle there stood the overflowing basin of a pure and transparent fountain, and there Cyprian us [a martyr who in reality had already died] took a phial which lay at the edge of the fountain and drank; then replenishing it anew, he handed it to me and I drank with joy and, as I said, “Deo gracias,” I awoke at the sound of my own voice.
320 Water, as Jung says, ((is an excellent symbol for the living power of the psyche:’9 It is also spiritual and as such is often of a fiery nature.
321 The quickening influx of energy from the unconscious may well be looked upon as the effect of the Christian faith, and the water of the piscina is here an intimation of a kind of baptismal water, a symbol of Christ or of the Holy Ghost.
Thus, for instance, Justin Martyr says:
As a spring of living water from God, in the land of the heathen barren of all knowledge of God, has this Christ gushed forth, who appeared also to your people, and healed them that from their birth and in the flesh were blind, dumb and lame …. Also he awoke the dead …. This he did in order to convince those are ready to believe in him that, even if a man be afflicted with any bodily infirmity and yet keeps the
commandments given by Christ, he shall be awakened at the second coming with an uncrippled body, after Christ has made him immortal and incorruptible and without sorrow.10
323 In the first Dinocrates dream, Perpetua had felt herself to be inwardly cut off from this living spiritual effect of the Christian teaching, entangled in unconsciousness and overpowered by the weight of outer events.
But the following dream-her third vision which she had in prison shortly before her death, shows her little brother cured of his ills and happy, playing in the Beyond.
324 This clearly implies that in the meantime, as a result of her intercession-that is, through being consciously concerned with the problem which Dinocrates embodies-she has grown both inward and upward; she has attained an attitude in which the Christian truth becomes a real inner source of strength and in which her childlike side also actively participates.
At the same time, this effect must be understood as an unconscious one, for it proceeds from the Beyond (depicted as Paradise or the Underworld).
325 Between the first Dinocrates vision and the preceding one, there is indeed no outward connection of motifs, but the inner structure certainly reveals a very striking parallel.
This is an important argument in support of the fact that we are dealing with a genuine series of dreams and not with a fabrication.
In both visions, an obstructing element comes into play: in the first, the dragon, as the reaction of the instincts; in the second, Dinocrates, representing Perpetua’s own childishness.
In both cases, it is a matter of reaching something higher: the ascent of the ladder to an extramundane place and Dinocrates reaching up to the piscina, which is too high for him.
Both visions depict the attainment of a symbol of the living spirit and communion with it by means of the milk as heavenly food and through the draught from the fountain of life.
Finally, in both the second and third visions, there is an allusion to rebirth: on the one
hand, in the partaking of milk as food of the reborn and, on the other, in a dramatization of the process in the figure of little Dinocrates, who goes off to play “as children do:’
327 Although the problem has undoubtedly come somewhat nearer to the dreamer’s consciousness in the second vision, through being connected with a personal content (Dinocrates), Perpetua still projects the inner conflict into the figure of her pagan little brother, from whom, the vision says, she is separated by “a great distance:’
This means that consciously she is far removed from its realization.
In the third vision, however, she is quite personally and actively drawn into the problem. (It may be argued that in the first vision she also played an active part, but there the dream only pointed to the path she was beginning to follow, and there was no actual drama.) Marie-Louise von Franz, Page 169-176