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Conversations with Marie-Louise von Franz at 70 by Ernest Lawrence Rossi


Marie-Louise van Franz is a psychoanalyst whose writings over the past half century are well known to most of our readers.

She is one of C. G. Jung’s foremost students; she collaborated with him on Man and His Symbols, and wrote Aurora Consurgens as a companion volume to Mysterium Conjunctions.

In addition, she is one of the founders of the C.G. Jung Institute in Kusnacht, Switzerland.

Currently, The Way of the Dream, a series of twenty half-hour films featuring Marie-Louise, is being shown throughout the world.

The following conversation with Marie-Louise took place in her home in Klissnacht in October of 1985.

I began by seeking her counsel regarding future directions for Psychological Perspectives.

The conversation rapidly escalated into a forthright expression of her views on a variety of issues of interest to all of us.

Editor (Ed): As the new editor of Psychological Perspectives I’ve been reviewing our place in the world of analytical psychology.

von Franz (vF): I think Psychological Perspectives is very good. I like to read it, so I wouldn’t change it too much.

Ed: Our journal is rather unique: we publish poetry and literature,

as well as scientific ideas. We write for the lay person as well as for the professional.

vF: Yes, that’s what I like about Psychological Perspectives is between these positions.

Ed: I’m concerned that perhaps our journal has become too introverted. The world is in such a global crisis that I wonder how the insights of analytical psychology can help.

vF: I wouldn’t extravert so much because we are already too extraverted. We stare at the outer event. We read the papers and we stare at the events and forget to ask what is behind them. Therefore, I would say, even if it is “swimming against the stream,” we should introvert things-because that is the real need. The next generation will seek introversion. If we don’t want to lose the youngsters, we should offer not extraverted methods but introverted methods.

Ed: Yours is a clear point of view that needs to be heard. Some people say that Jungians have nothing to offer the modern world.

vF: I’ve just finished a lecture for Eranos on the Goddess of Victory and the waters of the River Styx-the river of death. I have shown that only on the introverted level can something be done about the world situation. Outside, Reagan and Gorbachev can do something, but not us. They do anything they like but they don’t listen to us. If we do peace demonstrations, they just ignore us. There is a tremendous bitterness! The question is: What can the man on the street do? At the introverted level, a lot can be done.

Ed: That’s exactly what we’d like to learn. What would be the introverted way of dealing with the current world situation?

vF: I can quote from mythology and the I Ching that the war situation arises when there is too much “water under the earth”-that means when the unconscious is not used creatively, when it dams up, that makes for a psychosis. War is a collective psychosis. So 1 would say that anybody who goes creatively ahead and releases the potential of the unconscious does more than the ones who make peace demonstrations. That would be the introverted way.

Ed: Individuals working within themselves is the way. The consciousness I release by working with my own unconscious processes will spread into the world and be more effective than a peace demonstration.

vF: Would you like to know an example of how that happened to me? In world history-sometimes the ordinary individual, the unknown individual, holds world history in his or her hands. I wrote about this fact and was thinking of a certain lieutenant in the First World War who failed to pass on an order and lost the war for the Germans. This is a true story. And at the moment when I was writing about that event, the telephone rang and an English voice said, “I am in the Diplomatic Corps of – nation. I won’t give my name, but my code number is -..Please pass on this message to Officer : Premier (the

head of a major allied nation in Europe) will be assassinated.” I couldn’t get Officer , but I had someone telephone the  police directly-I had that connection-and it turned out to be serious information. The police caught a hired man who had been paid with a whole arsenal of weapons to assassinate Premier . The whole point of the story is that the insignificant individual holds the thread in his or her hand without knowing it. I am completely apolitical. I have nothing to do with Premier , and I have nothing to do with international murder. But that’s how the individual can make the difference. It could have been a crazy person who telephoned that message to me, but I thought I would act on the safe side and let the police sort it out.

Ed: That’s an amazing synchronicity. You were a conduit who saved Premier ’s life!

vF: Yes, practically-while writing my Eranos lecture on the Greek myth of victory!

Ed: That’s a wonderful example of how an introverted individual can pick up and transmit information that can alter outer events. I’d like to see  such a role.

vF: You see, that which pertains to the CIA, the KGB, and so forth, is influenced by other powers. These other powers are unconscious. The unconscious has its say. That is what people forget, and therefore they say, “Oh, those Jungians-they are fools!”

M: In America we have an extraverted culture, so we hear this all the time: Jungians are in the backwaters.

vf: I hear that Jung’s influence is spreading tremendously in America in spite of this backwater image, so I wouldn’t get too impressed by that silly talk. I wouldn’t quarrel with those who think in that way. We are going quietly ahead. If you were a big success, then you would be taken up by the mass media and taught in the White House! That is not what we want. We do not want to be the big success. It’s much better that worldly-minded people think that we are nonsense. You see what has become of Christianity once it became a world success!

Ed: It has become mundane. It has lost its numinosity.

vF: It is just a worldly organization with all its drawbacks. That’s not what Christianity originally was about. So you see, we don’t want those extraverted people to pick us up.

Ed: Yours is a profoundly introverted point of view. In contrast to that, I had a fantasy of changing the subtitle of Psychological Perspectives from “A Semiannual Review of Jungian Thought” to A Journal of Global Consciousness.”

vF: I wouldn’t be in favor of that change. There is already too much “new age” philosophy-transcendental meditation. international-transpersonal, and so forth. It’s better to say exactly what you are. Jungian psychology includes contact with all the other spiritual movements. You can bring in the Dalai Lama, for example, because we have points in common with all these movements. But I wouldn’t change the subtitle because it would only muddle us up with everything else.

Ed: You would not recommend that we try to broaden the readership of our journal by adopting a more extraverted attitude.

vF: I wouldn’t do that. I think the backwater and narrow-mindedness image of Jungians does exist, but it only exists in professional Jungian groups! For example, the International Association for Analytical Psychology has become completely narrowminded, having no perspective.

Ed: Just tunnel vision?

vF: Just tunnel vision. They want to make it only clinical and discuss case material. Jung said that a real psychology is a psychology that is for everybody. It naturally includes the problems of clinicians, but it is not concentrated solely on that area. Now, most of the professional Jungian groups deviate from the broad view of Jung. Psychological Perspectives should not take the official Jungian line of the professional, because that is barking up the wrong tree!

Ed: I’ve heard many professionals say they are compensating for what they felt was a lack of personalistic clinical focus in Jung’s therapy. Do you feel that is too narrow-minded?

vF: Yes, too narrow.

Ed: What is the current growing edge of Jungian thought?

vF: It is a whole-indivisible.

Ed: What problems might young analysts explore?

vF: Their own!

Ed: If you had another lifetime, would you live it again as a Jungian

vF: Yes.

Ed: What direction would you pursue?

vF: I’d follow my dreams.

Ed: What are you doing today to facilitate your own consciousness analyst? the transcendent function and try to understand them with active imagination.

vF: It’s quite simple. I write down my dreams and meditate on them

Ed: Do you do that every day?

vF; No, I haven’t time. Actually, I do it generally on the weekend-

Ed: When you do active imagination, do you actually write it down?

vF: Yes.

Ed: How long does it take you?

vF: That depends. I have Parkinson’s syndrome now, so I can’t write

Ed: What is happening to this material? Will anyone ever have access

vF: It will be destroyed after my death.

Ed: Is there anything else you could say about creativity? About being a woman and creativity? At your stage of life?

vF: Well, I think creativity is a mystery. You don’t own it. It is an active potency in you. In antiquity they would say it’s a demon haunting you. My creativity has been like that. Whenever I didn’t want to be creating, my dreams got really nasty. I had to create. When I was cresting, my dreams became cooperative-I’ve done it for the sake of the unconscious.

Ed: You’ve had a creative daimon that’s driven you whether you’ve liked it or not!

vF: Whether I’ve liked it or not-and now it has given me a respite for the first time in my life at 70, and I’m enjoying it. There are already signs that this phase is coming to an end, but I am enjoying it as long as it lasts.

Ed: Can you say anything about how Parkinson’s disease has affected your mental life, or is it just a nuisance?

vF: It’s a very uncomfortable nuisance. It makes me easily tired, so I have to limit myself. Since I’ve never limited myself-that is the punishment of God I am getting! I really have to become parsimonious with my working capacities, which is very hard. But I see meaning in it. Now that I have decided I am old, I will retire. All my patients have to hear: “I’m 70 now! I needn’t work anymore!” And in all my letters I dictate, “I’m 70 now-I can‘t [laughter].” I get a kick out of that! on Sundays when I have a bit more time. .very long; I now write for only 30 minutes or so to it?

Ed: You deserve your rest!

vF: I deserve my rest. I have a bit too much superego wanting me to do my duty. And now I can tell that superego to go to hell! I say, “I’m old, I’m sick, you just leave me alone!”

Ed: I feel a joyousness:

vF–I do get a joy out of that!

Ed: When I was a student, Jung’s writing reached my logos, but your vF: Thank you.

Ed: All your early writings were continuous nurture to me, as I know they were to others. Sometimes if we felt Jung was too abstract, we found that you would show the earthy reality of the theory. You showed how fairytales could be lucidly understood. So your creative daimon may have made your life a little difficult, but

vF: There is an alchemical saying: Man is the heaven of woman and woman is the earth of man. The woman’s task is to bring things down to earth. writing touched my heart.

Ed: Yes, and you’ve done that exquisitely.

vF: I’ve taken a few of Jung’s ideas and put them into practical reality .


Curious about what von Franz meant when she said that she had experienced “the punishment of God” and saw “meaning” in her illness, I wrote to her for clarification. She wrote in response, “I went in my book On Dreams and Death too close to a divine secret.” Of course, I then studied her book carefully to see if I could discover the secret.

I was not sure I was successful (see Book Review section), so I telephoned her for further understanding. I tried to lead up to the big question as tactfully as possible in the following conversation.

Ed: What is your most original contribution in your new book, On Dreams and Death?

vF: I collect data regarding a new classification of dreams that have a philosophical or metaphysical significance. They are not the ordinary dreams compensating for everyday thought. The dreams I cite convey to the dreamer a general outlook on life and death and metaphysical questions.

Ed: Jung saw an equation between the Self image and the god image. In this book you extend that equation to the death image.

vF: If you study mythology, you find that the personifications of death are generally variations of the personifications of God. For example, in Japanese Buddhism, Yama, the god of death, is really Buddha. It is not generally recognized, but if you study the mythology of death you always come to that. People don’t say it openly, but it is God who kills you-in Jungian parlance, it is the Self.

Ed: This is related to the principle of individuation?

vF: Yes. That’s why Jung said that death is the goal of individuation.

Ed: You therefore say in your book, “In principle, individuation dreams do not differ in their archetypal symbolism from death dreams.”

vF: In their archetypal symbolism they are not different, but in their personal ambience they are different.

Ed: Throughout your book you highlight the view that the opus of individuation is necessary for the transformation of some aspect of the physical body into a continuation of the life process after death. I felt you were giving a new emphasis to the process of individuation.

vF: Yes. It looks as if a course of individuation is necessary to recognize an eternal aspect of the personality. I think that the eternal aspect also exists for people who are not individuated. But if something lasts after death and you are not aware of it, then in a way it does not exist.

Ed: You mention how it is “the demonic in man . . . his ‘evil’ autonomous effect, those actions, impulses and emotions which Jung has called the ‘shadow’ ” that needs transformation in order to realize this immortality.

vF: Yes, the devilish aspects are the disrupting elements-the affects, the autonomous power-drive, and such things. They disrupt the unity of the personality. That’s why the alchemists say you have to make one of yourself before you can make the philosopher’s stone.

Ed: When I asked you to elaborate on the idea that you had received the “punishment of God,” you responded that you had gotten too close to a divine secret in this book. What is the divine secret?

vF I won’t tell you. I’m sorry, but if I got a punishment for going too close, I’m certainly not risking another punishment for telling about it! [Much laughter between us]

Ed: Fair enough, but may I share with you some of my ideas about it?

vF: Yes.

Ed: You say in your book, “It is therefore quite possible that certain archetypes would indeed somehow be specifically connected with certain functions or areas of the body.”

vF: That’s not the secret.

Ed: Individuation is ultimately a process of facilitating life after death?

vF: Well, that is a conscious conviction, but it is not a secret. Don’t try to guess!

Ed: Okay. Another issue I wanted to ask you about: Jung found that the god image was indistinguishable from the Self image, and you now report that these two are indistinguishable from the death image. So now we have three factors in this equation. I wonder if there is a fourth? You refer so often in your book to the transformation of the body, that I wondered if there were some aspect of the body image that is indistinguishable from the god, Self, ‘and death images?

vF: thoughtful pause] Well, the body image is not the point. The subtle body image is the point; it would be the fourth. (I later summarized our conversation up to this point with a diagram of a new quaternary that expresses some of the dynamics of von Franz’s view: the transformational imagery in the process of individuation as it leads from our physical body to what some call a divine union with God or the unus mundus-an existence transcending our empirical concepts of space and time. Such quaternaries were used by Jung as suggestive archetypal maps. Some readers may note the skeletal similarity between this diagram and Robert Fudd’s beautiful image of the same process, originally drawn centuries ago, and reproduced on the back cover of this issue.)

Ed: In my new book, The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing, I build a bridge between mind, emotions, stress, genes, and the psychosomatic processes of the body. I note how genes may be the ultimate carrier of the archetypes that are expressed in the body.

vF: Yes, but the collective unconscious [and archetypes] begins on the level of the atom and even subatomic particles. That means that the psyche is there in matter from the beginning.

Ed: In your book you describe how different archetypes are associated with different organs of the body, but that you are not sure what the connecting mechanism is. Would not genes play that role, since our individual body organs are formed when different sets of genes express themselves?

vF: These matters are very complex. [Aspects of the subtle body cannot necessarily be equated with organs of the physical body.] I would push archetypal structures to the subatomic level. Genes are intermediary between these subatomic levels and the molecular structures that give rise to the organs of the physical body. That is a program for future research.

Ed: In summary, what would you say is the essential message of your book?

vF: There is a life after death, but it is very different from what we thought up to now.

Ed: In that connection, you point out the theories of modern physicists who postulate the existence of universes that we cannot consciously conceive.

vF: Yes, that is David Bohm’s view of the implicate order of the universe. That shows that modern physicists are open to very similar concepts as we are developing in Jungian psychology-they have parallel concepts.

Ed: I’m happy to hear you say that. Our next issue of Psychological Perspectives will Sb e devoted to new views of mind-body healing. We will be giving extensive coverage to David Bohm’s and Karl Pribram’s recent thinking in this area. Page 151-160


Rossi, Ernest. (1986). The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis. New York: W. W. Norton.

Jung, C.C. (1955-56). Mysterium Coniunctionis. Vol. 14. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G., von Franz, Marie-Louise, Henderson, Joseph, Jacobi, Jolande, & Jaffé, Aniela.  Man and His Symbols. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co.

von Franz, Marie-Louise. (1966). Aurora Consurgens. Bollingen Series LXXVII. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.