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Marie-Louise von Franz and the Conference of the Birds A Peregrination by Claire Douglas

Habib Allah (16th–17th CE) from an Islamic manuscript, Mantiq al-Tayr (The Language of the Birds),

Iran, Isfahan. Safavid period (1501–1722). Ink, colors, gold, and silver on paper.

Marie-Louise von Franz and the Conference of the Birds A Peregrination by claire douglas

In this her last, and perhaps most passionate, lecture (given in 1986, when she was seventy-one, twelve years before her death from Parkinson’s disease), von tfranz wields a finely crafted sword of discrimination to smite the world in which she finds her self. No matter her declining health, the lecture resounds with characteristic vigor and intelligence. Her certainty, fueled by her impressive thinking function, eschews ambi guity and ambivalence to proclaim, as von tfranz’s title states, that C. G. Jung has reha bilitated the feeling function for a civilization badly in need of it. Von tfranz extols the value of the feeling function and credits her teacher, analyst, master, and colleague,

  1. C. G. Jung, for reclaiming the feeling function in his life and in his psychology.

Too much cutting may risk ravaging the very thing von tfranz’s cherishes. I can not, nor do I want to, fault her splendid argument and defense of Jung and his, her, our analytical psychology. I am, as always, struck by the tensile clarity of her thinking. The strength of her ethical values continues to inspire me. She and her listeners and readers can rest assured that we know exactly where she stands and what she means. Jungian psychology owes much to von tfranz’s precision, her dedication, and the buoyant inten sity with which she serves her field. I am left, however, as I often am with analysands, holding some other part of completionhere weighed down, cloudy, in a fog, like the Taoist who drifts about like an idiot or like water seeking lower ground. I feel so dark to von tfranz’s brightness, hesitant and uncertain in the face of her certainty. I hold a divergent outlook that cherishes the same values as von tfranz but obliquely. I can’t help but shy away from her exclusivity. It is as if her critical knowing makes me want to run after her, picking up all the little bits and pieces she has discarded. “But what about this?” I want to ask, and “Oh, you can’t leave that out!”

As I examine my objections to such a heartfelt speech, my own sort of reproach ful negative animus confronts me. I’m reminded of von tfranz’s inspired description of its cause and realize that parts of her lecture on Jung simply hurt my feelings. I felt like manning an attack against von tfranz’s complete dismissal of so much that I hold dear (the value of “Eastern thought” in my own practice, for instance, or some cognizance of early developmental psychology and transference analysis that Jung also valued). In The Feminine in Fairy Tales, von tfranz writes about this sort of hurt feelings and the turmoil these feelings can create when not acknowledged and dealt with:

The source of evil and of things going wrong in women’s lives is the failure to deal with and to get over hurt feelings, for hurt feelings open the door to animus attacks . . . Under neath the animus there is a feeling of reproach and at the same time wanting to get back at the one who has hurt you. (1976, 27)

Getting back to the origin of the hurt and then working it out, respectfully, both with oneself and with one’s opponent, clears the air and the complex. Von tfranz and I share an inferior feeling function as well as a highly developed thinking function and so I see my own shadow here. Our similarity leads me to conjecture that some of the passion of von tfranz’s speech may come from those same hurt feelings—she can’t bear to have others’ “Jung” and, therefore, others’ Jungian practice not be the “Jung” she knew and loved. And the animus, in its inhuman way, demands there be no compro mise, no meeting of minds or hearts. Only those who agree are accepted into the cho sen group (but more about this exclusivity later in this article).

Instead of getting caught in defensive polarization or dry rebuttal, my response will use the great Sufi master tfarid ud-Din Attar’s twelfth-century The Conference of the Birds to illuminate our differences and perhaps help bring us back into harmony. tfor those unfamiliar with Persian poetry, Attar’s work inspired Rumi and the great Per sian and Hindustani poets who followed him. Attar’s longest poem, The Conference of the Birds, reads like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The poem depicts a lively journey full of digressions, meanderings, side stories, myths, and tales. Its plot, a remarkably Jungian one, tells the story of what turns out to be a search for the divine Simorgh, at first projected out onto the bird but finally realized to be internal knowledge: all that the birds project outward reflects their own essential being.1 Attar describes a reli gious quest, markedly similar to a certain kind of individuation, where the assort ment of variegated birdssome dropping along the way—travel through the Valleys of Knowledge, Devotion, Annihilation, Unity, Bewilderment, Poverty, and Nothingness in search of the sacred bird, the Simorgh.

The climax of The Conference of the Birds takes place when the remaining birds finally reach the Simorgh. They discover no difference between the Simorgh and themselvesa bird who has reached the end of his or her quest. The Self, though sought externally throughout the book, is found finally to rest within. Thus, the Simorgh can be taken as an image of the Self. Attar’s long poem illustrates the final unity of the Self and teaches that all beings are part of this Self. His book relates a wandering pilgrim’s way of the bird—a way that can lead toward unity of the Self and deep mys tical knowledge. As the birds reach the end of the long quest to discover the Simorgh, Attar writes

There in the Simorgh’s radiant face they saw Themselves, the Simorgh of the world—with awe They gazed, and dared at last to comprehend They were the Simorgh and the journey’s end.

They see the Simorgh—at themselves they stare (1984, 219)


The birds’ journey can be seen as a journey of individuation. The group of birds travel across seven valleys under the aegis of a wise hoopoe, the hoopoe playing the role of a spiritual guide or, to my reading, that of the analyst. The first valley, the Val ley of Knowledge, represents the search for objective and external knowledge, per haps scientific material knowledge, which values accumulated facts and discoveries. In this valley, the thinking function plays the predominant role and has the most value. Most of our education takes place here. Both von tfranz and Jung excelled in the gifts of this valley.

The second valley, one of love and devotion, values knowledge that comes from the heart, not from books. The Valley of Devotion welcomes and supports the feeling func tion as it develops; its great lesson teaches a psychology of the heart. Von tfranz champi ons this valley in her lecture and advocates its incorporation in contemporary life:

We cannot return to the early Christians’ ideal of love. We must return to it, to a general human empathy, but on a much more differentiated level . . . Jung calls this new form of love a whole-making effect of a certain kind of Eros [relatedness], which is an emanation of the individuated personality. (2008, 16)

Then comes the third valley, the Valley of Annihilation: Referring to this valley as a time of midlife crisis where all beliefs and values are questioned would not be too much of a leap. The psyche requires a change, a letting go, a deepening, and a revaluing for the journey to proceed forward to the Valley of Unity and further individuation.

The Valley of Unity interests me most as it depicts a place where the personality fills out through combining a primary function with the least developed one. tfeeling needs thinking so the heart can see clearly both within and without (as do intuition and sensation). The path to the Valley of Unity comes through a successful negotiation of the pain and turmoil of the Valley of Annihilation.

Love and the Transference: The Development of Jung’s and von Franz’s Inferior Function

Jung’s Valley of Annihilation might be said to start with his break with tfreud. Jung’s feeling function received moisture in his outer life through Toni Wolf ’s assistance and care, whereas its warmth seeped into his dreams and Active Imaginations.2 Part of Jung’s integration of this development can be seen in descriptions of his self-analysis and, most clearly, in Psychological Types, the first book he published after he rose from his own Valley of Annihilation to reach the Valley of Unity (1920/1971, CW 6). Psychological Types reveals an invigorated and renewed Jung whose combined thinking and feeling add to the brilliance and depth of this stylistically very different book. The brilliance and novelty can best be seen not in Section X of Psychological Types—the section of the book most read today—but in Jung’s valuable, yet now neglected, survey of a vast amount of ancient and modern sources in Sections IIX, where he grounds his theory “to show how the ideas I have abstracted from my practical work can be linked up, both historically and terminologically with an existing body of knowl edge” ( Jung CW 6, xi).

Von tfranz’s inferior function, which she champions in her speech, developed through what Buddhists call guru yoga: love and devotion to one’s spiritual master, or, in Jungian terms, a strong and sustaining positive projection (love and devotion) toward her analyst, Jung. When Marie-Louise von tfranz came to analysis with Jung she was eighteen. Her primary function, thinking, developed under his guidance as she continued her study of “scientific material knowledge,” specifically mathematics and ancient languages. She and Jung shared a powerful thinking function that served them well. Like the birds in Attar’s tale, they found themselves at home in the first Val ley. Their feeling function lay in the shadows. As they journeyed onward, Jung led the way, struggling with, yet forced to develop, his inferior function, feeling, as he became more individuated. He helped his patients do the same.

In doing research for my books and articles over the years on my own journey of development, I have spent much time at the Countway Library in Boston, where I have read numerous interviews of people who analyzed with Jung. I’ve also had the great good fortune to interview or correspond with many analysts who told me, or wrote me, about their analyses with Jung. I continue to be struck by the profound transfer ence and love almost all of them held for him.

How familiar this is, both in the projections that fuel organized religions and in those who develop their feeling function through devotion to a charismatic leader or healer. I blush at the enthusiasms in which the development of this function embroiled me, but will use Christiana Morgan as a better example. Her love for Jung and Henry Murray led to an extraordinary series of visions, and her love for Murray led to the many years she spent at the Harvard Psychological Clinic developing Murray’s theory and his work.

In his postscript to a 1976 paperback edition of parts of The Visions Seminars, Henry A. Murray wrote a very short biography of her life. In answering his own ques tion as to what caused the visions during Morgan’s analysis with Jung, Murray wrote, “Wouldn’t you, as well as the vast majority of both the unlearned and the learned, guess that love was the key to it all?” (1976, 517).

I would venture to say the same thing about von tfranz and her life work. Both von franz and Morgan balanced and completed their strong thinking functions through learning the deep feeling that came with love and relatedness. Both became more ful filled and far more creative than their former “heady” selves.

But I also am struck by how many different “Jungs” are in these various descrip tions, as well as the way different parts of Jung were taken as the “real” Jung, as other parts of this very erudite and complex man were ignored. This has led to different slants, or schools, of Jungian psychology. Yet the vibrant connection between analyst and patient that von tfranz describes so movingly led each of these Jungians into the Valley of Devotion. This connection helped heal them and gave them back themselves. tfor many, their love of Jung was the greatest love of their life. He was analyst, teacher, master, and alchemical lover. No wonder people like von tfranz, who spent their whole lives benefiting from Jung’s teaching and also serving him in their own life’s work, see him as larger than life. As with the search for the Simorgh, the longing, and the delight, these Jungians developed in the second valley resulted from projections of aspects of their greater selves onto their teacher (and savior). Jung realized this:

The limitations of our views and our knowledge are nowhere more apparent than in psy chological discussions, where it is almost impossible for us to project any other picture than the one whose main outlines are already laid down in our own psyche. (CW 6, ¶102)

In contrast to many of his followers, Jung didn’t take his teaching as holy writ no more than he would have thought his word was to become a body of dogma. Jung warned that his ideas were tentative at best, subject to change, and reflective of the era in which he lived: “Whatever happens in a given moment has inevitably the qual ity peculiar to that moment” (CW 11,¶970). Jung understood both the ethical seri ousness and the limits of his knowledge. He saw himself as an innovator but also, and more importantly, as part of a lineage of philosophers and healers. As a responsible philosopher and scientist, Jung took pains to ground his work “both historically and terminologically with an existing body of knowledge” ( Jung CW 6, xi). Jung, as a good scientist and scholar, clarified the conceptual basis of his theory within a known his tory of ideas. This clarification gave him the foundation that rooted and solidified his body of work.

Jung made this clear not only in the graduate student lectures to which von tfranz referred in her lecture, but also—more decisively and definitively—in his packed and concise 1933 to 1934 lectures, The History of Psychology. In the course of these ETH lectures, Jung recalled the work of the many philosophers and psychologists who had valued introversion and feeling before him. Jung termed this a psychology concerned with the desires and the inter-relations of body and soul. He traced what he character izes as a new element in psychology, not to his own discovery as von tfranz suggests, but to the Renaissance. He uses, for example, the Italian monk tfrancesco Colonna (1433– 1534) who wrote what Jung called “an early psychological document” about love and feeling through describing the development of a monk’s love for a Dame Polia. In the ETH lectures, Jung spoke of how love, feeling, and the soul are all projected outward. The individual develops these inner inclinations through projection onto another: a god, religion, or the love of another (as the monk incubated his love for Dame Polia). In analysis, Jung had the ability to create strong positive transference feelings in his patients, especially women patients. Through the transference, he helped those whose feeling function was devalued, repressed, or crying out for development. Now here is where a heady mixture of love, transference, adoration, and God are projected onto Jung. I understand this from the inside and from the outside, but I quail, as Jung him self did, when the powerful rush of undeveloped feeling settles on Jung as being God like and his writing becomes sacred—a religion with only one way of thinking and only Jung’s own original teaching (as interpreted, perhaps, by von tfranz or Edinger) accepted as Jungian psychology. Jung himself replied in response, “Thank God I’m Jung not a Jungian” (Hannah 1976, 78).

Mario Jacoby in his article, “Some Memories and Reflections Concerning My Time at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zürich (1956 until 2006),” wrote of the turmoil, splits, and bad feelings these competing projections created among the first generation of Jungians. Many agreed with von tfranz and Barbara Hannah that they were the true “guardians of the authentic Jungian Spirit” ( Jacoby 2007, 144); others had a different view. The heated conflict led to strikes, hurt feelings, and finally, in the late 1980s, at about the time von tfranz was preparing and giving this lecture, to a complete split. Von tfranz and people who thought the same way she did left the original Institute and cre ated the Research and Training Centre for Depth Psychology According to C. G. Jung and Marie-Louise von tfranz The split solidified each group’s defenses and pitted them against each other, making each group’s position more extreme. Von tfranz’s lecture and the split share the same time/moment, and, as Jung stated: “Whatever happens in a given moment has inevitably the quality peculiar to that moment” (CW 11, ¶970).

In this lecture, von tfranz wrote words that could have applied to the situation among the warring Jungians in which she played so important a role: “All the destructive ness of ours results . . . from a basic lack of respect for the other human being and his different system of values—in plain words a lack of true differentiated feeling”(von tfranz 2008, 11). This history—what was happening at the moment—shadows the background of her speech. Von tfranz must have felt she needed to defend what she felt was the “true” Jung and many of his ideas (she would say all of his ideas) against what she considered a threat to the man and the teachings to which she had dedicated her life.

Thomas Kirsch in “The Legacy of C. G. Jung” tries to explain the vehemence with which so many of the first-generation Jungians defended their view of Jung and his teaching:

Because Jung was charismatic, his words took on an authority which was nearly impos sible to refute. Each of these people who knew Jung and had been in analysis with him thought they had the real Jung, unknown to the rest of us Every one of these people had a different experience of Jung, and each felt that his or her own experience was the real Jung. (2007, 154).

Von tfranz’s cherishment of the feeling function in this lecture touches me, as she and I have traveled similar paths from being “all in our heads” to having suffered that new ungainly upstart of a bumpkinour emerging feelingand allowed it to have a say. We have had to endure its enthusiasms, crushes, and outbursts. Oafish and crude, I still blush for the messes in which it dumps me. Yet I have grown to treasure its vital ity. Von tfranz’s relish and vigor draw from her inferior function as well. I suggest her speech on Jung’s reclamation of the feeling function is also about her own reclamation of the feeling function.

In conclusion, let me circle back to The Conference of the Birds. Von tfranz was one of the early leaders who did much to guide and help all the variegated birds who were gath ered around Jung in their search for the Self. At times she played the role of the hoopoe, the wise old bird, who helped and encouraged the other birds on their journey. As the leader, she needed to realize that there wasn’t just one way of being a Jungian. We each draw on our own typology and proclivities: Some stay in the first valley and use the scien tific method and our thinking function when they are more useful. Others go on to the second valley and rest thereusing feeling. Still others take a soul-shattering journey of annihilation to let a fuller sense of themselves emerge. Von tfranz certainly did this.

In the Valley of Unity of this, her last lecture, von tfranz champions eros and relat edness. If this could somehow have become more extraverted and applied to the time and moment in which she found herself, it would have done much to take the bitter ness and pain out of our history as a group. I wish that our encounters with the other, in von tfranz’s wise words, could be such that “everything becomes a living encounter with outer and inner realities to which we have to relate” (2008, 18).

What would it be like, in this troubled and fractious world, to realize that we all, like the birds, “see the Simorgh and at ourselves we stare.” tfor better or worse, our world is, at the end, a reflection of our complicated selves.


  1. My sources are the Penguin Classic translation of The Conference of the Birds by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, and Pir Inayat Khan’s lecture on Attar in The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of
  2. See Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1965), and Douglas, The Dove in Jung’s 1912 Dream (2006a) and The Old Womans Daughter (2006b), specifically Chapter Three, “Cherishment.”


References to The Collected Works of C. G. Jung are cited in the text as CW, volume number, and paragraph number. The Collected Works are published in English by Routledge (UK) and Princeton University Press (USA).


Attar, tfarid Ud-Din. 1984. The conference of the birds. Introduction by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis. Trans. Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis. New York: Penguin Classics.

Casement, Ann, ed. 2007. Who owns Jung? London: Karnac.

Douglas, Claire. 1997. Translate this darkness, the life of Christiana Morgan. Princeton: Princ eton University Press (originally published New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993).

———. 2001. The woman in the mirror: Analytical psychology and the feminine. Lincoln, NE: Authors Guild (originally published Boston: Sigo, 1990).

———. 2006a. The dove in Jung’s 1912 dream. Lecture presented at The C. G. Jung Institute of San tfrancisco, January 22, 2006, in San tfrancisco, California.

———. 2006b. The old woman’s daughter: Transformative wisdom for men and women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

———. 2006c. The women who helped found the IAAP. IAAP 1955–2005, March, Newsletter 26.

———. 2008. C. G. Jung: Educational and philosophical background. In The Cambridge com panion to Jung, 2nd Ed., eds. Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hannah, Barbara. 1976. Jung, his life and work: A biographical memoir. New York: Putnam’s. Inayat Khan, Pir-o-Murshid. 1993. The hand of poetry: Five mystic poets of Persia. Lectures by

Inayat Khan. Trans. Coleman Barks, New Lebanon, NY: Omega Publications.

Jacoby, Mario. 2007. Some memories and reflections concerning my time at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zürich (1956 until 2006). In Who owns Jung?, ed. Ann Casement, 135–151. London: Karnac.

Jung, C. G. 1920/1971. Psychological types. CW 6.

———. 19331934. Modern psychology: Notes on lectures given at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule, Zürich, October 1933–February 1934. Privately mimeographed.

———. 1958/1969. Psychology and religion: west and east. CW 11, 2nd ed.

———. 1965. Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage.

———. 1998. Visions: Notes on the Seminar Given in 1930–1934. Ed. Claire Douglas.

London: Routledge.

Kirsch, Thomas. 2007. The legacy of C. G. Jung. In Who owns Jung?, ed. by Ann Casement, 153–167. London: Karnac.

Murray, Henry A. 1976. Postscript to The visions seminars, by C. G. Jung, 517. Zürich: Spring Publications.

von tfranz, Marie-Louise. 1976. Problems of the feminine in fairy tales. Zürich: Spring Publications.

———. 2008. C. G. Jung’s rehabilitation of the feeling function in our civilization. Lecture, Küsnacht, November 25, 1986. Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche 2.2: 9–20.

Claire douglas is a teaching and training analyst with the C. G. Jung Institute in Los Angeles. Her analytic practice is in Malibu. She is the author of The Woman in the Mirror, Translate This Darkness, and The Old Woman’s Daughter, in addition to many articles, essays, and reviews. She is the editor of C. G. Jung’s The Visions Seminar for Princeton’s Bollingen Editions of the Collected Works. Correspondence: 21540 Paseo Serra Street, Malibu, CA 90265, USA.


This article uses von tfranz’s last lecture to explore both her passion and the development of her inferior feeling function, though von tfranz’s topic was Jung’s championing of the feeling function, not the development of her own. Douglas reacts to the lecture by interpreting the twelfth-century poem The Conference of the Birds as a description of the journey of individuation. In it, she sees an argument for a less divisive and more comprehensive acceptance of all who would journey on this path.

key words

The Conference of the Birds, eros, feeling function, inferior feeling function, individuation,

  1. C.G. Jung, Love and the Transference, relatedness, The Simorgh, splitting, unity, Marie-Louise von Franz.