On Alchemy, Synchronicity and the World Soul – Marie-Louise von Franz

On Alchemy, Synchronicity and the World Soul – Marie-Louise von Franz


For decades I searched a place
where I could be close to nature. I had mountains or lake shores
in mind. I never found anything. All was either too
expensive, or too far away. It was never right. Then,
Prof. Jung’s son said to me: I’ve heard that in Bollingen,
someone is selling his land. I don’t know him
well, only his name.” I drove up here that very afternoon
and went to see the man. He said: “Yes, yes, right away!
I want to get rid of that whole lot.” Then he showed me the place.
And I found it enchantingly beautiful. I thought “This is it.” and
went tell to Prof. Jung about it. He said: “Let’s have a look!” We jumped into the car
with Miss Bailey, his lady companion. And when we stood there,
he put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Go tell the vendor immediately
that you are buying it. Reserve it! This is the right place.” This is how it got this place.
I never regretted it. It is the ‘genius loci’.
It is the place where I feel at home. Q: Have you rediscovered
anything from your childhood here? The scenery is completely different,
but I rediscovered my childhood in that sense, that I grew up in a large garden
where I mostly played alone and developed a great love
for plants and animals. Afterwards, I lived in rented
rooms for many years, always longing
for a piece of land, for this contact with nature.
This is what I rediscovered here. Then, in the third or
fourth night that I slept here, I dreamed of monkeys,
blissfully romping around the house. The animal soul could live again.
The animal ancestors came back to life. The feeling one has when one is
in nature, an animal among others. It is completely different here. The common element is
nature and the solitude of nature. Just to be alone with the animals
and plants, that’s what does one so much good. After Jung had encouraged
me to buy this land, he said to me, as
we were driving down: “I hope you won’t build one of these
stupid concrete-glass houses here. You must build a
genuine tower as well.” This made me happy. I’d never havedared to imitate him. So I built a square tower. His is round. And then another strange
thing happened to me: In one of the first nights alone in the tower,
I dreamed of an identical tower in the hereafter, in which I experienced all
sorts of things. Jung said: “How strange. I dreamed my
tower had a replica across the lake.” This means that this tower is
but an earthly image of an eternal idea. The Self, for which it stands,
belongs to the world hereafter. Because I had so enthusiastically
built the tower in this world, the unconscious reminded me,
that the real tower stands in the other world. Since then, I have periodically
dreamed of being in the other tower. Shortly before his death, Jung dreamed that now, he could move house, into the tower on the
other side of the lake. Q: How did you get to know Prof. Jung? I went to school with a nephew
of Prof. Jung’s friend, Toni Wolff. And one day, Jung
told this young man: “I hardly know
your generation. Bring some young people along
with you. I invite you all to Bollingen.” And thus I got invited,
along with seven boys. The eight of us spent
an entire day in Bollingen. There, Prof. Jung spoke so
memorably of the reality of the soul, that I was deeply impressed
when I went home. I told myself: “Now, you will need 10 years to digest
everything this man told you today.” And then I heard, that he lectures at the ETH
(Swiss MIT equivalent) And so I went to hear the lectures.
But I was too shy to greet him. I told myself: “If he greets me,
that’s great, but I won’t do it first.” And indeed, he approached me in a
most cordial manner: “How do you do?” And naturally, I was rather
thrilled that he still recognized me. Q: And how did your collaboration begin? He told me later, that when
we first met, he immediately had a hunch that I had
something to do with alchemy. When I later asked him whether
I could enter analysis with him, but that I had no money, he said
that he’d take me as analysand if, as compensation, I could translate
Latin and Greek texts for him, his own knowledge of these
languages had become a bit rusty. Which was true, at
least in the beginning. But it came back very quickly when
he started practicing again regularly. So, he gave me a collection
of alchemical treatises, ‘Musaeum Hermeticum’, and told me: “Make translations and excerpts from
everything you find symbolically interesting.” I replied: “But I need
more guidelines than that!” “Just use your intuition!” So, in awe from this old
folio from 1593, I took it home And then, one evening,
I found the time to look into it, so I washed my hands, and
opened the book, where it read: “Ye Brethren of the Golden Head and
the Golden Cross, guard the secret!” and so on – a pompous, baroque introduction. I wondered: “Is that interesting?
Must I include these parts?” I was very confused. So I decided to do nothing
that evening, and to just read. I opened a random page,
and, to my utter consternation, I found e x a c t l y what
I had dreamed about, a year earlier. My dream! A dream
I had stood there, in Latin. I thought: “You turned crazy!
You’re hallucinating!” I took a towel, poured
cold water over my head, made myself a cold compress.
I told myself: “Go to bed, you’re crazy!” On the next morning, I said
“What happened?” And then I remembered: “Oh yeah, I went bonkers yesterday,
and saw my dream in that book.” Very slowly, I rubbed my eyes.
I told myself: “I am sober, my name is Marie-Louise von Franz,
I live on Dolderstrasse 107
and I feel altogether normal.” I took another look, but still: There stood a big part
of my dream – in Latin! Q: So you found your dream. But what were you initially looking
for in those books, Jung and you? Christianity – and in fact, the entirety
of the culture – never took matter seriously, neither the human body, nor sexuality. Today, that’s common knowledge, almost
trivial. We know that those were the points where Christianity had failed. It was
good at assisting the dying, but not the living. How to live one’s sexuality,
how to deal with bodily drives, we are not well
instructed by the priests. There is that huge gap
in the Christian tradition. Most alchemists were either physicians,
or the most passionate of natural scientists. It was them, who took a stand for
the neglected feminine principle, for matter, for the body,
for the unconscious as well, because the unconscious
psyche is linked to the physiological body, and
functions in close relation to it. Thus, Jung discovered quite early,
that alchemy compensates and complements that which in Christianity was too
one-sided, spiritual and patriarchal. It is, so to speak, an
underground counter-movement, not in the sense of enmity,
but of complementing Christianity, by dealing with questions that
Christianity couldn’t answer, ignored, or brushed away with a
theological sleigh of hand. Those questions were at the
center of the alchemists’ interest. Thus, they anticipated modernity, where everything switched
around: sexual libertinism, crass materialism,
over-reliance on the natural sciences. Alchemy laid the ground for
all that. So alchemy is also the mother of all modern devilry.
And that’s why we must study alchemy, because it holds everything
we’re unconscious of and would have to
reconcile with Christianity, if we want to arrive at a
comprehensive world view. Q: Didn’t Alchemy begin
already before Christ? Yes, alchemy has its roots
in pre-socratic philosophy, where the Greeks began to
reject mythological thinking in favor of a theory of matter. One thinks mainly of the atomists,
Leucippus and Democritus, and Heraclitus with his
world energy theory. The scientific mindset came from pre-socratic Greek learning. The practical, chemical technique
came from Egypt, especially from the mummification ritual.
You see, the main part of the mummification is the bathing of the corpse in a caustic soda solution.
Soda is ‘n-t-r’, which means ‘god’ –
so it was a ‘god-solution’. That’s the essence of alchemy:
conceiving of matter as something divine. That comes from Egypt. They saw
matter as something numinous, like they do today in places where
primitive magic is still alive. There, the stones and the plants and chemical
substances have mysterious, divine qualities, they have an effect
on humans. They aren’t just seen as dead matter, as we see it today.
Through the process of mummification, the Egyptians wanted to produce an
eternal, that is, a ‘resurrection body’, to immortalize the
identity of the deceased person. Similarly, the idea of
the philosophers’ stone is actually the idea of
an immortal essence, of a soul core, that is eternal. What is equally significant, is that
alchemy produced a huge variety of grotesque symbols, which correspond
exactly to the dreams of modern people. That is why Jung published the
dreams of a famous physicist, Pauli, where you can see plenty of
alchemical motives appear. Modern natural
scientists, in fact all people who have a scientific
world view, they dream of alchemical symbols. And we can
therefore not understand the dream symbols, unless we research this entire
tradition and the meaning of these symbols. Q: Which ones, for example?
– The hermaphrodite. The stone. The meaning of plantal imagery. Christian symbolism has also handed us down
these things. You see that on the cathedrals, where you find depicted an
entire, rich unconscious symbolism. But it is always interpreted in a
Christian sense: “The stone is Christ.” And that is too shallow an interpretation,
seeing it only through the Christian lens. Whereas the alchemists tried to
say what a stone is, in and of itself. Is a stone something dead? Something living?
What kind of divine secret does it hold? For the alchemists, nature needed explaining.
For medieval Christians, it was already explained. They believed the world
was created in seven days, the meaning of
everything was self-evident, Whereas the alchemists
tried to penetrate the dark, as modern physics and modern
scientists do, with little or no preconceptions. They really went after
the secrets of nature, They came up with wild phantasies.
And when ‘strict’ chemistry developed, gradually, in the modern sense
of the word, in the 17th century, one naturally discarded
all those old phantasies. The Enlightenment
came, and declared all that to be primitive
superstition, nonsense even. Jung went through the
paper bin of world history, salvaged these symbols, and
showed they have psychological validity. Not chemically. It makes no sense
to say of a metal that it is a hermaphrodite. But hermaphrodites still
appear in modern dreams. They still matter. Q: How did you become a therapist? It wasn’t my original intention. I was a schoolteacher for Latin and Greek,
and giving private lessons on the side. But one fine day, an
elderly lady approached me, and insisted on
doing analysis with me. I felt, naturally ‘tout feu, tout flamme’ –
full of therapeutic enthusiasm, and very honoured. So I asked Jung if he would oversee
it, and if I should take her. And he said: “Yeah, I know her – she is
already so crazy, you can’t ruin her further.
You can give it a try.” It went very dramatic,
but ultimately turned out fine. And then gradually,
more and more people came At first, I did it just on the side,
but then it became an avalanche. Until finally, I stopped teaching
and ended up in this vocation. Q: And how many dream have
you analysed, round about? I once calculated, two dreams per session,
so and so many sessions per year, so and so many people,
makes around 60.000 dreams. Q: Among all those dreams,
did you ever find identical ones?
I mean, do different people dream identical dreams? No, among those 60.000
dreams, none were identical. However, there
are similar motifs. That is what Jung bases
his archetypal theory on:
recurring basic structures. But no dream is ‘en détail’
identical with another. But one can identify certain common
themes: Love, or being pursued in the dream, or seeking something, certain basic structures keep recurring. These basic patterns are what Jung
calls ‘archetypal structures of the psyche’. Through them, you access
the collective layer in man. Even a mentally ill person
has this layer intact. The collective layer is, so to speak, the instinctual layer
common to all humans. And when you succeed in
reconnecting people to it, then they recover, and
reconnect socially as well. That is why knowing these
structures is so useful. Besides that, I have also
studied fairy tales and alchemy, which has helped me a lot
with understanding dreams. The art of dream
interpretation is twofold. One must discern and identify
the archetypal structures, and then one must convey that in such a way,
that it doesn’t get stuck in the intellect, but genuinely impresses the analysand. so that their feelings and affects become
again rooted in the depth of their being. One function of dreams seems to be,
to prepare people for a coming phase in their lives. Every life has these thresholds. Puberty, for example, is
such a well-known threshold, then, stepping into marriage,
the entering of the second half of life, the female climacterium –
all these are transitional periods, that require a new adaptation
to life, a recalibration of attitude. And that is being
facilitated by the dreams. Even when death is approaching, dreams
anticipate and prepare the dreamer for that. But it is not the end. I have, by now,
collected some 50 dreams of moribund people, and not even one suggests,
that existence ceases, but rather a change,
a voyage, a transformation. Or the great marriage,
the great consummation. Q: And how do they
imagine life after death? Naturally, only
in symbolical form. People dream about life after death
very similarly to what the religions teach. Either, one comes
to a pleasure garden, or one rests in eternal
embrace with the person one loves, But also negative, agonizing journeys
across ice and snow, or volcanic rock. There are good and bad dreams, post-mortal existence isn’t
only pleasant, apparently. I like Jungian therapy,
because of its minimal interference. We have no theory about
how one ‘ought’ to be, we don’t even say one
should become ‘normal’. Jung once told me: “Everyone
has the right to stay neurotic, if they prefer that.
This is a free country!” We only help people uncover, what
their own dreams try to tell them. The dreams that their
own souls have produced. Their own dreams may then tell them,
that they are lazy, but not us. We just try to educate people
to listen to their own interior. Jung’s idea was that of
individuation, of becoming oneself. When people speak about
self-realization these days, what they really
mean is ego-realization. Jung meant something
completely different: discovering your own depth,
innate predisposition or destiny. The ego might, on occasion,
even strongly object to that. But not realizing that divine
destiny makes people neurotic. That’s what we mean
by individuation. We even get complaints, that
someone is less adapted. But he is himself then, and
that is what ultimately counts. Living one’s individual destiny. Then, people become also become
more humane, less criminal, less destructive. Q: You authored more than
20 book in German and English.
What are the main topics? It all started with alchemy. When I met Jung, he immediately felt
that I was his collaborator for that, because of my language skills. So, he gave me an old text,
called Aurora Consurgens, to decipher. I had to learn palaeography,
because it was written in a medieval script. I prepared a transliteration,
looked up all bible quotes, for a scholarly edition. One day, he said: “What a waste
that it just lies there, and catches dust. You should add a commentary,
so you can get it published.” That took me 15 years altogether.
It is one of my main works, the Aurora Consurgens. It is a text from, I assume,
the end of the 13th century. Traditionally attributed
to Tomas Aquinas, which, of course, no
modern scholar took seriously. It is primarily interesting from a
psychological perspective, not so much from a
strictly chemical viewpoint. You realize instantly, that he
tried to convey a mystical experience not so much a chemical operation. That is why he garnished
his text with biblical quotation. He was obviously a cleric.
Probably a Dominican. And I personally believe it may
indeed have been Tomas Aquinas’ last work. But of course, that is impossible
to prove in any real sense. Around the same time, my
occupation with fairy tales began. And also in response to a request.
A lady had begun a book about fairy tales, but found she was
unable to write it herself. So, she paid me to
finish the book for her. It turned into a huge work,
over a thousand pages. An interpretation of fairy tales
through the Jungian lens. I worked nine years on that. That started my
infatuation with fairy tales. I wasn’t read any fairy tales in my youth.
The only ones I knew were by Andersen. But I didn’t really like them,
because they always made me so sad. And so, didn’t discover folk
fairy tales until I was in my 20s. I became so infatuated with them,
they became the topic of my lectures, of which many were recorded
on tape, and later got published. Thus, I’m mainly known for
my commentaries on fairy tales. Jung always supported me,
because it exemplifies archetypal theory. You really see how archetypes operate. Jung once said: “Fairy tales give us a
comparative anatomy of the collective psyche.” We see all the archetypes
represented, and how they operate. Fairy tales are the one thing
that’s most collectively human. Because they were handed
down to us by ordinary people, they have few deliberate add-ons,
but are genuinely unconscious material. Q: Is there a link between alchemy,
and your work in ‘Number and Time’? Yes. In Alchemy,
according to our modern view, a large part of that which
we today call the unconscious, was projected into matter. Since the 17th century, matter got
studied more on its own terms, as such. Most of the psychological
projections were withdrawn. What wasn’t solved however, was the
relationship between psyche and matter. The modern question of ‘mind and matter’
– ‘Mind over matter’? ‘Mind under matter’? The problem of how, exactly, interior
experience – both conscious and unconscious – relates to matter and the basal
physiological events in the body, and finally, to the nuclear
and subatomic processes. That is now the huge topic; you could
even say, that is modern-day alchemy. Jung had put that
topic aside at first, in favour of of a purely
experiential approach, and didn’t concern himself with possible
neurological, let alone physical correlates. But at the end of his life, he became
increasingly struck by the fact that nuclear physics, and his discoveries
about the collective unconscious had caused strikingly similar conceptual
shifts, and lead to similar results, which were impossible to ignore. The psychologist drills through the psyche,
and at the deepest point, hits onto matter. The physicist drills through matter, and
at the deepest point, hits the psyche. That is where these
two disciplines meet. Like digging a
tunnel from two sides. And now, we are at the
point of breaking through. One of the last concepts that
Jung coined, was that of the psychoid. Meaning that the archetypes may,
at times, structure material processes. And that is where
science needs to focus. The idea of the psychoid, of
archetypes influencing matter, suggested itself initially because
of the phenomenon of synchronicity. This uncanny observation,
that when the psyche is strongly aroused down to its
unconscious archetypal layer – physicists would
say: “is in an excited state” – Then, we frequently see
synchronistic events, meaning in the external world
something happens, a “miracle”, that corresponds to that
excited internal state. For example, a dream being re-played
in the outer world the next day. Or something happens, that echos
the dream in another meaningful way. Q: Is that the origin of divination? Looking back, it is obvious that
that must have been the origin of divination, why the Romans practiced augury
before political or military decisions, or the Chinese, the Aztecs, all in fact, believed that certain external
realities had a corresponding soul state. This idea isn’t even really new,
already Leibniz and Schopenhauer believed in a coincidence
of interior and exterior, – or rather, witnessed it – and constructed
a system around it. However, they falsely saw
them as regular phenomena, assuming something akin to
a scientific, causal explanation. But one can’t do that. They are not regular,
one can not predict: “When I dream of an eagle owl,
an eagle owl will visit my room the next day.” If that happens, that is a synchronicity,
but it will not always happen. The de-facto existence of
synchronicity is incredibly irritating for us who equate
science with predictability. But one can’t predict synchronicity
scientifically, only divinatorally. Q: And that is your main
occupation, nowadays? No, my work proceeds
very unpredictably. Fairy tales, alchemy, modern alchemy, i.e.
related to nuclear physics and the time problem it is all interrelated, like in a plaid. They disappear, and come back up again. How these three fields are connected,
I think I could even explain that in theory, but they are three living streams,
that re-appear again and again, and trade places. I now have finished a book
about dreams of the dying. And what my own dreams
now suggest I should take on, although I’m not entirely sure yet,
but that’s at least how it looks now, is a work about the relationship
of the unconscious to the landscape. And there, synchronicity
would become relevant again, in the sense of a
geography of the soul. However, I still have to wait
for my unconscious to approve. I myself am very enthusiastic,
but let’s see what the ghosts have to say. Q: So is it your dreams,
that direct your creativity? Dreams are the
origin of all creativity. When you let your dreams
direct you, you make less detours. All creativity comes from the unconscious,
it is the same stuff dreams are made of. We often read of poets ‘dreaming up’
entire scenes before writing them down. A famous example is the
story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stephenson dreamed the
entire first part of the novel. Whenever I’m in the process of writing,
or otherwise creative, I also dream more. The unconscious gets
passionately involved. And whenever I lose direction in my
writing, my dreams become negative. I do believe that every creative person, knowingly
or not, creates through their unconscious. ♫ Everybody sing: ♫
“She’s a lumberjack, in her own way… ♫ … she dreams all night,
and reads Jung all day.” ♫ Sorry!
I couldn’t resist. Q: Do you see a link between
alchemy and feminism? There is a direct connection. Christianity was rather
transcendental and patriarchal, and alchemy represented
the complementary tradition. Alchemists were interested
in the ‘mater natura’ – Mother Nature! They venerated goddesses,
mater natura, mater alchemia. Matter is divine. It is,
in one sense, a goddess. The papal declaration of
the ‘assumptio mariae’ – that Mary was taken up to
heaven with her physical body – that is a hallowing of matter,
and of the feminine principle. These are all transformations,
shifts in the collective unconscious. Our age is one of movement, away
from patriarchy, towards matriarchy. The emphasis on spirit is
weakened in favour of matter. And this balance
must be found. The danger is, of course,
that it simply switches, and becomes,
again, one-sided. That is why Jung spoke so much
about the ‘mysterium coniunctionis’, the uniting of the male and female
principle, in a state of balance. The fact that women’s liberation
happens at this point in time, and not already 2000 years ago,
where women had even better reason Women had reasons to revolt
all along, but only now, they do it. That is because only now,
the archetype of the feminine, of the goddess, is constellated
in the collective unconscious. That is why everywhere, these
various movements flare up, that insist on a re-appreciation of
matter, of the natural, of the irrational, of eros, of sexuality,
of the bodily aspect of existence. All that hangs together. And with that, the higher
valuing of women’s personhood, the valuing of eros and
of feeling-relationship. Q: What message would you like
to bring across through your work? That is very hard to convey
in a few words. But I would say, I have, like everyone else, the
impression, that our culture, our civilization, has entered a stage of
deterioration and decay Either find a way of
rejuvenating our culture, or that will be the end. And this rejuvenation, I only see coming
from that, which Jung described as a positive relationship to
the creative ground of being. There lie our roots. A tree can only
rejuvenate itself out of its roots. Thus, my message to people is, to
direct their attention back onto those roots. That is the only place, where one
could find new, constructive ideas for how to deal with our enormous
dilemma, the atom bomb, overpopulation, where all those seemingly unsolvable
questions could possibly find a solution. The greatest danger in today’s
civilization is that of ‘massification’ and the levelling and
suppression of the individual. Then, the individual
becomes malicious. Terrorism, and related
phenomena, are reactions of the individual. Only by again valuing the individual
might we be able to find a way forward…

5 Replies to “On Alchemy, Synchronicity and the World Soul – Marie-Louise von Franz

  1. Thank you so much…such a precious material and always a wonderful ride when guided by the genius of Von Franz.
    I was delighted to have found “the way of the dream” posted on YT few weeks ago but it was again removed. Anyone could help me find a copy of the video anywhere?

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