Interview with Marie-Louise von Franz

Interviewer Hein Stufkens and film producer Philip Engelen went to Küsnacht to interview Marie-Louise von Franz in English about her former relationship with Wolfgang Pauli. Parts of the interview appeared in the documentary series Passions of the Soul which was broadcast by IKON for the first time in November 1991.


An interview with Marie-Louise von Franz by Hein Stufkens and Philip Engelen, IKON-television, Küsnacht, November 1990.

Herbet van Erkelens (EDITOR)

From: Harvest. Journal for Jungian Studies, Vol. 48 No. 2, 2002.

Hein Stufkens: I would like to talk with you about Wolfgang Pauli. You knew him very well. What kind of man was he?

Marie-Louise von Franz: Difficult to say. He had a very complicated nature. He was highly intelligent, very honest in his thinking, but otherwise a very immature big boy in his feelings. He was uncertain of himself, easily influenced. He had no certainty of feeling. You know, a woman reacts more to the nature of a man than just to his mind. This man, he struck me as a big boy.

H.S.: And you were his therapist? Was that your relation?

v.Fr.: One day he came to me and wanted to discuss his dreams with me, but he did not want therapy. So he wanted and he did not want to hear what I had to say. He wanted to keep a purely theoretical discussion, a mental ping-pong. But therapy goes a bit deeper than a mental ping-pong. I hoped he would see it didn’t work. That’s why slowly it led to a dead issue. Because he didn’t want to commit himself.

H.S.: So you were more or less disappointed?

v.Fr.: I was sceptical from the beginning. I tried to help him in spite of my scepsis. I just tried, because I saw that he was in great danger. I saw that he had lost the inner way. You don’t know what is going to happen, but something horrible is going to happen. Later it turned out to be cancer.

H.S.: Did you mean much to him, do you think?

v.Fr.: I don’t know. His feelings were very unclear.

H.S.: Pauli dedicated the Piano Lesson to you. How did you feel about that?

v.Fr.: I felt very sad, because the solution of the Piano Lesson is, in contrast to what Mr. van Erkelens has said, not a solution. Pauli returns to pure worldliness, the anima sadly plays a melody on the piano, left alone instead of in a relationship. The ring he is offering me there, so to speak, is suspended [in the air] and the master, whom we would call the Self, disappears. So the Piano Lesson ends very disappointingly. It makes me sad, like the whole thing makes me sad. If you want me to sum up the relationship: I tried to pull him out and didn’t succeed.

H.S.: But the feminine or the anima played a great part in his dreams.

v.Fr.: Yes. He always scoffed at the feminine in his personal relationships, in his feeling. Like many intellectuals. So in contrast the feminine was very overwhelmingly present in his dreams.

H.S.: Why do you think that Pauli at the beginning of 1954 quitted depth psychology and started to study biology and to discuss evolutionary theory with Max Delbrück who had left physics for biology. Why did he do that? Was it a kind of escape?

v.Fr.: In my view it was an escape. When it was getting hard, he walked out of it. You saw that already in the beginning. “I don’t want therapy,” were his first words when he offered to discuss his dreams. He always said that Jungians are stupid and therapy is not the meaning of Jungian psychology. It should be changed into philosophy or science. He always cut out the personal. I admit that therapy is a disagreeable part of psychology. You have to light up all the dark corners and all your inadequacies. And that corner Pauli didn’t like. In science you can be a great man and your personal inadequacies remain hidden under the carpet. They are whispered around by your colleagues, but they don’t exist officially. Well, in therapy these things come up.

H.S.: How did you feel about it now that he in fact ceased to continue the work he had begun, namely to bridge the gap between depth psychology and quantum physics?

v.Fr.: I’m not a missionary of Jungian psychology. So when I saw he left it, I thought, well that’s that. I began to get bored and thought: he can discuss his matters with Delbrück and other biologists. I got bored and felt my time was too precious.

H.S.: That sounds a little bit cynical to me? Is that right?

v.Fr.: Yes. One could call it that way. At that time I was naturally sad. Looking back I think I wasted my time.

H.S.: You invested much in him?

v.Fr.: At that time I took a lot of trouble. He was a very tiring discussion partner, because he was quick and profound and intense. We generally walked about two or three hours in the woods. And then I was exhausted. I made a real effort. When it doesn’t work you get annoyed. You think: he may go to hell.

H.S.: And then you continued the work of bridging the gap between psychology and physics?

v.Fr.: Then I followed my own interests. I tried to do it myself instead of trying to make others do it.

H.S.: In what way, do you think, should this work now be continued and who should do it?

v.Fr.: I don’t know the other hopeful young men who should continue it. They must exist, but I don’t know where they are. But I think the big breakthrough had really already been done by Jung when he created the concept of synchronicity. The work which has now to be done is to work that out. It is like a lightning intuition. But now we would have to work it out in detail, explore it empirically. This could occupy a lot of people in very good mind.

H.S.: There was a physicist who told me that in his view the work in fact is continued everywhere where two people really love each other in a personal relationship. Would you agree with that?

v.Fr.: Absolutely. Generally you cannot experience your own unconscious without a contrasexual love, because that constellates the unconscious. It is the most powerful constellation of the unconscious. Then you can explore it when it is constellated. When nothing happens in your life and you’re in your everyday boredom, that generally doesn’t create new ideas.

H.S.: What is the place of individuation in a love relationship?

v.Fr.: In a love relation, as Jung once put it, you risk everything. You put yourself on a table, you stop the power game and the trying to dominate or conquer the other person. If you succeed in really loving the other person, if you really relate, then all sorts of miracles happen. But in the beginning stages a general state of blindness possesses you, illusions or wrong expectations, disappointments, recriminations. You have to work through all that first. And that’s how you become more conscious. I didn’t say it is agreeable. So if you don’t love the other, you run away after a while.

H.S.: And that is what Pauli did?

v.Fr.: Yes, I sometimes made scenes, when I thought he was really on the wrong track. Then he just made joking remarks that I looked prettier the more I was angry. He didn’t take it seriously. I banged on the table and said: I mean it seriously. It is a dangerous point. But he just scoffed at it. He had a patriarchal outlook on women. Women were pleasant things to play with, but not something to take seriously. That really was one of the difficulties.


Pauli’s dream of the square dance:

‘On the eve of the dream he was amusing himself in arranging various schemata of his life. He depicted them in the form of double triangles (six-pointed stars) on whose points he inscribed the essential elements of his inner life. He then dreamt:

A Chinese woman (elevated to the rank of a “wisdom goddess”) is present with two men. [One is the master, the other one his “shadow” in the figure of a contemporary physicist. Editor’s note.] I am the fourth. She says to me: “You must allow us to play every conceivable combination of chess.”

            In a subsequent half-waking fantasy a numinous voice announces to the dreamer: “In your drawings one element is perfectly correct and another transitory and false. It is correct that the lines number six, but it is false to draw six points. See here —“

and I saw a square with clearly marked off diagonals. “Can you see now finally the four and the six? Four spatial points ad six lines or six pairs out of four points. They are the same six lines that exist in the I Ching. There the six, containing three as latent factor, are correct. Now observe the square more closely: four of the lines are of equal length, the other two are longer – they are “irrationally related.” There is no figure with four points and six equal lines. For this reason symmetry cannot be statically produced and a dance results. The coniunctio refers to the exchange of places during this dance. One can also speak of a game of rhythms and rotations. Therefore the three, already contained in a latent form in the square, must be dynamically expressed. (Franz, 1974, 108-109)


H.S.: But in his dreams he took the feminine seriously.

v.Fr.: The anima figure, the Chinese Sophia figure. He took her seriously. That was a compensatory figure for him who tried to impress on him the feminine. But even then he did not take enough notice of her. For instance I published in Number and Time the dream where the Chinese woman says that not the six-pointed star, but the square dance is a real symbol of the Self. He never worked on that further. He didn’t pick up those suggestions or work on them as Jung trained us to do. If I had had such a dream, I would have followed up that idea right through for weeks and weeks.

H.S.: Did you talk with Jung about Pauli’s dreams?

v.Fr.: No. Pauli didn’t want me to do that. That was a funny thing. I don’t know why he said that. So I said, well, let’s drop it. I thought I would do it behind his back if I didn’t understand the dreams, but I did understand them. A little, at that time.

H.S.: What was the reason why Jung and Pauli didn’t communicate anymore?

v.Fr.: Pauli was afraid of Jung. He avoided him. He could have analysed with Jung. Jung would have done it. But he didn’t want it. It was also a little trick. Not too hot. Not in the hot seat.

H.S.: What frightened him?

v.Fr.: Pauli was afraid of the content of his dreams. It frightened him to draw conclusions from what his dreams said. They said for instance that he should stand up for Jungian psychology in public. And that he feared like hell. Which I understand. He moved in the higher circles in physics. They were very mocking and cynical and also jealous of him. If he had stood up for dreams and irrational things, there would have been a hellish laughter. And he hadn’t the guts to face it. So that was really tragic.

H.S.: They would have made a fool of him?

v.Fr.: They were jealous of him and his Nobel prize. So they would have laughed to make a fool of him. And he knew that. So he was afraid, understandably afraid. But that blocked the progress.

H.S.: I see. Thank you very much. Are there more questions?

Philip Engelen: You were speaking about the danger. Pauli did not recognize the danger he was in. What kind of danger you mean?

v.Fr.: The unconscious is a nature spirit in man. It is like the master which Pauli describes in his active imagination or Mercurius. He can lead you very easily down the garden path and then you end up in a wilderness or in trouble. It needs great skill to deal with the unconscious properly. So people are afraid of it…

[Here the recorder suddenly breaks down.]

P.E.: Maybe you can repeat your idea about the danger of today’s world.

v.Fr.: I can’t repeat, but I will say it differently. Well, Jung saw that the danger was imminent. But the danger you look in the face is not as bad as the danger you ignore. He always used a similarity. If you ignore the plague virus, it spreads like mad. If you look at it, you may do something against it. So he wanted mankind to face the danger. And that’s why he painted such a gloomy picture. He tried to give the audience a shock, because everybody talks about the danger and then takes a cup of tea and does nothing.

P.E.: Do you think that Jungian psychology does have an answer to the danger of today’s world?

v.Fr.: To my mind, yes. The only possible answer is a change of attitude. A radical change of attitude does not come about without a shock.

P.E.: What kind of change?

v.Fr.: Well, stop polluting, stop exaggerating technology and intellectualism. Take the moral problems more seriously. Science is nowadays completely immoral. And industry is completely immoral. Change our economic system, change our political view, find the way back to a religious attitude towards life, to a simpler life. And so on.

P.E.: What do you mean by a religious attitude?

v.Fr.: Knowing that you are a louse in an unknown universe and that you have to respect fully and venerate the forces which have created you and which are directing you from within.

P.E.: Does it also mean a revival of the church?

v.Fr.: Not necessarily. Religiousness is much wider than an institution. A primitive man who venerates a tree is not a member of a church, but he is religious.

P.E.: And the modern world is not religious?

v.Fr.: No, they think they can put everything in their pocket. And if something dangerous comes up, all they do is set up a committee to study it and then they put it in our pocket. They donate a few million dollars for a research project and that will deal with it. Never does.

P.E.: Thank you very much for this interview.

Herbert van Erkelens © 2010

Editor’s note:

This interview first appeared in the Yearbook of the Dutch Interdisciplinary Society for Analytical Psychology, 13 (1997) 67-75. Next in Harvest. Journal for Jungian Studies, Vol. 48 No. 2, 2002. At the time of the interview Marie-Louise von Franz was already seriously ill. Her voice was weak. So it was difficult to make a transcription from tape. Some improvements have been made as concerns grammar. But the idiomatic irregularities have been retained.


Erkelens, Herbert van, ‘Wolfgang Pauli’s dialogue with the spirit of matter’, Psychological Perspectives, Issue Twenty-Four, Spring/Summer 1991, 34-53.

Franz, Marie-Louise von, Number and Time. Reflections Leading toward a Unification of Depth Psychology and Physics, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1974.


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