Dreams and Numbers:

A Profile of Marie-Louise von Franz

     Dr. Marie-Louise von Franz had a large influence on Jungian theory and analysis of symbols in dreams and was an essential collaborator that Jung himself selected for Man and His Symbols. She has also written other important works such as:  Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths and Individuation in Fairy Tales, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales and many more important contributions to Jung’s works. She was first introduced to the Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung she was a student of his. Her desire to understand her relationship with her parents was what drew her to Jung (Card 4). In 1940 she graduated with a Ph.D in Medieval Latin. Soon Von Franz took a great interest in Jung’s work and they began their professional relationship in a rather odd way. She would translate the medieval texts Jung was researching in exchange for her own psychoanalysis. It was in these sessions with Jung, she realized she wanted to pursue a career as an analyst herself. Not only did she become and analyst herself, but she also enhanced Jung’s studies on the unconscious by analyzing fairytales and deciphering ancient symbols. She contributed revolutionary ideals with Jung’s theories, which were analyzing fairytales and archetypal patterns of natural numbers.

Von Franz was well known for her analytical work with Fairy Tales, and in her book Interpretation of Fairy Tales Study Guide Von Franz explains that, “All fairy tales can be said to involve some aspect of the self, Jung’s term for the unified consciousness and unconsciousness of the person”(Franz 4).  Fairy tales represent problems for the self, she explains, when the unconscious is not in harmony with the consciousness the hero of the fairy tale then journeys as the archetypal symbol of positive transformation of the self, and by the end of the story the hero has achieved unification (Franz 4). Her attraction to them as she stated, “In fairy tales time and place are always evident because they begin with ‘once upon a time’ of something similar, which means in timelessness and spacelessness—the realm of the unconscious”(Franz 39). She stated that fairy tales are universal, and are unspoiled ways to view cross-cultural values. While mythology and legends have a lot of cultural overlays which makes them more difficult to analyze and should be distinguished from fairy tales.

 Von Franz was interested in how a fairy tale originated. She believed that “Local Sagas” such as nightmares or unexplained events could result. She explains that “scientific interest” with fairy tales began in the eighteenth century with J.G Herder who hypothesized that “Fairy tales contain an expression of religious faith, in regards to the Brothers Grimm who collected German folklore, and are a more earthy alterative to Christianity”(Franz 10). It was difficult to analyze fairy tales because the majority of thinking was that fairy tales were “elementary thoughts”, however Von Franz saw a major flaw with this type of analysis and that was “These various theories go astray because they deny and emotional component to fairy tales”(Franz 11). She argued that they were not just “philosophical thoughts” or “intellectual exercises” but they incorporated universal thoughts of the unconscious through fantasy with relation to psychology of the fairy tale.

Von Franz analyzed many fairy tales throughout her lifetime, and found numerous similarities with each story.  She speaks of animals in fairy tales representing “anthropomorphized” conditions of human sufferings. She stated that young children are able to relate to stories of animals (Franz 17). She speaks of the relation to these tales and correlated many universal themes between different cultures such as the self, anima, and animus, and the shadow. She attributed these shared concepts to Jung’s theory that, “All humanity shares a single collective unconscious populated by universal archetypes” (Franz 51).

In addition to analyzing fairy tales she worked on analyzing mathematics. Near the end of Jung’s life he assigned her with the task of understanding the vast mathematical properties used by man and in nature in relation to the psyche that he and quantum physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, had theorized.  He told her that “myself and quantum physicist, Wolfgang Pauli arrived at a set of propositions about the nature of reality that mark a fundamental departure from the tenets of the worldview of modern science that has prevailed since Descartes”(Card 5). At first she was confused by his request, because it was out of her expertise, so she collaborated with Pauli. And after a great deal of work she published the book Number and Time. Von Franz defines the Jung and Pauli’s work that inspired her,

“Jung and Pauli came to hold that the realm of mind, psyche, and the realm of matter, physics, are complementary aspects of the same transcendental reality, the unus mundus. They asserted that archetypes act as the fundamental dynamical patterns whose various representations characterize all processes, whether mental or physical. In the realm of psyche, archetypes organize images and ideas; in the realm of physics, they organize the structure and transformations of matter and energy and account for acausal orderedness, as well. Furthermore, archetypes acting simultaneously in both the realms of psyche and physics were held to account for instances of synchronistic phenomena” (Card 5).  

With her research Von Franz attempted to create establish a pattern between the areas of psychology and physics, with the intent of working toward their ultimate unification. She states that, “ The question of the relation of psyche and matter as come more and more to the forefront of scientific discussion…and along with the discoveries in modern physics, and the most important discovery of the unconscious reveals that not only of the ego-centered field of the consciousness, but also of an immeasurably wide real of unconscious psychic activities. Through dreams, visions, spontaneous fantasies, faulty actions, involuntary gestures, physical symptoms, and other factors were able to obtain a degree of indirect information about this realm of the psyche” (Time&Numbers 1).

From her investigation of number archetypes, Von Franz concluded that the “primarily collective, quantitative aspects of number that preoccupy Western number theory are complemented by individual, qualitative aspects” (Card 7). To illustrate these aspects of number, she used ancient Chinese number systems, and concluded that the Chinese did not use numbers as quantitative sets but as emblems or symbols but that, “Numbers thus serve chiefly to make visible the circumstantial individual aspects of the cosmic unity or whole.”(Number and Time 25) Chinese numbers also contained dealt with the aspect of time and that,  “In China, numbers signify organizations which vary in time, or transient ‘ensembles’ of inner and outer factors within the world-totality”(Number&Time 42). Her work established that the number archetypes have an “inherent dynamical quality” which she said represented unconscious patterns of “rhythmical behavior”. Von Franz believed that, “The archetypes primarily represent dynamical units of psychic energy. In preconscious processes they assimilate representational material originating in the phenomenal world to specific images and models, so that they become introspectively perceptible as ‘psychic’ happenings” (Time&Number 155). Thus, the number archetypes are thought to be universal aspects of symbol formation. The numbers she said is an undeveloped language that allows an “archetypally-invariant” that signifies the physical and mental processes.

With her research she concluded that, “At the basis of all physical and mental phenomena there exist certain fundamental dynamical forms or patterns of behavior called number archetypes” (Time&Numers 14). Number archetypes can be represented by symbols and physical or mental process can represent these archetypes, so “neutral language” created from symbols can represent number archetypes which can describe mental or physical phenomena (Card 7). Von-Fran’s work with archetypal numbers and fairy tale analysis was able to redefine Jung’s ideas. She pointed, through her examination of the number archetypes, to the way by which Pauli’s “psycho-physically” neutral language might be obtained. Von Franz essentially was able to break down mans symbols into mathematical components in order to better understand a collective unconscious and how our psyche relates to that with symbols and fairy tales. 

Work Cited

     Card, Charles R, and Vasile V Morariu. "IN REMEMBRANCE OF MARIE-LOUISE VON FRANZ 1915-1998." Paideusis - Journal for Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Studies. Vol 1.1998 Articles (1998): L1-8. Print. <http://husky1.smu.ca/~paideusis/volume1/n1cm.pdf>.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Rev. ed. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1996. Print.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise, and Ernst Klett Verlage Klett Verlag. Number and Time: Reflections Leading Toward a Unification of Depth Psychology and Physics . 1. 1. Evanston,Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1986. 332. Print.


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