THE BURNT EYEBROWS OF MARIE-LOUISE VON FRANZ.
A Tribute to Von Franz
In our kitchen, my father had a cupboard drawer where he kept all his equipment for casting the sinkers he used for his weekend fishing expeditions. It was a little collection of things for melting metals and other such operations. I must have been between eight and ten years at the time that I started my own experiments with an old pot, that had seen better days. I remember a small sphere of quicksilver that my father had given me, and something that I presume was a slab of red ochre. These plus other substances were melted down into a sort of red cake, and I have the distict memory of tiny dewdrops of Mercury shining in the cracks of the red crust.
This childhood memory was re-activated while I was reading M.L. Von Franz.
The "art of active imagination with material..."
When she was about ten years old...
"...I used to play very much alone in a little garden house attached to the hen-house, where I grew up in the country. Once I read in a paper for young people, which gave some information on natural science , that amber was really resin which came from old trees and had been washed about in the sea. That somehow triggered off my fantasy and I thought that now I wanted to make a yellow amber pearl. There was true alchemical thinking in that though I had not the foggiest idea of alchemy, but after reading the paper I felt I must make an amber pearl. So then I thought: "Well, nature makes amber by rolling about resin in the sea so we must speed up the process of nature." You read that in every alchemical text: "We are speeding up the natural processes."
I had not the foggiest idea what to do but I went about it completely naively. I thought that sea water consisted of water with salt and iodine, (which was all I knew at the time) so I just took salt from the kitchen and iodine from my parent’s pharmacy and mixed them. I did not know about quantities but I presumed that I now had sea water. Then I collected resin from the neighbouring trees, which naturally was full of dirt - bits of tree and so on. So I thought (and that again was alchemy without my knowing it), before you mix he substances you must purify them separately. The sea water was clean because I had made it, but now I must purify the resin and for that I first had to melt it and then put it through a sieve to get the impurities out. While I was melting it in a stolen pan I was filled with pity for the resin and wondered if it suffered pain. I thought that if you cooked a human he would be in agony, and I wondered if matter really was dead or if the resin suffered when I heated it. So I talked to it. I said: ‘Look here, you may suffer great tortures but you will become such a beautiful yellow amber pearl that it is worth going through the furnace."
Well there came a sad end to the experiment as often happened to alchemists. The whole thing caught fire and I burnt my eyebrows and by that my parents found out what I was doing and they put an unfortunate stop to my alchemy." [ * ]
I cannot recollect if my red ochre cake with its Mercurial pearls was part of a fantasy process, but perhaps some buried content with surface in time.
For those who are intimidated by the rich complexities of the Work of C.G.Jung, especially in the undigested form of the Complete Collected Works - there remain the more accessible works of many other Jungians, and in particular Marie-Louise Von Franz and Edward Edinger, to name two great writers.
Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Alchemical Active Imagination, Spring Publications, Dallas, Texas, 1987, pp. 18,19