Possessed? Quotes from Marie-Louise von Franz on Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales

Discuss the association between the shadow, evil, and creative inspiration. – HMC 140

According to Marie-Louis von Franz, Jung said that everything in the unconscious is the shadow (Franz, 1995). Shadow is a mythical term for the unconscious. Our creative impulse or inspiration comes from the unconscious or shadow. The unconscious holds both good and bad qualities despite the term, shadow, which implies darkness and is mostly associated with evil. It’s the archetypal energies emerging in dreams and creative acts that facilitate the individuation process – a persons journey toward fulfillment and life purpose.


The danger for the individual is in the possible fixation that leads to stuck-ness. “In the archetypal experience of evil, evil powers are seen as crippled human, or as a distorted thing… evil entails being swept away by one-sidedness, by one single pattern of behavior.” (Franz, 1995) She goes on to make the connection with evil being associated with mother nature and the dangers of disasters like landslides that also fall into the general idea of being overcome by too much of one thing.


When I think about these ideas and apply them to my own creative experiences I get what she is saying. It takes conscious effort to keeping a balance with my creative energies. When I’m creating it feels like a trance state and other needs, like sleep, are pushed aside or forgotten. That kind of focused action takes a toll on my body and can lead to unhealthy patterns that spiral out from physical to emotional and spiritual imbalances.

Pencil on Paper
Pencil on Paper

“With a certain amount of insight, and with the help of dreams, it is relatively easy for people to recognize these elements, and that is what we call making the shadow conscious–and with that analysis usually comes to a stop. But this is no achievement, for then comes the much more difficult problem where most people have great trouble: they know what their shadow is, but they cannot express it much or integrate it into their lives.” (von Franz, 1995, p.5)

“(T)here is a secret inner norm of how much of the shadow a human being can stand. It is unhealthy not to see it, but just as unhealthy to take too much of it.”  (von Franz, 1995, p.8)

“(C)ounterreligious festivals have died out and tend to be forgotten, but they were an attempt to show the crowd its shadow. If you want to see genuine remnants of such things in Switzerland, go to the Basel Fastnacht; there you can see the way in which a group brings out it’s group shadow in a genuine and beautiful way.” (von Franz, 1995, p.9)

“You can see the same pattern in the family black sheep who is forced to carry the shadow of the others.” (von Franz, 1995, p.10)

“The consideration of the shadow in fairy tales, then, must not focus on the personal but on the collective and group shadow.” (von Franz, 1995, p.14)

“In general, we might conclude that if the fairy tale tells us of a simple man becoming king, it describes a process of renewal of collective consciousness which comes from the unexpected and officially despised part of the psyche, and from the simple people, for a population, in a confused way, the simple suffer more than the learned people from the undercurrents of the archetypal development… One could say, therefore, that the moods, secret longings, and needs of the simple people within the population express in a clear form the needs of our time.” (von Franz, 1995, p.30)

“It is even literally expressed in the description of Christ as the King of Kings and at the same time the servant of man.” (von Franz, 1995, p33

“The archetype of the king can indicate the fertility and strength of the tribe or nation, or the old man who suffocates new life and should be deposed. The hero can be the renewal of life of the greatest destroyer, or both. Every archetypal figure has its shadow…. Only when light falls on an object does it throw a shadow.” (von Franz, 1995, p35)

“As long as the attitude of the ego is powerfully engaged in life and is in tune with the instincts, it can hold the opposites together.” (von Franz, 1995, p37)

“That these factors, the personal urge toward an ethical reaction and the moral code, are not identical, becomes more obvious only when there is a so-called collision of duties… But there is no general ethical rule, and that is a conflict of duties: the duty to tell the truth and the duty to spare the patient.”(von Franz, 1995, p139)

“For if collective material is completely contradictory, if our basic ethical disposition is completely contradictory, only then is it possible for us to have an individual, responsible, free conscious superstructure over those basic opposites.” (von Franz, 1995, p145)

“The one exception to the rule of contradiction, however, seems to be that one must never hurt the helpful animal in fairy tales.” (von Franz, 1995, p145)

“In his paper on “The Conscience” Jung mentions a lady who thought of herself as a pure saint and who every night drempt the dirtiest sexual obscenities. That is a coarse example of what we call the law of compensation.” (von Franz, 1995, p146)

“As far as I know, the phenomenon of evil in a primitive setup is simply the appearance of something demonic or abnormal, a kind of overpowering nature phenomenon, which does not pose any ethical problem but the purely practical one of how to either overcome or successfully escape it.” (von Franz, 1995, p149)

“(T)he phenomenon of possession, which ethnologists consider the greatest problem in primitive society. We psychologists believe that is is so in every society. Possession means being assimilated by some numinous archetypal image…”(von Franz, 1995, p.155)

“Psychotic borderline cases often have parapsychological gifts–knowing through the unconscious things which they couldn’t otherwise know. As soon as you fall into an archetype, or identify with the powers of the unconscious, you get those supernatural gifts and that is why people do not like to be exorcised or rehumanized again. The loss of those gifts accounts for one of the resistances against therapy.” (von Franz, 1995, p157)

“..(P)eople to believe that these spirits are simply personifications of evil in nature…Then there is another type where human beings have been assimilated by those demonic nature powers… where an originally normal human being slowly becomes transformed into something destructive and demonic by being completely possessed by evil powers…. The worst thing one can meet, or which I have met in my life, is people who have been assimilated by these archetypes of evil power.” (von Franz, 1995, p172)

“So loneliness, especially loneliness in nature, opens the door to the powers of evil. as does being in a foreign country.” (von Franz, 1995, p173)

“In many stories all over the world there is this kind of infantile daring which is not courage. Itlooks like it, but it isn’t. This pseudo-courage, which is infantile daring out of unawareness or lack of respect, is a common feature through which man steps suddenly into the area of the archetype of evil.”(von Franz, 1995, p173)

“Possession for us is still just as bad as in primitive society, for it means being swept away by one tune in the melody of one’s inner possibilities, and in that there is already a great amount of evil.”  (von Franz, 1995, p. 182)

“(W)henever such an inner image came up, I wrote it down and dealt with it in active imagination, and then there was complete peace.”(von Franz, 1995, p.186)

“What seems striking to us is that the story does not seem to have any point… It’s highly numinous and therefor highly fascinating, which is why one has all this pleasurable excitement it. And it’s frightening! It is as terrifying as it is attractive, and it is as absolutely non personal and nonhuman phenomenon.”(von Franz, 1995,  p151)

Source: Franz, M.-L. von. (1995). Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (Revised edition.). Boston: Shambhala.