Women around Carl Jung: Helene Preiswerk


From Fortean Times
The Occult World of CG Jung

Another who seemed to feel supernatural presences was his cousin, from his mother’s side of the family, Helene Preiswerk. In a letter to JB Rhine about the shattered bread knife, Jung refers to Helly – as she was known – as a “young woman with marked mediumistic faculties” whom he had met around the time of the incident, and in his “so-called’ autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections he remarks that he became involved in a series of séances with his relatives after the incidents of the bread knife and table. Yet the séances had been going on for some time before the two events, and at their centre was Helly, whom Jung already knew well and who, by all accounts, was in love with him. This is an early sign of his somewhat ambiguous relationship with the occult.

Helly would enter a trance and fall to the floor, breathing deeply, and speaking in old Samuel Preiswerk’s voice – although she had never heard him. She told the others that they should pray for her elder sister Bertha, who, she said, had just given birth to a black child. Bertha, who was living in Brazil, had already had one child with her mixed-race husband, and gave birth to another on the same day as the séance. [3] Further séances proved equally startling. At one point, Samuel Preiswerk and Carl Jung Sr – Jung’s paternal grandfather – who had disliked each other while alive, reached a new accord. A warning came for another sister who was also expecting a child that she would lose it; in August the baby was born premature and dead.

Helly produced further voices, but the most interesting was a spirit named Ivenes, who called herself the real Helene Preiswerk. This character was much more mature, confident, and intelligent than Helly, who Jung described as absent-minded, and not particularly bright, talented, or educated. It was as if buried beneath the unremarkable teenager was a fuller, more commanding personality, like Jung’s ‘Other’. This was an insight into the psyche that would inform his later theory of “individuation”, the process of “becoming who you are”. Helly did blossom later, becoming a successful dressmaker in France, although she died young, at only 30.

In Jung’s dissertation on the séances, On the Psychology and Pathology of So-called Occult Phenomena, he describes Helly unflatteringly as “exhibiting slightly rachitic skull formation”, and “somewhat pale facial colour”, and fails to mention that she is his cousin. He also omits his own participation in the séances, and dates them from 1899 to 1900, whereas they had started years before. Gerhard Wehr politely suggests that “[T]he doctoral candidate was obviously at pains to conceal his own role, and especially his close kinship relat­ionship, thus forestalling from the start any further critical inquiry that might have thrown the scientific validity of the entire work into question.”

In other words, Jung the scientist thought it a good career move to obscure Jung the occultist’s personal involvement in the business.


From Spiritualism and the Foundations of C.G. Jung’s Psychology

Jung even wrote his doctoral dissertation, “On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena,” about a series of seances he arranged. The medium, Helen Preiswerk, was later found to be a cousin of Jung himself and may have entertained romantic feelings about him. In any case, his maternal family did not entirely approve of the whole undertaking. Jung saw the “spirits” as unconscious pre-figurations in the medium’s later personality. She died at an early age.


Jung’s Dissertation about Helen Preiswerk:
On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena

This volume contains a selection of articles and pamphlets on analytical psychology written at intervals during the past fourteen years. These years have seen the development of a new discipline, and as is usual in such a case, have involved many changes of view-point, of concept, and of formulation.

It is not my intention to give a presentation of the fundamental concepts of analytical psychology in this book; it throws some light, however, on a certain line of development which is especially characteristic of the Zürich School of psychoanalysis.

As is well known, the merit of the discovery of the new analytical method of general psychology belongs to Professor Freud of Vienna. His original view-points had to undergo many essential modifications, some of them owing to the work done at Zürich, in spite of the fact that he himself is far from agreeing with the standpoint of this school.

I am unable to explain fully the fundamental differences between the two schools, but would indicate the following points: The Vienna School takes the standpoint of an exclusive sexualistic conception, while that of the Zürich School is symbolistic. The Vienna School interprets the psychological symbol semiotically, as a sign or token of certain primitive psychosexual processes. Its method is analytical and causal.

The Zürich School recognises the scientific feasibility of such a conception, but denies its exclusive validity, for it does not interpret the psychological symbol semiotically only, but also symbolistically, that is, it attributes a positive value to the symbol.

The value does not depend merely on historical causes; its chief importance lies in the fact that it has a meaning for the actual present, and for the future, in their psychological aspects. For to the Zürich School the symbol is not merely a sign of something repressed and concealed, but is at the same time an attempt to comprehend and to point out the way of the further psychological development of the individual. Thus we add a prospective import to the retrospective value of the symbol.

The method of the Zürich school is therefore not only analytical and causal, but also synthetic and prospective, in recognition that the human mind is characterised by “causæ” and also by “fines” (aims). The latter fact needs particular emphasis, because there are two types of psychology, the one following the principle of hedonism, and the other following the principle of power. Scientific materialism is pertinent to the former type, and the philosophy of Nietzsche to the latter. The principle of the Freudian theory is hedonism, while that of Adler (one of Freud’s earliest personal pupils) is founded upon the principle of power.

The Zürich School, recognising the existence of these two types (also remarked by the late Professor William James), considers that the views of Freud and Adler are one-sided, and only valid within the limits of their corresponding type. Both principles exist within every individual, but not in equal proportions.

Thus, it is obvious that each psychological symbol has two aspects, and should be interpreted according to the two principles. Freud and Adler interpret in the analytical and causal way, reducing to the infantile and primitive. Thus with Freud the conception of the “aim” is the fulfilment of desire, with Adler it is the usurpation of power. Both authors take the standpoint in their practical analytical work which brings to view only infantile and gross egoistic aims.

The Zürich School is convinced of the fact that within the limits of a diseased mental attitude the psychology is such as Freud and Adler describe. It is, indeed, just on account of such impossible and childish psychology that the individual is in a state of inward dissociation and hence neurotic. The Zürich School, therefore, in agreement with them so far, also reduces the psychological symbol (the phantasy products of the patient) to the fundamental infantile hedonism, or to the infantile desire for power. But Freud and Adler content themselves with the result of mere reduction, according to their scientific biologism and naturalism.

But here a very important question arises. Can man obey the fundamental and primitive impulses of his nature without gravely injuring himself or his fellow beings? He cannot assert either his sexual desire or his desire for power unlimitedly, and the limits are moreover very restricted. The Zürich school has in view also the final result of analysis, and regards the fundamental thoughts and impulses of the Unconscious, as symbols, indicative of a definite line of future development. We must admit there is, however, no scientific justification for such a procedure, because our present-day science is based as a whole upon causality. But causality is only one principle, and psychology essentially cannot be exhausted by causal methods only, because the mind lives by aims as well. Besides this disputable philosophical argument, we have another of much greater value in favour of our hypothesis, namely, that of vital necessity. It is impossible to live according to the intimations of infantile hedonism, or according to a childish desire for power. If these are to be retained they must be taken symbolically. Out of the symbolic application of infantile trends, an attitude evolves which may be termed philosophic or religious, and these terms characterise sufficiently the lines of further development of the individual. The individual is not only an established and unchangeable complex of psychological facts, but also an extremely changeable entity. By exclusive reduction to causes, the primitive trends of a personality are reinforced; this is only helpful when at the same time these primitive tendencies are balanced by recognition of their symbolic value. Analysis and reduction lead to causal truth; this by itself does not help living, but brings about resignation and hopelessness. On the other hand, the recognition of the intrinsic value of a symbol leads to constructive truth and helps us to live. It furthers hopefulness and the possibility of future development.

The functional importance of the symbol is clearly shown in the history of civilisation. For thousands of years the religious symbol proved a most efficacious means in the moral education of mankind. Only a prejudiced mind could deny such an obvious fact. Concrete values cannot take the place of the symbol; only new and more efficient symbols can be substituted for those that are antiquated and outworn, such as have lost their efficacy through the progress of intellectual analysis and understanding. The further development of mankind can only be brought about by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself, and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely. The individual unconscious produces such symbols, and they are of the greatest possible value in the moral development of the personality.
Man almost invariably has philosophic and religious views of the meaning of the world and of his own life. There are some who are proud to have none. These are exceptions outside the common path of mankind; they miss an important function which has proved itself to be indispensable to the human mind.

In such cases we find in the unconscious, instead of modern symbolism, an antiquated archaic view of the world and of life. If a requisite psychological function is not represented in the sphere of consciousness, it exists in the unconscious in the form of an archaic or embryonic prototype.

This brief résumé may show what the reader cannot find in this collection of papers. The essays are stations on the way of the more general views developed above.

C. G. JUNG. Zürich, January, 1916.


In that wide field of psychopathic deficiency where Science has demarcated the diseases of epilepsy, hysteria and neurasthenia, we meet scattered observations concerning certain rare states of consciousness as to whose meaning authors are not yet agreed. These observations spring up sporadically in the literature on narcolepsy, lethargy, automatisme ambulatoire, periodic amnesia, double consciousness, somnambulism, pathological dreamy states, pathological lying, etc.

These states are sometimes attributed to epilepsy, sometimes to hysteria, sometimes to exhaustion of the nervous system, or neurasthenia, sometimes they are allowed all the dignity of a disease sui generis. Patients occasionally work through a whole graduated scale of diagnoses, from epilepsy, through hysteria, up to simulation. In practice, on the one hand, these conditions can only be separated with great difficulty from the so-called neuroses, sometimes even are indistinguishable from them; on the other, certain features in the region of pathological deficiency present more than a mere analogical relationship not only with phenomena of normal psychology, but also with the psychology of the supernormal, of genius. Various as are the individual phenomena in this region, there is certainly no case that cannot be connected by some intermediate example with the other typical cases. This relationship in the pictures presented by hysteria and epilepsy is very close. Recently the view has even been maintained that there is no clean-cut frontier between epilepsy and hysteria, and that a difference is only to be noted in extreme cases. Steffens says, for example[1]—“We are forced to the conclusion that in essence hysteria and epilepsy are not fundamentally different, but that the cause of the disease is the same but is manifest in a diverse form, in different intensity and permanence.”


One Response to Women around Carl Jung: Helene Preiswerk

  1. I am writing a paper on Jung and would like to know how his ideas are being used in modern day and the future. Also what you think Jungs definition would be for “What it means to be human”


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