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Zeavin, H. (2018). Freud's SĂ©ance. Am. Imago, 75(1):53-65.

(2018). American Imago, 75(1):53-65

Freud's Séance

Hannah Zeavin

In addition to being the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was also a furtive parapsychologist and a card-carrying member of both the British and American Associations of Psychical Research (Oring, 1984, p. 87). For Freud and his moment, these two theories of mind posed no obvious contradiction. Freud was intimately involved in theorizing the workings of telepathy, and his first student, Wilhelm Stekel, wrote an entire monograph on telepathic dreams; two of his closest confidants—Sándor Ferenczi and Carl Jung—wrote their dissertations on telepathy as “thought transference” and worked to substantiate empirical evidence for the occult. Freud went so far as to host a medium who conducted a séance in his own home. In a letter to Hereward Carrington, the director of the American Psychical Institute, Freud wrote, “If I were at the beginning of a scientific career, instead of, as now, at its end I would perhaps choose no other field of work, in spite of all its difficulties” (Oring, 1984, p. 87). Séances, mind reading, and telepathy all insisted that thoughts could be communicated immediately and without speech, including through objects, and that such communication could occur not only between the living but also across the beyond. For the nascent science of psychoanalysis and its founder, the immediacy of this type of communication presented both a tantalizing ideal and a mortal threat. If in his living room Freud privately showed interest in the possible existence and actual nature of occult phenomena, in public forums he defended his new science by performing a responsible skepticism about mediums and their unproven communication practices.

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