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Freud, S. (1932). The Acquisition of Power Over Fire. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 13:405-410.

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(1932). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 13:405-410

The Acquisition of Power Over Fire

Sigmund Freud

In one of the notes to my book Civilization and its Discontents I mentioned—though only incidentally—the conjecture which might be drawn from psycho-analytical material on the subject of primitive man's acquisition of power over fire. I am led to resume this theme by Albrecht Schaeffer's opposition (Die Psychoanalytische Bewegung, Jahrgang II, 1930, p. 201), and by Erlenmeyer's striking citation of the Mongolian law which prohibits urination upon ashes.

Now I conjectured that, in order to possess himself of fire, it was necessary for man to renounce the homosexually tinged desire to extinguish it by a stream of urine. I think that this conjecture can be confirmed by the interpretation of the Greek myth of Prometheus, provided that we bear in mind the distortions to be expected in the transition from fact to the content of a myth. These are of the same nature as and no more strained than those which we recognize every


1 See this number of the JOURNAL, p. 411.

2 This refers no doubt to hot ashes from which fire can still be obtained, not to those in which it is wholly extinguished.—The criticism by Lorenz in 'Chaos and Ritus' (Imago, XVII, 1931) is based on the assumption that man's subjugation of fire only began at all when he discovered that he could produce it at will by some sort of manipulation. As against this, Dr. J. Hárnik refers me to some remarks by Dr. Richard Lasch (in Georg Buschan's compilation Illustrierte Völkerkunde, Stuttgart, 1922, Bd. I, p. 24): 'We may conjecture that the art of conserving fire was understood long before that of kindling it; we have evidence of this in the fact that, to-day, the pygmy-like aborigines of the Andamans, though they possess and conserve fire, have no indigenous method of producing it'.

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