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Phillips, S.L. (1997). Black Hamlet. By Wulf Sachs. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press. 1996. Pp. 280.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 78:838-839.

(1997). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 78:838-839

Black Hamlet. By Wulf Sachs. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press. 1996. Pp. 280.

Review by:
Susan Lipshitz Phillips

At the time Wulf Sachs wrote this book, in the 1930s, few had attempted to straddle the terrains of psychoanalysis and anthropology with any psychological knowledge in depth of individuals of different cultures. This was in spite of theoretical interest in the generality of the Oedipus complex and unconscious life expressed particularly by Jones and Geza Réheim, but probably was a testament to the inherent methodological difficulties of doing cross-cultural field work. Sachs’s book is thus a rare document, a pioneering study of his relationship with John Chavafambira, an African medicine man. The two, worlds apart, found common ground in interpreting John’s dreams, in understanding the unresolved feelings he had, like Hamlet, about his mother’s remarriage and his loss of place, and in seeing the operation of sexuality and violence in their own minds and those consulting them.

They shared a sense that self-knowledge, training and experience prepared you for practice and that you needed to be ready, through a process of internal and external legitimation by benign paternal and maternal figures (spirits or imagos) to take on the profession. Although John used bones, herbs, and spells to divine and heal in his basically paranoid-schizoid universe that was full of bad luck, poisoners and superstition, Sachs could recognise familiar features.

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