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The application of analysis to this case does more than this, however; it further increases its significance. It teaches us that what has been communicated by this means of induction from one person to another is not merely a chance piece of indifferent knowledge. It shows that an extraordinarily powerful wish harboured by one person and standing in a special relation to his consciousness has succeeded, with the help of a second person, in finding conscious expression in a slightly disguised form - just as the invisible end of the spectrum reveals itself to the senses on a light-sensitive plate as a coloured extension. It seems possible to reconstruct the young man’s train of thought after the illness and recovery of the brother-in-law who was his hated rival: ‘Well, he’s got over it this time; but he won’t give up his dangerous taste on that account, and let’s hope that next time it will be the end of him.’ It was this ‘let’s hope’ that was changed into the prophecy. I could quote a parallel to this from a dream (dreamt by another person), in which a prophecy was part of the subject-matter. The analysis of the dream showed that the content of the prophecy coincided with the fulfilment of a wish.

I cannot simplify my statement by describing my patient’s death-wish against his brother-in-law as an unconscious, repressed one. For it had been made conscious during the treatment the year before and the consequences which had followed from its repression had yielded to the treatment. But it still persisted, and, though it was no longer pathogenic, it was sufficiently intense. It might be described as a ‘suppressed’ wish.0


In the city of F--- a child grew up who was the eldest of a family of five, all girls. The youngest was ten years younger than herself; she once dropped this child out of her arms when it was a baby; later she called it ‘her child’. Her mother was older than her father and not an agreeable person. Her father - and it was not in years only that he was the younger - saw a lot of the little girls and impressed them by his many dexterities. Unfortunately he was not impressive in any other way: he was incompetent at business and was unable to support the family without help from relatives. The eldest girl became at an early age the repository of all the worries that arose from his lack of earning power.

Once she had left behind the rigid and passionate character of her childhood, she grew up into a regular mirror of all the virtues. Her high moral feelings were accompanied by a narrowly limited intelligence. She became a teacher in an elementary school and was much respected. The timid homage paid to her by a young relation who was a music teacher left her unmoved. No other man had hitherto attracted her notice.

One day a relative of her mother’s appeared on the scene, considerably older than she was, but still (for she was only nineteen) a youngish man. He was a foreigner who lived in Russia as the head of a large commercial undertaking and had grown very rich. It took nothing less than a world war and the overthrow of a great despotism to impoverish him. He fell in love with his young and severe cousin and asked her to be his wife. Her parents put no pressure on her, but she understood their wishes. Behind all her moral ideals she felt the attraction of the fulfilment of a wishful phantasy of helping her father and rescuing him from his necessitous state. She calculated that her cousin would give her father financial support so long as he carried on his business and pension him when he finally gave it up, and that he would provide her sisters with dowries and trousseaux so that they could get married. And she fell in love with him, married him soon afterwards and followed him to Russia.

Except for a few occurrences which were not entirely understandable at first sight and whose significance only became evident in retrospect, everything went very well in the marriage. She grew into an affectionate wife, sexually satisfied, and a providential support to her family. Only one thing was wanting: she was childless. She was now 27 years old and in the eighth year of her marriage. She lived in Germany, and after overcoming every kind of hesitation she went for a consultation to a German gynaecologist. With the usual thoughtlessness of a specialist, he assured her of recovery if she underwent a small operation. She agreed, and on the eve of the operation discussed the matter with her husband. It was the hour of twilight and she was about to turn on the lights when her husband asked her not to: he had something to say to her and he would prefer to be in darkness. He told her to countermand the operation, as the blame for their childlessness was his. During a medical congress two years earlier he had learnt that certain illnesses can deprive a man of the capacity to procreate children. An examination had shown that such was the case with him. After this revelation the operation was abandoned. She herself suffered from a temporary collapse, which she vainly sought to disguise. She had only been able to love him as a substitute father, and she had now learnt that he never could be a father. Three paths were open to her, all equally impassable: unfaithfulness, renunciation of her wish for a child, or separation from her husband. The last of them was excluded for the best practical reasons and the middle one for the strongest unconscious ones, which you can easily guess: her whole childhood had been dominated by the thrice disappointed wish to get a child from her father. There remained one other way out, which is what interests us in her case. She fell seriously ill of a neurosis. For a time she put up a defence against various temptations with the help of an anxiety neurosis, but later her symptoms changed into severe obsessional acts. She spent some time in institutions and eventually, after her illness had lasted for ten years, came to me. Her most striking symptom was that when she was in bed she used to fasten [anstecken = bring into contact] her sheets to the blankets with safety-pins. In this way she was revealing the secret of her husband’s contagion [Ansteckung], to which her childlessness was due.

On one occasion, when she was perhaps 40 years old, the patient told me an episode dating back to the time when her depression was beginning, before the outbreak of her obsessional neurosis. To divert her mind, her husband had taken her with him on a business trip to Paris. The couple were sitting with a business friend of her husband’s in the hall of their hotel when they became aware of some kind of stir and movement. She asked one of the hotel servants what was happening and was told that Monsieur le Professeur had arrived for consultations in his little room near the hotel entrance. Monsieur le Professeur, it appeared, was a famous fortune-teller; he asked no questions, but got his clients to press down a hand into a dish full of sand and foretold the future by studying the imprint. My patient declared that she would go in and have her fortune told. Her husband dissuaded her, saying it was nonsense. But after he had gone off with his business friend she took off her wedding-ring and slipped into the fortune-teller’s cabinet. He made a long study of the imprint of her hand and then spoke as follows: ‘In the near future you will have to go through some severe struggles, but all will turn out well. You will get married and have two children by the time you are 32.’ In telling this story she gave every sign of being greatly impressed by it without understanding it. My comment that it was nevertheless unfortunate that the date laid down by the prophecy had already gone by some eight years made no impression on her. I reflected that perhaps she was admiring the confident boldness of the prophecy - like the faithful disciple of the long-sighted Rabbi.

Unluckily my memory, which is usually so trustworthy, is not certain whether the first part of the prophecy ran : ‘All will turn out well. You will get married.’ Or whether it was: ‘You will become happy.’ My attention was focused too completely on my sharp impression of the final phrase with its striking details. But actually the first remarks, about struggles that will have a happy ending, are among the vague expressions that figure in all prophecies - even in those that can be purchased ready-made. The contrast afforded by the two numbers specified in the final phrase is all the more remarkable. Nevertheless, it would certainly have been of interest to know whether the Professor really spoke of her marriage. It is true that she had taken off her wedding-ring and, at the age of 27, had looked very youthful and might easily have been taken for an unmarried girl. But, on the other hand, it would not have needed any great refinement of observation to discover the trace of the ring on her finger.

Let us restrict ourselves to the problem contained in the last phrase, which promised her two children at the age of 32. These details seem quite arbitrary and inexplicable. Even the most credulous person would scarcely undertake to deduce them from an interpretation of the lines on a hand. They would have received an indisputable justification if the future had confirmed them. But this was not the case. She was now forty years old and had no children. What, then, were the source and meaning of these numbers? The patient herself had no notion. The obvious thing would be to dismiss the question entirely and to consign it to the rubbish heap among so many other meaningless and ostensibly occult messages. That would be delightful: the simplest solution and a greatly desirable relief. But unluckily I must add that it was possible - and precisely by the help of analysis - to find an explanation of the two numbers and one which, once again, was completely satisfactory and arose, almost as a matter of course, out of the actual situation.

For the two numbers fitted in perfectly with the life-story of - our patient’s mother. She had not married till she was thirty and it was in her thirty-second year that (unlike most women and to make up, as it were, for her dilatoriness) she gave birth to two children. So it is easy to translate the prophecy: ‘There’s no need to worry about your present childlessness. There’s nothing in that. You can still follow the example of your mother, who was not even married at your age and nevertheless had two children by the time she was thirty-two.’ The prophecy promised her the fulfilment of the identification with her mother which had been the secret of her childhood, and it was spoken through the mouth of a fortune-teller who was in ignorance of all her personal affairs and was busy examining an imprint in the sand. And we may add, as the precondition of this wish-fulfilment (unconscious as it was in every sense): ‘You will be set free from your useless husband by his death, or you will find strength to separate from him.’ The first alternative would fit in better with the nature of an obsessional neurosis, while the second is suggested by the struggles which, according to the prophecy, she was successfully to overcome.

As you will observe, the part played by analytic interpretation is even more important in this example than in the last one. Analysis may actually be said to have created the occult fact. Accordingly, this example, too, would seem to offer positively conclusive evidence of its being possible to transfer an unconscious wish and the thoughts and knowledge relating to it. I can see only one way of evading the conclusiveness of this last case and you may be sure that I shall not conceal it. It is possible that in the course of the twelve or thirteen years that elapsed between the prophecy and the account of it given during the treatment the patient may have formed a paramnesia: the Professor may have uttered some general and colourless consolation - which would be nothing to wonder at - and the patient may have gradually inserted the significant numbers out of her unconscious. If so, we should have avoided the fact which threatened us with such momentous consequences. We will gladly identify ourselves with the sceptics who will only attach value to a report of this kind if it is made immediately after the event - and even then, perhaps, not without hesitation. I remember that after I was appointed to a professorship I had an audience with the Minister to express my thanks. As I was on my way home from this audience I caught myself in the act of trying to falsify the words that had passed between us and I was never able to recapture correctly the actual conversation. I must leave it to you to decide whether the explanation I have suggested is tenable. I can neither prove nor disprove it. Thus, this second observation, though in itself more impressive than the first, is not equally free from doubt.

3 The two cases that I have reported to you are both concerned with unfulfilled prophecies. Observations of this kind, in my opinion, can provide the best material on the question of thought-transference, and I should like to encourage you to collect similar ones. I had also intended to bring you an example based on material of another kind - a case in which a patient of a special sort talked during one session of things which touched in the most remarkable way on an experience which I had had myself immediately before. But I can now give you visible proof of the fact that I discuss the subject of occultism under the pressure of the greatest resistance. When, while I was at Gastein, I looked out the notes which I had put together and brought with me for the purpose of this paper, the sheet on which I had noted down this last observation was not there, but in its place I found another sheet of indifferent memoranda on quite another topic, which I had brought with me by mistake. Nothing can be done against such a clear resistance. I must ask you to excuse me for omitting this case, for I cannot make the loss good from memory.

I will instead add a few remarks about someone who is very well known in Vienna, a graphologist, Rafael Schermann, who has a reputation for the most astonishing performances. He is said to be able not merely to read a person’s character from a specimen of his handwriting, but also to describe his appearance and to add predictions about him which later come true. Incidentally, many of these remarkable achievements are based on his own stories. A friend of mine once, without my previous knowledge, made the experiment of getting him to allow his imagination to play over a specimen of my writing. All that he produced was that the writing was that of an old gentleman (which it was easy to guess), with whom it was hard to live since he was an intolerable tyrant in his home. Those who share my house would hardly confirm this. But, as we know, the field of the occult is subject to the convenient principle that negative cases prove nothing. I have made no direct observations on Schermann, but through a patient of mine I have been in contact with him without his knowing it. I will tell you about it.

A few years ago a young man came to me who made a particularly sympathetic impression on me, so that I gave him preference over a number of others. It appeared that he was involved with one of the best known demi-mondaines and that he wanted to get free from her, because the relationship deprived him of all independence of action, but was unable to do so. I succeeded in setting him free and at the same time I obtained full insight into his compulsion. Not many months ago he contracted a normal and respectable marriage. The analysis soon showed that the compulsion against which he was struggling was not a tie with the demi-mondaine but with a married lady in his own circle with whom he had had a liason from his earliest youth. The demi-mondaine served merely as a whipping-boy on whom he could satisfy all the feelings of revenge and jealousy which really applied to the other lady. On a model that is familiar to us, he had made use of displacement onto a fresh object in order to escape the inhibition brought about by his ambivalence.

It was his habit to inflict the most refined torment on the demi-mondaine, who had fallen in love with him in an almost unselfish fashion. But when she could no longer conceal her sufferings, he in turn passed over on to her the affection he had felt for the woman he had loved since his youth; he made her presents and propitiated her, and the cycle started on its course once more. When finally, under the influence of the treatment, he broke with her, it became clear what it was that he was trying to achieve by his behaviour to this substitute for his early love: revenge for an attempt at suicide of his own when his love had rejected his advances. After the attempted suicide he had at last succeeded in overcoming her reluctance. During this period of the treatment he used to visit the celebrated Schermann. And the latter, on the basis of specimens of the demi-mondaine’s handwriting, repeatedly told him by way of interpretation that she was at her last gasp, was at the point of suicide and would quite certainly kill herself. This, however, she did not do, but shook off her human weakness, and recalled the principles of her profession and her duties to her official friend. I saw clearly that the miracle-man had merely revealed to my patient his own intimate wish.

After disposing of this spurious figure, my patient set about seriously the task of freeing himself from his real bond. I detected from his dreams a plan that he was forming by means of which he would be able to escape from his relation with his early love without causing her too much mortification or material damage. She had a daughter, who was very fond of the young friend of the family and ostensibly knew nothing of the secret part he played. He now proposed to marry this girl. Soon afterwards the scheme became conscious, and the man took the first steps towards putting it into effect. I supported his intentions, since it offered what was a possible way out of his difficult situation even though an irregular one. But presently there came a dream which showed hostility to the girl; and now once more he consulted Schermann, who reported that the girl was childish and neurotic and should not be married. This time the great observer of human nature was right. The girl, who was by now regarded as the man’s fiancée, behaved in a more and more contradictory manner, and it was decided that she should be analysed. As a result of the analysis the scheme for the marriage was abandoned. The girl had a complete unconscious knowledge of the relations between her mother and her fiancé, and was only attached to him on account of her Oedipus complex.

At about this time our analysis broke off. The patient was free and capable of going his own way in the future. He chose as his wife a respectable girl outside his family circle - a girl on whom Schermann has passed a favourable judgement. Let us hope that this time he will be right once more.

You will have grasped the sense in which I am inclined to interpret these experiences of mine with Schermann. You will see that all my material touches only on the single point of thought-transference. I have nothing to say about all the other miracles that are claimed by occultism. My own life, as I have already openly admitted, has been particularly poor in an occult sense. Perhaps the problem of thought-transference may seem very trivial to you in comparison with the great magical world of the occult. But consider what a momentous step beyond what we have hitherto believed would be involved in this hypothesis alone. What the custodian of Saint-Denis used to add to his account of the saint’s martyrdom remains true. Saint-Denis is said, after his head was cut off, to have picked it up and to have walked quite a distance with it under his arm. But the custodian used to remark: ‘Dans des cas pareils, ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte.’ The rest is easy.


At the present time, when such great interest is felt in what are called ‘occult’ phenomena, very definite anticipations will doubtless be aroused by the announcement of a paper with this title. I will therefore hasten to explain that there is no ground for any such anticipations. You will learn nothing from this paper of mine about the enigma of telepathy; indeed, you will not even gather whether I believe in the existence of ‘telepathy’ or not. On this occasion I have set myself the very modest task of examining the relation of the telepathic occurrences in question, whatever their origin may be, to dreams, or more exactly, to our theory of dreams. You will know that the connection between dreams and telepathy is commonly held to be a very intimate one; I shall put forward the view that the two have little to do with each other, and that if the existence of telepathic dreams were to be established there would be no need to alter our conception of dreams in any way.

The material on which the present communication is based is very slight. In the first place, I must express my regret that I could make no use of my own dreams, as I did when I wrote my Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). But I have never had a ‘telepathic’ dream. Not that I have been without dreams of the kind that convey an impression that a certain definite event is happening at some distant place, leaving it to the dreamer to decide whether the event is happening at that moment or will do so at some later time. In waking life, too, I have often become aware of presentiments of distant events. But these hints, foretellings and premonitions have none of them ‘come true’, as we say; there proved to be no external reality corresponding to them, and they had therefore to be regarded as purely subjective anticipations.

For example, I once dreamt during the war that one of my sons then serving at the front had been killed. This was not directly stated in the dream, but was expressed in an unmistakable manner, by means of the well-known death-symbolism of which an account was first given by Stekel. (We must not omit to fulfil the duty, often felt to be inconvenient, of making literary acknowledgements.) I saw the young soldier standing on a landing-stage, between land and water, as it were; he looked to me very pale. I spoke to him but he did not answer. There were other unmistakable indications. He was not wearing military uniform, but a ski-ing costume that he had worn when a serious ski-ing accident had happened to him several years before the war. He stood on something like a footstool with a cupboard in front of him; a situation always closely associated in my mind with the idea of ‘falling’, through a memory of my own childhood. As a child of little more than two years old I had myself climbed on a footstool like this to get something off the top of a cupboard - probably something good to eat - and I fell down and gave myself an injury, of which I can even now show the scar. My son, however, whom the dream pronounced to be dead, came home from the war unscathed.

Only a short time ago, I had another dream bearing ill-tidings; it was, I think, just before I decided to put together these few remarks. This time there was not much attempt at disguise. I saw my two nieces who live in England. They were dressed in black and said to me, ‘We buried her on Thursday.’ I knew the reference was to the death of their mother, now eighty-seven years of age, the widow of my eldest brother.

A time of disagreeable anticipation followed; there would of course be nothing surprising in such an old lady suddenly passing away, yet it would be very unpleasant for the dream to coincide exactly with the occurrence. The next letter from England, however, dissipated this fear. For the benefit of those who are concerned for the wish-fulfilment theory of dreams I may interpolate a reassurance by saying that there was no difficulty in detecting by analysis the unconscious motives that might be presumed to exist in these death-dreams just as in others.

I hope you will not object that what I have just related is valueless because negative experiences prove as little here as they do in less occult matters. I am well aware of that and have not adduced these instances with any intention whatever of proving anything or of surreptitiously influencing you in any particular direction. My sole purpose was to explain the paucity of my material.0

Another fact certainly seems to me of more significance, namely, that during some twenty-seven years of work as an analyst I have never been in a position to observe a truly telepathic dream in any of my patients. And yet those patients made up a fair collection of severely neuropathic and ‘highly sensitive’ natures. Many of them have related to me most remarkable incidents in their earlier life on which they based a belief in mysterious occult influences. Events such as accidents or illnesses of near relatives, in particular the death of a parent, have often enough happened during the treatment and interrupted it; but not on one single occasion did these occurrences, eminently suitable as they were in character, afford me the opportunity of registering a single telepathic dream, although treatment extended over several months or even years. Anyone who cares to may look for an explanation of this fact, which still further restricts the material at my disposal. In any case it will be seen that such an explanation would not affect the subject of this paper.

Nor does it embarrass me to be asked why I have made no use of the abundant store of telepathic dreams that have appeared in the literature of the subject. I should not have had far to seek, since the publications of the English as well as of the American Society for Psychical Research are accessible to me as a member of both societies. In none of these communications is any attempt ever made to subject such dreams to analytic investigation, which would be our first interest in such cases.¹ Moreover, you will soon perceive that for the purposes of this paper one single dream will serve well enough.

My material thus consists simply and solely of two communications which have reached me from correspondents in Germany. The writers are not personally known to me, but they give their names and addresses: I have not the least ground for presuming any intention to mislead on their part.

¹ In two publications by W. Stekel, the author mentioned above (Der telepathische Traum, no date, and Die Sprache des Traumes, Second Edition, 1922), there are at least attempts to apply the analytic technique to alleged telepathic dreams. The author expresses his belief in the reality of telepathy.


With the first of the two I had already been in correspondence; he had been good enough to send me, as many of my readers do, observations of everyday occurrences and the like. He is obviously an educated and highly intelligent man; this time he expressly places his material at my disposal if I care to turn it ‘to literary account’.

His letter runs as follows:

‘I consider the following dream of sufficient interest for me to hand it on to you as material for your researches.

‘I must first state the following facts. My daughter, who is married and lives in Berlin, was expecting her first confinement in the middle of December of this year. I intended to go to Berlin about that time with my (second) wife, my daughter’s stepmother. During the night of November 16-17 I dreamt, with a vividness and clearness I have never before experienced, that my wife, had given birth to twins. I saw the two healthy infants quite plainly with their chubby faces lying in their cot side by side. I did not observe their sex; one with fair hair had distinctly my features and something of my wife’s, the other with chestnut-brown hair clearly resembled her with a look of me. I said to my wife, who has red-gold hair, "Probably ‘your’ child’s chestnut hair will also go red later on." My wife gave them the breast. In the dream she had also made some jam in a wash-basin and the two children crawled about on all fours in the basin and licked up the contents.

‘So much for the dream. Four or five times I had half woken from it, asked myself if it were true that we had twins, but did not come to the conclusion with any certainty that it was only a dream. The dream lasted till I woke, and after that it was some little time before I felt quite clear about the true state of affairs. At breakfast I told my wife the dream, which much amused her. She said, "Surely Ilse (my daughter) won’t have twins?" I answered, "I should hardly think so, as twins are not the usual thing either in my family or in G.’s" (her husband). On November 18, at ten o’clock in the morning, I received a telegram from my son-in-law, handed in the afternoon before, telling me of the birth of twins, a boy and a girl. The birth thus took place at the time when I was dreaming that my wife had twins. The confinement occurred four weeks earlier than any of us had expected on the basis of my daughter and son in-law’s calculations.

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