Freud victim and opponent of circumcision,
a chronicle of an unconscious trauma1
Sigmund Freud’s example shows that circumcision does not prevent sons from
incestuous envies, unconscious and sometimes conscious, without wronging their father
for all that. He acknowledged the bisexuality of the sexual drive, which is not adopting
homophilia, which he called a perversion, but a report of the nature of the drive, of its
indifference concerning the object. An opponent of circumcision, he has arguable
reactions against it and his belief that autosexuality would be neurotizing testifies of the
handicap due to his state of circumcised, which deprives him of a good part of the
enjoyment of autosexuality. His sexual lack of sensitivity forbids him to use condoms and
leads him to advocate abstinence as a contraceptive method2. His creeds about sexual
anatomy testify of an ignorance that goes up to despising the organs of autosexuality, the
taboo of taboos.
On one side, he qualifies the clitoris an "inferior organ":
"... the prototype of the inferior organ is the little real penis of woman, the clitoris."3,
From the one who discovered the testicles of the male eel, this judgment of value
opposed to reality is aberrant. Disparaging the phallic and autosexual organ of woman,
the unhappy circumcised seems jealous. He denies the reality of the fact that the clitoris
is an organ of pure pleasure. Then, quite the contrary, the clitoris is the prototype of the
organ of pleasure, without any other function since, at variance with the penis, it
participates neither in micturition nor in reproduction. Considering a merely sexual organ,
present in all mammals, as inferior is aberrant. He considers the most specific organ of
autosexuality inferior because he considers autosexuality inferior, neurotizing and
unreasonable. So, he is a victim of the massive repression of autosexuality in Judaic
culture. That autosexuality should be neurotizing for a circumcised is unhappy. It is not
astonishing but must not be generalized to the intact part of the population. Freud's great
mistake is that he considers the phallic, erotic-erectile function, and the libido, as
"Taking into account the auto-erotic and masturbatory activities, it could be set up as a thesis
that the sexuality of little girls is wholly masculine."4
1 Wikipedia quotes this article in its article "Circumcision controversies" (quote 70):
2 Roudinesco E. Préface de Correspondance Sigmund Freud – Anna Freud, 1904 – 1938. Paris :
Fayard ; 2012. p. 12.
3 Fetichism. 1927. p. 157.
4 Freud S. Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, VII: 219.
Freud's sexual mutilation explains his dissymmetric, male chauvinist conception of
sexuality. His statement according to which the little girl would suffer from being deprived
of the penis seems to be the projection upon the woman of his unconscious envy of
On the other side, like all men circumcised in infancy, Freud disregards the reality
and feminine nature of the foreskin.
"A man, after all, only has one leading sexual zone, one sexual organ, whereas a woman has
two: the vagina – the female proper organ – and the clitoris, which is analogous to the male
"Woman is more bisexual than man because of her clitoris analogous to the penis." 5
We cannot see why the clitoris would be a sign of bisexuality. Freud ignores that the
feminine phallus is an organ of pure pleasure whereas the vagina is an organ of
reproduction, both things being mixed in the penis.
– His daughter was the main victim of his wrong theory that autosexuality would
be neurotizing. She wrote to him that she fought her autosexuality according to his wish.
– Nevertheless, entering adult life, Sigismund Freud cuts a syllable of his first
name off. This may be interpreted as taking, consciously or unconsciously, the opposite
course of Abraham and as a rejection of circumcision and Judaism.
His thoughts about circumcision concern its individual and collective outcomes.
Freud and the individual outcomes of circumcision
Freud's thought about circumcision is made of an alternation of progress and
– In 1912, he brings together circumcision and castration, that is inaccurate, we
must speak of eviration:
"When our children come to hear of ritual circumcision, they equate it with castration."6
– In 1916, he resumes that idea building up his historic theory making of
circumcision a progress when compared with castration (same remark) that primitive
people would have practised:
5 About feminine sexuality. 1933. London: The Hogarth press; 1961. S.E. XXI, 228, 1st §.
6 Totem and taboo. 1912. London: The Hogarth press limited; 1964. S.E. XIII, p. 153, n. 1.
"It seems indubitable to me that circumcision…, is an equivalent of castration and comes to take
That theory seems to issue from the anguish of eviration of a circumcised unconsciously
looking for a justification to circumcision without seriously condemning it. A few lines
further, he makes the obvious link between circumcision and punishment of
autosexuality, but carefully places it either in dreams or with the primitives:
"But that masturbation, or rather the punishment for it – castration – should be represented by
the falling out or pulling out of teeth is especially remarkable, since there is a counterpart to it in
anthropology which can be known to only a very small number of dreamers. There seems to me
no doubt that the circumcision practised by so many peoples is an equivalent and substitute for
castration. And we now learn that certain primitive tribes in Australia carry out circumcision as a
puberty rite (at the festival to celebrate a boy’s attaining sexual maturity), while other tribes, their
near neighbours, have replaced this act by the knocking out of a tooth." 8
The pulling out of a tooth does not symbolize either circumcision or evirration but death
(the part for the whole). The tree of circumcision hides the forest of death to Freud. Terror
settled as a political system by tyrannies is well the death threat that is made present in
circumcision. It is the same in dreams.
– His 1933 condemnation is a step forward but he deals gently with the
sensitivities of the Jewish community since it only concerns... the Anglo-Saxons:
"We suspect that during the human family's primaeval period castration used actually to be
carried out by a jealous and cruel father upon growing boys and that circumcision, which so
frequently plays a part in puberty rites among primitive peoples, is a recognizable relic of it… we
must hold fast to the view that fear of castration is one of the commonest and strongest
motives for repression and thus for the formation of neuroses. The analysis of cases in
which circumcision though not, it is true, castration, has been carried out on boys as a cure
or punishment of masturbation (a far from rare occurrence in Anglo-American society) has
given our conviction a last degree of certainty."9
That is the first, veiled, statement of Freud that circumcision is a threat of castration
(eviration), nonverbal it is true, but still very real, anguishing, and traumatizing. Freud
seems to ignore that eviration was commonly practised till the 18th century in polygamous
societies (Islam, Egypt) in which the eunuchs slaves guards of harems rendered it
present in a terrifying way. Not being spread to circumcision at birth, that condemnation
– He turns backwards in 1936, he takes his 1916 theory again but accompanies it
with an aberrant theory of circumcision as a symbolical castration and submission to the
7 Introductory lessons to psychoanalysis. 1916-17. London: The Hogarth press; 1961. S.E., XV, 164.
8 Introductory lessons to psychoanalysis. 1916-17. London: The Hogarth press; 1961. S.E., XV, 164.
9 New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. 1933. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1964. S.E., XXII,
"Circumcision is the symbolical substitute for castration that the primal father once inflicted upon
his sons... and whoever accepted that symbol was showing by it that he was prepared to submit
to the father’s will..."10
Stating that circumcision is not alliance but submission, he joins Maimonides:
"… the father upon whom this commandment is imposed."
But circumcision is not subjection to the father but subjection of the parents to society,
the grandparents in particular, for fear of being excluded and disinherited. Circumcision is
an alliance between parents and grandparents against sons. It is a technique of
submission used by parents but certainly not a submission to the father.
That clumsiness testifies of Freud’s deep circumcision trauma. Considering a
mutilating torture as symbolical of a graver crime is scandalous. Circumcisers submit
themselves to their community by submitting their children to an inhuman violence. That
appalling thought is characteristic of the denial of reality deeply buried in the circumcised.
Freud does not point out that circumcision is a particularly odious threat of eviration and
death, not a consented submission but subjection through terror. Doesn’t Alice Miller
affirm that trauma provokes paralysis of the thought?
It can be said that his false theory of circumcision as progress by comparison with
a previously practised castration prevented Freud, till 1933, from framing the fact that
circumcision is above all an extremely ferocious way of forbidding autosexuality and
submitting pleasure to reproduction. Nevertheless, he was not far from the solution in his
thoughts of 1916 where he puts side by side, on the one hand, the concepts of castration
and circumcision, and, on the other hand, nightmares of loss of a tooth, nightmares of
death that testify of a heavy reprobation of autosexuality (see the above quote). But he
still thinks circumcision as a symbolical castration rather than a threat of eviration and
death intended to prevent and forbid autosexuality through terror.
Those back-and-forths and ambiguousness, that inability to utterly condemn the
antique custom, are characteristic of the split of the thought created by the trauma of
circumcision. Unconsciously, affectively, the circumcised sharply protests against the
distressing mutilation, but intellectually, he deems the attack unimportant. As a result, his
condemnation remains uncertain. It can be thought that living amidst sexually maimed
men, Freud, like Muhammad, does not dare to condemn circumcision openly and that he
uses, to do it, oblique ways.
– Only after a long journey did he publish, one year before his death, his most
elaborate thought about circumcision:
"The results of the threat of castration are multifarious and incalculable; they affect the whole of
a boy's relations with his father and mother and subsequently with men and women in
10 Moses and monotheism. 1936. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1964. S.E., XXIII, p.122.
11 An outline of psychoanalysis. 1938. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1964. S.E., XXII, p. 189-191.
The footnote discreetly suggests, in a way biased by the nebulous theory of submission
that circumcision is one of those destructuring threats:
"(1) … The primaeval custom of circumcision, another substitute for castration, can only be
understood as an expression of submission to the father's will… " (p. 190)
Freud and the collective outcomes of circumcision
On several occasions, Freud condemned circumcision because of its
repercussions on the psychology of masses:
– His 1909 condemnation is the most decided since it is moral and juridical,
alluding to the right of the child to an intact body, opposed to the hallucinating divine
commandment. By declaring legitimate the reprobation of non-Jewish children, he
exposes the barbarity of the Muslim and Israelite human sacrifice:
"... little boys hear that the Jews have something cut off in their penis – a piece of their penis,
they think – and this gives them a right to despise the Jews." 12
That remark must be put together with the story of Jacob Freud’s bonnet knocked down
by a Christian. Freud’s father picked up his bonnet without saying anything. Freud was
strongly marked by that aggression alluding to circumcision. He learned from the event
through justifying, with non-Jewish children, the infantilism of adults who despise the
Jews instead of commiserating on their fate. That condemnation of circumcision would be
more powerful if he had mentioned that boisterous children are told that to threaten them
of eviration. But Freud writes: "they think" as if he doubted that the foreskin would be an
essential part of the penis. He seems to be hiding to himself that circumcision is both a
beginning and a threat of eviration.
– The use of the term "unheimlich" in his 1910 text:
"… among the customs by which the Jews made themselves separate, that of circumcision has
made a disagreeable, uncanny (unheimlich) impression, which is to be explained, no doubt, by
its recalling the dreaded castration..."from 13,
testifies to the projective distress of a circumcised looking at his circumcision.
Strangeness refers back to psychosis and hallucination. For Freud’s heightened
awareness, the so-called identity sign becomes that of a loss of all identity in a world of
12 Analysis of a phobia on a five-years-old boy (Little Hans). 1909. London: The Hogarth press ltd.;
1955. S.E., X, p. 36, n.
13 Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. 1910. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1957. S.E.,
XI. p. 95, n. 2.
- In 1936, he takes again Spinoza's idea to frame a strong condemnation:
circumcision generates antiJewism:
"The hypothesis that a root of those hatreds of the Jews (Judenhasses) which occur in such
primary ways and lead to such irrational behaviour among the nations of the West, must be
sought here too, seems inescapable to me. Circumcision is unconsciously equated with
Freud's mistakes and symptoms due to his circumcision
- It is very likely that Freud's condemnation of autosexuality as neurotizing is due
to his ignorance of the pleasures provided by the foreskin.
– He was undoubtedly still instilled with Judaic thought. Indeed, towards the end
of his life, in a speech answering Jung's antiJewism that, suffering, he had his daughter
pronounce, he affirms his belief in the superiority of the Jews in the matter of spirituality15.
That, unconscious remembrance of the alleged superiority of the circumcised nearly
caused Anna’s death; she was the only one, in Freud’s household, to be arrested by the
Gestapo, very probably for having publicly uttered that foolishness. We are in the
presence of a paradigm of the involuntary arrogance of the circumcised.
– His way of decorating his flat evokes anew his unconscious regret for the loss of
his foreskin: he was very proud of his collection of – ithyphallic – statues, the most
beautiful pieces of which had pride of place on his desk, but he exerted himself to
recover the other elements of his interior with various materials:
"In his home, everything had to be covered with something. The furniture, the walls, the sofa
were loaded with heavy Persian carpets, cushions, hangings..."16
A clinical error due to his circumcision
– His crude mistake of interpretation in the "Wolf-Man’s" case (one of his patients)
consisted of projecting an eviration threat that had been partially realized on the body of
the analyst upon his patient. The patient’s maid’s terms:
"Children who do that (autosexuality) get a wound in this place."17,
refer to biological punishment, a punishment by nature, not humans. Circumcision is a
heavy threat of eviration, aggravated by a beginning of realization. But that false
14 Moses and monotheism. 1936. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1964. S.E., XXIII, p. 91.
15 Yerushalmi Y. Freud’s Moses.
16 Roudinesco E. L’analyse, l’archive. Paris : Bibliothèque nationale; 2001. p. 20.
17 An infantile neurosis. 1918. London : The Hogarth press ltd.; 1955. S.E., XVII, p. 24.
prediction has nothing to do with eviration; it is a malicious curse that tormented the
patient till very late in his life. Besides, coming from a beloved adult, it was a threat of
loss of love. The result was that the child gave up autosexuality. Years after the end of
the analysis, the multiplication of dermatological injuries on the nose of the "Wolf-Man"
will prove that Freud was unable to ward off the enchantment. Freud projected his
eviration phantasy upon his patient who could not be cured after a so-far-from-reality
interpretation of the first repression of his sexuality.
That error ruins the myth of transcultural analysis. It discloses to what point Freud,
little advanced in this particular point of his autoanalysis, was powerless to make
allowances between himself and his patient. In Europe, at the beginning of the twentieth
century, only Israelite boys would endure mutilating torture by way of threat of eviration
intended to repress autosexuality. Now, if he broaches the question of circumcision in
several places of his work, Freud only worded very late his lifetime the obvious fact that
circumcision, far from being a symbolic eviration, is a very particularly harsh threat of
eviration since it consists in a well real indeed beginning of eviration. The prediction of
the nanny resembled such a ferocious threat only from afar but its character of biologic
truth was very worrying.
A mistake in reading the Bible
In the first two chapters of Moses and monotheism, Freud states, in accordance
with the rumour that holds say in Judaic circles and even in Roudinesco, that Moses
brought circumcision to the Hebrews. That is erroneous; on the contrary, chapter V of the
Book of Joshua shows that he forbade the custom till the end of his life.
Several of Freud's theories are affected by his phantasies and infantile beliefs
– His theory of the Oedipus complex is biased by the projection of his fantasy of
circumcised upon Sophocles' myth. That brings him to substitute a threat of castration
inexistent with Sophocles for the death threat sole present in the Oedipus.
That error generalizes the phantasies of eviration – frequent with the circumcised
as he mentions it18 – into the concept of a "castration complex" closely connected with
the Oedipus complex whereas the threat present in the latter, identical for the girl and the
boy, is a death threat fantasized by the child. He projects upon Sophocles’ myth the idea
of a paternal punishment by castration. That Freud should transform the metaphor of
blinding, imagined by Sophocles to make us understand the existence of an unconscious
psychological process, into a matter of castration, is the height of a… blindness deriving
from the anguish of eviration due to circumcision.
18 New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. 1933. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1964. S.E.,
XXII, p. 86.
– His second great theoretical mistake due to his circumcision is the absence of
the concept or repression of autosexuality whereas he easily speaks of repression of
homophilia. Since the repression of autosexuality is precisely responsible for homophilia
and paranoia, that mistake is serious.
– His false theory of the "rock of castration", deus ex machina of a so-called
impossible to analyze, is similar (the only rock is death). The mater is indeed the rock of
circumcision: the impossible for him to analyse.
– Similarly, his two wrong theories of the "penis neid" and the masculinity of the
libido result from his circumcision trauma. On the one hand, he projects upon women his
lack of foreskin, on the other hand, ignoring the preputial enjoyment, the "feminine"
enjoyment of man, he is unable to conceive the existence of an asexuated but sexual
libido consequence of the existence of the feminine phallus.
Jean-Thierry Maertens19 reported the existence of unconscious uterus envy with
men, symmetrical to the unconscious penis envy of women. Freud did not become aware
of it. That cultural flaw results from an unconscious denial of his circumcision.
– Freud reached belatedly, in his Outline of psychoanalysis, the idea that
circumcision is a threat of eviration. As a result, he could never formulate the fact that, on
the collective level, circumcision is a threat of extermination (theory of genocide20).
A mistake in the reading of the Bible
In the first two chapters of Moses and monotheism, Freud strangely affirmed that
Moses brought the Egyptian circumcision to the Hebrews. That is false; on the contrary,
chapter V of the Book of Joshua shows that he forbade the custom until the end of his
Birth trauma or circumcision trauma
(Freud and Rank both mistaken)
Freud, and Rank after him, believed in birth trauma. Winnicott contested it and we
can think, with those who could re-live their birth, that it is an experience of pleasure,
except when it is followed by the traumas of the immediate cut of the umbilical cord or
circumcision. Otto Rosenfeld and Sigmund Freud having both been the victims of
circumcision, we may think that, for them, the birth trauma is only a screen theory of a
very real trauma. If Freud was right exposing in Rank the substitution of the Oedipus
19 Le corps sexionné. Paris: Aubier; 1978. p. 42.
20 Bertaux-Navoiseau M. Genocide and circumcision, causality and near absolute correlation
(psychoanalytical theory of genocide).
complex with the birth trauma, we must not forget that the trauma of circumcision can be
an obstacle to the good crossing of the Oedipus.
Five Freud's dreams about circumcision
"I believe that if I did not pursue the analysis of my own dreams as far as that of other people,
the cause of it is scarcely shyness towards sex. Actually, far more often, I should have had to
regularly discover the secret bottom line of the whole series of dreams, consisting in my
relationship with my father who had just died." 21
The psychoanalyst Wendy Colman22 discovered that the circumcision of Julius,
the young brother of then one-and-a-half-year-old Freud, is the key of two of his dreams:
"My son, the short-sighted (The dream of the madhouse)"23 and "A hall with machines "24.
She remained shy in her interpretations and we add two other famous dreams about
which we are going to see that they are involved in the same topic: the botanic
monograph and the dead father.
"My son, the short-sighted"
"On account of certain events that occurred in the city of Rome, it had become necessary to
remove the children to safety, and this was done. The scene was then in front of a gateway,
double-doors in the ancient style (the "Porta Romana" at Sienna, as I was aware during the
dream itself). I was sitting on the edge of a fountain and was greatly depressed and almost in
tears. A female figure – an attendant or nun – brought two boys out and handed them over to
their father who was not myself. The elder of the two was clearly my eldest son. I did not see
the other one's face. The woman who brought out the boy asked him to kiss her good-bye. She
was noticeable for having a red nose. The boy refused to kiss her, but, holding out his hand in
farewell, said "AUF GESERES" to her, and then "AUF UNGESERES" to the two of us (or to one
of us). I had a notion that this last phrase indicated a preference."
Colman's great finding is to have seen that the maid who holds the children out to
the father accomplishes the ritual preceding the circumcision: the handing over of the son
by the mother, across the doorways of the room that Colman gathers with the doorway of
the dream. Orthodox, she associates circumcision, castration and blinding.
Whereas the dream begins with speaking of danger for children:
"...it is necessary to put children in a safe place...",
Freud indicates the event of the day before that triggered the dream:
21 Freud S. Lettre à André Breton du 6 décembre 1932
22 "The scenes themselves which lie at the bottom of the story:" Julius, circumcision, and the castration
complex. Psychoanalytic review, 1994 81 (4), 603-25.
23 The interpretation of dreams. 1900. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1971. S.E., IV, p. 269, 441-4.
24 The interpretation of dreams. 1900. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1971. S.E., IV, p. 336-7.
"... a muddled set of thoughts created by the performance of a play: "Das neue Ghetto"... the
Jewish question, the concern for the future of children...",
and makes the association between myope and Cyclope, which he links with a loss of
"bilaterality". The matter is the loss of bisexuality and femininity resulting from
Neither Freud nor Colman indicate that the well, at the edge of which the dreamer
is sitting, symbolizes the mother. Colman underlines that the red nose of the woman
evokes the blood of the mutilation (more precisely the open wounded mucosa of the
glans after the pulling of the foreskin out). That is both a reproach to the conniving
mother and compassion for the victim of masculine domination of which the child, next to
her, shares the fright. But she does not see that the refusal of the child to kiss the woman
and the inversion of the "good-bye" express the great desire of the dream: not seeing the
criminals again and, according to the beginning of the dream, stepping through the doors
of the ghetto to escape circumcision.
Through associating the Porta Romana of Sienna with a madhouse, Freud,
without him knowing, gives us his deep feeling about circumcision. He also brings
together "geseres" and "gesaüert ("raise"), which refers to the erection of the child of
which Colman indicates that it is a prerequisite, provoked by the mohel, of circumcision.
So, "ungeseres" tells us that the dreamer prefers flaccidness to circumcision!
Unfortunately, the father of psychoanalysis could not become aware of it, but his
associations very accurately evoke the loss to circumcision; the comparison between
circumcision and the loss of an eye (myopia, cyclop) is very near the biological reality, in
which the loss of the lip of the glans is comparable to that of the eyelid. His associations
consider that loss as symbolical of that of femininity-bisexuality.
The: "My son, the short-sighted" of the very beginning of a dream that likens
circumcision with the loss of an eye and advocates the confinement of circumcisers must
be translated by: "My brother, the circumcised.
"A hall with machines" (The madhouse):
"The place was a mixture of a private sanatorium and several other institutions. A manservant
appeared to summon me to an examination. I knew in the dream that something had been
missed and that the examination was due to a suspicion that I had appropriated the missing
article. (The analysis showed that the examination was to be taken in two senses and included
a medical examination.) Conscious of my innocence and of the fact that I held the position of a
consultant in the establishment, I accompanied the servant quietly. At the door, we were met by
another servant, who said, pointing to me: "Why have you brought him? He's a respectable
person." I then went, unattended, into a large hall, with machines standing in it, which reminded
me of an Inferno with its hellish instruments of punishment. Stretched out on one apparatus I
saw one of my colleagues, who had every reason to take some notice of me; but he paid no
attention. I was then told I could go. But I could not find my hat and could not go after all."
That dream is a repetition of the dream "My son, the short-sighted". Indeed, the
sanatorium, a hell this time, is the synagogue that the precedent considered a mental
home. Freud is the object of an investigation; he is suspected of having been party to the
torture of the circumcision of his brother, which the dream very righteously likens to a
theft. His conscience reproaches him not to have done anything to oppose the torture-
mutilation of Julius. He reports the event of the day before the dream: he could not find
his hat, put away by a servant. That is one of the discharging elements of the
investigation: being deprived of the "hat" of his glans, he is not guilty. But circumcised or
not, he is guilty... of autosexuality! The second discharging element is his being a doctor,
and thus an eminent member of the Jewish community. The drawback is that as such, he
has no advantage in quitting the community and cannot materially do it. His both alibis
being invalid, he must stay in hell.
"The botanic monograph"25
Freud dreams of having written "the monograph of a plant":
"The book lay before me, I was at the moment turning over a folded colour plate. Bound up in
each copy, there was a dried specimen of the plant, as though it had been taken from a
Without him knowing, he discloses some of his thoughts about circumcision. "Botanic"
coming in place of sexuality, the monograph in question seems to be a book about the
masculine sexual organ. The day before, he reads in a shop window the title of a book
about a flower, the cyclamen, his wife’s favourite flower, the one she reproaches him
about not offering to her often enough.
He passes from a flower, which can be offered, to something that can be planted.
But how not to read in this "Zyclamen"– that Freud employs rather than "Alpenveilchen" –
not the "significant" cyclamen, but the word with all its connotations, among which the
radical "cycle", the circle, the ring, the preputial ring? Various associations of thoughts
follow, certain of which: tearing away the leaves of an artichoke (Freud’s favourite flower)
or of the pages of a book by the child Freud and his young sister – a scene that Freud
describes as a screen-memory without seeing that the matter is circumcision – precisely
remind the latter. The first of those associations gathers the ideas of birthday and
absence of love (the same phenomenon occurs with Doctor Olievenstein26).
In what he calls "a passionate plea in favour of my liberty of acting as I wish, of
living my life as I like it (the right to remain intact)." Freud stands against the harshness of
Judaism, he indirectly criticizes circumcision under the form of an auto-reproach: the
price of his fantasies. The foreskin is the corolla of the phallus but he cannot offer it to his
wife because he has been deprived of it. His book is a homage to the mutilated who will
find a colour-image of their foreskin and even the foreskin itself embalmed and enshrined
25 The interpretation of dreams. 1900. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1971. S.E., IV, p. 169.
26 Bertaux-Navoiseau M. Circumcision and paranoia, the case of Claude Olievenstein.
The book of the dream also alludes to the monograph written by Freud about coca
and its analgesic virtues. So that the devotees of circumcision will at least be able to
anaesthetize their poor victims.
Finally, writing a book is not tearing off but sticking pages together. We arrive at
the main wish realized by the dream: sticking back, restoring Freud’s foreskin, the tool of
infantile sexuality, which is, together with the unconscious, his great discovery.
The dead father
"These prohibited things
You're dragging yourself to,
They will belong to you
On the day when you'll close
The eyes of oppression."
This dream must be read in Freud’s 2 November 1896 letter to Fliess 27 rather than
in "The interpretation of dreams" that omits a major detail, which alone enables to
interpret it. Freud sees a poster in a dream:
"YOU ARE REQUESTED TO CLOSE YOUR EYES (or ONE EYE)",
with the certainty that both literal and figurative senses are implied. He writes to his
"I at once recognized the place: it is the shop of the hairdresser where I go every day."
Freud at once recognizes the spot precisely because it is a place where, in life, he never
goes: the Synagogue. He only went once, on the day of his circumcision, a scene forever
engraved into his unconscious, from where comes the dreamer’s feeling of reality.
Similarly, the barber’s shop is a place reserved for men, like that of circumcision. It is a
place where blades are handled and armchairs can be found, like in the circumcision
where there must be an armchair for the Godfather who holds the child and an empty
one for Elijah.
Besides, how not to associate the eyelids to the sheath of the glans? So that the
poster is worth an exhortation to recap the glans and protest against circumcision that we
otherwise know Freud reproves. How could it be possible to close the deceased’s eyes if
he had been deprived of his eyelids? The same thing would be impossible too, without
turning a blind eye to circumcision, which the father is responsible of.
But the dream perfectly achieves its function of the guardian of sleep; it
sarcastically pretends to condone the father’s fault much more than those the mourning
son indulges in blaming himself. With caustic irony, the dreamer is delighted about the
death of his executioner and congratulates himself on not having offered him a first-class
burial. The burial of the father being an excellent opportunity to demonstrate against that
27 Extracts from the Fliess papers. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1966. S.E., I, p. 233.
of the son’s foreskin, the wish realized by the dream is protesting against circumcision,
publicly and through posting a sign.
That is the second dream of Freud about circumcision where he sees a sheet of
paper (foreskin-parchment), with an image in the first, a poster with a written sentence in
the second. It is a repetitive dream – a proof of grave trauma – in which he relives and
transcends the horror of his mutilation through denouncing it publicly but in a dream...
The most audacious ones will see a dream of oedipal parricide in it.
The dream of Brücke (crumpled tinfoil)
"The best that you know you can’t tell the children."28
The beginning of the dream, which ends in a nightmare, is of really direct reading
but Freud's associations only unconsciously allude to circumcision.
"The elder Brücke must have given me some task or other; strangely enough it relates to the
preparation of my own lower body, pelvis and legs, which I see before me as though in the
dissecting room, but without feeling my lack of body and without a trace of horror. Louise N. is
standing near and doing her work next to me. The pelvis is eviscerated; now the upper, the
lower view of the same is seen, and the two views mingle. Thick fleshy red lumps (which even
in the dream make me think of haemorrhoids) are to be seen. Also, something had to be
carefully picked out, which lay over these and looked like crumpled tinfoil (footnote: stanniol,
allusion to Stannius, the nervous system of fishes)…"
That is the most limpid of Freud's nightmares about circumcision ("preparation of
the lower part of my own body"). The "thick fleshy red lumps" are Freud's sex and the
"something which lay over these and looked like crumpled tinfoil" can only be the foreskin
that "had to be carefully picked out". Freud several times insists on the strangeness of
that dream. The event of the day before that triggered the dream is precisely "the strange
novel in which the identity of a person is preserved through a series of generations
covering two thousand years", so that that association very obviously refers to the Jewish
"identity", got through the denial of human identity. But he also thinks that the dream
"represent(s) my idea that perhaps the children will attain what has been denied to the
fathers, which is an unconscious wish of abolishing circumcision.
So, his main comment:
"The preparation of my own body, which I am ordered (our parenthesis: by God!), to make in the
dream, is thus the self-analysis necessitated in the communication of my dreams."29
is just a rationalization that precisely prevents the self-analysis that would have consisted
in seeing that the so-called "preparation" (to Jewish life) "imposed" by "the elder Brücke"
(his father, God) is his circumcision. The use of the term "preparation" designates the
ritual necessary to become a Jew allowed to use his sex (getting married).
28 One of Freud's associations about that dream.
29 Another associations by Freud.
The five dreams testify to Freud's circumcision trauma. They are heartfelt cries of
what he never dared to say, namely that circumcision is insane torture.
His circumcision traumatized Freud: it caused his false theories mentioned above.
So doing, it prevented him from healing his most famous patient, Serge Pankejeff (the
Nevertheless, his strength of character allowed him to declare himself, as soon as
"unable to participate in its (of the Jewish people) nationalist ideals"30
and to decline the invitations to publicly agree on the creation of the state of Israel done
to him in 1930 by Einstein31 and the Jewish Alliance:
"It seems to me that it would have been more reasonable to found a Jewish homeland on a soil-
less historically mortgaged; but I know that for such rational aim, we could never have awoken
the enthusiasm of the masses and the cooperation of the rich. I notice with regret that the
unrealistic fanaticism of our people is partly responsible for the arousing of Arabs’ distrust. I can
not find in myself any sympathy for the misguided piety that makes a national religion from the
remains of the wall of Herod, so hurting the sensitivity of the natives."32
Those definitely ideological – and prophetic – stands harshly reprove the Zionist
fanaticism, colonialism, and racism. At his arrival in London in 1938, Freud renewed that
stand to the English representative of the Keren Ha Yesod saying that he went on hating
all form of religion and that a Jewish state could not possibly be lay.
Discoverer of the fact that religions are symptoms of collective neurosis and so
resolutely agnostic, he forbade his wife, a rabbi’s granddaughter, to carry out any ritual in
their home, which is attested by Martin Freud:
"... our eyes of children grew up in total ignorance of the Jewish ritual."33
30 Introduction to the Hebrew translation of Totem and taboo. 1934. Quoted by Gay P. in Freud, a life of
our time. London - Melbourne: J. M. Dent & sons ltd.; 1988. 599.
31 Quoted par Gay P. in "Freud, a life of our time. London - Melbourne: J. M. Dent & sons ltd.; 1988.
32 February 1930 letter to Chaim Koffler. Freudiana, 1973. 19.
33 Sigmund Freud, a man and a father. New York: The vanguard press; 1958. ch. I.
Freud did not have his sons circumcised. The proof lies in the Vienna city
registers where the name of the mohel is missing in front of those of the three sons of
Freud (as well as for Herbert Graf whose father had asked Freud about the religious
education of his son)34.
34 Bonomi C. The cut and the building of psychoanalysis. Reutledge, 2015. Introduction, p. 5.