Freud and the Occult by Dr. Vanessa Sinclair  

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, maintained an interest in occult phenomena longer than most people realize, conducting thought-transference experiments with his daughter Anna Freud and colleague Sándor Ferenczi late into his life. At the same time, the occult was one of the topics at the center of the split between Freud and Carl Jung in 1914, the other being the centrality of sexuality to human psychology. While Jung felt compelled to delve into the more unexplainable psychical phenomena coming to the fore in his psychoanalytic research and clinical practice, Freud insisted that the burgeoning field of psychoanalysis be considered scientific, not spiritualist, and warned his followers not to delve into the occult, at least not publicly.

Freud’s inner circle was well-aware of his occult experiments and research, however, as he often presented this work to small groups of his closest followers. ‘Psychoanalysis and Telepathy’, for example, was written in 1921 to be presented to the Central Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Freud also penned quite a few papers on occult topics throughout his lifetime. ‘Notes on the Unconscious’ – the preliminary research that informed his seminal work ‘The Unconscious’ (1915) – was published in the journal of the Society for Psychical Research in 1912, and ‘The Occult Significance of Dreams’ was published in Imago in 1925. While Freud’s ‘A Premonitory Dream Fulfilled’ was written in 1899, but only published posthumously in 1941.

This talk will delve into the occult aspects of Freud’s work.  


Vanessa Sinclair, Psy.D. is a psychoanalyst, artist and occultist based in Sweden. Her books include Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Films of Ingmar Bergman: From Freud to Lacan and Beyond (Routledge, 2022), The Pathways of the Heart (Trapart Books, 2021), and Scansion in Psychoanalysis and Art: The Cut in Creation (Routledge, 2020). Dr. Sinclair is Senior Research Fellow at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies (GCAS) and the host of Rendering Unconscious Podcast.

Illustration by Don Punchatz for Playboy Magazine, October 1969

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