Four dreams of freud about circumcision
The psychoanalyst Wendy Colman 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)" and the "A hall with machines ". She remained shy in her interpretations and we add up 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 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, associates circumcision, castration and blinding.
Whereas the dream begins with speaking of a danger for children:
"...it is necessary4 to make the children go away...",
Freud indicates the event of the day before that triggered the dream:
"... 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 associates between myope and Cyclope, which he links with a loss of "bilaterality". Actually, the matter is the loss of bisexuality and femininity resulting from circumcision.
Neither Freud nor Colman indicate that the well, at the edge of which the dreamer is sitting, symbolizes the victim-of-masculine-domination mother of which the child, next to her, shares the fright. 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). 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 across the doors of the ghetto in order 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 flabbiness 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 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."
This dream is a repetition of the dream "My son, the short-sighted". Indeed, the sanatorium, a hell this time, is the synagogue of which the precedent dream taught us that Freud considers it a mental home. Freud is the object of an investigation; he is suspected of having been an accomplice of the torture of the circumcision of his brother, which the dreamer very righteously likens to a theft. In fact, 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: himself 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 and cannot materially "go away", i. e. quit the community. His both alibis being invalid, he must stay in hell.
"The botanic monograph"
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 herbarium.",
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)? Various associations of thoughts follow, of which that pulling out precisely evokes circumcision: that of tearing away 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. That of the leaves of an artichoke (Freud’s favourite flower) gathers both images of the glans and the foreskin. The first of these associations gathers the ideas of the birthday and the absence of love (the same phenomenon occurs with Doctor Olievenstein, cf. our article).
In what he calls "a passionate plea in favour of my liberty of acting as I wish, of liv-ing my life as I like it (the right to remain intact)." (Freud stands against the harshness of Judaism), circumcision is very indirectly criticized under the form of an auto-reproach: the high price of Freud’s fantasies. The foreskin is the corolla of the phallus but he cannot offer it to his wife because he has been deprived from it. His book is an homage to the mutilated who will find in it an image in colour of their foreskin and even the foreskin itself embalmed and enshrined.
The book of the dream also alludes to the monograph written by Freud about coca and its analgesic virtues. So that devotees of circumcision will at least be able to anaes-thetize their poor victims.
At last, 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, that is to say 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."
That dream must be read in Freud’s 2 November 1896 letter to Fliess rather than in "The interpretation of dreams" that omits a major detail, which alone enables interpreting etation. Sigismund – and we intentionally render him the forename of his "bris" – 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 friend:
"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. The barber’s shop is a place reserved to men, like the one 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 armchair: Elijah’s.
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 actually 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 of the son’s foreskin, the wish realized by the dream is protesting against circumcision, publicly and through sign posting.
This 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 lives again and transcends the horror of his mutilation through denouncing it publicly but in a dream... The most audacious ones will see in it a dream of oedipal parricide.
These four dreams testify of Freud's circumcision trauma. They are heartfelt cries of what he never dared to say, namely that circumcision is an insane torture.
 "The scenes themselves which lie at the bottom of the story:" Julius, circumcision, and the castration complex. Psychoanalytic review, 1994 81 (4), 603-25.
 The interpretation of dreams. 1900. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1971. S.E., IV, p. 269, 441-4.
 The interpretation of dreams. 1900. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1971. S.E., IV, p. 336-7.
 The interpretation of dreams. 1900. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1971. S.E., IV, p. 169.
 Extracts from the Fliess papers. London: The Hogarth press ltd.; 1966. S.E., I, p. 233.