Herbert Silberer (February 28, 1882, Vienna – January 12, 1923) was a Viennese psychoanalyst involved with the professional circle surrounding Sigmund Freud which included other pioneers of psychological study as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and others. He had a background in athletics and sports journalism.
He was very interested in dreams, and in 1909 published a paper detailing his research into the hypnagogic state (the mental state in which the individual is between waking and sleeping). Silberer's contention was that the hypnagogic state is autosymbolic, meaning that the images and symbols perceived in the hypnagogic state are representative (i.e. symbolic) of the physical or mental state of the perceiver. He concluded that two "antagonistic elements" were required for autosymbolic phenomena to manifest: drowsiness and an effort to think.
In 1914, Silberer wrote a book on the relationship between modern psychology, mysticism and esoteric traditions (particularly Western, Christian ones such as Hermeticism, Alchemy, Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry): Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik (Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism). Many of the insights Silberer offered, especially into the link between alchemical imagery and modern psychology were similar to those developed more extensively by Carl Jung, a fact acknowledged by Jung in his seminal work on the subject, Psychology and Alchemy. Silberer's book was coldly rejected by Freud. Silberer became despondent and later committed suicide by hanging himself after being excommunicated from Freud's circle of associates.
Problems Of Mysticism And Its SymbolismEdit
Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism was Silberer's magnum opus. Taking as his starting point a Rosicrucian text known as the Parabola Allegory, an alchemical writing with many parallels to the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, he explores the ability of Freudian analysis to interpret it. Having conducted a detailed Freudian interpretation of the allegory Silberer then compares this method to the wider symbolic methods of alchemy, hermeticism, Rosicrucianism and other mystical traditions and texts such as Kundalini Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita and the writings of English mystic Jane Leade. Silberer's vision is syncretic, the range of his reading extraordinary as he unites the esoteric traditions of the world into the concept of introversion: the descent of the individual into the soul/psyche from which immense psychic and spiritual treasures can be drawn.
The thesis of the book is that while Freudian analysis can provide us with certain insights it does not go far enough in interpreting the inner psychological and spiritual meanings of our dreams, mental processes or creative output - a view which Jung also eventually took up, precipitating his own subsequent split with Freud. Silberer seeks to fuse Freudian ideas with mystical thought processes to create a 'Royal Art' which is, in effect, the spiritual transmutation of the soul as propounded in the different mystical traditions of the world. In a very real sense Problems Of Mysticism And Its Symbolism ceases at one point to be a purely scientific work of psychological study and becomes a work of mysticism in its own right (in the final chapter Silberer talks openly about 'the perfecting [of] mankind' being the aim of the Work). In its free and open evaluation of esoteric ideas as a legitimate expression of mankind's inner life - indeed in its enthusiasm for Mysticism as a prime achievement of life - it was bound not to appeal to Freud's more sceptical approach. In fact in many ways it is surprising that Silberer thought he would gain the approval of Freud in giving him a book which, in effect, held his entire scientific system up in an extremely critical light.
Influences on the bookEdit
Silberer freely quotes other psychologists in Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism, such as Freud and Jung. He identifies earlier studies in alchemy, such as those of the 19th century writers Ethan Allen Hitchcock and N. Landur, as opening the way for his explorations.
Silberer mentions Jung's concept of the Collective Unconscious favourably, agreeing with Jung that mankind possesses a 'memory bank' of symbols which continue to resonate in a profound way across cultures in dreams, myths and the imaginative life. Jung, whose own studies and insights into alchemy were yet to come, perhaps reached a bigger audience; but Silberer was the first of Freud's circle to take alchemy seriously as a psychologically interesting spiritual movement. Just as Silberer acknowledges Jung's ideas in his book, however, Jung acknowledges Silberer's work on Alchemy in his own major study, Mysterium Coniunctionis.
Selected works Edit
- Hidden symbolism of alchemy and the occult arts Translated by Smith Ely Jelliffe (1971) ISBN 0-486-20972-5
- Problems of mysticism and its symbolism Translated by Smith Ely Jelliffe (1970) ISBN 0-87728-038-X
- Der Traum. Einführung in die Traumpsychologie (Amsterdam, 1966)
- Viertausend kilometer im ballon (Leipzig, 1903)
- Der zufall und die koboldstreiche des unbewussten (Bern and Leipzig, 1921)
- ↑ Wilson, Colin (1988). "The Invisible Writing" C. G. Jung: Lord of the Underworld. URL accessed December 2, 2009.
-  Online text of Silberer's book, Problems Of Mysticism And Its Symbolism
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