Psychological Notes: `The penis is itself a phallic symbol!'

WE ARE coming up to the centenary of the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. To one who has spent much of his life working with people in analysis on their dreams, Freud's magnum opus now seems very dated. He thought that dreams were repressed sexual wishes which had to be disguised and Bowdlerised so as not to shock the dreamer into wakefulness.

"All elongated objects," wrote Freud, "such as sticks, tree-trunks and umbrellas (the opening of these last being comparable to an erection) may stand for the male organ - as well as all long, sharp weapons, such as knives, daggers and pikes." Another frequent though not entirely intelligible symbol of the same thing is a nail file - probably on account of the rubbing up and down.

Boxes, cases, chests, cupboards and ovens represent the uterus, and also hollow objects, ships, and vessels of all kinds. Rooms in dreams are usually women; if the various ways in and out of them are represented, this interpretation is scarcely open to doubt . . .

"Steps, ladders or staircases, or, as the case may be, walking up and down them, are representations of the sexual act."

How times have changed! I can't remember the last time a patient brought me a dream full of such symbolism. Nowadays, it no longer seems necessary for dreamers to go in for all that nail-filing and running up and down stairs. If they feel sexy in their dreams, our contemporaries make no disguise of the fact. They bonk away in guiltless abandon.

Perhaps this is a measure of the impact Freud has had on our culture. Or perhaps he was wrong from the start. Jung thought he was and his daring to say so brought an abrupt end to a beautiful friendship. Freud was an intellectual tyrant. You either agreed with him, or you were out.

To Jung's mind, Freud's whole way of thinking was grossly simplistic and did not begin to do justice to the human psyche's labyrinthine complexities. We dream, Jung maintained, because dreaming is indispensable to our mental equilibrium. We create symbols because it is our nature to do so. We each possess an innate symbol-forming capacity as a creative part of our psychic equipment. It is immensely rich and reaches infinitely further than mere sexuality.

All the objects that Freud lists in his book can indeed represent the human genitals, but usually after they have represented a lot of other things besides. The trouble with Freud's sexual obsession was that he robbed symbols of all other implications. The phallus, for example, is a symbol of power and fertility as well as male sexuality. "The penis," quipped Jung, "is itself a phallic symbol!" It would seem that nature intended it this way, for the human penis is proportionately three times larger, in relation to body size, than in any other primate, with or without benefit of Viagra.

It is also a symbol of life, death, and rebirth. The Jungian analyst Eugene Monick has coined the term "phallic resurrection" for the recurrent cycles of tumescence after detumescence. Each time the phallus explodes in orgasm, it dies, but it returns to life again and again.

Hence the widespread existence of phallic worship. It could be crudely sexual (as in the worship of Priapus), spiritual (the Lingam of Shiva), regenerative (the maypole), and resurrective (the Djed Pillar of Osiris and the Herm of the Ancient Greeks).

The rapidly emerging new discipline of evolutionary psychology would seem to corroborate Jung's views at the expense of Freud's. Symbol-formation has an adaptive function. It promotes our grasp on reality as well as enriching our appreciation of the miracle of existence.

Anthony Stevens is the author of `Ariadne's Clue: a guide to the symbols of humankind' (Allen Lane, pounds 25)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?