The Shofar (The Ram’s Horn): 1919: Theodor Reik with preface by Sigmund Freud

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1919

Contents of this post:

Development time-line


Publications in English

The Shofar’s Index

Freud’s Preface

Beginning of the book review (1931)

‘Shofar’ as referenced by Jacques Lacan

Development time-line

1913: Totem and Taboo, Some point of agreement between the mental lives of savages and neurotics : presented by Sigmund Freud

Between 1914 & 1919  : ‘The Shofar’ given as a lecture by Theodor Reik

1919: First published in German with a preface by Sigmund Freud

1929: 2nd Edition published in German

1931: Published in English: Translated by Douglas Bryan as one of four essays in Ritual : Psychoanalytic Studies by Theodor Reik

1932: A. Kardiner’s review published


Text only available here

Text available with diagrams here

Publication in English:

1) as one of four case studies in ‘Ritual: Psychoanalytic Studies.': By Theodor Reik. With a Preface by Sigmund Freud. Translated from the second edition by Douglas Bryan. New York: W. W. Norton and Company. 1931. 367 p.

2) In: RITUAL, Four Psychoanalytic Studies : By Theodor Reik, : Preface by Sigmund Freud : Translated by Douglas Bryan : Grove Press, New York, 1946

3) In: RITUAL, Four Psychoanalytic Studies : By Theodor Reik, : Preface by Sigmund Freud : Translated by Douglas Bryan : Evergreen Edition, International Universities Press : 1962

Content: The Shofar (The Ram’s Horn)

I.          The First Problem

II.        The Shofar

III.       A Way to the Interpretation

IV.       The Shofar and the Bull-Roarer

V.        The Myth and Music

VI.       The Moses of Michelangelo and the Events of Sinai


Psycho-analysis was born out of medical necessity. It sprang from the need for bringing help to neurotic patients, who had found no relief through rest-cures, through the arts of hydropathy or through electricity. A most remarkable observation made by Josef Breuer had excited a hope that the more one understood of the hitherto unexplored origin of their symptoms the more extensive would be the help one could afford them. Thus it came about that psycho-analysis, being originally a purely medical technique, was from the first directed towards research, towards the discovery of causal chains at once far-reaching and recondite.

Its further course led it away from the study of the somatic determinants of nervous disease to an extent that was bewildering to physicians. Instead, it was brought into contact with the mental substance of human lives – the lives not only of the sick, but of the healthy, the normal and the supernormal. It had to deal with emotions and passions, and most of all with those which the poets never tire of depicting and celebrating – the emotions of love. It learnt to recognize the power of memories, the unsuspected importance of the years of childhood in shaping the adult, and the strength of wishes, which falsify human judgements and lay down fixed lines for human endeavour.

For a time psycho-analysis seemed fated to merge into psychology without being able to show why the psychology of the sick differed from that of the normal. In the course of its advance, however, it came up against the problem of dreams, which are abnormal products of the mind created by normal men under regularly recurrent physiological conditions. When psycho-analysis had solved the problem of dreams, it had discovered in unconscious psychical processes the common ground in which the highest and the lowest of mental impulses have their roots and from which spring the most normal as well as the most morbid and erratic of mental productions. The new picture of the workings of the mind began to grow ever clearer and more complete. It was a picture of obscure instinctual forces organic in origin, striving towards inborn aims, and, above them, of an agency comprising more highly organized mental structures – acquisitions of human evolution made under the impact of human history -, an agency which has taken over portions of the instinctual impulses, has developed them further or has even directed them towards higher aims, but which in any case binds them firmly and manipulates their energy to suit its own purposes. This higher organization, however, which is known to us as the ego, has rejected another portion of these same elementary instinctual impulses as being unserviceable because they cannot be fitted into the organic unity of the individual or because they rebel against the individual’s cultural aims. The ego is not in a position to exterminate these unsubdued mental powers, but it turns its back on them, lets them remain at the lowest psychological level, defends itself from their demands by the energetic erection of protective and antithetical barriers or seeks to come to terms with them by means of substitutive satisfactions. These instincts which have fallen victim to repression – untamed and indestructible, yet inhibited from any kind of activity – together with their primitive mental representatives, constitute the mental underworld, the nucleus of the true unconscious, and are at every moment ready to assert their demands and, by hook or by crook, to force their way forward to satisfaction. To this is due the instability of the proud superstructure of the mind, the emergence at night of the proscribed and repressed material in the form of dreams, and the tendency to fall ill with neuroses and psychoses as soon as the balance of power between the ego and the repressed shifts to the disadvantage of the ego.

A little reflection was bound to show that it would be impossible to restrict to the provinces of dreams and nervous disorders a view such as this of the life of the human mind. If that view has hit upon a truth, it must apply equally to normal mental events, and even the highest achievements of the human spirit must bear a demonstrable relation to the factors found in pathology – to repression, to the efforts at mastering the unconscious and to the possibilities of satisfying the primitive instincts. There was thus an irresistible temptation and, indeed, a scientific duty, to apply the research methods of psycho-analysis, in regions far remote from its native soil, to the various mental sciences. And indeed psycho-analytic work upon patients itself pointed persistently in the direction of this new task, for it was obvious that the forms assumed by the different neuroses echoed the most highly admired productions of our culture. Thus hysterics are undoubtedly imaginative artists, even if they express their phantasies mimetically in the main and without considering their intelligibility to other people; the ceremonials and prohibitions of obsessional neurotics drive us to suppose that they have created a private religion of their own; and the delusions of paranoics have an unpalatable external similarity and internal kinship to the systems of our philosophers. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that these patients are, in an asocial fashion, making the very attempts at solving their conflicts and appeasing their pressing needs which, when those attempts are carried out in a fashion that is acceptable to the majority, are known as poetry, religion and philosophy.

In 1913 Otto Rank and Hanns Sachs, in an extremely interesting work, brought together the results which had been achieved up to that time in the application of psycho-analysis to the mental sciences. The most easily accessible branches of those sciences seem to be mythology and the history of literature and religion. No final formula has yet been found enabling us to give an appropriate place to myths in this connection. Otto Rank, in a large volume on the incest complex (1912), has produced evidence of the surprising fact that the choice of subject matter, especially for dramatic works, is principally determined by the ambit of what psycho-analysis has termed the ‘Oedipus complex’. By working it over with the greatest variety of modifications, distortions and disguises, the dramatist seeks to deal with his own most personal relations to this emotional theme. It is in attempting to master the Oedipus complex – that is to say, a person’s emotional attitude towards his family, or in a narrower sense towards his father and mother – that individual neurotics come to grief, and for this reason that complex habitually forms the nucleus of their neuroses. It does not owe its importance to any unintelligible conjunction; the emphasis laid upon the relation of children to their parents is an expression of the biological facts that the young of the human race pass through a long period of dependence and are slow in reaching maturity, as well as that their capacity for love undergoes a complicated course of development. Consequently, the overcoming of the Oedipus complex coincides with the most efficient way of mastering the archaic, animal heritage of humanity. It is true that that heritage comprises all the forces that are required for the subsequent cultural development of the individual, but they must first be sorted out and worked over. This archaic heirloom is not fit to be used for the purposes of civilized social life in the form in which it is inherited by the individual.

To find the starting-point for the psycho-analytic view of religious life we must go a step further. What is to-day the heritage of the individual was once a new acquisition and has been handed on from one to another of a long series of generations. Thus the Oedipus complex too may have had stages of development, and the study of prehistory may enable us to trace them out. Investigation suggests that life in the human family took a quite different form in those remote days from that with which we are now familiar. And this idea is supported by findings based on observations of contemporary primitive races. If the prehistoric and ethnological material on this subject is worked over psycho-analytically, we arrive at an unexpectedly precise result: namely that God the Father once walked upon earth in bodily form and exercised his sovereignty as chieftain of the primal human horde until his sons united to slay him. It emerges further that this crime of liberation and the reactions to it had as their result the appearance of the first social ties, the basic moral restrictions and the oldest form of religion, totemism. But the later religions too have the same content, and on the one hand they are concerned with obliterating the traces of that crime or with expiating it by bringing forward other solutions of the struggle between the father and sons, while on the other hand they cannot avoid repeating once more the elimination of the father. Incidentally, an echo of this monstrous event, which overshadowed the whole course of human development, is also to be found in myths.

This hypothesis, which is founded on the observations of Robertson Smith and was developed by me in Totem and Taboo, has been taken by Theodor Reik as the basis of his studies on the problems of the psychology of religion, of which this is the first volume. In accordance with psycho-analytic technique these studies start out from hitherto unexplained details of religious life, and by means of their elucidation gain access to the fundamental postulates and ultimate aims of religions; moreover they keep steadily in view the relation between prehistoric man and contemporary primitive societies as well as the connection between the products of civilization and the substitutive structures of neurotics. In conclusion, I would draw attention to the author’s own introduction and express my belief that his work will recommend itself to the notice of specialists in the branch of knowledge with which it deals.

Quote from original book review

Author: A. Kardiner:

Date: (1932).

Publication: Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Volume 1:  p355-360

Ritual: Psychoanalytic Studies.: By Theodor Reik.

With a Preface by Sigm. Freud.

Translated from the second edition by Douglas Bryan.

Published:New York: W. W. Norton and Company. 1931. 367 p.

Author:  A. Kardiner

Quote from the beginning:  Dr. Reik’s book is a collection of essays on the application of psychoanalysis to the problems of primitive customs and religious ritual. He investigates “The Couvade”, the puberty rites of – p355 – savages, and under the title of “Kol Nidre” and “The Shofar”, he studies several aspects of the religion of the ancient Hebrews. These essays represent one of the earliest attempts to follow up the principles that Freud posited in his “Totem und Tabu”. Originally conceived as lectures in 1914-1919, they are here presented in a revised and enlarged form in an English translation.

Notwithstanding the variety of subjects investigated the book is held together by a uniform program and method. The basic observation from which the research proceeds is the one made by Freud, that there is a striking resemblance between the compulsion neurosis and religious ritual. It was this observation which led Freud to the formulation that the compulsion neurosis was a “private religion”, or that religion ….

‘Shofar’ as referenced by Jacques Lacan

1) Seminar X: The Anxiety or Dread: Session of 22nd May 1963

p225 & 226: Chapter XIX of Cormac Gallagher’s translation: Published at www.LacaninIreland: available here

This passage refers both to Theodor Reik & the ‘shofar’.

2) Introduction to the Names-of-the Father seminar : November 20th 1963

Following excerpts from

Jeffrey Mehlman’s translation, Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller


1) 1987, October, vol 40, p96-105,

2) 1990 in ‘Television/A challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment’ : New York, W. W. Norton, p81-95

Published in French: Séminaire du 20 novembre 1963 : Bulletin de l’Association freudienne: 1985: vol 12 p3-5 & Vol 13 p3-6

P87 The peak of the obscurity into which the subject is plunged in relation to desire, ‘agalma’, is that object which the subject believes that his desire tends toward,a dn through which he presses to an extreme tha misperception of ‘petit a’ as cause of his desire. …

Thus it was that I brought you last year to the gate where we now arrive – the fifth term of the function of ‘petit a’, through which will be revealed the gamut of the object I its – pregenital – relation to the demand of the –post-genital – Other, to that enigmatic desire in which the Other is the site of a decoy in the form of ‘petit a’. In the fifth term, we shall see the ‘petit a’ of the Other, sole witness, in sum, that that site is not solely the site of a mirage.

I have not named that particular ‘petit a’ and yet, in other circumstances, I could have shown you its singular lighting. During a recent meeting of our Society concerning paranoia, I abstained from speaking on what was at issue, to wit: voice. The voice of the Other should be considered an essential object. Every analyst is solicited to accord it its place. Its various incarnations should be followed, as much in the realm of psychosis as at that extremity of normal functioning in the formation of the superego. Through seeing the ‘petit a’ source of the superego, it is possible that many things will become more clear.

The relation of voice to the Other is solely a phenomenological approach. If it is truly, as I say, ‘petit a’ as fallen from the Other, we can exhaust its structural function only by bringing our inquiry to bear on what the Other is as a subject, for voice is the product and object fallen from the organ of speech, and the Other is the site where “it” – ‘ça’ – speaks.

Here we can no longer elude the question: beyond he who speaks in the place of the Other, and who is the subject, what is it whose voice, each time he speaks, the subject takes?

P93 … So there we are with one son and then two fathers.

Is that all there is? Fortunately our cutout figure is there in order to remind us – in the more sumptuous form of the Caravaggio painting [JE:Image of Caravaggio ‘The sacrifice of Isaac’ available here at See the goat’s horn is on the right of the painting.]- that that is not all there is.  There is one such painting in which he is to the right, and in which you will find that head that I introduced here last year, invisibly, in the form of the ‘Shofar’, the ram’s horn, which has been undeniably torn from him.

I won’t have the opportunity to examine symbolic values in any depth for you, but I would like to conclude with what that ram is. It is not true that it figures as a metaphor of the father at the level of phobia. Phobia is no more than its return, which is what Freud said referring to the totem. Man has not all that much reason to be proud at being the last to appear in creation, the one who was made out of mud, something no other being was worthy of, and so he searches for honorable ancestors, and that is where we still are – as evolutionists, we need an animal ancestor.

I won’t tell you the passages I have consulted, be it in the ‘Mishna’, specifically the Guirgueavotchi – I mention it for those whom it may interest, since it is not as big as the ‘Talmud’, and you can consult it, it’s been translated into French – then in Rashi. Those are the only two references I wanted to give today. Rashi is briefest in explaining that according to Rabbinic tradition, the ram in question is the primeval ram. It was there, he writes, as early as the seven days of creation, which designates it as what it is, that is, an ‘Elohim’ – for it is not only he whose name is unpronounceable who was there, but in the clearest fashion, all the ‘Elohim’. The latter is traditionally recognized as the ancestor of the race of Sem, he who links Abraham, through a rather short path, to origins. That ram with tangled horns rushes onto the site of the scarifice, and it is worth noting what it comes to graze on when he whose name is unpronounceable designates it for the sacrifice that Abraham is to perform in place of his son. Ti is his eponymous ancestor, the God of his race.

Here may be marked the knife blade separating God’s bliss [JE: Jeffrey Mehlman translates jouissance as bliss] from what in that tradition is presented as his desire. The thing whose downfall it is a matter of provoking is biological origin. …