Sigmund Freud's secret society Sigmund Freud's secret society The items are now on display at the Israel Museum. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images)

Clues from Sigmund Freud's secret psychoanalytical society

A new exhibit in Israel sheds light on the secrets of a man obsessed with finding secrets.

If you happen to be in Jerusalem and duck into the Israel Museum, you'll notice a strange new exhibit: a set of rings, some with angels carved into the gems.

These rings may not look particularly fashionable — a bit clunky, really — but you'll probably want to take a closer look because the man who owned them looms large in public consciousness. Or rather, unconsciousness. Sigmund Freud used to bestow these signet rings on "chosen disciples" in his secret psychoanalytical society.

Yep, Freud had a secret psychoanalytical society. We had no idea either. But we're not surprised; the whole thing sounds very Freud.

Sigmund Freud's secret society This all began before Sigmund Freud became famous. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images)

Back when Freud was just an unknown doctor, he decided to bring together some of his doctor friends to talk about psychoanalysis.

"A small circle of colleagues and supporters afford me the great pleasure of coming to my house in the evening (8:30 PM after dinner) to discuss interesting topics in psychology and neuropathology," Freud wrote to Alfred Adler, an Austrian doctor, in 1902. "Would you be so kind as to join us?"

Freud went on to hold meetings for years, calling this group the "Vienna Psychoanalytic Society."

Sigmund Freud's secret society Many members went on to become highly influential. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images)

The society operated a bit like a cross between an ancient cult and law school. Participants would put their names in an urn. Then someone would draw names, asking the person they picked to respond to a given topic.

What, specifically, did they discuss? We don't know. Partially because the whole thing was secretive, and partially because the minutes are all written in German, and we can't read German.

But it all must have been fascinating because the society grew. Eventually, 16 people, including Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Stekel, Max Kahane and Rudolph Reitler were spelunking the depths of the human mind together. Freud and Jung became close friends and traveled together to the U.S. in 1909, which is when the two of them started becoming world famous.

Sigmund Freud's secret society Drama eventually took a toll on the group. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images)

Eventually, the meetings got so big that Freud hired Otto Rank, a 22-year-old secretary, to take notes. Rank ended up becoming a successful psychoanalyst.

Alas, drama eventually had to catch up with the society. Originally, Freud said that any idea that came up in the society was the group's idea, not the individual's. But people started wanting credit, and they ended up arguing about who came up with what idea. Eventually, Freud abolished the society and replaced it with a much more formal group that basically just discussed Freud's own ideas.

Sigmund Freud's secret society Membership was originally invitation only. (Photo: Menahem Kahana)


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Clues from Sigmund Freud's secret psychoanalytical society
A new exhibit in Israel sheds light on the secrets of Sigmund Freud.