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Legacies of the Occult

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Telepathy, thought transference, unconscious communication. While some important early psychological theorists such as William James, Frederic W. H. Myers and Sigmund Freud all agreed that the phenomenon exists, their theoretical approaches to it were very different. James’s and Myers’s interpretations of and experimental investigations into telepathy or thought transference were an inextricable part of their psychical researches. Freud’s insistence on the reality of thought transference had nothing to do with psychical research or paranormal phenomena, which he largely repudiated. Thought transference for Freud was located in a theory of the unconscious that was radically different from the subliminal mind embraced by James and Myers. Today thought transference is most commonly described as unconscious communication but was largely ignored by subsequent generations of psychoanalysts until most recently. Nonetheless, the recognition of unconscious communication has persisted as a subterranean, quasi-spiritual presence in psychoanalysis to this day. As psychoanalysis becomes more interested in unconscious communication and develops theories of loosely boundaried subjectivities that open up to transcendent dimensions of reality, it begins to assume the features of a religious psychology. Thus, a fuller understanding of how unconscious communication resonates with mystical overtones may be more deeply clarified, articulated and elaborated in contemporary psychoanalysis in an explicit dialogue with psychoanalytically literate scholars of religion.

In Legacies of the Occult Marsha Aileen Hewitt argues that some of the leading theorists of unconscious communication represent a ‘mystical turn’ that is infused with both a spirituality and a revitalized interest in paranormal experience that is far closer to James and Myers than to Freud.

Published: Jul 1, 2020

Section Chapter Authors
Preface Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Acknowledgements Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Chapter 1
Freud, the Unconscious and the 'Irreligious' Psychoanalysis of Religion Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Chapter 2
Fluid Subjectivities, Extended Minds and Unseen Worlds: Mystical Psychologies of Frederic W.H. Myers and William James Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Chapter 3
Telepathic 'Presencing' in the Analytic Relationship Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Chapter 4
What is the 'this' that Changes Everything? Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Chapter 5
Psychoanalytic Hierophanies: The Sacred in Transit Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Chapter 6
Concluding Thoughts on the Psychoanalytic Psychology of Religion Marsha Aileen Hewitt
End Matter
Notes Marsha Aileen Hewitt
References Marsha Aileen Hewitt
Index Marsha Aileen Hewitt


I found this book profound, brave, fair, and often genuinely moving. I felt myself in confident and sure hands with Hewitt’s intellect, prose, and analysis.

One of the book’s and the author’s great virtues, or acts of courage and humanity, is that the conversation opens out onto a new field of inquiry that is really quite old (the paranormal, the occult, the magical) and, as such, attempts to make some better sense of an entire spectrum of human experience that has been ignored, or just mocked, in the modern academic world. A number of us have been intuiting or orbiting around these strange phenomena for some time (and I detect a real quiet renaissance here, in which Hewitt’s book will certainly participate), but in a way that generally lacks the broader history of psychology and therapeutic frameworks that Hewitt provides with such precision and richness.

Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion, Rice University