Sabina Spielrein (1885-1942)

the Burgholzli Psychiatric Hospital

My friend Carlotta had been committed because, said the doctors, she suffered from hysteria. That’s why one August morning in 1904 I went to the Burgholzli Psychiatric Hospital loaded with drawing supplies.  Carlotta was a wonderful artist and I felt sure that  art would help her more than  any shrink could.

she witnessed Sabina’s arrival

While waiting to see Carlotta, an attractive young  woman was brought in. She looked fine to me save for the two cement faced men holding her arms down.  Later, thanks to Carlotta, I would find out that her name was Sabina and apparently she, too, suffered from some form of hysteria. Really, any time a woman rebels against the lifestyle she’s forced to live, the boys call it hysteria. Hysteria, as far as I’m concerned, is simply a reaction against restriction and repression that women are subjected to even in their clothing. Just think of those horrible corsets we have to wear.

Corsets Helped Restrict Her

Corsets are like sculptors that mold your body into a certain position and freeze it there. Not only do they make the waist abnormally small, they also restrict movement and impose a certain kind of posture. Corsets compress your lungs making breathing difficult. They also crush organs and can even fracture ribs.

And if corsets aren’t enough, legally, women have few if any rights, can’t vote and are treated like chattel. And let’s not even get into how women are treated in the bedroom because I get hysterical just thinking about it.

Granville’s Hammer helped calm her

In the late 1880s, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville invented an electric vibrator meant to relieve muscle pain. But those naughty Victorians decided to use it, instead, to treat women diagnosed with hysteria. Commonly known as “Granville’s Hammer”, women were vibrated until they reached “hysterical paroxysm” aka orgasm.

Everyone knew that Queen Victoria had a wild libido and sexually exhausted her poor husband, Albert.  She wrote in her diary how they’d press their lips together over and over again, make love and feel bliss. No corsets for her!

their treatments were like torture

In the past, asylums seemed more interested in torture than treatments often using their patients as guinea pigs for extravagant theories. In France, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was fixated with hysteria and hypnosis. Thanks to Augustine, a patient, he became famous.  After years of abuse including being raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Augustine was sent to Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris  at the age of 14. Photographs were taken of her and they must have been something as Freud and Degas went to see her.  Tired of being treated like a science fiction character, Augustine disguised herself in men’s clothing and escaped from the hospital never to be seen again.

Thanks to Eugene Bleuler, the director of the Burgholzli, Sabina was luckier as he encouraged psychoanalysis and the study of the unconscious mind. On his staff was the young Dr. Carl Jung who became Sabina’s doctor.

Carlotta spent her time in the asylum painting

As for Carlotta, after a couple of months of non-stop drawing, she felt much better and was released from the hospital.  Sabina stayed behind but by now she and Carlotta had become good friends and shared secrets. Sabina confessed that she and Jung had gone beyond a doctor-patient relationship and that Jung had written Freud asking for advice.

he said she was naughty and spanked her

If Sabina acted hysterically, it was only because of her dysfunctional parents. Her mother was cruel and her father, well, he would often whip his daughter’s naked buttocks. So it came as no surprise when Sabina decided to stay in Zurich and study psychiatry. Jung was her dissertation advisor. Of course everyone started to gossip especially considering that Jung was married with two kids.  Eventually word got to Freud and Jung tried to justify himself by saying it was all Sabina’s fault. Afraid for his career, Jung dumped Sabine who was, obviously, devastated.

Siegfried was in their dreams

One night, just a couple of years after his split with Sabina,  Jung had a dream about ambushing and murdering someone named Siegfried. He woke up feeling guilty. A voice inside told him to make sense of the dream or die.  Since he kept a loaded gun in a drawer next to his bed, he was afraid his subconscious was going to blow him away thus came up with a distorted explanation for himself.

While they were together, Sabina was so in love with Jung that she wanted to have his child and name him  Siegfried. Was the Siegfried in Jung’s dream actually Sabina’s dream baby?

Sabina left Switzerland and went to Vienna to ask Freud’s help.  The doctor was quite taken by her and considered her a brilliant mind.  So much so that he appropriated  some of her theories (as did, it seems, Jung)  and transformed her “destructive drive” into his own “death instinct”.

Stalinists killed him, Nazis killed her

In 1912, Sabina married a Russian doctor and had a child. She wrote numerous articles and was especially interested in child psychiatry. In 1924, she returned to Bolshevik Russia to practice psychiatry. Here she was active at the White Nursery, an experimental home for children with psychological disturbances. Stalin’s son, Vasily, was one of the children she worked with. The Russians, such as Trotsky, supported psychoanalysis for children but only to produce the “new Soviet toddler.”

 In the 1930s, Sabina’s husband and brothers were killed by Stalinists.  In 1942, Sabina and her daughter were shot to death by Nazi goons. As a result, Sabina and her work were forgotten. Not so for Jung who outlived Sabina by c. 20 years. And during this time had the possibility to write about a variety of subjects such as flying saucers.


flying saucer vision

In his “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky”, Jung  is concerned with all the people who think they’ve seen a flying saucer. These sightings, for  him,  are the imagination that’s been activated in an attempt to understand something not easy to understand.

Active imagination is  a means of giving the unconscious a visual narrative.

Tulpa Party

Carl Jung may not have believed in flying saucers but he did believe in tulpas. A tulpa is a person of your own creation who lives in your head. It’s very easy to give birth to a tulpa…all you have to do is to imagine someone living in your head and then to treat that someone as an actual person.  You can interact with your tulpa by giving it a form and visualizing it.

Jung’s tulpa was named Philemon with whom he would often take walks in the garden and, since Jung believed Philemon’s insight to be superior to his own, Jung would often ask Philemon for advice.

In Geneva in 1977, a bundle of correspondence between Sabina, Jung and Freud  as well as Sabina’s diary was found  and later used by Jungian analysis, Dr. Aldo Carotenuto, for his book A Secret Symmetry (Roberto Faenza’s film about Sabina,  Prendimi l’anima, is based on Carotenuto’s book).

Years ago, Carotenuto kindly agreed to participate in my Image & Text project where I provided a drawing then had others write a related test. His studio, not far from Viale di Villa Massimo, was  full of books and smelled like the potpourri from Santa Maria Novella.  What a pity that his words have faded with time.

Aldo Carotenuto

Related:  Female Archetype of Sabina Spielrein – queen or wise women? + My name was Sabina Speilrein, Ich hiess Sabina Spielrein (2002) Vimeo + The Willard Suitcase Exhibit + Tulpas + Flying Saucer Vision + Jung’s Siegfried dream  (Excerpt from C.G. Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, 1961, ch.VI) + Sabine Spielrein nel film Prendimi l’anima + Augustine Official Trailer + 13 shocking pictures showing how we used to ‘treat’ the mentally ill

Around the age of 20, Albert Einstein’s son, Eduard, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and interned at the Burgholzlj. He was given a lot of drugs and electroshock treatments. After suffering a nervous breakdown, he told his father that he hated him.  Albert Einstein emigrated to the U.S. and never saw his son again. Eduard liked music and wrote poetry.  He had a picture of Freud hanging on his wall. He died in the Burghölzli clinic at the age of 56.


read online on Archive: A secret symmetry: Sabina Spielrein between Jung and Freud by aldo carotenuto


(from The Diary of Luz Corazzini, Cynthia Korzekwa ©)

About Art for Housewives

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