The Significance of Number Dreams
The symbolism of numbers which greatly engaged the imaginative philosophy of earlier centuries has again acquired a fresh interest from the analytic investigations of Freud and his school. But in the material of number-dreams we no longer discover conscious puzzles of symbolic concatenations of numbers but the unconscious roots of the symbolism of numbers. There is scarcely anything quite fundamentally new to offer in this sphere since the presentations of Freud, Adler and Stekel. It must here suffice to corroborate their experiences by recording parallel cases. I have had under observation a few cases of this kind which are worth reporting for their general interest.
The first three instances are from a middle-aged married man whose conflict of the moment was an extra-conjugal love affair. The piece of the dream from which I take the symbolised number is: in front of the manager his general subscription. The manager comments on the high number of the subscription. It reads 2477.
The analysis of the dream brings out a rather ungentlemanly reckoning up of the expense of the affair which is foreign to the generous nature of the dreamer, and which the unconscious makes use of as a resistance to this affair. The preliminary interpretation is therefore, that the number has some financial importance and origin. A rough estimate of the expenses so far leads to a number which in fact approaches 2477 francs; a more exact reckoning, however, gives 2387 francs, which could be only arbitrarily translated into 2477. I then left the numbers to the free association of the patient; it occurs to him that the figure in the dream should be divided as 24-77. Perhaps it is a telephone number; this supposition proves incorrect. The next association is that it is the total of some numbers. A reminiscence then occurs to him that he once told me that he had celebrated the 100th birthday of his mother and himself when his mother was 65 and he was 35 years old. (Their birthdays are on the same day.)
In this way the patient arrived at the following series of associations:—
|He is born on||. . .||26||II.|
|His mistress||. . .||28||VIII.|
|His wife||. . .||1||III.|
|His mother (his father is long dead)||. . .||26||II.|
|His two children||. . .||29||IV.|
|The patient is born||. . .||II.||75.|
|His mistress||. . .||VIII.||85.|
He is now 36 years old, his mistress 25.
If this series of associations is written in the usual figures, the following addition is arrived at:—
This series, which includes all the members of his family, gives the number 2477.
This construction led to a deeper layer of the dream’s meaning. The patient is most closely united to his family, but on the other hand very much in love. This situation provokes a severe conflict. The detailed description of the manager’s appearance (which I leave out for the sake of brevity) pointed to the analyst, from whom the patient rightly fears and desires firm control and criticism of his condition of dependence and bondage.
The dream which followed soon afterwards, reported in brief, runs: The analyst asks the patient what he actually does at his mistress’? to which the patient replied he plays there, and that indeed on a very high number, on 152. The analyst remarks: “You are sadly cheated.”
The analysis displayed again a repressed tendency to reckon up the expense of the affair. The amount spent monthly was close on 152 francs, it was from 148-158 francs. The remark that he was being cheated alludes to the point at issue in the difficulties of the patient with his mistress. She maintains that he had deflowered her; he, on the contrary, is firmly convinced that she was not a virgin, and that she had already been seduced by some one else at the time when he was seeking her favours and she was refusing him. The expression “number” leads to the associations: number of the gloves, calibre-number. From there the next step was to the fact that he recognized, at the first coitus, a noticeable width of the opening instead of the expected resistance of the hymen. To him, this is proof of the deception. The unconscious naturally makes use of this opportunity as an effective means of opposition to the relationship. 152 proves at first refractory to further analysis. The number on a subsequent occasion aroused the really not remote association, “house-number.” Then came this series of associations. When the patient first knew her the lady lived at X Street No. 17, then Y Street No. 129, then Z Street No. 48.
Here the patient thought that he had clearly gone far beyond 152, the total being 194. It then occurred to him that the lady had removed from No. 48 Z Street at his instigation for certain reasons; it must therefore run . She now lives in A Street No. 6, therefore .
The following dream was obtained during a later part of the analysis. The patient dreamt that he had received an account from the analyst in which he was charged interest for delay in payment from the period September 3rd to 29th. The interest on the total of 315 francs was 1 franc.
Under this reproach of meanness and avariciousness levelled at the analyst, the patient covered, as analysis proved, a violent unconscious envy. Diverse things in the life of the analyst can arouse the patient’s envy, one fact here in particular had recently made a marked impression. His physician had received an addition to the family. The disturbed relations between the patient and his wife unfortunately does not permit such an expectation in his case. Hence his ground for envy and invidious comparisons.
As before, the analysis of 315 produces a separation into 3—1—5. To three he associates—his doctor has three children, just lately there is one in addition. He himself would have five children were all living; as it is he has living; for three of the children were stillborn. The symbolism of the numbers is not exhausted by these associations.
The patient remarks that the period from 3rd to 29th September contains twenty-six days. His next thought is to add this and the other figures of the dream:
With 342 he carries out the same operation as on 315, splitting it into 3—4—2. Whereas before it came out that his doctor had three children, and then had another, and the patient had five, now it runs: the doctor had three children, and now has four, patient has only two. He remarks on this that the second figure sounds like a rectification in contrast with the wish fulfilment of the first.
The patient, who had discovered this explanation for himself without my help, declared himself satisfied. His physician, however, was not; to him it seemed that the above disclosures did not exhaust the rich possibilities that determined the unconscious images. The patient had, for instance, added to the figure five that of the stillborn children; one was born in the 9th month and two in the 7th. He also emphasised the fact that his wife had had two miscarriages, one in the 5th week and the other in the 7th. Adding these figures together we get the determination of the number 26.
|2 miscarriages (5+7 weeks)||3||months|
It seems as if the number twenty-six were determined by the number of the lost times of pregnancy. This time (twenty-six days) denotes, in the dream, a delay for which the patient was charged one franc interest. He has, in fact, suffered a delay through the lost pregnancies, for his doctor has, during the time the patient has known him, surpassed him with one child. One franc must be one child. We have already seen the tendency of the patient to add together all his children, even the dead ones, in order to outdo his rival. The thought that his physician had outdone him by one child could easily react immediately upon the determination of 1. We will therefore follow up this tendency of the patient, and carry on his play with figures, by adding to the figure 26, the two complete pregnancies of nine months each.
If we follow the tendency to split up the numbers we get 2 + 6 and 4 + 4, two groups of figures which have only this in common, that each group gives 8 by addition. These numbers are, as we must notice, composed entirely of the months of pregnancy given by the patient. Compare with them those groups of figures which contain the information as to the doctor’s fecundity, viz. 315 and 342; it is to be noted that the resemblance lies in their sum-total giving 9:9 - 8 = 1. It looks as if here likewise the notion about the differentiation of 1 were carried out. As the patient remarked, 315 seems thus a wish fulfilment, 342 on the other hand a rectification. An ingenious fancy playing round will discover the following difference between the two numbers:
Here again we come upon the important figure 9, which neatly combines the reckoning of the pregnancies and births.
It is difficult to say where the borderline of play begins; necessarily so, for the unconscious product is the creation of a sportive fancy, of that psychic impulse out of which play itself arises. It is repugnant to the scientific mind to have serious dealings with this element of play, which on all sides loses itself in the vague. But it must be never forgotten that the human mind has for thousands of years amused itself with just this kind of game; it were therefore nothing wonderful if this historic past again compelled admission in dream to similar tendencies. The patient pursues in his waking life similar phantastic tendencies about figures, as is seen in the fact already mentioned of the celebration of the 100th birthday. Their presence in the dream therefore need not surprise us. In a single example of unconscious determination exact proofs are often lacking, but the sum of our experiences entitles us to rely upon the accuracy of the individual discoveries. In the investigation of free creative phantasy we are in the region, almost more than anywhere else, of broad empiricism; a high measure of discretion as to the accuracy of individual results is consequently required, but this in nowise obliges us to pass over in silence what is active and living, for fear of being execrated as unscientific. There must be no parleying with the superstition-phobia of the modern mind; for this itself is a means by which the secrets of the unconscious are kept veiled.
It is of special interest to see how the problems of the patient are mirrored in the unconscious of his wife. His wife had the following dream: She dreamt, and this is the whole dream: “Luke 137.” The analysis of the number gives the following. To 1 she associates: The doctor has another child. He had three. If all her children were living she would have 7; now she has only 3 — 1 = 2. But she desires 1 + 3 + 7 = 11 (a twin number, 1 and 1), which expresses her wish that her two children had been pairs of twins, for then she would have reached the same number of children as the doctor. Her mother once had twins. The hope of getting a child by her husband is very precarious; this had for a long time turned her ideas in the unconscious towards a second marriage. Other phantasies pictured her as “done with,” i.e. having reached the climacteric at 44. She is now 33 years old, therefore in 11 years she will have reached her 44th year. This is an important period as her father died in his 44th year. Her phantasy of the 44th year contains the idea of the death of her father. The emphasis of the death of her father corresponds to the repressed phantasy of the death of her husband, who is the obstacle to a second marriage. At this place the material belonging to the dream “Luke 137” comes in to solve the conflict. The dreamer is, one soon discovers, in no wise well up in her Bible, she has not read her Bible for an incredible time, she is not at all religious. It were therefore quite purposeless to have recourse to associations here. The dreamer’s ignorance of her Bible is so great that she did not even know that the citation “Luke 137” could only refer to the Gospel of St. Luke. When she turned up the New Testament she came to the Acts of the Apostles. As chapter i. has only 26 verses and not 37, she took the 7th verse, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”
But if we turn to Luke i. 37, we find the Annunciation of the Virgin.
Verse 35. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Verse 36. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
Verse 37. For with God nothing shall be impossible.
The necessary continuation of the analysis of “Luke 137” demanded the looking up of Luke xiii. 7, where it says:
Verse 6. A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
Verse 7. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
The fig-tree, which from antiquity has been a symbol of the male genital, is to be cut down on account of its unfruitfulness. This passage is in complete accord with innumerable sadistic phantasies of the dreamer, concerned with the cutting or biting off of the penis. The relation to her husband’s unfruitful organ is obvious. That she withdraws her libido from her husband is clear for he is impotent as regard herself; it is equally clear that she undergoes regression to the father (“which the father hath put in his own power”) and identifies herself with her mother who had twins. By thus advancing her age the dreamer places her husband in regard to herself in the position of a son or boy, of an age at which impotency is normal. Furthermore, the desire to overcome her husband is easily understood from, and amply evidenced in, her earlier analysis. It is therefore only a confirmation of what has been already said, if, following up the matter of “Luke 137,” we find in Luke vii. verse 12, Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. (13) And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. (14) And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
In the particular psychological situation of the dreamer the allusion to the resurrection presents a delightful meaning as the cure of her husband’s impotency. Then the whole problem would be solved. There is no need for me to point out in so many words the numerous wish-fulfilments contained in this material; they are obvious to the reader.
The important combination of the symbol “Luke 137” must be conceived as cryptomnesia, since the dreamer is quite unversed in the Bible. Both Flournoy and myself have already drawn attention to the important effects of this phenomenon. So far as one can be humanly certain the question of any manipulation of the material with intent to deceive does not come into consideration in this case. Those well posted in psychoanalysis will be able to allay any such suspicion simply from the disposition and setting of the material as a whole.
- “Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse,” 1911, p. 567.
- The husband’s principal conflict is a pronounced mother-complex.
- Flournoy, “Des Indes à la Planète Mars.” Idem: “Nouvelles observations sur un cas de somnambulisme,” Arch. de Pyschol., vol. I.
- See chapter I, p. 86.