Anagogical Interpretation

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The idea of "anagogical interpretation"a kind of interpretation which moves, according to the Robert dictionary, "from a literal to a mystical meaning"derives from theology. An anagoge is a mystical interpretation that implies spiritual elevation, convergence towards a universal symbolic meaning, and an ecstatic feeling. The notion was promoted by Herbert Silberer, author of Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts (1914/1971).

Anagogical interpretation relates to the "functional phenomenon" that Silberer defined on the basis of his observation of hypnagogic processes. Silberer described three levels of symbolization: somatic, material, and functional. The "functional phenomenon" pertains to the capacity for symbolic generalization: it facilitates the shift from "material" symbolization of the particular contents of thought to a general symbolization, in images, affects, tendencies, intentions, and complexes that reflect the structure of the psyche.

In psychoanalytic treatment, anagogical interpretation aims at strengthening the tendency to form more and more universal symbols, whose ethical value is also reinforced. Silberer claimed that the functional phenomena were bolstered in the course of an analysis.

This idea of interpretation as a generalizing idealization in the here and now is at odds with the Freudian conception based on the personal dimension, the erogenous zones, and deferred action. Freud recognized the utility of Silberer's hypotheses for explaining the formation of ideas and the dramatic character of dreams, but he criticized his extension of it to the technique of interpretation (as did Ernest Jones, who likened Silberer's approach to Jung's). Freud further rebuked Silberer for falling prey to the defense mechanisms of rationalization and reaction-formation.

Lacques Angelergues

See also: Functional phenomenon; Interpretation; Representability; Silberer, Herbert.


Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.

Jones, Ernest. (1916). The theory of symbolism. Papers on psychoanalysis. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.

Silberer Herbert. (1951). Report on a method of eliciting and observing certain symbolic hallucination-phenomena. In David Rapaport, Ed., Organization and pathology of thought. Selected sources (pp. 195-207). New York: Columbia University Press. (Original work published 1909)

. (1911). Symbolik des Erwachens und Schwellensymbolik überhaupt. Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische, 3, 621-660.

. (1971). Hidden symbolism of alchemy and the occult arts (Smith Ely Jelliffe, Trans.). New York: Dover. (Original work published 1914)

Anagogical Interpretation

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Anagogical Interpretation (Gk., anago, ‘I lead up’). Interpretations of scripture (hermeneutics) which point to the meaning of a text in relation to its eternal or heavenly meaning: it is the spiritual sense of scripture which anticipates what the Church is or will be in heaven. See ALLEGORY.