Freud Gave Special Signet Rings to a 'Secret Society' of His Students - Atlas Obscura
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Freud Gave Special Signet Rings to a ‘Secret Society’ of His Students

The seals depict Greek gods and—surprise, surprise—erotic scenes.

The curator Morag Wilhelm holds some of the signet rings Freud gave to his students.
The curator Morag Wilhelm holds some of the signet rings Freud gave to his students. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Deep in the collection of the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, the assistant curator Morag Wilhelm found a small cardboard box. Inside, the AFP reports, was a gold ring set with a small ancient seal. The box was labeled “Freud Nike.”

It had belonged to Eva Rosenfeld, a psychoanalyst who grew up in Germany and settled in Vienna. She became close with Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud and a psychoanalyst herself. As their relationship deepened, Rosenfeld became a patient of Anna’s father. The ring was a symbol of his connection to her—he handed them out only to his closest associates and students.

Freud's friends and disciples made up a secret society.
Freud’s friends and disciples made up a secret society. Israel Museum

Wilhelm decided to track the rest of those rings down, and now the museum has collected six into a new exhibit named, brilliantly, “Freud of the Rings.” It’s the first time these signet rings will be displayed together.

Freud began gifting rings to other psychoanalysts after he broke with Carl Jung in 1912, the AFP writes. Initially, he gathered five of his most dedicated friends and colleagues into a “secret society of psychoanalysts” and gave each a ring to signify their connection. The rings are set with stones from antiquity, carved with goddesses or erotic scenes. These ancient myths had a particular resonance for Freud and his work. (Think: the Oedipal complex.)

Eva Rosenfeld's ring.
Eva Rosenfeld’s ring. Israel Museum

The exhibit includes rings Freud gave to Sandor Ferenczi, a Hungarian psychoanalyst; Ernst Simmel, a German psychoanalyst who later emigrated to the U.S. to escape Hitler; and Anna Freud. Wilhelm tracked them down in collections around the world, including London’s Freud Museum, the Jewish Museum in New York, and the Austrian National Library.

These six rings represent only a part of the small group of rings Freud gave out. There are at least 20 altogether; perhaps this exhibit will prompt their owners to reveal their whereabouts.

Anna Freud's ring.
Anna Freud’s ring. Israel Museum
Ernst Simmel's ring.
Ernst Simmel’s ring. Israel Museum