For some time I’ve been pursuing the idea that Freud’s correct birthday was March 6, not May 6. The almost universally accepted May 6, 1856 date (6:30 pm, Freiberg, Moravia, now Pribor, Czech Republic) appears authoritatively in the first sentence of Freud’s official biography, written by his close associate and disciple, Ernest Jones. Yet that very sentence bears a footnote (deleted from the abridged edition) joking that the actual birth may have taken place two months earlier, only seven months after the wedding of Freud’s parents.
Freud wrote a book called Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, yet this jocular slur against his mother remains relatively unanalyzed by biographers, even though Freud himself raised suspicions that he was sired by one of his own half-brothers, that his official father was actually his grandfather.
To my mind, given all that we now know about Freud, the March 6 horoscope is the more apt of the two. There is much in the early years of Freud's biography to support this idea. (I have published a comparative analysis of the competing birthcharts in the Astrological Journal of March/April 2000). Only recently, however, have I come across Freud and Moses: The Long Journey Home by Emanuel Rice, MD., where it is reported that one of the most compelling documents supporting the May 6 birthdate, the so-called “inscription” in the "family Bible", is not an inscription at all, but merely a sheet of paper tucked inside a Bible which itself contains no family records at all. Yet in Peter Gay's authoritative biography, again the issue is relegated to a complacent and jocular footnote: "But the documents, amply supported by the Freuds' family Bible, shows that Freud [Sr.] and his bride seem to have obeyed the proprieties: the conventional date of the biographies, May 6th, is correct."
The sheet of paper in question is headed with a solemnly phrased record of Sigmund's grandfather's death, which took place after the wedding of Sigmund's parents but before his birth. There is of course something touching about this record of the grandson who attended his grandfather's funeral as a fetus. But the unique elaborations of this record may indicate that the deceased was not Sigmund's grandfather, but his great-grandfather.
On this sheet of paper the May 6 birthdate appears or is implied no fewer than eight times: as the date of the month and day of the week for both the birth and the circumcision (mandated to take place one week after a Jewish birth), in both the Jewish and the Christian calendars; the insistent reiteration seems overdone and anomalous. We find nothing like it, in fact nothing at all, about the birth of Freud's five surviving siblings, or the brother born just a year after Sigmund who died in early childhood. Why does the so-called family bible only contain a record of this one child's birth? Freud biographers all seem to take it as a matter of course.
The list of dates is followed by a spontaneous sentence which is marred by a Freudian slip of the pen: “On the fourth of [illegible], 856, my son mentioned above, long may he live, got three teeth." The change in tone chides the solemnity of the formal sentences above it and undermines trust, and the illegible slip may reveal the writer's embarrassment over the true date of the first dentition. (Born with a full head of hair, Freud's baby teeth would probably also have appeared precociously, and impossibly early if he was born in May.) The document perplexes; does one record the death of the grandfather and baby teeth on the same page?
The page also contains a list of the names of four officiants at the circumcision. Just as the page has been presented as a sacred inscription in the "family Bible" while it is merely a piece of paper placed into a Bible, so this list of names has been taken as a list of signatures attesting to the correctness of the date. A mere list of names is taken for a list of dated signatures, which it is not. In short the so-called family bible evidence strikes one as having been over-elaborately written in order to securely corroborate the wrong date for future readers.
Granted, other documentary obstacles remain in the way of the March birthdate. However, the reverential attitude towards and legendary status of some of these documents suggest they may not have been examined interrogatively. The so-called birth certificate reproduced on the Library of Congress website (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/freud/images/vc008101.jpg) is a document that was issued in July of 1886, not a contemporaneous document. Other documents seen in poor photo copies are contradicted by earlier reported descriptions.
Many biographies elide the fact that Freud's two uncles were professional forgers. One of the uncles was imprisoned, much to the 9-year-old Freud's shame, and the Manchester branch of the Freud family was implicated; Manchester was the manufacturing source of counterfeit rubles that flooded eastern Europe via Vienna prior to WW 1. We know surprisingly little about the Manchester Freuds, or and nothing about Freud's father's source of income.
The circumstances around Freud's birth records are clouded. He was not born, as has been stated, in an Jewish shtetl where no one could keep a secret, but in a small enclave of suspiciously foreign Ostjuden, hardly distinguished from gypsies by the local population, stigmatized, secretive itinerants, possibly petty criminals. At the time of his birth, the largish family was crowded into one room above the shop of a gentile locksmith (not blacksmith).
It is worth pointing out that the March 6 birthdate is not without support among Freudians: Marie Balmary made the most extensive argument in Psychoanalysing Psychoanalysis (1979); Wladimir Granoff assented in the published 1975 lectures Filiations; as does philosopher Andrea Nye in her Feminist Theories and Philosophies of Man (p. 156); as do Jay and Jean Harris, MDs , in The One-Eyed Doctor Sigismund Freud (1984). At least one authoritative textbook has : "Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was born on either March 6 or May 6 in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, Czech Republic)." [An Introduction to the History of Psychology (B. R. Hergenhahn, 6th edition, 2008, pg.518]
It is hard to read the last chapter of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and not feel that Freud was, at times, massively daft, in a way best described by the amazing and intense conjunction in Pisces of Sun, Moon, Neptune and Jupiter, all square Saturn, which took place on March 6, 1856. Pisces, the last Zodiacal sign, is traditionally associated with nescience and void, ergo, the Unconscious; while the quadrature of Saturn evokes pathology and pessimism.
There is a gradually assembling consensus that the vast influence of Freud on the mind of the twentieth century was in some way delusional, rhetorical, pseudo-scientific. I relish the paradox that another pseudo-science, astrology can offer insight here. As former markers of personal identity erode under the influence of psychopharmacology, assisted reproductive technologies, globalization, the internet, etc., we look back on the Freudian mythos with the newly-liberated cultist’s stunned sense of incomprehension and wonder.