Tom Dalzell – Delusional Ideas of God and the Devil

THE LETTER 54 Autumn 2013, pages 63-72.

This paper demonstrates that both psychoanalysis and theology have understood God and the devil to be two sides of the one coin. Concentrating on Freud’s 1911 Schreber case and his 1923 case of devil-neurosis, it concludes that imagos of God and the devil are based on the infantile experience of the father and it argues that both the psychoanalyst and the minister of religion need to be what Lacan called a ‘little other’ [i(o)] for the psychotic patient, refraining from correcting non-threatening delusions, but rather providing a space where the patient can reconstruct his or her world of sense and develop an appropriate sinthome to hold his or her subjectivity together.

Keywords: Freud, Lacan, psychosis, God, devil, nomination, sinthome


The intention of this paper is to draw on psychoanalysis to make sense of delusions about God and the devil and to suggest appropriate pastoral responses to the psychotic patient. Psychoanalysis understands a delusion as the patient’s own attempt at healing or reconstruction. It will be argued, therefore, that pastoral care needs to suspend its theological objections since, if it questions a psychotic patient’s image of God or belief in the existence of the devil, the patient has to begin the process of reconstruction all over again.

Daniel Paul Schreber

The most famous case of psychosis in the history of psychiatry is Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber. He was born in 1842 and became a presiding judge in the High Court, or Court of Appeal, in Dresden in 1893. Thanks to Freud’s interpretation of the case in 1911, Schreber is still well known for his procreation delusion.4 In this, he had become God’s wife, for the procreation of a new humanity.

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