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Hypnosis in History

1774 – The Birth of Mesmerism

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The Birth of Mesmerism

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Hypnosis as we know it today had its origins in the unique medical practices of Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, a physician who lived in Vienna, Austria during the mid 18th Century.

Mesmer was a fervent believer in the more esoteric aspects of Western medical tradition, including the influence of astronomy and magnets on human health.

In 1774 during a magnetic treatment with a female patient, Mesmer felt that he perceived a fluid flowing through the woman’s body whose flow was affected by his own will.

He eventually named this fluid and its manipulation “Animal Magnetism” and developed an elaborate theory regarding its affect on health.

Mesmer believed that every individual had magnetic fluid flowing through channels throughout his body, and that blockages in the flow of this fluid caused emotional or physical disease.  He believed that certain individuals had more or less innate animal magnetism, and therefore varied in their ability to manipulate the flow of this fluid.

Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer

In the late 1770’s Mesmer moved to Paris and found more interested students there than in Vienna. The process of Animal Magnetism or Mesmerism, laid the foundations for the later development of Hypnosis.

A contemporary English doctor described Mesmer’s technique in vivid detail:

His patients were received with the air of mystery and studied effect. The apartment, hung with mirrors was dimly lit. A profound silence was observed, broken only by strains of music which occasionally floated through the rooms. The patients were seated around a sort of vat which contained a heterogeneous mixture of chemical ingredients.

With this, and with each other, they were placed in relation by means of cords, or jointed rods, or by holding hands; and among them slowly and mysteriously moved Mesmer himself, affecting one by a touch, another by a look, a third by passes with his hand, a fourth by pointing with a rod.

Mesmerism Demonstration

One person became hysterical, then another; one was seized with catalepsy; others with convulsions; some with palpitations of the heart, perspirations, and other bodily disturbances.

The method was supposed to provoke in the sick person exactly the kind of action beneficial to his recovery. To the ignorant the scene was full of wonderment.

The extraordinary tales of Mesmer's personal power over individuals are probably part exaggeration, part real results of his confidence and skill in the use of the means he wielded.

King Louis XVI

By the mid 1780s, Mesmer’s dramatic practices had drawn the amazement and scrutiny of the citizens of Paris, including the King Louis XVI himself, who commissioned a panel of renowned scientists to examine Animal Magnetism as fact or fiction, once and for all.

Question: Where was Franz Mesmer living when he first developed his theory of Animal Magnetism?

  • Paris
  • Berlin
  • Vienna
  • Geneva

1784 – The Fall of Animal Magnetism