Mesmer and Magnetism
One of the most interesting but also one of the most misunderstood pioneers of both hypnosis and magnetism was the 18th century German scientist and physician Franz Anton Mesmer. He is probably best known as a pioneer of hypnosis in the treatment of illness. But he didn’t call it hypnosis. He coined the term animal magnetism to describe it, because he believed that it was a special type of magnetism that could only affect sentient beings – i.e. animals, including of course human beings.
But whilst he sought to distinguish animal magnetism from mineral magnetism, he nevertheless linked the two at the physical as well as the linguistic level. For example in 1774 he persuaded a female patient to swallow a mixture that included iron. He then placed magnets over various parts of her body causing her to feel a current of fluid coursing through her body, alleviating her symptoms.
However he abandoned the use of magnets after that, as animal magnetism was highly controversial and although he himself was a secularist, some Christians even regarded it as Satanic. A year after the treatment of the female patient, Mesmer was invited by the Munich Academy of Sciences to offer an opinion on the faith healing of a priest called Johann Joseph Gassner. Mesmer proffered the view that the positive results were due not to faith but to Gassner’s subconscious animal magnetism.
At the time, Mesmer’s view prevailed, Gassner’s career as a faith healer was over and Mesmer went on to treat – or at least attempt to treat other patient. One of his most controversial cases involved his attempts to restore the site of 18-year-old musician Maria Theresia Paradis who had been blind since the age of four. Contemporary reports suggest that he met with some partial success but her parents, initially enthusiastic, changed their minds and tried to halt the treatment. In the meantime, her vision got worse again.
In response to the controversy, Mesmer left Vienna and set up in practice in an affluent part of Paris. The great and the good of Parisian society were divided over whether he was a genuine innovator on the cutting edge of medical science or a fraudster fleeing from a scandalous past. Despite his strenuous efforts, the official scientific and medical bodies of the day stood aloof and refused to sanction his theories. However, he attracted support from some within the medical community.
Mesmer’s theory was, in many ways, similar to ancient Chinese medicine, He believed that the body contained thousands of channels through which the energy of life normally flowed. But when these channels became blocked, illness was the result. From this it followed logically that the cure for disease was to unblock these channels and the best way to do that (if the body failed to heal itself) was to bring the patient into contact with a conductor of animal magnetism, though by that stage he had abandoned the use of magnets as such.
Ironically, we have now come full-circle. Magnetic therapy is widespread and even practiced at the self-help level through the wearing of Magnetic jewelry. One doesn’t even need to leave ones home. It is now possible to simply go online and by a magnetic bracelet or other product from any magnetic products store.