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Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer Hyplnosis

Elvis Elvis

Animal Magnetism

An Austrian physician, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, began his remarkable practice of what he called “animal magnetism” in 1776. This was the beginning of what we call the scientific study of hypnotism. This treatment was based on the work of Father Maximillian Hell, who experimented with steel magnetic plates, and the Swiss physician Paracelsus who also made use of magnets for “drawing diseases out of the body”.

Mesmer also included within his practice a belief that the stellar system influenced a mysterious fluid within our bodies. When the fluid was out of balance, illness occurred. The balance could be regained by the use of magnets.

I must also record that the doctor was a bit of a showman and the treatments that he presented had the flair of a carnival sideshow. His patients were placed around large wooden tubs which contained iron rods and bottles filled with magnetized iron filings. Magnets with alleged healing properties were hung overhead. The lights were dimmed, exotic incense was burned and soft music played in the background as the doctor made his grand entrance wearing a flowing, lilac, silk robe and carrying an iron wand. He would sometimes stop before a patient, give them a piercing stare and an occasional touch with his wand.

Mesmer soon became the most popular doctor in Vienna! Not only was he curing people, he was the best entertainment they had ever seen! People came in droves. It was not unusual to have 200 people waiting for a treatment.

What Mesmer did not understand was that the magnets and iron filings were not the necessary part of the healing process. They would soon be eliminated from the process and the success rate would be the same. Some practitioners were getting better results without them.

Mesmer in Trouble

As popular as Mesmer was with the people, the established medical community was openly hostile to this type of outlandish treatment.

For many years he tried to demonstrate the effectiveness of his new method, but because of his reluctance to teach his methods openly and because of the closed minds of the other doctors, animal magnetism was only embraced by a few loyal followers.

The end of his practice in Vienna came about when he treated a young girl, Maria Teresa Paradis, who had been blind from childhood. The Empress of Vienna had given Maria an annual allowance to pursue a music career as she seemed to have a real talent for piano.

Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer Hyplnosis

Under the treatment of Doctor Mesmer, Maria started to regain her eyesight which could have been lost due to the harsh treatment she received at home. However, when her family learned that she was no longer blind (and fearing that the allowance would be cut off!), they forbid her to return for more treatments. The blindness recurred and people accused the doctor of fraud.

At this point he took a three month leave in the country to try to figure out exactly what this new method of healing was that he had stumbled upon. He took the time to also contemplate whether to continue with it or simply go back to regular medical practice.

In the end he decided to continue using Mesmerism, as it was being called, and pursue this healing method which he envisioned as a way to enhance the well being of all. He left Austria to pursue his career in Paris.

Move to Paris

At that time, Paris was considered the intellectual capital of Europe and many new ideas were being introduced to the Parisians. Consequently, his ideas were welcomed by the people and he was able to, not only see patients, he taught his methods to others and set up groups throughout the city devoted to animal magnetism.

However, once again the standard medical community frowned on the practice and six years after Mesmer arrived, a Royal Commission of Inquiry was appointed to study the use and claims of animal magnetism.

The Commission included:

  • Dr. Joseph Ignance Guillotin (yes, the inventor of the humane method of killing named after himself)
  • Antione Lavoisier a noted chemist (who succumbed to the guillotin 10 years later)
  • Jean-Sylvain Bailly, important in the study of Astronomy, also was decapitated by the guillotin
  • Benjamin Franklin who happened to be the American Ambassador in Paris at the time (Fortunatley he returned to America without being guillotined!)

The Commission took the closed stance of devising experiments that proved it’s non-existence. For example, a 12-year old boy was blindfolded and asked to identify a tree that had been magnetized.

Under these circumstances it is no wonder that the official report of the Commission stated: “No evidence could be found for the existence of a magnetic fluid and therefore no therapy could be founded on it…”

The Commission at no time investigated the hundreds of reports of people receiving relief from a variety of illnesses.

Forced Retirement

The doctor was completely disheartened and retired in Switzerland where he bred canaries and died penniless. He had no way of knowing that his name would be remembered for centuries and that he would be called the father of hypnotism.The importance of his work is seen in new developments that sprang from the initial flawed theories that he held to tenaciously to the end of his life.