Hypnosis/Chapters/History/Franz Anton Mesmer

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Franz Anton Mesmer[edit]

Franz Anton Mesmer.

Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815), was a German physician with an interest in Astronomy.

Student of Maximilian Hell

Maximilian Hell (May 15, 1720 – April 14, 1792) was a Hungarian astronomer and an ordained Jesuit priest from the Kingdom of Hungary. Hell became the director of the Vienna Observatory in 1756. He published the astronomical tables Ephemerides astronomicae ad meridianum Vindobonemsem ("Ephemerides for the Meridian of Vienna").

Besides astronomy, Hell also had an interest in magnet therapy (the alleged healing power of magnets), this idea was not revolutionary. Paracelsus (1493-1541), a Swiss, was the first physician to use magnets in his work. Many people claimed to have been healed after he had passed magnets (lodestones) over their bodies. There was also an Irishman by the name of Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666) that was known as "the Great Irish Stroker" for his ability to heal people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies. It is known that in 1771, in Vienna Hell was using magnets to heal by applying steel plates to the naked body. It is also not unexpected due to the mutual interest in Astronomy that a young medical doctor from Vienna Franz Anton Mesmer to became one of Father Hell's students, although it was Mesmer who went further with this concept and received most of the credit by theorizing that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects that he called magnétisme animal

Humorist design.

Animal magnetism was a term coined in the Western world, today, refers to a person's sexual attractiveness or raw charisma. But the term originally uniquely signified an entirely different referent: a supposed magnetic fluid or ethereal medium that resided in the bodies of animate beings (i.e., those who breathe). The use of the (conventional) English term "animal magnetism" to translate Mesmer's magnétisme animal is extremely misleading for three reasons:

  • Mesmer chose his term to distinguish his variant of "magnetic" force from those referred to, at that time, as "mineral magnetism", "cosmic magnetism" and "planetary magnetism".
  • Mesmer felt that this particular force/power resided only in the bodies of humans and animals.
  • Mesmer chose the word "animal", for its root meaning (from Latin animus = "soul") specifically to identify his force/power as a quality that belonged in all animate beings (humans and animals.), and other spiritual forces often grouped together as mesmerism.

Though various scientific men had spoken of magnetism, and understood that there was a power of a peculiar kind which one man could exercise over another, it was not until Frederick Anton Mesmer that the general public gave any special attention to the subject. Mesmer's name is the root of the English verb "mesmerize". Animal magnetism is therefore the first western theory regarding the hypnotic processes. In the east as we have seen hypnosis was distributed across several practices, but all thought to be a purely mental phenomena often practiced as part of some more complex ritualistic process of self analysis or improvement and mostly sharing religious meaning.

Mesmerism[edit]

In 1774, Mesmer produced what he defined as an "artificial tide" in a patient by having her swallow a preparation containing iron, and then attaching magnets to various parts of her body. She reported feeling streams of a mysterious fluid running through her body and was relieved of her symptoms for several hours. Mesmer did not believe that the magnets had achieved the cure on their own. He felt that he had contributed animal magnetism, which had accumulated in his work, to her. He soon stopped using magnets as a part of his treatment.

In 1775, Mesmer was invited to give his opinion before the Munich Academy of Sciences on the exorcisms carried out by Johann Joseph Gassner, a priest and healer, and also a Swabian. Mesmer said that while Gassner was sincere in his beliefs, his cures were due to the fact that he possessed a high degree of animal magnetism. This confrontation between Mesmer's secular ideas and Gassner's religious beliefs marked the end of Gassner's career as well as, according to Henri Ellenberger, the emergence of dynamic psychiatry. In that same year, Mesmer sent out a circular letter to various scientific societies, stating his belief that "animal magnetism" existed, and that through it one man could influence another. No attention was given his letter, except by the Academy of Berlin, which sent him an unfavorable reply.

In 1777, the scandal that followed Mesmer's unsuccessful attempt to treat the blindness of an 18-year-old musician, Maria Theresia Paradis, led him to leave Vienna. The following year Mesmer moved to Paris, rented an apartment in a part of the city preferred by the wealthy and powerful, and established a medical practice. Paris soon divided into those who thought he was a charlatan who had been forced to flee from Vienna and those who thought he had made a great discovery.

In his first years in Paris, Mesmer tried and failed to get either the Royal Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society of Medicine to provide official approval for his doctrines. He found only one physician of high professional and social standing, Charles d'Eslon, the Comte d'Artois's physician, and one of the medical professors at the Faculty of Medicine to become a disciple. His success was very great; everybody was anxious to be magnetized, and the lucky Viennese doctor was soon obliged to call in assistants.

In 1779, with d'Eslon's encouragement, Mesmer wrote an 88-page book Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal, to which he appended his famous 27 Propositions. These propositions outlined his theory at that time.

Doctor Cocke, an English physician, gives the following summary of the book, where Mesmer's chief claim was that he had discovered a principle which would cure every disease:

"He sets forth his conclusions in twenty-seven propositions, of which the substance is as follows:

-- There is a reciprocal action and reaction between the planets, the earth and animate nature by means of a constant universal fluid, subject to mechanical laws yet unknown. The animal body is directly affected by the insinuation of this agent into the substance of the nerves. It causes in human bodies properties analogous to those of the magnet, for which reason it is called 'Animal Magnetism'. This magnetism may be communicated to other bodies, may be increased and

reflected by mirrors, communicated, propagated, and accumulated, by sound. It may be accumulated, concentrated, and transported. The same rules apply to the opposite virtue. The magnet is susceptible of magnetism and the opposite virtue. The magnet and artificial electricity have, with respect to disease, properties common to a host of other agents presented to us by nature, and if the use of these has been attended by useful results, they are due to animal magnetism. By the aid of magnetism, then, the physician enlightened as to the use of medicine may render its action more perfect, and can provoke and direct salutary crises so as to have them completely under his control."

According to d'Eslon, Mesmer understood health as the free flow of the process of life through thousands of channels in our bodies. Illness was caused by obstacles to this flow. Overcoming these obstacles and restoring flow produced crises, which restored health. When nature failed to do this spontaneously, contact with a conductor of animal magnetism was a necessary and sufficient remedy. Mesmer aimed to aid or provoke the efforts of Nature. To cure an insane person, for example, involved causing a fit of madness. The advantage of magnetism involved accelerating such crises without danger.

Mesmer's Procedure

Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient's knees, pressing the patient's thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient's eyes. Mesmer made "passes", moving his hands from patients' shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient's hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass harmonica.

By 1780 Mesmer had more patients than he could treat individually and he established a collective treatment known as the "baquet". Deleuze, the librarian at the Jardin des Plantes, who has been called the Hippocrates of magnetism, has left the following account of Mesmer's experiments:

"In the middle of a large room stood an oak tub, four or five feet in diameter and one foot deep. It was closed by a lid made in two pieces, and encased in another tub or bucket. At the bottom of the tub a number of bottles were laid in convergent rows, so that the neck of each bottle turned towards the centre. Other bottles filled with magnetized water tightly corked up were laid in divergent rows with their necks turned outwards. Several rows were thus piled up, and the apparatus was then pronounced to be at 'high pressure'. The tub was filled with water, to which were sometimes added powdered glass and iron filings. There were also some dry tubs, that is, prepared in the same manner, but without any additional water. The lid was perforated to admit of the passage of movable bent rods, which could be applied to the different parts of the patient's body. A long rope was also fastened to a ring in the lid, and

this the patients placed loosely round their limbs. No disease offensive to the sight was treated, such as sores, or deformities.

A large number of patients were commonly treated at one time. They drew near to each other, touching hands, arms, knees, or feet. The handsomest, youngest, and most robust magnetizers held also an iron rod with which they touched the dilatory or stubborn patients. The rods and ropes had all undergone a 'preparation' and in a very short space of time the patients felt the magnetic influence. The women, being the most easily affected, were almost at once seized with fits of yawning and stretching; their eyes closed, their legs gave way and they seemed to suffocate. In vain did musical glasses and harmonicas resound, the piano and voices re-echo; these supposed aids only seemed to increase the patients' convulsive movements. Sardonic laughter, piteous moans and torrents of tears burst forth on all sides. The bodies were thrown back in spasmodic jerks, the respirations sounded like death rattles, the most terrifying symptoms were exhibited. Then suddenly the actors of this strange scene would frantically or rapturously rush towards each other, either rejoicing and embracing or thrusting away their neighbors with every appearance of horror.

Another room was padded and presented another spectacle. There women beat their heads against wadded walls or rolled on the cushion-covered floor, in fits of suffocation. In the midst of this panting, quivering throng, Mesmer, dressed in a lilac coat, moved about, extending a magic wand toward the least suffering, halting in front of the most violently excited and gazing steadily into their eyes, while he held both their hands in his, bringing the middle fingers in immediate contact to establish communication. At another moment he would, by a motion of open hands and extended fingers, operate with the great current, crossing and uncrossing his arms with wonderful rapidity to make the final passes."

Hysterical women and nervous young boys, many of them from the highest ranks of Society, flocked around this wonderful wizard, and incidentally he made a great deal of money. There is little doubt that he started out as a genuine and sincere student of the scientific character of the new power he had indeed discovered; there is also no doubt that he ultimately became little more than a charlatan. There was, of course, no virtue in his "prepared" rods, nor in his magnetic tubs. At the same time the belief of the people that there was virtue in them was one of the chief means by which he was able to induce hypnotism, as we shall see later. Faith, imagination, and willingness to be hypnotized on the part of the subject are all indispensable to the success of hypnosis.

The Faculty of Medicine investigated Mesmer's claims, but reported unfavorably, and threatened d'Eslon with expulsion from the society unless he gave Mesmer up. Nevertheless the government favored the discoverer, and when the medical fraternity attacked him with such vigor that he felt obliged to leave Paris, the government offered him a pension of 20,000 francs if he would remain. He went away, but later came back at the request of his pupils.

Royal Investigation

In 1784, without Mesmer requesting it, King Louis XVI appointed four members of the Faculty of Medicine, as commissioners to investigate animal magnetism as practiced by d'Eslon. At the request of these commissioners the King appointed five new commissioners from the Royal Academy of Sciences. These included the great French scientist and chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly, and the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. Creating two distinct commissions, one from the Faculty of Medicine the other from the Royal Academy of Sciences, but in practice the working as a single entity.

There is no doubt that Mesmer had returned to Paris for the purpose of making money, and these commissions were promoted in part by persons desirous of driving him out. The commission conducted a series of experiments aimed, not at determining whether Mesmer's treatment worked, but whether he had discovered a new physical fluid. The commission concluded that there was no evidence for such a fluid. Whatever benefit the treatment produced was attributed to "imagination".

"It is interesting, to peruse the reports of these commissions: they read like a debate on some obscure subject of which the future has partly revealed the secret." — contemporanean French writer.

Laurent de Jussieu, one of the appointed commissioners from the Faculty of Medicine, was the only one who believed in anything more than this. He saw a new and important truth, which he set forth in a personal report upon withdrawing from the commission, which showed itself so hostile to Mesmer and his pretensions.

"They sought the fluid, not by the study of the cures affected, which was considered too complicated a task, but in the phases of mesmeric sleep. These were considered indispensable and easily regulated by the experimentalist.

When submitted to close investigation, it was, however, found that they could only be induced when the subjects knew they were being magnetized, and that they differed according as they were conducted in public or in private. In short--whether it be a coincidence or the truth--imagination was considered the sole active agent. Whereupon d'Eslon remarked, 'If imagination is the best cure, why should we not use the imagination as a curative means?' Did he, who had so vaunted the existence of the fluid, mean by this to deny its existence, or was it rather a satirical way of saying. 'You choose to call it imagination; be it so. But after all, as it cures, let us make the most of it'?

The two commissions came to the conclusion that the phenomena were due to imitation, and contact, that they were dangerous and must be prohibited. Strange to relate, seventy years later, Arago pronounced the same verdict!" — another contemporanean French writer (Courmelles).

As said, the investigation of the commission was not conducted on Mesmer himself, but on his work according to d'Eslon. Many affirmed that d'Eslon did not know completely the true system of Mesmer. Many declared that what ascertained by the Royal Commission was not the true work of Mesmer. (See Nouvelle Découverte sur le magnètisme animal ou lettre adressé à un Ami de Province par un partisan zélé de la véritéPDF, available on the site of National French Library). In this small booklet pag. 33-34 the author says explicitly that Deslon (on which the academic Commission investigated) did not know the real system of Mesmer, "the true theory of the magnetic system has been revealed to very few students, and we defy Deslon to accomplish what we do".

Abbe Faria an Indo-Portuguese monk in Paris contemporary of Mesmer emphasized that “nothing comes from the magnetizer; everything comes from the subject and takes place in his imagination i.e., autosuggestion generated from within the mind”.

Outcome and lasting influence

In 1785 Mesmer left Paris. In 1790 he was in Vienna again to settle the estate of his deceased wife Maria Anna. When he sold his house in Vienna in 1801 he was in Paris. Mesmer was driven into exile soon after the investigations on animal magnetism.

In the meantime, the subject had attracted considerable interest in Germany, and in 1812 Wolfart was sent to Mesmer at Frauenfeld by the Prussian government to investigate Mesmerism. He became an enthusiast, and introduced its practice into the hospital at Berlin.

Mesmer's exact activities during the last twenty years of his life are largely unknown. He died in 1815.

Mesmer's grave.

Time and scientific progress have largely overthrown Mesmer's theories of the fluid; yet Mesmer had made a discovery that was in the course of a hundred years to develop into an important scientific study. Mesmer’s technique, known as mesmerism, is regarded as an early forerunner of modern hypnosis. Reportedly Mesmer's technique could induce a hypnotic state without any vocalization, only with a stare or gestures. If it had not been for Mesmer and his "Animal Magnetism", we probably would never have had "hypnotism" and all our learned societies for the study of it.

"It seems ever the habit of the shallow scientist to plume himself on the more accurate theories which have been provided for, by the progress of knowledge and of science, and then, having been fed with a limited historical pabulum, to turn and talk lightly, and with an air of the most superior condescension, of the weakness and follies of those but for whose patient labors our modern theories would probably be non-existent." — Vincent.

Mesmerism shares with practices such as reiki and qi gong a concept of life force or energy. However, the practical and theoretical positions of such practices are on whole substantially different from those of mesmerism.

During the Romantic period, Mesmerism produced enthusiasm and inspired horror in the spiritual and religious context. Though discredited as a credible medical practice by many, mesmerism nonetheless created a venue for spiritual healing. Some animal magnetists advertised their practices by stressing the “spiritual rather than physical benefits to be gained from animal magnetism” and were able to gather a good clientèle from among the spiritually inspired population.