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Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism A. Alpheus

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Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism

by A. Alpheus

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Introduction

There is no doubt that hypnotism is a very old subject, though the name was not invented till 1850. In it was wrapped up the "mysteries of Isis" in Egypt thousands of years ago, and probably it was one of the weapons, if not the chief instrument of operation, of the magi mentioned in the Bible and of the "wise men" of Babylon and Egypt. "Laying on of hands" must have been a form of mesmerism, and Greek oracles of Delphi and other places seem to have been delivered by priests or priestesses who went into trances of self-induced hypnotism. It is suspected that the fakirs of India who make trees grow from dry twigs in a few minutes, or transform a rod into a serpent (as Aaron did in Bible history), operate by some form of hypnotism. The people of the East are much more subject to influences of this kind than Western peoples are, and there can be no question that the religious orgies of heathendom were merely a form of that hysteria which is so closely related to the modern phenomenon of hypnotism. Though various scientific men spoke 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 (a doctor of Vienna) appeared in 1775 that the general public gave any special attention to the subject. In the year mentioned, Mesmer sent out a circular letter to various scientific societies or "Academies" as they are called in Europe, 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 1778 Mesmer was obliged for some unknown reason to leave Vienna, and went to Paris, where he was fortunate in converting to his ideas d'Eslon, the Comte d'Artois's physician, and one of the medical professors at the Faculty of Medicine. His success was very great; everybody was anxious to be magnetized, and the lucky Viennese doctor was soon obliged to call in assistants. 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 entire success in the practice of this strange art.

In 1779 Mesmer published a pamphlet entitled "Memoire sur la decouverte du magnetisme animal", of which Doctor Cocke gives the following summary (his 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."

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, it 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. In 1784 the government appointed two commissions to investigate the claims that had been made. On one of these commissions was Benjamin Franklin, then American Ambassador to France as well as the great French scientist Lavoisier. The other was drawn from the Royal Academy of Medicine, and included Laurent de Jussieu, the only man who declared in favor of Mesmer.

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. "It is interesting," says a French writer, "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." Says another French writer (Courmelles): "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!"

Daurent Jussieu 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.

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. Says Vincent: "It seems ever the habit of the shallow scientist to plume himself on the more accurate theories which have been provided f, 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." If it had not been for Mesmer and his "Animal Magnetism", we would never have had "hypnotism" and all our learned societies for the study of it.

Mesmer, though his pretensions were discredited, was quickly followed by Puysegur, who drew all the world to Buzancy, near Soissons, France. "Doctor Cloquet related that he saw there, patients no longer the victims of hysterical fits, but enjoying a calm, peaceful, restorative slumber. It may be said that from this moment really efficacious and useful magnetism became known." Every one rushed once more to be magnetized, and Puysegur had so many patients that to care for them all he was obliged to magnetize a tree (as he said), which was touched by hundreds who came to be cured, and was long known as "Puysegur's tree". As a result of Puysegur's success, a number of societies were formed in France for the study of the new phenomena.

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.

In 1814 Deleuze published a book on the subject, and Abbe Faria, who had come from India, demonstrated that there was no fluid, but that the phenomena were subjective, or within the mind of the patient. He first introduced what is now called the "method of suggestion" in producing magnetism or hypnotism. In 1815 Mesmer died.

Experimentation continued, and in the 20's Foissac persuaded the Academy of Medicine to appoint a commission to investigate the subject. After five years they presented a report. This report gave a good statement of the practical operation of magnetism, mentioning the phenomena of somnambulism, anesthesia, loss of memory, and the various other symptoms of the hypnotic state as we know it. It was thought that magnetism had a right to be considered as a therapeutic agent, and that it might be used by physicians, though others should not be allowed to practice it. In 1837 another commission made a decidedly unfavorable report.

Soon after this Burdin, a member of the Academy, offered a prize of 3,000 francs to any one who would read the number of a bank-note or the like with his eyes bandaged (under certain fixed conditions), but it was never awarded, though many claimed it, and there has been considerable evidence that persons in the hypnotic state have (sometimes) remarkable clairvoyant powers.

Soon after this, magnetism fell into very low repute throughout France and Germany, and scientific men became loath to have their names connected with the study of it in any way. The study had not yet been seriously taken up in England, and two physicians who gave some attention to it suffered decidedly in professional reputation.

It is to an English physician, however, that we owe the scientific character of modern hypnotism. Indeed he invented the name of hypnotism, formed from the Greek word meaning 'sleep', and designating 'artificially produced sleep'. His name is James Braid, and so important were the results of his study that hypnotism has sometimes been called "Braidism". Doctor Courmelles gives the following interesting summary of Braid's experiences:

"November, 1841, he witnessed a public experiment made by Monsieur Lafontaine, a Swiss magnetizer. He thought the whole thing a comedy; a week after, he attended a second exhibition, saw that the patient could not open his eyes, and concluded that this was ascribable to some physical cause. The fixity of gaze must, according to him, exhaust the nerve centers of the eyes and their surroundings. He made a friend look steadily at the neck of a bottle, and his own wife look at an ornamentation on the top of a china sugar bowl: sleep was the consequence. Here hypnotism had its origin, and the fact was established that sleep could be induced by physical agents. This, it must be remembered, is the essential difference between these two classes of phenomena (magnetism and hypnotism): for magnetism supposes a direct action of the magnetizer on the magnetized subject, an action which does not exist in hypnotism."

It may be stated that most English and American operators fail to see any distinction between magnetism and hypnotism, and suppose that the effect of passes, etc., as used by Mesmer, is in its way as much physical as the method of producing hypnotism by concentrating the gaze of the subject on a bright object, or the like.

Braid had discovered a new science -- as far as the theoretical view of it was concerned -- for he showed that hypnotism is largely, if not purely, mechanical and physical. He noted that during one phase of hypnotism, known as catalepsy, the arms, limbs, etc., might be placed in any position and would remain there; he also noted that a puff of breath would usually awaken a subject, and that by talking to a subject and telling him to do this or do that, even after he awakes from the sleep, he can be made to do those things. Braid thought he might affect a certain part of the brain during hypnotic sleep, and if he could find the seat of the thieving disposition, or the like, he could cure the patient of desire to commit crime, simply by suggestion, or command.

Braid's conclusions were, in brief, that there was no fluid, or other exterior agent, but that hypnotism was due to a physiological condition of the nerves. It was his belief that hypnotic sleep was brought about by fatigue of the eyelids, or by other influences wholly within the subject. In this he was supported by Carpenter, the great physiologist; but neither Braid nor Carpenter could get the medical organizations to give the matter any attention, even to investigate it. In 1848 an American named Grimes succeeded in obtaining all the phenomena of hypnotism, and created a school of writers who made use of the word "electro-biology."

In 1850 Braid's ideas were introduced into France, and Dr. Azam, of Bordeaux, published an account of them in the "Archives de Medicine." From this time on the subject was widely studied by scientific men in France and Germany, and it was more slowly taken up in England. It may be stated here that the French and other Latin races are much more easily hypnotized than the northern races, Americans perhaps being least subject to the hypnotic influence, and next to them the English. On the other hand, the Orientals are influenced to a degree we can hardly comprehend. New Thought Magazine features the best of.

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