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Chapter VIII - Dangers in Being Hypnotized
Dangers in Being Hypnotized -- Condemnation of Public Performances -- A.
Common Sense View -- Evidence Furnished by Lafontaine -- By Dr.
Courmelles -- By. Dr. Hart -- By Dr. Cocke -- No Danger in Hypnotism if
Rightly Used by Physicians or Scientists.
Having considered the dangers to society through criminal hypnotic
suggestion, let us now consider what dangers there may be to the
individual who is hypnotized.
Before citing evidence, let us consider the subject from a rational
point of view. Several things have already been established. We know
that hypnotism is akin to hysteria and other forms of insanity -- it is, in
short, a kind of experimental insanity. Really good hypnotic subjects
have not a perfect mental balance. We have also seen that repetition of
the process increases the susceptibility, and in some cases persons
frequently hypnotized are thrown into the hypnotic state by very slight
physical agencies, such as looking at a bright doorknob. Furthermore, we
know that the hypnotic patient is in a very sensitive condition, easily
impressed. Moreover, it is well known that exertions required of
hypnotic subjects are nervously very exhausting, so much so that
headache frequently follows.
From these facts any reasonable person may make a few clear deductions.
First, repeated strain of excitement in hypnotic seances will wear out
the constitution just as certainly as repeated strain of excitement in
social life, or the like, which, as we know, frequently produces nervous
exhaustion. Second, it is always dangerous to submit oneself to the
influence of an inferior or untrustworthy person. This is just as true
in hypnotism as it is in the moral realm. Bad companions corrupt. And
since the hypnotic subject is in a condition especially susceptible, a
little association of this kind, a little submission to the inferior or
immoral, will produce correspondingly more detrimental consequences.
Third, since hypnotism is an abnormal condition, just as drunkenness is,
one should not allow a public hypnotizer to experiment upon one and make
one do ridiculous things merely for amusement, any more than one would
allow a really insane person to be exhibited for money; or than one
would allow himself to be made drunk, merely that by his absurd antics
he might amuse somebody. It takes little reflection to convince any one
that hypnotism for amusement, either on the public stage or in the home,
is highly obnoxious, even if it is not highly dangerous. If the
hypnotizer is an honest man, and a man of character, little injury may
follow. But we can never know that, and the risk of getting into bad
hands should prevent every one from submitting to influence at all. The
fact is, however, that we should strongly doubt the good character of
any one who hypnotizes for amusement, regarding him in the same light as
we would one who intoxicated people on the stage for amusement, or gave
them chloroform, or went about with a troup of insane people that he
might exhibit their idiosyncrasies. Honest, right-minded people do not
do those things.
At the same time, there is nothing wiser that a man can do than to
submit himself fully to a stronger and wiser nature than his own. A
physician in whom you have confidence may do a thousand times more for
you by hypnotism than by the use of drugs. It is a safe rule to place
hypnotism in exactly the same category as drugs. Rightly used, drugs are
invaluable; wrongly used, they become the instruments of the murderer.
At all times should they be used with great caution. The same is true of
Now let us cite some evidence. Lafontaine, a professional hypnotist,
gives some interesting facts. He says that public hypnotic
entertainments usually induce a great many of the audience to become
amateur hypnotists, and these experiments may cause suffocation. Fear
often results in congestion, or a rush of blood to the brain. "If the
digestion is not completed, more especially if the repast has been more
abundant than usual, congestion may be produced and death be
instantaneous. The most violent convulsions may result from too complete
magnetization of the brain. A convulsive movement may be so powerful
that the body will suddenly describe a circle, the head touching the
heels and seem to adhere to them. In this latter case there is torpor
without sleep. Sometimes it has been impossible to awake the subject."
A waiter at Nantes, who was magnetized by a commercial traveler,
remained for two days in a state of lethargy, and for three hours Dr.
Foure and numerous spectators were able to verify that "the extremities
were icy cold, the pulse no longer throbbed, the heart had no
pulsations, respiration had ceased, and there was not sufficient breath
to dim a glass held before the mouth. Moreover, the patient was stiff,
his eyes were dull and glassy." Nevertheless, Lafontaine was able to
recall this man to life.
Dr. Courmelles says: "Paralysis of one or more members, or of the
tongue, may follow the awakening. These are the effects of the
contractions of the internal muscles, due often to almost imperceptible
touches. The diaphragm -- and therefore the respiration -- may be stopped in
the same manner. Catalepsy and more especially lethargy, produce these
There are on record a number of cases of idiocy, madness, and epilepsy
caused by the unskillful provoking of hypnotic sleep. One case is
sufficiently interesting, for it is almost exactly similar to a case
that occurred at one of the American colleges. The subject was a young
professor at a boys' school. "One evening he was present at some public
experiments that were being performed in a tavern; he was in no way
upset at the sight, but the next day one of his pupils, looking at him
fixedly, sent him to sleep. The boys soon got into the habit of amusing
themselves by sending him to sleep, and the unhappy professor had to
leave the school, and place himself under the care of a doctor."
Dr. Ernest Hart gives an experience of his own which carries with it its
own warning. Says he:
"Staying at the well known country house in Kent of a distinguished
London banker, formerly member of Parliament for Greenwich, I had been
called upon to set to sleep, and to arrest a continuous barking cough
from which a young lady who was staying in the house was suffering, and
who, consequently, was a torment to herself and her friends. I thought
this a good opportunity for a control experiment, and I sat her down in
front of a lighted candle which I assured her that I had previously
mesmerized. Presently her cough ceased and she fell into a profound
sleep, which lasted until twelve o'clock the next day. When I returned
from shooting, I was informed that she was still asleep and could not be
awoke, and I had great difficulty in awaking her. That night there was a
large dinner party, and, unluckily, I sat opposite to her. Presently she
again became drowsy, and had to be led from the table, alleging, to my
confusion, that I was again mesmerizing her. So susceptible did she
become to my supposed mesmeric influence, which I vainly assured her, as
was the case, that I was very far from exercising or attempting to
exercise, that it was found expedient to take her up to London. I was
out riding in the afternoon that she left, and as we passed the railway
station, my host, who was riding with me, suggested that, as his friends
were just leaving by that train, he would like to alight and take leave
of them. I dismounted with him and went on to the platform, and avoided
any leave-taking; but unfortunately in walking up and down it seems that
I twice passed the window of the young lady's carriage. She was again
self-mesmerized, and fell into a sleep which lasted throughout the
journey, and recurred at intervals for some days afterward."
In commenting on this, Dr. Hart notes that in reality mesmerism is self-
produced, and the will of the operator, even when exercised directly
against it, has no effect if the subject believes that the will is being
operated in favor of it. Says he: "So long as the person operated on
believed that my will was that she should sleep, sleep followed. The
most energetic willing in my internal consciousness that there should be
no sleep, failed to prevent it, where the usual physical methods of
hypnotization, stillness, repose, a fixed gaze, or the verbal expression
of an order to sleep, were employed."
The dangers of hypnotism have been recognized by the law of every
civilized country except the United States, where alone public
performances are permitted.
Dr. Cocke says: "I have occasionally seen subjects who complained of
headache, vertigo, nausea, and other similar symptoms after having been
hypnotized, but these conditions were at a future hypnotic sitting
easily remedied by suggestion." Speaking of the use of hypnotism by
doctors under conditions of reasonable care, Dr. Cocke says further:
"There is one contraindication greater than all the rest. It applies
more to the physician than to the patient, more to the masses than to
any single individual. It is not confined to hypnotism alone; it has
blocked the wheels of human progress through the ages which have gone.
It is undue enthusiasm. It is the danger that certain individuals will
become so enamored with its charms that other equally valuable means of
cure will be ignored. Mental therapeutics has come to stay. It is yet in
its infancy and will grow, but, if it were possible to kill it, it would
be strangled by the fanaticism and prejudice of its devotees. The whole
field is fascinating and alluring. It promises so much that it is in
danger of being missed by the ignorant to such an extent that great harm
may result. This is true, not only of mental therapeutics and hypnotism,
but of every other blessing we possess. Hypnotism has nothing to fear
from the senseless skepticism and contempt of those who have no
knowledge of the subject." He adds pertinently enough: "While hypnotism
can be used in a greater or less degree by every one, it can only be
used intelligently by those who understand, not only hypnotism itself,
but disease as well."
Dr. Cocke is a firm believer that the right use of hypnotism by
intelligent persons does not weaken the will. Says he: "I do not believe
there is any danger whatever in this. I have no evidence (and I have
studied a large number of hypnotized subjects) that hypnotism will
render a subject less capable of exercising his will when he is relieved
from the hypnotic trance. I do not believe that it increases in any way
his susceptibility to ordinary suggestion."
However, in regard to the dangers of public performances by professional
hypnotizers, Dr. Cocke is equally positive. Says he:
"The dangers of public exhibitions, made ludicrous as they are by the
operators, should be condemned by all intelligent men and women, not
from the danger of hypnotism itself so much as from the liability of the
performers to disturb the mental poise of that large mass of ill-
balanced individuals which makes up no inconsiderable part of society."
In conclusion he says: "Patients have been injured by the misuse of
hypnotism. * * * This is true of every remedial agent ever employed for
the relief of man. Every article we eat, if wrongly prepared, if stale,
or if too much is taken, will be harmful. Every act, every duty of our
lives, may, if overdone, become an injury.
"Then, for the sake of clearness, let me state in closing that hypnotism
is dangerous only when it is misused, or when it is applied to that
large class of persons who are inherently unsound; especially if that
mysterious thing we call credulity predominates to a very great extent
over the reason and over other faculties of the mind."
Links to Additional Media for Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism by A. Alpheus such as audio and ebooks are located at the bottom of this web page.