Fascination: Enchantment Through the Ages

Fascination is a generally accepted term meaning to charm, enchant, or bewitch by the use of the eyes. The charm is usually something pleasing to the beholder. The term comes from Latin fascinare meaning to enchant.

The term dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. Examples of it are the wish of Theocritus when he desired an old woman to be him so she could spit and cause his illness to go away (see Spittle); or, the complaint of Menalcas (in Virgil) that some evil eye had fascinated his lambs.

The Romans who were always wishing to enhance the power of the host of heaven and to overcome the misfortune of their ills adopted the god Fascinus to worship. He was a numen (presiding spirit) whose ritual was entrusted to vestal virgins, and his phallic attributes were hung around necks of children and on victorious chariots.

Del Rio, the Jesuit authority on witchcraft in the 16th century, wrote a short on fascination in which he categorized it as such: «Poetica seu Vulgarus» (that resulting from obscure physical causes, which he treated as fabulous), «Philosophica,» which he considered to be contagion, and «Magica» to which he heartily assented.

Fascination is mentioned numerous times throughout history. More recently it has been mentioned in association with animal magnetism and Mesmerism. In Mesmerism fascination seems to be exhibited when the operator gazes into the eyes of the subject to place him in a trance. Although this phenomenon has been observed, it arouses skepticism because a subject can also gaze at a fixed or bright object and go into a trance.

Fascination has also been observed in animals and reptiles. There are cases where snakes fascinate birds. A.G.H.

Source: 9570-572.