Usually whenever one hears the term mesmerism one turns off, especially those associated with scientific and psychological fields of knowledge. This is because in many if not most of these fields the mesmeric theory has been determined to have no validity. This determination has overshadowed the whole concept of mesmerism with a bad connotation. Since many say modern occultism stated with mesmerism it seems the term should be briefly examined. The mesmerism technique was introduced by the Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815). It was stated to be a healing technique based on the idea of animal magnetism.
Part of Mesmer’s theory was that all animated bodies including man were affected by a magnetic force which also mutually influenced the celestial bodies and earth. His curative technique, which was publicly accepted in Paris in 1778, was said to occur when patients sat around a large vat or ‘baquet’. In the ‘baquet’ was a mixture of various substances. From top of the ‘baquet’ extended rods and each patient held an end of the rods. The treatment session continued until a crisis was reached in which the patient experienced symptoms of violent convulsions, crying, laughter, or other physical symptoms which was then suspended by an extreme lack of energy. However, many claimed to be cured of their afflictions following such treatments.
Whether there were any cures from the Mesmeric technique is still questionable. The French medical and scientific societies commissioned several commissions to investigate the technique. The American Benjamin Franklin sat on one of the commissions. The consensus of the majority of the commissioners was the mesmerism technique had no curative effect.
In describing the technique Mesmer stated the magnetic force was carried by a magnetic fluid. Most commissioners agreed they found no evidence of this, and the claimed cures were probably due to vivid imaginations.
However, there was one dissenter, M. de Jussieu, who claimed to have discovered that the animal heat which radiated from the human body could be directed and intensified by willpower. Later magnetists adopted the idea which marked the discovery of the human participation in animal magnetism. The next step was the discarding of the ‘baquet’ and magnetizing objects such as trees. Soon different states of ‘rapport’ developed between the patients, the operators or therapists, and the objects. Patients begun seeing shafts of lights coming from the operators and trees.
Cures were also noticed when patients were tied to trees. One invalid patient fell asleep in an operator’s arms and began speaking normally which he did not remember when waking up. Now the phenomena began to be called magnetic effluence. Some substances were good conductors while others were not; water and milk certainly were. Soon a type of somnambulism, or transposition of the senses, developed when a female patient walked through a town with her eyes tightly closed claiming to see from the pit of her stomach. This led to the phenomena being labelled “animal electricity” thinking it was electrical in nature. Up to this time all the causes of the phenomena were thought to be physiological. The idea that thought reading and clairvoyance were transcendental faculties was rejected. It was Tardy de Montravel alone who suspicioned a sixth sense.
Soon the phenomena was thought of as supernormal or a trance. Quickly it took on the reality of spiritualism. The existence of somnambulism also was authenticated. With years of further study there came evidence of clairvoyance and hypnotism. The state of ‘rapport’ seemed clearly established.
Obviously most of the commissioners did not find what they were looking for when they declared mesmerism possessed not curative effects. True the existence of a magnetic fluid which Mesmer claimed was never found. But one wonders if other effects of the phenomena were not overlooked.
Now when viewing the previous statement that modern occultism started with mesmerism one wonders if the opposite is not true. Perhaps Mesmer and those following him only discovered what others knew for centuries. For instance a portion of Mesmer’s theory, as previously mentioned, was that all animated bodies including man were affected by a magnetic force which also mutually influenced the celestial bodies and earth. This portion of mesmerism had been emphasized by astrology for centuries since it studies the positions and movements of astronomical or celestial bodies, especially the sun, moon, and planets, and their effect upon the life and events on earth. The origins of astrology are credited to the Chaldeans of Babylonia about 3,000 BC. The study was also known to the ancient Etruscans, Hindus, Chinese, and Egyptians who also believed the celestial bodies, particularly the significance of the sun, determined the seasons and crops as well as the fate of man. Astrology was studied in Greece around the 4th. century BC and gradually its companion study astronomy developed. Presently astrology is still ardently studied among the occultists who strongly believe that the locations and movements of the planets do effect personal temperaments and events.
Ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans had their sun gods, and other gods of nature who they invoked for help and protection. In the light of all of this it is not surprising such a theory was embodied within mesmerism.
The idea of magnetizing a tree was new, but the belief in receiving powers from a tree is not. Previous cultures have honored trees and thought they were beneficial to their people. One such people were the Druids who began as barbaric tribes around the 5th. century BC and were eventually vanished by the Romans in the first and second centuries AD.
The Druids had their own religion and within the priesthood were healers who believed certain trees, plants, and animals had curative powers. They held religious ceremonies in sacred forests and groves which served as temples. The robur oak was sacred to them. They thought it came from sacred forests. The mistletoe was believed to be a sign from heaven. It was used to combat poisons, infertile, and even used to cure sick animals. In Gaelic the term Druid means “knowing the oak tree.” Whenever forests were not available the Druids met by rivers, streams, and lakes. They held water to be very sacred.
Falling to sleep by a tree and being able to speak when the person is physically disabled is nothing new or surprising. It has occurred throughout history, as well as somnambulism. Somnambulism is especially present in Shamanism. In Vodoun it has been noted that many elderly, and disabled persons are able to dance when entering a trance.
It is known mesmerism was declared fraudulent by the commissions judging it. This decision has overshadowed it till the present. No one can conclusively declare the decision wrong. Neither can anyone dispute those claiming cures from it. A vivid imagination is no definitive dispute.
One definition of imagination is the mental ability to create new images or ideas from previous experiences or knowledge. If mesmerism gave the patients this capacity then can it be absolutely declared not to have any curative powers? The person who claimed he was cured can never be disputed. Objectively the cure might not be visible or seemed directly tied to mesmerism, but if the person feels better and functions in a better capacity, who can dispute it. Certainly the cure may have resulted from other causes than mesmerism but this was not shown, nor does it presently matter.
The future techniques such as the further development of the state of ‘rapport’, somnambulism, clairvoyance, spiritualism, and hypnosis which evolved from mesmerism does give it some credibility. And, the mechanisms of these techniques were known to occultists for centuries. It might be safe to say most of the commissioners who judged mesmerism were probably Christians. They seemed to have forgotten that Jesus said to the woman who touched the hem of his robe, “…Thy faith has made thee well.” (Mat. 9:22) A.G.H.