Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer and hypnosis

We often describe things as mesmerizing, referencing the hypnotic quality of beauty in our everyday lives. What many don’t realize is the origin of that word, one of the major contributors to what we today call hypnosis. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer, a German physician from the 1700s, theorized the original concept of animal magnetism. His original theory was about a natural energy transference between animated and inanimate objects. In the latter half of the 18th century, his theory took off among peers and followers alike. The following his theory gained continued to carry momentum through to the end of the 1800s.

Mesmer believed that he was able to contribute to the healing of his patients by way of animal magnetism, and he advocated his theory throughout his career. His testimony regarding the concept of animal magnetism was actually the downfall of the career of a priest well known for performing exorcisms. Mesmer was not successful in all of his endeavors, though not always entirely due to any fault of his own. A controversy in Vienna surrounding a blind girl who was removed from Mesmer’s care by her parents led to his decision to leave. He ended up in Paris, where people either believed him to be a genius or a fraud. As in today’s society, where some do not understand nor believe in the process of hypnotism, Mesmer was a polarizing figure.

In one of his most notable contributions to the development of his theory, Mesmer penned a book called “Memoire sur la decouverte du magnetism animal”, appended by twenty-seven propositions that fully outlined his theory of animal magnetism. Scholars have compared Mesmer’s work to that of the Chinese in traditional medicine. Mesmer demonstrated an understanding of health and the flow of energy in the human body, and he theorized that illness was caused by obstacles to the flow of energy. Thus, contact with an appropriate conductor of animal magnetism was the necessary cure to fix said obstacle. Mesmer’s goal was to assist the body’s natural way of healing.

Ultimately, a series of investigations into the concept of animal magnetism ordered by King Louis XVI resulted in Mesmer’s results being declared a product of the imagination. This led to the physician being forced into exile, though his theory remained popular even after his death in 1815. In 1843, James Braid, a Scottish physician, suggested the term hypnosis in connection to a technique that had been derived from animal magnetism and Mesmer’s work. Mesmerism is still one of the most common terms used for hypnosis today, all in homage to Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer, the man who in many ways was a father to modern hypnosis. Given his desire to heal, one can only guess at the great satisfaction he would derive from the increasing development and beneficial outlook on hypnotherapy in the modern world.

Melvin S. Marsh is a certified hypnotherapist in Augusta, Georgia with a love for history. He performs hypnotherapy appointments both in person and worldwide via Skype. He can be reached at http://www.afterhourshypnotherapy.com or afterhourshypnotherapy @ gmail.com .

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