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Animal magnetism

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Animal magnetism

Animal magnetism, also known as mesmerism, was the name given by the German doctor Franz Mesmer in the 18th century to what he believed to be an invisible natural force exerted by animals. He believed that the force could have physical effects, including healing. He tried persistently but without success to achieve scientific recognition of his theories.[1]

The theory attracted numerous followers in Europe and the United States and was popular into the 19th century. Practitioners were often known as magnetizers. For about 75 years from its beginnings in 1779 it was an important speciality in medicine, and continued to have some influence for about another 50 years. Hundreds of books were written on the subject between 1766 and 1925. Today it is almost entirely forgotten.[2]

Mesmerism is still practised as a form of alternative medicine in some countries. Magnetic practices are not recognized as part of medical science.

Etymology and definitions


The terms "magnetizer" and "mesmerizer" have been applied to people who study and practice animal magnetism.[3] These terms have been distinguished from "mesmerist" and "magnetist",which are regarded as denoting those who study animal magnetism without being practitioners;[4] and from "hypnotist", someone who practises hypnosis.
[...] the magnetiser and the hypnotist is: the first uses animal magnetism and the second hypnosis .[4]

The etymology of the word magnetizer comes from the French magnetiseur ("practicing the methods of mesmerism"),[3] which in turn is derived from the French verb magnetiser.[5] The term refers to an individual who has the power to manipulate the "magnetic fluid"[6] with effects upon other people present that were regarded as analogous to magnetic effects.[7] This sense of the term is found, for example, in the expression of Antoine-Joseph Gorsas: "The magnetizer is the imam of vital energy".[8]


A tendency emerged amongst British magnetizers to call their clinical techniques mesmerism; they wanted to distance themselves from the theoretical orientation of animal magnetism that was based on the concept of "magnetic fluid". At the time, some magnetizers attempted to channel what they thought was a magnetic "fluid", and sometimes they attempted this with the "laying on of hands". Reported effects included various feelings: intense heat, trembling, trances, and seizures.[9]

Many practitioners took a scientific approach, such as Joseph Philippe François Deleuze (1753–1835), a French physician, anatomist, gynecologist, and physicist. One of his pupils was Théodore Léger (1799–1853), who wrote that the label "mesmerism" was "most improper".[10] (Léger moved to Texas around 1836.)

Noting that, by 1846, the term "Galvanism" had been replaced by "electricity", Léger wrote that year:

Royal Commission

In 1784 a French Royal Commission appointed by Louis XVI studied Mesmer's magnetic fluid theory to try to establish it by scientific evidence. The Commission included Majault, Benjamin Franklin, Jean Sylvain Bailly, J. B. Le Roy, Sallin, Jean Darcet, de Borey, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, Antoine Lavoisier, Poissonnier, Caille, Mauduyt de la Varenne, Andry, and de Jussieu.

Whilst the Commission agreed that the cures claimed by Mesmer were indeed cures, it also concluded there was no evidence of the existence of his magnetic fluid, and that its effects derived from either the imaginations of its subjects or charlatanry.

Mesmerism and hypnosis

Baquet. Interior view: Drawing room scene with many people sitting and standing around a large table; a man on a crutch has an iron band wrapped around his ankle; others in the group are holding bands similarly; to the left, a man has hypnotized a woman. (1780)
Advertisement poster of 1857:
Instant sleep. Miscalenous effects of paralysis, partial and complete catalepsy, partial or complete attraction. Phreno-magnetic effects (...) Musical extasis (...) Insensitivity to physical pain and instant awakening (...) transfusion of magnetic power to others

Abbé Faria was one of the disciples of Franz Anton Mesmer who continued with Mesmer's work following the conclusions of the Royal Commission. In the early 19th century, Abbé Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris. Faria conducted experiments to prove that "no special force was necessary for the production of the mesmeric phenomena such as the trance, but that the determining cause lay within the subject himself"—in other words, that it worked purely by the power of suggestion.[11]

Hypnosis originates from the practice of mesmerism, being an attempt at what the surgeon James Braid described as "rational mesmerism". Braid based his methods of hypnotism directly on the practice of mesmerism, but produced a more rational explanation for how the process worked.[12] The term "hypnotism" was coined and introduced by Braid.[11]

The vital fluid and animal magnetism

A 1791 London publication explains Mesmer's theory of the vital fluid :

"Modern philosophy has admitted a plenum or universal principle of fluid matter, which occupies all space; and that as all bodies moving in the world, abound with pores, this fluid matter introduces itself through the interstices and returns backwards and forwards, flowing through one body by the currents which issue therefrom to another, as in a magnet, which produces that phenomenon which we call Animal Magnetism. This fluid consists of fire, air and spirit, and like all other fluids tends to an equilibrium, therefore it is easy to conceive how the efforts which the bodies make towards each other produce animal electricity, which in fact is no more than the effect produced between two bodies, one of which has more motion than the other; a phenomenon serving to prove that the body which has most motion communicates it to the other, until the medium of motion becomes an equilibrium between the two bodies, and then this equality of motion produces animal electricity."[13]

According to an anonymous writer of a series of letters published by the editor John Pearson in 1790, animal magnetism can cause a wide range of effects ranging from vomiting to what is termed the "crisis." The purpose of the treatment (inducing the "crisis") was to shock the body into convulsion in order to remove obstructions in the humoral system that were causing sicknesses.[14] Furthermore, this anonymous supporter of the animal magnetism theory purported that the "crisis" created two effects: first, a hypnotic state in which the patient would be "possessed of his senses, yet cease to be an accountable creature", and second, so-called "unobstructed vision" which would allow the hypnotized subject to see through objects.[15] A patient under crisis was believed to be able to see through the body and find the cause of illness, either in themselves or in other patients.

The Marquis of Puységur's miraculous healing of a young man named Victor in 1784 was attributed to, and used as evidence in support of, this "crisis" treatment. The Marquis was allegedly able to hypnotize Victor and, while hypnotized, Victor was said to have been able to speak articulately and diagnose his own sickness.

Jacob Melo discusses in his books some mechanisms by which the perceived effects of animal magnetism have been claimed to operate.[16]

Social skepticism in the Romantic Era

The study of animal magnetism spurred the creation of the Societies of Harmony in France, where members paid to join and learn the practice of magnetism. Dr John Bell was a member of the Philosophical Harmonic Society of Paris and was certified by the society to lecture and teach on animal magnetism in England.[17] The existence of the societies transformed animal magnetism into a secretive art. Practitioners and lecturers did not reveal the techniques of the practice based on the society members having paid for instruction, and the idea that it was unfair to reveal the practice to others for free.[18] Although the heightened secrecy of the practice contributed to the skepticism about it, many supporters and practitioners of animal magnetism touted the ease and possibility for everyone to acquire the skills to perform its techniques.[19]

The popularization of animal magnetism was denounced and ridiculed by newspaper journals and theatre during the Romantic Era. Many deemed animal magnetism to be nothing more than a theatrical falsity or quackery. In a 1790 publication, an editor presented a series of letters written by an avid supporter of animal magnetism and included his own thoughts in an appendix stating: "No fanatics ever divulged notions more wild and extravagant; no impudent empiric ever retailed promises more preposterous, or histories of cures more devoid of reality, than the tribe of Magnetisers." [20]

The novelist and playwright Elizabeth Inchbald wrote the farce Animal Magnetism in the late 1780s. The plot revolved around multiple love triangles and the absurdity of animal magnetism. The following passage mocks the medical prowess of those qualified only as Mesmerists:

Doctor: They have refused to grant me a diploma—forbid me to practice as a physician, and all because I don't know a parcel of insignificant words; but exercise my profession according to the rules of reason and nature; Is it not natural to die, then if a dozen or two of my patients have died under my hands, is not that natural? …[21]

Although the Doctor's obsession with the use of animal magnetism, not merely to cure but to force his ward to fall in love with him, made for a humorous storyline, Inchbald’s light-hearted play commented on what society perceived as threats posed by the practice.

Dr De Mainanduc brought animal magnetism to England in 1787 and promulgated it into the social arena. In 1785, he had published proposals to the ladies of Britain to establish a "Hygean Society" or Society of Health, by which they would pay to join and enjoy his treatments.[22] As both popularity and skepticism increased, many became convinced that animal magnetism could lead to sexual exploitation of women. Not only did the practice involve close personal contact via the waving of hands over the body, but people were concerned that the animal magnetists could hypnotize women and direct them at will.

Political influence

The French revolution catalyzed existing internal political friction in Britain in the 1790s; a few political radicals used animal magnetism as more than just a moral threat but also a political threat. Among many lectures warning society against government oppression, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:

William Pitt, the great political Animal Magnetist, ... has most foully worked on the diseased fancy of Englishmen ... thrown the nation into a feverish slumber, and is now bringing it to a crisis which may convulse mortality![23]
Major politicians and people in power were accused by radicals of practising animal magnetism on the general population.

In his article "Under the Influence: Mesmerism in England", Roy Porter notes that James Tilly Matthews suggested that the French were infiltrating England via animal magnetism. Matthews believed that "magnetic spies" would invade England and bring it under subjection by transmitting waves of animal magnetism to subdue the government and people.[24] Such an invasion from foreign influences was perceived as a radical threat.

Mesmerism and spiritual healing practices

Today scholars believe mesmerism to share a concept of life force or energy with such Asian practices as reiki and qigong. However, the practical and theoretical positions of such practices are on whole substantially different from those of mesmerism.

During the Romantic period, mesmerism produced enthusiasm and inspired horror in the spiritual and religious context. Though discredited as a credible medical practice by many, mesmerism created a venue for spiritual healing. Some animal magnetists advertised their practices by stressing the "spiritual rather than physical benefits to be gained from animal magnetism" and were able to gather a good clientele from among the spiritually inspired population.[25]

Many researchers, among them Catholics,[26] Protestants,[27][28] spiritists,[29][30] and other writers,[31] claim that Jesus was the greatest of all magnetizers, and that the source of his miracles was animal magnetism.

Contemporary development

Sporadic research into animal magnetism was conducted in the 20th century, and the results published; for example, B. Grad wrote three papers related to the subject between 1961 and 1976.[32]

Known magnetizers

In the Classical era of animal magnetism, the late 17th century to the mid-19th century, there were professional magnetizers,[33] whose techniques were described by authors of the time as particularly effective. Their method was to spend prolonged periods "magnetizing" their customers directly or through "mesmeric magnets". It was observed that in some conditions, certain mesmerizers were more likely to achieve the result than others, regardless of their degree of knowledge.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Wolfart, Karl Christian; Friedrich Anton Mesmer. Mesmerismus: Oder, System der Wechselwirkungen, Theorie und Anwendung des thierischen Magnetismus als die allgemeine Heilkunde zur Erhaltung des Menschen (in German, facsimile of the 1811 edition). Cambridge University Press, 2011. ISBN 9781108072694. Foreword.
  2. ^ Adam Crabtree Animal Magnetism, Early Hypnotism, and Psychical Research, 1766–1925 – An Annotated Bibliography ISBN 0-527-20006-9
  3. ^ a b Dictionnaire Notre Famille, (1987), Magnetiseur, Accessed 19 August 2015
  4. ^ a b c Hector Durville, Theory and Animal Magnetism procedures, Rio de Jan ed. Léon Denis, 2012 ISBN 978-85-7297-510-0.
  5. ^ Thouvenel, Pierre, Mémoire et medical physique. Paris Ed. Didot Chez le jeune, Quai des Auguftins. (1781) p. 300
  6. ^ Baron du Potet, Student Handbook Magnetizer , ed. Life – 3rd Edition, 2013
  7. ^ Franz Anton Mesmer, Memoire sur la découverte du animals magnétisme , 1779, Édition numérique disponible sur Wikisource. Il ya aussi une édition papier chez Allia, 2006 ISBN 2844852262
  8. ^ Gorsas, Antoine-Joseph, L'Ane promeneur, 1784, p. 41 and p. 342
  9. ^ Connor C. (2005). A People's History of Science, Nation Books, pp. 404–5
  10. ^ a b Léger, 1846, p.14.
  11. ^ a b Hull, Clark L. "Hypnotism in Scientific Perspective", The Scientific Monthly 29.2 (1929): p. 156.
  12. ^ Gilles de la Tourette. "The Wonders of Animal Magnetism", The North American Review 146.375 (1888): p.131-132.
  13. ^ Wonders and mysteries of animal magnetism displayed; or the history, art, practice, and progress of that useful science, from its first rise in the city of Paris, to the present time. With several Curious Cases and new Anecdotes of the Principal Professors. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. London (1791): pp.11–12
  14. ^ Pearson, John. A plain and rational account of the nature and effects of animal magnetism: in a series of letters. With notes and an appendix. By the editor. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. London (1790): p.12
  15. ^ Pearson, John (1790). A plain account, pp. 13–15
  16. ^ Lecture given at the III World Meeting of Magnetizers
  17. ^ Bell, John, Professor of Animal Magnetism. The general and particular principles of animal electricity and magnetism, &c. in which are found Dr. Bell's secrets and practice, AS Delivered To His Pupils in Paris, London, Dublin, Bristol, Glocester, Worcester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, &c. &c. Shewing how to Magnetise and Cure different Diseases; to produce Crises, as well as Somnambulism, or Sleep-Walking; and in that State of Sleep to make a Person eat, drink, walk, sing and play upon any Instruments they are used to, &c. to make Apparatus and other Accessaries to produce Magnetical Facts; also to Magnetise Rivers, Rooms, Trees, and other Bodies, animate and inanimate; to raise the Arms, Legs of a Person awake, and to make him rise from his Chair; to raise the Arm of a Person absent from one Room to another; also to treat him at a Distance. All the New Experiments and Phenomena are explained by Monsieur le Docteur Bell, Professor of that Science, And Member of the Philosophical Harmonic Society at Paris, Fellow Correspondent of M. Le Court de Geblin's Museum; and the only Person authorised by Patent from the First Noblemen in France, to teach and practise that Science in England, Ireland, &c. Price Five Shillings. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. [London](1792): p.2
  18. ^ Pearson, John (1790). A plain account, p. 6
  19. ^ Wonders and mysteries of animal magnetism displayed; or the history, art, practice, and progress of that useful science, from its first rise in the city of Paris, to the present time. With several Curious Cases and new Anecdotes of the Principal Professors. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. London (1791): p.16
  20. ^ Pearson, John (1790). A plain account, p. 37
  21. ^ Inchbald, Elizabeth. Animal Magnetism. p. 9
  22. ^ Wonders and mysteries of animal magnetism displayed; or the history, art, practice, and progress of that useful science, from its first rise in the city of Paris, to the present time. With several Curious Cases and new Anecdotes of the Principal Professors. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. London (1791): p.7
  23. ^ Requoted from: Fulford, Tim. "Conducting and Vital Fluid: The Politics and Poetics of Mesmerism in the 1790s", Studies in Romanticism 43.1 (2004): pg.1
  24. ^ Porter, Roy. "UNDER THE INFLUENCE: MESMERISM IN ENGLAND," History Today 35.9 (1985): pg.28
  25. ^ Fara. "An attractive therapy: animal magnetism in eighteenth-century England", History of science 33 (1995): pg:142
  26. ^ DeGRANDIS, Robert. The Ten Commandments of healing. In "Healing Ministry for Dummies", ch. 2, p. 36.
  27. ^ LANGE, Johann Peter, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Kings, Ed. C. Scribner & Company, 1872.
  28. ^ LANGE, Johann Peter, The Life of The Lord Jesus Christ: A Complete Critical Examination of the Origin, Contents and Connection of the Gospels, Volume 1, Ed. Smith, English and Company, 1872
  29. ^ KARDEC, Allan, Genesis – FEB 53 rd Ed. – Cap.XV – Item 1 – p. 273
  30. ^ KARDEC, Allan, Genesis – FEB 53rd Ed – Cap.XV – Item 2 – pag.274
  31. ^ COLQUHOUN, John Campbell, An History of Magic, Witchcraft, and Animal Magnetism, Volume 1, Ed. Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1851.
  32. ^ Gauld, p.245
  33. ^ Franklin Rausky, Mesmer ou la révolution thérapeutique ("Mesmer, or the therapeutic revolution"), Paris, 1977
  34. ^ The Zoist, Facts and Observations on the Mesmeric and Magnetic Fluids. Offprint from The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology and Mesmerism, April 1846


  • Deleuze Practical Instruction in Animal Magnetism (1843)
  • Leger, T. [sic], Animal Magnetism; or, Psycodunamy, D. Appleton, (New York), 1846 [N.B. author is Théodore Léger (1799–1853)].
  • Pearson, John A plain and rational account of the nature and effects of animal magnetism: in a series of letters. With notes and an appendix. By the editor. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. London (1790)
  • Wonders and mysteries of animal magnetism displayed; or the history, art, practice, and progress of that useful science, from its first rise in the city of Paris, to the present time. With several Curious Cases and new Anecdotes of the Principal Professors. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. London (1791)

Further reading

  • New York: Appleton and Co., 1888; web archiveAnimal Magnetism,Anton Mesmer, "Propositions Concerning Animal Magnetism" (1779), from: Binet, A. & Féré, C.
  • . London: Saunders & Otley, 1838; full textAn Introduction to the Study of Animal MagnetismThe Baron Dupotet de Sennevoy.
  • . Philadelphia: Blanchard and Lea, 1851; full textLetters to a Candid Inquirer on Animal MagnetismWilliam Gregory.
  • . Boston: Weeks, Jordan & co., 1837; full textAnimal magnetismCharles Poyen.
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