This nOde last updated January 2nd, 2003 and is permanently morphing...
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Mesmer (mèz´mer, mès´-), Franz
or Friedrich Anton
Austrian physician who sought to treat disease through animal magnetism, an early therapeutic application of hypnotism.
1.A strong or spellbinding appeal; fascination.
2.Hypnotic induction believed to involve animal magnetism.
[After Franz Mesmer.]
- mesmer´ic (-mèr´îk) adjective
- mesmer´ically adverb
- mes´merist noun
Word History: When the members
of an audience sit mesmerized by a speaker, their reactions do not
take the form of dancing, sleeping, or falling into convulsions. But if
Franz Anton Mesmer were addressing the audience, such behavior could
be expected. Mesmer, a visionary 18th-century physician, believed
cures could be effected by having patients do things such as sit with
their feet in a fountain of magnetized water while holding
cables attached to magnetized trees. Mesmer then came to believe that
magnetic powers resided in himself, and during highly fashionable
curative sessions in Paris he caused his patients to have reactions
ranging from sleeping or dancing to convulsions. These reactions were
actually brought about by hypnotic powers that Mesmer was unaware he
possessed. One of his pupils, named Puységur, then used the term
mesmerism (first recorded in English in 1802) for Mesmer's practices.
The related word mesmerize (first recorded in English in 1829), having
shed its reference to the hypnotic doctor, lives on in the sense "to
Mesmer wavered about what he was going to call the aspect of ourselves which responds to this etheric field, and he settled on the term "animal magnetism," a term he took from the works of a hermetic Jesuit a century earlier. Mesmer wrote:
"All bodies are a magnet, capable of communicating this magnetic principle. This fluid permeates everything and can be stored up and concentrated like the electric fluid and it acts at a distance."
While Mesmer never identified
animal magnetism with the mineral magnetism which we've know about for
millennia, we can see the way that he used the reality
of magnetism as a way to get across a lot of occult ideas. Not that he
wasn't adverse to messing around with magnets in his healing practice,
an idea he took from a priest with the unlikely name of Father
Maximillian Hell, who used steel magnets to heal people. This again is
not a new practice. You could go back to Sumer
and discover magnetic healing charms which are inscribed with the
symbol of Marduke. Marduke, among other things, is "he who causes
action at a distance". Again, it is that question of how do we
influence things across empty space. For Mesmer and Hell, the
influence in question was about healing, and so they used magnets in
their healing practices. The idea was that body was a magnetic form
and that by using magnets, you could re-align the living field of the
Soon Mesmer discovered that he didn't really need magnets, and this is where he really starts looking like a charlatan kook. He realized that he could magnetize people simply by passing his hands over them. It sounds kind of goofy, except that whatever he was doing, he catalyzed extraordinary effects. I don't know if you have this word in German, but in English we frequently use the word "mesmerize" to describe something that hypnotically seduces us. For example, "When I am watching the screen, I am mesmerized by the movie." Mesmer was not putting people into a hypnotic trance, but he was creating a convulsive climax, a la Wilhelm Reich, that he thought would lead to healing. He attempted to realize this crisis in order to re-align the body. If any of you follow alternative medicine and the models it works on, his basic conceptual model is not much different from the one that lies behind, say, acupuncture in Chinese medicine. In acupuncture, the body is described as a field of energies. When they get off balance, you get ill. The trick of the healing is not to kill the bug, but to re-produce a resilient moving balance in the fields of the body.
In any case, Mesmer pioneered a style of "wild" healing we can recognize in some of today's alternative healers, an exuberant attempt to bring back the animist body surpressed by mechanism. For these reasons, he very quickly he became identified as a quack, a charlatan, and was hounded out of Vienna by the medical establishment. He then goes to pre-Revolution Paris, where he is the talk of the town and things get even crazier. He starts wearing lilac magicians' robes and such. In Paris,he was very popular, and once again he was hounded down by the medical establishment. Here is where we take the story into the question of the unconscious. His therapies had real effects. They produced real changes in people and the medical establishment could not deny the evidence of healing. So the Paris commission which lambasted him was given the problem, "How do I explain what is going on? Obviously, he is producing effects that actually heal people. But we can't fit his paradigm into ours, so how do we explain it?"
Along with telepathy,19th century mesmerists discovered a variety of altered states. Some start getting cosmic waves of energy, or states that resembled the kinds of plateaus that hardcore meditators or serious mystics describe. But the mesmerists were operating under the aegis of rationalism, doing psychoanalysis before the name. In a sense, their work became less about healing the body, and more about exploring the strangedimensions of mind. Mesmerism thus introduced a hands-on craft of introspection, a pragmatic tactics of generating altered states of consciousness that could be reframed in a language divorced from mysticism. The mesmerists wanted to say, "No. This is something scientific."
- Erik Davis - _Spiritual Telegraphs and the
Technology of Communication_ lecture