The magic and mystery of Hypnotism

An investigation of hypnotism: its occult nature, history, uses and abuses


From time immemorial man has possessed the power to relieve pain, change behaviour and cure disease by firmly implanting in the patient's mind the idea that he is, or soon will be, cured of whatever ails them. The so-called 'placebo effect'—which is not what it is generally thought to be—is a subtle yet nonetheless potent example of the power of suggestion. Together with hypnotism, to which it is closely allied, suggestion is one of the oldest sciences on Earth. The power to heal by simple touch, affirmation, or command, has mystified all enquirers, and many theories have been advanced over the years to explain the unknown without any of them providing a satisfactory solution to the magic and mystery of hypnotism. For, as we shall see, this ancient occult art is no less magical than telepathy or clairvoyance. Our aim in this new investigation is to discover what hypnotism actually is, how and why it works, the history of its rediscovery, and its employment in various therapies. In our customary afterword we shall consider the dangers of hypnotism and its misuse and abuse in modern times.

The antiquity of Hypnotism

The evidence for the antiquity and efficacy of hypnosis is too exhaustive and abundant to deny. The ancient Egyptians healed by the art of making passes, and by the laying on of hands; in the Temples of Isis, Osiris and Serapis, hypnotism was practised daily. Apart from natural or magnetic healing discussed in the afterword to our article on 'Health and the Occult Student', the priests of these temples treated the sick and cured them by hypnotic manipulation, or by other means producing somnambulism. Hypnotic healing was in vogue amongst the ancient Hindus, the Parsi, the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, Syrians and Chinese.

The Greek biographer and essayist, Plutarch (46-120 A.D.) states that Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was able to cure the colic and affections of the spleen by laying patients on their back and passing his great toe over them—a form of hypnosis. St. Patrick healed the blind by the laying on of hands. The Venerable Bede (673-735 A.D.) mentions frequent cures by the Christian Bishops of England as early as the seventh century in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Right through the ages to the present day we can trace an unbroken line of hypnotic, magnetic and psychic healing continued in most countries.

In addition to these few facts, we cannot omit to mention that the first century B.C. Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, tells how the Egyptian priests, ages before Christ, attributed clairvoyance induced for therapeutic purposes to the Goddess Isis. His successor, the philosopher and geographer, Strabo, ascribes the same to Serapis, a Greco-Egyptian solar deity whose cult flourished in Memphis alongside the celebration of the rites of the sacred Egyptian bull Apis. In the second century of our own era, the Greek physician, Galen, mentions a temple near Memphis famous for these hypnotic cures. The Greek Sage Pythagoras, who won the confidence of the Egyptian priests, is full of praise for the hypnotic arts of his teachers. Aristophanes in his comedy Plutus describes in some detail a hypnotic cure. The Roman emperor Aurelian describes manipulations for disease which involve "conducting the hands from the superior to the inferior parts." This sounds uncannily like the 'mesmeric passes' of past and present hypnotists. There was even an old Roman proverb—Ubi dolor ibi digitus, meaning literally 'Where pain, there finger,' which is also suggestive of the art of magnetic healing to which hypnotism is closely allied.


Gustave Doré — The Brazen Serpent — engraving on copper, 1866

The life-giving Force

It was the great and unfortunate occultist, astrologer and physician, Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim (1493-1541), or Paracelsus as he is better known, who was the first to publicly recommend the action of the magnet in the cure of certain diseases. It is to this 'quack' and 'drunken impostor' as he was calumniated by the self-appointed 'experts' of his day, that we owe the discovery, or rather rediscovery of the ancient art and science we now know as hypnosis. Nowadays Paracelsus enjoys a somewhat better reputation and is seen in a kinder light. Even Wikipedia, a source not known for suffering so-called 'quackery' and pseudoscience gladly—or at all—admits that the foremost Alchemist of his day "invented chemical therapy, chemical urinalysis, and suggested a biochemical theory of digestion." It is also Paracelsus we have to thank for the dictum sola dosis facit venenum meaning 'solely the dose determines whether a thing is not a poison.' This principle was taken up 300 years later by Samuel Hahnemann when he formulated the science of Homeopathy which employs many deadly poisons such as Strychnine in its pharmacopoeia. Even the fundamental law which is the basis of all homeopathic treatment enshrined in the Latin phrase—similia similibus curantur ('like is cured by like')—was anticipated centuries earlier by Paracelsus in his therapeutic praxis.

What has this to do with hypnotism? Everything, inasmuch as any curative therapy—if it be worthy of the name—owes its efficacy to how well or otherwise it is able to galvanize the life-giving force within the body into renewed or increased activity. For as science is slowly discovering, the human body is an electro-magnetic vehicle. It is for this reason that Paracelsus invented and employed many different types of magnetized bracelets, armlets, belts, rings, collars and leglets to cure various muscular and nervous diseases far more efficaciously than such articles do today. His successor Van Helmont and Robert Fludd, the Alchemist and Rosicrucian, also applied magnets in the treatment of their patients.

The founder of the Society for Psychic Research, F. W. H. Myers (1843-1901), attempted to explain the rationale of hypnosis by stating tentatively that, taking consciousness as a hypothetical threshold, man possessed a supraliminal or conscious intelligence and a subliminal or subconscious intelligence. This postulates a division of intelligence which Occult Science explains as the operation of the lower and Higher Selves or minds described and discussed in our many articles. The Higher Mind of the sick person having lost temporary control of the lower mind, another Higher Mind (that of the hypnotist) is called in to come to the rescue, and by means of hypnotic suggestion galvanizes the lower mind of the patient into renewed activity. This in turn restores the harmony and balance of not only the sick person's lower mind, but of their body too, as well as strengthening the influence of their Higher Mind. The force employed in all such cases of hypnotic healing is a vital electric essence, called 'Vital fluid', 'Odic Force', 'Animal Magnetism' and similar terms by Mesmer, Von Reichenbach and others.

This creative and life-giving Force—denied and laughed at when called magic by science, and debunked in our own times as being principally based on superstition and fraud, is nevertheless a reality for those who employ it whenever it is referred to as hypnosis. However, this does not mean that hypnotists understand the origin or qualities of this force, or have plumbed its full potential, any more than an electrician understands the occult nature of the force he works with—electricity. The modern hypnotist may remove cravings, alleviate pain, uncover past-life memories or even alter behaviour but unless they are also an initiated occultist, the secrets of this mysterious force are a closed book to them. We shall discuss the problems this lack of knowledge and understanding causes later.

The rediscovery of Hypnotism by Mesmer

Two centuries after the passing of Paracelsus, German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician of Vienna, proclaimed the existence of a universal fluid which he called 'Animal Magnetism.' This led directly to the rediscovery of what we now know as hypnotism. Mesmer perceived that this fluid could disengage itself from one body and be transmitted to another in which it acted as a most efficacious agent in the cure of disease. Mesmer's theory of Animal Magnetism provides us with an accurate explanation of the nature of health and disease that modern medical science has yet to understand, much less embrace. We make no apology for quoting the words of this peer among physicians in full.


"Man is in a state of health when all the parts of which he is composed have the power of performing the functions for which they have been destined. If a perfect order reigns throughout all these functions, this state is called a state of harmony. As harmony is single, so is health. Health is represented by a straight line. Illness is the deviation from this line; this deviation may be more or less considerable. The remedy is the means by which the order, or the harmony which has been disturbed is restored. The Vital Principle being a part of the universal motion, and obedient to the common laws of fluid, spread throughout all nature, is therefore submitted to all the impressions of the celestial bodies, of the earth, and the particular bodies which surround it. This faculty or property in man, of being susceptible to all these relations, is what is called magnetism. The magnetic currents can be propagated at a considerable distance. The action of Animal Magnetism can be strengthened or propagated by animate and inanimate bodies. When nature is not sufficient towards bringing on a crisis, she may be assisted by magnetism."

In the large curative establishment he founded in Vienna, Mesmer employed, besides magnetism, electricity, metals and a variety of woods. His fundamental doctrine was that of the Alchemists whose writings he studied. He believed that metals, as well as trees and plants all have an affinity with and bear a close relation to, the human organism. In this he recapitulated what Occult Science had known and taught for thousands of years and we find expressed in the Hermetic Laws of Correspondence, Vibration and Polarity discussed in Spiritus Hermeticum—our series of articles on Hermes and his teachings. Those of you who have read Symphonie Phantastique by J Michaud PhD will recall that the Gypsy Queen—Mizella—who opens and closes this amazing story of the past, present and future, tells the children Farni and Dolce about the occult properties of plants and trees and how they may be used to heal both body and mind. When she explains that "by making a link between a human being and a poisonous plant, in the way I have told you, any poison in a person's inner being will be melted away and drawn into that particular plant," she is echoing the work of this gifted German doctor.

Mesmer further postulated that everything in the Universe has evolved from one homogeneous primordial substance differentiated into an incalculable number of different things, and that everything is destined to return to this primal state. This, as those of you who have read our articles on 'why matter matters' and 'The Occult Sun' will recall, is the ABC of Occult Science. Mesmer maintained that the secret of healing lies in the knowledge of correspondences and affinities between kindred atoms. Find the metal, wood, stone, or plant that has the closest corresponding affinity with the body of the sufferer; and, whether through internal or external use, that particular agent, by imparting to the patient additional strength to fight disease and to expel it, will lead invariably to his cure. Many and marvellous were the cures he made in this way. Those suffering from heart disease were made well. A patient whose life was despaired of by her doctors was completely restored to health by the application of certain sympathetic woods. Mesmer himself, suffering from acute rheumatism, cured it completely by using specially-prepared magnets.

In 1774, Mesmer produced what he called an 'artificial tide' in a female patient suffering from the then widespread condition of 'hysteria'. The woman was first given an oral preparation containing iron to swallow, whereupon Mesmer then attached magnets to various parts of her body. She reported feeling streams of a mysterious fluid running through her body and was relieved of her symptoms for several hours. This qualified success convinced the German doctor that magnets alone were not sufficient to accomplish a permanent cure and soon afterwards he chanced upon the method of transmitting the vital electric essence directly to his subjects by means of his hands and eyes. In this, he had unwittingly and unconsciously rediscovered the secret employed by the initiated priests of ancient Egypt we referred to in our introduction. This new technique was so interesting and effectual that he abandoned all his old methods and the use of magnets to devote himself entirely to it. Henceforward he hypnotized his patients by gaze and passes, calling the mysterious effects of such manipulations 'Animal magnetism'. This attracted many followers and disciples to him who, during the last quarter of the 18th century, led to the 'new' force becoming the focus of experiments in almost every city and town in Europe.

Three years later in 1777 Mesmer became embroiled in a scandal resulting from his partial success in curing the blindness of an 18-year-old musician which forced him to leave Vienna and settle in Paris. There he rented an apartment and soon the whole metropolis, from the Royal family down to the last hysterical bourgeois, were at his feet. This frightened the Church which saw in the new science a direct threat to the superstitious hold it exercised over the minds of the populace as well as to its revenues. Already in the 18th century it paid to 'follow the money' since many of the licensed apothecaries and physicians of the time had close ties to the Church and they saw their profits disappearing with every new cure Mesmer obtained. Consequently, the Church was not slow to fulminate against him and his practises, condemning both as the "work of the Devil." Today, although neither the Catholic nor Protestant Churches condemn hypnotism, both remain somewhat ambivalent about it. In 1956, Pope Pius XII stated that hypnotism is a serious matter, and not something to dabble in, adding that "in its scientific use, the precautions dictated by both science and morality must be followed." How often they have not been followed we shall learn in our afterword!

With the arrival of Mesmer in Paris in 1778, the city divided its allegiance between the Church which attributed all kinds of phenomena (except its own 'divine' miracles) to the Devil, and the Academy of Sciences, which believed in neither God nor Devil, but only in its own infallible wisdom. Not much has changed in the material sciences in 240 years! But there were some minds even then which would not be satisfied with either of these beliefs. They had laid their legitimate desires at the royal feet, and King Louis XVI commanded his learned Academy to look into the matter. So in 1784, the upholders of 18th century scientific orthodoxy—like their modern counterparts—appointed a royal commission headed by none other than the illustrious Benjamin Franklin. Their conclusion, as you may have guessed, was that Mesmer was an imposter and Animal Magnetism a figment of his disordered imagination. Despite the testimony of hundreds of eye-witnesses to the most striking phenomena, and the demand by a vocal minority of scientists that a careful investigation should be made by the Medical Faculty of the therapeutic effects of the magnetic fluid—the Academy of Sciences stuck to its conclusion. Even Franklin, a freemason and philosopher who was well acquainted with, and believed in, cosmic electricity or Fohat as it is termed among occultists, refused to recognise Mesmer's Animal Magnetism as its next-door neighbour. He, together with his conservative colleagues, unanimously proclaimed Mesmerism a delusion. In 1825 a second investigation fared no better and the report it issued was buried.

The triumph of Hypnotism

So we arrive at the present day when the science of hypnotism is an established fact, though, as we said earlier, how and why it works remains largely a mystery to material science. We have pointed out in several of our articles that modern science is slowly rediscovering some of the occult arts and sciences which were once universally known and practised among all mankind. The rediscovery of hypnosis is matched by the slow recovery of much ancient knowledge, such as that of the atom, known to the Greeks thousands of years ago, as we discussed in our article on 'why matter matters'. Hence the history of hypnotism may be described in six distinct stages. (1) Once known. (2) Lost. (3) Rediscovered. (4) Denied. (5) Reaffirmed, and by slow degrees, under new names, (6) finally triumphant.

hypnotizing a patient

Anon — Baron du Potet hypnotizes a patient — oil on canvas, 1840

One of the most famous and successful of the 19th century hypnotists was Baron du Potet (1796-1881). He was an ardent admirer of Mesmer and had devoted his whole life to therapeutic magnetism, and he was absolutely dogmatic on the point that a real magnetic aura passed from the Mesmerist to the patient. "I will show you this," he said one day to a sceptical colleague, as both stood by the bedside of a patient in so deep a trance that they were able to insert needles into her hands and arms without exciting the least sign or movement.

The Baron continues: "I will, at the distance of a foot or two, determine slight convulsions in any part of her body by simply moving my hand above the part, without any contact." He began at the shoulder, which soon began twitching. Quiet being restored, he tried the elbow, then the wrist, then the knee, the convulsions increasing in intensity according to the time employed. "Are you quite satisfied?" he asked. His sceptical colleague replying in the affirmative, the Baron added: "any patient that I have tested I will undertake to operate upon through a brick wall at a time and place where the patient shall be ignorant of my presence or my purpose." This, we would add was one of the experiments which most puzzled the Academicians at Paris in 1784. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not see, even when you shove the evidence under their superior noses! Baron du Potet repeated the experiment again and again under every test and condition, with almost invariable success, until even the most sceptical was forced to give in. Not that this convinces many modern scientists, probably because such an admission would bring them perilously close to affirming the existence of an occult force that cannot be proved by any of the present instruments or methods of science.

What of Mesmer himself? The answer he gave to the Academicians after the publication of their unfavourable report might have been uttered today by many an honest scientist whose sincere search for truth has been attacked and disparaged by the bigotry and blindness of his peers. "You say that Mesmer will never hold up his head again. If such is the destiny of the man it is not the destiny of the truth, which is in its nature imperishable, and will shine forth sooner or later in the same or some other country with more brilliancy than ever, and its triumph will annihilate its miserable detractors." What fine and true words these are! Mesmer left Paris in disgust and retired to Switzerland, but many of his disciples carried his system to Germany, while others spread it throughout France, forming in the process, countless societies devoted to the study of therapeutic magnetism and its allied phenomena of telepathy, hypnotism, and clairvoyance. Mesmer continued to practice in Switzerland for a number of years until his death in 1815 in Meersburg, Germany.

It took a little longer for the sceptical, conservative English to accept the reality of Mesmerism. Indeed, even today, an individual wishing to stage a public performance of hypnotism must obtain a permit from local government. If they fail to do so, or break any of the conditions of the 1952 Hypnotism Act, they are liable to a fine of up to £1000. No such restrictions apply to hypnotherapy which is completely unregulated in the UK, as well as in most other countries. So the law offers some protection against hypnotism being abused on stage in public, but none against such abuses perpetrated in private by lay or professional hypnotists. We shall return to this rather worrying anomaly in our afterword. To return to the history of hypnotism in England, it was not until 1846 when a professor at London University, Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868) confessed his belief in Mesmerism that the science advanced further in these islands. Regular readers will recall that Dr. Elliotson was a close personal friend of Charles Dickens as John Temple mentions in his article on Dickens' famous ghost story A Christmas Carol. Not that his friendship with the foremost man of English letters saved the unfortunate doctor from the opprobrium of his orthodox colleagues, whose denunciations of Mesmerism lost Elliotson his professorship and medical practice. England's Mesmer—as he has been called—died well-nigh ruined, if not heart-broken. It took another fifty years before hypnotism entered mainstream medical practise, but it was not long before it was eclipsed in the treatment of pain relief by the advent of new chemical anaesthetics.

Hypnotism today

Today hypnotism forms part of an ever-increasing number of so-called 'complimentary' therapies which go by a number of different names. These range from traditional hypnotherapy through behavioural hypnotherapy (BH), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and psychotherapy and past life regression. Traditional hypnotherapy remains largely unaltered from the hypnotic methods of Mesmer, Du Potet and others popular in the 19th century and is used to treat a variety of physical and mental conditions such as pain relief, insomnia, drug dependency, alcoholism, phobias, low self-esteem, eating disorders and clinical depression. As we said in our introduction, with very few exceptions, the practitioners of all these therapies know nothing whatsoever of the nature of the force they employ. This in itself is at best reprehensible and at worst dangerous to patient and practitioner alike, for as the Bible tells us, ". . .if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matthew 15:14).

Interested readers can research the various modern therapies which employ hypnotism themselves if they wish to do so. Other than mentioning them en passant for the sake of completeness we have neither the time nor inclination to explore them any further as they can tell us nothing about the mysterious, magical agent Mesmer called 'Animal Magnetism' and others a 'vital electric essence', how it enters into the human organism and how it is employed in hypnosis. The best that Wikipedia can come up with as an explanation for the phenomena of hypnosis is that it is: "a human condition involving focused attention, reduced peripheral awareness, and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion." Not very helpful, is it? This inability to explain or understand hypnotism is not surprising as we shall see in the final section of our investigation. Not that we can say any more than occultists such as H. P. Blavatsky have said about this mystery in the past, for we are no more able to reveal the complete picture than she was.

The Mystery of Hypnotism

Hypnotism is simply a new 'scientific' name for what in previous ages was variously called 'fascination', 'glamour' and 'enchantment' by the superstitious masses. As we said in our introduction, many theories have been advanced over the years to explain the 'how' and 'why' of hypnotism. Among the most popular and recent is the notion that hypnosis somehow affects the neurons in the brain resulting in a decrease in connections between some areas and an increase between others. This may well be true since the force employed in hypnotism is a vital electric essence as we explained earlier. Yet the underlying brain mechanisms involved remain largely unknown and poorly understood by material science. We doubt they ever will be so long as the scientists cling to their materialistic outlook. Science knows even less about the involvement of the eyes and hands in the transmission of what we may term the electro-psychic current which is transmitted from one person to another during hypnosis.

Occult science, on the other hand, does provide an explanation of the mystery of hypnotism, insofar as it can be explained without betraying the secrets which are the preserve of Initiates. It is the eyes—the most occult organs in the physical body— which, by serving as the medium between certain organs in the brain, attune the molecular vibration of the cells within these centres to the vibrations of any bright object held by the hypnotist. It is the harmonious interaction between the two and the concentrated will of the operator which induce the hypnotic state. But hypnosis, as we saw earlier, can also be induced by making certain passes over the subject, as Mesmer and his students successfully demonstrated to the French Academy in 1784. In this case, it is the human will—whether conscious or otherwise—of the operator himself, that acts upon the nervous system of the subject. And it is again through the vibrations—only this time atomic, not molecular—produced by that act of will in the Aether of space (operating on a higher plane than the purely physical), that induce the hypnotic state in which the subject becomes passively receptive to suggestion.

hypnotic séance

Richard Bergh — Hypnotic Séance — oil on canvas, 1887

In all forms of hypnosis there is an act of will on the part of the operator, the passage of something from them to their subject, and an effect upon the subject. What that 'something' is has no name in any modern language and cannot be detected or analysed by any of the present instruments or methods of science. Mesmer, as we saw earlier, called it 'Animal Magnetism'. Others have called it 'Vital fluid,' Odic Force,' or, as we have in this investigation, 'vital electric essence.' The thoroughly unscientific terms employed in medieval magic such as 'enchantment,' fascination,' 'glamour,' 'spell,' and especially 'bewitch,' expressed far more suggestively what really transpires during such a transmission, than the modern term 'hypnotize.' Occult Science calls the force transmitted, the 'astral fluid,' to better distinguish it from the 'astral light,' though they are the same in esse, in the same way that ice, water and steam are all the same in esse, being a combination of the atoms of hydrogen and oxygen on this plane.

Needless to add, neither the existence of the 'astral fluid' nor 'astral light' are recognized by scientists, and it is for this reason, as well as others we have discussed earlier, that they are unable to explain the rationale of hypnotism. Yet the clues to the existence of the astral fluid have been staring them in the face for more than 200 years in the experiments of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) and others who showed that metals had a demonstrable effect on the nervous system in disease. An example of this is the use of copper bracelets to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis—a practise dating back to ancient Egypt and earlier. It is not the metal itself which has any therapeutic value, but the electro-magnetic properties it possesses which, under the right conditions, can be transmitted via the astral fluid to the patient.

But Charcot quickly discovered that not every metal acted on every nervous disease. Whilst one patient was sensitive to one metal others produced no effect whatsoever. His critics argued that if such a fluid really existed then all metals would affect every patient to a lesser or greater degree, and every metal, taken separately, would affect every case of nervous disease, the conditions for generating such fluids being, in the given cases, precisely the same. This is similar to the criticisms levelled against homeopathy and both betray a breathtaking inability to recognize that everything in Nature is in constant motion at a molecular level. Occult Science states that it is this motion which is the origin of the electric and magnetic fluids (the two being really identical) whose activity is responsible for every phenomenon in Nature. Just because the instruments of science fail to show the presence of electric or magnetic fluids does not prove there are none to record, rather that having passed on to another and higher plane of activity, the instruments can no longer be affected by the energy displaced on a plane with which they are entirely disconnected.

We may seem to have wandered away from the subject of hypnotism but this is not so. This digression was necessary in order to show that the nature of the mysterious force transmitted from one individual or object to another individual or object, whether by hypnotism, electricity, magnetism or even 'spells' and 'enchantments,' is the same in essence, varying only in degree, and modified according to the plane of matter it is acting on; of which Occult Science teaches, there are seven including the terrestrial, physical plane or realm. In this fact, as well as all the other facts we have put before you in this investigation, lies the solution to the mystery and magic of hypnotism science is presently unable to explain; we doubt it ever will, and as we shall see in our afterword, this is perhaps just as well!

© Copyright Article published 23 February 2020.

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