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Mesmerism

Mesmerism was coined in the 18th century by Anton Mesmer. It involves some social role-playing with the mesmerizer making suggestions and his clients becoming absolutely mesmerized by him. Mesmer used his extraordinary powers of suggestion to send people into frenzied convulsions or sleeplike trances. He was so successful that to this day we use his name to describe the exercise of such powers over others.

Mesmer, who got his doctorate for a plagiarized dissertation on how the planets affect health, met Maximillian Hell, a Viennese Jesuit and healer. The rest is history. Fr. Hell cured people with a magnetic steel plate. Hell's "proof" of magnetic healing was that it worked, i.e., he had a lot of satisfied customers. Mesmer plagiarized Hell's magnetic therapy and argued that it works because there is a very subtle magnetic fluid flowing through everything but which sometimes gets disturbed and needs to be restored to its proper flow. Hell, Mesmer theorized, was unblocking the flow of this magnetic fluid with his magnets. Mesmer eventually discovered that he got the same results without the magnets. He posited that "animal magnetism" accounted for his ability to correct the flow of the universal magnetic fluid. Today, the term "animal magnetism" means mesmerism or hypnotic power.

Some say Mesmer was practising hypnotherapy, but it is probably more accurate to say that he was a shamanistic healer whose methods certainly included hypnotherapy but were not identical with it. Mesmer's conduct during therapy sessions was highly impressive, being intended to augment the drama of the situation as much as possible. His clinic was meticulously furnished to maximize suggestion: the light was dim, everyone conversed in whispers, and music was used to alter the patients' mood according to what was required at each stage of the process. There were four baquets in the room, three for paying patients and the fourth for those being treated free. Mesmer, as Master of Ceremonies, was elaborately dressed and carried a wand, which he pointed at patients or used to touch or stroke them. The patients gasped, twitched, went into trance, or experienced convulsions or catalepsy. Mesmer's assistants ministered to the more severely afflicted and if necessary brought them into one of the padded crisis rooms.

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