Father of Hypnotism
You may or may not know that magic is sometimes called a “Mystery Art”. This is because the origins of magic delve so far back into history that we can’t even trace them reliably. I am fairly sure that at some point a cave man realized that if he held a rock a certain way, the other cave men couldn’t see it and they would revere him for being able to suddenly be holding a rock.
I just haven’t been able to find that cave man yet. Africa is a big place to search for one cave man.
Another of the original mystery arts is hypnosis.
This is a subject that has piqued my interests lately. I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of going back to the origin when learning about a subject. That means a trip back to the 1800s for this performance artist.
I went back to find a man named Franz Mesmer. Like the word “Mesmerized”.
Franz Mesmer was the first man to really hypnotize a person. He believed that there was a force that existed between all people which he referred to as animal magnetism. He and his followers believes that they were able to basically force their animal magnetism over people and put those people under their control. This was usually done through a highly ritualized procedure which included robes and glass harmonicas and other such trappings. This was called Mesmerism.
This was near the time that scientific experimentation was really taking hold. Mesmer’s procedures and beliefs became passé and intellectually inclined gentlefolk were wise to avoid it if they wanted to maintain a career. But there was a surgeon, named James Braid, who became interested in the phenomenon when he saw one of Mesmer’s students, Charles Lafontaine, performing feats of mesmerism on November 13th, 1841 in Manchester.
Braid did not believe that the subjects were under any form of animal magnetism or will of the mesmerist. However, the subjects were clearly in some kind of altered state. He noticed that one phenomenon that was clearly true was that the subjects were unable to open their eyes during key moments of the process. He took this fact and decided that the eyes must have a very important role in the act of putting people into this trance state.
He also theorized that the process need not involve a mesmerist at all. So he went home and developed an ‘upward and inward squint’. Using this method he was able to put himself into a trance and thus demolished the idea that an outside entity (such as a mesmerist) was required for this to happen.
Braid developed the techniques further and on November 22nd, 1841 he did a performance of hypnosis (not yet named such), using a Mr. J. A. Walker as his subject. Soon after, on November 27th he gave a lecture on the subject at Manchester Athenæum in which he was able to demonstrate that he could produce the effects created by Lafontaine without the need to touch any of the subjects.
Wanting to distance himself from the concepts of mesmerists (which was of vital importance if he wished to maintain a respected reputation) he declared the need to separate this valid phenomenon from the claims of mesmerists. He associated the trance state with sleep, so he went with the name neurypnology (“nervous sleep”). After some time he renamed it to neuro-hypnotism (Named for the Greek god of Sleep, Hypnos), then shortened it to hypnotism.
He later realized that the state had little to nothing to do with sleep, and attempted to popularize monoideism, but the term hypnotism had already taken firm hold and wasn’t going anywhere.
Braid maintained that both a mental and physical fixation of the gaze and attention was all that was required, and that this procedure only activated a state which was hard wired into all human beings.
He successfully used hypnosis to treat a variety of ailments and injuries, but was firm in the belief that hypnotism was not a miracle cure-all. It was only another form of possible treatment. He also maintained that only medical professionals should ever use it in a clinical sense.
Braid was what was known at the time as a gentleman scientist. He did his research with no affiliation with any institution or government organization, which allowed him to conduct his experiments with a fairly free hand. Due to his diligence and experimentation, the entire field of hypnosis was legitimized. He could validly be considered the world’s first hypnotherapist.
Hypnotism is a fascinating and largely misunderstood thing. Braid used it to treat physical ailments. We use it to make people think they’re a chicken. As you do.