Way back in 2010 I wrote about the relationship between Mesmerism and hypnosis in response to a lot of people asking me about that relationship. In recent months and weeks, during my own research for my next evidence based self-hypnosis book due to be released later this year, I have been examining the historical precursors to the field of self-hypnosis, my favourite subject.

The thing about Mesmerism is that it is seen very much as something one person does to another. It is used by many old-school hypnosis professionals to demonstrate one thing being done by one person to another person. Yet, a lot of my research (including the writings of strong Mesmer advocates and supporters) suggests something different.

As I wrote previously, Anton Mesmer was an 18th-century physician who surmised that the human body has two poles, just like a magnet has two poles, and just like a magnet, the human body must therefore be emitting an invisible magnetic fluid of some kind. Mesmer began using magnets, which he himself moved around and over his patients, he then progressed to using his own inner ability to influence magnetic fluid through his own movements (often referred to as mesmeric passes).

Mesmer also used the baquet, which I have explained in more detail in the previously mentioned article. The bacquet was an oak tub containing materials that Mesmer had magnetised and groups of people would hold onto and derive the benefits.

Much that has been written about of these group sessions showed that patients were able to experience magnetism even if they were not touched by the Mesmerist directly. This was not recognised as self-initiated by the Mesmerists of the day, instead preferring to believe that the responses (often a fit-like ‘crisis’ proceeded by well-being) could be attributed to the powers of the mesmerists  that affected others.

Mesmer cleverly applied his theories of animal magnetism to ailments and illnesses of the day by explaining it in terms of the scientific principles that were acceptable and prominent at that time. Even though his main principle was simply that all illness was due an imbalance of the universal magnetic fluid in the patient, using “scientific” guidelines of the day meant Mesmer was able to seem rational, and demonstrate magnetism with a set of specific procedures and outcomes in mind (Tinterow, 1970).

It was observed though, that some individuals that had experienced being magnetised on a number of occasions, could take themselves into a ‘mesmerised state’ at will. Which tends to go in the face of what lots of today’s proponents seem to suggest.

For example, a 19th-century priest, the Abbe de Faria explained mesmerism as artificial somnambulism or lucid sleep (Ellenberger, 1970; Tinterow, 1970). The Abbe de Faria was the first ‘magnetiser’ to report that the ability to enter the mesmerised state lies within the subject rather than the mesmerist wielding any sort of power (Tinterow, 1970).

Shortly after this, a much respected 19th-century French naturalist and staunch animal magnetism advocate by the name of Deleuze (I say ‘staunch’ because Deleuze defended animal magnetism even after it had been condemned by medical authorities) explained the value of  integrating ‘self-collectedness’ into the work of animal magnetism (Pattie, 1967). This idea of enhancing magnetism with the use of self-collectedness could also be seen as a precursor in the development of modern self-hypnosis.

Durant  (1837) also noticed and wrote about certain individuals that induced their own magnetic states without a mesmerist (or magnetic facilitator of any kind) actually being present at all. Durant wrote and believed that the process of self-magnetising was a simple process, and charted his own experiences of inducing a magnetic state by himself:

“Each one within themselves [sic] is both magnetizer and the magnetized, without any fluid whatever emanating from a second person”
Durant, 1837/1982, p. 17.

There is no doubt that mesmerism and animal magnetism was a popular theory in it’s day. For whatever reasons, the patients certainly responded to “magnetic” treatments. Some authors believe responses were aided by the individuals expectations and imagination. It is the individual who creates those expectations and uses their own imagination.

Even with this brief look into mesmerism and magnetization theories of the 18th and 19th century, it can be seen that although many perceive mesmerism and magnetisation as something that was exclusively done by one person to another, there were actually a number of reports by strong proponents of the day that indicate the notion of self-magnetisation.

The comparatively modern phenomenon of self-hypnosis as I know it then, was just around the corner as we turn into the latter 19th and into the 20th century. I’ll be writing about some of the other precursors from history here soon.


Deleuze, J. P. F. (1982) Practical instruction in animal magnetism. New York: Da Capo Press. (Original work published in 1825)

Durant, C. F. D. (1982) Exposition of a new theory of animal magnetism. New York: Da Capo Press. (Original work published in 1837)

Ellenberger, H. F. (1970) The discovery of the unconscious: The history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.

Tinterow, M. M. (1970) Foundations of hypnosis: From Mesmer to Freud. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.