Famous Historian of Mesmerism: Animal Magnetism

Anton Mesmer

              Have you ever been immersed on a beautiful scene or pretty things or sink into deep thoughts as if you felt like in a trance mode dreamlike state? You have probably been mesmerized many times in your life. The verb “mesmerize” was rooted from Mesmer’s name and the creator for mesmerism was Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) whom was a German physician with an interest in Astronomy, was also referred to as Friedrich Anton Mesmer. In 1771, Mesmer influenced by Maximilian Hell’s (May 15, 1720 – April 14, 1792), a court astronomer and Jesuit priest, was intrigued by Hell when he used magnets to heal patients by applying steel plates to the naked body when he was a medical student at the University of Vienna. In 1774, Mesmer gave one of his female patient, Franzl Oesterline’s prescriptions containing iron after experiencing frustrating failures with ordinary medical techniques. Oesterline had to live in Mesmer’s house to receive round-the clock care due to her vulnerable illnesses. After having her swallowed the solution, it was reported that she felt streams of mysterious fluid running through her body. It was then Mesmer perceived the flow was affected by his own will and he named it as “Animal Magnetism”. He believed that certain individuals had more or less innate animal magnetism, and he has the ability to manipulate the flow of this fluid in their body. Mesmer affirmed that the sun, moon, and fixed stars mutually affect each other in their orbits; that they cause and direct in our earth a flux and reflux not only in the sea, but in the atmosphere, and affect in a similar manner all organized bodies through the medium of a subtle and mobile fluid, which pervades the universe and associates all things together in mutual intercourse and harmony (MacKay, 1841). Goodwin (1999) stated that what Mesmer hadn’t realized is that he was showcasing the power of suggestion, not magnetism. Mesmer used his talent, the art of mesmerism providing powerful words of suggestion which send people into frenzied convulsions or sleeplike trances.

            Mesmer would channel this magnetic force on patients by touching, tapping and “laying on of hands” on their body or inflicted parts and explained to his patients it was due to the obstruction of the abnormal flow of fluid in their body that blocked the flow and caused the pain and illnesses to evolve. Mesmer would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching their knees, pressing the patient’s thumbs in his hands and looking fixedly to the patient’s eyes. All these treatments were done in his apartment that was dimly lit hung with thick drapes and mirrors on the walls accompanied with the music of a glass harmonica (invented by Benjamin Franklin). The patients were seated placed in relation by means of chord around a sort of vat which Mesmer called it a baquet, that contained with iron filings and broken glass. Mesmer wore a lilac silk robe with flamboyant gold slippers slowly passing his hands on patient’s bodies or with a simple flick of his magnetized wand provoking contagious hysterical scream and laughter, vomiting and dramatic convulsions catharsis.

            Mesmer was able to treat patients with various conditions at a remarkable success. In 1777, his attempt to cure an 18-year-old blind female pianist, singer, and composer, Maria Theresia von Paradis, was not successful due to the malicious rumor scandal that Mesmer was on a relationship with Paradis which led him to leave Vienna to Paris in 1778. Mesmer rented an apartment and set up a clinic in the city where the wealthy and powerful in authority stayed. He tried and failed to get into the Royal Academy of Sciences or Royal Society of Medicine to prove official approval for his doctrines. Finally he managed to gain one influential physician, Charles d’Eslon, whom became Mesmer’s disciple in 1778. In 1784, King Louis XVI appointed a royal of commissioners to investigate animal magnetism by d”Eslon which included the great French scientist and chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly, and the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. The verdict of their finding found no scientific evidence to Mesmer’s theories of animal magnetism which purely as mere illusions that benefitted to the patients spiritually.

            Whether any individual in the eighteenth century believe in the power of psychic ability to heal one illness is quantified by the self-transcendence scale, which is composed of three sub-sets: “self-forgetfulness” (as in the tendency to become totally absorbed in some activity, such as reading); “transpersonal identification” (a feeling of connectedness to a larger universe); and “mysticism” (an openness to believe things not literally provable, such as ESP). Self-transcendence is an essential component in the processes of integration and maturation of personality which is cited by Robert Cloninger (2004). In the nineteenth century, the theory of animal magnetism attracted many followers in Europe and United States and became very popular by Charles Poyen, who made him known as the “Professor of Animal Magentism”, a pupil of Marquis de Puysegur in 1836. Benjamin & Baker (2004) cited; “In certain ways, mesmerism was the first secular psychotherapy in America, a way of ministering psychologically to the great America unchurched. It was an ambitious attempt to combine religion with psychotherapy, and it spawned ideologies such as mind cure philosophy, the New Thought movement, Christian Science and American spiritualism.”.



Benjamin, L.T., & Baker, D.B. (2004). The beginnings of psychological practice:
Psychology’s other occult doubles. From Séance to Science: A History
of the Profession of Psychology in America
(pp.21-24). California:
Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Cloninger CR. Feeling good: The science of well-being. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Goodwin, C.J. (1999). Psychoanalysis and clinical psychology: Mesmerism and hypnosis. A History of Modern Psychology (pp. 363-365). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Mackay, Charles. (1995). Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds. Crown Publishing. Originally published in 1841.

Mesmer, F.A. (1980); Mesmerism: A Translation of the Original Medical and Scientific Writings; Bloch, G.J. (tr.); Kaufmann Inc.; Los Altos, CA


Mabel Ang from The School of Positive Psychology


2 thoughts on “Famous Historian of Mesmerism: Animal Magnetism

  1. Pingback: What is a Baquet? | The Druid Sanctuary

  2. Pingback: TODAY’S BIRTHDAY: Franz Anton Mesmer (1734) | euzicasa

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