Franz Anton Mesmer

The Father of Mesmerism

Franz Anton Mesmer was born in 1734 at lake Boden in Germany. When he was young he went to Vienna to study theology, philosophy and law, but later turned to medicine. In the year 1766 he became a doctor with his thesis De influxu planetarum in corpus humanum, wherein he revived the ancient idea that the planets of our solar system exude invisible rays that affect our bodies. Mesmer called this effect "Animal Magnetism", and the rays themselves for "Magnetic Fluid". The idea wasnīt new, Paraceleus and Marsilio Ficino had had the same ideas centuries earlier, but what was new was Mesmers way of harnessing this effect.
Mesmer founded a school in Vienna, where he practised healing through Animal Magnetism, harnessing the Magnetic Fluid through pieces of iron and conductive minerals, that he placed upon the diseased spots on the patientsī bodies. He soon found, however, that you could achive "magnetic" effects through the laying of hands or even merely by speaking with the patient. So was modern hypnotism born, although others, like Johann Gassner, had done much the same thing only decades earlier.
(Of course, the term "hypnotism" itself wasnīt coined by Mesmer, but by the English scientist James Braid (1795-1860) in 1843, the name derived from the greek god Hypnos, god of sleep. Braid coined the term to prevent association with "animal magnetism" which he claimed was pure nonsense.)
As Mesmers fame spread more and more people flocked to be cured by him, and even people of rank began to notice the doctor from Vienna. Among his famous patients were Wolfgang Mozart, the emperess Maria Theresa, and her protegé, a blind pianist, Maria Theresia Paradis. Mesmer was hired by Paradisī parents to cure her of her blindness. What really happened is uncertain; Mesmer himself asserts that he managed to cure her, but that her parents, who recived a pension that would be revoked if the girl was to regain her eyesight, withdrew her from Mesmers care, and she relapsed into blindness. Mesmers opponets claims that he only managed to make the girl "see" images by suggestion, and that the parents withdrew the girl when they found out that Mesmer had seduced her. Whatever really happened, Mesmers reputation was badely damaged by the incident, and he moved to Paris in 1778 to begin again. Paris in the late 17th century was a hotbed of different mystic and spiritual teachers, scholars and prophets. It is belived that Mesmer met the famous Comte de Saint Germain there and spoke to him regarding the properties of the magnetic rays. In 1778 Mesmer was offered 20,000 livres for the secret of Animal Magnetism, but refused to divulge it. He had soon built up a solid reputation as a wonder-worker, able to cure most anything short of death in his patients, but trouble was brewing on the horizon.
In 1784 Louis XVI established a commitee consiting of the most famous doctors and naturalist of the time, among others Antoine Lavosier and Benjamin Franklin, to investigate the feasibillity of magnetic phenomena. Despite the fact that the commitee conducted itīs research at a diciple of Mesmer, and not Mesmer himself, they soon reached the conclusion that the magnetic rays were nonexistent and any beneficial results from such treatment was due to self-suggestion. They also reached the conclusion that magnetic treatment was dangerous for women since it might destroy their inhibitations. Mesmers reputation was destroyed and he had to leave Paris. He went to London to try to start up his practice again, but failed and moved to Switzerland, where he died in obscurity in 1815.