Animal Magnetism and Mesmerism

Authored by: Adam Crabtree

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769


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Animal magnetism (also called ‘mesmerism’) is the name given to a system of physical healing developed in the latter half of the eighteenth century by the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815). Mesmer named his system ‘animal magnetism’ (Mesmer 1779) because it was based on the premise that there exists all through the universe something that he called ‘magnetic fluid’ which permeates every living thing (‘animal’ here meaning anything that is animate, especially human beings). His theory was that when a person became ill it was because the body had developed blocks to the natural flow of magnetic fluid throughout the organism, and if the person was to be healed, the physician must find a way to remove or break down those blocks. At the beginning of his practice of the system, he relied on iron magnets (only recently coming into general use) to accomplish that task, but he soon came to the conclusion that the most powerful ‘magnet’ was the physician’s own body and that he could heal his patients by directing magnetic fluid in a concentrated form (through what he called ‘magnetic passes’ or sweeping movements of the hands over the body) into the patient. Once the blocks had been removed, the body was capable of healing itself through its natural processes (see Ellenberger 1970; Crabtree 1988; 1993; Gauld 1992).

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