A peculiar altered state of consciousness distinguished by
certain marked symptoms, the most prominent and invariable
of which are the presence of continuous alpha waves on the
electroencephalograph, hypersuggestibility in the subject, a
concentration of attention on a single stimulus, and a feeling
of ‘‘at oneness’’ with the stimulus. Hypnotic states may be induced
by various techniques applied to oneself or by another.
The hypnotic state may be induced in a large percentage of
normal individuals, or may occur spontaneously. It is recognized
as having an affinity with normal sleep, and likewise with
a variety of trance-like conditions, among which may be mentioned
somnambulism, ecstasy, and the trances of Hindu yogis
and fakirs, and various tribal shamans. In fact, in one form or
another, hypnosis has been known in practically all countries
and periods of history.
Hypnotism, once classed as an occult science, has gained,
though only within recent years, a definite scientific status, and
no mean place in legitimate medicine. Nevertheless, its history
is inextricably interwoven with occult practice, and even today
much hypnotic phenomena is associated with the psychic and
occult, so that a consideration of hypnotism remains a necessary
component in any mature understanding of the occult
world science of both our own time and the past.
The Early Magnetists
As far back as the sixteenth century, hypnotic phenomena
were observed and studied by scientists, who attributed them
to ‘‘magnetism,’’ an effluence supposedly radiating from every
object in the universe, in a greater or lesser degree, and
through which objects might exercise a mutual influence on
one another. From this doctrine was constructed the ‘‘sympathetic’’
system of medicine, by means of which the ‘‘magnetic
effluence’’ of the planets, of the actual magnet, or of the physician
was brought to bear upon the patient. Paracelsus is generally
supposed to be the originator of the sympathetic system,
as he was its most powerful exponent. Of the magnet he states,
‘‘The magnet has long lain before all eyes, and no one has
ever thought whether it was of any further use, or whether it
possessed any other property, than that of attracting iron. The
sordid doctors throw it in my face that I will not follow the ancients;
but in what should I follow them? All that they have said
of the magnet amounts to nothing. Lay that which I have said
of it in the balance, and judge. Had I blindly followed others,
and had I not myself made experiments, I should in like manner
know nothing more than what every peasant sees—that it
attracts iron. But a wise man must inquire for himself, and it
is thus that I have discovered that the magnet, besides this obvious
and to every man visible power, that of attracting iron, possesses
another and concealed power.’’
That power, he believed, was of healing the sick. And there
is no doubt that cures were actually effected by Paracelsus with
the aid of the magnet, especially in cases of epilepsy and nervous
affections. Yet the word ‘‘magnet’’ is most frequently used
by Paracelsus and his followers in a figurative sense, to denote
the magnes microcosmi, man himself, who was supposed to be a
reproduction in miniature of the Earth, having, like it, his poles
and magnetic properties. From the stars and planets, he
taught, came a very subtle effluence that affected human intellect,
while earthly substances radiated a grosser emanation that
affected the body. The human Mumia (body of vitalism) especially
was a ‘‘magnet’’ well suited for medical purposes, since it
draws to itself the diseases and poisonous properties of other
substances. The most effective Mumia, according to Paracelsus,
was that of a criminal who had been hanged, and he suggests
the manner of its application:
‘‘If a person suffer from disease, either local or general, experiment
with the following remedy. Take a magnet impregnated
with Mumia, and combined with rich earth. In this earth
sow some seeds that have a likeness to, or homogeneity with,
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Hypnotism
the disease; then let this earth, well sifted and mixed with
Mumia, be laid in an earthen vessel, and let the seeds committed
to it be watered daily with a lotion in which the diseased
limb or body has been washed. Thus will the disease be transplanted
from the human body to the seeds which are in the
earth. Having done this, transplant the seeds from the earthen
vessel to the ground, and wait till they begin to flourish into
herbs. As they increase, the disease will diminish, and when
they have reached their mature growth, will altogether disappear.’’
The quaint but not altogether illogical idea of ‘‘weaponsalve’’—anointing
the weapon instead of the wound—was also
used by Paracelsus, his theory being that part of the vital spirits
clung to the weapon and exercised an ill effect on the vital spirits
in the wound, which would not heal until the ointment was
first been applied to the weapon. This also was an outcome of
the magnetic theory.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Paracelsus’ ideas
were developed by J. B. van Helmont, a scientist of distinction
and an energetic protagonist of magnetism. ‘‘Material nature,’’
he writes, ‘‘draws her forms through constant magnetism from
above, and implores for them the favour of heaven; and as
heaven, in like manner, draws something invisible from below,
there is established a free and mutual intercourse, and the
whole is contained in an individual.’’
Van Helmont also believed in the power of the will to direct
the subtle fluid. There was, he held, in all created things a
magic or celestial power through which they were allied to
heaven. This power or strength is greatest in the human soul,
resides in a lesser degree in the body, and to some extent is
present in the lower animals, plants, and inorganic matter. It
is by reason of their superior endowment in this respect that
humans are enabled to rule the other creatures, and to make
use of inanimate objects for their own purposes. The power is
strongest when one is asleep, for then the body is quiescent,
and the soul most active and dominant, and for this reason
dreams and prophetic visions are more common in sleep. He
‘‘The spirit is everywhere diffused, and the spirit is the medium
of magnetism; not the spirits of heaven and of hell, but
the spirit of man, which is concealed in him as the fire is concealed
in the flint. The human will makes itself master of a portion
of its spirit of life, which becomes a connecting property
between the corporeal and the incorporeal, and diffuses itself
like the light.’’
To this ethereal spirit he ascribed the visions seen by ‘‘the
inner man’’ in ecstasy, and also those of the ‘‘outer man’’ and
the lower animals. In proof of the mutual influence of living
creatures he asserted that a human being could kill an animal
merely by staring hard at it for a quarter of an hour.
That Van Helmont was not ignorant of the power of imagination
is evident from many of his writings. A common needle,
he declared, may by means of certain manipulations and the
willpower and imagination of the operator, be made to possess
magnetic properties. Herbs may become very powerful
through the imagination of the person who gathers them. And
he adds,
‘‘I have hitherto avoided revealing the great secrets, that the
strength lies concealed in man, merely through the suggestion
and power of the imagination to work outwardly, and to impress
this strength on others, which then continues of itself,
and operates on the remotest subjects. Through this secret
alone will all receive its true illumination—all that has hitherto
been brought together laboriously of the ideal being out of the
spirit—all that has been said of the magnetism of all things—of
the strength of the human soul—of the magic of man, and of
his dominion over the physical world.’’
Van Helmont also gave special importance to the stomach
as the chief seat of the soul, recounting an experience of his
own. Upon touching some aconite with his tongue, he found all
his senses transferred to his stomach. Several centuries later,
seeing with the stomach was to become a favorite accomplishment
of somnambules and cataleptic subjects.
A distinguished English magnetist was Robert Fludd, who
wrote in the first part of the seventeenth century. Fludd was an
exponent of the microcosmic theory and a believer in the magnetic
influence. According to Fludd, not only were these emanations
able to cure bodily diseases, but they also affected the
moral sentiments. If radiations from two individuals were flung
back or distorted, negative magnetism, or antipathy resulted.
However, if the radiations from each person passed freely into
those from the other, the result was positive magnetism, or
sympathy. Examples of positive and negative magnetism were
also to be found among the lower animals and among plants.
Another magnetist of distinction was the Scottish physician William
Maxwell, author of De Medicina Magnetica (1679), who is
said to have anticipated much of Mesmer’s doctrine. He declared
that those who are familiar with the operation of the universal
spirit can, through its agency, cure all diseases, at no
matter what distance. He also suggested that the practice of
magnetism, though very valuable in the hand of a welldisposed
physician, is not without its dangers and is liable to
many abuses.
The Healers Valentine Greatrakes and J. J. Gassner
While the theoretical branch of magnetism was thus receiving
attention at the hands of the alchemical philosophers, the
practical side was by no means neglected. There were, in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of ‘‘divine
healers,’’ whose magic cures were without doubt the result of
hypnotic suggestion.
Of these perhaps the best known and most successful were
Valentine Greatrakes, an Irishman, and a Swabian priest
named John Joseph Gassner. Greatrakes was born in 1628, and
on reaching manhood served for some time in the Irish army,
thereafter settling down on his estate in Waterford. In 1662 he
had a dream in which it was revealed to him that he possessed
healing by touch, a gift which could cure the king’s evil (scrofula).
The dream was repeated several times before he paid
heed to it, but at length he experimented, his own wife being
the first to be healed by him.
Many people who came to him from the surrounding country
were cured when he laid his hands upon them. Later the impression
came upon him strongly that he could cure other diseases
besides the king’s evil. News of his powers spread far and
wide, as patients came by the hundreds to seek his aid. Despite
the fact that the bishop of the diocese forbade the exercise of
these apparently magical powers, Greatrakes continued to heal
the afflicted people who sought him. In 1666 he proceeded to
London, and, though not invariably successful, he seems to
have performed there a surprising number of cures, which were
testified to by Robert Boyle, Sir William Smith, Andrew Marvell,
and many other eminent people.
His method of healing was to stroke the affected part with
his hand, thus (it was claimed) driving the disease into the limbs
and finally out of the body. Sometimes the treatment acted as
though by magic, but if immediate relief was not obtained, the
rubbing was continued. Only a very few cases were dismissed as
incurable. Even epidemic diseases were healed by a touch. It
was noted that during the treatment the patient’s fingers and
toes remained insensible to external stimuli, and frequently he
or she showed every symptom of such a ‘‘magnetic crisis’’ as was
afterward to become a special feature of mesmeric treatment.
Personally, Greatrakes was a simple and pious gentleman,
persuaded that his marvelous powers were a divinely-bestowed
gift, and most anxious to make the best use of them.
The other healer mentioned earlier, J. J. Gassner
(1727–1779), belongs to a somewhat later period—about the
middle of the eighteenth century. He was a priest of Bludenz
in Vorarlberg, Austria, where his many cures gained for him a
wide celebrity. All diseases, according to him, were caused by
Hypnotism Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
evil spirits possessing the patient, and his mode of healing thus
consisted of exorcising the demons.
Gassner, too, was a man of kindly disposition and piety, and
made reference to the Scriptures in his healing operations. The
ceremony of exorcism was a rather impressive one. Gassner sat
at a table, the patient and spectators in front of him. A blue redflowered
cloak hung from his shoulders. The rest of his clothing
was ‘‘clean, simple, and modest.’’ On his left was a window,
on his right, the crucifix. His fine personality, deep learning,
and noble character, which inspired the faith of the patient and
his friends, doubtless played no small part in his curative feats.
Sometimes he made use of ‘‘magnetic’’ manipulations, stroking
or rubbing the affected part, and driving the disease, after the
manner of Greatrakes, into the limbs of the patient. He generally
pronounced the formula of exorcism in Latin, with which
language the demons seemed to show a perfect familiarity.
Not only could Gassner control sickness by these means, but
the passions also were amenable to his treatment,
‘‘Now anger is apparent, now patience, now joy, now sorrow,
now hate, now love, now confusion, now reason—each carried
to the highest pitch. Now this one is blind, now he sees, and
again is deprived of sight, etc.’’
These curious results suggest what in the nineteenth century
was termed ‘‘phreno-magnetism,’’ where equally sudden
changes of mood were produced by touching with the fingertips
those parts of the subject’s head which phrenology associated
with the various emotions to be called forth.
Emanuel Swedenborg
Hitherto it will be seen that the rational and supernatural
explanations of magnetism had run parallel with one another,
the former most in favor with the philosophers, the latter with
the general public. It was reserved for Emanuel Swedenborg
(1688–1772), the Swedish philosopher and seer to unite the
doctrine of magnetism with that of spirit agency—i.e., the belief
in the action in the external world of the discarnate spirits
of deceased human beings. That Swedenborg accepted some of
the theories of the older magnetists is evident from some of his
mystical writings, where, for example, he states,
‘‘In order to comprehend the origin and progress of this influence
[i.e., God’s influence over man], we must first know that
which proceeds from the Lord is the divine sphere which surrounds
us, and fills the spiritual and natural world. All that proceeds
from an object, and surrounds and clothes it, is called its
‘‘As all that is spiritual knows neither time nor space, it
therefore follows that the general sphere or the divine one has
extended itself from the first moment of creation to the last.
This divine emanation, which passed over from the spiritual to
the natural, penetrates actively and rapidly through the whole
created world, to the last grade of it, where it is yet to be found,
and produces and maintains all that is animal, vegetable, and
mineral. Man is continually surrounded by a sphere of his favorite
propensities; these unite themselves to the natural
sphere of his body, so that together they form one. The natural
sphere surrounds every body of nature, and all the objects of
the three kingdoms. Thus it allies itself to the spiritual world.
This is the foundation of sympathy and antipathy, of union and
separation, according to which there are amongst spirits presence
and absence.
‘‘The angel said to me that the sphere surrounded man
more lightly on the back than on the breast, where it was thicker
and stronger. This sphere of influence peculiar to man operates
also in general and in particular around him by means of
the will, the understanding, and the practice.
‘‘The sphere proceeding from God, which surrounds man
and constitutes his strength, while it thereby operates on his
neighbour and on the whole creation, is a sphere of peace, and
innocence; for the Lord is peace and innocence. Then only is
man consequently able to make his influence effectual on his
fellow man, when peace and innocence rule in his heart, and
he himself is in union with heaven. This spiritual union is connected
with the natural by a benevolent man through the touch
and the laying on of hands; by which the influence of the inner
man is quickened, prepared, and imparted. The body communicates
with others which are about it through the body, and the
spiritual influence diffuses itself chiefly through the hands, because
these are the most outward or ultimum of man; and
through him, as in the whole of nature, the first is contained
in the last, as the cause in the effect. The whole soul and the
whole body are contained in the hands as a medium of influence.’’
Mesmerism or Animal Magnetism
In the latter half of the eighteenth century, a new era was inaugurated
in connection with the doctrine of a magnetic fluid,
due in large measure to the works of Franz Anton Mesmer, the
physician from whose name mesmerism was taken. Mesmer
was born at Wiel, near Lake Constance, in 1733, and studied
medicine at the University of Vienna, receiving his medical degree
in 1766. In the same year he published his first work, De
Planetarum Influxu (The Influence of Planets on the Human
Body). Although he claimed to have thereby discovered the existence
of a ‘‘universal fluid,’’ to which he gave the name of
magnétisme animal, there is no doubt that his doctrine was in
many respects identical to that of the older magnetists mentioned
The idea of the universal fluid was suggested to him in the
first place by his observation of the stars, which led him to believe
the celestial bodies exercised a mutual influence on each
other and on the Earth. This he identified with magnetism, and
it was but a step (and a step which had already been taken by
the early magnetists) to extend this influence to the human
body and all other objects, and to apply it to the science of medicine.
In 1776, Mesmer met with J. J. Gassner, the Swabian priest.
Mesmer set aside the supernatural explanation offered by the
healer himself, and declared that the cures and severe crises
that followed his manipulations were attributable to nothing
but magnetism. Nevertheless this encounter gave a new trend
to his ideas. Hitherto he himself had employed an actual magnet
in order to cure the sick, but seeing that Gassner dispensed
with that aid, he was led to consider whether the power might
not reside in a still greater degree in the human body. Mesmer’s
first cure was performed on an epileptic patient by means
of magnets, but the honor of it was disputed by a Jesuit, Fr. Hell
(a professor of astronomy at the University of Vienna), who had
supplied the magnetic plates, and who claimed to have discovered
the principles on which the physician worked.
Thereafter for a few years Mesmer practiced in various European
cities and strove to obtain recognition for his theories,
but without success. In 1778, however, he went to Paris, and
there attained an immediate and triumphant success in the
fashionable world, although the learned bodies still refused to
have anything to say to him.
Aristocratic patients flocked in hundreds to Mesmer’s consulting
rooms hung with mirrors, which the physician theorized
would augment the magnetic fluid. He himself wore, it was
said, a shirt of leather lined with silk, to prevent the escape of
fluid, while magnets were hung about his person to increase his
natural supply of magnetism. The patients were seated round
a baquet, or magnetic tub, a description of which was left by Seifert,
one of Mesmer’s biographers:
‘‘The receptacle was a large pan, tub, or pool of water, filled
with various magnetic substances, such as water, sand, stone,
glass bottles (filled with magnetic water), etc. It was a focus within
which the magnetism was concentrated, and out of which
proceeded a number of conductors. These being bent pointed
iron wands, one end was retained in the baquet, whilst the other
was connected with the patient and applied to the seat of the
disease. This arrangement might be made use of by any number
of persons seated round the baquet, and thus a fountain, or
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Hypnotism
any receptacle in a garden, as in a room, would answer for the
purpose desired.’’
For the establishment of a school of animal magnetism Mesmer
was offered 20,000 livres by the French government, with
an annual sum of 10,000 livres for its upkeep; he refused.
Later, however, the sum of 340,000 livres was subscribed by
prospective pupils and handed over to him.
One of Mesmer’s earliest and most distinguished disciples
was Charles D’Eslon, a prominent physician, who laid the doctrines
of animal magnetism before the Faculty of Medicine in
1780. Consideration of Mesmer’s theories was, however, indignantly
refused, and D’Eslon was warned to rid himself of such
a dangerous doctrine.
Another disciple of Mesmer who attained distinction in
magnetic practice was the Marquis de Puységur, who was the
first to observe and describe the state of induced somnambulism,
now well known as the hypnotic trance.
Puységur’s ideas on the subject began to supersede those of
Mesmer, and he gathered about him a distinguished body of
adherents, among them the celebrated Lavater. Indeed, his
recognition that the symptoms attending the magnetic sleep
were resultant from it was a step of no small importance in the
history of mesmerism.
In 1784, a commission was appointed by the French government
to enquire into the magnetic phenomena. For some reason
or another its members chose to investigate the experiments
of D’Eslon, rather than those of Mesmer himself. The
commissioners, including Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier,
and Jean Bailly, observed the peculiar crises attending the
treatment, and the rapport between patient and physician, but
decided that imagination could produce all the effects, and that
there was no evidence whatever for a magnetic fluid. The report,
edited by Bailly, offers a description of the crisis,
‘‘The sick persons, arranged in great numbers, and in several
rows around the baquet (bath), received the magnetism by
means of the iron rods, which conveyed it to them from the baquet
by the cords wound round their bodies, by the thumb
which connected them with their neighbours, and by the
sounds of a pianoforte, or an agreeable voice, diffusing magnetism
in the air.
‘‘The patients were also directly magnetised by means of the
finger and wand of the magnetiser, moved slowly before their
faces, above or behind their heads, or on the diseased parts.
‘‘The magnetiser acts also by fixing his eyes on the subjects;
by the application of his hands on the region of the solar plexus;
an application which sometimes continues for hours.’’
Meanwhile the patients present a varied picture.
‘‘Some are calm, tranquil, and experience no effect. Others
cough and spit, feel pains, heat, or perspiration. Others, again,
are convulsed.
‘‘As soon as one begins to be convulsed, it is remarkable that
others are immediately affected.
‘‘The commissioners have observed some of these convulsions
last more than three hours. They are often accompanied
with expectorations of a violent character, often streaked with
blood. The convulsions are marked with involuntary motions
of the throat, limbs, and sometimes the whole body; by dimness
of the eyes, shrieks, sobs, laughter, and the wildest hysteria.
These states are often followed by languor and depression. The
smallest noise appears to aggravate the symptoms, and often
to occasion shudderings and terrible cries. It was noticeable
that a sudden change in the air or time of the music had a great
influence on the patients, and soothed or accelerated the convulsions,
stimulating them to ecstasy, or moving them to floods
of tears.
‘‘Nothing is more astonishing than the spectacle of these
‘‘One who has not seen them can form no idea of them. The
spectator is as much astonished at the profound repose of one
portion of the patients as at the agitation of the rest.
‘‘Some of the patients may be seen rushing towards each
other with open arms, and manifesting every symptom of attachment
and affection.
‘‘All are under the power of the magnetizer; it matters not
what state of drowsiness they may be in, the sound of his voice,
a look, a motion of his hands, spasmodically affects them.’’
Although Mesmer, Puységur, and their followers continued
to practice magnetic treatment, the report of the royal commission
had the effect of quenching public interest in the subject,
although from time to time a spasmodic interest in it was shown
by scientists. M. de Jussieu, at about the time the commission
presented its report, suggested that it would have done well to
inquire into the reality of the alleged cures, and to endeavor to
find a satisfactory explanation for the phenomena they had witnessed,
while to remedy the deficiency he himself formulated
a theory of ‘‘animal heat,’’ an organic emanation that might be
directed by the human will. Like Mesmer and the others, he believed
in action at a distance, i.e., what is today termed absent
Mesomeric practitioners formed themselves into Societies of
Harmony until the political situation in France rendered their
existence impossible. Early in the nineteenth century Pététin
and Jean Deleuze published works on animal magnetism. But
a new era was inaugurated with the publication in 1823 of Alexandre
Bertrand’s Traité du Somnambulisme, followed three years
later by a treatise Du Magnétisme Animal en France.
From Animal Magnetism to Phreno-Magnetism and
Alexandre Bertrand was a young physician of Paris, and to
him belongs the honor of having discovered the important part
played by suggestion in the phenomena of the induced trance.
He had observed the connection between the magnetic sleep,
epidemic ecstasy, and spontaneous sleepwalking, and declared
that all the cures and strange symptoms that had formerly been
attributed to animal magnetism, animal electricity, and the
like, resulted from the suggestions of the operator acting on
the imagination of a patient whose suggestibility was greatly increased.
It is probable that had he lived longer (he died in 1831, at
the age of 36), Bertrand would have gained a definite scientific
standing for the facts of the induced trance, but as it was, the
practitioners of animal magnetism still held to the theory of a
‘‘fluid’’ or force radiating from magnetizer to subject, while
those who were unable to accept such a doctrine ignored the
matter altogether, or treated it as vulgar fraud.
Nevertheless Bertrand’s works and experiments revived the
flagging interest of the public to such an extent that in 1831 a
second French commission was appointed by the Royal Academy
of Medicine. The report of this commission was not forthcoming
until more than five years had elapsed, but when it was
finally published, it contained a definite testimony to the genuineness
of the magnetic phenomena, and especially of the somnambulistic
state, and declared that the commission was satisfied
of the therapeutic value of ‘‘animal magnetism.’’
The report was certainly not of great scientific worth. The
name of Bertrand was not even mentioned therein, nor his theory
considered. On the other hand, a good deal of space was
given to the more paranormal or ‘‘supernatural’’ phenomena,
clairvoyance, action at a distance, and the prediction by somnambulistic
patients of crises in their maladies. This is the more
excusable, however, since these ideas were almost universally
associated with somnambulism. A community of sensation was
held to be a feature of the trance state, as was also the transference
of the senses to the stomach. Thought-transference was
suggested by some of these earlier investigators, notably by J.
P. F. Deleuze, who suggested that thoughts were conveyed from
the brain of the operator to that of the subject through the medium
of the subtle ‘‘magnetic fluid.’’
Meanwhile the Spiritualist theory, i.e., the activity of spirit
entities, was becoming more and more frequently advanced to
Hypnotism Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
explain the ‘‘magnetic’’ phenomena, including both the legitimate
trance phenomena and the multitude of supernormal
phenomena that was supposed to follow the somnambulistic
state. This will doubtless account in part for the extraordinary
animosity the medical profession showed toward animal magnetism
as a therapeutic agency. Its anesthetic properties they
ridiculed as fraud or imagination, notwithstanding that serious
operations, even of the amputation of limbs, could be performed
while the patient was in the magnetic sleep.
Thus John Elliotson was forced to resign his professorship
at the University College Hospital, and James Esdaile, a surgeon
who practiced at a government hospital at Calcutta, had
to contend with the derision of his professional colleagues.
Similar contemptuous treatment was dealt out to other medical
men who were really pioneers of hypnotism, against whom
nothing could be urged but their defense of mesmerism.
In 1841, James Braid, a British surgeon, arrived independently
at the conclusions Bertrand had reached some 18 years
earlier. Once more the theory of abnormal suggestibility was
offered to explain the various phenomena of the so-called magnetic
sleep, and once more it was largely ignored, alike by the
world of science and by the public.
Braid’s explanation was essentially that which is offered
now. He placed the new science, which he called ‘‘hypnotism,’’
on a level with other natural sciences, above the mass of medieval
magic and superstition in which he had found it. Yet even
Braid did not seem to have entirely separated the chaff from
the grain, for he countenanced the practice of phrenomesmerism,
a combination of mesmerism and phrenology
wherein the entranced patient whose head was touched by the
operator’s fingers exhibited every sign of the emotion or quality
associated with the phrenological organ touched.
Braid asserted that a subject, entirely ignorant of the position
of the phrenological organs, passed rapidly and accurately
from one emotion to another, according to the portion of the
scalp in contact with the hypnotist’s fingers. His physiological
explanation is a somewhat inadequate one, and we can only
suppose that he was not fully appreciative of his own theory of
In 1843, two periodicals dealing with magnetism appeared:
the Zoist, edited by John Elliotson and a colleague, and the
Phreno-Magnet, edited by Spencer T. Hall. The first, adopting
a scientific tone, treated the subject mainly from a therapeutic
point of view, while the latter was of a more popular character.
Many of the adherents of both papers, and notably Elliotson
himself, afterward became Spiritualists.
In 1845, an additional impetus was given to animal magnetism
by the publication in that year of Baron von Reichenbach’s
research. Reichenbach claimed to have discovered a new
force, which he called od, odyle, or odylic force, and which
could be seen in the form of flames by sensitives, i.e., psychics.
Reichenbach meticulously classified the indications of such sensitivity
as a more acute form of normal human faculty.
In the human being these emanations might be seen to radiate
from the fingertips, while they were also visible in animals
and inanimate things. Different colors issued from the different
poles of the magnet. Reichenbach experimented by putting
his sensitives in a dark room with various objects—crystals, precious
stones, magnets, minerals, plants, animals—which they
could unerringly distinguish by the color and size of the flame
visible to their clairvoyant eye. These emanations appeared so
invariable and so permanent that an artist might paint them
and, indeed, this was frequently done. Feelings of temperature,
heat or cold, were also experienced in connection with the
Baron von Reichenbach’s experiments were spread over a
number of years, and were made with every appearance of scientific
care and precision, so that their effect on the mesmerists
of the time was very considerable. But notwithstanding the
mass of dubious and occult phenomena which was associated
with hypnotism at that time, there is no doubt that the induced
trance, with its therapeutic and anesthetic value, would soon
have come into its own had not two other circumstances occurred
to thrust it into the background.
The first was the application of chloroform and ether to the
purposes for which hypnotism had hitherto been used, a substitution
which pleased the medical faculty greatly. Both work to
induce sleep even in persons only lightly or totally unaffected
by hypnotism. At about the same time, the introduction of the
movement known as modern Spiritualism emphasized the occult
associations of trance phenomena and drove many people
from any study of anything closely tied to it.
Later Views of Hypnotism
But if the great body of medical and public opinion ignored
the facts of hypnotism during the period following Braid’s discovery,
the subject did not fail to receive some attention from
scientists in Europe. From time to time investigators took upon
themselves the task of inquiring into the phenomena. This was
especially the case in France, where the study of mesmerism or
hypnotism was most firmly entrenched and where it met with
least opposition. In 1858, one Dr. Azam of Bordeaux investigated
hypnotism from Braid’s point of view, aided by a number
of members of the Faculty of Paris. An account of his research
was published in 1860, but cast no new light on the matter.
Later the same set of facts was examined by E. Mesnet, M.
Duval, and others. In 1875, the noted psychical researcher
Charles Richet also studied artificial somnambulism.
It was, however, from the Bernheim and the Nancy school
that the generally accepted modern view of hypnotism is taken.
H. Bernheim was himself a disciple of A. A. Liébeault, who,
working on independent lines, had reached the same conclusion
as Bertrand and Braid and once more formulated the doctrine
of suggestion. Bernheim’s work De la Suggestion, published
in 1884, embodied the theories of Liébeault as well as
the result of Bernheim’s own research.
According to this view, hypnotism is a purely psychological
process, and is induced by mental influences. The ‘‘passes’’ of
Mesmer and the magnetic philosophers, the elaborate preparations
of the baquet, the strokings of Valentine Greatrakes, and
all the multitudinous ceremonies with which the animal magnetists
used to produce the artificial sleep were only of service
in inducing a state of expectation in the patient, or in providing
a soothing and monotonous, or violent, sensory stimulus. And
so also the modern methods of inducing hypnosis—the fixation
of the eyes, the contact of the operator’s hand, the sound of his
voice—are only effective through the medium of the subject’s
Other investigators who played a large part in popularizing
hypnotism were J. M. Charcot, of the Salpêtrière, Paris, a distinguished
pathologist, and R. Heidenhain, professor of physiology
at Breslau. The former taught that the hypnotic condition
was essentially a morbid one, and allied to hysteria, a
theory which, becoming widely circulated, exercised a somewhat
detrimental effect on the practice of hypnotism for therapeutic
purposes, until it was at length proved erroneous. As a
result, prejudice lingered against the use of the induced hypnotic
trance in medicine until relatively modern times.
Heidenhain laid stress on the physical operations to induce
somnambulism, believing that thereby a peculiar state of the
nervous system was brought about wherein the control of the
higher nerve centers was temporarily removed, so that the suggestion
of the operator was free to express itself automatically
through the physical organism of the patient. The physiological
theory also is somewhat misleading, nevertheless its exponents
did good work in bringing the undoubted facts of hypnosis
into prominence.
Besides these theories there was another to be met with
chiefly in its native France—the old doctrine of a magnetic
fluid. But it rapidly died out.
Among the symptoms which may safely, and without reference
to the supernatural, be regarded as attendant on hypnoEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Hypnotism
tism are: the rapport between subject and operator, implicit
obedience on the part of the former to the smallest suggestion
(whether given verbally or by look, gesture, or any unconscious
action), anesthesia, positive and negative hallucinations, the
fulfillment of post-hypnotic promises, and control of organic
processes and of muscles not ordinarily under voluntary control.
Other phenomena which have been allied from time to time
with magnetism, mesmerism, or hypnotism and for which there
is not the same scientific basis, are clairvoyance, telekinesis,
transference of the senses from the ordinary sense organs to
some other part of the body (usually the fingertips or the pit
of the stomach), community of sensation, and the ability to
commune with the dead.
The majority of these, like the remarkable phenomena of
phreno-magnetism, can be directly traced to the effect of suggestion
on the imagination of the patient. Ignorant as were the
protagonists of mesmerism with regard to the great suggestibility
of the magnetized subject, it is hardly surprising that they
saw new and supernormal faculties and agencies at work during
the trance state. To the same ignorance of the possibilities of
suggestion and hyperesthesia may be referred the common
belief that the hypnotizer can influence his subject by the power
of his will alone, and secure obedience to commands which are
only mentally expressed. At the same time it must be borne in
mind that if belief in telepathy be accepted, there is a possibility
that the operation of thought transference might be more
freely carried out during hypnosis. It is notable, in this respect,
that the most fruitful of the telepathic experiments conducted
by psychical researchers and others have been made with hypnotized
An Extraordinary Experiment
One of the most bizarre and dangerous experiments in hypnotic
telepathy is related in M. Larelig’s biography of the celebrated
Belgian painter Antoine Joseph Wiertz (1806–1865)
and also in the introductory and biographical note affixed to
the Catalogue Raisonné du Musée Wiertz, by Dr. S. Watteau
(1865). Wiertz was the hypnotic subject and a friend, a doctor,
was the hypnotizer.
Wiertz had long been haunted by a desire to know whether
thought persisted in a head severed from the trunk. His wish
was the reason for the following experiment being undertaken,
this being facilitated through his friendship with the prison
doctor in Brussels and another outside practitioner. The latter
had been for many years a hypnotic operator and had more
than once put Wiertz into the hypnotic state, regarding him as
an excellent subject.
About this time, the trial for a murder in the Place SaintGéry
had been causing a great sensation in Belgium and the
painter had been following the proceedings closely. The trial
ended in the condemnation of the accused. A plan was arranged
and Wiertz, with the consent of the prison doctor, obtained
permission to hide with his friend, Dr. D., under the
guillotine, close to where the head of the condemned would
roll into the basket.
In order to carry out more efficiently the scheme he had determined
upon, the painter desired his hypnotizer to put him
through a regular course of hypnotic suggestion, and when he
was in the sleep state to command him to identify himself with
various people and tell him to read their thoughts and penetrate
into their psychical and mental states. An account appeared
in Le Progrés Spirite:
‘‘On the day of execution, ten minutes before the arrival of
the condemned man, Wiertz, accompanied by his friend the
physician with two witnesses, ensconced themselves underneath
the guillotine, where they were entirely hidden from
sight. The painter was then put to sleep, and told to identify
himself with the criminal. He was to follow his thoughts and
feel any sensations, which he was to express aloud. He was also
‘suggested’ to take special note of mental conditions during decapitation,
so that when the head fell in the basket he could
penetrate the brain and give an account of its last thoughts.
‘‘Wiertz became entranced almost immediately, and the
four friends soon understood by the sounds overhead that the
executioner was conducting the condemned to the scaffold,
and in another minute the guillotine would have done its work.
The hypnotized Wiertz manifested extreme distress and
begged to be demagnetized, as his sense of oppression was insupportable.
It was too late, however—the knife fell.
‘‘‘What do you feel? What do you see?’ asks the doctor.
Wiertz writhes convulsively and replies, ‘Lightning! A thunderbolt
falls! It thinks; it sees!’ ‘Who thinks and sees?’ ‘The head.
It suffers horribly. It thinks and feels but does not understand
what has happened. It seeks its body and feels that the body
must join it. It still waits for the supreme blow for death, but
death does not come.’
‘‘As Wiertz spoke, the witnesses saw the head which had fallen
into the basket and lay looking at them horribly; its arteries
still palpitating. It was only after some moments of suffering
that apparently the guillotined head at last became aware that
is was separated from its body.
‘‘Wiertz became calmer and seemed exhausted, while the
doctor resumed his questions. The painter answered: ‘I fly
through space like a top spinning through fire. But am I dead?
Is all over? If only they would let me join my body again! Have
pity! give it back to me and I can live again. I remember all.
There are the judges in red robes. I hear the sentence. Oh! my
wretched wife and children. I am abandoned. If only you would
put my body to me, I should be with you once more. You refuse?
All the same I love you, my poor babies. Miserable wretch
that I am I have covered you with blood. When will this finish!—or
is not a murderer condemned to eternal punishment?’
‘‘As Wiertz spoke these words, the witnesses thought they
detected the eyes of the decapitated head open wide with a look
of unmistakable suffering and of beseeching.
‘‘The painter continued his lamentations: ‘No, such suffering
cannot endure for ever; God is merciful. All that belongs
to earth is fading away. I see in the distance a little light glittering
like a diamond. I feel a calm stealing over me. What a good
sleep I shall have! What joy!’ These were the last words the
painter spoke. He was still entranced, but no longer replied to
the questions put by the doctor. They then approached the
head and Dr. D. touched the forehead, the temples, and teeth
and found they were cold. The head was dead.’’
In the Wiertz Gallery in Brussels are to be found three pictures
of a guillotined head, presumably the outcome of this
gruesome experiment.
Theory of Hypnotic Action
Among numerous explanations of the physiological conditions
accompanying the hypnotic state there is one, the theory
of cerebral dissociation, which was generally accepted by science,
and which may be briefly outlined as follows. The brain
is composed of innumerable groups of nerve cells, all more or
less closely connected with each other by means of nervous
links or paths of variable resistance. Excitement of any of these
groups, whether by means of impressions received through the
sense organs or by the communicated activity of other groups,
will, if sufficiently intense, occasion the rise into consciousness
of an idea.
In the normal waking state, the resistance of the nervous association-paths
is fairly low, so that the activity is easily communicated
from one neural group to another. Thus the main idea
which reaches the upper stratum of consciousness is attended
by a stream of other, subconscious ideas, which has the effect
of checking the primary idea and preventing its complete dominance.
Now the abnormal dominance of one particular system of
ideas—that suggested by the operator—together with the complete
suppression of all rival systems, is the principal fact to be
explained in hypnosis. To some extent the physiological proHypnotism
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
cess conditioning hypnosis suggests an analogy with normal
sleep. When one composes oneself to sleep there is a lowering
of cerebral excitement and a proportionate increase in the resistance
of the neural links. This is apparently what happens
during hypnosis, the essential passivity of the subject raising
the resistance of the association-paths.
But in normal sleep, unless some exciting cause be present,
all the neural dispositions are at rest, whereas in the hypnotic
state such a complete suspension of cerebral activities is not
permitted, since the operator, by means of voice, gestures, and
manipulations of the patient’s limbs, keeps alive that set of impressions
relating to himself. One neural disposition is thus isolated,
so that any idea suggested by the operator is free to work
itself out in action, without being submitted to the checks of the
sub-activity of other ideas.
The alienation is less or more complete according to the degree
of hypnotism, but a comparatively slight raising of resistance
in the neural links suffices to secure the dominance of
ideas suggested by the hypnotizer.
Hyperesthesia, mentioned so frequently in connection with
the hypnotic state, really belongs to the doubtful class, since it
has not yet been decided whether or not an actual sharpening
or refining of the senses takes place. Alternatively it may be
suggested that the accurate perception of faint senseimpressions,
which seems to furnish evidence for hyperesthesia,
merely reclass the fact that the excitement conveyed
through the sensory nerve operates with extraordinary force,
being freed from the restriction of sub-excitement in adjacent
neural groups and systems.
In putting forward this viewpoint it must be conceded that
in the conscious, awakened state, feeble sensory stimuli must
act on nerve and brain just as they do in hypnosis. However, in
the former case they are so stifled amid a multitude of similar
impressions that they fail to reach consciousness. In any case
the occasional abnormal sensitivity of the subject to slight sensory
stimuli is a fact of hypnotism as well authenticated as anesthesia
itself. The term ‘‘hyperesthesia,’’ if not entirely justified,
may for want of a better term, be practically applied to the observed
The hypnotic state is not necessarily induced by a second
person. ‘‘Spontaneous’’ hypnotism and ‘‘autohypnotization’’
are well known. Certain yogis, fakirs, and shamans can produce
in themselves a state closely approximating hypnosis by a prolonged
fixation of the eyes, and by other means. The mediumistic
trance is also, as will be shown hereafter, a case in point.
Hypnotism and Spiritualism
The association of spirits and what is today called hypnotism
was advocated by the magnetic philosophers of medieval times,
and even earlier by astrologers and magi. It has been shown
that at a early date, phenomena of a distinctly hypnotic character
were ascribed to the workings of spirit agencies, whether angelic
or demonic, by a certain percentage of the observers.
Thus Greatrakes and Gassner believed themselves to have been
gifted with a divine power to heal diseases. Witchcraft, in which
the force of hypnotic suggestion seems to have operated to a
large degree, was thought to result from the witches’ traffic with
the devil and his legions. Cases of ecstasy, catalepsy, and other
trance states were given a spiritist significance, i.e., demons, angels,
elementals, and so on, were supposed to speak through
the lips of the possessed. Even in some cases the souls of deceased
men and women were identified with these intelligences,
although not generally until the time of Swedenborg.
Although the movement known as modern Spiritualism is
properly dated from 1848, the year of the Rochester rappings,
its roots lead directly to the animal magnetists. Additionally,
Swedenborg, whose affinities with the magnetists have already
been referred to, exercised a remarkable influence on the Spiritualist
thought of America and Europe, and was also a precursor
of that faith. Automatic phenomena were even then a feature
of the magnetic trance, and clairvoyance, community of
sensation, and telepathy were believed in generally, and regarded
by many as evidences of spiritual communication.
In Germany, Professor Jung-Stilling, C. Römer, Dr. Werner,
and the poet and physician Justinus Kerner, were among those
who held opinions on these lines, the latter pursuing his investigations
with a somnambule who became famous as the Seeress
of Prevorst—Frederica Hauffe. Hauffe could apparently see
and converse with the spirits of the deceased, and she gave evidence
of prophetic vision and clairvoyance. Physical phenomena
were witnessed in her presence, knockings, rattling of
chains, movement of objects without contact, and, in short,
such manifestations as were characteristic of a poltergeist. She
was, moreover, the originator of a ‘‘primeval’’ language, which
she declared was that spoken by the patriarchs. Hauffe, although
only a somnambule or magnetic patient, possessed all
the qualities later associated with successful Spiritualist mediums.
In England also there were many circumstances of a supernatural
character associated with mesmerism. Dr. Elliotson,
one of the best-known of English magnetists, became in time
converted to a Spiritualist theory as offering an explanation of
the clairvoyance and similar phenomena he thought he observed
in his patients.
France, the headquarters of the rationalist school of magnetism,
had indeed a good deal less to show of Spiritualist opinion.
Nonetheless even in that country the latter doctrine made
its appearance at intervals prior to 1848. J. P. F. Deleuze, a capable
scientist and an earnest protagonist of magnetism, who
published his Histoire Critique du Magnétisme Animal in 1813, was
said to have embraced the doctrines of Spiritualism before he
It was however, Louis-Alphonse Cahagnet, a man of humble
origin who began to study induced somnambulism about
the year 1845 and experimented with somnambules, who became
one of the first French Spiritualists of distinction. So good
was the evidence for spirit communication furnished by Cahagnet
and his subjects that it remains among the most impressive
the movement produced.
In the United States, La Roy Sunderland, Andrew Jackson
Davis, and others who became pillars of Spiritualism were first
attracted to it through the study of magnetism. Elsewhere we
find hypnotism and the consideration of the work of spirits
identified with each other until 1848, when a definite split occurs,
and the two go their separate ways. Even so, however, the
separation is not quite complete. In the first place, the mediumistic
trance is obviously a variant of spontaneous or selfinduced
hypnotism, while in the second, many of the most
striking phenomena of the séance room have been matched
time and again in the records of animal magnetism.
For instance, the diagnosis of disease and prescription of
remedies dictated by the control to the ‘‘healing medium’’ have
their prototype in the cures of Valentine Greatrakes, or of Mesmer
and his disciples. Automatic phenomena—speaking in
tongues and so forth—early formed a characteristic feature of
the induced trance and kindred states.
Even some of the physical phenomena later associated with
Spiritualism, movement without contact, apports, and rappings,
were witnessed in connection with magnetism long before
the movement known as modern Spiritualism was so much
as thought of. In some instances, though not in all, it is possible
to trace the operation of hypnotic suggestion in the automatic
phenomena, just as we can perceive the result of fraud in many
of the physical manifestations.
Hypnotism and Psychical Phenomena
In the 1890s, psychical researcher Paul Joire described the
three classical states of hypnotism:
‘‘Lethargy, the state of complete relaxation with variable
amount of anesthesia, with neuro-muscular excitation as its
fundamental characteristic. In this state the subject has the eyes
closed and is generally only slightly open to suggestion.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Hypnotism
‘‘Catalepsy, the eyes are open, the subject is as though petrified
in the position which he occupies. Anesthesia is complete,
and there is no sign of intelligence. Immobility is characteristic
of this state.
‘‘Somnambulism, the condition of the eyes varies, the subject
appears to sleep. Simple contact, or stroking along any limb is
sufficient to render that limb rigid. Suggestibility is the main
characteristic of this state. The somnambulistic state presents
three degrees:
‘‘1. Waking somnambulism, slight passivity with diminution
of the will and augmentation of suggestibility.
‘‘2. The second personality begins to take the place of the
normal one. Torpor of consciousness and memory. Sensibility
‘‘3. Complete anesthesia. Disappearance of consciousness
and memory. Inclination to peculiar muscular rigidity.’’
It is likely that the depth of hypnotic sleep may vary infinitely.
Distinct trains of memory may correspond to each stage,
presenting alternating personalities of a shallow type.
The means to induce the hypnotic state differ. In many cases
simple suggestion will do, even from a distance; in others, passes
and the close proximity of the hypnotizer will be necessary.
Some subjects feel the old ‘‘mesmerizer’’ influence, some do
The implicit obedience to suggestion has great therapeutical
and psychological significance. Bad habits may be improved,
phobias, manias, criminal propensities, and diseases
cured, inhibitions removed, pain banished, the ordinary working
of defective senses restored, the ordinary senses vivified, intelligence
and ability in professional pursuits increased, and
new senses of perception developed.
Subconscious calculation discloses flashes of mathematical
genius, and once the rapport is established, the possibility is
open for the development of supernormal faculties. The subject
may see clairvoyantly, give psychometric descriptions, see
into the future, read the past, make spiritual excursions to distant
places and hear and see events occurring there, and give
correct medical diagnoses.
Eugèn Osty believed that the number of hypnotizable subjects
was getting smaller and smaller, and in support of his contention,
he refers in the Revue Metapsychique (November–December
1930) to the similar experiences of Berillon,
Richet, and Emile Magnin. However, modern hypnotists have
shown that there is no shortage of subjects and that a high percentage
of ordinary individuals are susceptible to hypnosis.
The exact nature of the hypnotic trance is still somewhat unknown,
although it has received additional attention as new
techniques and instrumentation for measuring brain activity
has been developed. The electroencephalograph (EEG), for
example, can measure brain activity by detecting small electronic
currents emitted by the brain. During the awakened state
beta waves, at a frequency of 13-35 Hz, are discharged. Similarly,
sleep emits brain waves oscillating at 4-8Hz, known either
as delta or theta waves. However, the hypnotic state—the state
of dreams and somnambulism—is characterized by alpha
waves, which oscillate at 8-13 Hz. This state is typified by muscular
relaxation, focused concentration, and hyperactivity of
the senses.
Goldberg (1998) asserts the hypnotic trance is actually a natural-occurring
state which transpires regularly during the day
for everyone.
‘‘We experience four hours of daydreams or natural hypnotic
states during our waking day. Our nighttime dreams are another
form of hypnosis occurring during the REM (rapid eye
movement) cycle of sleep. We dream approximately three
hours every night. Projecting this out, we experience seven
hours of natural hypnosis during every twenty-four-hour day
cycle—approximately 2500 hours in a year!’’
The relation of hypnotic trance to the mediumistic trance is
of absorbing interest to spiritualists (though of minuscule concern
to modern scientists). The medium’s trance differs in that
it tends to be voluntary and self-induced, although hypnotism,
for the purpose of relieving the medium from the attendant
physiological suffering, is sometimes employed to bring it
Julien Ochorowicz saved the medium Stanislawa Tomczyk
much exhaustion by hypnotizing her. The Didier brothers
were always accompanied by a magnetizer and the mediumship
of Andrew Jackson Davis was initiated by hypnotic clairvoyance.
Juliette Bisson facilitated the materialization phenomena of
Eva C., and Kathleen Goligher was hypnotized by W. J. Crawford,
though we are now aware of the fraud inherent in Eva C.’s
and Goligher’s work.
The hypnotized subject has great powers of personation.
But he or she does not claim, unless so suggested, communication
with the dead. In the mediumistic trance such suggestion
is already assumed, but works in a confined territory. Often,
those whose appearance is yearned for do not communicate at
all; many strangers come and go, and all the controls seem to
exhibit a distinct personality far surpassing in variety the imitative
efforts of any hypnotized subject. If they were subjective
creations of the medium’s mind, Spiritualists argue, they would
not exhibit those special peculiarities by which the sitters establish
their identity with their departed friends.
The hypnotic self does not normally exhibit such cunning
as the personation of hundreds of individuals and the acquisition
of facts deeply buried in the subconscious or totally unknown
to the sitters, although there is evidence that the subconscious
mind may sometimes invent plausible personalities,
just like the waking consciousness of a novelist.
The hypnotic personality usually has an uncanny sense of
time. Spirit controls, on the other hand, are generally vague
and uncertain on this point. Their messages are not exactly located
in time, and are sometimes borne out by past or near future
William James made many attempts to see whether Leonora
Piper’s medium-trance had any community of nature with
ordinary hypnotic trance. The first two attempts to hypnotize
her failed but after the fifth attempt, he noted, she had become
a good hypnotic subject:
‘‘. . . as far as muscular phenomena and automatic imitations
of speech and gesture go; but I could not affect her consciousness,
or otherwise get her beyond this point. Her condition in
this semi-hypnosis is very different from her medium-trance.
The latter is characterized by great muscular unrest, even her
ears moving vigorously in a way impossible to her in her waking
state, but in hypnosis her muscular relaxation and weakness are
extreme. She often makes several efforts to speak before her
voice becomes audible; and to get a strong contraction of the
hand, for example, express manipulation and suggestion must
be practised. Her pupils contract in the medium-trance. Suggestions
to the control that he should make her recollect after
the medium-trance what she had been saying were accepted,
but had no result. In the hypnotic trance such a suggestion will
often make the patient remember all that has happened.’’
Current Issues in Hypnosis
From time to time hypnotism has been used in an attempt
to validate theories of reincarnation. In hypnotic regression, a
hypnotized subject is made to recall experiences that progressively
regress to birth and then (allegedly) to memories of former
births. An early experimenter in this technique was Albert
Rochas from France.
In modern times, the hypnotist Morey Bernstein created a
sensation with his book The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956). The
book was based on his experiences with the subject ‘‘Ruth Simmons’’
(Mrs. Virginia Tighe), alleged to have recovered memories
of a previous life as an Irish girl named Bridey Murphy.
Another modern experimenter is Denys Kelsey, who hypnotized
his wife, novelist Joan Grant. Their book, Many Lifetimes
(1969), presents Joan Grant’s claimed memories of former
Hypnotism Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
lives. Many of these memories were given in a series of novels
by Grant.
Past life regression is a therapeutic technique of hypnosis
said to be used to resolve conflicts between souls which may
have originated in a lifetime prior to the last birth. Several different
types of phenomena can reportedly occur during such
regressive episodes:
Xenoglossy is the speaking or writing during a hypnotic
trance, in a language previously unknown by the subject.
Soul loss is said to be the forfeiture of vital energy experienced
as a result of any kind of physical, emotional, mental, or
spiritual trauma. In the regressive practice of soul retrieval, the
therapist seeks to disentangle the subject’s soul from another
entity, freeing each soul of its dysfunctional attachment to the
Possession occurs when flashes of an attached entity’s past infiltrate
the subject’s own past life memories, while depossession
seeks to remove the traces of the separate entity from the current
life experience.
Future life progression examines the effect of interacting paranormal
entities which originate in the future.
Even with subjects who do not believe in past lives and spiritual
entities, these hypnotic regressions are said to be effective
projective exercises—a kind of internal role playing—for resolving
emotional conflict.
Related to past life regression is the phenomenon of age regression.
Through hypnotic techniques, the subject is made to
relive experiences of an earlier age in the current lifetime, in
order to resolve trauma or conflict which originated in that age
period. Age regression is related to a controversial practice
called Repressed Memory Therapy (RMT). Considerable
media attention has focused on accusations of severe and ritual
child sexual abuse which have emerged from Repressed Memory
Therapy, and other hypnotic techniques reclaiming regressed
memories. Critics of RMT assert that the memories of
the sexual abuse which the subjects claim to retrieve are often
actually imaginative ideas suggested, often unwittingly, by the
hypnotist. Although amnesia and delayed recall are documented
among sex abuse victims, critics warn reconstruction of the
memories cannot be thought of as empirical evidence of abuse,
but rather part of a theoretical construct used to explain the
given disorder.
Apart from its use in paranormal episodes, hypnotism remains
an often effective technique in the treatment of emotional
and behavioral disorders. In addition to psychotherapeutic
sessions, hypnotism is now being utilized in other realms of
health and education. For instance, hypno-birthing is a technique
founded by Marie Mongan. Hypnotic techniques are reportedly
utilized to create a calm state for the birth mother.
This alledgedly enables the mother to draw upon natural birthing
muscles, bodily anesthesias, and inherent instincts to facilitate
a trauma-free birth.
Another modern derivative of hypnotic techniques is Neuro
Linguistic Programming (NLP), developed by John Grinder
and Richard Bandler of the University of California at Santa
Cruz. NLP is the study of how communication effects and is effected
by subjective experience, which can be used to determine
how different kinds of persons learn. It explores relationships
between neurology, linguistics, and observable patterns
of behavior, incorporating hypnotic techniques of Milton
Erickson. NLP unlocks secrets of highly effective communication,
some of which might be outside the realm of conscious
Both age regression and past life regression, however, point
to the heart of the debate concerning using hypnotism to access
memory, or for facilitating occult and parapsychological encounters.
The controversy revolves around determining the
exact nature of what the somnambulistic subject experiences
and, subsequently, expresses. Perhaps the subject actually encounters
entities, communications, and experiences originating
in alternative planes of existence. Or maybe these phenomena
are merely the result of imagination heightened by
suggestion, whether intentional or incidental. It is possible that
these experiences merely reflect images and information that
have accumulated in the unconscious, often escaping the
awareness of the sentient mind.
Since it is often difficult for the subject themselves to differentiate
between these kind of stimuli, the debate is likely to
continue indefinitely.
Ambrose, G., and G. Newbold. A Handbook of Medical Hypnosis.
4th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1980.
Barber, Theodore Zenophon. Hypnosis: A Scientific Approach.
New York: Psychological Dimensions, 1976.
Bernheim, H. Hypnosis and Suggestion in Psychotherapy: A
Treatise on the Nature and Uses of Hypnotism. London, 1888. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1964.
Braid, James. Neurypnology. 1843. Reprinted as Braid on
Hypnotism: The Beginnings of Modern Hypnosis. New York: Julian
Press, 1960.
Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn
Books, 1970.
Cahagnet, L. Alphonse. The Celestial Telegraph. London,
1850. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1976.
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