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Healing Without Medicine
From Pioneers to Modern Practice How Millions have Been Healed by the Power of the Mind Alone
By Albert Amao
Theosophical Publishing House Copyright © 2014 Albert Amao
All rights reserved.
Franz Anton Mesmer
The Father of Mesmerism
The German philosopher and physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815) is an important forerunner of the mental healing movement, and his ideas about healing without conventional medicine strongly influenced practitioners on the American continent. Mesmer was a well-educated man who held doctoral degrees in divinity, philosophy, and medicine. He was graduated from the University of Vienna, one of the leading universities in the world at that time. In addition, he showed interest in other areas of science, such as mathematics, physics, and chemistry. He also displayed musical talent, playing glass harmonica, violoncello, and piano. It is even said that Mesmer was a benefactor of the then thirteen-year-old composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He reportedly helped Mozart when he was having problems raising enough money for the performance of his first one-act opera. Mesmer provided Mozart with the necessary funds, and Mozart's first concert was performed at Mesmer's house.
The modern concept of mental healing in the occidental world started with Mesmer. He was the one who coined the term animal magnetism, also known as mesmerism. Mesmer's pivotal idea was the existence of a magnetic fluid or ethereal medium in the universe that can be used for therapeutic purposes. The word animal in the phrase "animal magnetism" does not have anything to do with the animal kingdom; Mesmer chose the word for its Latin root anima, meaning "breath" or "life force." Mesmer wanted to identify a force that emanates from the bodies of living beings, such as humans and animals. In inventing this term, he wanted to distinguish it from magnetism as displayed in the mineral and other inanimate realms.
According to his biographer Stefan Zweig, Mesmer became interested in healing with steel magnets in 1774, when a wealthy foreigner and his wife visited Vienna. The lady was very sick, and her husband asked a Jesuit priest named Maximilian Hell (1720–1792) to treat her with magnets. Hell, who was also a court astrologer, was convinced that there was a magnetic force in the universe connecting all human beings; he also believed that magnetized steel possessed special curative powers. (Today in America there are people who still use magnets as healing tools.) Hell, who was a close friend of Mesmer, informed him about the foreigners' request. Mesmer asked his friend to keep him informed about the results.
Hell later communicated to Mesmer that the sick lady was completely healed with the magnets, and he encouraged Mesmer to use magnetized steel in his medical practice. Mesmer, always eager to try new experiments, asked Hell to give him similar magnets. Subsequently, Mesmer applied the magnets to his patients and, surprisingly, started curing ailments such as sore throat, headaches, and stomach pains. He was astonished at his own success.
Mesmer started developing different techniques of treatment with magnetized steel. He asked his patients to drink magnetized water, and he attached magnets to various parts of their bodies. In addition, Mesmer invented the baquet to use in his treatment sessions. The baquet was a huge oak tub filled with magnetized water; iron filings protruded from the wooden top. The patients gathered around the baquet, forming a circle while holding their hands. Mesmer, elaborately dressed, used a wand to point at patients or touch them or stroke them. As a result, people reported experiencing streams of a mysterious fluid running through their bodies, and they were often relieved of their maladies.
Mesmer posited the existence of what he called magnetic energy or magnetism, a universal invisible energy coming from the stars that permeates living beings. Illness resulted from a disruption of the flow of this universal energy through the body. In this sense, Mesmer was very close to the metaphysical principle of a life force that infuses and animates the whole universe. This concept can be traced back to the Renaissance occultist, mystic, and physician Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, who is best known as Paracelsus (1493–1541). He disseminated the theory that astrological influences play an important role on human health through a subtle, invisible fluid.
Mesmer was also acquainted with the work of a Catholic priest named Johann Gassner, who performed what he considered to be exorcisms; Mesmer reportedly attended several of these. But Mesmer did not believe Gassner's hypothesis that patients were possessed by demons. Instead, he was convinced that they had emotional disturbances and that the metal crucifix, made of steel and held in Gassner's hand during treatment, magnetized the patients and consequently cured them.
Using these basic ideas, Mesmer experimented with different techniques to generate his cures, such as doing passes and laying his hands on the ailing parts of the patients' bodies. His extraordinary success with this kind of treatment led him to believe he had discovered the long-sought panacea or universal remedy. In any event, his unconventional procedures would heal many conditions where conventional medicine of the time had failed.
Mesmer's fame as a healer grew both in his country and abroad; many people came from distant parts of Europe to be treated by him. Soon many physicians started imitating Mesmer's treatments with magnets and hand passes, also achieving great success in restoring many patients' health. It could be argued that he succeeded at least in part because of collective suggestion, which created a kind of placebo effect. This effect was reinforced by the fact that Mesmer was a physician with professional academic credentials, which was a powerful reason for people to believe in his healing abilities. It was also reinforced by the fact that many people had already been healed by his methods, which inspired trust.
Mesmer's professional life as a healer is well-known, but his association with esoteric schools is unknown to the general public. In 1766, Mesmer received his medical degree with a thesis entitled The Influence of the Planets on the Human Body. A decade later, in 1776, he had an encounter with the Count of Saint Germain, who is regarded as the patron of modern esoteric and ceremonial magic. The Count of Saint Germain, also known as Master Rakoczy (or Master R, for short) in occult circles, may have initiated Mesmer in the occult sciences. In any event, Mesmer is said to have had several occult connections:
Dr. Mesmer was not only a Mason, but was also an initiated member of two powerful occult Fraternities, the Fratres Lucis and the Brotherhood of Luxor. The latter was the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood of Lookshoor in Beluchistan, one of the oldest and most powerful of the Eastern Fraternities. Under the order of the "Great Brotherhood" ... the Council of Luxor selected Dr. Mesmer to act as their eighteenth century pioneer, later appointing Cagliostro as a helper, with the Count de St. Germain to supervise the development of events.
It is interesting to note that 1776, the year in which Mesmer met Saint Germain, was also the year when he changed his healing paradigm: he abandoned the use of steel magnets and started to work using the idea that the human organism is analogous to a magnet and that the universal energy that flows through this organism can be accumulated according to the laws of magnetic attraction. Furthermore, Mesmer claimed that this energy was the healing force. At this point, he came to the conclusion that his cures were the result of his own magnetic personality. That is, it was not the magnets that were restoring the health of his patients; rather, it was the magnetic energy, accumulated in his own body and passed on to the patient, that was the agent of healing. Here we find the origin of the concept of animal magnetism, which can be understood as "personal magnetism" or "personal influence." This shift in Mesmer's healing paradigm marks a major leap in the evolution of his healing practices and provides a key to understanding the future of mind healing.
In the following year, 1777, Mesmer's career confronted difficulties in Vienna when a blind eighteen-year-old female pianist and composer, Maria Theresia von Paradies, was brought to him to have her eyesight restored. The young lady had been blind since birth, but no physician had been able to find anything wrong with her eyes. She had been under the care of Europe's leading eye specialists for ten years without any improvement. Under Mesmer's care, she gradually recovered her sight, although she lost her ability to play the piano. During the time of treatment she was residing at Mesmer's home. Her mother, influenced by jealous medical doctors, wanted to take her away from Mesmer's care before he completed the treatment. When the young girl refused to leave Mesmer's clinic, the mother struck her across her face, and her blindness returned. Mesmer was accused by the child's father of practicing magic. In this case, it appears that Mesmer succeeded, at least initially, in the treatment because she had an emotional or psychological problem rather than an organic disease. At the time, conditions of this kind were known as hysterical disorders.
This incident put Mesmer under both the scrutiny and the harassment of the scientific circles of Austria, which prompted him to leave Vienna and move to Paris, where he established a medical practice. In Paris, Mesmer also accomplished extraordinary healings and gained some disciples; among them was Dr. Charles d'Eslon. Nevertheless, Parisian opinion was divided between those who thought he was a great physician and those who considered him a charlatan. Although Mesmer failed to get official approval for his healing practices from either the Royal Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society of Medicine, he gained the admiration of important professionals in the French capital.
Mesmer's method of treatment in individual sessions was as follows: He would sit in front of the patient, place his hands on the patient's knees or press the patient's thumbs with his hands while looking fixedly into the patient's eyes. Then, Mesmer would make "passes," moving his hands over the patient's head, forehead, eyes, shoulders, arms, legs, and farther down. He placed his index finger over the forehead, which is considered to be the place of the "third eye." As a result, many patients had peculiar sensations, twitches, or convulsions that were regarded as curative crises. This process is similar to what psychology calls catharsis—the release of repressed emotional conflict, generating a curative effect. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing music on a glass harmonica. As a whole, this procedure has many similarities to modern therapies such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, energy healing, and music therapy, although their theoretical foundations are different.
The above description suggests that Mesmer's treatment in curing maladies was largely due to his personal influence and suggestion. This is substantiated by the fact that his clinic was carefully furnished in a fashion designed to impress the patients and to put their minds into a state of relaxation—a perfect setting to induce suggestion. Under these circumstances people went into a trance or semihypnotic state that was conducive to healing. Mesmer was indeed a persuasive physician who had the ability to create confidence, which enhances suggestibility. Furthermore, through his mere presence, he was able to create a favorable impression on sick people. His patients saw in him a powerful and accomplished physician with a considerable reputation. This in itself is an indirect form of suggestion.
Mesmer's popularity as a healer continued to grow in France, and he gained an increasing number of followers. This alarmed not only the traditional doctors but also the government. In 1784, King Louis XVI appointed a royal commission to determine the existence of Mesmer's magnetic fluid scientifically. Among the members of this commission were the eminent chemist Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier and the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. The commission conducted a series of experiments aimed at determining whether Mesmer had discovered a new physical fluid. The commission concluded that there was no sufficient evidence for the existence of this fluid. They could not verify that the phenomena called "magnetic" were caused by the action of any fluid. The commission also warned physicians who were using Mesmer's method that they could lose their credentials if they continued practicing this therapy.
Nevertheless, as the commission could not ignore Mesmer's healings, it concluded that such healings were the product of the power of the individual's imagination and fantasy. Thus it indicated the power of the imagination and fantasy in restoring health, arriving at a perceptive conclusion regarding the psychological mechanism of healing. Indeed, the commission's conclusion has been validated by modern scientific researches such as the one performed by Dr. Jeanne Achterberg, who has demonstrated the power of imagery in healing. I shall elaborate on this fascinating subject in the chapter entitled "The Role of Imagery in Healing."
Mesmerism and hypnosis are not identical, although currently these words are used more or less interchangeably. The common purpose of these techniques is to induce the patient into a receptive state, which is currently known as an alpha brain state, with the purpose of instilling a suggestion. Hypnosis is a process of persuading the patient into a deep relaxation, so he or she becomes amenable to the suggestion given. The operator is thus able to reach the subconscious mind of the patient to remove or eradicate deep-rooted negative habits and to instill a curative idea. Mesmerism, as we have seen, is a technique based on the belief that there is a physical emanation or vital fluid that is transmitted from the operator to the subject. During this treatment, the therapist makes passes and touches affected parts of the body to transmit a fluidic energy. In hypnotism, on the other hand, there is generally no physical manipulation.
Nonetheless, mesmerism is the predecessor of modern hypnosis; the pioneers of hypnosis saw in mesmeric sessions a method of inducing patients into a receptive state of mind. In addition, Mesmer's theory of animal magnetism laid the foundations for modern hypnosis and suggestive therapies. For instance, the Abbé José Custódio de Faria (1746–1819), one of the pioneers of the scientific study of hypnosis, based his views on Mesmer's work; unlike Mesmer, however, Faria posited that hypnosis is the result of the power of suggestion.
Subsequently, Mesmer's pupil the Marquis Chastenet de Puységur (1751–1825) posited the theory that people, knowingly or unknowingly, exercise personal influence on their neighbors and associates through subtle suggestions. In fact, individuals grow up in a social environment where they are constantly receiving positive or negative suggestions, directly or indirectly, from parents, teachers, mentors, mass media, and so on. These subtle influences are unstated suggestions that engender a kind of waking hypnosis and shape the individual's destiny. One purpose of this book is to emphasize that all human beings are subject to constant influence from their social environment; this can be positive or detrimental to their well-being. By the same token, everyone is also, wittingly or unwittingly, exerting positive or negative influence on family, friends, relatives, and associates.
Excerpted from Healing Without Medicine by Albert Amao. Copyright © 2014 Albert Amao. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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