Mesmer, Franz Anton – The French Royal Society of Medicine report on Mesmer’s methods and healing effects
Type of Spiritual Experience
Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John's College, Cambridge. Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years, He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He was also the author of Battle for the Mind, and The Unquiet Mind.
A description of the experience
From The Mind Possessed - Dr William Sargant
Mesmer spared no pains to make the scene as impressive and emotionally tense as possible and to create the effect of powerfully mysterious and magical forces at work. Soft music filtered in from an adjoining room and the patients, in the dim religious light of the thickly curtained main hall, had to keep absolutely silent while Mesmer walked about in a coat of lilac silk, carrying a long iron wand with which he touched the afflicted parts of their bodies. He magnetized them by staring at them, by making mesmeric 'passes’ with his hands or by stroking them, and this might be continued for some hours.
Initially he might seat himself opposite the subject, foot against foot, knee against knee, gently rubbing the affected region, and moving his hands to and fro, perhaps lightly touching the ribs.
The effects of the treatment varied considerably. Some patients felt nothing at all, some felt as if insects were scampering over their bodies, some coughed, spat, felt slight pain or a local or general heat which made them sweat.
Some patients, however, fell into convulsions. This was called 'the crisis' and was considered extremely salutary.
Bailly, who was one of the Commissioners appointed to investigate the phenomenon by the French Royal Society of Medicine, reported on the convulsions as follows:
These convulsions are remarkable for their number, duration, and force, and have been known to persist for more than three hours.
They are characterized by involuntary, jerking movements in all the limbs, and in the whole body, by contraction of the throat, by twitching in the hypochondriac and epigastric regions, by dimness and rolling of the eyes, by piercing cries, tears, hiccoughs, and immoderate laughter. They are preceded or followed by a state of languor or dreaminess, by a species of depression, and even by stupor.
The slightest sudden noise causes the patient to start, and it has been observed that he is affected by a change of time or tune in the airs performed on the pianoforte; that his agitation is increased by a more lively movement, and that his convulsions then become more violent. Patients are seen to be absorbed in the search for one another, rushing together, smiling, talking affectionately and endeavouring to modify their crises.
Bailly noted that the great majority of subjects who experienced the crisis were women, and that it took two or three hours to establish the crisis.
‘When the agitation exceeds certain limits, the patients are transported into a padded room; the women's corsets are unlaced, and they may then strike their heads against the padded walls, without doing themselves any injury'.
Besides reporting on the greatly increased suggestibility of the patients, for example in their response to the piano music, Bailly also observed the formation of a strong positive 'transference' to the magnetizer:
'They are all so submissive to the magnetizer that even when they appear to be in a stupor, his voice, a glance, or sign will arouse them from it. It is impossible not to admit, from all these results, that some great force acts upon and masters the patients, and that this force appears to reside in the magnetizer.'