Sources returnpage

Mesmer, Franz Anton

Category: Healer


Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815) was a German physician with an interest in astronomy, astrology, alchemy and many other mystic themes, who attempted to revive the art of healing, as opposed to the chemistry of ‘medicines’.  His theory came to be known as ‘Mesmerism’.

Mesmerism - A caption to an early representation Mesmerist seance:

M. Mesmer, doctor of medicine in the faculty of Vienna in Austria, is the sole inventor of animal magnetism. That method of curing a multitude of ills (among others, dropsy, paralysis, gout, scurvy, blindness, accidental deafness) consists in the application of a fluid or agent that M. Mesmer directs, at times with one of his fingers, at times with an iron rod that another applies at will, on those who have recourse to him ,.. The sick especially women, experience convulsions or crises that bring about their cure ... In the ante-chamber, musicians play tunes to make the sick cheerful.


The theory attracted numerous followers in Europe and the United States and was popular into the 19th century. For about 75 years from its beginnings in 1779 it was an important speciality in medicine, and continued to have some influence for about another 50 years. Hundreds of books were written on the subject between 1766 and 1925. Today it is almost entirely forgotten.


Mesmer was born in the village of Iznang, on the shore of Lake Constance in Swabia, Germany, a son of master forester Anton Mesmer (1701—after 1747) and his wife, Maria/Ursula (née Michel; 1701—1770).


After studying at the Jesuit universities of Dillingen and Ingolstadt, he took up the study of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1759. In 1766 he published a doctoral dissertation with the Latin title De planetarum influxu in corpus humanum (On the Influence of the Planets on the Human Body), which discussed the influence of the Moon and the planets on the human body and on disease. 

In January 1768, Mesmer married Anna Maria von Posch, a wealthy widow, and established himself as a physician in the Austrian capital Vienna.

So we know he was interested in astrology, and in healing; furthermore he had enough money via his marriage to be able to put in practise what he believed.

Early approach

Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient's knees, pressing the patient's thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient's eyes. Mesmer made "passes", moving his hands from patients' shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient's hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure.


These are trigger points – acupuncture points  - and the approach here is using stimulation via trigger points.  The “patient's hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm)” is a very very key chakra – the SOLAR PLEXUS or manipura chakra.

Mesmer as magician

Mesmer was thus not a fraud, nor a charlatan, he knew his trigger points and he also knew about meridians.  But he was living in very difficult times when it came to teaching the healing arts.  It helps to know something of Vienna at the time he was studying.  This time belongs to the picture of 'Old Vienna' with its social mysteriousness; where “it was swarming with Rosicrucians, Asiatics, Illuminates, Alchemists, Magnetopaths, Thaumaturgs, Templars, who all of them had many and willing adherents.”

In other words it was a major centre for anyone with an interest in the spiritual, alchemical and mystical.  Dr. Mesmer knew the Comte St. Germain, who was a well known and enigmatic magician and mystical figure, a person able to prophesy.  Mesmer knew that magic ‘sold seats’, it got people interested, and the more incomprehensible the ritual, the better, as it took people’s minds off what was really happening and made the process far more successful.

Equally important is the fact that the Comte de Saint Germain (died 27 February 1784) was a musical magician with an ability to heal. The music is important.

"Dr. Mesmer who knew the Comte St. Germain well from his stay in Paris, requested him to come to Vienna in order that he might pursue his study of animal magnetism with him. St. Germain stayed secretly here and was then known as the 'American of the Felderhof' which latter, became later on 'Laszia House' in the Lugeck N. 3. Dr. Mesmer was much helped by the Count and here in Vienna his (Mesmer's) teaching was written down. Soon Mesmer gained followers but he was obliged to leave the town. He went to Paris where his 'Harmonious Society'--a secret society of savants--continued to exist. In Vienna St. Germain came in touch with many mystagogues [sic]. He visited the famous laboratory of the Rosicrucians in the Landstrasse behind the hospital where he instructed for some time his brethren in the sciences of Solomon. The Landstrasse, situated on the outskirts of Vienna, was for many centuries a region of spooks.  Below in the Erdberg the Templars and the estates of their order and outside town in the Simmering there was in the times of Rudolf II,  the gold kitchen where the eccentric fraternity endeavoured to make gold. It is certain that the Comte de St. Germain has been in Vienna in the year 1735, and also later. The arrival of the Count (who enjoyed at that time a great prestige) at once created a great sensation in the initiated circles.


The ritual

By 1780 Mesmer had more patients than he could treat individually and he established a collective treatment known as the "baquet." An English physician who observed Mesmer described the treatment as follows:

The baquet

In the middle of the room is placed a vessel of about a foot and a half high which is called here a "baquet". It is so large that twenty people can easily sit round it; near the edge of the lid which covers it, there are holes pierced corresponding to the number of persons who are to surround it; into these holes are introduced iron rods, bent at right angles outwards, and of different heights, so as to answer to the part of the body to which they are to be applied. Besides these rods, there is a rope which communicates between the baquet and one of the patients, and from him is carried to another, and so on the whole round. The most sensible effects are produced on the approach of Mesmer, who is said to convey the fluid by certain motions of his hands or eyes, without touching the person. I have talked with several who have witnessed these effects, who have convulsions occasioned and removed by a movement of the hand...

So here we have the use of ritual and ceremony to befuddle people and get them into the right frame of mind – a bit of magic and I suspect a bit of fun.  But this approach alone would not have been enough and there had to be something else, and the something else appears to be music.

Music as the magic

Dr Peregrine Horden – Music as medicine

Franz Anton Mesmer (173+-1815) studied medicine in Vienna and was an accomplished amateur musician friend of Gluck, Haydn and the Mozart family (the infant prodigy’s Singspiel, Bastien and Bastienne, was supposedly first performed in Mesmer's garden theatre) Mesmer was also skilful on the glass harmonica.

The method of treatment which he elaborated may seem like a forerunner of hypnotism and psychoanalysis (brainchild of another Viennese physician); but it is actually best understood against a background of both Renaissance cosmology and Enlightenment science. Mesmer's thesis of 1766, 'De planetarum influxu', was on the familiar Renaissance topic of the influence of the stars on the human body. From Renaissance sources such as Paracelsus and Fludd (his many critics were quick to puncture claims to originality) but also from the some of the physics of his own age, Mesmer derived the notion of a single universal fluid, visible only in its effects.

This animal fluid (from anima, soul) was the medium for the interaction of heavenly bodies with the earth and with animate objects - or to put it in older terminology, of musica mundana with musica humana. Just as there was in Mesmer's scheme of things only one humour rather than four, so there was only one illness: not a humoral imbalance but a disorderly configuration of magnetic forces within an individual body. This disorder could be counteracted by passing a magnet, or later just a capable hand, over the patient's initially entranced and then convulsed body.

Magnetic fluid could, moreover, supposedly be directed and strengthened by sound. No specifically Mesmeric music survives, at least from the circle of Mesmer himself. And Mesmer never fully articulated its role in his curative sessions. Yet music - sung, or played on the glass harmonica by Mesmer himself or on the piano by an assistant - seems to have been a regular and more than ancillary part of the whole elaborate ritual.

So much is clear from the recollections of disciples, among them the poet-physician Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), who himself played the Jew's harp as part of his magnetizing of a famous nineteenth-century 'case', that of the woman whom he immortalized in print as the Seeress of Prevorst. The enormous scholarly literature that Mesmerism has generated says relatively little about its musical aspect. Yet that literature has shown what a potent, popular force Mesmerism became in late eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe, despite the denunciations of various medical authorities.


In other words, all the complex ritual that Mesmer invented to provide a bit of magic to the proceedings might all have been just that, a ritual a means of getting people in the right frame of mind.  What actually healed them was the music – and if one looks at the choice of instruments – music that caused resonance.  That and a little bit of autosuggestion.

In effect early Mesmerism as practised by Mesmer was Stimulation via resonance, he had found a way of tapping in to the music of the body.  So there is a type of music therapy here, the possible diffusion of which has been too little noticed. And it is perhaps different from most other European types in that it seeks to induce rather than to end abnormal functioning - to provoke a crisis.

According to d'Eslon, Mesmer understood health as the free flow of the process of life through thousands of channels in our bodies. Illness was caused by obstacles to this flow. Overcoming these obstacles and restoring flow produced crises, which restored health. When Nature failed to do this spontaneously, contact with a conductor of animal magnetism was a necessary and sufficient remedy. Mesmer aimed to aid or provoke the efforts of Nature. To cure an insane person, for example, involved causing a fit of madness. The advantage of magnetism involved accelerating such crises without danger.


There are forms of Shaivistic music that aims to do the same thing; Alain Danielou in his study of the music of Southern India and carnatic music noticed that the music has a resonant quality and uses different pitches to that used today.  In effect, Indian music uses songlines.

Later on Mesmer simply used music as therapy coupled with a form of hypnotism.

Dr Peregrine Horden – Music as medicine

Less well known is Schubert's attendance at a Mesmerist session in 1825. The treatment was directed by the painter Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld and Schubert participated in it by playing some of his newly-composed dances so that their effect on the patient, Louise Mora could be observed while she was in a trance.

The move to Paris

There are things that resonance can cure and things it cannot, and one of the things it cannot cure is congenital blindness.  But, it is always worth trying, unless of course there are those just waiting for an opportunity to call you a charlatan when you fail.  Mesmer’s attempt to treat the blindness of an 18-year-old musician, Maria Theresia Paradis, did not succeed and the waiting pariahs immediately attacked.  So bad were the attacks that he was forced to leave Vienna in 1777. In February 1778 Mesmer moved to Paris, rented an apartment in a part of the city preferred by the wealthy and powerful, and established a medical practice. Paris soon divided into those who thought he was a charlatan who had been forced to flee from Vienna and those who thought he had made a great discovery.

In his first years in Paris, Mesmer tried and failed to get either the Royal Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society of Medicine to provide official approval for his doctrines. He found only one physician of high professional and social standing, Charles d'Eslon, to become a disciple. In 1779, with d'Eslon's encouragement, Mesmer wrote an 88-page book, Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal, to which he appended his famous 27 Propositions. These propositions outlined his theory at that time.

Some contemporary scholars equate Mesmer’s animal magnetism with the Qi (chi) of Traditional Chinese Medicine and mesmerism with medical Qigong practices.”

It appears his real secret died with him, although clearly we are suggesting what it was here.  From Mesmerism grew hypnotism, as such an important school of more easily studied healing practise emerged from his work.

His wife Maria Anna died around 1790.  Mesmer continued to practice in Frauenfeld, Switzerland for a number of years and died in 1815 in Meersburg, Germany.


For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.