Recorded history is full of tantalising glimpses of rituals and practices that look very much like hypnosis from a modern perspective, from the “healing passes” of the Hindu Vedas to magical texts from ancient Egypt.
These practices tend to be for magical or religious purposes, such as divination or communicating with gods and spirits.
In the 21st century, there are still those who see hypnosis as some form of occult power.Those who believe that hypnosis can be used to perform miracles or control minds are, of course, simply sharing the consensus view that prevailed for centuries.Like breathing, hypnosis is an inherent and universal trait, shared and experienced by all human beings since the dawn of time.On the other hand, it’s only in the last few decades that we’ve come to realise that!Although we now know that his notion of “animal magnetism”, transferred from healer to patient through a mysterious etheric fluid, is hopelessly wrong, it was firmly based on scientific ideas current at the time, in particular Isaac Newton’s theories of gravitation.
Mesmer was also the first to develop a consistent method for hypnosis, which was passed on to and developed by his followers. Mesmer himself, for instance, liked to perform mass inductions by having his patients linked together by a rope, along which his “animal magnetism” could pass.
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On the one hand, a history of hypnosis is a bit like a history of breathing.
The work of Franz Mesmer, amongst others, can be seen as both the last flourish of “occult” hypnosis and the first flourish of the “scientific” viewpoint.
Mesmer was the first to propose a rational basis for the effects of hypnosis.
Hypnosis itself hasn’t changed for millennia, but our understanding of it and our ability to control it has changed quite profoundly.