Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815)

by | 26 Jul, 2017 | Blog

[cs_content][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column bg_color=”hsl(0, 12%, 91%)” fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”2/3″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text]Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer 1734 –  1815) was a German medical doctor.

His lifetime pre-dates the Golden Age of Spiritualism, but his work helped lay the foundations for it.

His contribution was twofold.  Firstly, he pioneered modern hypnotism, secondly he believed that a transfer of energy was possible between animate and inanimate objects in a process  called animal magnetism.

Confusingly, it is the latter which was contemporaneously referred to as mesmerism, even though today the word mesmerise is associated with hypnotism.

The term hypnosis itself was coined in 1843 by the Scottish physician James Braid, defined as the  invocation of a trance like state , which Mesmer induced by hypnosis,  underpinning Spiritualist thought ever since.

Animal magnetism became hugely popular throughout the 19th Century.

While Mesmer, who was no religious thinker, advanced hypnosis and animal magnetism, so Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) who was, claimed to be able to contact the  spirit world.

Together they had provided the conceptual building blocks for Spiritualism to advance.

It was a potent synthesis and Mesmerism practitioners were inspired in Europe and particularly North America, where showmanship and occasion were central to the performances.

Most prominent of these was American Andrew Jackson Davis, who called his system the “harmonial philosophy”. Davis was a practicing Mesmerist, faith healer and clairvoyant from Poughkeepsie, New York who was an adherent of the cutting edge, French Associationist socialist theories of Fourierism.

His 1847 book, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind was greatly influential at the time.
Mesmer  studied medicine at  the University of Vienna in 1759 and published a doctoral dissertation  which discussed the influence of the Moon and the planets on the human body and on disease, building largely on Isaac Newton’s theory of the tides.

A man of some standing, he married Anna Maria von Posch, a wealthy widow, and established himself as a physician in the Austrian capital Vienna.

In the summers he lived on a grand estate and became a patron of the arts including Mozart, who became a  friend  and name checks him in his opera “Così Fan Tutte”. Mesmer’s medical work became increasingly experimental.

In 1774, Mesmer claimed to have produced an “artificial tide” in a patient, Francisca Österlin, who suffered from hysteria, by having her swallow a preparation containing iron and then attaching magnets to various parts of her body.

She reported feeling streams of a mysterious fluid running through her body and was relieved of her symptoms for several hours.

Mesmer did not believe that the magnets had achieved the cure on their own. He felt that he had contributed animal magnetism, which had accumulated in his work, to her and stopped using magnets as a part of his treatment.

He was also asked by  the Munich Academy of Sciences to pass judgement on exorcisms as his fame grew,

In 1784 King Louis XVI appointed four members of the Faculty of Medicine as commissioners to investigate animal magnetism . At the request of these commissioners the King appointed five additional commissioners from the Royal Academy of Sciences.

These included the chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly, and the American ambassador.

Later to become President,  Benjamin Franklin. The report was not favourable, with one dissenting voice. As a practitioner his star subsequently waned, although his ideas and followers prospered.

Today, animal magnetism and being mesmerised have shifted in meaning, yet can be traced back to Mesmer. That he was rubbing shoulders with Mozart, and having his theories tested by the likes of Louis XVI  and Benjamin Franklin a testament to his contemporary stature.[/cs_text][/cs_column][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/3″ style=”padding: 0px;”][x_image type=”none” src=”” alt=”” link=”false” href=”#” title=”” target=”” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover” info_content=””][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”] [/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]

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