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What Is Animal Magnetism?

Animal magnetism led to the study of clairvoyance.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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Animal magnetism defines a term that originated in the late 1700s to describe the practice of using magnetic force to cure disease. It was coined by a German doctor who believed living animals possessed a magnetic fluid linked to celestial bodies and caused illness when it was out of balance with the sun, moon, and stars. The animal magnetism theory was practiced for 75 years and led to the study of hypnosis, clairvoyance, and parapsychology. In modern times, animal magnetism refers to sex appeal, raw charisma, and charm.

German physician Franz Anton Mesmer is sometimes called the father of hypnotism for his early work with animal magnetism theories. He used magnets to rebalance the invisible fluid present in the stars and all animals, including humans. Later, the doctor abandoned the use of magnets, believing the magnetic fluid in his body became activated when he passed his hands over an ill patient. The word mesmerize stems from the doctor’s name.

Mesmer became famous for his work, especially among women. He opened clinics for rich and poor people and found economic status had no bearing on the number of people cured using animal magnetism. At the time, these medical techniques were not considered a fad, prompting other doctors to practice using these theories.

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After several decades, a commission was formed to study the effectiveness of animal magnetism in curing ailments. The commission found people got better from the power of suggestion and not mysterious magnetic fluids linked to planets, the sun, or the moon. Men who sat on the commission also believed imagination played a strong role in how people recovered from disease.

Although deemed a fraud, Mesmer and his work impacted the study of psychology and medicine, especially in how the mind affects disease. Other doctors who continued this form of healing discovered patients appeared to fall into a trance, which was called magnetic sleep. They were surprised by patients speaking in this state, especially when patients diagnosed their illnesses and suggested cures. Usually, these patients did not remember what occurred during their sleep states.

Several decades after Mesmer first used animal magnetism in his medical practice, the concept of a conscious and unconscious mind surfaced. It was in the mid-1800s when hypnotism first became an accepted means of treating patients. Hypnotism replaced the term magnetic somnambulism used to describe the trance-like state seen in patients.

In modern times, animal magnetism describes an intense physical attraction between two people, usually of the opposite sex. It might describe a person who possesses the ability to charm people and attract others without effort. Some people describe the feeling as having an instant connection with another person.

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