What is Mesmerism?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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Mesmerism is a term used to describe a form of healing developed in the 1700s. It was created by German physician and astrologist Franz Mesmer, and it was built around a concept he called "animal magnetism." The Mesmerists basically believed in a force very similar to gravity, which affected every animate and inanimate object, including everything from entire planets to single insects. They thought this force could actually heal people if it was harnessed correctly.

The scientific establishment was always skeptical of Mesmerism, and eventually, there was a commission of highly-regarded scientists who decided to study it. This group included Benjamin Franklin, an American scientist, statesman and inventor, among other notable personalities. They eventually determined that there was no actual proof that Mesmerism was healing anybody. They felt that most of the reported successes came from something similar to the placebo effect, where people believe they will get better, so their mind creates the sensation of recovery.

The Mesmerists used many different techniques during their healing sessions. Sometimes, they would have people hold rods attached to magnetized objects or immersed in a pot of boiling fluids. During these sessions, Mesmer would create a particular kind of emotionally-charged atmosphere with his behavior and mannerisms. Some people felt that he was trying to manipulate people into believing that something was happening to them by tapping into their emotions.


Over the years, various modern occult movements have embraced many of the ideas behind Mesmerism. Some of the interpretations don’t believe in the science that Mesmer advocated, but they think his method works for other reasons. Some of these reasons include spiritualism and clairvoyance. There are others that believe that Mesmer was simply re-describing many of the principles behind astrology, which is an ancient practice. The astrological connection is particularly notable with the concept of planets and stars being able to influence people’s lives and health.

Some people feel that even if Mesmerism was largely based around the placebo effect, it shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed. Science has shown that the placebo effect can be very powerful, and some experts think it can be a significant part of a healing effort. When people believe that they are being given a medication, sometimes their bodies will react as though they have already received it. This is thought to be due to a reflex, and it can cause powerful physiological effects. There has even been debate about whether or not it is ethical to use the placebo effect purposely.


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