The Basic Propositions of Animal Magnetism

The Basic Propositions of Animal Magnetism
Franz Anton Mesmer

from Memoire sur la decouverte du Magnetisme Animal (1779), translated by V. R. Myers

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) is one of those many figures with links to the Hermetic tradition whose modern reputations have almost nothing to do with the realities of their thought and work. At the present time, he is remembered principally as one of the pioneering figures in the development of hypnotism. While it's certainly true that hypnotism in the modern sense of the term started out as a nineteenth-century offshoot of Mesmer's teachings, those teachings themselves have little in common with present-day hypnotic theory or practice - and a great deal more in common with much older approaches to healing deriving from the Hermetic tradition. {42}

Some measure of the gap may be gauged by noting that Mesmer's doctoral dissertation, which earned him a degree in medicine from the University of Vienna in 1766, was on the topic of the influence of the planets upon health and disease in the human body. The twenty-seven propositions presented below, from his Dissertation on the Discovery of Animal Magnetism, make it clear that Mesmer's own view of his discoveries have deep roots in Hermetic thought. It's equally clear that Mesmer's thought had a substantial on Hermetic and magical thought in the Western world after his time, especially in France and central Europe. Many of the most important occultists of the nineteenth century were deeply involved with Mesmer's thought and, in a fair number of cases, the specific practices he and his students developed as well. Mary Ann Atwood's famous Suggestive Inquiry Into The Hermetic Mystery, to name only one of the many examples, was based on an interpretation of alchemy as an essentially Mesmeric art of transformation carried out on the subtle body. More recently, the writings of Franz Bardon (especially his Initiation Into Hermetics) show significant borrowings from the tradition which Mesmer's ideas set in motion.

The text of the propositions given here is taken from Franz Anton Mesmer, Mesmerism, tr. V. R. Myers, intro. Gilbert Frankau (London: Macdonald, 1948), the first English translation of this document.

1. There exists a mutual influence between the heavenly bodies, the earth, and animate bodies.

2. A universally distributed and continuous fluid, which is quite vithout vacuum and of an incomparably rarefied nature, and which by its nature is capable of receiving, propagating and communicating all the impressions of movement, is the means of this influence.

3. This reciprocal action is subordinated to mechanical laws that are hitherto unknown.

4. This action results in alternate effects which may be regarded as an ebb and flow.

5. This ebb and flow is more or less general, more or less particular, more or less composite according to the nature of the causes determining it.

6. It is by this operation (the most universal of those presented by Nature) that the activity ratios are set up between the heavenly bodies, the earth and its component parts. {43}

7. The properties of matter and the organic body depend on this operation.

8. The animal body sustains the alternate effects of this agent, which by insinuating itself into the substance of the nerves, affects them at once.

9. It is particularly manifest in the human body that the agent has properties similar to those of the magnet; different and opposite poles may likewise be distinguished, which can be changed, communicated, destroyed and strengthened; even the phenomenon of dipping is observed.

10. This property of the animal body, which brings it under the influence of the heavenly bodies and the reciprocal action of those surrounding it, as shown by its analogy with the magnet, induced me to term it “animal magnetism”.

11. The action and properties of animal magnetism, thus defined, may be communicated to other animate and inanimate bodies. Both are more or less susceptible to it.

12. This action and properties may be strengthened and propagated by the same bodies.

13. Experiments show the passage of a substance whose rarefied nature enables it to penetrate all bodies without appreciable laws of activity.

14. Its action is exerted at a distance, without the aid of an intermediate body.

15. It is intensified and reflected by mirrors, just like light.

16. It is communicated, propagated and intensified by sound.

17. This magnetic property may be stored up, concentrated and transported.

18. I have said that all animate bodies are not equally susceptible; there are some, although very few, whose properties are so opposed that their very presence destroys all the effects of magnetism in other bodies.

19. This opposing property also penetrates all bodies; it may likewise be communicated, propagated, stored, concentrated and transported, reflected by mirrors and propagated by sound; this constitutes not merely the absence of magnetism but a positive opposing property.

20. The magnet, both natural and artificial, together with other substances, is susceptible to animal magnetism, and even to the opposing property, without its {44} effect on iron and the needle undergoing any alteration in either case; this proves that the principle of animal magnetism differs essentially from that of mineral magnetism.

21. This system will furnish fresh explanations as to the nature of fire and light, as well as the theory of attraction, ebb and flow, the magnet and electricity.

22. It will make known that the magnet and artificial electricity only have, as regards illnesses, properties which they share with several other agents provided by nature, and that if useful effects have been derived from the use of the latter, they are due to animal magnetism.

23. It will be seen from the facts, in accordance with the practical rules I shall draw up, that this principle can cure nervous disorders directly and other disorders indirectly.

24. With its help, the physician is guided in the use of medicaments; he perfects their action, brings about and controls the beneficial crises in such a way as to master them.

25. By making known my method, I shall show by a new theory of illnesses the universal utility of the principle I bring to bear on them.

26. With this knowledge, the physician will determine reliably the origin, nature and progress of illnesses, even the most complicated; he will prevent them from gaining a foothold, and will succeed in curing them without ever exposing the patient to dangerous effects or unfortunate consequences, whatever his age, temperament and sex. Women, even in pregnancy and childbirth, will enjoy the same advantage.

27. In conclusion, this doctrine will enable the physician to determine the state of each individual's health and safeguard him from the maladies to which he might otherwise be subject. The art of healing will thus reach its final stage of perfection.

{45}


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