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Definition: According to Franz Mesmer, a force field surrounding persons, evenly distributed in healthy individuals and unevenly distributed in unhealthy individuals. Background: In the early 1770s, Maximillian Hell, a Jesuit priest, told Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), an Austrian physician, about how he had cured people using a magnet. Mesmer then tried magnetic therapy as a last resort with one of his patients, with success. He continued to have success with other patients. Magnetic therapy became popular, and a dispute ensued about whether Hell or Mesmer was the first to use it. The debate was covered by the press, and during the controversy the term animal magnetism was coined. Animal magnetism is a supposed force field surrounding persons; it is assumed to be evenly distributed in healthy individuals and unevenly distributed in unhealthy individuals. Mesmer claimed that it is possible to redistribute a person's force field to restore him or her back to health. At first, he used magnets, but later he came to believe that the touch of a healer with a strong magnetic force could accomplish the same thing. In 1784, the Society of Harmony was commissioned by the king of France to study animal magnetism. It concluded that animal magnetism isn't real and called Mesmer a mystic and a fanatic. Mesmer, who truly believed in his treatment, was devastated, and he spent his remaining years living quietly. Nevertheless, he was instrumental in helping to pave the way from a supernatural model of mental illness to a better understanding of it. For example, Mesmer debated one of the most famous exorcists of the late 18th century, Father J. V. Gassner (1727-1779), and won. Mesmer's magnetic therapy was considered to be a "natural" treatment -- under the mistaken assumption that animal magnetism really exists -- whereas Gassner's exorcism was preternatural. Further Reading:
Ellenberger, H. F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious: The history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.
Goldsmith, M. (1934). Franz Anton Mesmer. New York: Doubleday.
Likely, D. (1999). Propositions concerning animal magnetism, by Anton Mesmer, 1779 [On-line] Available: http://www.unb.ca/psychology/likely/readings/mesmer.htm
Pattie, F. A. (1994). Mesmer and animal magnetism: A chapter in the history of medicine. Hamilton: Edmonston Publishing.
Trinity College. (????). Animal magnetism: Mesmer mystifies [On-line] Available: http://www.tcd.ie/Physics/Schools/what/materials/magnetism/three.html
Related Terms: Mesmer, Franz Anton (1734 - 1815)
Puységur, Marquis de (1751 - 1825)
Supernatural model of mental illness
Self-Instructional Resources: Take a 1-item self-test over this concept.
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