Animal magnetism

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Animal magnetism (French: magnétisme animal) is also known eponymously as mesmerism after Franz Mesmer who postulated the existence of a magnetic fluid or ethereal medium as a therapeutic agent.

"Animal magnetism"

The (conventional) English term animal magnetism translates Mesmer's magnétisme animal. Mesmer chose the word "animal" for its root meaning (from Latin animus = "breath"), specifically to identify his force/power as a quality residing in the bodies of the animate beings:(humans and animals). Mesmer chose his term to clearly distinguish his variant of magnetic force from those which were referred to, at that time, as mineral magnetism, cosmic magnetism and planetary magnetisms.


A tendency emerged amongst British magnetizers to call their clinical techniques mesmerism in order to distance themselves from the magnetic-fluid-centered theoretical orientation of animal magnetism.

However, many scientific practioners - such as French physician, anatomist, gynecologist, and pupil of Joseph Philippe François Deleuze (1753-1835), Théodore Léger (1799-1853), who had moved to Texas around 1836 -- found the label "mesmerism" to be "most improper".

Noting that, by 1846, the term Galvanism had been replaced by electricity, and seemingly unaware that Mesmer himself never used the term mesmerism, Léger argued that:

MESMERISM, of all the names proposed [to replace the term animal magnetism], is decidedly the most improper; for, in the first place, no true science has ever been designated by the name of a man, whatever be the claims he could urge in his favor; and secondly, what are the claims of Mesmer for such an honor? He is not the inventor of the practical part of the science, since we can trace the practice of it through the most remote ages; and in that respect, the part which he introduced has been completely abandoned. He proposed for it a theory which is now [viz., 1846] exploded, and which, on account of his errors, has been fatal to our progress. He never spoke of the phenomena which have rehabilitated our cause among scientific men; and since nothing remains to be attributed to Mesmer, either in the practice and theory, or the discoveries that constitute our science, why should it be called MESMERISM? (p.14)

Royal Commission

The existence of Mesmer's magnetic fluid was scientifically examined by a French Royal Commission set up by Louis XVI in 1784. The Commmission included Majault, Benjamin Franklin, Jean Sylvain Bailly, J. B. Le Roy, Sallin, Jean Darcet, de Borey, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, Antoine Lavoisier, Poissonnier, Caille, Mauduyt de la Varenne, Andry, and de Jussieu.

Whilst the Commission agreed that the cures claimed by Mesmer were indeed cures, the commission also concluded there was no evidence of the existence of his magnetic fluid, and that its effects derived from either the imaginations of its subjects or through charlatanry.[1]

Mesmerism and hypnosis

Abbé Faria, or Abbé (Abbot) José Custódio de Faria, (May 30, 1746 - September 20, 1819), was a colourful Indo-Portuguese monk who was one of the pioneers of the scientific study of hypnotism, following on from the work of Franz Anton Mesmer. Unlike Mesmer, who claimed that hypnosis was mediated by "animal magnetism", Faria understood that it worked purely by the power of suggestion. In the early 19th century, Abbé Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris.

He was the first to affect a breach in the theory of the "magnetic fluid," to place in relief the importance of suggestion, and to demonstrate the existence of "autosuggestion."

Mesmerism and hypnosis (as we now understand hypnosis) have nothing in common except their shared historical roots, and the experience of the mesmerized subject is significantly different from that of the hypnotized subject.


  • The term's most common usage today is to refer (sometimes facetiously) to a person's sexual attractiveness or raw charisma.
  • Healing techniques such as Reiki and Qi Gong have certain similarities to mesmerism. However their practical and theoretical positions are substantially different from that of mesmerism.
  • Julian West, the main character in Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy is put to sleep for 113 years by a mesmerizer.
  • Count Fosco, the charismatic villain of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White is a student of mesmerism.
  • Così fan tutte, an opera by Mozart, has animal magnetism as a central plot device.
  • Famous Noise musician Merzbow has released an album called "Animal Magnetism".
  • Animal Magnetism is the name of a quest in the MMORPG "RuneScape", in which the phrase is taken literally, requiring the player gather an undead chicken, a magnet, and various other items to make a device that creates arrows.


  1. The term "animal magnetism" is also occasionally employed in the context of Christian Science to describe unheeded mental influences, malicious or ignorant, resting on its subjects' belief in them.


  • Lèger, T. [sic], Animal Magnetism; or, Psycodunamy, D. Appleton, (New York), 1846 [N.B. author is Théodore Léger (1799—1853)].

See also

External links

de:Animalischer Magnetismus lt:Mesmerizmas no:Mesmerisme fi:Mesmerismi sv:Animal magnetism