Nevertheless, the stubborn fact remained that hypnosis worked, and the 19th Century is characterised by individuals seeking to understand and apply its effects.Surgeons and physicians like John Elliotson and James Esdaille pioneered its use in the medical field, risking their reputation to do so, whilst researchers like James Braid began to peel away the obscuring layers of mesmerism, revealing the physical and biological truths at the heart of the phenomenon. On the one hand, a history of hypnosis is a bit like a history of breathing.
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The history of hypnosis, then, is really the history of this change in perception.
In the 21st century, there are still those who see hypnosis as some form of occult power.
Those who believe that hypnosis can be used to perform miracles or control minds are, of course, simply sharing the consensus view that prevailed for centuries.
Recorded history is full of tantalising glimpses of rituals and practices that look very much like hypnosis from a modern perspective, from the “healing passes” of the Hindu Vedas to magical texts from ancient Egypt.
Mesmer was the first to propose a rational basis for the effects of hypnosis.
Although we now know that his notion of “animal magnetism”, transferred from healer to patient through a mysterious etheric fluid, is hopelessly wrong, it was firmly based on scientific ideas current at the time, in particular Isaac Newton’s theories of gravitation.
Mesmer was also the first to develop a consistent method for hypnosis, which was passed on to and developed by his followers. Mesmer himself, for instance, liked to perform mass inductions by having his patients linked together by a rope, along which his “animal magnetism” could pass.