The term animal magnetism was used by the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer to explain the hypnotic procedure that he used in the treatment of patients. Mesmer believed that it was an occult force or invisible fluid emanating from his body.
Animal magnetism, also known as mesmerism, was a proto-scientific theory developed in the 18th century. Mesmer claimed that the force could have physical effects, including healing.
The vitalist theory attracted numerous followers in Europe and the United States and was popular into the 19th century. Practitioners were often known as magnetizers rather than mesmerists.
The etymology of the word magnetizer comes from the French “magnétiseur”. The term refers to an individual who has the power to manipulate the “magnetic fluid” with effects upon others present that were regarded as analogous to magnetic effects.
A tendency emerged amongst British magnetizers to call their clinical techniques “mesmerism”. Many practitioners took a scientific approach, such as Joseph Philippe François Deleuze. By 1846, the term “galvanism” had been replaced by “electricity”.
In 1784 two French Royal Commissions studied Mesmer’s magnetic fluid theory to try to establish it by scientific evidence. The commission of the Academy of Sciences included Majault, Benjamin Franklin, Jean Sylvain Bailly, Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, Jean Darcet, and Antoine Lavoisier.
A generation later another investigating committee, appointed by a majority vote in 1826 in The Royal Academy of Medicine in Paris, studied the effects and clinical potentials of the mesmeric procedure.
Abbé Faria was one of the disciples of Franz Anton Mesmer who continued with Mesmer’s work following the conclusions of the Royal Commission. In the early 19th century, Faria is said to have introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris.
A 1791 London publication explains Mesmer’s theory of the vital fluid. Animal magnetism can cause a wide range of effects ranging from vomiting to what is termed the “crisis”. The Marquis of Puységur’s miraculous healing of a young man named Victor in 1784 was attributed to this treatment.
The study of animal magnetism spurred the creation of the Societies of Harmony in France, where members paid to join and learn the practice of magnetism. The popularization of the practice was denounced and ridiculed by newspaper journals and theatre during the Romantic Era.
The French revolution catalyzed internal political friction in Britain in the 1790s. A few political radicals used animal magnetism as more than just a moral threat but also a political threat.
During the Romantic period, mesmerism produced enthusiasm and inspired horror in the spiritual and religious context. Some researchers suggested that Jesus was the greatest of all magnetizers and that the source of his miracles was animal magnetism.
Sporadic research into animal magnetism was conducted in the 20th century. Bernard Grad wrote a number of papers related to his observations of “a single, reputed healer.
In the Classical era of animal magnetism, from the late 17th century to the mid-19th century, there were professional magnetizers. Their method was to spend prolonged periods “magnetizing” their customers directly or through “mesmeric magnets”.