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BRIEF HISTORY OF HYPNOTISM

Xavier Perez-Pons

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To relate the history of hypnosis we have to go back to 1760, when a German doctor settled in Paris observed that the power of attraction of the magnets could be used on the sick without being arrested by the police and put behind bars. The doctor in question was called Mesmer and his discovery was baptized, in a display of inventiveness, with the name of "mesmerism." Mesmer soon saw that magnets could be dispensed with and even the sick, so he began to practice mesmerism on healthy people through the supposed magnetic power of his hands. Practicing wild gesticulations before a mirror to find those that were more spectacular (at that time he exhibited his discovery in theatres full of people who had paid a ticket), one day Mesmer hypnotized himself, staying in a catatonic state for several years until someone casually mentioned in his presence the word "gherkins". This gave him cause for thought and he decided to retire and pass the baton to a French doctor named Charcot, who went back to practicing with the sick with relative success (he could only cure false sick persons). The alleged healing power of Charcot attracted the attention of a young Viennese doctor named Sigmund Freud, who was desperate to find a cure for a hysterical patient that made his life hell. In his consulting room, the hysteria of this patient (wife of a high command of the Austrian army) manifested itself by means of sequences of fifteen slaps on Freud’s each cheek with an interval between sequences of five minutes. Given that the consultation lasted one hour and the patient attended three times a week, Freud began to suffer terrible headaches, which prompted him to desperately search for an effective method to cure hysterical patients. Singing lullabies, as he had been testing for the past few years, did not help. So he welcomed Charcot's method like the Second Coming. Not only was his patient cured of her hysteria, but indirectly Freud himself was cured of his terrible headaches, thereby succeeding completely. Thereafter, many sharp people saw the possibilities of this new technique if applied to the world of entertainment. And thus, hypnosis began to share the stage with knife throwers, sword swallowers and fire-eating fakirs. Little by little the technique was evolving until it became possible to hypnotize several subjects at the same time. The record in this matter was held by the hypnotist Leonard Pollock, who having been hired to entertain attendees at a clandestine convention of gangsters held in Chicago, led an audience of more than a thousand mobsters to a deep hypnotic state during which he induced them to pronounce certain guttural sounds and perform certain gestures all in unison, culminating the show with the incitement to their voluntary mass delivery to the police. However, Pollock scarcely could enjoy his record because, only a few days later, his body was found at the bottom of Lake Michigan with a huge lead ball attached to his ankle.



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