Never mind the current state of things, the history is cool too. It goes back past the extraordinary Wilhelm Reich to people like Walter Kilner for example, whose method of seeing auras involved coloured screens with, unfortunately, toxic dyes and effects. His writeups in The Human Atmosphere, 1920 remain interesting. Reichenbach’s clever investigations are detailed too and are relevant as ever.
But one name is missing — we still don’t think of him as energy-based. A Swiss doctor who met him relates that at the age of 70 he was handsome, well built, strong and vigorous, as a ch’i master ought to be. He preferred discussion of his own theories to any other subject but his manner and style were friendly and highly engaging. A decided contempt for conventional medicine by this time had transmuted to full blown hatred in him; he had caused a storm which turned against him. He was a first victim of the pseudoskepticism that came into being with the ‘enlightenment’ and perhaps didn’t fully realise the usefulness of self-knowledge or forgiveness. More or less no difference is discernible between the arguments against him and the ones used these days.
We misremember the great Franz Anton Mesmer. This may be an accident. The effects which he claimed to achieve were put down to imagination, and the treatment systems developed downstream acquired the name of ‘hypnosis’ for which ‘mesmerism’ is a synonym. What we currently mean by ‘mesmerise’ is more acceptable to scientism than the ‘animal magnetism’ Mesmer actually employed. (His immediate successor the Marquis de Puysegur, used both suggestion and energy, an excellent idea that petered out.)
The advent of Mesmer’s method is one of those moments when energy bursts out to confront the culture, and was an initial opportunity for medical science to try integration of what had been religion-only. The establishment soon made it clear they didn’t want this chance and frantically stuffed Mesmer’s genius back in the bottle.
From his beginning experimenting with magnets for healing, Mesmer discovered another form of ‘magnetism’, present throughout nature, and an inexhaustible supply of it within himself. He was able to ‘charge’ human beings with it and to control the sensations of it in their bodies, even from behind a wall. Astonished Parisians felt the flow and motion of this ‘animal magnetism’ as a “wind, sometimes warm and sometimes cold” emitted from the tip of his finger. Those au fait will be nodding. He saw this energy as distributed throughout the cosmos, moving with an ebb and flow action which the body can experience and which sets up relationships between bodies. He could have been quoting the Taoists.
The cures included paralysis, blindness, hernias, haemorrhoids, cancer, dysmenorrhoea, jaundice, dysentery, epilepsy, hemiplegia, and deafness amongst others. Even allowing for flawed diagnosis they have their modern counterparts.
As society absorbed all the claims, the inevitable “anti-magnetists” appeared, with whom modern pseudoskeptics would resonate, if they admitted humans could resonate that is. These were in charge of the various hand-wringingly ignorant medical institutions of their time and span fairy tales which still keep us asleep that we may not know the awful truth. Wasn’t Mesmer tested and found fraudulent, and hasn’t this passed into legend? Well actually Mesmer himself was never tested, only his pupil d’Eslon. The investigating commission had undertaken to study patients under treatment but never did, and ignored cures, saying there was no way to prove energy produced them.
Commissioners pointed out many patients never felt anything, although no-one had claimed otherwise; meanwhile the patients who did feel energy were not mentioned in their reports. One commission member, a Dr. Caille, himself told a group of patients that he felt a great warmth during treatment which seemed to have a strong effect on his nervous system, but his statements didn’t make the final draft. According to d’Eslon, amongst what wasn’t reported was a patient seen by the commission who could sense where magnetism was applied on her body whilst blindfolded. He argued meanwhile that babies and the comatose were treated so how could imagination explain anything? Etc… readers who have discussed paranormal phenomena on internet forums will find the back-and-forth only too familiar.
Frank A. Pattie, historian of hypnosis and author of a Mesmer bio, reports all the pamphleteering with heroic neutrality, but can’t hide his generic modern puzzlement. He wonders, how can there be blocks in an energy which is universal? How can the emitter of an energy treat himself with that energy, “turn it around” to run through his own body? The subtext appears to be, what a silly thing to invent since it makes no sense. Of course all such objections are answered by any actual energy practice (see Reading List).
The link with hypnosis, which came about so accidentally, is still interesting though. As I mentioned in an earlier post, experience indicates the usefulness of modern clinical trance for energy purposes — shared experience in my case. Spontaneous agreement from a fellow ch’i-seer that our hypnotherapy tutor, the excellent Terence Watts, extended energy from his third eye whilst working on a subject, was one example. In another a lady who knew nothing about anything energetic felt a shot of ch’i along her arm as I hypnotised her and later said, “I didn’t imagine that!”. Etc. Learning to reliably gather and sense energy allows you to see the role it plays, mostly unnoticed. Probably more hypnotists are using energy than realise it, just as more therapists are using trance than realise it.A barrier to acceptance of such a viewpoint is that not everyone who talks about energy actually does sense it. Wild cards like Mesmer are rare and without them expertise is required. Some teach without experience, thinking that energy is genuinely just imagination. I rightly praised Lawrence LeShan highly last week; in 1966 he was writing of healing using energy, which he transferred to a patient who felt it too and who could practically see its effects occurring as she watched, but before a decade was out he plainly had altered some of his views:
”Energy” is probably the most widely misused term by meditational schools… Recently a highly trained scientist, who had also been fairly well trained in meditational techniques, was leading a movement in meditation… she instructed the group… “draw up energy from the centre of the earth.” I suggested that she would be making more sense if she let the group know that these were metaphors… She insisted that they were not metaphors but facts, and that she could not, in conscience, present the exercise in any other way. And this, mark you, was a mature and extremely able individual with wide reading and training behind her. Sometimes this is a pretty discouraging field! That confusions of this sort can occur thirty years after the work of Cassirer staggers the mind…
Usually you are tempted to follow the example of the courtiers when the Emperor’s new clothes were being displayed and agree you can see the chakras, Kundalini forces, etheric bodies, energy streams and God knows what else.
— How to Meditate, 1974, pp. 121-3
In this big old misunderstanding LeShan, having lost his patience, slots into the debunking position, hot retorts and ridicule and all — even forgetting his own former idea that there are different rules in different states. But with proper training there is no guesswork involved, and no surmise, when it comes to energy. You actually do sense it, and the more you work with it the better you sense it. I regularly draw up energy from the earth and that’s no metaphor. Something from Glenn:My next group [at a healing gathering] included a woman from Puerto Rico who was attending because she had an ovarian cyst. She did not like the prospect of going under the knife. A small elf-like woman was kneeling before her, directing energy into her lower abdomen. I could see the elf didn’t have the juice for what she was trying to accomplish, so I laid my hand on her shoulder and began to pump energy down her heart meridian. The look on her face was classic. Her name was Lisa Graves and she said, “Wow, what the hell are you doing?”
“I’m just feeding you. Take it and do what you know how to do. I use this stuff for breaking bricks. I can generate for hours. Go for it.” She returned to her work and I continued to breathe energy into her while she directed it into the lady from Puerto Rico. The woman snapped to attention, her eyes rolled back in her head, and she went into orgasm… Blue light was running in little streams all up her body and over her face… Finally Lisa says, “I got it”… Lisa told me that she’d never worked with anyone that way before. I didn’t tell her it was a first for me; I responded like old and knowing.
— Path Notes of an American Ninja Master, 1993, pp. 144-5
The excerpt illustrates you can see this energy (“I could see the elf didn’t have the juice…”, “blue light was running in little streams…”), you can pass it to another in such a way that they can feel it and use it, and it can do work. Sorry folks, sorry LeShan old boy, if that’s hard to understand, sorry if we know less about it than we might, sorry if it doesn’t make sense to you. But that is what it is. (And this example is nothing from a guy who could knock people over with energy alone.)
Of course the best scientific “energy” evidence by far has been collected since LeShan wrote those paragraphs, and his meditation book in general is worth anyone’s time, when it doesn’t fly off the handle. The chapter on actual methods will get anyone started since it has a huge range of approaches to choose from. A remark in another of his books, Alternate Realities, 1976, probably explains LeShan’s attitude: “I started as a complete cynic. The original project was to study the problem of how people I seriously respected… could believe in this ‘nonsense’.”
That’s where the Patties of the world probably still are and it’s the wilder ideas of Mesmer that will really have them scratching their heads. Amongst the best: animal magnetism can easily be exchanged over enormous distances, even with the sun and moon (“draw up energy from the centre of the earth…”). Mesmer has experimented, channelling magnetism via the sun. Pattie can’t keep his face straight, but the exchange of ch’i with heavenly bodies is a reality in the Taoist and Yogic disciplines, and in Kabbalah. Distances don’t carry their usual meaning in relation to an energy which is at best only partly physical. Naturally materialists aren’t ready for that stuff, although LeShan perhaps ought to be. Becker provides some interesting ideas on the physical angle of how it could work, showing we have as I say actually made good, patient progress on all this. Those of us who haven’t been practicing our opprobria in the mirror can enjoy the benefits.
Where there is energy there is argument but I pay less and less attention to it. The argument has nothing to do with progress since it was the same from day one. The truth can’t be discovered with that mindset. Emotional healing is fundamental to enlightenment and often occurs best in an atmosphere of safety, beauty, happiness, and lack of criticism. Mesmer perhaps never managed to get past the fact that, since his discovery worked and was demonstrably real, the treatment he had received from the authorities could be considered appalling. That attitude might have limited his actualisation. A heart at peace is a good idea when using this stuff, and his never was (although he did treat the poor for free which would have helped).
There may be psychological principles behind the dismissal that have yet to be uncovered, but certainly, if one can’t expect a healing atmosphere from the materialists, one has to expect it from oneself. We can learn that much from Mesmer, and that’s progress too. :) It’s what history is for and a major advantage of human culture.
Next Saturday I’ll present to you my favourite psychedelic artist who embodies what creativity can do in concert with spiritual vision, humanitas and sheer fun. See you then.