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What Is Hypnotism?

We have seen that so far the history of hypnotism has given us two
manifestations, or methods, that of passes and playing upon the
imagination in various ways, used by Mesmer, and that of physical means,
such as looking at a bright object, used by Braid. Both of these methods
are still in use, and though hundreds of scientific men, including many
physicians, have studied the subject for years, no essentially new
principle has been discovered, though the details of hypnotic operation
have been thoroughly classified and many minor elements of interest have
been developed. All these make a body of evidence which will assist us
in answering the question, What is hypnotism?

Modern scientific study has pretty conclusively established the
following facts:

1. Idiots, babies under three years old, and hopelessly insane people
cannot be hypnotized.

2. No one can be hypnotized unless the operator can make him concentrate
his attention for a reasonable length of time. Concentration of
attention, whatever the method of producing hypnotism, is absolutely

3. The persons not easily hypnotized are those said to be neurotic (or
those affected with hysteria). By hysteria is not meant nervous
excitability, necessarily. Some very phlegmatic persons may be affected
with hysteria. In medical science hysteria is an irregular action of
the nervous system. It will sometimes show itself by severe pains in the
arm, when in reality there is nothing whatever to cause pain; or it will
raise a swelling on the head quite without cause. It is a tendency to
nervous disease which in severe cases may lead to insanity. The word
neurotic is a general term covering affection of the nervous system. It
includes hysteria and much else beside.

On all these points practically every student of hypnotism is agreed. On
the question as to whether any one can produce hypnotism by pursuing the
right methods there is some disagreement, but not much. Dr. Ernest Hart
in an article in the British Medical Journal makes the following very
definite statement, representing the side of the case that maintains
that any one can produce hypnotism. Says he:

It is a common delusion that the mesmerist or hypnotizer counts for
anything in the experiment. The operator, whether priest, physician,
charlatan, self-deluded enthusiast, or conscious imposter, is not the
source of any occult influence, does not possess any mysterious power,
and plays only a very secondary and insignificant part in the chain of
phenomena observed. There exist at the present time many individuals who
claim for themselves, and some who make a living by so doing, a peculiar
property or power as potent mesmerizers, hypnotizers, magnetizers, or
electro-biologists. One even often hears it said in society (for I am
sorry to say that these mischievous practices and pranks are sometimes
made a society game) that such a person is a clever hypnotist or has
great mesmeric or healing power. I hope to be able to prove, what I
firmly hold, both from my own personal experience and experiment, as I
have already related in the Nineteenth Century, that there is no such
thing as a potent mesmeric influence, no such power resident in any one
person more than another; that a glass of water, a tree, a stick, a
penny-post letter, or a lime-light can mesmerize as effectually as can
any individual. A clever hypnotizer means only a person who is
acquainted with the physical or mental tricks by which the hypnotic
condition is produced; or sometimes an unconscious imposter who is
unaware of the very trifling part for which he is cast in the play, and
who supposes himself really to possess a mysterious power which in, fact
he does not possess at all, or which, to speak more accurately, is
equally possessed by every stock or stone.

Against this we may place the statement of Dr. Foveau de Courmelles, who
speaks authoritatively for the whole modern French school. He says:

Every magnetizer is aware that certain individuals never can induce
sleep even in the most easily hypnotizable subjects. They admit that the
sympathetic fluid is necessary, and that each person may eventually find
his or her hypnotizer, even when numerous attempts at inducing sleep
have failed. However this may be, the impossibility some individuals
find in inducing sleep in trained subjects, proves at least the
existence of a negative force.

If you would ask the present writer's opinion, gathered from all the
evidence before him, he would say that while he has no belief in the
existence of any magnetic fluid, or anything that corresponds to it, he
thinks there can be no doubt that some people will succeed as hypnotists
while some will fail, just as some fail as carpenters while others
succeed. This is true in every walk of life. It is also true that some
people attract, others repel, the people they meet. This is not very
easily explained, but we have all had opportunity to observe it. Again,
since concentration is the prerequisite for producing hypnotism, one who
has not the power of concentration himself, and concentration which he
can perfectly control, is not likely to be able to secure it in others.
Also, since faith is a strong element, a person who has not perfect
self-confidence could not expect to create confidence in others. While
many successful hypnotizers can themselves be hypnotized, it is probable
that most all who have power of this kind are themselves exempt from the
exercise of it. It is certainly true that while a person easily
hypnotized is by no means weak-minded (indeed, it is probable that most
geniuses would be good hypnotic subjects), still such persons have not a
well balanced constitution and their nerves are high-strung if not
unbalanced. They would be most likely to be subject to a person who had
such a strong and well-balanced nervous constitution that it would be
hard to hypnotize. And it is always safe to say that the strong may
control the weak, but it is not likely that the weak will control the

There is also another thing that must be taken into account. Science
teaches that all matter is in vibration. Indeed, philosophy points to
the theory that matter itself is nothing more than centers of force in
vibration. The lowest vibration we know is that of sound. Then comes, at
an enormously higher rate, heat, light (beginning at dark red and
passing through the prismatic colors to violet which has a high
vibration), to the chemical rays, and then the so-called X or unknown
rays which have a much higher vibration still. Electricity is a form of
vibration, and according to the belief of many scientists, life is a
species of vibration so high that we have no possible means of measuring
it. As every student of science knows, air appears to be the chief
medium for conveying vibration of sound, metal is the chief medium for
conveying electric vibrations, while to account for the vibrations of
heat and light we have to assume (or imagine) an invisible, imponderable
ether which fills all space and has no property of matter that we can
distinguish except that of conveying vibrations of light in its various
forms. When we pass on to human life, we have to theorize chiefly by
analogy. (It must not be forgotten, however, that the existence of the
ether and many assumed facts in science are only theories which have
come to be generally adopted because they explain phenomena of all kinds
better than any other theories which have been offered.)

Now, in life, as in physical science, any one who can get, or has by
nature, the key-note of another nature, has a tremendous power over that
other nature. The following story illustrates what this power is in the
physical world. While we cannot vouch for the exact truth of the details
of the story, there can be no doubt of the accuracy of the principle on
which it is based:

A musical genius came to the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls, and
asked permission to cross; but as he had no money, his request was
contemptuously refused. He stepped away from the entrance, and, drawing
his violin from his case, began sounding notes up and down the scale. He
finally discovered, by the thrill that sent a tremor through the mighty
structure, that he had found the note on which the great cable that
upheld the mass, was keyed. He drew his bow across the string of the
violin again, and the colossal wire, as if under the spell of a
magician, responded with a throb that sent a wave through its enormous
length. He sounded the note again and again, and the cable that was
dormant under the strain of loaded teams and monster engines--the cable
that remained stolid under the pressure of human traffic, and the heavy
tread of commerce, thrilled and surged and shook itself, as mad waves of
vibration coursed over its length, and it tore at its slack, until like
a foam-crested wave of the sea, it shook the towers at either end, or,
like some sentient animal, it tugged at its fetters and longed to be

The officers in charge, apprehensive of danger, hurried the poor
musician across, and bade him begone and trouble them no more. The
ragged genius, putting his well-worn instrument back in its case,
muttered to himself, 'I'd either crossed free or torn down the bridge.'

So the hypnotist, goes on the writer from which the above is quoted,
finds the note on which the subjective side of the person is attuned,
and by playing upon it awakens into activity emotions and sensibilities
that otherwise would have remained dormant, unused and even

No student of science will deny the truth of these statements. At the
same time it has been demonstrated again and again that persons can and
do frequently hypnotize themselves. This is what Mr. Hart means when he
says that any stick or stone may produce hypnotism. If a person will
gaze steadily at a bright fire, or a glass of water, for instance, he
can throw himself into a hypnotic trance exactly similar to the
condition produced by a professional or trained hypnotist. Such people,
however, must be possessed of imagination.

Next: Theories Of Hypnotism

Previous: Introduction

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