Ghosts of the past: Mesmerio Seance

1st June 2024. Reading Time: 4 minutes General, Ghosts Of The Past. 1095 page views. 0 comments.

In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we visit a Melbourne seance where the practice of mesmerism was on display. Before we dive into the article, we first need to look at a brief history of mesmerism.

In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers.  In this edition we visit a Melbourne seance where the practise of mesmerism was on display. 

Mesmerism

Before we dive into the article, we first need to look at a brief history of mesmerism. 

Image Source: Public Domain

Friedrich Anton Mesmer was known for coining a somewhat controversial theory called Animal Magnetism.  It was thought to be an unknown force that influences human beings.  Mesmer claimed that the life energy of a human itself was a type of magnetic fluid.  This fluid is then influenced by the gravity of celestial objects, much in the same way the gravitational pull of the moon influences high and low tides with the ocean.  He felt that other invisible forces such as magnetism could have a similar effect on humans.

He claimed that if a person’s life energy was not properly balanced, it could cause them to become ill.  As a physician, he began using magnets to restore balance to the life field of his patients.  After some time, he stopped using magnets and thought he could instead use the magnetic force from his own body by either waving his hands over his patient or by placing them onto the patient’s body.  He soon advanced to circle work where a group of patients would sit in a circle with Mesmer leading, who was dressed in a purple robe using a metal rod to help heal his patients.

Image Source: JOSSE/SCALA, FLORENCE

While Mesmer claimed to be able to see what some described as remarkable results, in 1784, French King Louis XVI formed an official committee to assess the scientific claims of Mesmer.  The committee which included notable names such as Benjamin Franklin decided that there was no evidence to suggest that Mesmer’s theory on magnetism was behind the results and was more due to the imagination of the patients involved.

While the animal magnetism theory is questionable today, it was Mesmer’s methods that laid the foundations for future work on hypnotism, suggestion and placebos, so maybe it is not as crazy as it was made out to be?  In some ways, a belief in mesmerism influenced the emergence of telepathy. 

Mesmerio Seance

The following article was published 8th May 1889 In the Adelaide Advertiser

MESMERIO SEANCE.
In accordance with a request made by Mr. Kennedy a large number of medical menattended a special seance on Friday last, says the Melbourne Evening Standard, The body of the ball was well filled, and amongst those present was the acting Governor. Sir William P. Robinson. From those present a committee was selected, amongst whom were the following gentlemen :—Drs. Lloyd , Ryan, Crowther, Jamison, Llewellyn, Hewelett, Barker, Day, MacMullen, Robinson, Ussher and Meyer.
Seven subjects were then introduced to the audience, and Mr. Kennedy commenced his experiments as at the evening entertainments, the doctors following closely all his movements. The pulses of the mesmerised subjects were frequentiy examined, which, with some, registered 120 attunes. By their direction needles were thrust in various
parts of the body without the slightest sign of pain, and other severe tests, such as the fingering of the eyeball and the passing of lights before the eyes, were adopted by the doctors. The eyes of the subjects were found to be slightly sensible; to touch, and this, Mr. Kennedy explained, he was never fully able to control. Some interesting experiments were given with subjects in cataleptic trances, whom the doctors also examined closely. Mr. Kennedy showed his power over his subjects by administering powerful drugs—in one mutation about six times the ordinary dose of balsam copaiva, and also large quantities of quinine. These drugs were taken without any visible effect, whilst the subjects were made to take a concoction of salt, cayenne pepper, cod liver oil, and kerosine oil with apparent relish, nausea in this case being brought about at the will of the mesmerist, At the conclusion of the seance Dr. Lloyd, on behalf of the committeemen, stated that they were perfectly satisfied with the experiment, and that the performance had been given with good faith, without any shaming whatever. A vote of thanks was then given Mr. Kennedy and the proceedings closed.

What I find personally disturbing about this account is the use of drugs, fingering of eyeballs and administration of needles.  While all the participants were obviously willing, one would have to assume such activities certainly wouldn't be allowed to happen in today's day and age.  

So what do you think about mesmerism?  Is it an act of telepathy or just a very strong power of suggestion?


References

Psychical Research by W.F. Barrett, F.R.S. Professor of experimental physics in the Royal College of Science For Ireland, 1873-1910

Hypnosis, telepathy, personal magnetism, personal influence by Elmer E Knowles 1026

https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/history/2019/03/was-this-hypnotic-health-craze-an-elaborate-hoax-or-a-medical-breakthrough

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