Recent Articles About the History of Mesmerism–II

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University

Edmund Gurney

Alvarado, C.S. (2009). Late 19th- and early 20th-century discussions of animal magnetism. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57, 366-381.

The mesmerists explained the phenomena of what was later called hypnosis as the effects of a force called animal magnetism. Both psychologists’ and physicians’ writings generally create the impression that the magnetic movement disappeared after the mid-19th century. While the concept of animal magnetism declined significantly by the end of the 19th century, it did not disappear completely. Some examples include the work of Hector Durville, Henri Durville, Emile Magnin, and Edmund Shaftesbury. Detailed accounts of the work of Edmund Gurney and Albert de Rochas are presented. Similar to its earlier counterpart, the late mesmeric movement was associated with what today is known as parapsychological phenomena. This association, and the belief that the demise of magnetic theory represents scientific progress, has led many to emphasize a history that is incomplete.

Engstrom, E.J. (2006). Magnetische Versuche in Berlin, 1789-1835: Zur Entkorperung magnetischer Glaubwurdigkeit [Magnetic trials in Berlin, 1789-1835: on the disembodiment of magnetic credibility]. Medizinhistorisches Journal, 41, 225-269.

From the 1780s to the 1830s, physicians at the Charite hospital in Berlin conducted clinical trials designed to test the therapeutic effectiveness of animal magnetism. This study draws on those trials to investigate the practical and discursive deployment of the magnetist’s body. It argues that that body–and the moral problems it came to pose–were increasingly purged from medical practice and discourse. Whereas in the 1790s the plausibility of therapeutic claims about animal magnetism demanded recourse to the magnetic practitioner’s body, by the 1830s the embodied evidence on which those claims rested had lost it’s persuasive power and been relegated to the netherworld of quacks and charlatans.

Franzel, S. (2009). “Welches Gesetz ist der Mensch in seiner Wirksamkeit?”: Pedagogy and Media in Fichte’s Encounter with Mesmerism. Germanic Review, 84, 3-25.

The author explores how Fichte’s encounter with Mesmerism and the Mesmerist cure puts pressure on his conception of pedagogy and communications media. For Fichte, Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism offers a competing model of interpersonal relation undescribable by the logic of the self-conscious subject. The author argues that Fichte’s consideration of Mesmerism in light of the oral lecture-a fixture of German scholarly culture and of Fichte’s engagement as a public intellectual-reveals certain fundamental tensions at work in concepts of mediation, communication, autonomy, and intersubjectivity, concepts that in turn organize the idealistneohumanist notion of Bildung.

Kauffman, M.H. (2008). William Gregory (1803-58): Professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and enthusiast for phrenology and mesmerism. Journal of Medical Biography, 16, 128-133.

William Gregory

William Gregory was descended from a long line of academics. Although he graduated in medicine, he had earlier determined on a career in Chemistry but more particularly to succeed Professor Thomas Charles Hope in the Edinburgh Chair in that discipline. At various times during the 1830s and 1840s he studied Chemistry at Giessen in Germany under Professor Justus Liebig and was closely associated with him over the succeeding years, translating and editing in all seven of his books. Gregory taught initially in London, at the Edinburgh Extra-mural School, in Dublin, at the Andersonian University, Glasgow and as Mediciner and Professor of Chemistry in Aberdeen. In 1844 he was appointed to the Chair of Chemistry in Edinburgh and remained in this post until his death in 1858. Shortly after he graduated he joined the Edinburgh Phrenological Society (he was initially its Secretary and later President) and took a particularly active role in the meetings of this Society and in the Aberdeen Phrenological Society. He was also interested in the phenomena of Mesmerism and Mesmero-Phrenology, despite the agitation and scorn of many of his academic colleagues both in Aberdeen and in Edinburgh.

Kennaway, J. (2011). Musical hypnosis: Sound and selfhood from mesmerism to brainwashing. Social History of Medicine, Online:

Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

Quinn, S.O. (2007). How Southern New England became magnetic north: The acceptance of animal magnetism. History of Psychology, 10, 231-248.

Charles Poyen’s lecture tour introducing animal magnetism to America has been described as triumphant (Forrest, 2000), but according to Poyen’s own account (1837/1982) the beginning of his tour, devoted to northern New England, was anything but successful. Poyen success did not begin until he partnered with Cynthia Gleason, a talented hypnotic subject, from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The subsequent lectures and demonstrations by Poyen and Gleason generated the interest that Poyen had been seeking. Rhode Island appears to have developed a much more accepting attitude toward animal magnetism than the rest of New England as indicated by the wide use of magnetism in the Providence area even after Poyen had the left the United States. In this article, I examine the roles played by Cynthia Gleason as well as Thomas H. Webb, M.D., the editor of the Providence Daily Journal and Dr. Francis Wayland, the president of Brown University, and George Capron, M.D., in furthering the acceptance of magnetism in America.

Schmidt, D. (2005). Re-visioning antebellum American psychology: The dissemination of mesmerism, 1836-1854. History of Psychology, 8, 403-434.

Mesmerism, the French method of treating illness and inducing trance, was introduced to the United States in 1836. A cohort of Americans took to the practice enthusiastically, publishing materials, presenting lectures attended by thousands, conducting empirical investigations, and treating untold numbers of ill people. These practitioners understood their profession addressed the mind, and they often referred to their work as “psychology.” The mesmerists speculated about mind-brain links and investigated “interior states,” “mental healing,” and the controversial “higher mind powers” such as clairvoyance. Antebellum culture is the backdrop for this study of the rise, fall, and dispersion of mesmerism in the United States. Evidence provided warrants a reappraisal of mesmerism’s significance for 19th-century psychology.





Frederic R. Marvin’s Ideas About the Pathology of Mediumship

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University

In recent years there have been some publications about the history of mediumship as a pathological phenomenon. Prominent among these is French psychologist Pascal Le Malefan’s book Folie et Spiritisme (1999; see also the bibliography below), a study that has not received the attention it deserves in the English-language literature. Here I would like to discuss a recent publication on the topic in the journal History of Psychiatry.

The current issue of the journal History of Psychiatry published in its Classic Text section a paper I prepared with Nancy L. Zingrone: “Classic Text No. 90: ‘The Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania’, by Frederic Rowland Marvin (1874). History of Psychiatry, 2012, 23, 229-244. It is an excerpt, accompanied with a contextual introduction, of Reverend and physician Frederic R. Marvin’s (1847-1918) writings about mediumship from his book The Philosophy of Spiritualism and the Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania (1874). As stated in the abstract: “Marvin argued for a diagnosis he called ‘mediomania’, conceived by him as a neurosis of uterine aetiology that could assume epidemic dimensions. His views are consistent with nineteenth-century somatic ideas of psychopathology as well as with ideas about the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of women.”


Marvin was born in Troy, upstate New York. He obtained an MD degree in 1870 and was ordained as a Dutch Reform minister in 1879. He published widely about a variety of topics, among them poetry, sermons and medicine.

The article in question centers around ideas Marvin expressed in two lectures published in his 68-page book The Philosophy of Spiritualism and the Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania (1874). The lectures, he stated, were not for “media,” a term used in the early American spiritualistic literature to refer to mediums. “Spiritual media are beyond the reach of lectures like these. They are in need of treatment which can be but faintly indicated in these pages. These lectures are written to save those who are about to be drawn into the meshes of Spiritualism . . . .”

William B. Carpenter

Marvin was writing within a tradition of somatic psychiatry and a tendency by physicians to pathologize unusual phenomena, such as mediumship. This was the case of several nineteenth-century physicians such as Philibert Burlet in France, William B. Carpenter (1813-1885) in England, and William Hammond (1828-1900) in the United States. In Marvin’s view: “Certain physiological and natural laws which have been recently discovered are explaining many of the wonders of spiritual intercourse. Cerebro-physiology, with its marvelous doctrines of unconscious cerebration, automatic thought and action, the corelation [sic] of thought with other forces in the universe, and the physical basis of memory, is sending light into the dark things of modern witchcraft.”

Furthermore, Marvin was one of those nineteenth century figures who believed that women had a weaker nervous system than men, and a system ruled by their reproductive organs. Such assumptions not only came with specific medical problems, but also limited the role of women in society by the belief that they were not fit for higher education or high level intellectual development.

Marvin wrote about his diagnosis of mediomania, or the “insanity of mediums.” This was considered by him to be an epidemic condition caused to some extent by one of the most widely spread epidemics of the times, the movement of spiritualism. Some aspects affecting, but not causing mediomania were sex and age. While men could be affected, the condition usually appeared with in women during their puberty years. Regardless of male cases, Marvin placed speciall attention on uterine problems as a causal factor, something which was widely discussed during the nineteenth-century in relation to hysteria and other pathologies.

“The word mediomania, though not actually synonymous with the word utromania, is very closely allied to it in meaning . . . . Uterine disorders, whether functional or organic, seldom fail to result in some form of hysteria or of its allied neuroses, and no nervous disorder is oftener thus exhibited than mediomania . . . . The trances which accompany and are part of the phenomena of mediomania may, like other forms of hysteria, be divided into convulsive and non-convulsive. The non-convulsive is the form usually met with. The convulsions of mediomania resemble very closely those of epilepsy, but are usually less violent . . . . Another and more common form of mediomaniacal convulsion is that in which the patient becomes suddenly unconscious, and in which such phenomena as slow and interrupted breathing, turgid neck, and flushed cheeks are prominent, while the violence of convulsion is greatly abated . . . . In mediomania of a non-convulsive character the loss of consciousness is seldom complete, and it frequently happens that a mediomaniac is able to answer questions and converse fluently while deeply entranced . . . . A neurosis in no way essentially different from hysteria is what is known as utromania. Utromania frequently results in mediomania; indeed, at the present day the two are seldom entirely dissociated . . . . The angle at which the womb is suspended in the pelvis frequently settles the whole question of sanity or insanity. Tilt the organ a little forward – introvert it, and immediately the patient forsakes her home, embraces some strange and ultra ism – Mormonism, Mesmerism, Fourierism, Socialism, oftener Spiritualism.”

Such ideas were commented by some. A reviewer in Popular Science Monthly said that Marvin’s ideas were “in accordance with the existing tendencies of scientific thought” (Anonynous, 1874b). Another one, in the Atlantic Monthly, wrote about Marvin’s ideas: “Their own philosophy is vague; their rhetoric, though clever, is somewhat shrill. . . .” (Anonymous, 1874a, p. 629). Also negative, a critic in a medical journal asked which of two things readers would deplore the most, “the insanity of media . . . or that of the author” (Anonymous, 1874c).

To obtain a reprint of this paper write to the first author:

Bibliography and References

Anonymous (1874a) Recent literature. Atlantic Monthly, 34, 624-633.

Anonymous (1874b) Review of The Philosophy of Spiritualism and the Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania. Popular Science Monthly, 5, 751.

Anonymous (1874c) Review of The Philosophy of Spiritualism and the Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania. Medical and Surgical Reporter, 31, 174.

Alvarado CS, Machado FR, Zangari W and Zingrone NL (2007) Perspectivas historicas da influencia da mediiunidade na construcao de ideias psicologicas e psiquiatricas. Revista de Psiquiatria Clinica 34(suppl.1): 42-53.

Le Malefan, P. (1999). Folie et spiritisme: Histoire du discourse psychopathologique sur la pratique du spiritisme, ses abords et ses avatars (1850-1950). Paris: L’Hartmattan.

Marvin, F.R. (1874). The Philosophy of Spiritualism and the Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania: Two Lectures Read Before the New York Liberal Club, March 20 and 27, 1874. New York: A.K. Butts.

Zingrone, N.L. (1994). Images of women as mediums: power, pathology and passivity in the writings of Frederic Marvin and Cesare Lombroso. In L. Coly & R.A. White (Eds.), Women and Parapsychology (pp. 90-121). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.

Books from the Past: II. Ernesto Bozzano’s Musica Trascendentale

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University

A little-known work outside of Italy is Ernesto Bozzano’s, Musica Trascendentale [Transcendental Music; Verona: L’Albero, 1943; reprinted in 1982],which is concerned with various musical manifestations.

Bozzano, who lived between 1862 and 1943, was well known for his published collections of a variety of psychic phenomena, and for his strong defenses of discarnate agency. The book is an enlarged edition of article length studies published during the early 1920s, and the monograph was reprinted in 1982. In this book the author presented 42 numbered cases grouped in six chapters. The first was about music produced by mediums, and the second presented music perceived telepathically. The rest of the chapters had cases of music heard during hauntings, unrelated to death, around deathbeds, and after a death.

Ernesto Bozzano

Most of the cases were taken from spiritualistic and psychical research publications. For example, in Chapter 5, “Transcendental Music in Deathbeds,” Bozzano included clear sources for 18 of the 20 cases cited. While one case came from a biography, 17 were taken from spiritualist and psychical research publications. These 18 publications had dates ranging from 1863 to 1932, but most of them (13) appeared in the twentieth century.

Bozzano considered in his discussions collectively perceived cases, and cases of selective percipience. This included those instances in which only one person heard the music when others were present, and those rare cases in which there were different auditory perceptions.

Bozzano argued that the hallucinatory explanation of music heard in hauntings could not be defended because there were cases in which the percipients were not aware that the place was haunted. Against the psychometric explanation of hauntings, the author stated that there were some cases in which music was heard at a distance from the haunted place, and where the percipients stopped hearing the music when they approached the locale.

Discussing deathbed cases, Bozzano said that there were instances where the music was heard in conjunction with the perception of visions of the dead by the dying person. There were also cases in which the dying individual did not hear the music, but the bystanders did. This, he believed, excluded the possibility that the dying person generated the auditory perception by affecting the others telepathically.

Cases of music heard after someone’s death, Bozzano believed, were definitively unexplained by telepathy from the living. He supported his conviction by pointing out that some of these cases took place weeks, months, or a year after the death. Furthermore, some were repeated on particular dates, something Bozzano interpreted as the action of a “vigilant intentionality” inconsistent with the idea of telepathy from living agents.

Regardless of how we may feel today about Bozzano’s survival interpretations, the book deserves to be better known for his useful presentation of cases. Bozzano’s compilation of cases from varied sources and time periods is an important contribution to the subject.

The topic has been explored in later years by D. Scott Rogo and Melvyn Willin.

These comments were first published as a letter to the editor in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and are reprinted here with the editor’s permission. For information about the Society click here

New Article About Robert Crookall’s Analyses of Out-of-Body Experiences

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University

Another of my papers was just published. In “Explorations of the Features of Out-of-Body Experiences: An Overview and Critique of the Work of Robert Crookall” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2012, 76, 65-82) I review and critique aspects of the work of Robert Crookall.

Robert Crookall

As I wrote in the article’s abstract “geologist Robert Crookall published about out-of-body experiences (OBEs) during the 1960s and 1970s. Crookall presented hundreds of OBEs and analysed their features. His work was conducted to defend the existence of subtle bodies possessing different characteristics. Depending on the subtle body active in particular experiences, the OBE had specific characteristics. Furthermore, Crookall claimed to have identified basic recurrent features of the OBE, and he discussed factors that affected the content of OBEs such as the circumstances surrounding their occurrence. A critique of Crookall’s work is presented, considering definition problems, the low number of cases, and misclassification of experiences. Furthermore, analyses of new data are presented to test Crookall’s findings.”

I analyzed some of Crookall’s work for inner consistency and also compared his findings to those of my own OBE questionnaire studies. This included the reporting of specific OBE features and the claim that natural or gradually-produced OBEs had more features than enforced OBEs, or those OBEs provoked suddenly by factors such as accidents, drugs, or willful induction. “The comparison of Crookall’s percentages of general OBE characteristics with those of my studies suggests that his findings have some consistency. In addition, the reanalysis of my data regarding experiences at the beginning and at the end of the OBE support Crookall as well. Nonetheless, not only is there a need for more comparison studies, but it is clear from Crookall’s own numbers that some of his ‘basic’ characteristics are somewhat low in frequency . . . This suggests that some of them are not to be considered as primary characteristics of the OBE, as Crookall considered them . . . From my previous work . . . and analyses reported here, the natural and enforced comparisons do not seem consistent.”

The paper includes many detailed analyses, many of whch I cannot discuss here. One problem is the inflation of features such as cords seen between the physical body and the OBE location or subtle body. Many cases were counted by Crookall as cords without visual descriptions of such structure. One wonders how many other similar problems are in his research. “Consequently, doubts must be thrown on some of the patterns described by Crookall and on his theoretical framework, including the ‘workings’ of . . . [his] hypothetical subtle bodies . . .”

Nonetheless Crookall reminds us of the complexity of the features of OBEs. “His attempts to chart features of the OBE will always be remembered as a contribution to the development of a natural history of these experiences.”

To obtain a reprint of this paper write to the author:


Alvarado, C. S. (1984). Phenomenological aspects of out-of-body experiences: A report of three studies. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 78, 219-240.

Crookall, R. (1961). The Study and Practice of Astral Projection. London: Aquarian Press.

Crookall, R. (1964). More Astral Projections. London: Aquarian Press.

Crookall, R. (1965). Intimations of Immortality. London: James Clarke.

Crookall, R. (1967). Events on the Threshold of the After Life. Moradabad, India: Darshana International.

Crookall, R. (1970). Out-of-the-Body Experiences: A Fourth Analysis. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.

Crookall, R. (1972). Case-Book of Astral Projection, 545-746. Secaucus, NJ: University Books.

Crookall, R. (1978). What Happens When You Die. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe.

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