After the official condemnation of animal magnetism, Doctor Mesmer is mocked in theatres, through farces ridiculing the “magician”. Versatile Paris rushes to the Theatre des Italiens to applaud a comedy: Les Docteurs modernes. Shouts of laughter are heard from the boxes at each verse, and the actors laugh along with the spectators. To add to his woes, Mesmer treats an occultist philosopher, Court de Gebelin, who writes a letter of congratulation to him, and has it inserted into the gazettes… on the exact same day that he dies from a heart attack. Immense laughter throughout Paris. This can be read in Le Mercure:
“Monsieur Court de Gebelin has just died, cured by animal magnetism.”
However, it is with Mesmer, that begins the long history of psychic medicine, which will give birth to the Nancy School, then Charcot, then Janet, then Freud, then modern group psychotherapies. But Franz Anton Mesmer, discouraged, leaves France, renounces, effaces himself.
Almost nothing is known of his last twenty years. Of his peregrinations through Switzerland, Germany and Austria, from which he is expelled as a political suspect. In 1812, he is found in Meersburg, a little town on Lake Constance. He has lost part of his fortune and nourishes a deep resentment for the world which has not accepted his discovery, the doctors who have rejected him, the disciples who have deformed his teachings. A German doctor, Wolfart, comes to visit him, at the end of his life. Mesmer entrusts his papers to him. Negligent, Wolfart loses them. Mesmer dies on 5 March 1815.
To write a biography of Mesmer, Justinius Kerner visits Meersburg in 1854. The elderly people who had known the inventor of magnetism recounted astonishing stories to him.
When Mesmer went for a stroll, clouds of birds flew around him and landed at his feet if he sat down. In his home, his only company was a canary. The cage was in his bedroom, always open. Each morning, the bird landed on its master’s head to wake him, then accompanied his breakfast, dropping lumps of sugar into his cup, with its beak. With a light movement of his hand, Mesmer plunged the canary into catalepsy and resuscitated it. One morning, the bird remained in its cage. Mesmer had died during the night. The canary no longer ate, nor sang. On the day of the funeral, it was found dead.
Mesmer was certainly a man who had become avid for glory, money, authority. His abrupt character, all of one piece, did him no good in the Parisian milieu and even among his disciples. He had classical medicine and the Church against him, but also the philosophers who preached rationalism and found whiffs of exorcism in his methods. The men in black and the men of Light pushed him down into obscurity, together. But let us look at things the way they are. He is the first to teach that subtle energies exist; the first to establish a connection between the psychical and the physiological; the first to claim that the essential is in “the harmony” between the person treating and the patient. Mesmer is also the first to think that the road to a cure passes through provoked attacks. He says that the attacks are specific to the illness. An asthmatic will have an asthmatic attack, an epileptic, an epileptic fit. As attacks are provoked in the patient, they become less and less violent. They finish by disappearing altogether, thereby signing a cure. Mesmer is also the pioneer of group therapies. In his monumental work on the discovery of the unconscious mind, the Canadian Professor, Ellenberger, correctly writes:
“It is indubitable that dynamic psychiatry can be traced back to Mesmer’s magnetism and, while we’re on the subject, posterity has shown him singular ingratitude for it.”
Mesmer is born on 23 May 1734 in Iznange, a little village on Lake Constance to whose banks he will return to die in solitude. He is the son of a gamekeeper of the Prince-Bishop of Constance. Nothing is known of his childhood or his teenage years. At twenty, he enters the university of Ingolstadt, in Bavaria. Ingolstadt is the birthplace of the secret society of the Illumines of Bavaria… He studies Law and Philosophy. We find him in Vienna, winding up his medical studies, at thirty-three. He presents a singular thesis:
“The influence of planets on human illnesses.”
There is some sort of mystery here. He comes from a poor family. The Church certainly has an interest in “pushing” this intelligent, studious young man. But to make him a priest, like his brother who becomes Curate of a Constance parish. Who helps him until the age of thirty-three? Who finances his studies? Very probably, he is backed by secret societies. Very probably, he is oriented toward hidden knowledge, issuing from a philosophy of the unity of matter and mind. (A very ancient philosophy which pierces in the Renaissance through Paracelsius, Robert Fludd, Van Helmont.) At the same epoch, and for the same reasons, Vellermoz, in his Masonic centre in Lyon, resuscitates the art of mediumnic communications. This appears to obey the consigns of the initiatic societies of the time, who claim Rose-Croix heritage. The moment has come to make public the ancient “secrets”. What are these “secrets”? Nothing more, doubtless – and nothing less – that the exploration of Man’s interior space, the exploitation of the unknown powers of the mind, the whole domain of parapsychology, as we say today. This unveiling is always to be seen during civilization’s periods of crisis: Renaissance, end of XVIIIth Century, now.
In Paris, Mesmer’s backing comes essentially from Free Masonry. So do his difficulties. The “Societe de l’Harmonie” is in liaison with several Free Masonic obediences, principally with the “Rectified Rule”, which groups the high aristocracy. And also with the “Primitive Rit of Narbonne” (which doesn’t meet in Narbonne, but in Paris). On 18 December 1785, Mesmer is admitted to the Primitive Rit of Narbonne under the number 29. This society, with occultist leanings, will become the famous Societe des Philaletes, where the arts of ancient magic are experimented. The Primitive Rit was at the head of all the pre-Revolutionary initiatic societies, and was the centre of attraction for the “illuminated” and the “adepts” of this strange epoch. The Rit had for members some very strong, diverse and opposing characters such as Joseph de Maistre and Cagliostro, Rabbi Falk and the Heir to Sweden’s throne.
To be continued.