Let us return to the time when Mesmer set up as a doctor in Vienna. It is well-known that Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a Masonic opera. However, that Mesmer played a role in Mozart’s life is less well-known.
In 1767, Mesmer becomes the doctor of a rich widow from a great family, Maria Von Posch. He is living as a greatly cultured man of the world, in a magnificent home.
“The garden is incomparable, with its alleys and its statues, its theatre, its aviary, its dovecote and its belvedere”,
writes Leopold Mozart. For Mesmer is a great friend of Mozart’s father as well of Gluck and of Haydn. And the first opera of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Bastien et Bastienne, was first presented on Mesmer’s private theatre.
Mesmer, himself, is an excellent musician. He is one of the first to play the glass harmonica, a new instrument perfected by Benjamin Franklin (another well-known Free Mason). Mesmer is also the first to consider that music can have a beneficial influence on nervous illnesses.
During the years 1773 and 1774, Mesmer learns that some English doctors are using magnets to treat certain illnesses. He applies and perfects the method on a patient of twenty-seven, Fraulein Oesterlin, by making her swallow a mixture containing iron, and fixing magnets onto her body, so as to provoke “a sort of artificial tide”. The patient soon feels strange currents traversing her, and her ills disappear for a few hours. Mesmer recounts in his Precis historique that this occurs on 28 July 1774. He understands that the noted effects on his patient cannot be due to the magnets alone, but that they must come from an “essentially different agent”: the magnetic currents must come from a fluid accumulated in his own body. He calls this fluid animal magnetism. The magnets only serve to re-inforce and direct this natural magnetism. Later, Mesmer abandons the use of magnets. He is forty when he makes this discovery, and he resolves to consecrate his life to improving and diffusing it.
He practises numerous spectacular cures, and is called to Munich by the Prince-Elector, then returns to Vienna. In 1777, however, the hostility of the medical corps discourages him. He seems to have been hypersensitive to the attacks.
He, himself, recounts that he traverses at this moment a period of depression. He walks in the forest, talking to the trees and to the birds. For three months, he tries a singular experiment: he tries to think without using words. He says that he manages “to see the world in a new light”, recovers interior peace, and goes to Paris to become known “to the whole universe”.
Of all his disciples, the most important is the Marquis de Puysegur. Puysegur plunges his patients into a state “of magnetic sleep” or of “artificial somnambulism”. This is the beginning of the works on hypnosis, which will have a long and passionate history. Starting with Mesmer, through Puysegur, the discovery of the Unconscious begins. Or rather, we have to wait a century for the research of Puysegur, and a few others, to be integrated into official neuropsychiatry by Charcot and his contemporaries.
But we must also mention Mesmer’s predecessors. They are the Church’s exorcists. At the moment when Mesmer undertakes his experiments, Father Gassner is practising cures by exorcism. He is the most famous of the healers. In the name of Jesus, he chases away demons, who are the causes of illness. The patients are “possessed”, illness is an effect of the Evil One. With animal magnetism, Mesmer wants to establish the principles of “fluidic” healing, outside the framework of religious tradition and the Church’s magic. He operates a decisive curve from exorcism to psychotherapy, but in a spirit and at an epoch which aspires to the rational without reaching it, and where people talk about “Light” but continue to live in the shadows.