There's an article in today's New York Times titled This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis...
Hypnosis had a false start in the 18th century when a German physician, Dr. Franz Mesmer, devised a miraculous cure for people suffering all manner of unexplained medical problems. Amid dim lights and ethereal music played on a glass harmonica, he infused them with an invisible "magnetic fluid" that only he was able to muster. Thus mesmerized, clients were cured.Update: 24 hours after it was published, the above piece was the #1 most-emailed article on the NY Times site. Which has gotta tell you... something.
Among those most "hypnotized" by early demonstrations of mesmerism in the United States was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who launched the "religious science" that came to be known as the New Thought movement. New Thought gave rise to Christian Science, founded by one of Quimby's students, Mary Baker Eddy. It also spawned Unity® -- fast growing in popularity today among the New Age crowd, largely thanks to its popularity with Alcoholics Anonymous and its prodigious publishing efforts. Here's a typical clip on "prosperity" from Unity's Daily Word magazine:
I give thanks for rich blessings of Spirit in my life and the world.
That "attitude of gratitude" trope is a sure signal of the Unity/AA connection. (A similar AA connection put M. Scott Peck on the map. The Road Less Traveled had been in print for five years before AA discovered it; for the next five years, it never left the New York Times bestseller list). Make no mistake, however: Unity and New Thought are "religions" in which a "get more stuff" frame of mind is not considered a spiritual obstacle. Far from it.
But back to more traditional notions of mesmerism. Oxford University Press describes George Du Maurier's novel Trilby as follows...
First published in 1894, the story of the diva Trilby O'Ferrall and her mentor, Svengali, has entered the mythology of that period alongside Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. Immensely popular for years, the novel led to a hit play, a series of popular films, Trilby products from hats to ice-cream, and streets in Florida named after characters in the book.
It is made very clear in Trilby that Svengali, the mesmerist, is a Jew. The following is from an article by Neil R. Davison titled "'The Jew' as homme/femme-fatale: Jewish (art)ifice, Trilby, and Dreyfus" (Jewish Social Studies; 1 January 2002). The passage is discussing Daniel Pick's book, Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture.
Pick devotes an entire chapter to the popularity of Victorian mesmeric narratives, and he associates the "sexual charge" at the heart of Trilby as potentializing the nineteenth-century attraction/repulsion to "sexual confusion and moral violation." Obviously valid, the point must also be set in the context of Trilby's much greater success as compared to other tales exploiting Victorian repression, whether they made use of the popularity of hypnotism or not. In this manner, Pick's emphasis of the novel's unique imbrication of mesmerism, sexual power, the music hall, and "the Jew" becomes somewhat hesitant, especially in the face of authorial commentary throughout the novel pertaining to the subterranean, destructive powers of both "Jewishness" and "the Jew." Pick recognizes Anglo-American liberal ambivalence toward Jews as essential to the novel's significance but does not confront fully how the work positions the myth of Aryan dominance and the cultural threat of "the Jew" as the widest social base of sympathy for Trilby and her plight.
Is it just me, or does the plot truly thicken?
from mesmer to freud: magnetic sleep and the roots of psychological healing
"Trilby, hypnotized by Svengali. Svengali's exaggerated features
were typical of anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews at the turn of
the century. This engraving was done by Du Maurier himself for
the first edition of the novel in 1894." [via mtholyoke.edu]