The Early History of Hypnotism

The word Hypnosis was first coined from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep, and the Latin word called osis, meaning condition. It means “inducement of sleep,” according to Etymonline.com. However, while in the hypnotic stage, one is not actually asleep, but rather awake and in a different state of mind. Throughout time, there have been many accounts of hypnosis dating back to approximately 3000 B.C.


Although many credit the origin of hypnosis to Anton Mesmer in the 18th century, this is not correct according to research and historical references. (Cunningham, 67) At least 2,000 years before Mesmer’s introduction to hypnosis, ancient Egyptian priests were using techniques of induction. Approximately 1550 A.D., there is evidence of Egyptian priest performing death and rebirth rituals, in what they called “Temples of Sleep”, using drugs and psychedelics to assist in the undergoing. More often than not, these rituals were fatal. Those that lived through the experience were said to “have experienced other levels of reality while being out of the physical body” (Cunningham, 67). Reports say the initiate began with a feeling of terror, followed by uncertainly, and wandering through the darkness. Although there is no real proof, this is believed to be the first account of hypnosis ever recorded.

In Greece, sleep temples were created and dedicated to the god of healing, Asclepios. These temples were constructed by the Greeks in the forth and fifth centuries B.C. The temple was considered a sacred place where a sick person would enter a state of sleep. At the height of cults, there were 420 temples, spread across the ancient Greek empire. Healing would take place while the person being cured was in a trance-like deep sleep. Priest used chanting and magical spells to put the patient into a trance, also known as incubation. A person would be kept in this state for up to three days. During this time, the priest would use suggestions that would help the person, through their dreams to make contact with Asclepios, thus helping them cure their illness. (hypothera.com)

Also, in India, yogis and rishis utilized self-hypnosis during meditation to still their minds. In India, the word hypnosis is referred to as sammohan. Sammohan has been practiced in India since the Vedic times, 1500-500 B.C. And also, in 2,000 B.C. Wond Tai, also known as the father of Chinese Medicine, wrote about a technique involving chanting and “the passing of hands” over the body. (hypnotherapy.com)

The modern history of hypnosis began in the year 1774 with a priest from Klosters, Switzerland. His name was Father Johann Gassnar. Father Gassnar used hypnotic methods to perform exorcisms. Franz Anton Mesmer was said to have watched a number of these performances in the early 1770’s. (whonamedit.com) Possibly because this was the Enlightenment Period, Mesmer had a hard time believing that Gassner’s patients were possessed by demons. Mesmer believed that Gassner’s patients were hypnotized by the metal crucifix held by the Father. (FSU.edu)

In 1777, Mesmer was able to reproduce Gassner’s cures, but he said it was through “animal magnetism” and not through exorcism. Mesmer applied magnets to his patient’s bodies and produced remarkable results. One notable case involved a woman who was suffering from hysteria that he cured using animal magnetism. Mesmer first used magnets, electrodes, and other devices when performing on his patients but later moved to using just his hands. Franz Anton Mesmer coined the term “mesmerize” after himself, of course.

As time went on, hypnotism was accepted by the medical community as being a legitimate medical practice. Many other famous psychologists played a role in helping hypnotism become widely recognized. Freud, James Braid, and Charot all played vital roles. Today, hypnotism is used for many things: smoking, self-esteem boosting, weight control, and the list goes on. Thanks to these men, we now have a essential tool that is used the world across.


Works Cited

Cunningham, Janet. “Ancient Egyptian Mythology: A Model for Consciousness”. December, 1998. http://www.janetcunnningham.com/article_egypt.html

Etymonline.com. Logo Design; McCormack, Dan. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hypnosis

FSU.edu. Florida State University. “The Phoenix Club.” http://www.fsu.edu/~trama/v6i4/vi4a6.html

Hypnotherapy.com. “The History of Hypnosis.” http://www.hypnotherapy.freeserver.co.uk/History%20of%20hypnosis.htm

Lifepositive.com. Lifepositive Inc. http://www.lifepositive.com/Mind/psychology/hypno-therapy/hypnotism.asp

Simons, David. Ahahynotherapy.org. http://www.ahaynotherapy,org/history_hypnosis.htm.

Successfulhypnotherapy.com. Parsons, Richard. www.successfulhypnotherapy.com.

http://www.hypnoanalysis.com/history-of-hypnosis.html

Whonamedit.com. Enersen, Ole Daniel. 5 pages.1994-2001. http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/313.html

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