Magnetism: An invisible natural force exerted by e.g animals (in the case of animal magnetism).

(B.R. Hergenhahn, An Introduction to the History of Psychology, p504.)

In the early 1770s, Mesmer met a Jesuit priest (Maximilian Hell) who described to Mesmer the cures he had accomplished using a magnet. This was not the first time magnets had been used to cure people as Paracelsus and others had used this technique many years before. Mesmer too then used magnetism to successfully ‘cure’ one of his patients when other treatments had failed. But it must be noted that the magnetic treatment involved telling the patient exactly what they should expect to happen.  

Mesmer first believed that each person’s body had a magnetic force field. He thought that good physical and psychological health resulted from this force field being distributed evenly throughout the body. In an unhealthy individual it was believed these magnetic forces were unevenly distributed and not properly aligned.

This magnetic treatment involved giving his patient medications with high doses of iron and then moving magnets over their body. For example in 1774 Mesmer used magnetism on his patient Franzl Oesterline who suffered from hysteria. He gave her medication containing a high dosage of iron and she reportedly felt streams of a mysterious fluid running through her body and was relieved of her symptoms for several hours. Mesmer believed this flow was affected by his own will and named it ‘Animal Magnetism.’

Mesmer soon realised that it was not necessary to use iron magnets because anything he touched became magnetised, such as water, glass, animals and human beings. Mesmer stopped using magnets altogether when he believed he himself possessed magnetic powers and channelled this magnetic force onto his patients by touching, tapping and laying his hands on their body.