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The History of Hypnosis



Hypnosis is by no means the modern day phenomena that many people believe it to be.


We can trace it as far back as 3000BC, when we know it was being used as a therapeutic healing tool in ancient Egypt.

The Egyptians were prolific record keepers and recorded these sessions by carving them onto stone stelae, thus allowing us a glimpse into their use of this powerful natural therapy.


By 2000BC we find evidence of it being used in China by Wong Tai, who is generally credited as the founder of Chinese medicine.


References in both Old and New Testaments of the bible, talk of people in a state that we would recognize as being hypnotic.

Indeed the following extract from Revelation actually speaks of it by name.

 - Rev.12:9] "fascinated" Eve. He hypnotized her. He mezmerized her... entranced her, enthralled her, compelled her... spellbound her.

It was without a doubt in use throughout the ancient world.

As we moved forward beliefs changed and things that were once accepted became the focus of suspicion and superstition.

At this time anyone practising HYPNOSIS could easily have found themselves accused of witchcraft, and so it became a dangerous occupation, usually carried out in the strictest secrecy.


However by the eighteenth century we started to move out of the world of superstition, there was a growing interest in Astronomy and Science we were entering an age of reason, were we began to question, instead of being afraid of what we did not understand, we sought knowledge and understanding.

In 1734  a boy named Franz Anton Mesmer was born in Austria. He was an educated child and developed a keen interest in astronomy, as he grew older he became fascinated by the work of a Jesuit priest named Maximilian Hell, who had been working on the curative affects of magnets.


Mesmer took Hell’s research further and began to develop a theory that when the ebb and flow in an organism became out of balance with the universal rhythm, then mental or nervous illness could result. Mesmer concluded that this imbalance could be corrected with the use of magnets.


He was a man of considerable standing having spent some sixteen years in universities, and being awarded two doctorates, for philosophy and medicine.

He now began incorporating into his work a mixture of controversial medical methods using magnets.

He began to experience a growing number of quite remarkable cures, his first published report listing cures for, hysteria, epilepsy, fitful fever and melancholia. These cures were brought about by the placing of magnets shaped as horseshoes on the patient’s chest and soles of the feet.

Mesmer however understood that the magnets were of little importance, they were mere window dressing for the patients benefit and almost anything could be used.

In a letter which Mesmer published he claimed that magnets only acted as a conductor for the force or fluid that influenced the patient.

In other words a placebo.

Mesmer actually believed that the change was brought about by something he called “animal magnetism”, he believed this to be an invisible magnetic fluid produced by living beings.

He also believed this fluid could be transmitted to certain objects, trees, tubs of water and also tubs with iron fillings. He saw his “animal magnetism” as a force which could be harnessed and stored, in much the same way we store electrical energy today.

Mesmers “animal magnetism” brought him quite a lot of kudos as his many spectacular cures continued to be reported. This caused quite a stir in eighteenth century Vienna.

Around this time Mesmer left Vienna, although his reasons for this move are unknown today, we do know that he had been involved in unpleasant scenes and arguments with the family of a blind girl whom Mesmer claimed to have cured, they disputed his claim.

The year of 1778 saw Mesmer in Paris were he initially set up a salon, but quickly moved to a house just outside Paris where he set up his famous Baquet.

This was quite possibly one of the earliest forms of group therapy!

It consisted of a group of people sitting around a large, round oak barrel, they each held iron rods dipped into the barrel which was filled with iron fillings, glass and water.

Using this method it was possible to treat many patients at the same time. Mesmer would dress in a silk robe and quietly walk among his patients with an iron wand, gentle piano music would be playing to add to the ambience of the occasion.

Again this was the window dressing, giving the patients that little bit of mysticism. It proved to be effective.

Mesmer moved back into Paris where he and his partner Dr. Charles D’eslon became hugely successful through the use of the Baquet technique.

So successful that it became common to have to turn people away, Mesmer believed his therapy should be available to all and so was unhappy with this situation.

He realized that by attaching ropes to a tree he could dispense with the Baquet and up to a hundred people would sit around the tree, holding cords attached to branches. This solved his problem of turning people away.

Many of the participants declared themselves to be cured by these sessions, or at least to be feeling better.

Mesmer and his methods then came under attack by many orthodox medical practitioners

In 1782 Mesmer and his associates founded the Society for Harmony, they had 100 subscribers who each paid an amount equivalent to £400 in today’s money, this bought them the right to practice Mesmer’s methods in an allotted town, along with full instructions in the use of his methods.

The society was a huge success, and very soon branches of Harmony were operating throughout French provinces and abroad, during this time many of its members were making important discoveries. This however did nothing to improve their standing with orthodox medics, and they continued to be looked on with hostility within these circles.

Both Mesmer and D’eslon were busily campaigning for investigation into their methods, hoping to have them recognized as a valuable medical resource. To prove their methods actually worked.

In Mesmer’s latter years and after his death a friend and pupil of his continued to practice and teach “animal magnetism”. This method came to be known as mesmerism, taking its name from its illustrious founder.



It was around this time that “post hypnotic suggestion” began to be utilized probably for the first time.

It was initially demonstrated by Professor Jean Deleuze, today it is in common everyday use, all HYPNOTHERAPISTS use PHS as a matter of course in most if not all therapy sessions, these powerful suggestions are implanted whilst the patient is in a hypnotic state, for example in cases of weight loss, suggestions of eating healthily and smaller portions will be implanted, in cases of stop smoking suggestions of total indifference to tobacco.


The suggestions continue to work in the sub-conscious mind long after the HYPNOSIS session is over, enabling the client to easily make their required changes.

We are now aware of the power of these suggestions, but in those early days these were very new and unproved concepts.



Whilst working in a hospital in India in the mid 1840’s James Esdaile began to experiment with Mesmer’s techniques, and eventually began carrying out surgical operations using Mesmer’s method’s to bring about a state of self induced analgesia, which was known as “Mesmeric analgesia”.

No other form of pain relief was used yet it proved to be so successful that Esdaile came to use it extensively.

Over a time span of three years he carried out thousands of operations using this method. These included amputations and removal of tumors. At least 300 of these surgical procedures were major operations and were carried out painlessly with the use of Mesmerism.

The Governor of Bengal ordered a commission to investigate Esdaile’s work, their report was favorable indeed.

Esdaile published his own pamphlet in 1852 detailing his success in this field, it was entitled “The Introduction of Mesmerism as an Anesthetic and Curative Agent into the Hospitals of India”.

The introduction of Chloroform and Ether marked the end of these operations, as established orthodox medics favored these as anesthetics, and Esdaile’s protests went unheard.



By the nineteenth century mesmerism was ready to be updated, and a man named James Braid who likened the relaxed trance state to sleep, took the Greek word Hypnos which means sleep, and from this gave Mesmerism a new name, HYPNOTISM.

Shortly after he tried to change the name again, this time to Monoidism. However Hypnotism had captured the attention of the public and that was the name that stuck, and that we still use today.

Braid’s reason for wanting to lose the Hypnotism title was valid.

He had realized his mistake in calling the phenomena sleep, because as any modern day Hypnotherapist will tell you people do not go to sleep in Hypnosis. What they actually do is enter a state of deep relaxation, whilst in this state the therapist guides their attention inwards and directs it toward the issue which is troubling the patient.

In this state it becomes easy for the patient to make deep and lasting changes which are for their benefit and well being.

Initially Braid considered Mesmerism to be trickery. He thought that the subjects were nothing more than stooges being used to fool the public.

When he attended a second demonstration of the phenomena trickery was in fact suggested.

Braid, along with many other members of the audience were therefore invited on stage to study the mesmerized subject at close quarters.

Determined to expose the scam Braid forced a pin beneath the finger nail of the Mesmerized person, to his great surprise the subject showed no signs of pain or discomfort.

This impressed Braid tremendously and he quickly began carrying out his own experiments in a controlled and scientific way. He became a convert as he realized that once the window dressing was removed there was a serious scientific basis to Mesmerism.

He also realized that this incredible phenomena was not being produced by the Hypnotist, instead it was a natural state that the subject was guided into by the Hypnotist, who acted almost as a catalyst for the benefit of the client.

He had taken away the mysticism with which Mesmer had surrounded this state and it was due to this scientific, matter of fact approach that Hypnotism began to be taken seriously by some medical practitioners.

Braid had made a considerable contribution to the advancement of this powerful therapeutic practice.



In or around 1866 two doctors, DR. BERHEIM and DR. LIEBEAULT founded an organization which had a significant effect on the acceptance of Hypnosis, this was known as the Nancy School.

Liebeault was a country doctor in a region of France known as Nancy, he was interested in Hypnotism and began treating the peasants free of charge.

He had discovered that by frequently repeating a sequence of positive suggestions about their health, in a piercing monotonous tone, he had affected literally hundreds of cures among his patients.

Berheim on the other hand was a fashionable Parisian doctor who became interested in Liebeault’s work after he had successfully cured a patient with whom Berheim had had no success.

Initially he was skeptical of Liebeault’s work, however over time they began working together and became great friends.

They worked together for the next twenty years, treating over 30,000 patients with the use of Hypnotic suggestion.

Liebeault continued his practice of working free of charge for the poor, whilst Berheim hypnotized all hospital patients under his care.

Assessing the situation after the first four years of using this practice, Berheim listed around five thousand Hypnotic inductions which he had performed, they had yielded a 75% success rate.

Many years later on carrying out a similar survey, his inductions had increased to around ten thousand, his success rate had reached the 85% mark.

These two remarkable men had effectively brought Hypnotherapy into the modern day, however their findings did not go unchallenged, a French neurologist named Jean Charcott had been conducting his own studies, and he was of the opinion that Hypnosis was an induced Hysteria.

This view point was opposed by the two doctors and their followers who maintained that far from hysteria the results proved that Hypnosis is a natural consequence of suggestion.

The Nancy School had many prominent names among its followers including Henri-Etienne Beaunis and Jules Liegeois.

Sigmund Freud was also an adherent of the Nancy School and in 1889 decided to visit Nancy, this was an experience which was to change his life, and it was here he became convinced that there were mental process’s hidden from our conscious understanding.

In other words he had discovered the existence of the sub-conscious mind.

Freud however did not become an adherent of Hypnosis, abandoning it for his Psycho-analytical career.



In 1876 Coue obtained a degree in Pharmacology, he began working as an apothecary in Troyes (1882 to 1910).

During this time he discovered what we now know as the placebo effect. He made it his practice to praise every medication which he handed out, even leaving a small positive note with each prescription.

He noticed that through this method he could actually improve the effectiveness of a medication. He realized that the patients to whom he had praised the remedy had a much more marked improvement to those he had said nothing to.

This marked the beginning of his interest and research into Hypnosis and the power of the imagination. In 1901 he began to study under Liebeault and Bernheim and came to rely heavily on Hypnosis in his treatment of patients.

He launched the second Nancy School in the early years of the twentieth century, concentrating his attention on Auto Suggestion having learnt of its power in the pharmacy in Troyes.

It was he who first coined the famous affirmation “every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”. This phrase was used commonly by Frank Spencer in the hit 1970’s comedy “Some Mothers do ‘Ave Em”, but the comic aspect given to it by this does nothing to lessen the effect of this very powerful affirmation, which is widely used to this day.




Born in Leeds in 1896, he was destined to become a controversial figure, moving in the very highest circles of the land.

His early education saw him studying not only in Leeds but also London, Vienna and Hong Kong. He attended many other universities earning an M.D and a Ph.D.

He became keenly interested in a variety of Eastern Spiritual disciplines and went on to study them in depth, laying claim to titles such as “Master-the-Fifth of the Great White Lodge of the Himalayas”, and “Kushog Yogi of Northern Thibet”. We do not know whether these titles where awarded to him or if he simply decided to adopt them.

He reached prominent positions in the Hong Kong of the late 1920’s and early 30’s. Becoming Vice President of the Hong Kong Medical Society, he was the chief medical officer for all prisons on the island, the University of Hong Kong made him department head of Morbid Anatomy and he was also psychiatrist and medical jurist to the High Court of Justice.

In Canton he served as British Consul and Port Medical Officer.

He travelled extensively throughout China, India and Tibet, studying occultism.

In 1933 his book “The Invisible Influence” was published, in which he made amazing claims of phenomena he had experienced. The book was written in the style of conversations between himself and a variety of sages, yogis and other mystics.

His most fascinating claim is that he, his luggage and porters where transported across a chasm in Tibet by Levitation.

He also developed a deep interest in Hypnosis, realising the great potential in this subject.

Returning to England he obtained a post at Colney Hatch Mental Hospital as a psychiatrist and research scientist, however London County Council on learning of his book found him unfit to take charge of a mental hospital and decided to dispense with his services.

Cannon brought an action for unfair dismissal against them which he won and was reinstated in his former position.

His next step was to set up a private practise in Harley Street where he became famous for his exotic remedies.

He mixed Hypnotherapy with the use of psychic mediums and electrotherapy. Claiming this strange mixture a viable treatment for alcoholism, sexual problems and stress.

The elite of 1930’s London flocked to him, there was a trend of interest in the occult at this time and Cannon’s clinic catered for it.

His most prominent patient was King Edward VIII modern research shows he consulted Cannon for alcoholic dependence and sexual problems.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Cosmo Lang was appalled when this came to his attention, he considered Dr. Cannon to be a dangerous influence on the King.

Shortly before the Kings abdication in December 1936, Dr.Lang made enquiries as to the credibility of Cannon. He wrote to a Dr. William Brown of Harley St. the gist of his letter seems to be based on his fear that Cannon was not a trustworthy person, the following is an extract from his letter;

 "informed by a credible person that a certain Dr Cannon... has been recently attending the King... Would you kindly tell me whether you think this Dr Cannon is a really trustworthy person? He seems from the accounts I have received to be one who encourages somewhat dangerous methods of treatment."

Archived letters from this time show that the establishment believed that Cannon’s influence on the King was detrimental. A former editor of a catholic newspaper “The Universe”, Mr. Piers Compton announced that he had been told that the King was under the influence of the leader of black magic in this country.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Dr. Cannon left London, re-locating to the Isle of Man where he established his clinic for Nervous Diseases.

He became friends with a neighbour, Captain George Drummond, who was known to be a Nazi sympathiser and German spy, resulting in him being interned on the island for the duration of the war.

 Drummond had been a friend of Edward before he became king which would have provided common ground for a friendship between the two men.

Probably as a result of this friendship the authorities came to suspect Cannon of spying and MI5 monitored and recorded all telephone conversations between him and Captain Drummond. The official conclusion however was that he was a “quack and compulsive liar”, but not a spy.

His was a very colourful life, and clearly a large part of his professional ethics where questionable, he did however grasp and document many of the basic components of Hypnosis enabling future generations to study his work and glean the authentic from the showmanship.

He died in 1963.




Modern hypnosis has survived controversies, mistrust and open hostility to reach its present position amongst the healing sciences.

Hypnotherapy has survived because enough determined people have fought on, and because enough people have benefited from it.

In the 1990s a trend toward complimentary medicines began, since then it has gathered momentum and today many doctors and other health proffesionals recommend Hypnotherapy has become accepted as an powerful healing tool, taking its place beside mainstream medicine.

This is largely due to the efforts of the people I have already mentioned and many others who have practised this most effective of therapies dating back over five millenia.

Today hypnotherapy is becoming more and more accepted by orthodox medicine as a natural holistic therapy that does affect cures in previously incurable cases.


To many people, hypnotherapy is only a last resort, those people who wish to give up smoking will typically try all other methods first, only to find Hypnosis so effective they regret not having turned to it as their first option.

Hypnotherapy is used daily to effectively treat many problems, phobias such as fear of spiders, snakes and many other things, fear of confined spaces or fear of going outdoors, dental fears, fear of flying the list goes on and on.

Hypnotherapy can help with all of these and much more, not because it has magical mystical powers, but because by working with your all powerful sub-conscious mind the healing comes from within. 



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