Animal Magnetism

During the 1770s, German physician Anton Mesmer used magnets to treat, among other conditions, mental illness.  Mesmer believed that a magnetic fluid permeated the entire universe, including our bodies, so he would have patients drink a solution containing iron, after which he’d  use magnets to manipulate their internal fluid.  Symptoms sometimes improved, but Mesmer at some point decided that it wasn’t the magnets after all, but his own “animal magnetism” that had effected the cure, so he doffed the magnets.  Instead, Mesmer had patients stare into his eyes as he waved his hands over their bodies.  He found that this treatment produced results that were—and no one could have predicted this—just as effective as magnets.  The term mesmerism, a forebear of hypnotism, originated in Mesmer’s approach, and indeed Mesmer may have been one of the inspirations for the fictional hypnotist Svengali, who seduced and controlled women using only the power of his will.  (And I’m not talking about the modern-day practice of promising to make her your heir.)  Magnetic remedies are dubious at best, which is why in our era Amazon’s Health & Personal Care department refuses to carry more than 1,320 different magnetic bracelets.