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It’s important to remember, however, that what we see as occultism was the scientific establishment of its day, with exactly the same purpose as modern science – curing human ills and increasing knowledge.
From a Western point of view, the decisive moment in the history of hypnosis occurred in the 18th Century (coinciding with the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason).
This trend continued into the 20th Century, although in some ways, hypnosis became imprisoned by its own respectability, as it became mired in endless academic debate about “state” or “non-state”.
Inevitably, these magical trappings led to Mesmer’s downfall, and for a long time, hypnotism was a dangerous interest to have for anybody looking for a mainstream career.
Nevertheless, the stubborn fact remained that hypnosis worked, and the 19th Century is characterised by individuals seeking to understand and apply its effects.
Surgeons and physicians like John Elliotson and James Esdaille pioneered its use in the medical field, risking their reputation to do so, whilst researchers like James Braid began to peel away the obscuring layers of mesmerism, revealing the physical and biological truths at the heart of the phenomenon.
Thanks to their persistence and efforts, by the end of the century hypnosis was accepted as a valid clinical technique, studied and applied in the great universities and hospitals of the day.
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On the one hand, a history of hypnosis is a bit like a history of breathing.
Recorded history is full of tantalising glimpses of rituals and practices that look very much like hypnosis from a modern perspective, from the “healing passes” of the Hindu Vedas to magical texts from ancient Egypt.
These practices tend to be for magical or religious purposes, such as divination or communicating with gods and spirits.
Hypnosis itself hasn’t changed for millennia, but our understanding of it and our ability to control it has changed quite profoundly.
The history of hypnosis, then, is really the history of this change in perception.
The work of Franz Mesmer, amongst others, can be seen as both the last flourish of “occult” hypnosis and the first flourish of the “scientific” viewpoint.