The 18th Century Magnetizers – Inspired Futurists or Hokey Healers?

17th century representation of the 'third eye'...
Robert Fludd (1619) – Wikipedia

The magnetizers as they came to be called were a group of 18th century healers believing in the curative power of magnetic fields.

As early as the 16th century, people knew that lodestone (magnetite) attracted iron filings. The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) experimented with the alleged healing properties of powdered lodestone. Influenced by Paracelsus, Robert Fludd (1574-1637) introduced the idea of magnetism as a panacea in England.

The most prominent magnetizer was Franz Mesmer (1734-1815). Mesmer became a celebrity in Paris by practicing elaborate ritualistic healing. Wearing bright ceremonial robes, he sat his patients in a circle around a tub of apparently magnetized water, filled with symmetrically arranged glass and bottles. Mesmer then waved magnetic wands around his clients who, in turn, held iron rods extending from the tub.

Paracelsus – Wikipedia

Later, Mesmer found that his treatments were equally effective if he left out the magnetic aspect and simply waved his hand.

This may seem like an early example of the placebo effect but it arguably differs because Mesmer came up with an alternate theory to explain his results.

Mesmer believed in a natural, universal healing power that he called “animal magnetism.”

Types of group hypnotism can be traced to ancient civilizations but in 1841 an English physician, James Braid, witnessed a Mesmeric séance. Braid would later coin the term “hypnotism,” derived from hypnos, the Greek god of sleep.

German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)
German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) – Wikipedia

For better or for worse, New Age enthusiasts further developed the ideas of animal magnetism and the power of suggestion. Recently, magnet therapy has once again become trendy for alleviating suffering due to arthritis and muscular pain.

Some view this as a quaint delusion, not terribly harmful since magnets are inexpensive. Meanwhile, contemporary physiotherapists use magnets to alleviate suffering, which is probably more about scientism than science.

The following adopts the familiar weak reasoning of appealing to “ancient” practices as if just being ancient legitimizes something. And instead of the simpler words “methods” and “believer,” we have “methodologies” and “trained professional,” which may sound authoritative to some.

Magnet therapy has been used as a medical treatment for thousands of years in several different cultures, with traditions of use dating back to ancient Egypt and 4th century Greece. Magnets are available in a variety of types and sizes (including electromagnets) and a range of methodologies are used, from self-application and magnetic implants, to treatments administered by a trained professional.¹

Robert Fludd
Robert Fludd – Wikipedia

Academics often use similar word games to try to legitimize second and third-rate thinking. For instance, I took a mandatory Seminar in Religious Studies entitled “Methodology” instead of the simpler, more accurate and honest word, “approach.”²


² In today’s world so biased toward science and scientism, chances of funding increase if a course or proposal sounds scientific. It’s as simple as that and any academic worth his or her salt is fully aware of the scientism built into the funding games they play.

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