In the 18th century, Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer introduced the healing power of animal magnetism to Europe.
In the 18th century, Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer introduced the healing power of animal magnetism to Europe. Although it began as a treatment using magnetic plates that were placed on top of patients’ bodies, it gradually became the practitioner’s hands alone used to heal.
Not taking off until arriving in France a few years later, animal magnetism quickly found its place among the French aristocracy, who would sit as his audience while Mesmer would heal the sick and injured before their eyes.
By the early 19th century, Mesmer’s animal magnetism had arrived in the United States, with his disciples teaching the power of moving hands over specific areas of the body to heal patients of all manner of illnesses. In the United States, animal magnetism found a new audience and blossomed.
One such audience member was clockmaker Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who attended a lecture from the visiting Frenchman Charles Poyen on the power of animal magnetism in 1862. Overwhelmed by the sight before him, Quimby followed the Frenchman across the country to attend as many of Poyen’s lectures as he could. When he had his fill of magnetic knowledge, Quimby decided he was ready to see for himself what the true benefits of animal magnetism could be from his own hands.
Arriving in Quimby’s office that day for help with clock-related business, Mary Patterson was weak, emaciated, and depressed after years of struggling with ongoing health concerns. As Quimby watched her limp towards his counter, he decided he had found the right patient for his newfound magnetic talents.
Quimby specifically thought that to build his own animal magnetic power, he would first build a strong rapport with his patient. He asked Mary Patterson to stare into his eyes and tell him all about her health complaints. As they held eye contact, Quimby proceeded to massage her hands and arms gently. To her shock (and his), after a week of this eye contact and massage-based treatment, Patterson reported a sudden and dramatic improvement to her overall health.
Patterson was hooked. The newly magnetized Patterson went on to learn everything she could from her magnetic healer so that she too could become a practitioner herself.
After marrying Asa Gilbert Eddy a few years later, Patterson went on to develop her own medical system under her new name, Mary Baker Eddy. However, she made one tweak to the original theory taught by Quimby and Mesmer: All disease is an illusion that can be cured through communing with God.
The medical system she invented would go onto be named Christian Science, which would become the largest faith-based healing practice ever developed in the country. In 2017, there were 400,000 global members still practicing, continuing the legacy that Mesmer had brought to the world over 200 years earlier.
Kang L, Pedersen N. Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. New York, NY: Workman Publishing; 2017.