The Marquis de Puysegur
Mesmerism & Artificial Somnambulism

The Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825) was a member of the French aristocracy of the time and had been introduced to the theory and study of Mesmerism by his brother. Puysegur went on to redefine the theory and practice of Mesmerism, placing less emphasis on Mesmer's theories about the pseudo physical aspects of the "fluidic" or "etheric" nature of the forces which Mesmer presumed to be at work. Instead, the Marquis de Puysegur was more drawn to the "psychic" - or as it would be termed today psychological - connection between the mesmerizer and the subject/patient.

In this regard Puysegur could perhaps be regarded as more of a direct precursor to James Braid, the Scottish surgeon who also became interested in Mesmerism and who in the 1840's had more definitively moved away from Mesmer's pseudo physicalist theory towards a realization of the more psycho dynamic nature of the processes at work in hypnotism.

Puysegur also reframed Mesmer's theory of animal magnetism in favour of what he termed as "artificial somnambulism". To some extent this came about due to Puysegur's misgivings about some of Mesmer's methods, which at times had involved inducing something like convulsions or fits in some of his patients. Puysegur himself failed to see how this could be beneficial or even workable, so he formulated a gentler therapeutic technique.

From the mid 1780's he began his experiments in earnest, offering magnetic treatments to workers and staff on his estate. The most well documented of these experiments involved a young estate worker named Victor Race, who apparently had some sort of respiratory complaint which Puysegur wanted to see if he could alleviate through his version of magnetism.

What actually happened has gone down in history as one of the most significant steps towards the beginning of a comprehensive and scientifically documented understanding of hypnosis and what it actually is.

Puysegur, using Mesmer's instructions, had magnetized a tree to which Race was tied. While Puysegur was making mesmeric "passes" over Race's head with a magnet - in order to stimulate the flow of magnetic "fluid" - Race went into a trance state. When Puysegur - by now curious as to what exactly was happening - instructed him to untie himself, Race managed to do so while still in a trance and with his eyes closed.

The Marquis de Puysegur was then astounded when he discovered that Race, while still in a trance, could effectively read his mind. Puysegur could mentally address a question to Race who would answer the question verbally. He could also "pick up" on other questions and instructions that Puysegur mentally directed at him. Afterwards, Race could recall nothing that had happened. While this is obviously linked with the early recognition of the existence of telepathy, Puysegur's attention became fixed on developing techniques of inducing this trance state in others, and from this research he formulated his theory of artificial somnambulism.

At this point Puysegur was moving further away from a dogmatic acceptance of Mesmer's theory, although he always considered and referred to himself as a disciple of Mesmer. Two factions began to emerge from within Mesmerism, the traditionalists and the revisionists, with traditional Mesmerist techniques eventually falling behind the new, simpler and more plausible theoretical framework of the revisionists.

Puysegur had - eventually - discovered through his ongoing research what would today be termed as post hypnotic suggestion. A subject in a trance would be instructed to, for example, "touch your knee when you hear the word horse" after waking from the trance. Often this worked, with the subject having no recollection of having previously been given the command. He also discovered that under hypnosis or somnambulism subjects could be told that they'd experience no pain or feeling when being pricked with a needle, and this also worked.

The Marquis de Puysegur had discovered that there was - is - a part of the mind which what we know of as the conscious mind was virtually unaware of, but which had obviously had a tremendous potential to influence behavior. The Marquis de Puysegur was halted in his research by the French Revolution and he spent several years in prison. On his release he managed to recover some of his assets and continued his research. He died in 1825, by which time most Mesmerists were using his techniques rather than the traditional ones.

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