Mesmerism & Animals
Native Americans were familiar with Mesmerism, and practitioners were sometimes killed for practicing it.
Author, traveler, and self-taught artist George Catlin (1796-1872) was dedicated (some say obsessed) with recording “the looks and customs of the vanishing races of native man in America.”
He was also familiar with Mesmerism.
James Esdaile, M.D. (Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance, With the Practical Application of Mesmerism in Surgery and Medicine, 1852) wrote …
“From the circumstances attending my first case all my subsequent proceedings were determined by the conviction that the mesmeric influence, as it had come upon my observation, was a physical power exerted by one animal over another, in certain circumstances and conditions of their respective systems; and I should as soon adopt the diabolical theory as a satisfactory solution of the problem, as attempt to the account by the action of the imagination for what I have seen and done.
“It has been related that all my patients were mesmerised with their eyes closed, lying in bed in a dark room, and that it was always considered desirable that the patient should be totally ignorant of what was intended to be done: and I even stipulated with the mesmeric committee that the patients brought before them should be kept in profound ignorance of our intentions, if possible. This the President would not permit for reasons best known to himself, although I offered to pay any damages awarded against him for operating on people without their leave. Not only does the mesmeric influence affect persons unaware of its existence, but [Georges] Cuvier adduces the effects produced on animals and persons asleep as proofs of a genuine physical influence propagated from one animal to another. In his Lessons in Comparative Anatomy, he says: ‘The effects obtained upon persons already asleep, and those which arise in others who have been put asleep by the process, with the phenomena presented by brutes, do not permit us to doubt that the proximity of two bodies, with certain conditions and motions, produces a genuine influence altogether independent of the action of the imagination in either, and it is sufficiently evident that these results are owing to some communication having being established between the two nervous systems.’
“Dr. Ogilvie, garrison-surgeon, Bombay, wrote to me that, when serving in the Indian navy, he used to amuse the officers and crews by converting the domestic brutes on board into somnambulists; and, from the following passages in ‘Catlin’s Account of the North American Indians,’ it appears that they know the soothing effects of Mesmerism upon brutes, and turn it to practical purposes.
“‘I have often,’ says Catlin, describing the capture of buffalo calves after the death of their mothers, ‘in concurrence with a known custom of the country, held my hands over the eyes of a calf, and breathed a few strong breaths into his nostrils; after which I have, with my hunting companions, rode several miles into our encampment, with the little prisoner busily following the heels of my horse the whole way, as closely and as affectionately as its instinct would attach it to the company of its dam.
“‘This is one of the most extraordinary things that I have met with in the habits of this wild country; and, although I had often heard of it, and felt unable exactly to believe it, I am now willing to bear testimony to the fact, from the numerous instances which I have witnessed since I came into the country. During the time that I resided at this post, I assisted in bringing in, in this manner, several of these little prisoners, which sometimes followed for five or six miles close to our horses’ heels, and into the stable where our horses were led.’
“In describing the capture of wild horses by the lasso he also says: ‘He (the hunter) gradually advances, until he is able to place his hand on the animal’s nose, and over its eyes, and at length to breathe into its nostrils, when it soon becomes docile and conquered, so that he has little else to do than to remove the hobbles from its feet, and lead or ride it into camp.’ This is probably the secret of the horse-whisperers, whose proceedings have been described to me as being very similar.”