Is Hypnotism Always A Psychic Malpractice?

Hypnotism (Gr.). A name given by Dr. Braid to various processes by which one person of strong will-power plunges another of weaker mind into a kind of trance; once in such a state the latter will do anything suggested to him by the hypnotiser. Unless produced for beneficial purposes, Occultists would call it black magic or Sorcery. It is the most dangerous of practices, morally and physically, as it interferes with the nerve fluid and the nerves controlling the circulation in the capillary blood-vessels.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 147)

We are all familiar with hypnotism or at least with the stereotypical presentation of what a hypnotist does and what the act of hypnotising someone looks like. Many people are also aware that the word “hypnosis” literally means “sleep state” or “condition of sleep.”

The aim of this article is not so much to explain what hypnotism is but rather to see some of the things that Theosophy – the Esoteric Philosophy of the Initiates and Adepts of all Ages – says about both hypnotism and mesmerism, practices which are often spoken of together but which should not be thought of as the same thing.

Although the writer of this article is an associate of the United Lodge of Theosophists – a worldwide Theosophical association which focuses primarily on the original Theosophical teachings given by H. P. Blavatsky and her colleague William Q. Judge – it has to be pointed out that the way in which many ULT associates speak and write of both hypnotism and mesmerism is frequently not in line with the teachings of Theosophy and also not helpful or relatable in the present day. To explain:

(1) ULT associates – and indeed numerous Theosophists from other Theosophical groups as well as independent or unaffiliated Theosophists but, seemingly, especially ULT associates – tend to always describe hypnotism as a psychic malpractice, as black magic, as something unequivocally bad and harmful and which should never be done, engaged in, or sought after, for any purposes whatsoever. But this attitude and approach is not in line with the teachings and statements of H. P. Blavatsky, as we will shortly show beyond all doubt. This attitude and approach is only half-true and it leaves out, ignores, and evades crucial explanations and points that HPB made and published in such a prominent way that it remains a mystery why so many students of Theosophy have chosen to ignore them.

(2) Due to this unequivocal animosity towards hypnotism, any practice whose name may include the term “hypno” tends to automatically get similarly demonised and dismissed by many Theosophists as “bad,” seemingly without having even bothered to research it for oneself. But hypnotherapy, for example, is not hypnotism. Hypnotherapy involves entering a state of deep relaxation in which the patient’s own will and consciousness is still present and can still operate. This is clearly very different indeed from hypnotism and in fact if one witnesses the two practices, they are almost nothing alike. We would propose that hypnotherapy is perhaps a sort of mid-point between hypnotism and mesmerism.

(3) In this as well as in some other areas, some students of Theosophy seem not to have realised or accepted that many things have changed drastically in the world since the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. Lest we be misunderstood or misinterpreted, let us clarify: we are not suggesting that the teachings of Theosophy have become out of date, for that can never happen, but there are some statements, references, and terms in the original Theosophical literature that no longer have much, if any, application and relevance in the modern world. Hypnotism, but most especially mesmerism, are significant examples of this.

Numerous Theosophical students say things in the 21st century such as “hypnotism should be avoided but mesmerism is good; Theosophy supports mesmerism and mesmeric healing.” But there is no healing practice or system calling itself either “mesmerism” or “mesmeric” in the present day, so of what use is it to talk or write like this, seeing as not one single therapist or practitioner can be found online anywhere – at least not in the UK or USA; we have not searched further – who calls themselves that or describes their work in such terms?

This does not mean that principles of mesmeric healing have died out; what it means is that they have adopted somewhat different forms and expressions since the time of Mesmer himself and are therefore nowadays known under other names. The most prominent example may be Reiki. There are also various offshoots of Reiki and similar practices and there are numerous other semi-mesmeric or quasi-mesmeric therapies which come under the general heading of “energy healing.” A system known as Pranic Healing is also quite popular, especially among some Theosophists and esotericists, although as it derives most of its framework from the Alice Bailey teachings, which in turn are mostly based on the highly distorted “Theosophy” of C. W. Leadbeater, serious caution should be advised regarding it.

Everyone should do their own careful research and investigation of therapies and therapists/practitioners, including looking at reviews from past customers or clients, before committing to Reiki or other forms of energy healing. We are in no way giving a wholesale endorsement of any or all of these practices but we are pointing out that these are the forms that mesmerism takes today and so it is high time that Theosophists started speaking of them and thus explaining the Theosophical teachings on hypnotism and mesmerism in words and ways that the modern person in the modern world can actually understand, relate to, and benefit from. We ought to add that principles of “mesmeric” healing did not all originate with Mesmer himself. In various parts of the world, healing by making “passes” over the afflicted area of the body had been going on for millennia prior to Mesmer’s time.

And similarly, hypnotism is by no means as popular and pervasive nowadays as many Theosophists seem to think. Things have changed a lot since HPB’s and WQJ’s time. Online search results for hypnotists and hypnotism in one’s own area invariably – at least in the UK and USA and no doubt most other parts of the world – consist mostly of hypnotherapy and hypnotherapists and not hypnotism and hypnotists. In point #2 above, we briefly explained a few of the major ways in which hypnotherapy differs from hypnotism and how, from the Theosophical perspective, it is typically much more beneficent than hypnotism generally is. Although hypnotists are of course still in demand in today’s world, that demand has been greatly lessened due to the increasing demand for hypnotherapy. The most well known hypnotists nowadays are stage hypnotists, who use hypnotism as a performance art and for “entertainment.” This is one of the worst types of hypnotism and is indeed an abuse and exploitation for fame and profit of the inner faculties of the human psyche.

As we saw in HPB’s “Theosophical Glossary” quote at the start of this article, “Unless produced for beneficial purposes, Occultists would call it [i.e. hypnotism] black magic or Sorcery.” This shows us that hypnotism can be used for beneficial purposes and therefore is not necessarily or automatically black magic or misuse of metaphysical forces and principles.

Robert Crosbie, the founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists, provides a very good summary of hypnotism, its effects, and its dangers, in “Answers To Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy.” There, responding to the question of “what is hypnotism?”, he says:

“Hypnotism is a modern name for a power known for ages. By means of this power, one who has it and uses it on his fellowmen, paralyzes that channel in the brain of his subject through which the subject, as Ego, operates and controls his brain. This action prevents the subject from receiving any other impressions than those suggested by the operator, in ordinary cases. . . . In this state the subject may be impressed to perform any kind of action at some subsequent time, and will do so. Crimes have been committed under such suggestions, the subject being ignorant of the fact that the suggestion of the operator led to and impelled the act. Occasionally the subject gets beyond the control of the operator and may disclose what are called different “personalities.” These may be memories of past experiences [i.e. of past personalities in which our soul has been incarnated previously], or as is more likely, contacts with other beings constituting an obsession [i.e. a now antiquated synonym for possession, which exists in varying degrees]; for the state is a defenseless one.” (p. 32)

But Crosbie then states:

“This practice is considered to be Black Magic by the Ancient Schools because it is an interference with the free-will of the Ego as regards his bodily instrument. The continuation of the practice upon any subject brings about an increasing tendency to be swayed and thrown off his normal balance by the feelings and suggestions of others about him, as well as by invisible beings, the existence of whom is not yet admitted by Western science. The one who practises this black art, is on the high road to become a Black Magician.” (p. 32)

While that middle sentence is surely true, the first and last sentence are an example – perhaps one of the first examples within the ULT – of a wholesale demonising of hypnotism in a way which is not in accord with H. P. Blavatsky’s own teachings on the subject. Yes, hypnotism can indeed be black magic and can be a black art and has indeed been used in such a way by many people over the centuries. But it is not inherently bad or evil; all depends on the use to which it is put.

And to prove this, let’s now see some of HPB’s own words on this point, from her article “Hypnotism, and Its Relations to Other Modes of Fascination.” Curiously, many ULT associates quote from this article when explaining the Theosophical view of hypnotism but frequently tend to entirely omit or edit out these parts. This can only be deliberate and knowing on their part, which again makes it something of a mystery as to why – in spite of the ULT’s mission statement “To spread broadcast the Teachings of Theosophy as recorded in the Writings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge” – they do not want to present the whole of what Theosophy teaches on this subject.

Here are HPB’s answers to some of the questions in that article, with certain parts put in bold or underlined by us for emphasis:

“Q. What becomes of diseases cured by hypnotism; are they really cured or are they postponed, or do they appear in another form? Are diseases Karma; and, if so, is it right to attempt to cure them?

“ANS. Hypnotic suggestion may cure for ever, and it may not. All depends on the degree of magnetic relations between the operator and the patient. If Karmic, they will be only postponed, and return in some other form, not necessarily of disease, but as a punitive evil of another sort. It is always “right” to try and alleviate suffering whenever we can, and to do our best for it. Because a man suffers justly imprisonment, and catches cold in his damp cell, is it a reason why the prison-doctor should not try to cure him of it?

“Q. Is it necessary that the hypnotic “suggestions” of the operator should be spoken? Is it not enough for him to think them, and may not even HE be ignorant or unconscious of the bent he is impressing on his subject?

“ANS. Certainly not, if the rapport between the two is once for all firmly established. Thought is more powerful than speech in cases of a real subjugation of the will of the patient to that of his operator. But, on the other hand, unless the “suggestion” made is for the good only of the subject, and entirely free from any selfish motive, a suggestion by thought is an act of black magic still more pregnant with evil consequences than a spoken suggestion. It is always wrong and unlawful to deprive a man of his free-will, unless for his own or Society’s goodand even the former has to be done with great discrimination. Occultism regards all such promiscuous attempts as black magic and sorcery, whether conscious or otherwise.

“Q. Do the motive and character of the operator affect the result, immediate or remote?

“ANS. In so far as the hypnotizing process becomes under his operation either white or black magic, as the last answer shows.

“Q. Is it wise to hypnotize a patient not only out of disease, but out of a habit, such as drinking or lying?

“ANS. It is an act of charity and kindness, and this is next to wisdom. For, although the dropping of his vicious habits will add nothing to his good Karma (which it would, had his efforts to reform been personal, of his own free will, and necessitating a great mental and physical struggle), still a successful “suggestion” prevents him from generating more bad Karma, and adding constantly to the previous record of his transgressions.”

Returning to “Answers To Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy,” the next question put to Robert Crosbie was “Are Hypnotism and Mesmerism the same?” To this he replied:

“No. They are the opposite of each other. In hypnotism, the operator actually passes into the subject some of his ethereal substance which carries with it the qualities good or bad of the operator; this acts upon the capillary veins and nerves from without as a repression – which is one of the characteristics of sleep and death. Whereas in Mesmerism so-called, the effect is from within outwards, an opening up, instead of a contraction and repression; no suggestion is used, and the subject can move in accordance with his own nature and qualities. In neither of these states is any knowledge possible, although subsequent effects may flow uncontrolled and unsuspected by the subject. Self-control is the great desideratum [i.e. essential requirement] and neither of these states leads to it, but on the contrary tends to destroy it. There may be rare exceptions, where one knows the nature of Man and the effects that will be produced by any operation upon the subject; then either of these operations may be used for the benefit of the subject, but never for control or out of curiosity.” (p. 33)

So Crosbie says that in hypnotism “the operator actually passes into the subject some of his ethereal substance” but that this does not happen in mesmerism. However, it is actually one of the defining features of mesmerism and HPB herself says in “Hypnotism, and Its Relations to Other Modes of Fascination” that in both there is a transmission of the “auric fluid” of the practitioner.

It is also a well known fact that suggestion is part of mesmerism and was strongly used by Mesmer himself.

And finally, while acknowledging that mesmerism is vastly more benefical and beneficent than hypnotism, we see Crosbie saying that both of them “tend to destroy” self-control. One could easily get the impression from reading these words that it’s ultimately best to avoid and steer clear of both. Naturally, the ideal would be to never have any need of any type of healing system but who is ever that fortunate throughout their whole life? We thus find H. P. Blavatsky saying:

“Now, why do not these persons and all our members who are able to do so, take up the serious study of mesmerism? Mesmerism has been called the Key to the Occult Sciences, and it has this advantage that it offers peculiar opportunities for doing good to mankind. If in each of our branches we were able to establish a homeopathic dispensary with the addition of mesmeric healing, such as has already been done with great success in Bombay, we might contribute towards putting the science of medicine in this country on a sounder basis, and be the means of incalculable benefit to the people at large.” (“Spiritual Progress”)

The Master or Mahatma K.H. once wrote to A. P. Sinnett: “There is no reason why you should not “attempt mesmeric cures” by the help not of your locket [i.e. which contained some of the Master’s hair which he had sent to Sinnett] but the power of your own will.” Colonel Olcott, one of the main founders of the Theosophical Society, was also encouraged by the Masters to practise mesmeric healing while in India and he had some remarkable success, although numerous of the healings eventually faded, as had also been the case with Mesmer himself a century before.

Some readers may conclude that we are “attacking” Robert Crosbie but nothing could be further from the truth. Our article The Man Who Rescued Theosophy shows clearly how highly we respect, value, and appreciate him and his work. We are merely making a point that Crosbie himself often made, which is that in one’s efforts to understand Theosophy, it is always best to go directly to the source. Almost everything Crosbie wrote undoubtedly helps, aids, and expands one’s understanding of Theosophy but he never wished to be viewed as being on the same “level” of occult authority and knowledge as HPB.

The introduction at the start of “Answers To Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” itself says: “It should be remembered that while the answers are given from the standpoint of many years’ experience and application, they are not to be taken as hard and fast definitions, nor as authoritative; but may be used as explanations and applications of the philosophy of Theosophy as related to the particular phases presented in the various questions. The student, being “the final authority” for himself, should not accept any statement by any being whatever unless he himself perceives its truth.”

In his article “The Power of Suggestion,” Robert Crosbie importantly warns of the highly pervasive and prominent dangers of what could be called mass hypnosis or hypnosis on a national, international, and global scale, which in today’s media-driven world is perhaps more of a danger than ever. “Our municipal life, our national life, our political life, are all under suggestion, and few are they who try to go to the root of things and understand what the nature of being is, so that they can know for themselves and thus act with power and knowledge. As we look the field over, we find that we are all prey to the power of suggestion in every direction.”

Similarly, William Judge commented in his article “Hypnotism” that “Many persons are already in a half-hypnotized state, easily influenced by the unprincipled or the immoral; . . . the power to hypnotize and to be sensitive to it are both progressive states of our racial evolution; . . . it can and will be used for selfish, wicked, and degrading purposes unless the race, and especially the occidental [i.e. Western] portion of it, understands and practices true ethics based on the brotherhood of man.”

In reading this, you may be thinking “Thank goodness that I am not hypnotised or half-hypnotised or living under the influence of mass hypnotic suggestion.” But can you really be so sure that you are not? The person subjected to such influences and control is obviously not aware of it, at least not until they inwardly “take a step back” and begin to assess their habitual thoughts, actions, and reactions, from a higher, impersonal, impartial, detached, open-minded perspective.

As for Mesmerism, the following is from our article The Theosophical Perspective on Modern Science:

“Pointing out that scientists are often as prejudiced and bigoted as the religious fundamentalists, the start of “Isis Unveiled” – which bears the subtitle of “A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology” – declares, “Our voice is raised for spiritual freedom, and our plea made for enfranchisement from all tyranny, whether of SCIENCE or THEOLOGY.” (Vol. 1, p. xlv)

“Interestingly, on that page and also later in the first volume, on p. 171, she identifies “the neglect of the committee of the French Academy of 1784” – a committee of physicians investigating the work of Anton Mesmer under the orders of King Louis XVI – as the main parent of “the materialism of today.”

“Had Mesmer and his system of healing, which came to be known as mesmerism, been given a fair, just, impartial, and open-minded hearing, things would have been very different for the Western world. And Mesmer had been selected by the Great Brotherhood of Initiated Adepts or Masters of Wisdom (who guide and watch over the spiritual evolution and advancement of humanity) “to act in the XVIIIth [18th] century as their usual pioneer, sent in the last quarter of every century to enlighten a small portion of the Western nations in occult lore.” (HPB, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 213-214)”

What of “past life regression therapy”? Is it effective, useful, reliable, or recommended?

That it can be genuinely effective is affirmed by Robert Crosbie, who says: “In many cases the abnormal condition which hypnosis produces permits fugitive and unrelated experiences of past existences to be perceived, and adopted as present actualities. As the present cycle moves on, more and more of these and other psychological “mysteries” will become evident; these will always remain mysteries to present-day Western Psychology, but the Ancient Wisdom of the East solves them all.” (“Answers To Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” p. 110-111)

But is it useful, reliable, or recommended? It is worth being aware that most forms of regression therapy use hypnotherapy rather than hypnotism, although some do indeed use the latter. In the article Being Sensible About Past Lives we said:

“Be aware that the results of “past life regression therapy” are almost always a waste of time. Such techniques and procedures tend to give rise to little more than subconscious fantasies and delusions and to people picking up details from the collective unconscious or the “astral light” and mistakenly applying them to themselves when they could actually be the images and records of someone else’s past life. The amount of people around the world all “discovering” through regression that they were one and the same particular famous person from history (Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, George Washington, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe tend to be firm favourites!) is phenomenal. Serious reincarnation researchers [Note: And this included Dr Ian Stevenson] almost entirely disregard the results of regression techniques and find that they are almost always unprovable, unlike spontaneously occurring recollections of past lives.”

The emphasis there should be on the use of the word “almost.” “Almost” is not the same as “always.” In another article (Video Evidence of Reincarnation) we added:

“There have been a few cases, however, where the results of regression therapy have been possible to investigate further, sometimes with astounding consequences. Two of the videos on this page are of that nature. Anyone who doubts or questions the reality of reincarnation should watch these. . . . when the outer or external aspects of the minds of the individuals featured in this documentary were temporarily paralysed, through entering a state of trance, details, information, and recollections from those previous lifetimes were able to come to the fore, even to the extent of the person temporarily re-becoming that former personality and re-living its thoughts and experiences as if they were present realities. Robert Crosbie in fact affirms this . . . We should clarify, however, that in pointing this out, we are in no way trying to endorse or recommend past life regression therapy, since as we said at the start, it is seeming almost always a waste of time (and often money!) and that hypnotism is a risky process which can prove dangerous. But we do not agree with those Theosophists who make sweeping statements about all forms of hypnotism under all circumstances being black magic and psychic malpractice. We would suggest anyone holding such views read the last five questions and answers in H. P. Blavatsky’s article “Hypnotism, and Its Relations to other Modes of Fascination.” They may be very surprised and will find out that HPB herself did not hold such an uncompromising view of hypnotism, despite the fact that she warned of its abuse. It is also worth noting that the Australian practitioner in the documentary below (Peter Ramster) is not a hypnotist, nor is he practising hypnotism in the video, but rather hypnotherapy, which it would be misleading to take as a mere synonym for hypnotism. Hypnotherapy is perhaps a sort of mid-point between hypnosis and mesmerism, mesmerism being something viewed positively in Theosophy.”

“In the astral body, then, is the place to look for the explanation of mesmerism and hypnotism,” states William Judge in his article “Mesmerism.” For those who may wish to explore further how the astral body or astral double (Linga Sharira in Sanskrit) relates, in its various parts, components, and organs, to both mesmerism and hypnotism, we strongly recommend Judge’s articles “Mesmerism,” “The Sheaths of the Soul,” and “Hypnotism,” all of which can be read online together here. Our article Mysteries of the Astral Body is partly based on them. We also recommend Prana, Tiredness, and Sleep and, for those who may currently be under the misapprehension that the so-called etheric body is part of real Theosophical and esoteric teaching, The “Etheric” Body Does Not Exist.

To conclude, we ought to close with the following quotes from HPB, without which this article would be incomplete. For while it is true, as we have now categorically proven, that H. P. Blavatsky was in favour and support of hypnotism being used for beneficial and therapeutic purposes, she nonetheless made repeatedly clear that hypnotism in general was a field fraught with dangers.

“Hypnotism, now become so common and a subject of serious scientific inquiry, is a good instance in point. Hypnotic power has been discovered almost by accident, the way to it having been prepared by mesmerism; and now an able hypnotizer can do almost anything with it, from forcing a man, unconsciously to himself, to play the fool, to making him commit a crime – often by proxy for the hypnotizer, and for the benefit of the latter. Is not this a terrible power if left in the hands of unscrupulous persons? And please to remember that this is only one of the minor branches of Occultism.” (“The Key to Theosophy” p. 26)

“The seven capital sins and seven virtues of the Christian scheme are far less philosophical than even the Seven Liberal and the Seven Accursed Sciences – or the Seven Arts of enchantment of the Gnostics. For one of the latter is now before the public, pregnant with danger in the present as for the future. The modern name for it is HYPNOTISM. In the ignorance of the seven principles, and used by scientific and ignorant materialists, it will soon become SATANISM in the full acceptation of the term.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 641)

“There is no doubt that the general publication of the details and methods of hypnotic suggestion has brought society face to face with a very serious peril. Many persons will probably think that, after all, there is a good deal to be said for the ancient plan of keeping secret knowledge which placed in the hands of unscrupulous persons control over the subtler forces of Nature.” (“Going To and Fro: Regarding Giants and Hypnotism”)

“The experiments made in Hypnotism and Mesmerism at the present time are experiments of unconscious, when not of conscious, Black Magic. The road is wide and broad which leads to such destruction; and it is but too easy to find; and only too many go ignorantly along it to their own destruction. But the practical cure for it lies in one thing. That is the course of study which I mentioned before. It sounds very simple, but is eminently difficult; for that cure is “ALTRUISM.” And this is the keynote of Theosophy and the cure for all ills; this it is which the real Founders of the Theosophical Society promote as its first object – UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD.” (“Five Messages from H. P. Blavatsky to The American Theosophists” p. 14-15)

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“Though you may have read in the modern works on mesmerism how, that which we call “Will-Essence” and you “fluid” – is transmitted from the operator to his objective point, you perhaps scarcely realize how everyone is practically, albeit unconsciously, demonstrating this law every day and every moment. Nor, can you quite realize how the training for adeptship increases both one’s capacity to emit and to feel this form of force. I assure you that I, though but a humble chela as yet, felt your good wishes flowing to me as the convalescent in the cold mountains feels from the gentle breeze that blows upon him from the plains below.”
(Djwhal Khul, letter to A. P. Sinnett)

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