The popular image of the hypnotist as a charismatic and mystical figure can be firmly dated to this time.
At the same time, the nature of “ordinary” consciousness is better understood as a series of trance states that we go into and out of all the time.
The history of hypnosis, then, is like the search for something that was in plain view all along, and we can now see it for what it is – a universal phenomenon that’s an inextricable part of being human.
These practices tend to be for magical or religious purposes, such as divination or communicating with gods and spirits.
It’s important to remember, however, that what we see as occultism was the scientific establishment of its day, with exactly the same purpose as modern science – curing human ills and increasing knowledge.
On the one hand, a history of hypnosis is a bit like a history of breathing.
Like breathing, hypnosis is an inherent and universal trait, shared and experienced by all human beings since the dawn of time.
Those who believe that hypnosis can be used to perform miracles or control minds are, of course, simply sharing the consensus view that prevailed for centuries.
Recorded history is full of tantalising glimpses of rituals and practices that look very much like hypnosis from a modern perspective, from the “healing passes” of the Hindu Vedas to magical texts from ancient Egypt.
Mesmer was the first to propose a rational basis for the effects of hypnosis.
Although we now know that his notion of “animal magnetism”, transferred from healer to patient through a mysterious etheric fluid, is hopelessly wrong, it was firmly based on scientific ideas current at the time, in particular Isaac Newton’s theories of gravitation.
From a Western point of view, the decisive moment in the history of hypnosis occurred in the 18th Century (coinciding with the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason).