Self-Hypnotization.--How It may Be Done.--An Experience.--Accountable for Children's Crusade.--Oriental Prophets Self-Hypnotized.
If self-hypnotism is possible (and it is true that a person can deliberately hypnotize himself when he wishes to till he has become accustomed to it and is expert in it, so to speak), it does away at a stroke with the claims of all professional hypnotists and magnetic healers that they have any peculiar power in themselves which they exert over their fellows. One of these professionals gives an account in his book of what he calls "The Wonderful Lock Method." He says that though he is locked up in a separate room he can make the psychic power work through the walls. All that he does is to put his subjects in the way of hypnotizing themselves. He shows his inconsistency when he states that under certain circumstances the hypnotizer is in danger of becoming hypnotized himself. In this he makes no claim that the subject is using any psychic power; but, of course, if the hypnotizer looks steadily into the eyes of his subject, and the subject looks into his eyes, the steady gaze on a bright object will produce hypnotism in one quite as readily as in the other.
Hypnotism is an established scientific fact; but the claim that the hypnotizer has any mysterious psychic power is the invariable mark of the charlatan. Probably no scientific phenomenon was ever so grossly prostituted to base ends as that of hypnotism. Later we shall see some of the outrageous forms this charlatanism assumes, and how it extends to the professional subjects as well as to the professional operators, till those subjects even impose upon scientific men who ought to be proof against such deception. Moreover, the possibility of self-hypnotization, carefully concealed and called by another name, opens another great field of humbug and charlatanism, of which the advertising columns of the newspapers are constantly filled--namely, that of the clairvoyant and medium. We may conceive how such a profession might become perfectly legitimate and highly useful; but at present it seems as if any person who went into it, however honest he might be at the start, soon began to deceive himself as well as others, until he lost his power entirely to distinguish between fact and imagination.
Before discussing the matter further, let us quote Dr. Cocke's experiment in hypnotizing himself. It will be remembered that a professional hypnotizer or magnetizer had hypnotized him by telling him to fix his mind on the number twenty-six and holding up his hand. Says the doctor:
"In my room that evening it occurred to me to try the same experiment. I did so. I kept the number twenty-six in my mind. In a few minutes I felt the sensation of terror, but in a different way. I was intensely cold. My heart seemed to stand still. I had ringing in my ears. My hair seemed to rise upon my scalp. I persisted in the effort, and the previously mentioned noise in my ears grew louder and louder. The roar became deafening. It crackled like a mighty fire. I was fearfully conscious of myself. Having read vivid accounts of dreams, visions, etc., it occurred to me that I would experience them. I felt in a vague way that there were beings all about me but could not hear their voices. I felt as though every muscle in my body was fixed and rigid. The roar in my ears grew louder still, and I heard, above the roar, reports which sounded like artillery and musketry. Then above the din of the noise a musical chord. I seemed to be absorbed in this chord. I knew nothing else. The world existed for me only in the tones of the mighty chord. Then I had a sensation as though I were expanding. The sound in my ears died away, and yet I was not conscious of silence. Then all consciousness was lost. The next thing I experienced was a sensation of intense cold, and of someone roughly shaking me. Then I heard the voice of my jolly landlord calling me by name."
The landlord had found the doctor "as white as a ghost and as limp as a rag," and thought he was dead. He says it took him ten minutes to arouse the sleeper. During the time a physician had been summoned.
As to the causes of this condition as produced Dr. Cocke says: "I firmly believed that something would happen when the attempt was made to hypnotize me. Secondly, I wished to be hypnotized. These, together with a vivid imagination and strained attention, brought on the states which occurred."
It is interesting to compare the effects of hypnotization with those of opium or other narcotic. Dr. Cocke asserts that there is a difference. His descriptions of dreams bear a wonderful likeness to De Quincey's dreams, such as those described in "The English Mail-Coach," "De Profundis," and "The Confessions of an English Opium Eater," all of which were presumably due to opium.
The causes which Dr. Cocke thinks produced the hypnotic condition in his case, namely, belief, desire to be hypnotized, and strained attention, united with a vivid imagination, are causes which are often found in conjunction and produce effects which we may reasonably explain on the theory of self-hypnotization.
For instance, the effects of an exciting religious revival are very like those produced by Mesmer's operations in Paris. The subjects become hysterical, and are ready to believe anything or do anything. By prolonging the operation, a whole community becomes more or less hypnotized. In all such cases, however, unusual excitement is commonly followed by unusual lethargy. It is much like a wild spree of intoxication--in fact, it is a sort of intoxication.
The same phenomena are probably accountable for many of the strange records of history. The wonderful cures at Lourdes (of which we have read in Zola's novel of that name) are no doubt the effect of hypnotization by the priests. Some of the strange movements of whole communities during the Crusades are to be explained either on the theory of hypnotization or of contagion, and possibly these two things will turn out to be much the same in fact. On no other ground can we explain the so-called "Children's Crusade," in which over thirty thousand children from Germany, from all classes of the community, tried to cross the Alps in winter, and in their struggles were all lost or sold into slavery without even reaching the Holy Land.
Again, hypnotism is accountable for many of the poet's dreams. Gazing steadily at a bed of bright coals or a stream of running water will invariably throw a sensitive subject into a hypnotic sleep that will last sometimes for several hours. Dr. Cocke says that he has experimented in this direction with patients of his. Says he: "They have the ability to resist the state or to bring it at will. Many of them describe beautiful scenes from nature, or some mighty cathedral with its lofty dome, or the faces of imaginary beings, beautiful or demoniacal, according to the will and temper of the subject."
Perhaps the most wonderful example of self-hypnotism which we have in history is that of the mystic Swedenborg, who saw, such strange things in his visions, and at last came to believe in them as real.
The same explanation may be given of the manifestations of Oriental prophets--for in the Orient hypnotism is much easier and more systematically developed than with us of the West. The performances of the dervishes, and also of the fakirs, who wound themselves and perform many wonderful feats which would be difficult for an ordinary person, are no doubt in part feats of hypnotism.
While in a condition of auto-hypnotization a person may imagine that he is some other personality. Says Dr. Cocke: "A curious thing about those self-hypnotized subjects is that they carry out perfectly their own ideals of the personality with whom they believe themselves to be possessed. If their own ideals of the part they are playing are imperfect, their impersonations are ridiculous in the extreme. One man I remember believed himself to be controlled by the spirit of Charles Sumner. Being uneducated, he used the most wretched English, and his language was utterly devoid of sense. While, on the other hand, a very intelligent lady who believed herself to be controlled by the spirit of Charlotte Cushman personated the part very well."
Dr. Cooke says of himself: "I can hypnotize myself to such an extent that I will become wholly unconscious of events taking place around me, and a long interval of time, say from one-half to two hours, will be a complete blank. During this condition of auto-hypnotization I will obey suggestions made to me by another, talking rationally, and not knowing any event that has occurred after the condition has passed off."