Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mesmerists, Spiritualists, & Occultists [For Anon]

“It's been so long since I've been out of my body with you...” - Deadmau5.

On a recent entry, Anon asks:
“For those who are curious, or more than curious and what to look into more about this “mostly forgotten school”. Can you give some names of other "Greats" that are relevant or any schools/circles/orders that to your mind would be the best place to start besides Randolph?”
The first thing to be clear about is that Randolph created a Rosicrucian Order in the US during the late 19th century. In this case, one person and his practices ARE quite literally a school because he was actively training others. This information is easily born out simply by visiting Randolph's wikipedia page, or reading a general essay on the man will bring this factor up.

There is also Emma Britten. Her two main works worth looking at in this line of thought are “Art Magic” (1876), and “Ghost Land” (also 1876; reprinted 1879, which is when my – digital – copy is from). She ran several spiritualist journals. “Art Magic” lists a number of Mesmeric, spiritualist, and occult practitioners - but doesn't always sort between them very well. “Ghost Land” is fictional, along the lines of Dion Fortune's “Doctor Travener” stories. One element that is intriguing, however, is the references to the “Orphic Circle” which may or may not have been a “social network” of magicians who shared notes. How many of them were or were not involved in Mesmerism and Spiritualism is beyond me at the moment. After I finish following Randolph around and figuring out what he was up to, I may begin dragging my way through looking into it. Marc Demarest has an interesting piece on the Orphic Circle up here. It is intriguing and looks fairly well researched. His blog is also a marvel of research on Spiritualism and Ms. Britten. I plan to dig into that matter given time.

The third we can certifiably place as being both an operator within Mesmeric and “Great Work” type circles is Johann Baptist Malfatti von Monteregio (June 12, 1775 in Lucca – September 12, 1859). He was a medicinal practitioner, an alchemist, and a Mesmerist. Around 1838 he published a book entitled “Mathesis: The Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge.” There are several variants on this title, however. The second hand sources I have seen indicate that this may have been one of the first volumes to posit a Subtle Body in the West, based between the poles of the microcosmic Sun, Moon, and the planets. He seems to have extrapolated this information based on 19th century sources on Vedic religion/Hinduism. Unfortunately, I have only seen versions of the book in German and French. I can read neither language, and so it remains a stumbling block for me. I'm fairly sure he would be a very fascinating person to know more about. He was the physician to Beethoven, and two members of the Napoleon family. He may or may not have also been an Assassin in the employ of the State of Vienna (at least, one book released in the last thirty years on him suggests it: although, he may not realized the danger of Heavy Metal poisoning from lead, leading to Beethoven's death).

After that the territory becomes tricky. Following the declaration of Mesmer's practices to be nothing but “suggestion” in 1784, and Puysegur demonstrating “Somnambulisme” (Somnambulic Sleep) in the same year, the practice was taken up by an apparently fairly large body of individuals across the continent. A number of sources on the matter indicate that circles of Martinists, for example, were using his techniques. What they were doing, why, and whether it involves the Great Work is a giant question mark for me. No names or circles of individuals have been mentioned in any of the material I've consulted so far. This is clearly a matter to look into, but where to begin is something I'm still working out.

William Gregory's “Animal Magnetism or Mesmerism and its Phenomena” is a compilation of reports from the practices of Mesmerists for the Spiritualists. My version is from 1888, but is probably a reprint. Sections by William Gregory that appear to correspond to the book are quoted by Randolph in his“The Unveiling, or My Thoughts on Spiritualism.” The latter work is from 1862, but I'm unsure if Randolph is quoting the volume I have on hand or papers that lead to it in magazines and journals I'm unaware of. I'll probably look into that at some point. It's still a question mark in my book. Regardless, starting on page 98 of the work Gregory begins discussing German Mesmerists who termed “Animal Magnetism” as “Od” or “Odylic force.” These are probably some of the individuals that Malfatti was involved with (like von Baader, another Theosophist, though more decidely Christian than Malfatti), but it's hard to be sure. Reichenbach is one of those, but he may not have been an occult practitioner. He may have simply been a Mesmerist, and was definitely part of the Od-force club.

Mesmerist circles were split as early as the 1820s and 1830s between three schools of thought:
  1. Spiritual reasons are why Mesmerism works. Mesmerism is god's gift of how to maintain the cosmic vital force and heal others.
  2. A hither-to-unknown “fluid” is the reason that Mesmerism works. We might as well call this fluid “Aethyrium,” although the Mesmerists never do.
  3. Suggestion is the reason that it works. The latter aspect will become the school of Hypnotism, and dissect itself from Mesmerism by the late 19th century.

Some schools of thought, like the “purely spiritual” one, end up involving occultists. Others do not. It makes matters significantly messy, to say the least. The reason I keep focusing on Randolph is because he and Emma Britten allow one to start to make in-roads on how far the practices went and where they showed up. Unfortunately, they both occasionally reference individuals who are just Spiritualists or Mesmerists as if they're doing the Great Work and one has to be careful before drawing conclusions.

One example of this is Joseph Francois Deleuze (1735-1835) who began practicing Mesmerism in the late 18th (post-1784, at least, I think) century and wrote the standard “how to” manual on Mesmerism in 1828 entitled “Practical Instruction on Animal Magnetism.” He's referenced by both Randolph and Britten, but never appears to have interacted in occult circles to the best of my knowledge. He also wrote a critical history on Mesmerism sometime around the turn of the century (somewhere between 1790 and 1820, I'd guess?). Had his Practical Instruction... been written in another century, we would probably call it a text on Shamanic healing as its similarities to such systems are very significant. His focus on the hands and eyes of the Mesmerist to heal the patient are very cool, and similar to practices we find amongst traditional healers in the Caribbean that we see today (such as the Spiritist Healers). Still, he isn't an occultist and firmly in the “Fluid” camp for transmission of the Mesmeric passes. Nonetheless, he has a few reports laced into the book like this one:
“Soon after, an intimate friend of mine (Mr. D.) magnetized a young girl of sixteen, who became a somnambulist. She was the daughter of very respectable parents. I assisted in the treatment of this patient, and I have never known a more perfect somnambulist. She dictated remedies for other sick persons as well as for herself. She presented most of the phenomena observed by M. de Puysegur, M. Tardy and the members of the society at Strasburg. Among these were phenomena I could not have imagined or explained. I can only affirm that I saw them, and after this it is impossible for me to suppose the least illusion, or the possibility of deception.” (p. xv, from the introduction to the aforementioned work.)
This phenomena shows up during the Mesmeric/Spiritualist hybrid period, and is different, to say the least. Its almost mediumship, and that's what people will call the ability to drop into trance and diagnose others in the latter half of the century. Still, Deleuze indicates that it appeared at the onset of Mesmerist experimenters and was happening without the Great Work being directly involved.

So, like I've been saying: sorting between phenomena, practitioners, and how many are involved in the occult is fairly hard. Mesmerism was fairly wide-spread, but its circles ranged from secretive to fairly open. Britten has references to “German occultists” in “Ghost Land” using it – but who knows how many there were, or even if they really existed beyond individuals such as Malfatti? It's a very tricky issue for me, and one that leaves me unhappy. I'm fairly certain that some caches existed, in fact it may have been practically mainstream throughout the 19th century, but without more research one cannot be sure.

Regardless: we have solid evidence from Britten, Randolph, and some of their circles of interaction that the school of thought existed and was being used. The question(s) I have are: how widespread is this? How often did Mesmerism influence occultists? How many were there and how often did they begin teaching circles of other individuals? Randolph clearly did; someone, though who it was is something I'm not particularly sure of, trained Britten in Mesmeric mirror work and I don't think it was Randolph. She seems to suggest there were several circles of practitioners doing so, but it's hard to be sure if she's just using motifs for her fiction or being more honest than one realizes. Then there's the question of how many Mesmerists and Occultists joined the Spirituaist movement. Some clearly did; Gregory is one, Randolph is another, Britten is one, and Blavatsky began her career as someone trying to re-add the occult to Spiritualist circles. After that, the matter becomes very unclear because Spiritualism was a very large movement with equal parts sincere believers and charlatans.

I would love to see more research be done on all aspects of what I've brought up. In particular, it would be very nice to see Malfatti's work translated and make its way to the English speaking world. His interactions with the German theosophists of the 1830s/1840s and use of Mesmerism are both very intriguing; that he studied Alchemy is an added bonus. He later exerted some influence on the philosopher Gilles Deleuze (18 January 1925 – 4 November 1995), but how much is still not understood and very much unclear. The term “Mathesis” is one that appears in a few of his later work, beginning with “Difference and Repetition.” Rene Guenon seems to have written on Malfatti, but his work is again in French and I have no idea what he has to say on the matter of the alternative practitioner of medicine.

I hope the above helps, and I apologize for anything that is left murky. Insofar as I'm concerned, Randolph remains the best lead to follow around at the moment: he has a well-written and well-researched biography by Deveney, his works are easily found within digital archives if one takes the time to hunt for them, and he references other practitioners at the time. He is, ironically enough, the least enigmatic of the all those I've brought up, and since he set up an Order of Rosicrucians (in 1858), the one we can be certain was training others.

Almost all of the works I've listed can be found in Google books archives, on, or elsewhere on the 'net. One needs but drift a bit and put some effort into looking. For those wishing to look into the works I cannot read, feel free to ask and I'll provide links. At some point - probably following writing more on these matters - I'll probably also draw up an extensive entry on sources. It just happens to be time consuming, and most of my time is currently being spent digesting what I'm hunting down, and then returning to already read material to see where the pieces match up... Or don't match up, as is just as often the case.

Finally, Anon, I am sorry for not being sure whether or not you were trolling me.

With that, I'm off to visit the foothills and recharge my batteries by engaging in actual human company and not spending my nights reading texts all goddamn night for weeks on end. I wish all my readers a Happy Halloween, and a safe one at that.


Cole said...

Funny little coincidence, Gilles Deleuze wrote an introduction to a reprint of Johann Baptist Malfatti von Monteregio's Mathesis...

Thank you for collecting all this!

Jack Faust said...

@Cole: Damn it! I forgot to mention that! There's an excellent essay on the matter of Gilles Deleuze and Malfatti somewhere in the depths of the 'net. When I get back into town, if you haven't come across it, I'll link it. I'm been backtracking as many of the author's sources as I can get my hands on. And no problem!

Cole said...

I think this is the one you mean:
The Somnambulist and the Hermaphrodite: Deleuze and Johann de Montereggio and Occultism

Have a great Halloween!