Better I say that I was hypnotised.
Franz Anton Mesmer, who discovered the phenomenon in the late 1700s, believed that it worked through ‘animal magnetism,’ and treated it like a parlor trick, entertaining the social elite in their homes or small halls. A hypnotised person is not supposed to do anything beyond their moral limits. It was revealing and disturbing, the limits that the minor aristocracy would go to. Eventually, he was booed off his entertainment stage, and the term mesmerism took on a negative connotation.
In the summer of 1958, when I was 14, an entertainer booked the auditorium of the Town Hall for five evenings – Monday to Friday. He put up posters on lamp posts and handed out small flyers. He was a stage hypnotist, who promised an interesting and amusing show that included people clucking like chickens. I HAD to see this.
I attended the Monday show. I never thought about where he would get willing subjects until he asked for audience volunteers. I was the first on my feet. I didn’t feel hypnotized – whatever that was. I was awake and aware, but felt no drive to do anything but just stand there. My part came toward the end of the act. He had me and a girl about my age hold our right arms out. He lit a candle and passed it beneath her fingers.
She never moved a muscle, while I waggled my hand and acted disturbed. When he asked me why I was upset, I told the audience that my fingers were hot. I don’t remember them actually feeling hot, but I remembered that his flyer said that someone would experience it, so I gave him what the crowd expected.
All the volunteers got a pass for a later show. I was busy Tuesday and Wednesday, but went to the Thursday show. A University Professor used to give lectures, and when he was done, would tell his classes that psychology inhibited people from being the first to respond, so he always offered to take the Second question. Thursday night, when he asked for audience participation…. crickets, nobody moved. I again stood up, and there were five more behind me when I reached the stage.
Some people claim that, “I’m too intelligent to be hypnotised,” but practitioners say that more intelligent people are better subjects, because they are able to focus, and accept the required control. This night, he saved me for the final part of the act – the piéce de résistance.
He had two of those uncomfortable, tubular steel and formed plywood, chairs placed about four feet apart, and had two of the other subjects sit in them. He told me, Stand up straight. You are firm. You are hard. You are strong. You are rigid. You are like a tree. You are powerful. You are as stiff as a lamp-post. Then he poked me in the chest, and I fell over backward. Two of the other enchanted assistants caught me, lifted me horizontally, and placed me across the backs of the two chairs.
The one contacted me just below the collarbone and above the shoulder blades. The other met the back of my calf muscles. There I hung, suspended in midair, planking, long before it became trendy. But the show isn’t over, ladies and gentlemen. Watch this. He placed another chair in front of me, climbed up onto it, slowly turned to face the audience…. and carefully sat down on my stomach.
Even I was amazed, a scrawny little stick of a kid like me, holding up a 160 pound man. I was completely aware of what was happening. I wondered if I had any control over my body. I allowed my abdominal muscles to relax about a quarter or half an inch. He felt it, and intoned, Steady! Steady! Rigid! Rigid!
He climbed down to thunderous applause, and turned back to his onstage rogues’ gallery, to begin un-hypnotizing all six of us – and there were only five. Who was missing? Where? When? How??! This had never happened to him. Hypnosis will eventually wear off, but he worried about a suggestible victim being given a direct command in public.
The one missing was a lad, two years older than me. The hypnotist enjoined us to go looking for him, and take care of him if need be. I went to his house, and told his father what had happened. He just laughed, and went back to watching The Honeymooners. With a 90/95 IQ level, between stupid and stubborn, the boy apparently did not go into a hypnotic trance.
I met him the next day, and he explained. Nothing exciting happened to him during the show, and he was bored, and felt like a fool, just standing there. While I was doing my levitation act, he drifted into the wings, down the back stairs, and off to the bowling alley in search of French fries and tourist girls.
I guess that shows like this may still exist in Las Vegas or Atlantic City lounges, but hypnosis has come to be used much more professionally and effectively to aid in combating drug or tobacco use, stress, depression, psychiatric and relationship problems. My two experiences were all in fun, but it can be quite serious. Have any of you had hypnosis therapy?