The history of hypnosis can be traced to ancient times. It has been called numerous names in various places. Medicine men, witch doctors, and religious leaders have utilized it in many forms to heal the ill. The cures frequently were credited to miracles achieved by the gods. The Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian medical record dating to c. 1550 BC., journals how Egyptian prophets used hypnotic practices similar to those today. Early medical records describe incredible healing by priests who assisted in producing sleep-like conditions during ceremonial rites.
Illusions have been noted in the Talmud and in the Bible related to the laying on of hands and to other seemingly hypnotic procedures. During the Middle Ages, kings and princes were said to have the power of healing through the “Royal Touch.” In England, Edward the Confessor, an enigmatic figure was believed to have the power to heal scrofula, a tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes, by using the “Royal Touch” to cure them.
Paracelsus (1493‐1541), a Swiss German philosopher, physician, botanist, astrologer, and general occultist was one the first to point out the healing effect of the astral bodies and magnets. He is recognized as the founder of toxicology and also credited for being the first to note that some diseases are rooted in psychological conditions. His views on animal magnetism were shared by philosophers, physicians, and chemists who spread the same belief: magnets could cure most diseases.
Another physician from Scotland, William Maxwell, in 1679 began to notice the effect of the imagination and of suggestion. Still, the belief of magnets remained strong. Animal magnetism cures enticed a large patient population through the end of the eighteenth century. To be able to treat the huge crowds that wanted this treatment, a large tub was filled with iron filings. Patients would clutch the iron rods attached to another device to receive a “magnetic” flow. More than thirty patients could be connected with each other by cords and were “magnetized.” As patients were touched with a glass rod; many developed seizures or symptoms similar to those seen among some religious sects.