[This is taken from Charles G. Leland's The Mystic Will.]
"In thy soul, as in a
Gods or fiends are hidden deep,
Awful forms of mystery,
And spirits, all unknown to thee:
Guard with prayer, and heed with care,
Ere thou wak'st them from their lair!"
The records of the human race, however written, show that Man has always regarded himself as possessed of latent faculties, or capacities of a mysterious or extraordinary nature: that is to say, transcending in scope or power anything within the range of ordinary conscious mental capacity. Such for example is the Dream, in which there occurs such a mingling of madness with mysterious intuitions or memories that it is no wonder it has always been regarded as allied to supernatural intelligence. And almost as general as the faith in dreams as being weird (in the true sense of the much-abused word) or "strangely prophetic," is that in fascination, or that one human being can exercise over another by a mystic will and power a strong influence, even to the making the patient do whatever the actor or superior requires.
However interesting it may be, it is quite needless for the purpose which I have in view to sketch the history of occultism, magic or sorcery from the earliest times to the present day. Fascination was, however, its principal power, and this was closely allied to, or the parent of, what is now known as Suggestion in Hypnotism. But ancient magic in its later days certainly became very much mixed with magnetism in many phases, and it is as an off-shoot of Animal Magnetism that Hypnotism is now regarded, which is to be regretted, since it is in reality radically different from it, as several of the later writers of the subject are beginning to protest. The definition and differences of the two are as follows: Animal Magnetism, first formulized by ANTON MESMER from a mass of more or less confused observations by earlier writers, was the doctrine that there is a magnetic fluid circulating in all created forms, capable of flux and reflux, which is specially active or potent in the human body. Its action may be concentrated or increased by the human will, so as to work wonders, one of which is to cause a person who is magnetized by another to obey the operator, this obedience being manifested in many very strange ways.
Still there were thousands of physiologists or men of science who doubted the theory of the action or existence of Animal Magnetism, and the vital fluid, as declared by the Mesmerists, and they especially distrusted the marvels narrated of clairvoyance, which was too like the thaumaturgy or wonder-working attributed to the earlier magicians. Finally, the English scientist, BRAID, determined that it was not a magnetic fluid which produced the recognized results, "but that they were of purely subjective origin, depending on the nervous system of the one acted on." That is to say, in ordinary language, it was "all imagination" - but here, as in many other cases, a very comprehensive and apparently common-sensible word is very far from giving an adequate or correct idea of the matter in question - for what the imagination itself really is in this relation is a mystery which is very difficult to solve. I have heard of an old French gentleman who, when in a circus, expressed an opinion that there was nothing remarkable in the wonderful performances of an acrobat on a tight-rope, or trapeze. "Voyez-vous monsieur" he exclaimed; "Ce n'est que la mathématique rien que ca!" And only the Imagination "all your Imagination" is still the universal solvent in Philistia for all such problems.
Hypnotism reduced to its simplest principle is, like the old Fascination, the action of mind upon mind, or of a mind upon itself, in such a manner as to produce a definite belief, action, or result. It is generally effected by first causing a sleep, as is done in animal magnetism, during which the subject implicitly obeys the will of the operator, or performs whatever he suggests. Hence arose the term Suggestion, implying that what the patient takes into his head to do, or does, must first be submitted to his own mental action.
Very remarkable results are thus achieved. If the operator, having put a subject to sleep (which he can do in most cases, if he be clever, and the experiments are renewed often enough), will say or suggest to him that on the next day, or the one following, or, in fact, any determined time, he shall visit a certain friend, or dance a jig, or wear a given suit of clothes, or the like, he will, when the hypnotic sleep is over, have forgotten all about it. But when the hour indicated for his call or dance, or change of garment arrives, he will be haunted by such an irresistible feeling that he must do it; that in most cases it will infallibly be done. It is no exaggeration to say that this has been experimented on, tested and tried thousands of times with success and incredible ingenuity in all kinds of forms and devices. It would seem as if spontaneous attention went to sleep, but, like an alarm clock, awoke at the fixed hour, and then reflex action.
Again - and this constitutes the chief subject of all I here discuss - we can suggest to ourselves so as to produce the same results. It seems to be a curious law of Nature that if we put an image or idea into our minds with the preconceived determination or intent that it shall recur or return at a certain time, or in a certain way, after sleeping, it will do so. And here I beg the reader to recall what I said regarding the resolving to begin any task, that it can be greatly aided by even a brief pre-determination. In all cases it is a kind of self-suggestion. There would seem to be some magic virtue in sleep, as if it preserved and ripened our wishes, hence the injunction in the proverbs of all languages to sleep over a resolve, or subject - and that "night brings counsel."
It is not necessary that this sleep shall be hypnotic, or what is called hypnotic slumber, since, according to very good authorities, there is grave doubt as to whether the so-called condition is a sleep at all. Hypnotism is at any rate a suspension of the faculties, resembling sleep, caused by the will and act of the operator. He effects this by fixing the eyes on the patient, making passes as in Mesmerism, giving a glass of water, or simply commanding sleep. And this, as Dr. COCKE has experienced and described, can be produced to a degree by anyone on himself. But as I have verified by experiment, if we, after retiring to rest at night, will calmly yet firmly resolve to do something on the following day, or be as much as possible in a certain state of mind, and if we then fall into ordinary natural sleep, just as usual, we may on waking have forgotten all about it, yet will none the less feel the impulse and carry out the determination.
What gives authority for this assertion, for which I am indebted originally to no suggestion or reading, is the statement found in several authorities that a man can "hypnotize" another without putting him to sleep; that is, make him unconsciously follow suggestion.
I had read in works on hypnotism of an endless number of experiments, how patients were made to believe that they were monkeys or madmen, or umbrellas, or criminals, women or men, à volonté, but in few of them did I find that it had ever occurred to anybody to turn this wonderful power of developing the intellect to any permanent benefit, or to increasing the moral sense. Then it came to my mind since Self-Suggestion was possible that if I would resolve to work all the next day; that is, apply myself to literary or artistic labor without once feeling fatigue, and succeed, it would be a marvelous thing for a man of my age. And so it befell that by making an easy beginning I brought it to pass to perfection. What I mean by an easy beginning is not to will or resolve too vehemently, but to simply and very gently, yet assiduously, impress the idea on the mind so as to fall asleep while thinking of it as a thing to be. My next step was to will that I should, all the next day, be free from any nervous or mental worry, or preserve a hopeful, calm, or well-balanced state of mind. This led to many minute and extremely curious experiences and observations. That the imperturbable or calm state of mind promptly set in was undeniable, but it often behaved, like the Angel in H. G. Wells' novel, "The Wonderful Visit," as if somewhat frightened at, or of, with, or by its new abode, and no wonder, for it was indeed a novel guest, and the goblins of "Worry and Tease, Fidget and Fear," who had hitherto been allowed to riot about and come and go at their own sweet mischievous wills, were ill-pleased at being made to keep quiet by this new lady of the manor. And indeed no mere state of mind, however well maintained, can resist everything, and the mildest mannered man may cut a throat under great provocation. I had my lapses, but withal I was simply astonished to find how, by perseverance, habitual calm not only grew on me, but how decidedly it increased. I most assuredly have experienced it to such a degree as to marvel that the method is not more employed as a cure for nervous suffering and insomnia.
But far beyond perseverance in labor, or the inducing a calmer and habitually restful state of mind, was the Awakening of the Will, which I found as interesting as any novel or drama, or series of active adventures which I have ever read or experienced. I can remember when most deeply engaged in it, re-reading DE QUINCEY'S "Confessions of an Opium Eater." I took it by chance on my birthday, August 15, which was also his, and as I read I longed from my very heart that he were alive, that I might consult with him on the marvelous Fairyland which it seemed to me had been discovered and then I remembered how Dr. TUCKEY, the leading English hypnotist, had once told me how easy it was for his science to completely cure the mania for opium and other vices.
And this is the discovery: Resolve before going to sleep that if there be anything whatever for you to do which requires Will or Resolution, be it to undertake repulsive or hard work or duty, to face a disagreeable person, to fast, or make a speech, to say "No" to anything; in short, to keep up to the mark or make any kind of effort that you WILL do it - as calmly and unthinkingly as may be. Do not desire to do it sternly or forcibly, or in spite of obstacles - but simply and coolly make up your mind to do it - and it will much more likely be done. And it is absolutely true crede experto that if persevered in, this willing yourself to will by easy impulse unto impulse given, will lead to marvelous and most satisfactory results.
There is one thing of which the young or over-sanguine or heedless should be warned. Do not expect from self-suggestion, nor anything else in this life, prompt perfection, or the maximum of success. You may pre-determine to be cheerful, but if you are very susceptible to bad weather, and the day should be dismal, or you should hear of the death of a friend, or a great disaster of any kind, some depression of spirits must ensue. On the other hand, note well that forming habit by frequent repetition of willing yourself to equanimity and cheerfulness, and also to the banishing of repulsive images when they come, will infallibly result in a very much happier state of mind. As soon as you actually begin to realize that you are acquiring such control remember that is the golden hour- and redouble your efforts. Perseverando vinces.
I have, I trust, thus far in a few words explained to the reader the rationale of a system of mental discipline based on the will, and how by a very easy process the latter may, like Attention and Interest, be gradually awakened. As I have before declared, everyone would like to have a strong or vigorous will, and there is a library of books or sermons in some form, exhorting the weak to awaken and fortify their wills or characters, but all represent it as a hard and vigorous process, akin to "storm and stress," battle and victory, and none really tell us how to go about it. I have indeed only indicated that it is by self-suggestion that the first steps are taken. Let us now consider the early beginning of the art or science ere discussing further developments.
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