These practices tend to be for magical or religious purposes, such as divination or communicating with gods and spirits.
It’s important to remember, however, that what we see as occultism was the scientific establishment of its day, with exactly the same purpose as modern science – curing human ills and increasing knowledge.
At the same time, the nature of “ordinary” consciousness is better understood as a series of trance states that we go into and out of all the time.
The history of hypnosis, then, is like the search for something that was in plain view all along, and we can now see it for what it is – a universal phenomenon that’s an inextricable part of being human.
This conundrum – does hypnosis have a real, physical basis, or not? Important shifts were happening elsewhere, however. First of all, the centre of hypnotic gravity moved from Europe to America, where all the most significant breakthroughs of the 20th century took place.
Secondly, hypnosis became a popular phenomenon, something that was increasingly available to the layman, outside of the laboratory or clinic.
On the other hand, it’s only in the last few decades that we’ve come to realise that!
Hypnosis itself hasn’t changed for millennia, but our understanding of it and our ability to control it has changed quite profoundly.
On the one hand, a history of hypnosis is a bit like a history of breathing.
Like breathing, hypnosis is an inherent and universal trait, shared and experienced by all human beings since the dawn of time.
From a Western point of view, the decisive moment in the history of hypnosis occurred in the 18th Century (coinciding with the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason).
The work of Franz Mesmer, amongst others, can be seen as both the last flourish of “occult” hypnosis and the first flourish of the “scientific” viewpoint.
Mesmer was the first to propose a rational basis for the effects of hypnosis.