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Animal Magnetism

German School/The Bridgeman Art Library/Getty Images

­Magnétisme animal was a special ability to correct imbalances in the universal fluid that flows through everything in this world, according to Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th-century German physician who first studied this universal force-fluid in Vienna. Once his beliefs were no longer welcome in Vienna, Mesmer opened shop in Paris in 1777 and found plenty of ready believers.

Mesmer advanced the idea that health problems were caused by blockages in the body that prevented this life-fluid from flowing where it needed to go. Through the use of magnets, Mesmer believed he could clear up these blockages. Mesmer then discovered that he himself didn't need the magnets -- he, as it turned out, was one of the few who possessed animal magnetism.

Mesmer put on full-blown productions, featuring chanting, music, special lighting and stagecraft. During his sessions, he would make magnetic passes over the patient's body, allegedly redirecting the flow of the fluid, and serving as a conduit for the forces of the universe to find their proper way into the patient. When the time was right, the patient would have what Mesmer called a magnetic crisis, which meant the problem would quickly worsen in the form of a jolt of sorts, and then be cured. The effect of the presentation was so intoxicating that its effect now claims his name: mesmerizing.

Mesmer was eventually investigated on order of King Louis XVI, and soon after, he left Paris for parts unknown. As the next page will prove, it takes more than a magnetic personality to make it in this world -- it takes an electric hairbrush.

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