Mesmerism and Mormonism

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On 2 May 1842 the Times and Seasons reprinted an article from the New York Weekly Herald which suggested that Joseph Smith was, unknowingly, practicing animal magnetism. This was the first, but not the last, effort to explain Mormonism in terms of animal magnetism, mesmerism, or their more respectable counterpart, hypnotism. These terms were used to describe the belief that the human body possessed magnetic properties which could be transferred from one person to another. Hypnotic power in particular, was ascribed to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Many believed that this power was part of their appeal and was used to forcibly attract followers. Gradually all these ideas became a major part of anti-Mormon literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is another instance of the wide chasm separating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its history from the images purveyed in popular writings that established the stereotype of Mormonism.

 

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