‘Possessed’ brain and supernatural phenomena in the 19th century

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)

At the end of the twentieth century, supernatural phenomena such as so called trances and possession by spirits received a scientific classification, which includes the numerous diagnoses of the dominant psychiatry. At the end of the nineteenth century we can observe a process of scientific categorization of phenomena considered to have originated in superstition or popular imagination. In this work we show how trances and spiritual possession were studied by Franz Anton Mesmer and his followers when developing the concept of magnetism; by James Braid during the creation of his theory of hypnosis; and by Jean Martin Charcot, which marked the entry of hysteria into nosological classification. Despite the differences between these schools, we identify the use of the brain and cerebral metaphors as the foundation of theories of the mind.

A nosology for supernatural phenomena and the construction of the ‘possessed’ brain in the nineteenth century, Valéria Portugal Gonçalves and Francisco Ortega

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