REV. JOHN BOVEE DODS
“The Rev. Mr. [John Bovee] Dodds [Dods] of Boston, Mass., we believe, deals more extensively in the Magnetic Fluid than any other magnetizer. We have examined his work upon the subject of Mesmerism and can but smile at proofs so conclusively drawn in support of his theory. . . . If we were to take up all the points in his theory and discuss them, we fear our pages would be too voluminous for ordinary purposes and that few would be inclined to pursue the investigation. Dods, like all others who believe in the fluid theory, supposed that something must be the medium of communication between mind and mind and between mind and matter separate from the bodily senses, and he has at once brought in the aid of a subtle fluid which pervades all nature.”
Phineas P. Quimby
Source of quote: Lecture Notes, Book 4. Accessed at Phineas Parkhurst Quimby Resource Center on 12-10-10 at http://www.ppquimby.com/articles/booklet_4.htm
I came upon Dod’s writings as a natural consequence of searching for the books published by the Fowlers in local bookstores. The Fowlers were the primary publisher of alternative writings from the mid-1800s to about 1865. [The occasional co-publisher at the time and later succeeded Orson Fowler was Samuel R. Wells, who bought out this company in the 1870s.] I was researching the history of alternative medicine in Oregon.
I was particularly fascinated by the fact that there were so many books from New York dated between 1845 and 1865 produced by the press of the Fowlers or Fowlers and Wells . All of these were on topics that had something to do with health and well-being, human psychology and metaphysics. These publications weren’t hard to recognize on a shelf in a used bookstore. The oldest ones tend to have this mild brownish cover, with a partial calfhide look that leaves behind evidence for an underlying cloth base. These books often all appear alike from a short distance away, although their contents can be quite different depending upon the author. These books are almost always small octavos measuring about 5″ by 7,” with about 150 to 200 pages, and a plate in the beginning with a drawing of the author.
This common size for the book could easily be due to the size of the printing press for the time and the new methods printing developed. But another possible reason for this size was due to the fact that these books were just the right size to fit into the pocket of a gentleman’s or lady’s coat. The book was small enough to enable a reader to use it to pass time while traveling by way of steamship, train, stage-coach or wagon.
A lot of people became familiar with the Fowlers books and the programs these books promoted in this fashion. The Fowlers sponsored and produced numerous lectures on a variety of esoteric subjects related to the popular culture for the time. These included such things as child behavior and raising, the healthy family relationship, living the perfect spiritual life, single or married, finding your true career, learning about your possible destiny in life. In the beginning, the most important writings published by the Fowlers pertained to physiogonomy and phrenology, and many of the teachings on psychology,and behavior promoted by Spurzheim. Nearly all of these topics were provided in New York city as part of a lecture circuit, with a philosophy and alternative way of living and thinking that was much like the atmosphere of residing in Greenwich Village and Soho New York today. For most of these lectures, the Fowlers printed books to go along with a the lecture series. These books had a number of chapters, one chapter per lecture. The purpose of the series was to develop a following for each series, and try to get your most devoted followers to participate in a program that involved you as a participant in the lecturer’s evaluation of human psychology, personality and spirit.
But the Fowlers were more into just spirituality and the new religion being bred by such people as Mary Baker Eddy. They were also practitioners themselves of several of these disciplines and as experts often toured the country providing classes on them everywhere from Boston and New York to the larger towns in the Midwest and as far west as California. At each of these classes, they liked to engage the students completely and thoroughly, to such an extent that nearly every student who took such a course and purchased the book had this book signed by the teacher. This was evidence that he or she had finally made an important change in life. On occasion, these books even had notes kept in them by the students, coauthored at times by the lecturer. Such was the case for a book of magnetism and early hypnosis I discovered. It had notes penned into it by a student, being assisted directly in his note-taking by Reverend John Bovee Dods.
Rev. John Bovee Dods was one of the few religious trained practitioners who helped to define the popular culture taught along the east coast lecture circuit making its way from the Washington, D.C. are to Philadelphia and new York City, to Hudson, Troy, Albany, and then across to Boston. Reverend Dods resided in Boston, but frequented the various lecture halls along the east coast trying to promote his own take on the philosophy of Franz Anton Mesmer published more than 50 years earlier. Since the Hudson Valley had well-defined economic or commercial routes, and Dods made good use of the ships, stage coaches and on occasion trains following these routes, he was able to rise in popularity fairly quickly due to his own unique philosophy of magnetism and hypnotism.
But Dods wasn’t the first to introduce hypnotism in its earlier period of history to the valley. The knowledge of this earlier form known a mesmerism came to the valley as a part of traditional Hudson Valley behaviors and history. What Franz Anton Mesmer started for the valley, a number of other people continued and then brought to their next level of sensibility and intellectual reasoning. During the late 1700s, John Wesley promoted his belief in electricity as a way to the spirit world. This promoted and at times closely matched similar teachings prevailing in the Hudson valley between 1790 and 1805 regarding the use of static electric cures as a possible mean to revitalize the body’s lost life energies. The strongest advocates of this healing philosophy were the local Quakers (see my Shadrach Ricketson work), the primary promoter of which resided down in Dover and advertised his curing devices (probably obtained from England) in the local newspaper.
Another metaphysician to introduce a new spiritual concept to medicine around this time was Samuel Hahnemann, the inventor of homeopathy. Hahnemann claimed that medicines bear some sort of energy or power (not exactly his terms) that is assimilated when the body takes them, and by taking very small amounts we kindle a reaction in the body that help promote the natural defenses we have against whatever symptoms are being treated, and therefore the disease attached to those symptoms. This philosophy is incredibly close to the another philosophy of cure for the time, the inoculation of small pox.
Franz Anton Mesmer
Just how and why these philosophies surfaces in the local region is interesting. It is possible that people were simply looking for some new belief system to adhere to and abide by regarding health, psychology and disease. People were certainly becoming dissatisfied by regular medicine, and its use of “poisons” to treat an illness, such as the extracted chemical of a plant (quinine, laudanum) or the production of the much stronger mineral remedy equivalents for a disease (mercurials, iron tonics). To turn to either mesmerism and his teachings, or Hahnemann with his philosophy, for people in the Hudson Valley, could very well be a result of the local trends in belief systems for the time, beliefs triggered by the writings of other local physicians devoted to metaphysicians, the most important of which was Cadwallader Colden.
Mesmer was an Austrian physician, who claimed the human body contained an “ether”, which was a magnetic substance. He claimed that the popular belief in animal magnetism could be explained based on this philosophy. A century earlier, physicians were preaching that there was some sort of animal spirit that could be responsible for the ability of a snake to “charm” its prey, placing it in a trance in order to facilitate and make certain the fatal bite. This animal spirit had its professional physician’s and scientist’s interpretations wandering about the popular press and science books, but one of the more important in local history which we shouldn’t ignore are the writings of Cadwallader Colden. Colden and Isaac Newton had their conversations at time about gravity, light and other universal energies that seemed to be in control of how everything was so well orchestrated in behavior, and as some late 1700s and early 1800s readers of Colden’s metaphysical philosophy of the world understood, this energy was the same energy found in living beings, no matter how large or small they were. As I have discussed in my section on Colden’s philosophy, this less mechanical, much more metaphysical take on the universe than Isaac Newton was offering had an attractiveness to it that many non-mechanists favored. To some, it was a perfect replacement for the old-fashioned Newton’s Grand Theory of things.
“Mesmer believed bodies had invisible magnetic fluids (or animal magnetism) that caused illness when disturbed because organs were deprived of the vital fluids. To cure, physicians manipulated these fluids either using magnets or, if a gifted healer, with hands alone. Mesmerism in America was promoted by Robert H. Collyer. Mesmerism became intertwined in religious revivalism, and took on spiritual characteristics.”
The second individual to develop his own take on the metaphysics of the universe around 1790-1800 was Samuel Hahnemann. We never really associate Hahnemann’s teachings of homeopathy with Isaac Newton or Colden’s metaphysical writings, but because Hahnemann had his own interpretation of these popular beliefs, he was able to develop his own method for practicing medicine. Hahnemann claimed there was this internal energy that existed that could be applied to health and medicines. He claimed that medicines can heal due to their energy (or however one might refer to it during that time), not necessarily because of their physical make up (i.e. chemistry). Supporting Hahnemann’s paradigm on this healing mechanism was the success of inoculation programs underway. Hahnemann’s own experiences with exceptionally small amounts of a medicine used to treat fevers, in turn gave him fevers. This observation couple with the observations on inoculations would have seemed quite sensible, if some sort of metaphysical cause existed.
Mesmer along with many other scientists and physicians was very interested in the metaphysical aspects and causes of disease and health. Mesmer developed his philosophy on this very philosophical question and published it in his treatise in 1774. In this treatise, Mesmer claimed that magnetism was the cause for some diseases, and therefore some diseases should be treated by way of controlling this energy found in patients. He most strongly favored the use of magnetism for treating nervous disorders. This may have part been related to the increasingly popular belief in nervous energy as a cause for disease during this time frame, a philosophy that came to be called brunonianism and became very popular between 1795 and 1810. Mesmer linked most his claims to such conditions of the nervous system as sleep walking and epilepsy. Some of his followers may have even applied it to better understanding the ongoing conditions of the mind, such as melancholy and nervousness, which could now be explained something other than just results of the passion. Still others linked Mesmer’s reasoning to the ability for one to be clairvoyant.
Aside from John Brown (1735-1788), the inventor of brunonianism, Mesmer had his other supporters. One American supporter of Mesmer’s teaching was very interested in Mesmer’s claims was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s interpretations of electricity and the body included similar claims about nervous disorders, and the human psychological condition. Franklin claimed that a number of psychological problems or problems with temperament could be treated with this, along with some early versions of electroshock therapy provided on the side as well in the form of static electric generators and Leyden jars.
Mesmer’s philosophy first made its way into the Hudson Valley and permanently planted itself in the region sometime between 1815 and 1829, when French Professor Joseph du Commun began to share his review of Mesmer’s writings with his students at West Point. Imagine for the moment the notion that as a member of some military force, you could convince your enemy to take the wrong route, or make the wrong front line decision during battle. This part of the mesmerism-hypnotism teaching must have been very interesting to the military leaders for the time. (Whether or not there is any evidence for them trying this during up and coming battles remains to be found.)
This introduction of mesmerism to his students at West Point led Professor de Commun to begin teaching his own philosophy about disease and health in various local settings as it related to Mesmer’s claims. This included a speech that he gave at the New York Hall of Science in 1829, the bulk of which was published the same year as Three Lectures on Animal Magnetism (New York, 1829). Commun’s talks offered no further advancements in this philosophy or its practice locally. Some historians claim this had much to do with the Report of the Royal Commission on the topic of mesmerism produced in 1784. The local favorite, Ben Franklin, was a member of that Committee.
Only a short time would pass before Mesmer’s teachings once again came to the United States. Two years later, in 1831, Mesmer’s claims were reviewed once again by the French Commission, who in light of several new discoveries made about the human body and its reactivity to such energies as electricity (along with others), they gave a more favorable report on the utility and value of this method of treatment. One of the few things we historians never really realize about this period in French medical history is that this is also when the French were successfully using and reporting on the values of acupuncture, in particular a special form of this treatment that they invented known as electro-acupuncture (1825-J. B. Sarlandiere, preceded by L. Berlioz practicing simple acupuncture in France, 1816). In some ways, like the experiences and influences expressed by Colden and Hahnemann just a few decades earlier, another interpretation of how this might work was being told by the medical philosophers for the time. Recent memories of those most learned in their field of medicine might have even recalled some of the earlier teachings in this field for the time, such as a book published by one of their own colleagues in England who had come to favor a similar energy of vital force related application of the needle in the skin. This English physician was Dr. James Morss Churchill, who practiced and wrote about the values of acupuncture in treating specific disorders for the time (he was preceded by William Coley in England, 1802).
Churchill’s Acupuncture Needles
Mesmer’s words and philosophy were passed on to several successors. However, the most influential of these was Puységur. In 1802, Puységur coined the term mesmerism to describe this type of practice. This word later became official when it appeared in some writings in 1829.
Mesmer’s philosophy was brought to North America several times. According to one of his followers who became quite an influential practitioner, Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, this philosophy was introduced to the United States by a French gentleman, M. Charles Poyen. Charles Poyen came to American as a fresh graduate of his medical school in France around 1839. It was nearing what would later be called the Transcendental Period in medical and sociological history, which according to some authors began as early as 1828 and as late as 1865. Poyen’s tour took place mostly along the routes linking the major coastal cities. During this time, he managed to influence many of the followers of the “new age” human philosophy teachings that were attracting people who were no longer interested in hearing about something as old-fashioned as simple human temperament. He likened our physiological powers to a force related to the same energy and force that directs the stars, planets, moons and pretty, much anything out there that Nature was willing to assign a life and ability to move to. This magnetism he claimed was some sort of power that transcended space in some mysterious way and upon reaching the earth was capable of influencing all of us. He used this philosophy to argue that illness could be influenced by the mind due to this power, and began to promote the idea that through this energy-related transformation we could be put through, that our disease state could be changed.
Poyen’s influences were followed by those like Dr. Robert H. Collyer (1814-1891). Collyer is a much later addition into this field, having entered it about the same time as Dods. (For more on Collyer see http://www.eapoe.org/people/collyerh.htm). A lot of Collyer’s published writings were a direct source for inspiration on behalf of Dods and vice versa. Both of these metaphysical philosophers focused on the elements of human psychology had a significant impact on science in general, but especially those fields developing along non-allopathic routes. The discovery of galvanism, the Faraday circuit, and ultimately electricity as we know it today in the home, generated as many new routes to engineers and physicians as they did to metaphysicians like Collyer and Dods.
Dods’ discovery of this Electricity came about in 1830, perhaps due to attending one of the local lectures on Mesmerism. By 1832 he began by lecturing his discovery at the Lyceum in Taunton, Massachusetts. In just two lectures, Dods went on to describe Electricity as the connecting link between mind and matter, a concept which had already made its rounds through New England several decades earlier when mesmerism first became quite popular. By the 1830s, Dods had added to the definition of electricity the concept that it was “the grand agent employed by the Creator, to move and govern the Universe.” By taking parts of the philosophy of mesmerism, truncating them, and then adding his own thinking, Dods rejuvenated this basic topic of public lectures.
By 1843, Dods was lecturing in much greater detail in Boston, where he gave six lectures on Electric Psychology at the Marlboro Chapter. He spoke at the request of members of the State Legislature, who were then holding their sessions meetings in the city. By now, Dods work hadn’t gone unnoticed, England had published some of the writings about his philosophy, comparing it to the European born belief systems underlying Mesmerism. One writing about Dods which appeared in the Saratoga Republican, the birth place of one of the more famous mineral springs, noted that a former Congressional member nearby had judged Dods to be the discoverer of a new science, which he described as Dods’s ability to perform a unique series of hypnotic suggestions:
“…he professes to able to perform the most startling and cunning experiments, upon person fully awake, and in the most perfect possession of all their faculties. Controlling their motions–standing up, they find it impossible to sit down; if in a sitting posture, they are unable to rise till the operator allows them to do so. He claims to have the power to take away the powers of hearing, speech, sight, and the memory, etc., whenever he pleases, and to return again these faculties instantly; that he can change the personal identity of certain individuals, making them imagine for the time being that they are persons of color, that they belong to the opposite sex, or that they are some renowned general orator, statesman, or what-not.”
Dods made his participants drink water and think it was honey, lemonade, coffee, or even brandy. He could make them imagine the “threatening thundercloud,” leading them to flee to find a place of shelter. All along, Dods claimed he could accomplish this while they appeared awake and “in possession of their faculties.” To further convince any skeptical audience member of this claim, he recollected statements of support provided to him by others laboring in this spiritual healing world. One of these was Hiram Bostwick, an Esquire residing in Auburn County, New York (alongside Syracuse), who witnessed Dr. Dods’s heal his inability to walk and blindness to the differences between light and dark due to “a stroke of palsy” he had. He was cured less than a week after meeting with Dods .
Even though mesmerism was again a new concept to many people, this time with the name hypnotism, this healing faith still had its following. Several members of the United States Congress were interested in what Dods had to say, due to professional opinions exchanged between Dods and some of the more devoted scientists in this new field of medicine. In the Introduction to Dod’s book appears a letter of appreciation dated February 12, 1850, which came from seven Senators–Henry Clay (Kentucky), Henry S. Foote (Mississippi), John P. Hale (New Hampshire), Sam Houston (Texas), George W. Jones (Iowa), Thomas J. Rusk (Texas), and Daniel Webster (Secretary of State). This letter invited Rev. Dods to “deliver a lecture on that subject in this city, at the earliest time consistent with your convenience.” These members of Congress were impressed by what they had heard about his talks elsewhere in the state on the new topic of “Electrical Psychology.” They thus felt they had to better understand what was called “the philosophy of disease, and the reciprocal action of mind and matter upon each other.”
Dod’s reply must have been gratifying, for he wrote to them: “In reply to yours of Feb. 12th, I would respectfully say, that I feel myself highly honored to receive an invitation from you, to lecture upon the philosophy of Electric Psychology in the United States Capitol. With this invitation I comply, and it affords me much pleasure to do so.” The following Saturday evening, within four days of receiving his letter, Dods was in Washington talking about Electric Psychology at 7:30 in the evening.
These Senators, along with other members of Congress, attended a total of nine lectures by Dods. They then began preaching Dods’ practice amongst themselves and to a much wider audience, which led Dods to make the following statement about it in his introduction to the fourth edition of his text:
“The substance of the first NINE of these LECTURES was delivered, by request, in Washington city, last February, an immediately published. The sale of the work has exceeded my expectations, and, in this Fourth Edition, I have fully revealed the secret so that the reader, by the faithful perusal of my Lectures XI. and XII., will be as well qualified to experiment on those unprincipled pretenders, above noticed, who go about as teachers. They have made their pupils believe, that nothing was necessary for then to know only the nerve or gripe to get a communication and to speak in a positive manner and full tone of voice to the subject! But you will perceive, on reading this work, that they have not taught you the A, B, C, of this science. Its philosophy has cost me seven years of intense study, and it cannot be revealed in a moment, not taught but by a workman. Honor and justice, under all these circumstances, require me to publish the mode of experimenting, so that those who shall teach it hereafter, will be compelled to study and prepared themselves for the work, as qualified instructors, because something more than the SECRET, which Lecture XI. reveals, will now be required.”
Following this lecture, Dods’ own version of this new psychology specialty become quite popular. Dods’ background was suspicious to the members of congress who requested this lecture on his philosophy, but in the long run, like any popular culture belief, congress can do very little to satisfy these types of societal needs. This lecture on “Mesmerism in Baltimore” was published in the top medical journal for the time ( Boston Med Surg J 1843; 28:359-362. June 7, 1843; see http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM184306070281804), but to no avail. Dods had accomplished his task. The separation of “‘church’ and state”, at least from Reverend John Bovee Dods’ point of view, along with freedom of speech and freedom of press rights, remained intact. He probably realized however that more than likely most members of the United States government were still not convinced.
Reverend John Bovee Dods began preaching his healing faith in New York about 1830.
In his published lectures he gave twelve lectures entitled:
I. Electrical Psychology–its definition, and importance in curing diseases
II. Beauty of Independent Thought and Fearless Expression
III. Connecting Link between Mind and Matter and Circulation of the Blood
IV. Philosophy of Disease and Nervous Force
V. Cure of Disease and being acclimated
VI. Existence of Deity proved from Motion
VII. Subject of Creation Considered
VIII. Doctrine of Impressions
IX. Connection between the Voluntary and Involuntary Nerves
X. Electro-Curapathy is the best medical system in being, as it onvolves the excellences of all other systems.
XI. The Secret Revealed, so that all may know how to experiment without an Instructor
XII. Genetology, of Human Beauty Philosophically Considered
The following set of instructions on how to perform hypnosis was pasted in his book:
“When you wish to magnetize persons, let them sit down in an easy position and place the thumb of the right hand on the pulse and wrist of the left hand. Let them close their eyes and count their pulse fifteen minutes. Then ask them to rise. Take hold of their hand, place your other hand on the top of their head and your thumb between the eyebrows. Have them close the eyes, and say in a firm tone, “Open them, if you can,” or, “You cannot open them!” To wake them up say “All right, wide awake!” The theory of magnetism is that you use the word or an assertion with the will power to control their thoughts, and a touch to control the body. The ulner nerves lie on the outside of the hand, and the medin (sic) nerve on the inside of the hand near the roots of the thumb. To put them to sleep say “Deep asleep!” To wake them touch the forehead and say “Wide awake! Leave them bold and strong.”
Beauty, harmony, order, electricity and balance in the body were some of the key concepts in Dod’s teaching. As part of the transcendental movement, this concept was not at all unique to Dod’s way of thinking, or marketing when it came to promoting his philosophy. Ever since the creation of animus and anima in Latin tradition, these terms have come to be related to metaphysics of the body. Once the most primitive forms of vitality associated withthe body came to be known, the animal magnetism, or in Dod’s terms animal electricity of one’s soma or corpus (body), the ability to separate the animal behaviors from the more carefully orchestrated human behaviors became more important to psychological medical philosophy and tradition by the 1820s. This concept would lead in turn the separation or splitting of body and mind in medical tradition, and offer the newer alternatives in health care and maintenance the opportunity to pave their way into the medical community.
A review of Dod’s lectures at times seems very much like seminars offered today in professional and community settings. The faith healer of the local church, the specialist in auras at the local metaphysical book shop, the energy specialist using these skills to define the best plant medicine, all have a professional dictionary like Dods with a unique terminology all their own. This particular form of human behavior has not changed since the first herbalist drew up on the wall of a cave the sun in relation to the crow and the tree with a symbolically medicinal bark that “speaks to us”.
Dods began his series of lectures with the comment “I have received an invitation from several eminent members of the United States Senate, to deliver a Lecture on the Science of Electrical Psychology–the philosophy of disease–the connecting link between mind and matter–their reciprocal action upon each other, and the grand operations of nature that this science may involve.” Dods then discussed his concept of “the Creator of the Universe” who “has endowed man with reason, and assigned him a noble and intelligent rank in the scale of intellectual and moral being–and he has commanded him to use this faculty…” He shared as well his respect for NATURE noting “the magnificent ROBE she wears,” paying Her back the respect he felt She was due to the incessation of cycles and the changes made by Her during these periods of time.
These powers are what Dods attempted to capture and then submit to his clients. Those who wished to learn more about these natural healing forces all around them he convinced must learn Electric Psychology, which he defined as the blending of Psychology with electricity, “the connecting link between mind and inert matter.” Defining Psychology as “a compound of two Greek words, viz., psyche, which means soul, and logos, which means word, discourse or wisdom. Hence by PSYCHOLOGY we are to understand the SCIENCE OF THE SOUL,” he then interjects the notion of electricity by stating “And as all impressions are made upon the soul through the medium of electricity, as the openly agent by which it holds communication with the external world, so you readily perceive not only the propriety but the entire aptitude of the name ELECTRIC PSYCHOLOGY.”
In October 1849, as Dods again passed through this town during his lecture circuit, Dods treated one each of the “deaf and dumb.” The local Auburn paper then published the following:
“This forenoon, two girls went to the City Hall, neither of whom could hear a conversation in a ordinary tone. They were operated upon some five or six minutes each, upon the principles of Electrical Psychology as taught by Dr. Dods, and when they left, one of them could distinctly hear an ordinary conversation, and the other could as distinctly hear a whisper.”
Such success on Dods’s behalf must have at first seemed incredulous to the many allopaths residing in New York State. Yet, Dod’s claims resulted in sizeable gatherings of believers, leading him early on to make strong accusation and personal judgements directed at the local physical healers. To those who chose to denounce “Electric Psychology” he stated “every physician who sneers at Electric Psychology will be compelled to abide. From it he cannot and will not escape. I will refer now only to one beauty of the electro-psychological treatment of pain and disease. Its pharmacy is always perfect–it is of God.”
The Auburn class he instructed was soonafter published as a Proceedings. At the meeting covered by this Proceedings, Dods set up the rules for his October 1849 class on Electric Psychology. His class size was to be forty five, and the lessons were to be given as “private lessons.” John P. Hulbert was called to this department’s chair, and Dr. S.N. Smith was appointed it Secretary. They next constructed a committee of three to tend to the printing up the resolutions defined at this meeting, with comments made by Dods’s pupils regarding his instruction. Several resolutions were then passed. The first defined Electric Psychology as the topic of these classes and made the statement that “we believe it to be founded in IMMUTABLE TRUTH, and that it will accomplish for the human race an inappreciable amount of good.” The second resolution was a statement of belief, in which the committee viewed Electric Psychology to be “eminently useful in alleviating the pains of the suffering, and in the cure of diseases; and that it is not only eminently calculated to enlarge and elevate the mind, but to impress upon it more exalted ideas of the infinite wisdom and goodness of the DEITY.” The third and final resolution was an expression of thanks by the entire class to Dr. Dods for “the courteous and gentlemanly manner in which he has disharged his duties to us as his pupils…parting from his we give him our warmest wishes for his prosperity and happiness.”
At the conclusion of his presentation to the Congessional members in Washington, D.C., Dods had at hand the newspapers in which these proceedings were published in order to refute any of those in the audience who remained hecklers and disbelievers. Dods closed his first lecture to Congress by making several more claims about testimonies of those bearing faith in his healing profession, defines the trine he plans to cover in the lectures that follow: MESMERISM is the doctrine of sympathy; ELECTRICAL PSYCHOLOGY is the doctrine of IMPRESSIONS; MESMERISM and SOMNAMBULISM are identical. Whereas Mesmerists were taught “a sympathy so perfect between the magnetizer and subject…the person in the electro-psychological state has no such sympathies with his operator.” Mesmer taught his patients what and who they were in his sense, Dods’s patients experienced senses of their own design in the somnambular state. These slight differences he used to explain why some couldn’t become mesmerized, and yet could be electro-psychologically changed. Thus even skeptics of other mesmerist-like healing faiths remained open to suggestion, at least in Dods’s point of view as the inventor of this healing faith.
Dods’s second lecture further defined his basic healing principles, and recapitulated such things as “GREAT LAW of the Universe,” the GENIUS phenomenon, theology, and intellectual and moral truths.
His third discussion on Electricity defined it as an “eternal substance..that powerful, all-pervading agent, under Diety…kept in motion from age to age. Electricity actuates the whole frame of nature, and produces all the phenomena that transpire throughout the realms of unbounded space.” Examples of such phenomena included heat, wave action, the power of hurricanes, and “the effects of light on the blossoms of spring.” To explain the intent of his healing powers, Dods argued that the brain is “invested with a living spirit” governed through electricity which, as a part of the common law of the universe, “is the connecting link between mind and matter.”
Dods’ fourth lecture defined the dualities residing within these systems such as positive and negative forces, likening them to other natural phenomena such as positive and negative blood (arterial and venous), the positive and negative forces within the lungs, which if thrown out of balance can convert the mental electricity of the being into a state of imbalance. His fifth lecture pertained to the “Philosophy of being Aclimated,” which Dods uses to explain why those who migrate, and so change their foods and living conditions, often become ill in the new world. Dods ends by citing the history of a case treated by Dr. John C. Warren, the first President of Harvard Medical School. It detailed a tumor considered untreatable by regular. The lady was so-afflicted that she asked for Warren’s advice regarding treatment by rubbing the “the hand of a dead person,” which due to his support of the power of imagination, he supported the lady attmept to try it. According to Warren’s writings, she was completely cured in just a few weeks. Dods attributed this cure to the effect of electricity, brought about by mental impression upon voluntary nerves.
Dods’s last three lectures were added after complaints surfaced about congressmen who were preaching his Electric Psychology. Dods restated his goals in teaching his healing methods and made the most of his faith by contrasting it with other traditional and recently evolved faiths. He again returns to the wisdom of the Creator when making his claims and giving their analyses. Of the “pharmacy of God” he states:
“If we watch the actions of the animal creation we shall learn that there is, and indeed must be, as much simplicity in our medicine as there is in our food. Allopathy, Thompsonianism, Homeopathy, Hydropathy, Electropathy, and I will add, Aeripathy and Terrapathy, should never be made to exist as so many separate medical schools, but the excellences of them all, so far as they are applicable to the relief of human sufferings in any corresponding latitude on earth, should be combined into one grand system TO CURE and call it CUROPATHY.”
Underlying this statement are beliefs inherent to both allopathic and alternative healing faiths. Therefore Dods followed this statement up with immediate mention of hydropathy, representative of one of four humoural elements [water, earth, air, and fire], He treated this as a sacred entity which made up the understanding of human conditions as it was judged by allopaths. Two more of the humours come into play in this discussion when Dods mentions terrapathy (earth) and aeropathy (air). The remaining element (fire), exists within his healing faith of electropathy.
Throughout these arguments, numerology resurfaces in Dods’s thinking. The trine of electricity, galvanism and magnetism are described as one part of the total cure to be performed: “These three should be passede through different parts of the human system to ease pain, and remove nervous obstructions and nervous diseases by thus equalizing the nervous force.” He defines “the grand divisions of nature” as electricity, air and water. And he discusses the duality of electric cure as “the agent of the mind and the invisible power of matter.” For terrapathy, he includes the use of rich, fertile earth, in the treatment, or the products of that earth such as food.
Another example of this type of thinking is seen by Dods’ recommendation that a person who is sick bathe (water), apply a clay pack (earth) before drying, perform a cleansing and drying in the sun (fire), and throughout these processes pay heed to the temperature about you (air) so that you do not become too cold or too hot. Those who practiced this underlying philosophy Dods referred to as terrapaths, to whom he recommended the following trine-based bathing procedures:
“Have at least three articles permanently constructed like a tub in which you lie down to bathe the body. Let one be filled with a pure, rich, fertile earth–another with a light, sandy soil, and a third with clay.”
Dods’s eleventh lecture “Private Instruction to the Class. The Secret Revealed” was written after his financial success came due to the lecture circuit. In it he reveals more on his methods of teaching and dealing out degrees to those who complete this stage in their education.
“It should be practically understood by all medicine men. This will cost them only the trifling sum of ten dollars, and in the course of their practice it would be worth the supreme pleasure of having saved many a life, where medicine must have failed. To obtain a good knowledge of this science will require about FIVE LESSONS IN TWO HOURS EACH; and as I am now permanently settled in New York city, I am ready to impart these instructions to all persons of good moral character who may call. I persons at a distance will form a class suffuciently large to warrant the expense, and address me a letter at New York, I will visit them one week, and not onkly give private instructions to the class, but will deliver, in the mean time, five public evening lectures besides, and perform msot interesting experiments, of which the class may have the profit of the admission fee. This would generally pay their tuition, and in many instances exceeed it.”
In this published lecture, Dods disputes statements made that he renamed his profession from “Electro Biology” with proclamations of “authorship to its discovery.” He writes “Electro Biology has no connection whatever with Electrical Psychology, but is an entirely distinct science.” This dispute arose when biologists likened his thinking to some of their published findings in similar fields. Unknowing of its underlying philosophy, Dods feels they misdirected their term to describe his own method of thinking, and so published statements calling his practice Electro Biology. Dods does not dispute the definition they then gave, only the choice of words. These others who coined this term, he notes, claimed to be his followers and went about preaching this healing faith for admission tickets amounting to “one or two dollars, or even for twenty five cents.”
These comments were apparently an attack on his followers, including the Congressmen he lectured to the year before. After complaining that they went about teaching medicine in spite of what he felt was their ignorance of “the diseases of the human system,” Dods continued by stating “Such may be able to inform you how to close a man’s eyes–how to paralyze of move his limbs, and how to make the psychological impression on the mind. But how can they teach any one its philosophical application to disease, or to any useful medical purpose?”
In these final two lectures Dods described his healing processes, which make use of the ulnar nerve and median nerve. Of most importance was the Median Nerve, identified as “the second of the brachial plexus.” This nerve serves as the point of communication, considered “supreme over all others, and will remain so till Omnipotence shall see fit to change the nervous system.” He next defines this point of telepathy:
“This is the MEDIAN NERVE, which is the second of the brachial plexus. It is a compound nerve having the power of both motion and sensation. It is located in the centre of the upper part of the palm of the hand where it joins the wrist. In order to take the communication through this medium, you must take the subject by the hand with the pal upward, and place the ball of your thumb in the centre of his hand near the root of his thumb, and give a moderate but firm pressure.”
By pressing this nerve, it was felt sensations were transmitted back to the spinal cord, where it physically and anatomically ends. But in Electric Psychological thinking, this nerve next makes connections needed to ascend the spinal column until it reaches the cerebrum. By pressing it, one makes this nerve overcome the electric powers of all others. He used it to treat “persons most difficult to control” and “those who are most sensitive and impressible.” When choosing between the Ulnar and Median Nerve, Dods recommended the latter in his new writings, meaning that this book was meant to surpass the knowledge previously taught by his earlier students borne out of Washington, D.C. politics.
One of the owners of Dods’s book, Myron Ripley, like many others, was instructed personally by Dods in the use of Magnetism and “Electric Coins.” This led Ripley to make a personal entry into his personal copy of Dods’s book on Electricity and Magnetism on what Dods had just taught him:
“To awaken place the thumb of each hand upon the head between the eyebrows press firmly and draw them apart saying “wide awake” in a firm tone of voice sometimes previously take hold of each hand Jerk sharply saying the same with your thumb upon the median nerve & use the battery bend them backwards with the thumb of left hand upon the median nerve and fingers of right between eyebrows and say “dead asleep” remove the hands. Place left hand around the back of the neck and say “wide awake” then control them.”
In his new course of lectures, Dods argued the need to understand the powers of Electro-galvanism is as follows:
“Take pure zinc and silver, with a copper wire, as a conductor, passed through the zinc, so as to come in contact with the silver. For convenience, take a piece of zinc the size of a cent, but somewhat thicker, and imbed a five-cent peice in its centre, and pass a small copper wires as a rivet, through both. Place this coin in the palm of the hand, with the silver side up, and request him to bring it within about a foot of his eyes. Let him take a position, either sitting or standing, which he can retain twenty minutes or more, without any motion of his feet, hands, lips, head, or any part of his body. He must remain motionless as a statute, except the natural winking of an eye….If the eyes have a tendency to close, he should not strive to keep them open, but let them close. Follow nature.”
This procedure was meant to cast a spell of sorts on these people. The result of this hypnotism would be the establishment of a psychological state in which Electric Psychology could be practiced.
Another use for the Galvanic Coin was to rely on it for achieving a passive mental state when amongst crowds. Dods recommends that entire crowds join hands in a circle to experience its galvanic effect: “let the current be so gradiated as then be but faintly felt.” He claims this should take place by standing there for about twenty or thirty minutes, with his coin held by one or more members of the circle.
Dods has now defined all of his methods of eliciting cure through the practice of Electric Psychology. As he gave order to the different healing methods, he recommended that five plans to be remembered. The first three make use of “the mediums through which persons are brought into the electro-psychological state.” These are Mesmerism, “pressure on the nerve by which we detect those who are naturally in the electro-psychological state,” and the use of the coin. The fourth is to make use of all of the previous three to perform the sanative cure, basing this process on the use of hydropathy, terrapathy, aeropathy, etc. The fifth stage is when you attempt to cure disease by the application of physical objects and remedies. He calls these phases of treatment Numbers one through five.
Once during these lectures, Dods eludes to his cohorts in Phrenology by noting the phrenological Organ of Individuality “through which organ all ideas and all impressions are transmitted from the external world to the mind.” This organ he defines as the site through which “volitions of the mind” can be transferred to the rest of the body, likening its approach mentally through physical means by making contact with the median nerve. He closes his published lecture set with a brief presentation to ladies on Human Beauty, which he first called Natalology as he presented it to the Ladies of Troy in Morris Place Hall, New York, February 1844.
Dods’s healing system is of the sanative type. He bases it mainly on a trinity, formed by air, water and medicines, but which also have underlying quartans of humoural-like beliefs as well. His conclusion regarding this practice was best stated in his tenth session:
“Hence I sum up the whole matter of reaffirming, that Allopathy, Thompsonianism, Homeopathy, Hydropathy, Electropathy, to which I add Aeripathy and Terrapathy, should never be established as so many separate medical schools. I nthe splendid science of Electrical Psychology I embrace the excellences of them all so far as they are aopplicable to the relief of human sufferings, and combine them in one grand system to cure, and call it CUROPATHY.”
John Bovee Dods. The Philosophy of Electric Psychology: in a course of Twelve Lectures. (New York: Fowlers and Wells, 1851), p. 18.
For additional insights into Dods’ thinking, review the following:
Ibid. p. 23. Somnambulism (def.): sleep-walking.
p. 233-251. Also known as the science of GENETOLOGY, he described it as “embracing the doctrine of psychological impressions, in connection with the gospel of Jesus Christ, is destined to renovate the world and usher in the millenial morn.”
A BIOGRAPHY OF DODS
John Bovee Dods
1. Online Etymology Dictionary. (2001). “Psychology”.
3. (Steven Blankaart, p. 13) as quoted in “psychology n.” A Dictionary of Psychology. Edited by Andrew M. Colman. Oxford University Press 2009. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.
- Edward John Nygren
- Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
Vol. 114, No. 2 (Apr. 13, 1970), pp. 100-108
(article consists of 9 pages)
- Published by: American Philosophical Society
- Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/986028
Mesmerism: Form of hypnotism named after Franz Anton Mesmer (c. 1734-1815), a Viennese physician who had planned to become a cleric. (Writers also refer to Mesmer as Franciscus Antonius Mesmer, Franz Antoine Mesmer, and Friedrich Anton Mesmer.)
He principled that an imbalance between animal magnetism within the body and animal magnetism in the environment caused many illnesses. Use of animal magnetism characterizes mesmerism, which survives only partially, as Magnetic healing
Mesmer coined the expression animal magnetism to refer to his concept of a mysterious, magnetic vital fluid that
(a) permeated the universe and
(b) was the agent whereby he induced hypnosis (mesmeric sleep) in
Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a Viennese physician who conceived the idea that diseases could be healed by stroking the afflicted parts of the patient’s body with magnets. Later he discovered that the same healing effect could be produced by stroking or making passes over the afflicted parts with the hands. Hence the name animal magnetism as descriptive of this method of healing which today is generally called mesmerism.
Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) Austrian physician who rediscovered and applied the human magnetic fluid, called animal magnetism and then mesmerism. “He was an initiated member of the Brotherhoods of the Fratres Lucis and of Lukshoor (or Luxor), or the Egyptian Branch of the latter. It was the Council of ‘Luxor’ which selected him — according to the orders of the ‘Great Brotherhood’ — to act in the XVIIIth century as their usual pioneer, sent in the last quarter of every century to enlighten a small portion of the Western nations in occult lore.
It was St. Germain who supervised the development of events in this case; and later Cagloistro was commissioned to help, but having made a series of mistakes, more or less fatal, he was recalled. . . . Mesmer founded the ‘Order of Universal Harmony’ in 1783, in which presumably only animal magnetism was taught, but which in reality expounded the tenets of Hippocrates, the methods of the ancient Asclepieia, the Temples of Healing, and many other occult sciences” (TG 213-4).