Is Hypnotism Dangerous?

Much confusion abounds regarding hyp­nosis, one of the oldest mental techniques known to man. But how is it dangerous?

J.A. Buckwalter, Secretary, General Conference Religious Liberty Association

Until the Russians sent their Sputniks hurtling around the earth at fabulous speeds, hypnosis and reincar­nation were among the most talked-about phenomena since the flying saucers. Morey Bernstein's book The Search for Bridey Murphy, which quickly became a best seller, started a writers' craze for parading the merits and demerits of hyp­notism as a means of investigating the prob­lem of recurring life.

Much confusion abounds regarding hyp­nosis, one of the oldest mental techniques known to man. Hypnotic suggestion has been practiced for thousands of years, even in the most uncivilized portions of the world. Various forms of mental suggestion have been employed for centuries by primitive witch doctors, occultists, medicine men, and voodoo healers.


Hypnotism may be defined as the art or practice of the "induction of a state of ab­normal suggestibility by certain well-de­fined methods technically known as hypno­genic."

The occurrence of hypnotic phenomena is apparent when the thoughts and actions of the person under hypnosis are directed by the suggestion of the hypnotist. Hypno­tism enables the hypnotist to condition the subconscious automatic functions of the subject's mind. This is the crux of the danger of hypnotic suggestion.

Lester David reminds us that "a complex and subtle psychological change takes place within the hypnotized subject." 2 Wolfe and Rosenthal tell us that the patient's "amor­phous personality" spongelike "absorbs and incorporates the personality of the hypnotist as a part of himself. So, when he hears the hypnotist telling him what to do, he imagines that it is his own voice issuing commands."

Can Hypnotism Be Morally Dangerous?

A great scientific controversy rages over the question as to whether or not hypnosis can be detrimental to the moral life of the individual. Andrew Salter has considerable to say on this important aspect of the sub­ject:

With hypnosis nothing but an aspect of condition­ing, we can see that it should be possible to train involuntary antisocial behavior into a subject. I find myself in agreement with Rowland, Wells, and Brenman that appropriate procedures, which need not necessarily be subtle, can make hypnotized per­sons perform antisocial acts even to the extent of criminally harming themselves or others.

As a result of hypnotic suggestion subjects have stolen money, rushed to pick up rattlesnakes, and thrown sulfuric acid into a man's face, which un­known to the subject, was protected by invisible glass. These researches are amazing and are com­mended to the reader. Put bluntly, through hyp­nosis it is possible to force persons to conzmit crimes. Those who speak of the necessity for hyp­notic suggestion to fit in with a subject's "moral code" should revise their concepts.4

"I contend that the subject can even be made to commit murder under hypnosis," affirms psychologist Ralph B. Winn, "or, rather, an unintentional homicide, if you please—if the suggestion in question is given in a manner misleading the senses or concealing the final result."

"Now, if there is a chance of being made an unconscious partner to a murder plot in ordinary circumstances," continues Dr. Winn, "there is obviously a greater proba­bility of being so fooled under hypnosis. And perhaps to be made to forget the act!

We are justified in concluding, therefore, that the resistance of a person in a trance to improper sug­gestions is strong only as long as he is asked directly to violate his economic, moral, religious, or aesthetic convictions and interests. But he can be influenced to go against these convictions and interests, if his senses are deceived, if he acts under false assump­tions, or if he is unaware of the implications of his conduct. His mistake—that is what it amounts to—may be disastrous, though natural, under special circumstances. The plain truth of the whole problem is, in the words of C. Baudou in Suggestion and Autosuggestion, page 242 that any subject will fol­low a suggestion if he "imagines it to be possible." But he will resist or disobey a suggestion to do any­thing that he would not do ordinarily, if the act is presented as such.

It is fallacious, I think, to assume that there are fields of knowledge which are perfectly safe. None is. Every science and profession is good only in so far as it is used for good purposes. Human genius has been known to turn the best things into sources of evil and destruction:6

Hypnotic Conditioning of the Mind

One of the inherent dangers of hypno­tism is the subtle conditioning of the mind by hypnotic suggestion. The extent of this conditioning is difficult to appraise. It is unquestionably considerable in cases where the "prestige-and-faith relationship" be­tween hypnotizer and hypnotized becomes intensified, and the ideas psychologically implanted by suggestion are physiologically supported by the functions of the subject's autonomic nervous system.

This would also be true in the case of a medium who accepts the prestige of the real or pseudo spirit entity, and surrenders to its suggestions. All trance phenomena have a tendency to merge. They differ primarily in the method by which the trance is in­duced, and the objective for which it is en­tered into.

When one tampers with the mind, which is the divinely created seat of intelligence, judgment, reason, conscience, moral con­trol, and spiritual receptiveness, one is in­vading that God-given sacred individuality which is so vital to free moral agency. Such invasion cannot be free from possible dan­ger. Many believe that the idea of one hu­man mind controlling or even influencing another by hypnosis, is foreign to the Bib­lical concept of man's free moral agency and his personal accountability to God.

Posthypnotic Suggestion

Leslie LeCron and Jean Bordeaux, co­authors of the book Hypnotism Today, in an article in the Pageant magazine of May, 1956, stated:

However, by far the most important of all hyp­notic phenomena is posthypnotic suggestion, whereby we are able to transfer all the conditions of the trance to the waking state.

Surprising results have been obtained with posthypnotic suggestion.

Instructions to cam out an idea on waking may be set for a future time weeks away, not just a matter of moments or hours... .

Liebault told one patient during hypnosis to return at the same hour one year later, specifying certain things which he would then do. Everything was carried out on that date almost exactly as had been directed.6

Posthypnotic suggestion has been used to speed up later trance induction or to in­crease the depth of subsequent hypnosis. The suggestion is indelibly registered upon the subconscious mind and goes into effect when the subject is hypnotized at a later time. By means of posthypnotic sugges­tion, autohypnosis (the ability of the in­dividual to hypnotize himself at will) has been established.

LeCron and Bordeaux tell us that "cer­tain people seem to have this ability to a marked degree. Among them are the spir­itualistic mediums who place themselves in a trance state; this refers to the few who believe themselves to be real mediums, not the large number of 'phonies.'" ' The deep somnambulistic trance state induced by hypnotism is similar to that of the spiritu­alistic mediums.

Witch Doctor Hypnotism

In primitive lands the hypnotic contrOl exercised by the witch doctor has been so strong that its influence has even been felt in a waking state. On this point Rawcliffe observes:

"Waking" suggestion preceded by preliminaries designed to strike at the roots of the subject's emotions and beliefs, can operate powerfully in primitive societies, without the subject's co-opera­tion and even against his will—a feat which all European and American hypnotists find impossible in their own countries:6

The implications of such powerful occult conditioning by hypnotism are most signifi­cant.

J. B. S. Haldane has expressed it well: "Anyone who has seen even an example of the power of hypnotism and suggestion must realize that the face of the world and the possibilities of existence will be totally altered when we cannot control their effects and standardize their application, as has been pos­sible, for example, with drugs which were once regarded as equally magical." 9

Close Relationship Between Deep Hypnotic State and Spiritualistic Trance

"There is," writes Mr. Rawcliffe, "a close relationship between the hypnotic state and the state of mediumistic trance. Experiments have shown that it is possible to in­duce an involuntary mediumistic trance in a hysterical subject by post-hypnotic sug­gestion, and that under these circumstances the subject will claim to be controlled by a 'spirit' whose utterances will be conso­nant with ideas previously suggested to him while under hypnosis." "

Rawcliffe believes that in many instances the mediums experience autohypnotism "which, as in normal hypnotic procedures, may result in a spontaneous aptitude for impersonation and dramatic ability." This form of impersonation, according to Raw­cliffe, is the direct result of the medium's "expectancy of communication with the deceased."

The similarity between phenomena oc­curring under deep hypnosis and phe­nomena occurring in spiritualistic trances is worthy of note. When the subconscious mind under hypnosis becomes so suscep­tive to outward suggestion, how can we be sure some astral interloper of the spirit world does not also intrude upon the sub­conscious, in its hypnotic trance state, and ply his occult arts as he does with an en­tranced medium? The "You have lived before and will live again" theme, is an­other occult philosophy that tends to draw its devotees into the whirlpool of psychic mysteries.

Long before Bernstein experimented with Ruth Simmons, and the Bridey Mur­phy case, others delved into the mysteries of hypnotism and age regression in an at­tempt to throw some possible light upon the mysteries of life and death. Previous life histories more strange than Bridey Mur­phy have been encountered.

Age-regression experiments, which cause a subject to leap the chasm of time and come up with another supposed life cycle in some previous period of time, definitely constitute an occult use of hypnotism. This implies a spiritistic theory of some sort of soul unit that goes from life cycle to life cycle in different human bodies.

Some psychic researchers, according to DeWitt Miller, have contended that sup­posed regression cases are actually in­stances of spirit impressions from discar­nate entities who invade the "auric at­mosphere" of the entranced individual."

This is not in any way to suggest that all age-regression experiments under hypnosis result from spirit possession or spirit obses­sion. However, the astral interloper in cases of strong informative evidence of former life existence may not be so easily detected as some might think.

Hypnotic and Mediumistic Trances

The mediumistic trance is identical with the hypnotic trance, and therefore the same phenomena are obtainable. As we have seen, in the somnam­bulistic stage of hypnosis, it is easily possible to produce visual hallucinations. A hypnotized person in this deep state will readily see the figures of departed loved ones if told to do so by the hypnotist. In the case of the medium, the hypnosis, or trance state, is self-induced. If the medium is genuinely convinced that, while in this state she will see and hear her "spirit guide" and talk with other spirits, then she will do so with great conviction."

The occult dangers of hypnotism are not idle fancies. Dr. Liljencrants in his book Spiritism and Religion tells of a cer­tain woman, who, when hypnotized "would pass into somnambulism, and then, after a short interval of catalepsy, emerge a new personality, proclaiming herself one of the various spirits who had taken hold of her." When aroused from the hypnotic trance she apparently resumed her former person­ality. Mlle. Coueddon, according to the same writer, would hypnotize herself and imagine she was the angel Gabriel."

Myers tells the story of a girl of fourteen called the Wateska Wonder who when she was hypnotized developed the personality of a girl who had died twelve years previ­ously. The new personality showed the most remarkable acquaintance with those things the dead girl knew in her lifetime, and the impersonation was most realistic. After five months the original personality returned to give room at intervals for the one developed." " Apparently some invad­ing intelligence took the upper hand in this hypnotic imposition of a different person­ality upon the child.

In the mental phenomena of hypnotism the subject's senses no longer distinguish between the hypnotist's suggested pseudo or spirit personality and the subject's own. Hypnotism opens the door for personality changes and at least temporary control of the will of the hypnotized. From recorded instances of human experience, it seems clear that this control may be either that of a hypnotist or of a spirit entity or both. The voluntary surrender of the control of one's subconscious mind can be a very risky business. This obvious possibility of dan­gerous invasions of the human personality and the will cannot be safely overlooked.

Paranormal psychic perceptions are not immune to self-deception. The mediumis­tic trance state is akin to the hypnotic state, which we have seen is a state of mind easily susceptible to deception. The medium as a self-hypnotized person, or as the subject of a human or a spirit hypnotist, is ex­traordinarily sensitive to outside impres­sions and suggestions.

In a spiritualistic seance the medium is amenable to suggestions from the subcon­scious, and from any possible communi­cating spirit entity. Whether the medium­istic trance is induced by autohypnosis or by spirit hypnosis, it constitutes a surrender of the subconscious to the impressions of the invading spirit, which takes over and works as a spirit-control-hypnotist, through the spirit-hypnotized medium.

Are Mediums Hypnotized by the Spirits?

Hereward Carrington reports a conversa­tion with Mrs. Eileen Garrett's spirit control, Uvani, in which the entity dis­cussed how he operated through the me­dium. Stating that he was always in attend­ance upon the medium and that the mo­ment he saw "the wanderings of her under-consciousness," he was "drawn to her," Uvani proceeded to describe the method of procedure in spirit communication:

As the time draws near, I am able to impress upon the underconsciousness not only my presence, but others, and I control that underconsciousness. Of the conscious mind I have no control at all, nor would I find it right. But of the underconsciousness it has been given to me to impress. I have little by little gained suasion over the underconsciousness. It is a part of her mind that is moving restlessly, and therefore right that we should use that figment of the mind, through what you may call Hyp­notism; the consciousness then expresses it as now.,,

In the light of this comment by the "spirit control" one can readily see the im­plications of a hypnotic trance state super­imposed by spirit hypnotists. Thus it is quite possible that the mediumistic trance is a form of spirit hypnosis induced upon the medium by operators from the other side, thus establishing rapport between the medium and the spirit world. This also ex­plains the supernormal information that can thus be relayed from the other side.


1 D. H. Rawcliffe, The Psychology of the Occult, p. 71.

2 Coronet, August, 1956, "What Really Happens When You Are Hypnotized?"

3 Ibid.

4 Andrew Salter, What Is Hypnosis? (Farrar, Straus and Co., New York, 1955), p. 11. (Italics supplied.)

5 Ralph B. Winn, Scientific Hypnotism, p. 122.

6 Pageant, May, 1956.

7 Ibid.

8 The Psychology of the Occult, p. 74.

9 What Is Hypnosis? p. 56.

10 The Psychology of the Occult, p. 176.

11 ibid., p. 178.

12 DeWitt Miller, Reincarnation, p. 37.

13 Sydney J. Van Pelt, Hypnotism and the Power Within (Wehman Brothers, 1954), pp. 134-135.

14 Baron Johan Libencrants, Spiritism and Religion, pp. 189. 190.

15 See Frederic William Henry Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, vol. 1, pp. 360-368.

16 Hereward Carrington, The Case for Psychic Survival (The Citadel Press, New York, 1957), p. 142.

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J.A. Buckwalter, Secretary, General Conference Religious Liberty Association

September 1958

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