This is #9 in a series of posts looking at the 26 Christian Science Weekly Bible Lesson subjects, chosen by Mary Baker Eddy, and rotated twice per year. These lessons are the sermon at each Christian Science church worldwide, and are read by Christian Scientists daily. Today’s subject is ‘Ancient and Modern Necromancy, alias Mesmerism and Hypnotism Denounced’. Look for other posts in the category ‘Lesson Sermon Subjects‘.
This one is a mouthful. As a kid in Sunday School, these were big words I didn’t understand let alone try to pronounce, despite my Sunday School teacher’s best efforts. I mean, how many kids even think or care about this stuff? Mary Baker Eddy seemed to think so, after all, lessons in Sunday School were supposed to derive largely from the Bible Lessons, so twice per year, I got to wrap my tongue around some big words for a usually boredom-filled hour. I always remember the Sunday School superintendent would emphasize the word ‘denounced’ whenever she spoke this subject, almost as if she was pounding a wooden stake though the heart of a vampire.
Once again, this Lesson subject is an example of how Christian Science keeps arcane terms alive to some degree in the modern lexicon. For the benefit of probably 80% of my readers who don’t know what the more obscure words mean, here are some definitions:
Necromancy: the practice of talking to the spirits of dead people; the use of magic powers especially for evil purposes. 1
Mesmerism: (1) hypnotic induction held to involve animal magnetism; broadly: hypnotism. (2) hypnotic appeal. 2
I think most of us know the definition of hypnotism, but just for kicks, here’s what I found:
Hypnotism: the act or practice of putting people into a state of hypnosis. 3 (emphasis is mine)
Hypnosis: (1) a trance like state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject. 4
These four words are probably among the scariest for Christian Scientists–the last three being considered derivatives or descendants from the first. Mary Baker Eddy had an abiding fear of what she called malicious animal magnetism (MAM for short), and believed that it had very real power, including the ability to kill. She believed that she would be killed by it,5 and that her third husband Asa Eddy was killed by “mental assassins”.6 Learning hypnotism is one of the few things that will automatically get a Mother Church member excommunicated (Manual of The Mother Church, Article XI, Section 9, p. 53). Such were Eddy’s strong feelings on the subject. She believed very strongly that a person’s thoughts could have very real effects on others.
Now, as we look at the wording of this Lesson subject, the last word is denounced. This, for me, leads into what I see as one of the many paradoxes in Christian Science. While, as my regular readers will know, bedrock to Christian Science theology is that matter, sin, disease, and death, all that bad stuff, which would include the bad words above, is not real; it is an illusion. So, why the immense mental energy dedicated to this? Why did Eddy put so much stock into it, and why do Christian Scientists continue to do so? I don’t know.
My own father was obsessed by aggressive mental suggestion. I vividly remember an afternoon in 1999 when he was planning his retirement, and his and my mother’s subsequent relocation to a new city. I was helping him pack up his office when he began to feel queasy. Apparently this had been happening frequently. He directly attributed it to the many people in the community who expressed how they were going to miss him and that they were sad to see him and my Mom move away. He felt like there was this pull to derail their plans somehow. Even though I was still a Christian Scientist at the time, I thought that idea was ridiculous and told him so. I said that folks were simply going to miss him. I’m sure they would have been happier if he stayed, but I have no doubt they wished him well. Nevertheless, he felt like malicious thought was working to hold him back. I think it was more his own thought and doubts about his plans more than anything else. Dad also spoke of a time before I was born when he was First Reader in his branch church, and was enduring the wrath of a few nice little old lady practitioners. One Wednesday, while conducting a Testimony Meeting, he again felt queasy while giving readings up on the platform. He felt that it was the malicious thought of one or two of these people that was affecting him. I think the truth is probably more mundane–perhaps he was reacting to something he ate, or it was his own thought acting on his body.
Christian Scientists are deeply obsessed with many things that their theology considers to be unreal. It’s one of many interesting paradoxes. When I was a Christian Scientist, I didn’t put much stock in the power of any of these things because if I followed the logic of Christian Science, they had no power, so why worry about it? I had many arguments with my Dad over this. I never went to my Teacher (a man equally obsessed by this stuff), simply because it was a settled argument for me. None of it had any power as far as I was concerned. The fact that Eddy was obsessed with this stuff, yet laid down a theology that stated its “nothingness” pokes a huge hole, for me, in the validity of Christian Science in general. In fact, it destroys it. It says to me that Christian Science is pure bullshit.
Do I now believe in the power of hypnosis, or the potential effects of ‘aggressive mental suggestion‘? I have undergone past life regression, which involves hypnosis, and for me the jury is still out. I’m not sure if it has any effect on me or not. I do know that some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others, and it’s simply possible that I’m not all that susceptible. I recall being quite conscious at the time, albeit very relaxed. The past life regression didn’t involve much suggestion other than to think back to some points in the past, and I’m unsure if I was dredging up actual memories from supposed past lives, or if I was simply conjuring stuff out of my own imagination. As for my thoughts affecting others, I don’t think so, apart from causing hurt or happy feelings depending on my thoughts towards another person. So, do I think someone can kill or harm me by their thoughts alone? Absolutely not. I do believe thoughts are very powerful, but their power is over the individual thinking those thoughts, and their own body. Thoughts can lead to action however, and that’s where they can be dangerous or helpful.
1 “Necromancy.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Inc. Web. 3 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/necromancy>
2 “Mesmerism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Inc. Web. 3 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mesmerism>
3 “Hypnotism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Inc. Web. 3 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypnotism?show=0&t=1404404747>
4 “Hypnosis.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Inc. Web. 3 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypnosis>
5 Dickey, Adam H. Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy. ed. Tom Girtin. Old Isleworth, Middlesex: Butter Field Books, 1986. xlv. Print.
6 Fraser, Caroline. God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying In the Christian Science Church. New York, New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999. 78 – 79. Print.