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When I was in high school some friends and I went out for dinner. Afterward we sat in a car, talking. One of the guys said he could hypnotize us. As he started up with his mental suggestions, I silently decided that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be hypnotized. And I wasn’t. But a friend fell under the spell and was soon talking and acting at the hypnotist’s commands. Later, when the spell was broken, this friend couldn’t remember anything that had happened.
Sometimes what we term hypnotism or mesmerism can be thought of as innocent fun or entertainment. Other times it can be thought of as a means by which problems can be solved; for instance, there are hypnotists who run ads claiming they can help you stop smoking. And hypnotism has been used maliciously to make people act contrary to their sense of what’s right.
Perhaps of all the great contributions Mary Baker Eddy gave the world through her revelation of Christian Science, one of the most valuable is her unveiling of the workings of the “carnal mind” (see Romans 8:7), or what she termed “animal magnetism.” In fact, she devotes a short chapter in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures to unmasking this concept and showing it to be something we need to be alert to, but ultimately dismiss as powerless. This is a chapter Mrs. Eddy says she resisted writing and including in the book until impelled by God to do so (see Retrospection and Introspection, pp. 37–38).
The carnal mind is described by the Apostle Paul in one Bible translation as “the mind of the flesh” and “hatred toward God, for it is not subject to the law of God because it cannot be” (Romans 8:7, Aramaic Bible in Plain English). And Christ Jesus gives us an accurate description when he says of the devil, “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
When I began to study Christian Science, I wasn’t too familiar with those terms. Later, when taking Christian Science Primary class instruction (a two-week course devoted to in-depth study of how to heal), we were told that handling animal magnetism was an important part of our healing ministry. In fact, our teacher made it clear that we were never to fear animal magnetism, but never to ignore it either. Then I reasoned further: Since Christian Science “inculcates the tri-unity of God, Spirit, Mind; ...” (Science and Health, p. 340) and makes clear the nothingness of error, material sense, how can there be anything else that needs to be dealt with? Again, Science and Health explains: “In Science, Mind neither produces matter nor does matter produce mind. No mortal mind has the might or right or wisdom to create or to destroy. All is under the control of the one Mind, even God. The first statement about evil,—the first suggestion of more than the one Mind,—is in the fable of the serpent” (p. 544).
This serpent fable in the third chapter of Genesis is always a mistake; and mistakes have no power, no substance, no presence, no truth. They are simply the suggestion that there is an absence of truth. Every so-called mistake is corrected by divine Principle, God. It’s much like saying where the allness of light is, there can be no darkness. This realization dawns on us by degrees.
I once had an experience that taught me how the deceptiveness of animal magnetism tries to work. I was Second Reader at my Christian Science branch church, and had ridden my motorcycle to church one Saturday to practice with the First Reader for our Sunday service. Later when I climbed back onto my bike, I smelled gas. Glancing down at the pavement, I saw what looked like a dark pool. “That’s strange,” I thought. “It looks as though it’s from a leak in my gas tank.” Panic hit. “How could this have happened? What if I don’t have enough gas to get home?” I turned the key and saw that I still had plenty of gas left. I decided to ride home and keep an eye out for leaks.
When I got home I parked my bike in the garage and looked to see where the leak was coming from, and much to my surprise there was nothing to be seen! The whole event had been no more than a suggestion that there was a problem with my bike. I had been a victim of mistaken thinking. And yet it had elicited all the feelings and worries that came along with that assumption. The bike had never been damaged in the first place, and I didn’t have to fix it in the second place.
All that animal magnetism can do is make suggestions. Thought is always the patient. If we start out with the assumption that there is something somewhere that needs to be fixed, we need to stop. Every erroneous condition is a form of “mental malpractice” claiming to oppose good, which Mrs. Eddy says “tends to blast moral sense, health, and the human life” (Science and Health, p. 451).
Animal magnetism cannot mesmerize us or anyone else to think or act contrary to our true nature as God’s expression.
The Bible story of Elisha and the king of Syria sheds helpful light on such situations. In the sixth chapter of Second Kings, Elisha keeps predicting where the king of Syria plans to attack the king of Israel. This enrages the king of Syria so much that he sends soldiers to capture Elisha. Elisha’s servant gets up early and sees that they are surrounded by the Syrian army’s horses and chariots. He hits the proverbial panic button! Elisha, however, prays, “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.” The result? “The Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (verse 17). Elisha must surely have been conscious of God’s allness; and his servant’s eyes (his spiritual perception) were then opened to this fact.
We can know that our eyes—defined by Mrs. Eddy as “spiritual discernment,—not material but mental” (Science and Health, p. 586)—are open ; and so are the eyes of everyone . Because there is just one infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God, there is no room for anything outside of our Mother-Father’s tender, universal, benevolence. There can be no malicious activity, no disruption of harmonious action, no selfish ambition, no corruption, no greed. And men, women, and children, as reflections of God, can do no less and be no less than what God intends. Right where there seems to be a host of horses and chariots—be they called sin, sickness, disease, or death—Love is present, filling all space, and constituting all true being.
It is clear that animal magnetism cannot mesmerize us or anyone else to think or act contrary to our true nature as God’s expression. It cannot hide itself, manipulate us, or remain anonymous. We need never be dismayed at the forms in which error tries to costume or disguise itself. For, as the Psalmist assures us, “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psalms 91:9, 10).
Paul Sedan is a Christian Science practitioner who lives in San Francisco, California.
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