by Jeff Wilfahrt
Oct 23, 2013, 11:09 AM

A simple case of mass hypnosis

Circa 1975 while attending a strong Minnesota liberal arts college I witnessed a case of mass hypnosis.

The college brought in an eclectic mix of lyceums. There are two I recall most vividly. Bonnie Raitt accompanied by Freebo on the tuba was outstanding. Intimate and entertaining as descriptors fall short of covering that show.

The second was a hypnotist. His name lost to the years the show itself left several distinct impressions. He announced at the outset that not all in the audience were susceptible to hypnosis. It took a certain type of mindset. A trusting type of personality, the type that could embrace the immediate moment, in effect the non-cynical person.

And so he worked his routine.

Having cast his spell as it were he asked for a show of hands in response to a particular question. From among those who raised their hands he selected a group of a dozen or so people, invited them on stage and asked them to take a seat on the folding chairs arranged thereon.

One demonstration involved writing their signatures on a chalkboard. The subset of the dozen signed their names as they would at their current ages. He then regressed them by suggestion to the age of sixteen or thereabouts, had them resign their names, and in subsequent suggestions took them back way into their youths, maybe eight years of age or so.

The fascinating thing was their signatures changed with their suggested age. He went on to explain to the audience that locked inside us all is our past. The children we were still resides deep within us.

Later in the show he took another subset of the dozen and regressed them to somewhere around six years of age. Placing them forward on the stage he verbalized a scenario where they were in a movie theater. Describing a terrifying scene in a jungle movie he announced that a lion rushed forward from the underbrush. The subjects varied in response, some recoiled in their seats covering their faces with their arms, others sat agape with a look of fear on their faces, their bodies visibly tensed.

From the lion he moved to a scene of romance. The leading man leaned in for a kiss. One of these regressed subjects reached into a imaginary box of popcorn and began throwing handfuls of nonexistent popcorn at the screen. The audience broke out in laughter. This guy had obviously been the class clown in his younger days.

He did the more mundane things too, like holding out one’s arm and resisting external pressure as if their arms were made of steel. A demonstration of inner strength normally unrealized indeed.

One of his final displays had to do with childhood birthday parties. Regressing them through the years, ten, eight and finally six he queried them on what kind of birthday cake was served, what presents were received, how many guests et cetera. When he got to six years of age there was some trouble. Apparently this particular woman at the age of six did not have a good day. She broke out in tears in front of us all. She did not like chocolate cake and that is what her mother had prepared. She basically had a tantrum on stage. The hypnotist had a public problem. He held her back after the show to get her settled down. Perhaps he left her with a post-hypnotic suggestion.

As it happens the woman was in the same literature class as I and the following day after class we spoke outside in the hallway. Having asked her about the preceding evening she told me she had the best night of sleep she had experienced in a long while.

The obvious takeaway here is that from a general audience some, but not all, of us can become mesmerized. Some of us are all too willing to surrender to the suggestions from outside of ourselves.


Many a time in these last years while contemplating how it is America has become so fractured politically I reflect on that lyceum. How is it a small element has become so animated about a set of politicians so hell bent on undermining our society.

How is that the likes of Bachmann, Cruz and long list of others can hold sway over this group. Are they, like the young college group, somehow mesmerized? And if that is possible who plays the role of hypnotist? Is it FOX news, with their repetitive harking and barking? Do they create the scenario, like the supposed movies of terror and romance conjectured in that lyceum. Can this group be regressed to sentiments of childhood that betray their ability to reason independently? Is that like the arm resisting pressure, the false sense of conviction despite prevailing common sense let alone logic?

Some twenty five years ago in an attempt to break a nicotine habit I sought out a hypnotist. In the pre-treatment interview she inquired about my work life. Ooooh, she indicated that hypnosis tended to not work on people of my ilk, the science types. Too analytic, too unreceptive to external innuendo and suggestion, too much reasoning going on. She proved to be correct. While relaxing as an experience, the soft cadence of her voice, the bubbling water font and all that stuff, well as Twain remarked, quitting was easy, did it several times.

Considering the long run of Limbaugh and the likes of FOX there seem to be a lot of folks with their hands in the air, presumably in response to the hypnotist.

Can’t say hypnosis is playing out before our eyes in the politics of the day, but then again, can’t say it isn’t.

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