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What is animal magnetism?

From the August 2020 issue of The Christian Science Journal

This interview was originally recorded as a podcast on February 3, 2020 and was adapted for the August 2020 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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Aaron: Today we’d like to talk about a specific term that Mary Baker Eddy, the Discover and Founder of Christian Science, gave to evil. She called it animal magnetism, and she also instructs people how they can stop its negative effects and bring healing to every challenge. 

So Evan, I’d like to begin by asking you, according to Christian Science, what is animal magnetism? 

Evan: Happy to talk about this. Animal magnetism is not a term used commonly today. It was used much more commonly in Mrs. Eddy’s time. However, it has taken on the form of other terms that we are more familiar with, such as hypnotism. But the background of animal magnetism is it’s a term used in Christian Science to stand for everything and anything that would oppose God, that would deny God’s presence. 

We learn in Christian Science that God is infinite good, omnipresent, ever-present Love, and anything that would deny that goodness of God or deny the activity and presence of that infinite love and care for us in the universe is what in Christian Science would be called an effect of animal magnetism. It shows up in the form of evil, sinful behavior, disease, death, lack, suffering, conflict, pain, fear—anything that would deny the presence of God, good, goes under this umbrella term. 

A little deeper look at this term animal magnetism shows that it is the belief that there is a mind in matter that can cause something bad to happen in our lives, something that God would never cause or allow to happen. And if you were to break down that term, animal magnetism, animal is referring to the animal body or the physical body, and the word magnetism is referring to the tendency of the human mind to get magnetized, you might say, or hypnotized into believing things to be true that are not true. So it’s a useful term that Christian Science teaches that helps us to get a handle on evil, to conquer it and overcome it with a better understanding of God. 

Can you give us some background on where that term animal magnetism came from? 

Sure. Animal magnetism is a term that popped up around the 1700s. There was a German named Franz Mesmer who had a theory. He believed there was this magnetic fluid shared between all celestial bodies, the earth, and animated things that could be channeled and manipulated throughout the physical body to help his patients be cured of their illnesses. Mesmer’s theory was debunked. However, many people were fascinated by this theory and continued to practice it for decades to come. And it took many different forms, such as mind-cure techniques that many employed, and it is commonly known today as hypnotism, where one mind is striving to control another mind to produce an intended effect. 

What did Mary Baker Eddy learn about animal magnetism that would be helpful for us to know? 

Well, what she learned—just like a scientific commission in Paris had once determined with regard to Mesmer’s theory—is that there is no magnetic force. There is no mind in matter that can take control of us. And any effect from it is the effect of imagination. 

What Mrs. Eddy learned in her discovery of Christian Science is that in truth, there is one Mind, the divine Mind, God, in control of the universe. Animal magnetism is the belief that there is a mind that can cause evil to happen and bad things to happen. It needs to be resisted. It needs to be overcome in order to prevent or correct bad experiences in our everyday life. 

Jesus was constantly at work conquering the claims of animal magnetism. 

The good news is, a hypnotist requires consent before they can hypnotize you. And so we can learn not to consent to the hypnotic claims of animal magnetism; we can counter them with an understanding that there is one Mind, the Mind of God, of good, at work in our life, in control of our health, our harmony, our well-being, and producing only a good effect. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which is the textbook for Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy says on page 109, “Christian Science reveals incontrovertibly that Mind is All-in-all, that the only realities are the divine Mind and idea.”

And so what Mrs. Eddy observed in her healing practice is that these sensations of evil, of disease, pain, and suffering that often pop up in the human mind, are all the effect of the imagination of a supposed mortal mind. And they do seem very real to the person who’s imagining them at the time. But in actual fact, they’re not real. They’re not real as far as God’s concerned. And they can be neutralized, disarmed and removed from our experience, by understanding the supremacy of God, of the one Mind governing all. 

Mrs. Eddy found a basis for this understanding in the teachings of Christ Jesus right out of the Bible. She began to see that Jesus was constantly at work conquering the claims of animal magnetism. 

For example, when someone would come to him with a disease, he could conquer it. He could remove that disease from that person’s experience and restore their body to health. He did it solely through the power of divine Mind, the power of God. His prayer for that person effected a change in their life, and they were physically restored. 

Well, what does that say about the nature of disease? Is it really physical? Jesus demonstrated the power of divine Mind over the whole human experience, proving that all the effects of evil, no matter what form they take, are just another form or variation of animal magnetism, of the belief that there is this evil, destructive mind at work in the universe countering God. 

For example, one time when Jesus was in the middle of a violent storm and the disciples were afraid for their lives, Jesus calmed the storm. “Peace, be still,” he said (Mark 4:39). And the storm stopped instantly. Well, that was another demonstration of the power of the one divine Mind. That picture of things out of control was an illusion of mortal mind. It was an imagination of mortal mind that he could remove from the disciples’ thought and experience by knowing that the divine Mind was in control right there. 

He also demonstrated the supremacy of the one Mind when appearances of lack seemed real—not enough food or enough income for people to survive. The one Mind was there to supply those needs. God was the source of what they needed, and there was no real lack. 

Jesus also raised the dead, proving that Life is real and death is not the reality. He raised himself from the dead, proving that there was no evil mind in this world that could destroy him, that could take his life away. 

He was able to overcome and conquer all these different variations and forms of animal magnetism at work in the human experience through the bottom-line understanding that there is, in truth, just one Mind, one God, one divine Mind reigning supreme over all. His understanding of this, along with his divinely impelled love for mankind, enabled him to neutralize any claims of another mind at work, an evil mind, and prove it unreal. 

It sounds like animal magnetism seems to touch many facets of human life. But Jesus gave us that great example of being able to put animal magnetism down, no matter what arena it seems to be operating in. Can you share some more about how Christian Science helps us master animal magnetism? 

Absolutely. I just love to talk about this topic, because when you really understand that it has no power at all, it really empowers your prayers. It gives you a lot more traction in your prayers because you begin to see why things are happening the way they’re happening, and it helps you see how to get your arms around things and turn them around. 

Mary Baker Eddy gave us some tremendous tools to master animal magnetism and render it harmless. In her textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, there’s a short chapter titled “Animal Magnetism Unmasked.” And that word unmasked is key, because I’ve seen from my experience that a lot of people, when they try to understand animal magnetism, get afraid of it like it’s a real power. It’s not. In actual fact, it’s exactly the opposite: the absence of power. 

And that’s what that word unmasked means. We need to remove the mask—the mask being the belief that animal magnetism is real and has power, that there is an evil mind that can hurt us. That is a lie. I think about The Wizard of Oz, if you’ve ever seen that movie. At first, everybody was scared of this ominous Wizard of Oz. This big mysterious power. But in the end, they pull the curtain back and there is just this little man pulling levers, trying to use this image of greatness and ferocity. Well, that’s the way animal magnetism is. It might look big and scary to the thought that doesn’t understand it. But once you pull the curtain back and see what’s at work behind it, you begin to see there is nothing to it. And that’s where we want to end up in our study of the divine Truth, here. 

So in the chapter “Animal Magnetism Unmasked,” Mrs. Eddy explains what animal magnetism is and how to confront it. And she gives us a definition for animal magnetism on page 103, where she wrote: “As named in Christian Science, animal magnetism or hypnotism is the specific term for error, or mortal mind. It is the false belief that mind is in matter, and is both evil and good; that evil is as real as good and more powerful.” 

That’s very helpful. 

So, I want to break that description from Science and Health down and walk through it so that we can get it down to bite-sized chunks. A very important point to realize is that, as Mrs. Eddy says, animal magnetism is a specific term for error. And of course, an error is a mistake, a lie, an untruth. And then she breaks it down into three parts. 

She says animal magnetism is first the “false belief that mind is in matter.” So what does she mean by that? Well, some examples of a belief in mind in matter could be, for instance, with the brain—the belief that the brain controls us. Or the belief that hormones are in control, or germs, or that the weather is in control of how you feel. All these are beliefs that there is this mind out there that can take over God’s harmonious control over our lives. 

There is the belief that other people control us, that they have a mind of their own and they can form opinions and beliefs and take actions and do something harmful to us. That’s the belief of mind in matter apart from God. This belief shows up as various symptoms; for example, if you ever feel like your body is out of control and you don’t know why—that is a symptom of this belief of mind in matter or that another person has a lock on your future and you’re just helpless and at their mercy. 

Now let’s take a look at where Mrs. Eddy says this about animal magnetism: “It is the false belief that mind is in matter, and is both evil and good.” So what are some examples of evil and good? Well, if you’ve ever been happy one day and miserable the next. That’s a phase of animal magnetism, saying that mind is on a human level—both good and bad. And, oh, one day is good, the next day’s miserable.

There’s the suggestion that some people are winners and some are losers. And that’s the belief that there’s this mind that can create evil and good in your life contrary to that plan of good that God has in store for you and everyone. 

And now let’s take a look at the last part of that statement from Science and Health, where it says that animal magnetism is the claim that “evil is as real as good and more powerful.” This is the claim that evil can literally take over your life and deprive you of God’s goodness. For example, the claim that disease is more real than health. If you have ever been suffering and thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m helpless—this disease has got the better of me.” That is a phase of animal magnetism! And it’s not power.

There is the belief that hate can destroy love in your life. That anger can rob you of love, or somebody else’s hatred can deprive you of love; that’s a phase of animal magnetism. That depression can rob you of your joy, that you have no choice but to feel depressed. That lack deprives you of abundance. The thought, “I always lack something. My bills always exceed my income. This is the way it is.” These are a phase of this belief that evil is as real as good and more powerful. 

There’s no mind anywhere that can hurt you or harm you in any way, shape, or form.

The good part of all of this is that after Mrs. Eddy gives us this definition of animal magnetism, she wrote, “This belief has not one quality of Truth.” And that’s what we have to keep in mind: There is no truth to any of these claims of animal magnetism. Remember, she says animal magnetism is a term for error, meaning not true. 

However, in our human experience, evil can seem so real and so true to us at times that we need tools to get on top of it, to understand what’s going on. That’s what Christian Science does: It gives us the means, the spiritual understanding of God’s all-power, that we need to neutralize the claims of animal magnetism. And this is what enables healing to occur in our life. 

I think perhaps one of the primary means is that Christian Science affords us the knowledge that in reality there’s just one Mind, God. Because certainly every one of the things you’ve been discussing about animal magnetism has to do with believing there is a mind, or many minds, apart from God. And I was just thinking about something in Science and Health, on page 469, where our Leader writes: “This belief that there is more than one mind is as pernicious to divine theology as are ancient mythology and pagan idolatry.” You know, we don’t often think of the belief of many minds, which is so common, as being just as unreal as the belief in, say, ancient mythology. But I think that’s a pretty vivid description. 

That’s right. We’ve got to get past mythology to reality. 

Can you share some more ideas on defeating animal magnetism in our lives? 

Yes, I’m happy to. A good starting place always is to stay clear about the truth that we live in God’s universe. God is the creator of the universe, and God is good, and God’s universe is filled with good. And we are the beloved children of God; we exist to express God’s goodness and live it to the fullest. Our life is good because God is our Life! Stay really clear on that. 

God is the one Mind governing, controlling, ordering, inspiring this whole universe that we all live in for a good outcome. So that’s the first point. Always start with the supremacy of God, the one Mind. That’s what we’re demonstrating, and that’s what Christian Science is all about—how to demonstrate the supremacy of the one Mind, God. 

Another point I find helpful is to understand that you are not fighting matter. This one is really important. 

Paul gives us some useful insights in Second Corinthians, chapter 10. He wrote, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (verses 3–5). When I read this, I thought, “Wow, Paul knew all about animal magnetism.” He knew that all the effects of evil were in this imagination of mortal mind. 

Yes. I once saw a video on the internet where somebody had been hypnotized into believing that they couldn’t lift their foot off the floor. We may think, “Oh, what force could these imaginations really seem to have if they’re unchallenged?” But to see the look on that person’s face as he tried with all his might to lift his foot off the floor, and couldn’t, just showed that hypnotic beliefs do need to be handled. 

Absolutely. Because there was nothing wrong with that man’s body. His muscles, his legs—everything was the same as before he was hypnotized. So it was an illusion. He actually could lift his leg off the floor. But these illusions need to be exposed. 

And so that’s the next point: Expose it. These claims of animal magnetism need to be brought to the surface. I think of, say, a soldier out in outdoor terrain if he’s being sniped at by someone from under cover. Basically, everything has to stop until he figures out where that sniper is. The sniper has to be rooted out because he can’t do anything safely until that ends, right? 

And so it’s the same with us. Animal magnetism often acts like a sniper, and it might feel like we don’t understand. We ask, “Why is this happening to me? Why are things going wrong?” Anytime there’s any sense of bewilderment or confusion in your thought, that is a very clear sign of animal magnetism at work. And so you want to get that cleared up by turning to the divine Mind for understanding and guidance. But we’re never fighting matter. 

Can you give an example?

I can. This was many years ago. I was suffering from crippling back pain. It just got to the point I could hardly even turn in bed without severe pain and suffering. And I had been praying and praying, and I was just getting worse, was totally incapacitated. 

So I said, “OK, Evan, you’ve been praying all the right things, but you’re not healed yet, so obviously there’s something else you need to pray about.” I had been praying for healing of my back and of the pain. It wasn’t being healed. So then I went to the different lessons I’ve learned about animal magnetism. And I thought, “I think I need to pray bigger and broader, here. This obviously isn’t about my back. It isn’t about crippling back pain. It’s about something else.” And so I turned to what I had learned from my study of Christian Science about animal magnetism—that it is a belief in an evil mind at large that can come in and hamper good in our life. 

Well, that’s exactly what that felt like, because everything in my life had stopped. I couldn’t do my work. I couldn’t pray effectively for people in my Christian Science practice. I couldn’t get up and even get dressed. I couldn’t do anything. It definitely was a claim of animal magnetism that there was this evil mind that could stop me, hold me down, and cripple me with pain. So that’s what I prayed about. 

I prayed to know that there was no evil mind that could come into my life and cripple me and stop me from doing everything that God had appointed me to do. There’s just the one Mind and God at work in my life, causing and creating conditions of health, harmony, and freedom at all times. I was a perfect, healthy child of God. I was just the way God made me. There was nothing wrong with me, and there wasn’t any power out there that could stop me from being everything God created me to be. 

Well, when I started praying that prayer, relief was instant. Within twenty minutes, I was up and walking around. I was dressed, and I was out in the living room. And the last vestiges of the issue went very rapidly after that. But it was a big lesson to me. Just like Paul says, we’re not warring after the flesh. Your problem might feel like it’s physical, but it’s not. It’s something in the imagination of mortal mind—this belief of an evil mind that could hold us down. But it had to be exposed. Once the real issue was exposed, my healing came rapidly. 

Another way to defeat animal magnetism is to be in the practice of always listening to your spiritual senses, not the physical senses. I love the story of Peter walking on the water. Peter’s in the boat. Jesus is standing on the water. And Peter says, “I want to walk on the water, too.” So Jesus essentially said, “Sure, come on out.” 

Peter steps out of the boat, and he walks successfully. He’s doing fine until his thought drops into matter. He looks around. He analyzes the situation physically. His thought goes into material sense mode. And then he starts letting mortal mind take over his thought. “Oh, what about gravity? Oh, you can’t do this. Oh, you’re supposed to sink.” You know, he listened to mortal mind instead of the divine Mind. Then he sunk. And Jesus saved him. But the lesson is, to defeat animal magnetism, you can’t be listening to mortal mind. 

So, we want to keep the door of our thought open only to God, to the one Mind—to be so filled up with spiritual reality that we’re hearing the harmonies of Truth and Love just flood through our being. And that takes away the mesmeric belief in discords and protects us from the claims of animal magnetism. The bottom line on how to defeat animal magnetism is to stay clear on the one Mind. The one Mind of God. Omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. 

That’s wonderful. Your healing was very powerful. Are you able to share any other examples? 

Sure. This next one is my favorite example of understanding animal magnetism and the benefits that can come from neutralizing it with prayer. Many years ago, when my children were young and we were raising our family, everybody started to get ill and bedridden—one child, then the next. And then my wife, too. She was down, and so it was up to me to take care of everybody. And, you know, I was praying my little heart out to know everybody was healthy and well and the child of God, and so on. But then I started getting really sick, too. 

This was really getting discouraging for me. I ended up in the bedroom, lying on the bed, nauseated and weak. I couldn’t get up. Things were looking really bleak. And I thought, “This is ridiculous. Nobody’s being healed, and nobody’s getting better. Everybody’s getting worse.” And so I opened my thought up to the point of, “OK, God, what do I need to see that I’m not seeing here in my prayers?” I let go of all my preconceptions and judgments. 

For a moment I sensed darkness, as if there was this huge, ominous, dark storm cloud over my home, like a big violent storm. Darkness everywhere. I thought, “Oh, I think I know what the problem is here.” 

So, for some background, when you study animal magnetism further, Mrs. Eddy breaks it down into two categories, either ignorant or malicious animal magnetism. Ignorant, meaning thinking thoughts that create harm without you realizing it, and malicious meaning having a specific intent to destroy. And what I interpreted those dark clouds to symbolize was malicious animal magnetism. The belief that there was this malicious evil force at work in the world that could swoop in and destroy our family’s good. And that’s exactly what I felt like was happening in my home. Like all of our good was just being wiped out. 

So I thought, “Oh, this is not about flu and fevers and illnesses and diseases. This is about defending our home from the claim of an evil power that can supposedly come in and take our good away, our health.” And so I specifically targeted that belief with my prayer, with divine Truth in very specific ways, just right out flat, like this: There is no evil power. There is no evil mind. There is no malicious power. There is no malicious animal magnetism. There are no dark clouds hanging over my home. There is just God. We live in God’s universe in the omnipresence of Love. Our home is surrounded by Love. God just showers us with love. All that I can feel in my children and my wife is the infinite love and care and provision of God. That’s all there is. Our home is filled with the light of God, with the light of Love. There is no darkness, no evil, no evil mind. 

That was my prayer for about two or three minutes. I instantly felt better. My nausea, my headache, everything that was putting me in the bed—it all left my body in about thirty seconds.

I got up. Within twenty minutes everybody was out of bed, dressed, eating breakfast, and getting ready for the day. We were healed. 

Sounds like you’d looked past the decoy and started handling the real issue there. 

Yes, got down to the real issue. So that’s what Christian Science can do for you. It helps you undo the claims of evil and get on top of them and demonstrate reality, where God truly is in control. 

A parting thought I wanted to leave is to absolutely have no fear of animal magnetism. It is a very freeing subject to study because the whole basis of our study of animal magnetism is to see that all of its claims are illusion. The effect of imagination, just like with Mesmer’s theory, is not what it appears to be at all. And in absolute truth, there is no evil mind. There’s no devious mind, no tricky mind, no misleading mind. There’s no mind anywhere that can hurt you or harm you through matter or in any way, shape, or form. There’s just one reality, God. 

Mrs. Eddy gives us this definitive statement in that chapter “Animal Magnetism Unmasked”: “Mankind must learn that evil is not power. Its so-called despotism is but a phase of nothingness” (p. 102). And that’s what we learn through our study of Christian Science about animal magnetism—evil is not the power that it claims to be. It’s a lie. It’s an illusion. And it can be overcome with the spiritual understanding of God’s power and presence. 

God is the only Mind at work throughout the universe. And we’re all protected in the safety, care, and love of the one divine Mind.

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