Healing energies: A search for traces in old Vienna

Energy work is an ancient (eastern) practice, say the users. A fashion from America, say critics. Both are not entirely wrong, but they both ignore the fundamental influence of a doctor working in Vienna. International esoteric movements of the 19th century like spiritism and theosophy would be just as unthinkable without the influence of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) as the emergence of hypnosis research and thus psychotherapy. Mesmer himself always considered himself a natural scientist. The ambivalent assessment of his „energetic“ treatments is not foreign to today’s energetic practitioners.

What do energetic people mean when they talk about energy?

„I can finally tank up on energy again,“ says Ms. Maier. „This beach really has a good energy,“ agrees her husband. „The unit for energy is Joule,“ says little Thomas. Energy obviously has different meanings in the language of everyday life and natural science. However, the energy concept of energetics crosses the border between different language cultures and realms of reality. In the energetic world view, ultimately everything is permeated by energy, whereby this energy manifests itself in different forms. The body is thereby assigned to the material, gross-material level and the hidden potentials as well as the higher (spiritual) self to the finest level. In between is the energetic or subtle level in the narrower sense, to which human energeticists refer. Their goal is to positively influence well-being and personal development, to support self-healing powers, „release blockages“ and „restore balance“. Animals are also treated and rooms are „balanced“. More: https://www.tips.at/nachrichten/rohrbach/leben/432201-eine-auszeit-im-gruenen-unterwegs-auf-dem-weg-der-entschleunigung

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)
Mesmer, the „grandfather“ of energy work, fascinated his contemporaries, including the Mozart family, with his teaching and practice of „animal magnetism“. He claimed the existence of an invisible fine matter, a „fluidum“ that permeates the cosmos and all living beings. Disease is the result of disturbances in the flow of this universal life force in the human body. A healing magnetizer could transfer his own fluid to the patient in order to make the body of the sick person, which is energetically charged by this fluid, flow again and renew the connection with the harmonic flow of the cosmos.

Mesmer performed hand movements, so-called „magnetic strokes“, on the patient’s body or at a short distance from it. Magnetised trees and technical equipment were also used in group therapy. As in contemporary energy work, physical sensations and the relationship between practitioner and client played an important role in this technique. Mesmer understood his treatment as a scientific healing method. At the same time, practitioners reported deep states of immersion, visions, religious ecstasy and paranormal abilities. Hostile to the medical profession as a charlatan, Mesmer was forced to leave Vienna, especially as a result of the failed therapy of the blind pianist, singer, and composer Maria Theresa Paradis – to gain even greater fame in Paris. Mesmer has fallen into oblivion among today’s energetic practitioners, even though he had a decisive influence on the horizon of understanding of all those who in the 19th and 20th centuries in the Euro-American region received Eastern concepts such as the life force prana or the energy centers of the chakras.

Leap into the present
From about the 1980s onwards, modern energy professionals began to offer their services. The fluid had „transformed“ into energy and had been enriched with Eastern spiritual, psychological and quantum physical connotations. Today, energetic practitioners are an integral part of a spiritual-therapeutic scene which, from its self-understanding, focuses on the „whole person“ and thus wants to complement orthodox medicine and make a contribution to self-responsible well-being. While in the 1960s energetic ideas were only common in counter-cultural sub-milieus, today they belong to the „common sense“ of a „holistic“ world view.

Since 1995, energy professionals have been represented as a separate professional group at the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. About 18,000 people currently have an upright trade licence as energy specialists, most of them working part-time. No special certificate of qualification is required for registration, energetics merely have to be careful not to take any actions that are reserved for the approximately 15,000 general practitioners and other health professionals. Specifically, they are not allowed to make diagnoses or offer medical treatment.

In its advertising line, the Chamber of Commerce focuses on seriousness and a broad target audience; pictures of colorful auras are sought in vain.
Photo: WKO
Rejection and continued popularity
While the topic of energetics „skeptics“, the members of the „Society for Specifically, they are not allowed to make diagnoses or offer medical treatment.

In its advertising line, the Chamber of Commerce focuses on seriousness and a broad target audience; pictures of colorful auras are sought in vain.
Rejection and continued popularity
While the topic energetics drives Skeptikern, the members of the society for the scientific investigation of Parawissenschaften (GWUP), foam before the mouth, seems a considerable part of the population quite openly to be. At least half have experiences with „holistic“ practices, and five to eight per cent integrate human energetics and related offers over a longer period into their life. Many who do not feel sufficiently supported by other offers in the health sector initially only want to strengthen their physical and mental health. Persons who are more intensively involved in the scene, on the other hand, increasingly ask about the meaning and significance of their illnesses and difficult life situations, want to explore their own inner world and grow spiritually.

Like the mesmerism of the late 18th century, energy work is also open to psychological, quasiphysical and spiritual interpretations. This oscillation between linguistic codes and different knowledge cultures probably contributes to the precarious professional-political position of the energetic practitioners on the one hand, but on the other hand it also explains their continuing popularity.