Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Those of you who follow my work know of my interest in neo-mesmerism, or the late mesmeric movement popular during the last quarter of the Nineteenth-Century, and even later (click here, and here ). In the article discussed here I focus on a fascinating figure from France, neurologist Jules Bernard Luys.

Jules Bernard Luys

Jules Bernard Luys

Alvarado, C.S. (2019). Classic text No. 119: Jules Bernard Luys on magnetic pathology. History of Psychiatry, 30, 359–374. (a PDF version of this article is available on request:


“In the mesmeric movement, one of the phenomena cited to defend the existence of magnetic and nervous forces was the visual perception of them in the form of luminous emanations from people, or effluvia. This Classic Text is an 1892 article by French neurologist, Jules Bernard Luys (1828–97), about the observation of such effluvia by hypnotized individuals. Interestingly, the luminous phenomena perceived from mentally diseased individuals and from healthy ones had particular properties. Luys’s interest in this and other unorthodox phenomena were consistent with ideas of animal magnetism in the late neo-mesmeric movement, as well as with some physicalistic conceptions of hypnosis and the nervous system held at the time.”

In addition to Luys, some of the figures that participated in the French neo-mesmeric movement were Alexandre Baréty (1844–1918), Émile Boirac (1851–1917), Albert de Rochas (1837–1914), and Hector Durville (1849–1923). “For example, Baréty defended the existence of a neuritic (neurique) force that originated ‘probably from the nervous system, which circulates along the nerves or radiates out of them … and is susceptible of producing certain sensitive, motor and psychic modifications on other human bodies.’ ”

Barety Magnetisme Animal


de rochas Forces Non Definies

Durville Traite Experimental Magnetisme Jules Bernard Luys (1828–1897) was a well-known French neurologist who worked at La Charité, an important hospital in Paris. His work was highly regarded. For example, his book Recherches sur le Système Cérébro-Spinal, sa Structure, ses Fonctions et ses Maladies (1865) was awarded a prize by the Académie des Sciences. In a addition to a great number of articles in medical journals he also published other books about neurology: Iconographie Photographique des Centres Nerveux (2 vols, 1873), Études de Physiologie et de Pathologie Cérébrale (1874), and Leçons sur la Structure et les Maladies du Système Nerveux (1875). His work was rewarded with the titles of Knight and Officer in the Légion d’Honneur, and by his election to the Académie de Médicine.

In later years Luys was interested in hypnosis, as seen in his Hypnotisme Expérimental: Les Émotions dans l’État d’Hypnotisme et l’Action à Distance de Substances Médicamenteuses ou Toxiques (Experimental Hypnotism: Emotions During the State of Hypnotism and the Action of Medical and Toxic Substances at a Distance, 1890). In his later research period Luys was interested in the action of medicines and drugs at a distance, as well as in the magnetic force of the mesmerists, claiming that he had patients that could see the magnetic force while hypnotized, and that he had been able to capture the elusive force on photographic plates. Unfortunately, this work was not well received by the medical establishment. As I stated in the paper: “These studies were not received as well as Luys’s previous physiological research had been. In fact, it was even said that because of this work Luys lost some of his scientific reputation.”

Luys Hypnotisme

Luys Esther

Esther, One of Luys’ Hypnotic Subjects

In my paper I reprint an article Luys published in 1892 entitled “De la Visibilité par les Sujets en État Hypnotique des Effluves Dégagés par les Êtres Vivants” (On the Visibility to Subjects in the Hypnotic State of Effluvia Emitted by Human Beings published in Annales de Psychiatrie et d’Hypnologie dans leurs Rapports avec la Psychologie et la Médicine Légale, 1892, 2, 321–323). “The phenomena described by Luys were in the mesmeric tradition. It may be argued that they also belonged to ideas about the aura, or the perception of various luminous shapes around the human body reported by non-hypnotized individuals such as mediums, psychics and others, a topic discussed frequently over the years. The aura, according to some writers, reflected the mental and physiological state of the person around whom it was seen, an idea also espoused by Luys.”

Luys Annales

Part of Luys’ article read as follows:

“Not only do hypnotized subjects have the attribute of seeing the magneto-electric effluvia which emerge from physical devices . . . but they can also . . . recognize the effluvia that are released from the eyes, ears, nostrils and the lips of living beings – [and can] distinguish them, those on the right side and those on the left side, putting the blue colour on the left and red on the right. Thus they distinguish in the human body and in animals a half which corresponds to the north pole, and another half which corresponds to the south pole of a magnetic bar or of a magneto-electric apparatus . . .”

“The hypnotized subject, whose eyes have been prepared and verified by the assistance of . . . ophthalmoscopic examination . . . can thus be employed as a real living reagent to recognize the differences in the coloration of the effluvia on the left side and those on the right side. In healthy, well men, the irradiated effluvia of the eye and the organs of the senses of the left side appear with a very intense blue coloration – those on the right side with a red carmine coloration. The intensity of the emitted effluvia seems to indicate the maximum energy of the nervous forces – indeed:”

“In hemiplegics, the effluvia irradiated from the eye of the paralysed side are very weak.”

“In chronic tabetics, very markedly weakened, the intensity of the effluvium is greatly diminished on both sides.”

“In neuropaths and in hysterics of both sexes, the red coloration of the effluvia of the right eye becomes violet; this is a diagnostic sign which in certain cases has allowed me to detect states of latent hysteria, and the eyes of these subjects appear incapable of moving upwards until they can form a red color. The effluvia of the ears, nostrils and lips maintain their red coloration.”