In May 1892, Belgium adopted a law on the exercise of hypnotism. The signing of the law constituted a temporary endpoint to six years of debate on the dangers and promises of hypnotism, a process of negotiation between medical doctors, members of parliament, legal professionals and lay practitioners. The terms of the debate were not very different from what happened elsewhere in Europe, where, since the mid 1880s, hypnotism had become an object of public concern. The Belgian law was nevertheless unique in its combined effort to regulate the use of hypnosis in public and private, for purposes of entertainment, research and therapy. My analysis shows how the making of the law was a process of negotiation in which local, national and transnational networks and allegiances each played a part. While the transnational atmosphere of moral panic had created a seedbed for the law, its eventual outlook owed much to the powerful lobby work of an essentially local network of lay magnetizers, and to the renown of Joseph Delbœuf, professor at the University of Liège, whose work in the field of hypnotism stimulated several liberal doctors and members of Parliament from the Liège region to defend a more lenient law.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society.