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Abbé Faria: Goan Catholic Monk and Pioneer of Hypnotism

Statue of Abbé Faria
Abbé Faria (Goa, 1746 – Paris, 1819) was a colorful Indo-Portuguese monk who was one of the pioneers of the scientific study of hypnotism, following on from the work of Franz Anton Mesmer.

Unlike Mesmer, who claimed that hypnosis was mediated by “animal magnetism”, Faria understood that it worked purely by the power of suggestion. In the early 19th century, Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris.

Born in Portuguese Goa, José Custódio de Faria — better known as Abbé Faria — was the son of a wealthy heiress, but his parents separated when he was fifteen. Armed with introductions to the Portuguese court, Faria and his father traveled to Portugal where both trained as priests. On one occasion, the young Faria was asked by the queen to preach in her private chapel. During the sermon, he panicked, but his father whispered “They are all men of straw — cut the straw!” Faria immediately lost his fear and preached fluently; he later wondered how a simple phrase could so quickly alter his state of mind.

Faria moved to France where he played a prominent part in the French Revolution and refined his techniques of self-suggestion while imprisoned. After a long imprisonment in the Chateau, Faria was released and returned to Paris. He became a professor of philosophy, but his theatre shows demonstrating “lucid sleep” undercut his reputation; when he died of a stroke in 1819, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Montmartre, Paris.

It was from Faria’s lucid sleep that the term “hypnosis” was coined in 1843 by the Scottish surgeon James Braid.

Key work:

  • 1819 — On the Cause of Lucid Sleep

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