Hypnotism of Animals.--Snake Charming.
We are all familiar with the snake charmer, and the charming of birds by snakes. How much hypnotism there is in these performances it would be hard to say. It is probable that a bird is fascinated to some extent by the steady gaze of a serpent's eyes, but fear will certainly paralyze a bird as effectively as hypnotism.
Father Kircher was the first to try a familiar experiment with hens and cocks. If you hold a hen's head with the beak upon a piece of board, and then draw a chalk line from the beak to the edge of the board, the hen when released will continue to hold her head in the same position for some time, finally walking slowly away, as if roused from a stupor. Farmers' wives often try a sort of hypnotic experiment on hens they wish to transfer from one nest to another when sitting. They put the hen's head under her wing and gently rock her to and fro till she apparently goes to sleep, when she may be carried to another nest and will remain there afterward.
Horses are frequently managed by a steady gaze into their eyes. Dr. Moll states that a method of hypnotizing horses named after its inventor as Balassiren has been introduced into Austria by law for the shoeing of horses in the army.
We have all heard of the snake charmers of India, who make the snakes imitate all their movements. Some suppose this is by hypnotization. It may be the result of training, however. Certainly real charmers of wild beasts usually end by being bitten or injured in some other way, which would seem to show that the hypnotization does not always work, or else it does not exist at all.
We have some fairly well known instances of hypnotism produced in animals. Lafontaine, the magnetizer, some thirty years ago held public exhibitions in Paris in which he reduced cats, dogs, squirrels and lions to such complete insensibility that they felt neither pricks nor blows.
The Harvys or Psylles of Egypt impart to the ringed snake the appearance of a stick by pressure on the head, which induces a species of tetanus, says E. W. Lane.
The following description of serpent charming by the Aissouans of the province of Sous, Morocco, will be of interest:
"The principal charmer began by whirling with astonishing rapidity in a kind of frenzied dance around the wicker basket that contained the serpents, which were covered by a goatskin. Suddenly he stopped, plunged his naked arm into the basket, and drew out a cobra de capello, or else a haje, a fearful reptile which is able to swell its head by spreading out the scales which cover it, and which is thought to be Cleopatra's asp, the serpent of Egypt. In Morocco it is known as the buska. The charmer folded and unfolded the greenish-black viper, as if it were a piece of muslin; he rolled it like a turban round his head, and continued his dance while the serpent maintained its position, and seemed to follow every movement and wish of the dancer.
"The buska was then placed on the ground, and raising itself straight on end, in the attitude it assumes on desert roads to attract travelers, began to sway from right to left, following the rhythm of the music. The Aissoua, whirling more and more rapidly in constantly narrowing circles, plunged his hand once more into the basket, and pulled out two of the most venomous reptiles of the desert of Sous; serpents thicker than a man's arm, two or three feet long, whose shining scales are spotted black or yellow, and whose bite sends, as it were, a burning fire through the veins. This reptile is probably the torrida dipsas of antiquity. Europeans now call it the leffah.
"The two leffahs, more vigorous and less docile than the buska, lay half curled up, their heads on one side, ready to dart forward, and followed with glittering eyes the movements of the dancer. * * * Hindoo charmers are still more wonderful; they juggle with a dozen different species of reptiles at the same time, making them come and go, leap, dance, and lie down at the sound of the charmer's whistle, like the gentlest of tame animals. These serpents have never been known to bite their charmers."
It is well known that some animals, like the opossum, feign death when caught. Whether this is to be compared to hypnotism is doubtful. Other animals, called hibernating, sleep for months with no other food than their fat, but this, again, can hardly be called hypnotism.