The Art of Stage Hypnosis

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Simply put, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness characterized by heightened susceptibility to suggestion. Under hypnosis, suggestions bypass the critical faculties of normal consciousness and directly enter the subconscious mind-where "if accepted," they are acted upon. The deeper the level of hypnosis, the greater the subject's suggestibility.

This entire process is based upon the fact that while our conscious thought processes use inductive reasoning, our subconscious uses only deductive reasoning. Once a suggestion is accepted by the subconscious, it is automatically transformed into reality. It does not matter if the suggestion originates from an internal source (ie. self-hypnosis) or an external one (the operator). Indeed, the distinction between autosuggestion and heterosuggestion is considered to be both arbitrary and superficial.


The wide range of phenomena possible with hypnosis was best summed up many years ago by Dr. Bernard Hollander, M.D., in his book, "Hypnotism and Suggestion in Daily Life, Education, and Medical Practice." His observations are as relevant today, as when his book was first written. Here they are in Dr. Hollander's own words:

In response to your direct and specific suggestions, your subject may be rendered happy and gay, or sad and dejected, angry or pleased, liberal or stingy, proud or humble, pugnacious or pacific, bold or timid, hopeful or despondent, insolent or respectful. He may be made to sing, to shout, to laugh, to weep, to act, to dance, to shoot, to fish, to preach, to pray, to recite a beautiful poem or to excogitate a profound argument.

The expression of the subject during these responses while in hypnosis is most important as its very earnestness is profound in its appeal. The attitudes and gestures are equal to, or surpassing, the best efforts of the most accomplished actor, although the hypnotized subject may actually be a person of limited intellectual cultivation, and show no particular talent for acting or mimicry in the waking state.

The hypnotized subject is not acting a part in the ordinary sense of the word. He believes himself to be the actual personality suggested. The subject will impersonate to perfection any suggested character with which he is familiar.

One of the most striking and important peculiarities of the subconscious mind, as distinguished from the conscious, consists in its prodigious memory. In all degrees of the hypnotic sleep, this exaltation of the memory is one of the most pronounced of the attendant phenomena.

One of the remarkable effects of hypnotism is this recollection of circumstances and the revival of impressions long since past, the images of which have been completely lost to ordinary memory, and which are not recoverable in the normal state of mind. All the sensations which we have ever experienced have left behind them traces in the brain, so slight as to be intangible and imperceptible under ordinary circumstances, but hypnotic suggestion, addressing itself to the unconscious (or subconscious) side of the mind, and such being the storehouse of memories can bring into recall these otherwise lost memories at the command of the operator. Everything learned in normal life can be remembered in hypnosis, even when apparently it has long been forgotten.

Of course, false memories can also be suggested, as for example when you say to a subject, "You remember we drove to Richmond yesterday." The suggestion will take effect and he will at once begin to relate all that he believes we did in Richmond. This is an example of a retroactive positive hallucination, because the subject believes that he experienced something that really never occurred.

Memory may also be obliterated. Nothing is easier than to make the subject forget his name and condition in life. This is one of the suggestions which most promptly succeed, even with a very new subject. The subject may forget whole periods of his life at the suggestion of the hypnotizer.

Sense delusions are likewise common in hypnosis; either as hallucinations or illusions. An illusion is the false interpretation of an existing external object, as, for instance, when a chair is taken for a lion, a broomstick for a beautiful woman, a noise in the street for orchestra music, etc. An hallucination is the perception of an object which does not exist as for instance when you say to your subject, "Sit down in this armchair" where there is really no chair at all; yet the hallucination is so perfect that he does put himself in exactly the same attitude as if he were sitting in a real chair, only if you ask him after a time, "Are you comfortable?" he may reply, 'Not particularly,' and ask for a chair that is more comfortable. It seems incredible that an hallucination could be so real that a person would assume an attitude so strained, but it is so.

"Suggest to a person that a swarm of bees are buzzing about him; he will not only see and hear them, but he will go through violent antics to beat them off. Or tell a person that there are rats in the room, and the word will take up a train of imagery in the subject's brain which is immediately projected outward in an expressive display of appropriate gestures of aversion and corresponding movements of avoidance. The fear depicted on the face of a subject when he believes he is about to be attacked by a tiger is more impressive. Editor's Note: Always avoid any experiments involving disagreeable or dangerous situations.

Hallucinations of all the senses and delusions of every conceivable kind can easily be suggested to a good subject. Just how real these effects are to the subject is evidenced in experiments where the image of the hallucination has been caused to double by a prism or mirror, magnified by a lens, and in many other ways behave optically like a real object.

In suggesting an hallucination, say that of a bird, the suggested approach of the object causes contraction of the pupil, and vice versa. At the same time, there is often convergence of the axis of the eyes, as if a real object were present.

Subjects will eat a potato for a peach, or drink a cup of vinegar for a glass of champagne. He may be thrown into a state of intoxication by being caused to drink a glass of water under the impression that it is gin, or he may be restored to sobriety by the administration of gin under the guise of an antidote for drunkenness. In these cases, the expression of the face induced by the suggested perception corresponds so perfectly that a better effect would scarcely be produced if the real article were used.

Various physiological effects can be produced in the state of hypnosis. A subject can be caused to weep and shed tears on one side of the face and laugh with the other. The pulse can be quickened or retarded, respiration slowed or accelerated, or temporarily arrested, and perspiration can be produced-all by suggestion. Even the temperature can be affected. Thus it has been observed that is a subject is told he has a high fever his pulse will become rapid, his face flushed, and and his temperature increased. Or, if a person is told that he is standing on ice he feels cold at once. He trembles, his teeth chatter, he wraps himself up in his coat. "Gooseskin" [goose bumps] can be produced by the suggestion of a cold bath. Hunger and thirst can be created, and other functions increased or retarded.

The mind can be so concentrated upon a physiological process as to stimulate that process to normal activity, so as to produce curative effects, and even to super-abundant activity, so as to produce pathological effects or disease. For instance, a blister can be caused on a sound and healthy skin by applying a postage stamp and suggesting that it it a strong mustard plaster; or placing upon the skin a key or coin with the suggestion that after waking , a blister will appear at the spot where the key or coin had been placed, and of corresponding size and shape. The key or coin is then removed and the patient awakened, having no conscious knowledge of the suggestion given, but at the appointed time the blister appears.

On the other hand, blisters and burns have been annulled by suggestion. Mere local redness of the skin is easily produced by suggestion, and can be seen to appear in a few minutes by watching the subject.

Naturally, several organs can be influenced by suggestion at the same time. Tell someone, "Here is a rose." At once your subject not only sees, but feels and also smells the rose. The suggestion here affects sight, feeling and smell at the same time.

When the delusion is positive, the hypnotic believes he sees what does not exist; when it's negative, he fails to recognize the presence of an object really placed before him. An excellent experiment is to suggest to the subject that on awakening he will not be able to see you, although you will remain in the room so he can feel and hear you, and although he will see everybody else. The subject on being awakened can hear and feel you, but he fails entirely to see you. When speaking to him you will observe his head and eyes turn in the direction of your voice, but you are completely invisible to him. This is a negative hallucination of sight. Similarly, it may be suggested that the subject is deaf to certain words, but not to others.

An entire cessation of the functions of any sense organ can be induced in the same way as a negative hallucination. The sense organ affected is unsusceptible of anything. A command suffices to restore the functions. It is certain that the blindness and deafness induced this way are of a mental nature, for the corresponding organ of sense performs its function, though the impressions do not reach the consciousness. In the same way, the sight of one eye can be suspended, though the other can see as usual.

All such phenomena of suggestion can be produced while the subject is in the hypnotic state and also posthypnotically.


It is generally held that almost any person of average, or above average, intelligence can be hypnotized to some degree or another. In actuality, no operator, no matter how proficient or skilled, ever obtains 100% success. The situation itself may arouse or create psychological barriers that prevent the operator from establishing the necessary rapport. Nevertheless, proper technique and presentation will help eliminate most difficulties.

Since almost everyone is, under ordinary circumstances, suggestible-successful hypnosis is invariably a question of a proper relationship between the operator and his subject(s). This relationship has been defined as one of "Prestige and Faith." That is to say, the operator must possess sufficient confidence and prestige in the eyes of his subjects, while the latter must have sufficiently firm faith in his ability to influence them. Success in hypnotism depends on the ability to establish and maintain the relationship of prestige and faith.


Suggestion is the basis of hypnosis. It is used to first induce and then, control the hypnotic state. Even in the lightest stage of hypnosis, suggestibility is greatly increased and many remarkable effects can be achieved.

This phenomena is of great interest to the performing hypnotist. Today's audiences demand fast-paced entertainment. There is little room for long, drawn out hypnotic inductions at the beginning of a show. As a result many hypnotists start their performances with a rapid hypnotic induction to a committee on stage and quickly move on to a series of basic tests. The most "suggestible" persons in the group-those who respond favorably to tests while in the waking state or under light hypnosis-are retained for additional tests and progressively induced into deeper levels of hypnosis.


Hypnosis has long been associated with sleep. Indeed, the very word "hypnotism," is derived from the Greek "hypnos," meaning "sleep" or "to sleep." While hypnosis and the concentration it requires is actually closer to the waking state than ordinary sleep, it remains the perfect metaphor and one which people have been conditioned to accept. For the subject, sleep puts the hypnotic experience into a familiar context. For the audience, sleep helps explain the phenomena they are observing on stage. And finally, for the operator, the association of sleep provides a framework for his hypnotic presentation.


The single most important attribute for an aspiring hypnotist is "confidence." If you are an experienced stage performer, your skills of showmanship and ability to take command of an audience will prove invaluable in stage hypnosis. In this field, more than any other, you must be in full control at all times. Any audience perception to the contrary, or hesitation on your part, will have devastating consequences for your performance. Remember, your ability to establish the prestige and faith relationship with subjects is critical to your success.

In this pursuit, there is no substitute for practical experience. Practice as often as possible on the widest range of subjects you can find. If you do not succeed with the first, second or even the twentieth subject, don't give up! Keep trying. Perseverance is the key. Re-read and rehearse the instructions outlined in the next chapter on "Basic Hypnotic Technique." With each repetition, your skill and level of confidence will grow until the day comes when you hypnotize your first subject. And rest assured, that day will arrive. Soon after, you will successfully hypnotize a second subject and find that you are now able to influence the majority of people you come in contact with.

Hypnotizing your first subject is always the hardest. As discussed earlier, even the most experienced and competent hypnotist will experience difficulty with various subjects from time to time. Sometimes there are situations and factors which are simply beyond a performer's control. Just keep in mind, your overall success in hypnotism will depend on the one factor you "can" control-the strength of your presentation. If you present it properly and with a confident tone of voice, you will be well on your way to success in this field.


The purpose of this guide is to teach you how to present a hypnotic act for entertainment purposes. The skills you acquire should be used solely for this purpose. Leave hypnotherapy to trained psychologists and licensed professionals who practice in a clinical setting.

Often following a show, you will be approached by individuals who wish to be hypnotized for behavior modification, such as to stop smoking, to lose weight, etc. Avoid the temptation. These people, while well meaning, are best referred to a competent professional hypnotherapist. Treating disorders with hypnosis requires formal training and certification so you understand the underlying causes of behavior and how to modify it.

Needless to say, attempts at past life regression or other kinds of psychological experiments are best left to a trained professional as well.


Early hypnotic pioneer, Dr. James Braid, found that for a power so remarkable and great, hypnosis was unbelievably harmless. In the many years since this finding, his contention has remained virtually unshaken.

Even so, today's professional stage hypnotist must be mindful of the potential for legal problems arising from his performances. While certainly uncommon and seldom with merit, defending a lawsuit is an expensive and time-consuming proposition-even if you ultimately prevail.

There are some common sense measures you can take to help minimize your exposure to potential problems. First and foremost, never use hypnosis to treat a subject for a psychological disorder or to modify behavior (hypnotherapy), or to experiment psychologically in areas, such as past life regression.

Avoid all hypnotic tests which could harm a subject mentally or physically, as well as tests that demonstrate invulnerability to pain.

Hypnotic tests that produce symptoms of psychological abnormality, including amnesia, neurotic or psychopathic behavior are strictly taboo. Please note, "amnesia" in this instance, does "not" refer to the common practice of suggesting to a subject that he will not remember what transpired while under hypnosis (posthypnotic amnesia), but rather tests which attempt to erase all memories of a subject's identity from his mind. The latter should be avoided.

Although rare, watch out for warning signs of personality disorders in volunteers. It is perfectly natural for subjects to be a bit uneasy when they first come up on stage. However, if any subjects appear to have significantly more anxiety than the others, or exhibits physical manifestations, such as twitching, trembling, profuse sweating, etc., they should be dismissed as early on into your performance as possible. It is best if they are not sent to their seat alone, but dismissed with a few other people. Otherwise, it may appear as if they were singled out.

Handle all of your subjects on stage with the courtesy and respect they deserve. When someone volunteers, there is an implied trust that you will treat them properly while on stage. If you betray that trust by handling them in a rough or abrasive manner or by intentionally embarrassing them, you risk their legal wrath afterward. Always conduct yourself in a thoroughly professional manner, handle your subjects gently and with care, and never expect them to do something which will lower their self-esteem. Rather, make your subjects the stars of your show, praise their remarkable accomplishments to the audience, and finally, let them take the bows.

Put your performance in a contemporary framework. The days of mysterious, dark-eyed svengali's who dominated their subjects is long past. Today's audiences are more interested in what they can do for themselves, so slant your demonstration accordingly. Emphasize your role as simply one of a facilitator that enables the audience to unleash their own amazing powers of hypnosis. Inform them during the performance that every hypnotic feat is a direct result of a subject's own choosing and personal accomplishment. In so doing, you'll take the teeth right out of a legal claim by subjects that they were "harmed by the hypnotist." Even top British hypnotist Paul McKenna was forced to defend himself in a highly-publicized battle in the English courts. McKenna was cleared, of course, however he was still burdened with the responsibility of fighting the charge.

Be aware that some states in the U.S. and foreign countries have laws on the books prohibiting or restricting the public exhibition of hypnotism. Since 1952, the United Kingdom has required a local permit for public performances of hypnosis. While enforcement is frequently lax in most US jurisdictions, it is something which bears consideration in booking shows.

Finally, if you're still concerned about the legal liability of performing stage hypnosis, talk with your legal advisor. Some shows do employ a paid subject for feats, such as suspending a person between two chairs. If so, make sure you get a signed a legal release from that person. You can also obtain insurance coverage to protect yourself. The premiums for such policies are often quite high in comparison to the risks, so use your own judgement.

Chapter Two

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Using Hypnosis To Achieve Mental Mastery

Using Hypnosis To Achieve Mental Mastery

Hypnosis is a capital instrument for relaxation and alleviating stress. It helps calm down both the brain and body, giving a useful rest. All the same it can be rather costly to hire a clinical hypnotherapist, and we might not always want one around when we would like to destress.

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