The Enigmatic Abbe Faria
by Dr. Maria-Suzette Fernandes-Dias
This article is about
a genius who existed in flesh and blood beyond the confines of the dungeons
of Chàteau d'If and beyond the pages of Dumas'
Count of Monte-Cristo.
In life, few understood him. In death, even fewer remember him. But his
legacy lives on ...
I dedicate this article to everyone who has, in some way, big or small, tried to save the Abbé and his legacy, from the threat of historical oblivion.
Surely, as children, this quirky genius imprisoned in the dungeons of the Château d’If and his stories of the hidden treasure must have fascinated all of us. In the foreword to Compagnons de Jéhu, Alexandre Dumas himself speaks about the cult of Abbé Faria that developed after Monte-Cristo was staged at Théâtre Historique and the novel, Le Comte de Monte Cristo was launched in 1844-45: “I have learnt that a guide attached to the Château d’If was selling pens made out of fish cartilage, claiming that they were manufactured by the Abbé Faria himself.” 
Long after, the Château d’If continued to be a local attraction and unsuspecting tourists visiting Marseille, were shown the dungeons of Dantès and Faria. Undoubtedly, Dumas’ literary talent metamorphosed several historical characters into legendary ones and inevitably, numerous legendary characters became historical. The legend of the treasure has overwhelmed the public imagination so profoundly that even today, occasional treasure hunters still feature among the privileged one thousand permitted to visit the remote and rocky Tuscan isle of Monte Cristo, Italy's most highly protected nature reserve since 1971, inhabited by families of goats, rabbits, rats and reptiles, as well as insects that buzz about between tufts of wild rosemary and erica bushes. And as further evidence that the allure of the novel and its enthralling nineteenth century characters will not wane despite the glaring popularity of Jedis, Ents, Wizards and Uruk-Hais, Disney’s 2002 remake of the film, The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Kevin Reynolds, procured an impressive 4/5 viewer rating as recorded by the BBC.
Winner of the 2003 Prix de Rome, artist Ryan Gander exhibited as part of his collection, An Incomplete History of Ideas, an installation entitled, Death is All Around Me – The Death of Abbé Faria. Literati probably recognised in Abbé Faria, one of the main characters from Dumas’ novel. However, to the curious visitor to his exhibition, Gander provided no further information about the mysterious Faria. In the Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam, Gander had built an enclosed space that reminded one of an office that had been emptied out. The view into this office was almost entirely blocked by cladding in front of the windows, and furthermore, the largest part of it was veiled in darkness. Through a slightly opened blind, one could see two more rooms in the distance that were indeed brightly lit, but these rooms too did not reveal much. In one, one could vaguely distinguish, through a half-opened door, part of a minimally decorative tiled wall. All one could decipher from the installation was that Abbé Faria was dead and that Gander has stripped him of the last remnant of his identity by devoting to him, such a completely anonymous space.
The Real Abbé Faria – who was he?
Gander’s work seems like a fitting tribute to the real Abbé Faria, my compatriot. The real Abbé Faria left behind no addresses. It is believed that he lies buried in an unmarked and unknown grave somewhere in Montmartre. One of his biographers, Portuguese Nobel laureate and eminent neurosurgeon, Dr. Egas Moniz, found in the records of the burials of the Parish of Saint Roch, this bleak entry: “On 21 September, 1819, burial no. 6 of Mr. Jose Custodio Faria, professor of Philosophy, died on 20 September at the age of 64 at Rue des Orties No. 4. Daniel Gelasio Dalgado who is considered to be the most authoritative of Abbé Faria’s biographers, narrates in his Mémoire sur la Vie de l’Abbé Faria: Explication de la charmante légende du Château d’If dans le roman, ‘Monte Cristo’, that he visited No. 7, Rue de Ponçeau, in Paris, the last known address of Abbé Faria. When he told the concierge that his illustrious compatriot lived in that house probably around 1792, she refused to believe that Abbé Faria had ever existed and insisted that he was a fictional character, the Mad Monk created by Dumas.
Jose Custodio Faria was born in Candolim, Goa on May 31, 1756, son of a seminarian, Caetano Vitorino de Faria and Rosa Maria de Souza, both native Goans. His parents’ marriage ended in a canonically decreed separation. The father then completed his priestly studies and the mother became a nun, joining St. Monica abbey in Old Goa, where she rose to the position of prioress. Faria had to live with the stigma of being the son of a priest and a nun – something that was considered a taboo in the 18th century Goan society. The father nursed great ambitions for himself and for his son and felt that the two of them would never be able to fulfil their potential in Goa.
In 1771, armed with a vast array of letters of recommendation to the Portuguese court and the papal nuncio, the duo set sail for Lisbon. In Lisbon, the Portuguese sovereign, Dom Jose I, sent Faria Sr. to Rome to earn his doctorate in theology and the son to pursue his studies for priesthood. In 1771, the father returned to Lisbon, now a Doctor of Theology. Eventually, in 1780, the son too earned a doctorate, dedicating his thesis to the Portuguese Queen, Dona Maria the Pious, and another study on the Holy Spirit to the Pope. Apparently, his Holiness was sufficiently impressed to invite Jose Custodio Faria to preach a sermon in the Sistine Chapel. On his return to Lisbon, the Queen invited the young priest to preach in the Royal Chapel. D.G. Dalgado recounts a rather amusing anecdote of what many consider, sowed the mustard seed of Abbé Faria’s interest in hypnotism.
According to Dalgado, the young Abbé Faria, on climbing the pulpit and on seeing the august congregation, felt tongue tied, confused and was about to leave, fearing ridicule. His father, who sat below the pulpit, whispered to him in Konkani, a Goan dialect: “Kator re bhaji” (“Those are just grass heads. Cut them”). Relieved by this exhortation, the son overcame his fear and continued his preaching fluently. It is believed that Faria Jr., from then on, wondered how a mere phrase from his father could alter his state of mind dramatically.
In Goa, a wave of discontent was brewing among the Goan priests and army personnel against the sidelining of natives in the fray for higher positions in the army and the clergy. This culminated in the “Conjuracao dos Pintos”, a conspiracy hatched by some Goan members of the clergy and the army to overthrow the Portuguese colonizers in 1787. The plot was unearthed and the connivers were severely punished and disbanded. Faria Sr was implicated in this failed putsch and lost favour in the Portuguese Court. Faria Sr was detained at the Convento dos Paulistas in Lisbon and faded into oblivion. According to Goan historian, Mario Cabral e Sa,. one of Faria Sr’s letters to Rama Custan Naik on 4th April 1799, requesting information about his property, indicates that he was in an agitated frame of mind. It is known that he died after a stay of some 11 years at the convent. A pauper’s funeral was given to him, without the benefit of a Mass being said, even though he was a priest.
Initiation to Hypnotism
In 1789, Faria Jr. (i.e. the Abbé Faria) left for Paris. Given his father’s alleged political involvement and anti-colonial sentiments, some biographers like Dr. Egas Moniz have speculated that Abbé Faria was sent to Paris by his father to meet the emissaries of Tipu Sultan to obtain help for the conspirators of 1787 who had been incarcerated by the Portuguese in Goa. However, other biographers refute this implication since no evidence exists to prove the Abbé’s involvement or interest in political affairs back home. After leaving Goa as a teenager, he maintained no correspondence with anyone back home, with the exception of a letter requesting a cousin in Goa to look after Catarina, an orphan who was his playmate during his troubled childhood and an oratory and some icons sent from Paris.
According to Dr. Mikhail Buyanov, President of the Moscow Psychotherapeutic Academy and author of A Man Ahead of His Times, a study of Abbé Faria in Russian for which Buyanov researched at Goa’s Central library, Abbé Faria’s alleged anticlerical activities that did not please the authorities and the son was imprisoned in the Bastille. He spent several months there. One of his guards was fond of playing draughts; however, each game only lasted a short time and had to be started again. Jose Custodio de Faria often played with this guard and to prolong the pleasure, he invented hundred square draughts. This was his first contribution to history.
In Oct. 1795, Abbé Faria led a battalion of revolutionaries against the French National Convention and met Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis de Puységur, a disciple of Mesmer, the charlatan who had enthralled the Parisian elite with his theories on magnetism and body fluids. Hypothesizing the existence of a physical magnetic fluid interconnecting every element of the universe, including human bodies, Mesmer argued that disease was the result of disequilibrium of this fluid within the body. Cure required the redirection of the fluid through the intervention of the physician who served as a kind of conduit by which animal magnetism could be channelled out of the universe at large and into the patient's body via "magnetic passes" of the physician's hands. In the process of treatment, patients experienced a magnetic "crisis," something akin to an electric shock or a convulsion, from which they recovered, cured. In imitation of electrical theory, Mesmer thought of magnetic fluid as polarized, conductible, and which could be accumulated and discharged. Indeed, ever the entrepreneur, he developed the baquet, a device for concentrating magnetic fluid in the manner of a Leyden jar. The baquet enabled him to treat as many as twenty patients at a time, each patient connected to the fluid through contact with an iron rod.
As in often the case with oral historical discourse and the passionate biographer’s quest for the particular, myths about the Abbé’s life have been perpetuated without being authenticated and new myths have been created, thus distorting the truth. No conclusive evidence proves that Abbé Faria was castigated for his involvement in the French Revolution. Dr. Buyanov claims that the Abbé was arrested in Marseille and sentenced by a law court to solitary confinement in the Château d’If, where he steadily trained himself using techniques of self-suggestion which helped him to retain a sound mind and memory. But according to Mario Cabral e Sa, facts do not corroborate this version. However, the Imperial Almanac of 1811 records that the Abbé lived in Marseille for a year and was elected a member of the medical society of that city. Obviously, the Abbé who had no medical qualifications had his skill as a magnetist equated with those of a conventional medical practitioner.
In Paris – Exit Mesmer, Enter Faria
In 1813, when Faria arrived in Paris, Mesmer had already fled and his Société de l’Harmonie had been disbanded. Le Marquis de Puységur had taken over from where Mesmer had left and discovered the "perfect crisis," a somnambulistic sleep state in which patients carried out the commands of the magnetizer and on waking up, exhibited no memory of having done so. Faria studied Puysegur’s theories and arrived at the conclusion that psychology was at the root of hypnotism. He maintained that for any hypnotic session to be successful, the rapport between the healer and the patient had to be first established. At a conference centre at 49 Rue de Clichy in Paris, Faria began conducting lessons in hypnotism, or somnambulism or “sommeil lucide” as he termed it, for a course fee of 5F. Dr. Egas Moniz points out how the nineteenth century French society was fascinated by India, the land of mystery, snake charmers and fakirs, and attributes part of Faria’s success to his ascetic figure, his bronze-coloured skin and the fact that he was Indian. At a time when titles and royal privileges were regarded in high esteem and brazenly flaunted, Faria, while teaching philosophy in Marseille, brandished a visiting card that listed among his titles, that he was a “Brahmin from India”.
Dumas denies the existence of the real Abbé Faria in his foreword to Campagnons de Jéhu by stating that the Abbé Faria from his novel, was a character created by his imagination. However, it is unlikely that Dumas who was himself very interested in somnambulism and organized séances to experiment hypnotism in his villa, did not know the real Faria. Châteaubriand, a staunch defender of Catholicism, speaks about him in 14th book of the second volume of his Mémoires d’Outre-tombe, in very derogatory terms: “The Abbé Faria, at a dinner at Mme de Custine’s house, boasted that he could kill a canary by magnetizing it: the canary proved to be the stronger of the two, and the Abbé, publicly shamed, was forced to leave, afraid of being killed by the canary: Christian, my mere presence had rendered the charlatan powerless.”
As a practitioner of hypnotism, which was still considered an occult and forbidden science, the Abbé attracted several ailing patients and the curious onlookers… and the wrath of the clergy. Nonetheless, the Abbé worked on the clear notion that he was using a science, never abusing it and that he need not build any safeguards against its possible misuse. Egas Moniz quotes the Abbé’s last recorded words: “There are evils which sometimes do good to those who know to discern their utility.”. According to Laurent Carrer, an US based French hypnotherapist who recently translated Abbé Faria’s opus magnus De la cause du sommeil lucide into English, Faria experimented with hypnosis on more than five thousand individuals, curing many of them. As for his contribution to science, Faria questioned Mesmer’s theory of magnetic fluid and declared that magnetic fits were not only unnecessary to healing, but potentially harmful to healing. His own approach was to keep his subjects in a state of calm, and he believed the magnetic fit to be “a state contrary to the normal development of nature.” He propounded the original view, though uncomfortably caught between Mesmerists, skeptics and religious opponents, that hypnotic phenomena were not the consequence of magnetism, trickery or satanic intervention, but the result of the expectancy and the cooperation of the patient. He also discovered the suggestive method of inducing and interrupting trance verbally and recognized the existence of individual differences in susceptibility to somnambulistic sleep (hypnosis). He observed and described numerous hypnotic phenomena, now well known, and gave them psychological explanations.
Faria’s method (in his jargon, he was “the concentrator” and the patient, “the concentrated”) consisted of a series of well reasoned and effective actions: he got the patient to sit comfortably and through concentration, relax and imagine that he or she was going to sleep. When he judged that the patient was sufficiently tranquil, he would give the command “sleep”, and if necessary, repeat it, with a certain degree of urgency, three or four times. Sometimes, he would ask the patient to gaze fixedly from a distance at his open palm. He would then gradually draw the palm closer to the patient, and by the time it was a few inches away, the patient would fall asleep. One of his followers, General Noizet of the Ecole de Nancy, recounts in his Memoria delivered in the Royal Academy of Berlin in 1829 and later published in 1854, that Abbé Faria had succeeded in being so specific in his suggestion techniques that he could, at a given command, paralyse a limb, eyes, a specific muscle and even the tongue of his patient. By the same method, he could restore to normalcy, the motor functions of the patients.
Faria’s power of suggestion was displayed in many other ways. He would ask his patients whether they would like a particular beverage or medicine and then give them instead, a glass of plain water that they would drink and savour as if it were the desired beverage or medicine. He could influence their sense of smell as well. The patient would, for instance, ask for snuff and the Abbé would give them some odourless powder that they would sniff as if it was snuff. On one occasion, Noizet recounts, the Abbé was approached by a Russian official living in Paris who wanted to “see” his wife whom he had left behind in Russia. The Abbé, through his methods of suggestion, “created the illusion” so effectively that the diplomat began to cry with joy.
It was not long before Faria’s sessions were the talk of the town and he became the victim of diatribes of skeptical journalists. Gazette de France in its issue dated 21st of Aug, 1813, carried a long article “Somnambulisme et l’Abbé Faria” written by L’Ermite de Chaussée d’Antin, the pseudonym of Etienne de Jouy, a satirist who wrote about the customs and practices of the Parisian society of his times. Jouy describes the scenes witnessed at the hypnotism sessions held at Rue Clichy and derides Faria as a foreign charlatan. The audience is described as “brilliant, numerous, comprising largely of young women. The large majority was well predisposed towards the new doctrine.” The journalist then recounts: “I sat next to Madame Maur and I could see through her attractive figure, the different changes caused by credulousness, trust and persuasion. Fr. Faria accompanied by five or six young ladies arrived at the corner reserved for him at the far end of the hall. His believers did not have any more prejudices than Desdemona.”
Even Le Moniteur Universel did not spare the Abbé from slander: “That Abbé is Satan’s hellhound. His countenance is frightening and extraordinary at the same time and compliments his magnetic stances.”. The article falsely accused the Abbé of having induced a pregnant woman to miscarry through his method.
Playwright Jules Vernet portrayed Faria as “Soporito”, the anti-hero of his vaudeville play, La Magnétismomanie which was a huge commercial success in Paris. Faria’s reputation did not survive the onslaught on his character and abilities. Denigrated by the press, jeered on stage, ridiculed by fellow magnétiseurs and threatened with ex-communication, he retired as a chaplain to an obscure religious establishment and set out to write a defence of his theory that hypnosis, or lucid sleep was caused by the force of suggestion appropriately applied. He published the first volume of his book, De la Cause du Sommeil Lucide in 1819 but died of a stroke before he could complete his opus.
It is only after his death that the schools of Nantes and Paris recognized the true worth of Faria’s theory and technique. French neurologists, Gilles de la Tourette and Albert Pitres known for their research on obsessions and impulsions, expounded Faria’s theories. According to Pitres, Faria was the first to describe first hand, the phenomenon of sensorial hallucination, referred to as “Braidism”. Jean Martin Charoot, well known French neurologist openly defended Faria’s theories and included them officially in the curriculum of medical studies. Dr. Bernheim, the most outstanding spokesman of the School of Nancy, is more emphatic: “The discovery of hypnotism does not belong to James Braid. Only the word belongs to him … it is Faria to whom without any doubt, goes the merit of being the first to establish the doctrine and the method of hypnotism through suggestion and of having rid it of doctrines, unique and useless, which until then, hid the truth. it was he who gave before anyone else, a clear and true notion of hypnotic phenomena.”
A century ago Dr. D. G. Dalgado, his biographer, wrote: "Abbé Faria is known inthe medical and scientific world, particularly in France, as having signalled the end of the era of animal magnetism and of magnetized trees and the beginning of the era of the lucid sleep or of hypnotism, which is a very interesting branch of knowledge of physiology and psycho-physiology, with practical applications, specially to therapeutics and paediatrics. His book, Of the Cause of Lucid Sleep, published in 1819, and to which he owes his reputation as a scientist, has been out of print for a long time. There are authors -- some of them authorities! -- who know about it only through a few quotations cited in other works. I am of the opinion that the reprinting of this book would generate a lot of interest among those who dedicate themselves to the study of hypnotism and whose number is increasing every day."
Dr. Dalgado himself reprinted the book in 1906, on Faria's 150th birth anniversary, in the original French and published it along with his own biography and assessment of the man, also in French. These, too, went out of print and have remained so. Several modern researchers have looked into the scarcely available copies of the original French text in an attempt to extract its quintessence, only to find themselves recoiling in terror - tackling 18th century language and concepts expressed awkwardly by a non-French native, is indeed not a feasible challenge for the faint of heart. But US based French hypnotherapist and veteran translator, Laurent Carrer took up the gauntlet and delivered in 2004, a masterful annotated translation more legible than its original.
In Goa, Faria’s motherland, in the capital city of Panaji, in a park facing the river, is the life sized bronze statue of a cloaked man gesticulating above a reclining female beauty. Designed and executed by Ramchandra Pandurang Kamat, the first ever Indian to be awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, it was erected in 1945 by Alto Comercio, a group of citizens from Panjim to honour the memory of an illustrious son of Goa who had made a significant contribution to the study of the mind in the nineteenth century. At the base of the statue, is the following inscription: “Jose Custodio, Abbe Faria, fundador do metodo de hipnose pela sugestao” (founder of the method of hypnotism by suggestion). Novelist Evelyn Waugh graphically described the tableau as a “wildly vivacious statue of Abbé Faria, a Goan mesmerist of the Napoleanic era, caught here in hot bronze at the climax of an experiment, rampant over an entranced female.” However, in post-liberation Goa, few people know much about the man, and when a move was made to include a photo of the sculpture in a government brochure, an official protested that this was unacceptable since Faria was Portuguese!
31st of May 2006 marks the 250th birth anniversary of Abbé Faria. Several prominent Goans have been striving to draw public attention to his life and achievements and build a permanent memorial to him. A website http://www.abbefaria.com/index.htm has been created and a petition has been lodged before the Indian government to issue a postal stamp to commemorate the Abbé’s 250th birth anniversary. From as early as April 1985, appeals have been made to the government (unfortunately, without any success) to convert the Abbé’s ancestral home into a national monument, a museum or a place of learning and culture instead of the orphanage that it is at present. Well-known Goan academic and playwright, Prof Isabel Santa Rita Vas has produced a play about the life and times of Abbé Faria and a documentary entitled In Search of Abbe Faria. Abbe Faria's sermon on the Advent of the Holy Spirit, delivered in Latin in the Sistine Chapel at the invitation of and in the presence of His Holiness, Pope Pius VI, has been translated into English by Fr. Ivo Souza, Professor at the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, Goa.
On the international plane too, there has been a revival of interest in the life and the work of Abbé Faria. In 2004 US based French hypnotherapist and veteran translator, Laurent Carrer translated the Abbé's opus De la cause du sommeil lucide into English and in July 2005, French publishing house, Harmattan, published De la cause du Sommeil Lucide with an introduction by Prof Serge Nicolas, leading French psychologist. Revue La France Pittoresque carried an article on the Abbé Faria in its 16th issue (Oct/Nov/Dec 2005) http://www.magazine-histoire.com/numeros/256b.htm. The postal department of a European nation (details confidential at the moment) will be issuing a commemorative post card in honour of the Abbé. One of my compatriots, Luis Santa Rita Vas brought to my attention, Abbe Faria: The Master Hypnotist Who Charmed Napoleon, a biography by Diogo Mesana Fernandes which speaks about Faria’s work on clairvoyance and explores his close association with Napoleon.
In his life time in Paris, the real Abbé Faria inspired fascination, scandal and trivia and paid a heavy price for the honesty of his convictions and the validity of his scientific theories. In death, the fictional Abbé has displaced and outlived the real one, as is often the case with cults engendered by literary works. But the real Abbé Faria’s legacy lives on …. Hypnotism or suggestion is extensively used in psychotherapy. It has been so widely accepted as to be seen almost as a truism that the mind responds powerfully to effective suggestion. Today’s popular techniques like the use of positive thinking, the methods of creative visualisation and the awareness of the depths of the mind, are considered to be offshoots of Faria’s seminal work.
As Dr. Buyanov, Moscow Psychotherapeutic Academician put it very aptly: "[Faria was] great, because he had no fear and fought for truth rather than for his place at the vanity fair. Abbé Faria's mystery does not lie in the circumstances of his life that are unknown to historians and lost forever (a detail more oe a detail less, is unimportant); his mystery lies in his talent, courage, and quest for truth. His mystery was the mystery of someone who was ahead of his time and how blazed a trail for descendants due to his sacrifice." 
 "Un Mot au lecteur" in Compagnons de Jéhu
 In 2005, there was much debate among Goan intellectuals about whether the Abbé Faria was indeed invited by the Pope to deliver the above mentioned sermon.
 Cabral e Sa, Mario: Great Goans, Vol. 1, Kirloskar Press, Pune, p. 21
 Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) was ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, in India from 1782, and one of the primary native sources of resistance to the establishment of British rule in India. He worked to check British advances through alliances with local rulers and with France which had been a rising European power in India. An interesting aspect of Tipu's life was that he was a founder-member of the Jacobin Club.
 Cabral e Sa, Mario: Great Goans, Vol. 1, Kirloskar Press, Pune, p. 21
 as noted by Paxeco Oscar in “Sant’elmo, Ruy, O Padre Faria e a sua Apoteose” in Boletim Ecclesiastico da Arquidiocese de Goa, p. 91-96
 As illustrated by J.A. Gentil in Initiation aux mystères de la théorie et de la pratique du magnétisme animal, suivi d’expériences faites à Monte-Cristo chez Alexandre Dumas, Paris, 1849.
 Châteaubriand: Mémoires d’Outre-tombe, Bibl. De la Pléiade, 1951, t. I, p. 474
 Moniz, Egas: O Padre Faria na historia do hipnotisme, Lisbon, 1925, p. 2
 cited by Louis Pauwels in « Le véritable Abbé Faria, grand magnétiseur », Historia, juin 1980, no. 403 p 73
 Paxeco, Oscar: ibid, p. 61
 Dalgado, D.G.: Foreword to Mémoire sur la vie de l’Abbé Faria, Henri Jouve, Paris, 1906
 Dom Martin in leading Goan newspaper, OHeraldo, dated April 21, 1985.
 For details about Mesana Fernandes’ book, look up
 Buyanov, Mikhail. A Man Ahead of His Times. Mir Publishers, Moscow, 1989.