THE REVOLUTIONARY ABBOT
Dr. Mikhail Buyanov
A good word can cure a person, while an evil word can make a person sick. A word can send a thousand of soldiers into battle while another word can make millions stoop in mourning.
Psychotherapy includes over seventy treatment techniques one of them being hypnosis, which is a special kind of remedial suggestion. The first 100 – 125 years of psychotherapy is in fact, the history of hypnosis because hypnosis was a synonym for psychotherapy for many years.
The place of Abbot Faria in the system of psychotherapeutic knowledge was defined by Kannabikh in his classic History of Psychiatry (Moscow, 1929, in Russian). Mesmer 1734-1815) who was born in Vienna presented his theory of ‘animal magnetism’ in Paris in about 1780. According to the theory, the body of the magnetizer emanates a special fluid that is transmitted by the passing of hands across the face or a slight touch to the body of the patient and brings a curative effect. Mesmer’s pupil, Puysegur (1751-1825) observed the phenomenon of somnambulism induced in some people by the ‘magnetic passes’. The next step was the observation by the Portuguese (sic) scholar Faria that if he looked intently at a person for several minutes while repeatedly ordering him to sleep this will induce a state of somnambulism. This technique was presented in a book by Faria in 1819.”
Reliable data on the real Abbot de Faria are occasional and contradictory. There are more myths and conjectures about him than exact information. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to separate the truth from fantasy. A collection of the grains of trustworthy data yields the following biography of the Abbot.
He was born in 1756 near Panaji, now the principal city of the Indian state of Goa. Caetano de Faria, his father, was a descendant of an Indian Brahmin who was converted to Roman Catholicism. The son was Christened José Custodio. When he was 15 years old his father took him to Lisbon where they spent several months before going to Italy. J. C. de Faria enrolled at the Theological department and became a Doctor of Theology in 1780.
Having completed their education father and son returned to Portugal. The Father became confessor to the King and the Queen and the son was made a priest in the royal Chapel. They fled from Lisbon to Paris in 1788 having supposedly been involved in a plot to separate Goa from Portugal.
In Paris, they both pursued clerical activities but they did not please the authorities and the son was imprisoned in the Bastille. He spent several months there. One of his guard was fond of playing draughts; however, each game 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 the 100-square draughts. This was his first contribution to history.
On July 14 1789, Parisian rebels occupied the Bastille. Whether or not Faria was imprisoned there at the time is unknown. One thing is clear: he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution and headed a detachment of sansculottes. He seems to have devoted himself entirely to his political activities. Having exchanged the cross for the sword he fought on the side of the Revolutionary troops and became famous as a victorious commander.
However, there were negative aspects to the policy pursued by some of the leaders of the revolution. Terror became absolute and a universal suspicion was cultivated: every foreigner was suspected of being an enemy of the revolution. The fact that Faria was not French was clear to anyone who saw his dark complexion, Indian appearance and heard his guttural speech. To save himself from the Terror the Abbot de Faria fled to the South of France. He is said to have become a member of a Medical Society in Marseilles, to have been a Professor at the Marseilles Academy and to have taught in a local high school. Faria, who was working as an assistant teacher at a High School in Nimes was also arrested. He was taken to Marseilles in a barred police carriage and sent to the Chateau d’If by a Law Court. He was shut up in solitary confinement in Chateau d’If thus doomed to a lingering and agonizing death.
Then aged 40, Faria could have expected to spend the rest of his life in captivity until either he died or went mad. However circumstances intervened but to explain them, we must go back in time before the 1789-1794 French Revolution.
A short while before the Bastille was stormed, Franz Anton Mesmer appeared in Paris. He was a tall handsome man who was rumored to be a magician. Mesmer accomplished miracles: he could induce local anesthesia in the skin and tissues of a person or convince a person of being at the sea shore or on an ice-field, so much so that the person would suddenly feel cold or hear the lapping of waves. Although Mesmer was considered to be a black magician and an emissary of the devil, he was only an honest intelligent and inquisitive man, who sincerely tried to reach the truth. A son of his time, he fell into the mistakes and errors of many of his contemporaries, but he discovered phenomena that even now, two centuries later are as incomprehensible as they were in the late eighteenth century.
No one used the term “hypnosis” prior to 1843; the term was invented by the Manchester physician James Braid. Hypnotherapists such as Mesmer, Puysegur and the Abbot de Faria were called magnetizers.
While in Paris, the Abbot de Faria became an ardent follower of Mesmer and continued his work. Faria met Puysegur and began experiments with him on what is now called hypnology. However, Faria never forgot that his ancestors came from India . He met yogis and studied their teachings. Naturally, he could not explain the unusual things yogis could demonstrate, but he understood that a great role (if not the principal one) was played in yoga by self-suggestion. Having lived in Goa, José Custodio de Faria had tried the yoga techniques on himself. When he moved to Paris he tried to combine yogism and Mesmer’s teaching.
While imprisoned in Chateau d’If, Custódio de Faria steadily trained using the techniques of self-suggestion. It appears that this helped him retain sound mind and memory.
Everything comes to an end sooner or later. Custodio de Faria was finally freed after 17 years in Chateau d’If. A tall grey bearded old man with a dark complexion and large brown eyes, appeared in Paris one day. He was the long forgotten Abbot de Faria. A new period in his life had begun and this period made him famous.
Although the “Bronze Abbot”, as de Faria was nicknamed in Paris, used therapeutic magnetism for only three or four years, these were the most fruitful years of his life. The Abbot de Faria passed away in 1819, but before he died he succeeded in publishing On The Cause of Lucid Sleep or A Study Of the Human Nature by the Abbot de Faria, Brahmin, Doctor of Theology and Philosophy, Member of the medical society of Marseilles, and Ex-professor of Philosophy at the University of France, Paris, 1819. He dedicated the book to the Marquis de Puysegur who had been his teacher.
I shall not discuss José Custodio de Faria’s views on the nature of hypnosis (or magnetism as it was known at the time) in detail. Let me only note that de Faria was ahead of his time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he based his argument on the fact that somnambulism and the other phenomena of hypnotism were underlain by human suggestibility. Everyone is suggestible: some to a greater extent, some to a lesser extent. No one can be hypnotized without suggestion.
This had been presented in Faria’s book but nobody paid any attention to his conclusions. Nor had anyone taken note of what de Faria had noticed, namely, that there is nothing supernatural in the ability to carry out suggestions and that both the hypnotizer and the hypnotized subject are important. If the person who comes for suggestion believes in the hypnotherapist and expects a successful session then it will be a success. But if the person is suspicious, ill-disposed, believes in nobody and accuses the hypnotherapist of trickery or deception then he will not derive any benefit from suggestion. This is why it is very difficult to treat such individuals.
Custodio de Faria was the first to write about all this, bur few people read his book while he still lived, and few thought about the phenomena he demonstrated. A ”distance” of time was required before we could appreciate this extraordinary man. At the dawn of psychotherapy, he had achieved an insight into what scientists could only see a 100 years later. Jose Custodio de Faria demonstrated hypnosis at 49, Rue de Clichy in Paris. He held sessions with men women, children, adolescents, and domestic animals including birds. In the main he used two kinds of suggestions: he would either look unblinkingly into the eyes of a sitting or lying subject and several times repeat: “Sleep”, and the subject would go to sleep; or he would suddenly approach a subject and say sleep in an imperious tone, and the subject would go to sleep instantly. These are called the de Faria techniques and mentioned in all textbooks on psychotherapy and they are broadly used by psychotherapists today. I suppose that the Abbot de Faria realized that the psychotherapists’ “bread” was bitter. In addition to the envy, jealousy, and interference one has to put up with when one does better than one’s colleagues he was accused in indulging in black magic, and witch doctoring. The usual reasoning is: “explain what you are doing. Why can you do it and someone else cannot, even though he is more educated and occupying a higher post than you.”
What can one say? Should we ask why Enrico Caruso could sing so well while legions of generals, professors and statesmen could never sing as he did, if they could at all. Should William Shakespeare have been asked how he managed to write Romeo and Juliet while no playwright either before or after him had been able to write anything like it?
To answer these questions is as impossible as to say why people sing of lost love but never of lost jobs or money. Even to try to answer all the related questions requires immense knowledge, but some day, humanity will find out. As matters stand now, however, the data are too scarce, and therefore we should not jump to hasty conclusions. Regrettably, people are rarely tolerant of the opinions of others. When Custodio de Faria lived and worked, and now-a-days as well, people were very intolerant.
As soon as the address at the Rue de Clichy in Paris became known and thousands of inquisitive people rushed there (the entrance payment was symbolical, a mere Fr.5) the Faria’s adversaries fell upon him. Most of his adversaries were clergy, but there were also scientists.
The fury of the clergy and scientists, who saw the devil incarnate in Custodio de Faria, were so tempestuous that the Abbot, whose health had already been impaired and whose life hung by a thread faced a dilemma: either to continue his activity and perish or go underground and write a book on suggestion. Harassed by his destiny he chose the latter. Who can rebuke him? Who can cast a stone at Galileo Galilei who was forced to recant?
Custodio de Faria confessed his “sins” and was given a tiny parish. He led the life of a humble shepherd. However, the guise of old priest concealed a fiery soul an ardent intellect, and a conscience seeking for an answer. Clandestinely, Jose Custodio de Faria was writing his book.
De Faria passed away but his book is here to stay. Thousands of psychotherapists in every country and continent know his name. A monument to the Abbot has been erected in Panaji; a priest is bending over a woman, he is going to tell her: “Sleep”, and the woman will go to sleep, and when she wakes up she will be healthy and happy. The Abbot’s destiny after 1819 is unknown. He was over his humiliation and persecution. He was over prisons and Chateau d’If. He was over his trials and tribulations. He was envied and misunderstood. In a word he was over what had been the destiny of a great person. Great because he had no fear and fought for truth rather than for his place at the vanity fair.
The Abbot de Faria’s mystery does not lie in the circumstances of his life that are unknown to historians and lost forever (a detail more or a detail less is unimportant);
His mystery lies in his talent, courage, and quest for truth. His mystery is the mystery of a genius whowas persecuted, oppressed, and tormented while he lived and made a banner, or a symbol after his death. His mystery was the mystery of someone who was ahead of his time and blazed a trail for his descendents due to his sacrifice.
Artwork: Dom Martin
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