Distant History

Another concept upon which contemporary theories have split from traditional state theories is the emphasis they place on the relevancy of the distant history of hypnosis. The traditional perspectives argue that hypnosis conceptualized as state theories makes itself evident in historical events.

These traditional historians of hypnosis endorse the notion that hypnosis conceived as a passive state manifests itself during earlier historical periods. They cite that ignorance has prevented these historical events from being recognized as hypnosis until modern times. However, without an acknowledgment and realization of the complicated social and historical cues that surround their cited history, cognitive-behavioral hypnotic theorists contend that direct connections used as historical origins of state theories of hypnosis are not warranted (Spanos & Chaves, 1991).

Traditional theorists trace the most distant origin of hypnosis to Asclepian temple dream healings. In the 4th century AD, Greco-Roman healing temples dedicated to the god Asclepos were common and played a central role in cultural and religious life. Traditional historians cite origins of suggestibility in these healings. While the patients waited for the appearance of Asclepos in a dream, priests made the patients more susceptible to hypnosis through relaxing activities and chanting (Spanos & Chaves, 1991).

The cognitive-behavioral perspective claims that traditional theorists fail to acknowledge that Asclepian dream healing accounts are based solely on secondary sources. However, traditional state theories contend that temple healing is an ancestor to modern conceptions of hypnosis (specifically, traditional conceptions) because, when separated from historical and social context, Asclepian temple healing resembles modern hypnotic practice. Specifically, they cite that Asclepian priests are, as modern hypnotists, authority figures. Furthermore, the dream healings are associated with psychological healing as are modern clinical hypnotic procedures. Finally, both, according to the traditional hypnotic perspectives, occur in a state of relaxation. Based on these similarities, the traditional theorists assume that Asclepian healings must have involved hypnosis and offer this history as evidence of state theories of hypnosis (Spanos & Chaves, 1991).

Traditional theorists also cite New Testament healings as demonstrations of modern hypnosis. However, the assumptions made by historians of hypnosis that New Testament stories can be associated with hypnosis is highly scrutinized by the cognitive-behavioral hypnotic perspective (Wagstaff, 1998). According to the cognitive-behavioral perspective, traditional theorists have first assumed that the notion of an altered state is present in New Testament healing, then, have re-interpreted these descriptions of healing to prove evidence of hypnosis on the basis of similarities (Spanos & Chaves, 1991).

Furthermore, without considering the social and historical context in which the New Testament stories were written, these stories cannot be understood. In other words, most Biblical historians cite these stories as mythohistory. These stories are fables that illustrate stories in the form of a historical narrative for the purpose of conveying religious messages. Moreover, many of the healings described in the New Testament may have been derived directly from local custom or tradition (Spanos & Chaves, 1991). Thus, without examining the historical and social context within the supposed historical ties to hypnotism exist, the cognitive-behavioral perspective maintains that the cited historical origins cannot be considered distant origins of the state theory.

Cognitive-behavioral perspectives claim that they do not attempt to split social and cultural roots from this modern perspective of hypnosis (Lynn et al, 1989). However, they also do not attempt to reject the hypnotic ties to Asclepian or New Testament healing. The cognitive-behavioral approach asserts that they reject the notion that historical ties have been discovered and can now be used as origins of modern conceptions of state theories of hypnosis. Instead, this approach recognizes the traditional historical view and suggests that these ties provide the groundwork from which the roles of the subject and hypnotist have emerged (Lynn et al, 1989).

This perspective contends that the social roles of historical characters have acted as social templates and have influenced the ever-transforming structure of the modern conception of hypnosis. For example, the cognitive-behavioral perspective suggests that the concept of social interaction has evolved out of and were patterned after the social roles of magnetizer and magnetized patient present in the theory of Mesmerism (Spanos & Gottleib, 1979).

Rather than recognizing distant history as direct antecedents to modern hypnotic conceptions, cognitive-behaviorists, in contrast to traditional state theorists, believe that ancient notions of possession and religious healing have created the groundwork from which hypnotic subject and hypnotist have emerged. As a reaction to the state theorist’s treatment of distant history, the cognitive-behavioral perspective maintains that the history of hypnosis is culturally relativistic. It cannot be conventionally conducted and thus hypnotic cognitive-behaviorists uphold that the traditional historical roots that attempt to verify specific hypnotic perspectives should be not be considered complete precursors to a modern understanding of hypnosis (Spanos & Chaves, 1991).