On Being Hypnotised

Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by Hypnosis. As a teenager, I sent away for several mail order books on the subject, read them cover-to-cover, then impressed my friends with ill-advised exhibitions of suggestion. Hands were inexplicably locked together, pendulums were swung, maidens swooned… it was fun.

So when I got the opportunity to be ‘stage hypnotised’, I was excited and jumped at the chance.

Before we get too far into it, I was a little reluctant to write this post because Dear Debbie as Wisdom Hypnosis is a good friend-in blogging and I worried a bit that I might be belittling the profession at which she excels by prattling on about my stupid stage-hypnosis experiences. Then, last week, Debbie posted positively (she always posts positively) about her own recent experiences on stage as a subject so I felt silly for worrying – I should have known better…

During my second year of college in Dublin – I was seventeen - a well-renowned Stage hypnotist began a run in the famous Olympia Theatre. Being dead poor, we couldn’t afford to go but everyone who got hypnotised on stage got free tickets to come back and see the show another night so we acquired some of these free tickets on a promise that we would do our level best to get ourselves entranced, score some further free tickets and then give them back.

My pal Feargal and I were committed to volunteering ourselves while Damian and Bernard were intent on watching the show. Bernard was a worry because he needed some ammunition on me and anything stupid I did would doubtless be thrown back at me in multiples in the weeks to come.

Fergal and I managed to get ourselves on stage with a bunch of other audience members. We both must have done well in the suggestibility tests because we somehow stayed on while other less apt pupils were sent back to their seats. Finally there was fifteen of us left. We were provided with low lights, atmospheric music and gentle suggestions until finally we were deemed ‘ready to play’.

The hypnotist (I won’t name him – he’s passed away since but he was really very good) had lots of fun with us. He made us act out being chickens, I was encouraged to milk a cow (and it didn’t look like any cow-milking the audience had ever seen, I am told), I was also told I was a secret agent and that I would be shot and, when I died, the hypnotised ladies would run to my side and minister to my dying needs – which, at seventeen, would have remained strikingly similar to my not-dying-needs. Unfortunately, I took far too long to die and, by the time I finally hit the floor, all the ladies had gone to minister to the good looking bloke over at stage right… so I died alone.

The little knowledge I had of hypnosis meant that I went into this experience with great comfort – I believed that I could not be made to do anything I was not comfortable doing and this was proved for me when the hypnotist suggested at one point that we take all our clothes off. The stage was quite cold and I hadn’t a notion of standing around in my ‘smalls’ for ten minutes while Bernard took mental pictures. As a result, I had only managed to get my sweater off by the time Feargal and most of the others was gleefully down to little more than their socks.

The funniest moment was when we were all told to be ‘fearsome monsters’. Feargal and I pranced around being generally terrifying and we were in full swing when the order came to ‘Freeze’. I froze facing Feargal and could clearly see that he had stalled in a most unfortunate position. His mouth was fully agape and his head was tilted forward, a spotlight gleaming on his terrifying face. The hypnotist set off on some kind of history of mesmerism while we remained frozen. Slowly, terrifyingly, a long string of drool started to roll its way from Feargal’s fearsome jaws down to the stage. He knew it, I certainly knew it and the audience came to know it. I found it hard not to laugh but I was, after all, frozen.

All through my evening on stage I was asked to do things I wouldn’t normally do and I did them and I enjoyed it. But was I hypnotised? Well, yes, I believe I was. Yet the majority of people who left the stage that night were sure that they had not been hypnotised, not even a little bit. They felt that they had simply ‘gone along with the show’ for the fun of it. I think this signals a key misunderstanding about hypnotism. Old movies and stories would have us believe that a hypnotist can have their subject in thrall to such an extent that every command is an imperative which simply must be obeyed. This is not the case. I see hypnotism as more of an ‘enabling’ process than a ‘commanding’ process. That’s how it worked for me that night anyway. Whenever I was asked to do something, it wasn’t like ‘I_MUST_OBEY…’ it was much more like, “Hey, that sounds like fun!”.

But, you might well ask, if that’s the case, what makes me feel that I was hypnotised at all? All I really managed to do was milk an invisible cow and remove my jumper seductively.

Well, no, not quite… I did two things that night that I don’t believe I could ever do under normal circumstances.

The first simply related to the stance which the hypnotist required us to take when we were told to ‘relax’. He would touch our heads and we would tip at the waist, head down, legs straight with our arms almost touching the ground – and we would fall into this position with great ease whenever required. Here’s the thing; when the interval came, we were put into this ‘relax’ position and - get this - we were left there on stage for the duration of the interval. I couldn’t hold that position for more than a minute in normal circumstances but it was no problem to me that night.

The second was my big moment of the night. I have no doubt that the hypnotist set me up for this because he saw me for what I was – a positive ‘open’ subject. He called a little girl onto the stage and told her she would be the hypnotist for the next few minutes. She would go around all fifteen of us in turn, touch the back of our heads and tell us to relax and we would ‘relax’ into that flopped-over position.

I was the last of the fifteen. I watched the little girl move along the back of the line, watched each subject tilt over as she touched them, saw the delight on her face… and I said to myself, ‘there is no way I am not going to relax when she tells me, no way in the world…”

There was only three of us left. The hypnotist said to the little girl, ‘let’s do the last three really quickly relax relax relax.” And so she did, relax, relax… and that’s all I know. Apparently, when she touched my head, I fell forward and collapsed full-length, face-first onto the stage. I was left there for a while and then brought up again, safe and sound. I honestly have never had any memory of the period between just before she touched me and the time I was woken up.

I think this illustrates a point. The more open to positive suggestion you are, the more they can touch you and move you and reach you. That’s what I took away from it anyway.

Finally we were left with the mandatory post hypnotic suggestion. What good stage hypnotist will not leave his willing subject with a key word or action which will trigger some amusing reaction in them after the show seems to be over? We were told to go back to our seats and know nothing of what was to come but when he clapped his hands a little green man (a Leprechaun, I hesitate to say) will jump up from under our seats, we will chase him, capture him and bring him home with us to stay.

I was sitting beside Bernard and I could tell that this ‘Leprechaun’ would be his crowning moment. If I did this, I would never win a verbal battle again. Waves of poorly-suppressed glee were rising off him like steam off a racehorse.

The command was given and I chased my little green man, caught him and then took the opportunity to show him to some of the more attractive members of the audience. After that, I took him over to meet Bernard.

“Wanna see my little green man?”

“Yes please.”

I extended my palm.

“There he is.”


“Isn’t he? Tickle him under the chin.”


“Tickle him, under the chin, he likes that.

Bernard extended his finger and tickled the air six inches above my palm.

I put my other palm out – 12 inches above the first one.

“No Bernard, he’s ‘that’ tall.”

Then Bernard knew that there was no little green man in my hand – and that I, and the rest of my subjects knew that there was no little green men in our hands.

And then Bernard went away.


Anonymous said...

Now that is a sight I would love to see. Ken hypnotised and carrying out various hilarious tasks. I think you were silly for worrying too, this was a great and fun read :) Thanks for brightening up my humpless hump-day!

Susan at Stony River said...

Oh, loved it! I must admit I've always wondered about these shows: the flyers are a class act in themselves. Thanks for the enlightenment, and the laughs!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I wonder how it works. In my childhood I did not believe in hypnotism, but once my own friend chose to stand as a stage subject and it worked on him. I just wonder!

Debbie said...

Oh Ken, what a wonderful story, told as only you can!

Highly suggestible does not denote gullible. You proved that, as you went along with the fun, yet drew the line at becoming stupid.

You have a lifetime of free tickets and all the sessions you could ever want from me!

Anonymous said...

That's actually pretty enlightening - I'd always kind of wondered what was going through the minds of folks who are "hypnotized". It's nice to know there is some element of "playing along", and that they're not all completely insane.

Jena Isle said...

Hi Ken,

I find hypnosis an intriguing topic too but I'm a skeptic when it comes to this. One topic that I found mesmerizing too is the notion of mental telepathy, deja vu and out of body travels. I have an open mind though (in spite of being a skeptic) because there were several times in the past that I had come face to face to truth that were stranger than fiction.

I agree with you that to be vulnerable to hypnosis , you should have an open mind. But did you know that I did not believe in something back in the far-flung barrio where I cam from (quack doctors) and yet I was cured?

There are strange things that happen around us that are sometimes hard to explain.

This post had clarified some questions in my mind about hypnosis. Cheers.

Bobby Revell said...

I have been into self-hypnosis/meditation for decades and also had the chance to be hypnotized on stage by Anthony Cools in the Grand Casino where I work--ending up having oral sex with my female chair before the eyes of 20 coworkers.

After the show, while talking to him (he's a somewhat friend of mine as he lived in the Casino hotel) he hypnotized me again out in the bar while having a beer--tunnel vision and hallucinations--and I said, "Hey...what are you doing to me?"
"Proving this is the real deal."
Anyway, the guy is good...really good. I have it on video, but somethings are better kept private:)

Anonymous said...

This was great, this was my giggle of the week. Well told Ken.

hope said...

I was Chairman of Entertainment one year when I was in college. [The hard part was working in an office denoted as "Student Affairs" where at least one witty guy a week stuck his head in the door and asked where to sign up for an affair].

We had a hypnotist named James J. Mapes. He was fascinating to talk to and told me that people who are creative [gee, ring any bells?] are the easiest to work with because we can "follow the invisible line" of instructions where most people have a "show me where it is" philosophy.

No, I didn't play along. I was very shy and Mapes told me that although on one hand I'd make an excellent subject, I was too "against" the whole idea of someone else having any control over me. Fighting the process isn't very entertaining. :)

He did however do an exercise where he asked 10 questions and we had to write down our answers. Later he was surprised that my best friend and I had answered 9 the same way. I told him it was because we thought alike. He said the odds of that were larger than I realized...plus we'd picked answers which weren't "typical"... he admitted the questions elicited a typical response.

However it was fun to see one of my buddies regressed to pre-school age and push the "kid" next to him while they were writing their names on a chalkboard. The "younger" Mapes made them, the lower they wrote on the board until they were on their knees.

Thanks for bringing back such a fun memory and for sharing your bravery.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

LMAO....tickling the little green man at half his height, you know where THAT places the tickling finger anatomically. Ken, you are one sick puppy.

Ken Armstrong said...

Reggie: Sorry about the 'humpless hump' day - at least you're not a camel. Plus I did *not* do anything hilarious - I was grace personified at all time... well except at miling the cow - I'm a town-boy, I know nothing of cows breasts! Apparently I looked like someone who had had a 'humpless hump' day of my own! :)

Susan: The shows are *way* more fun to do than to watch, that;s what I think anyway.

Darshan: I am pointedly not a believer in anything proporting to be paranormal but I see Hypnotism as a perfectly normal tool towards improvement and self-improvement. I suppose, stage hypnotism can tend to exacerbate the 'whoooo-factor' but that's forgivable when so much fun is being had. :)

Debbie: Thanks, we wouldn't be here without you! :) I know I am highly-suggestible and I am really proud of the fact, I see that you are too, that's *very* telling, I think!

Psycho: Interesting comment which allows me to clarify a little. I think all the subjects, that night, felt to some extent that they were only 'playing along' but i think that's the feeling hypnosis will leave you with when you don't actually start walking around with your arms outstretched and start involuntarily strangling people.

Jena: I am not as good as you - I have a long-closed mind when it comes to most paranormal claims. This often surprises people as I do tend to use this subject as material for my stories (sometimes). Faith healing is an interesting one - I don't think it's mystical but I do think it you have sufficient faith, you can actually find yourself healed. Positivity, I feel, must hold the key to it all...

Bobby: Wow! Is a 'female chair', like, a piece of furniture? Methinks not! We venture out of our customary PG13 so I'll move on... thanks for commenting though. I wonder... no, no let's not... :)

Lyndi: I like when ladies giggle at me... mostly! :)

Hope: Yes it's us brilliant ones who are good at being hypnotised! :) Thanks.

Matt: You got it dude! No foolin' you. That little green fella was a babe-magnet too! It's not often ones gets to say that. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

This is off topic , but since I had a similar comment for Jim , then I would like to add this in your comment too. I've read your interesting movie reviews and I admire how you evaluate the negative and positive aspects of a movie. I've watched recently critically acclaimed movie "The Slumdog Millionare" and I found it something new for me. I enjoyed the movie. Now, curious as a cat I am, I'm interested to know what you would think of it.

If I committed a faux pas, forgive me. I just can't contain this cat in me..lol..thanks.

Anonymous said...

As usual, I find that we share an interest. Hypnosis is fascinating, but I generally find that I'm not susceptible because I just don't really believe it. I'm willing, and want to believe, but I just don't.

Stage hypnotists are a rare breed, though. I've seen a couple of them perform their routines, and generally am left with more disbelief than I started with.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Jen: No faux pas at all! You once kindly compared this place to a bar where friends come and chat and I like that so come and chat anytime.

I haven't seen 'SD' yet but it's top of my list next to 'The Wrestler'.

I've followed the writer's career since 1993 when he won a competition I was involved in with a good radio play called 'Saddam's Arms'. He also wrote, and is possibly best known for the movie The Full Monty.

So I anxiously await seeing this one. I will probably post on it then. I wouldn't be surprised if the story hold resonances in your own writing.

Do a review, I'll read it.

Jim Murdoch said...

Hypnosis is something that makes me very uncomfortable. I don't even like to watch it on TV. I'm sure I would be a very poor subject. I suspect my fear stems from the same reason I have never taken mind altering drugs outwith prescription - the fear that by mucking around with my brain I lose my ability to write. I wonder what -phobia that would be?

Reese said...

My mom is a true skeptic when it comes to hypnosis. As a last resort, she went to a group hypnosis session to quit smoking. She came out of the session thinking it was a complete waste of time. She said she was never "under". She was aware of every little noise in the room, from the guy coughing next to her to the airconditioning kickin on. Not sure if she was under hypnosis or not. I do know that she never smoked another cigarette!

Debbie said...


For those who have commented on a fear (concern) of hypnosis.

All hypnosis is self hypnosis, you experience it everyday of your life. Anytime you access theta brain waves. (Going to sleep, waking up, reading, driving, etc)

You are in control, you cannot get stuck there. It is not sleep, not mind control (or my kids would clean their rooms) and not truth serum (or I'd know more about why they missed curfew).

The brighter you are, the more creative a problem solver, the better the subject. It is so easy, you can do it with your eyes closed.

Sorry Ken, don't mean to take up your blog space, I just want folks to understand you did something fun, natural and safe. No one can cause you to harm yourself and if I thought they could/would, I'd be the first to step in as you are a very dear man.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim: Your comment makes me wish you'd write a post on the following subject; 'The Time I Took Mind-Altering Drugs with a Prescription." To each his own eh?

Reese: I think you said more in your 90 words than I did in the whole post. Great! :)

Debbie: I don't look at it as 'taking up my blog space' instead, I tend to look at it as , "Hey! Debbie's here! Whoppee! Yee-Haw, Harrah!!!" :D