site logo


Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery

Metallo-therapy has been defined as a mode of treating various

affections, chiefly those of a nervous character, by the external

application of metals. It was recommended by Galen and other medical

writers, but they attributed its curative powers to the magical

inscriptions which the metals bore.

Mesmer experimented with magnets extensively, but soon abandoned their

use, as he found that he could obtain e
ually good results without them.

The so-called "metallic tractors" originated with Dr. Elisha Perkins

(1740-1799), a practising physician of Norwich, Connecticut, and

consisted of two rods, one of brass, and the other of steel. In cases of

rheumatism and various neuroses, the affected portions of the body were

lightly stroked by means of the tractors, and many remarkable cures were

reported. The new therapeutic method was endorsed by many reputable

practitioners, both in the United States and Europe, and its fame spread

like wild-fire.

It was soon discovered, however, that wooden tractors were fully as

efficacious as the metallic ones, and that the many vaunted cures were

psychic. Thus Perkins's tractors afford a striking example of the

curative force of suggestion.

Thereby (wrote John Haygarth, M.D., Fellow of the Royal Medical Society

of Edinburgh, in a brief treatise on the Imagination, published in the

year 1800) is to be learned an important lesson in Medicine, namely, the

wonderful and powerful influence of the passions of the mind, upon the

state and disorders of the body. This fact, he continued, was too often

overlooked in Practice, where sole dependence was placed upon material

remedies, without utilizing mental influence. To the latter, this

sagacious physician, writing more than a century ago, was shrewd enough

to ascribe the marvellous cures attributed to the remedies of quacks,

whose magnificent and unqualified promises inspire weak minds with


In one of his Lowell Institute lectures, at Boston, November 14, 1906,

Dr. Pierre Janet described the development of metallo-therapy in France

between the years 1860 and 1880. Metallic discs were applied to the

patient's body. These discs were of different kinds, sometimes being

composed of two or more metals. In some cases a magnet was used.

Different subjects, it was found, did not manifest sensitiveness to the

same metals, some being cured by iron, others by copper, while the

greatest number were susceptible to gold. Many interesting facts

relating to these cures were noted, such as periods of transition and

oscillation in the maladies, and most curious of all, a kind of

transference. For example, should a paralysis or a contraction seat

itself on the right side, the application of the discs would effect a

cure, but the malady would often return to the opposite side. And there

were other curious phenomena. A modification of sensation was invariably


Under the influence of the metal disc, the shin and muscles, which

before were numb, regained their normal states, and the return of

sensation preceded the cure, and was an indispensable condition. One can

obtain exactly the same results with discs composed of inert substances.

An old-fashioned letter-wafer, for instance, applied to the hand, has

produced similar effects. According to Dr. Janet, these phenomena are

wholly due to psychic agencies, partly akin to suggestion and partly

different. They depend upon the mechanism of attention. This faculty,

when directed upon any organ, will bring into prominence sensations not

ordinarily felt.

Consciousness is limited, in that it does not always take cognizance of

all the existing sensations. This explains the phenomenon of

transference, in that the suppression of those sensations which were

prominent brings to the surface others which were not before recognized

by the consciousness.

As a result of the introduction of metallo-therapy in the hospitals of

Paris, an enormous number of hysterical patients applied for treatment,

influenced partly, no doubt, by the love of notoriety.