After initially reconsidering, I have edited this post slightly.
Ormond McGill, the "Dean of American Hypnotists," has died. Born in 1913 in Palo Alto, California, Ormond (as everyone called him) became interested in magic as a kid (he's also pretty legendary in magic circles), taking up hypnosis in 1927 while still a teenager. He wrote the seminal Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism (the acknowleged Bible of stage hypnotism) in 1947, and continued to teach courses and lecture right up until a few weeks ago.
The Guardian has a nice appreciation here. Here's SF Gate's obit. And Palo Alto Online has an archived story about Ormond here, dating back to 1998, when Ormond was a youthful 85. I'm sure Ormond was the last living person who could claim to have had an ice cream cone at Palo Alto's Penninsula Creamery on the day it opened in 1923!
I saw Ormond a few times at the local magic meetings, where he just looked like a sweet old man trotted out for display, the local boy made good. So I was truly blessed to have heard him lecture on hypnosis to an audience of hypnotherapists about eight months ago. At the time I was totally unaware that he was also a skilled transpersonal hypnotherapist and mystic. He gave a beautiful and moving talk on hypnotherapy, it's uses and abuses, and the ways in which it could transform individuals and the world. The highlight, for me, was when he did a demonstration on a woman in the audience.
The woman told Ormond she was scared to drive on the highway; could he help her with that? Ormond took her through a very gentle induction and then talked her through her fears. I was struck by the softness of his demeanor, the kindness of his heart, and his casual but absolute mastery -- the result of seventy-five years of practice. I and the rest of the room felt totally at ease with this man; any one of us would have happily volunteered to be the object of his attention.
I've known a lot of hypnotists and hypnotherapists over the years, and a very high percentage of them have come across as egotistical, insecure buffoons (apologies to any healthy hypnotherapists reading this). In my experience, hypnotherapists you encounter socially are more apt to offer unsolicited help (at bargain rates) than any other type of therapists. The field of hypnotherapy is frequently associated with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a quasi-scientific system that claims to be able to help people change by teaching them how to restructure their brain functions.
The Skeptic's Dictionary has an informative analysis of NLP which concludes:
It seems that NLP develops models which can't be verified, from which it develops techniques which may have nothing to do with either the models or the sources of the models. NLP makes claims about thinking and perception which do not seem to be supported by neuroscience... NLP itself proclaims that it is pragmatic in its approach: what matters is whether it works. However, how do you measure the claim "NLP works"? I don't know and I don't think NLPers know, either.
Just in case I haven't adequately communicated my discomfort with the cult-like aspects of NLP, here's a creepy 1989 Mother Jones article about megalomaniacal NLP cofounder Richard Bandler and the murder he may or may not have committed.
Because NLP emphasises self-hypnosis and behavior modification, it seems that many hypnotists either start out in NLP or pursue its study at some point in their careers. Hypnotism, like NLP, is an attractive field for those who like power (NLP-based systems for picking up women flower on the Net these days), and it frequently attracts those who have trouble making friends the old fashioned way -- through charm, intelligence, and shared passions.
What an honor it was, then, to watch a man with an abundance of all three. Ormond was sharp, smart, and sensitive and he brought an unexpected (to me) spiritual awareness to the proceedings. He was ninety-two at the time, but his teaching and lecturing schedule was quite filled up for months to come. His boundless energy and enthusiasm were an inspiration to everyone in the room.
After the lecture, I had the great pleasure of accompanying him and his friends to dinner, where several of us (magicians) entertained by performing magic for everyone. My friend and I even got to drive him home from San Jose; by sheer coincidence he lived four blocks from my work -- where my car was parked. What an honor is was to hang out with this guy, this legend who turned out to be better than the legend!
Ormond wrote somewhere between twenty-five and forty books (sources disagree on the total), including such titles as Grieve No More Beloved (about his afterlife contact with his deceased wife), Hypnotism and Mysticism in India, and his autobiography, The Amazing Life of Ormond McGill. A Google search on his name reveals 89,000 pages ("PeaceLove's Musings": 213).
Yes, the magic and hypnotism world has lost a giant. And a beautiful man, too.