Monsters and Magical Sticks, by Steven Heller & Terry SteeleMonsters and Magical Sticks: Or, There’s No Such Thing As Hypnosis, by Steven Heller, Ph. D. & Terry Steele, introduction by Robert Anton Wilson
New Falcon Publication, 1561840262, 191 (Incl. bibliography), 1987, 2001

Prior to reading Monsters and Magical Sticks, I didn’t know much about hypnosis, it wasn’t a subject that was really ‘on my radar’. Sure, I’d seen it used as a tool for entertainment at a few shows, where a hypnotist stood up in front of a crowd, selected a few individuals and ‘made’ them do silly things. Beyond hearing about it in reference to quitting smoking on the radio, I never really considered that it may have real, practical applications. I simply did not understand the potential therapeutic aspects, nor did I realize that I’d experienced a version of it nearly every day.

Robert Anton Wilson explains in the introduction that he’d been practicing and even teaching it for years without realizing this alternate name. Wilson had studied it under various guises – first as guided meditation, and later astral projection and even Christian Science.1 Heller later expands on this, offering this sensible definition of hypnosis:

If you consider hypnosis as a specific state that always includes a deep trance, then there’s no such thing as hypnosis. If, however, you use hypnosis as a generic term to encompass anything that alters perception, or changes consciousness, then you can realize that hypnosis is just a word. Within that word are things like meditation, fantasy, guided imagery, deep muscle relaxation – anything that encourages or precipitates a person’s turning inward and having an inner experience that becomes more profound or more important than the outer consensual reality.2

Heller goes on to explain that “…we do not respond to reality (whatever reality is). In effect, we respond to and operate upon reality based on our metaphors which become our individual and personal reality”3

Methods for identifying the patient’s preferred systems of communication (visual, kinesthetic, auditory, and/or a combination of these) are clearly and concisely explained, and various approaches explaining practical applications using the patients own systems to overcome individual problems. Heller writes “one of my most important beliefs is that individuals’ belief systems are metaphors; that the individual operates and responds metaphorically to the world! It takes metaphoric approaches to help expand each individual’s choices.”4 Further noting that “it makes far more sense to utilize these factors rather than trying to force the individual into responding according to your belief systems, responses, etc. By learning to utilize what the individual already knows, you will be starting from a solid foundation instead of from a morass of quicksand.”5

Interspersed throughout the book are numerous case studies, practical examples with detailed explanations and suggestions for constructive exercises the reader can experiment with to make use of the knowledge gained, and real world knowledge. Actually applying the exercises and subtle suggestions the book offers cannot be stressed enough for understanding how easy and how real this is.

Heller successfully uses allegory and metaphor without overstating his point, allowing the reader to think and digest, and indeed, even hypnotises the reader into accepting his gentle suggestions throughout the book. For example, I found myself responding to the proposal to “take a small break…and…wonder how the above examples might have important ramifications for the areas of communication, therapy and hypnosis.”6 Even as I noted my place and set the book down, I remarked to my husband, who was seated next to me, on how easily I responded to the suggestion, despite having no logical cause to stop reading at the time (I was stuck on a train with half an hour or more of the ride left to go). This clearly demonstrated to me that this book is a work in hypnosis in its own right.

While combining communication systems, body language, Ericksonian hypnosis, NLP, psychology, and psychotherapy Dr. Heller manages to strip away all the excess jargon and get right to the point with clear language and good humour. While most of the examples work out well, Heller refreshingly acknowledges that he is not faultless, and he has had failures. Though he notes that these are usually due to inattentiveness for whatever reason, rather than failure of the system he has devised.

Extremely well written, clear, concise and humourous, Monsters and Magical Sticks is easily accessible even to the layperson, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good introductory book on hypnosis.

  1. p. 11-12 []
  2. p. 23 []
  3. p. 45). Further stating that “a belief system leads to automating a response that leads to providing the belief system that leads to repetition of the pattern. It is almost like the proverbial snake eating its own tale and complaining about its imminent demise.” ((p. 96-97 []
  4. p. 51-52 []
  5. p. 135 []
  6. p. 58 []