The next higher stage of hypnotism is that of catalepsy. Patients may be
thrown into it directly, or patients in the lethargic state may be
brought into it by lifting the eyelids. It seems that the light
penetrating the eyes, and affecting the brain, awakens new powers, for
the cataleptic state has phenomena quite peculiar to itself.
Nearly all the means for producing hypnotism will, if carried to just
the right degree, produce catalepsy. For instance, besides the fixing
of the eye on a bright object, catalepsy may be produced by a sudden
sound, as of a Chinese gong, a tom-tom or a whistle, the vibration of a
tuning-fork, or thunder. If a solar spectrum is suddenly brought into a
dark room it may produce catalepsy, which is also produced by looking at
the sun, or a lime light, or an electric light.
In this state the patient has become perfectly rigidly fixed in the
position in which he happens to be when the effect is produced, whether
sitting, standing, kneeling, or the like; and this face has an
expression of fear. The arms or legs may be raised, but if left to
themselves will not drop, as in lethargy. The eyes are wide open, but
the look is fixed and impassive. The fixed position lasts only a few
minutes, however, when the subject returns to a position of relaxation,
or drops back into the lethargic state.
If the muscles, nerves or tendons are rubbed or pressed, paralysis may
be produced, which, however, is quickly removed by the use of
electricity, when the patient awakes. By manipulating the muscles the
most rigid contraction may be produced, until the entire body is in such
a state of corpse-like rigidity that a most startling experiment is
possible. The subject may be placed with his head upon the back of one
chair and his heels on the back of another, and a heavy man may sit upon
him without seemingly producing any effect, or even heavy rock may be
broken on the subject's body.
Messieurs Binet and Fere, pupils of the Salpetriere school, describe the
action of magnets on cataleptic subjects, as follows:
The patient is seated near a table, on which a magnet has been placed,
the left elbow rests on the arm of the chair, the forearm and hand
vertically upraised with thumb and index finger extended, while the
other fingers remain half bent. On the right side the forearm and hand
are stretched on the table, and the magnet is placed under a linen cloth
at a distance of about two inches. After a couple of minutes the right
index begins to tremble and rise up; on the left side the extended
fingers bend down, and the hand remains limp for an instant. The right
hand and forearm rise up and assume the primitive position of the left
hand, which is now stretched out on the arm of the chair, with the waxen
pliability that pertains to the cataleptic state.
An interesting experiment may be tried by throwing a patient into
lethargy on one side and catalepsy on the other. To induce what is
called hemi-lethargy and hemi-catalepsy is not difficult. First, the
lethargic stage is induced, then one eyelid is raised, and that side
alone becomes cataleptic, and may be operated on in various interesting
ways. The arm on that side, for instance, will remain raised when
lifted, while the arm on the other side will fall heavily.
Still more interesting is the intellectual condition of the subject.
Some great man has remarked that if he wished to know what a person was
thinking of, he assumed the exact position and expression of that
person, and soon he would begin to feel and think just as the other was
thinking and feeling. Look a part and you will soon begin to feel it.
In the cataleptic subject there is a close relation between the attitude
the subject assumes and the intellectual manifestation. In the
somnambulistic stage patients are manipulated by speaking to them; in
the cataleptic stage they are equally under the will of the operator;
but now he controls them by gesture. Says Dr. Courmelles, from his own
observation: The emotions in this stage are made at command, in the
true acceptation of the word, for they are produced, not by orders
verbally expressed, but by expressive movements. If the hands are opened
and drawn close to the mouth, as when a kiss is wafted, the mouth
smiles. If the arms are extended and half bent at the elbows, the
countenance assumes an expression of astonishment. The slightest
variation of movement is reflected in the emotions. If the fists are
closed, the brow contracts and the face expresses anger. If a lively or
sad tune is played, if amusing or depressing pictures are shown, the
subject, like a faithful mirror, at once reflects these impressions. If
a smile is produced it can be seen to diminish and disappear at the same
time as the hand is moved away, and again to reappear and increase when
it is once more brought near. Better still, a double expression can be
imparted to the physiognomy, by approaching the left hand to the left
side of the mouth, the left side of the physiognomy will smile, while at
the same time, by closing the right hand, the right eyebrow will frown.
The subject can be made to send kisses, or to turn his hands round each
other indefinitely. If the hand is brought near the nose it will blow;
if the arms are stretched out they will remain extended, while the head
will be bowed with a marked expression of pain.
Heidenhain was able to take possession of the subject's gaze and control
him by sight, through producing mimicry. He looks fixedly at the patient
till the patient is unable to take his eyes away. Then the patient will
copy every movement he makes. If he rises and goes backward the patient
will follow, and with his right hand he will imitate the movements of
the operator's left, as if he were a mirror. The attitudes of prayer,
melancholy, pain, disdain, anger or fear, may be produced in this
The experiments of Donato, a stage hypnotizer, are thus described:
After throwing the subjects into catalepsy he causes soft music to be
played, which produces a rapturous expression. If the sound is
heightened or increased, the subjects seem to receive a shock and a
feeling of disappointment. The artistic sense developed by hypnotism is
disturbed; the faces express astonishment, stupefaction and pain. If the
same soft melody be again resumed, the same expression of rapturous
bliss reappears in the countenance. The faces become seraphic and
celestial when the subjects are by nature handsome, and when the
subjects are ordinary looking, even ugly, they are idealized as by a
special kind of beauty.
The strange part of all this is, that on awaking, the patient has no
recollection of what has taken place, and careful tests have shown that
what appear to be violent emotions, such as in an ordinary state would
produce a quickened pulse and heavy breathing, create no disturbance
whatever in the cataleptic subject; only the outer mask is in motion.
Sometimes the subjects lean backward with all the grace of a perfect
equilibrist, freeing themselves from the ordinary mechanical laws. The
curvature will, indeed, at times be so complete that the head will touch
the floor and the body describe a regular arc.
When a female subject assumes an attitude of devotion, clasps her
hands, turns her eyes upward and lisps out a prayer, she presents an
admirably artistic picture, and her features and expression seem worthy
of being reproduced on canvas.
We thus see what a perfect automaton the human body may become. There
appears, however, to be a sort of unconscious memory, for a familiar
object will seem to suggest spontaneously its ordinary use. Thus, if a
piece of soap is put into a cataleptic patient's hands; he will move it
around as though he thought he were washing them, and if there is any
water near he will actually wash them. The sight of an umbrella makes
him shiver as if he were in a storm. Handing such a person a pen will
not make him write, but if a letter is dictated to him out loud he will
write in an irregular hand. The subject may also be made to sing, scream
or speak different languages with which he is entirely unfamiliar. This
is, however, a verging toward the somnambulistic stage, for in deep
catalepsy the patient does not speak or hear. The state is produced by
placing the hands on the head, the forehead, or nape of the neck.
Next: The Somnambulistic Stage