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Chapter III. - The Last Stage of Hypnotism
Lethargy -- Catalepsy -- The Somnambulistic Stage -- Fascination.
We have just given some of the amusing experiments that may be performed
with subjects in one of the minor stages of hypnotism. But there are
other stages which give entirely different manifestations. For a
scientific classification of these we are indebted to Professor Charcot,
of the Salpetriere hospital in Paris, to whom, next to Mesmer and Braid,
we are indebted for the present science of hypnotism. He recognized
three distinct stages -- lethargy, catalepsy and somnambulism. There is
also a condition of extreme lethargy, a sort of trance state, that lasts
for days and even weeks, and, indeed, has been known to last for years.
There is also a lighter phase than somnambulism, that is called
fascination. Some doctors, however, place it between catalepsy and
somnambulism. Each of these stages is marked by quite distinct
phenomena. We give them as described by a pupil of Dr. Charcot.
This is a state of absolute inert sleep. If the method of Braid is used,
and a bright object is held quite near the eyes, and the eyes are fixed
upon it, the subject squints, the eyes become moist and bright, the look
fixed, and the pupils dilated. This is the cataleptic stage. If the
object is left before the eyes, lethargy is produced. There are also
many other ways of producing lethargy, as we have seen in the chapter
"How to Hypnotize."
One of the marked characteristics of this stage of hypnotism is the
tendency of the muscles to contract, under the influence of the
slightest touch, friction, pressure or massage, or even that of a magnet
placed at a distance. The contraction disappears only by the repetition
of that identical means that called it into action. Dr. Courmelles gives
the following illustration:
"If the forearm is rubbed a little above the palm of the hand, this
latter yields and bends at an acute angle. The subject may be suspended
by the hand, and the body will be held up without relaxation, that is,
without returning to the normal condition. To return to the normal
state, it suffices to rub the antagonistic muscles, or, in ordinary
terms, the part diametrically opposed to that which produced the
phenomenon; in this case, the forearm a little above the hands. It is
the same for any other part of the body."
The subject appears to be in a deep sleep, the eyes are either closed or
half closed, and the face is without expression. The body appears to be
in a state of complete collapse, the head is thrown back, and the arms
and legs hang loose, dropping heavily down. In this stage insensibility
is so complete that needles can be run into any part of the body without
producing pain, and surgical operations may be performed without the
slightest unpleasant effect.
This stage lasts usually but a short time, and the patient, under
ordinary conditions, will pass upward into the stage of catalepsy, in
which he opens his eyes. If the hypnotism is spontaneous, that is, if it
is due to a condition of the nervous organism which has produced it
without any outside aid, we have the condition of prolonged trance, of
which many cases have been reported. Until the discovery of hypnotism
these strange trances were little understood, and people were even
buried alive in them. A few instances reported by medical men will be
interesting. There is one reported in 1889 by a noted French physician.
"There is at this moment in the hospital at Mulhouse a most interesting
case. A young girl twenty-two years of age has been asleep here for the
last twelve days. Her complexion is fresh and rosy, her breathing quite
normal, and her features unaltered.
"No organ seems attacked; all the vital functions are performed as in
the waking state. She is fed with milk, broth and wine, which is given
her in a spoon. Her mouth even sometimes opens of itself at the contact
of the spoon, and she swallows without the slightest difficulty. At
other times the gullet remains inert.
"The whole body is insensible. The forehead alone presents, under the
action of touch or of pricks, some reflex phenomena. However, by a
peculiarity, which is extremely interesting, she seems, by the intense
horror she shows for ether, to retain a certain amount of consciousness
and sensibility. If a drop of ether is put into her mouth her face
contracts and assumes an expression of disgust. At the same moment her
arms and legs are violently agitated, with the kind of impatient motion
that a child displays when made to swallow some hated dose of medicine.
"In the intellectual relations the brain is not absolutely obscure, for
on her mother's coming to see her the subject's face became highly
colored, and tears appeared on the tips of her eyelashes, without,
however, in any other way disturbing her lethargy.
"Nothing has yet been able to rouse her from this torpor, which will, no
doubt, naturally disappear at a given moment. She will then return to
conscious life as she quitted it. It is probable that she will not
retain any recollection of her present condition, that all notion of
time will fail her, and that she will fancy it is only the day following
her usual nightly slumber, a slumber which, in this case, has been
transformed into a lethargic sleep, without any rigidity of limbs or
"Physically, the sleeper is of a middle size, slender, strong and
pretty, without distinctive characteristic. Mentally, she is lively,
industrious, sometimes whimsical, and subject to slight nervous
There is a pretty well-authenticated report of a young girl who, on May
30, 1883, after an intense fright, fell into a lethargic condition which
lasted for four years. Her parents were poor and ignorant, but, as the
fame of the case spread abroad, some physicians went to investigate it
in March, 1887. Her sleep had never been interrupted. On raising the
eyelids, the doctors found the eyes turned convulsively upward, but,
blowing upon them, produced no reflex movement of the lids. Her jaws
were closed tightly, and the attempt to open her mouth had broken off
some of the teeth level with the gums. The muscles contracted at the
least breath or touch, and the arms remained in position when uplifted.
The contraction of the muscles is a sign of the lethargic state, but the
arm, remaining in position, indicates the cataleptic state. The girl was
kept alive by liquid nourishment poured into her mouth.
There are on record a large number of cases of persons who have slept
for several months.
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.
THE SOMNAMBULISTIC STAGE
This is the stage or phase of hypnotism nearest the waking, and is the
only one that can be produced in some subjects. Patients in the
cataleptic state can be brought into the somnambulistic by rubbing the
top of the head. To all appearances, the patient is fully awake, his
eyes are open, and he answers when spoken to, but his voice does not
have the same sound as when awake. Yet, in this state the patient is
susceptible of all the hallucinations of insanity which may be induced
at the verbal command of the operator.
One of the most curious features of this stage of hypnotism is the
effect on the memory. Says Monsieur Richet: "I send V -- -- -- to sleep. I
recite some verses to her, and then I awake her. She remembers nothing.
I again send her to sleep, and she remembers perfectly the verses I
recited. I awake her, and she has again forgotten everything."
It appears, however, that if commanded to remember on awaking, a patient
The active sense, and the memory as well, appears to be in an exalted
state of activity during this phase of hypnotism. Says M. Richet: "M -- --
-, who will sing the air of the second act of the Africaine in her
sleep, is incapable of remembering a single note of it when awake."
Another patient, while under this hypnotic influence, could remember all
he had eaten for several days past, but when awake could remember very
little. Binet and Fere caused one of their subjects to remember the
whole of his repasts for eight days past, though when awake he could
remember nothing beyond two or three days. A patient of Dr. Charcot, who
when she was two years old had seen Dr. Parrot in the children's
hospital, but had not seen him since, and when awake could not remember
him, named him at once when he entered during her hypnotic sleep. M.
Delboeuf tells of an experiment he tried, in which the patient did
remember what had taken place during the hypnotic condition, when he
suddenly awakened her in the midst of the hallucination; as, for
instance, he told her the ashes from the cigar he was smoking had fallen
on her handkerchief and had set it on fire, whereupon she at once rose
and threw the handkerchief into the water. Then, suddenly awakened, she
remembered the whole performance.
In the somnambulistic stage the patient is no longer an automaton
merely, but a real personality, "an individual with his own character,
his likes and dislikes." The tone of the voice of the operator seems to
have quite as much effect as his words. If he speaks in a grave and
solemn tone, for instance, even if what he utters is nonsense, the
effect is that of a deeply tragic story.
The will of another is not so easily implanted as has been claimed.
While a patient will follow almost any suggestion that may be offered,
he readily obeys only commands which are in keeping with his character.
If he is commanded to do something he dislikes or which in the waking
state would be very repugnant to him, he hesitates, does it very
reluctantly, and in extreme cases refuses altogether, often going into
hysterics. It was found at the Charity hospital that one patient
absolutely refused to accept a cassock and become a priest. One of
Monsieur Richet's patients screamed with pain the moment an amputation
was suggested, but almost immediately recognized that it was only a
suggestion, and laughed in the midst of her tears. Probably, however,
this patient was not completely hypnotized.
Dr. Dumontpallier was able to produce a very curious phenomenon. He
suggested to a female patient that with the right eye she could see a
picture on a blank card. On awakening she could, indeed, see the picture
with the right eye, but the left eye told her the card was blank. While
she was in the somnambulistic state he told her in her right ear that
the weather was very fine, and at the same time another person whispered
in her left ear that it was raining. On the right side of her face she
had a smile, while the left angle of her lip dropped as if she were
depressed by the thought of the rain. Again, he describes a dance and
gay party in one ear, and another person mimics the barking of a dog in
the other. One side of her face in that case wears an amused expression,
while the other shows signs of alarm.
Dr. Charcot thus describes a curious experiment: "A portrait is
suggested to a subject as existing on a blank card, which is then mixed
with a dozen others; to all appearance they are similar cards. The
subject, being awakened, is requested to look over the packet, and does
so without knowing the reason of the request, but when he perceives the
card on which the portrait was suggested, he at once recognizes the
imaginary portrait. It is probable that some insignificant mark has,
owing to his visual hyperacuity, fixed the image in the subject's
Says a recent French writer: "Dr. Bremand, a naval doctor, has obtained
in men supposed to be perfectly healthy a new condition, which he calls
fascination. The inventor considers that this is hypnotism in its
mildest form, which, after repeated experiments, might become catalepsy.
The subject fascinated by Dr. Bremaud -- fascination being induced by the
contemplation of a bright spot -- falls into a state of stupor. He follows
the operator and servilely imitates his movements, gestures and words;
he obeys suggestions, and a stimulation of the nerves induces
contraction, but the cataleptic pliability does not exist."
A noted public hypnotizer in Paris some years ago produced fascination
in the following manner: He would cause the subject to lean on his
hands, thus fatiguing the muscles. The excitement produced by the
concentrated gaze of a large audience also assisted in weakening the
nervous resistance. At last the operator would suddenly call out: "Look
at me!" The subject would look up and gaze steadily into the operator's
eyes, who would stare steadily back with round, glaring eyes, and in
most cases subdue his victim.
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