Complete Hypnotism, Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism



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. Said he:

"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 convulsions.

"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 attacks."

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 manner.

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.


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 may remember.

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 brain."


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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