Revolting and gross as was the superstition relating to vampirism, is it not possible that, like most legendary fides, it had a basis of truth, and that an essential part of that truth consisted, as before remarked, of the fact that the cases referred to were cases of suspended animation ? Many cases are reported which appear to be well authenticated, and they all seem to sustain this theory. One case (which was officially attested) is related, where the body of a man suspected of vampirism was exhumed after it had lain in the grave three weeks. No signs of decomposition being visible, a stake was driven through the heart, "upon which," says the report, "fresh blood gushed from the mouth and ears".
Another case is mentioned of one Arnold Paul, a Hungarian, whose body was exhumed after it had been buried forty days. "His body," says the narrator, "was red; his hair, nails, and beard had grown again, and his veins were replete with fluid blood." The stake was brought into requisition, and as it pierced his heart, he "uttered a frightful shriek, as if he had been alive".
Two erroneous impressions very generally prevail regarding catalepsy, or suspended animation. One is that depriving the subject of air will cause death in a few hours. Another is that catalepsy is a disease, or is always the result of disease. Both of these hypotheses are clearly disproved by the well-known experiments of the East Indian fakirs.
One of the most clearly attested instances of the kind alluded to is the experiment of the Fakir of Lahore, who, at the instance of Runjeet Singh, suffered himself to be buried alive in an air-tight vault for a period of six weeks. This case was thoroughly authenticated by Sir Claude Wade, the then British Resident at the court of Loodhiana. The fakir's nostrils and ears were first filled with wax; he was then placed in a linen bag, then deposited in a wooden box which was securely locked, and the box was deposited in a brick vault which was carefully plastered up with mortar and sealed with the Rajah's seal. A guard of British soldiers was then detailed to watch the vault day and night. At the end of the prescribed time the vault was opened in the presence of Sir Claude and Runjeet Singh, and the fakir was restored to consciousness.
Lieutenant Boileau relates another instance where a man suffered himself to be buried for a period of ten days in a grave lined with masonry and covered with a large slab of stone, the whole strictly guarded day and night. On being restored to consciousness, the man offered to submit to burial for a year, if the lieutenant so desired.
Many other well-authenticated instances are related by British residents in India, but these must suffice. In all these cases the subjects were in perfect health when the experiments were made, and in each instance the body, when disinterred, was found to present all the characteristics indicating death, except decomposition.
Volumes might be filled with well-authenticated cases of suspended animation, varying in duration from a few hours to many months; but it would be foreign to the purpose of this chapter to cite any. Sufficient instances have been given to illustrate the points which I shall attempt to make, as well as to show the intrinsic importance of the subject and the danger to be apprehended from ignorance of the psychic principles involved.
The fundamental error into which many physicians have fallen consists in the assumption that catalepsy is, per se, a disease. It must be said, however, to the credit of the profession, that no one pretends to understand it. Most medical writers confess that if it is a disease, it is one of which the pathology is but little understood by the profession, and they aver that morbid anatomy throws no light upon it whatever. In fact, some well-known writers have doubted its existence, and have attributed the recorded cases to gross imposture. It is, however, generally held to be a functional nervous disorder; but the tendency of modern investigation is in the direction of its psychic aspects, and moral means are now largely employed in its treatment by the best physicians.
The truth appears to be that catalepsy is not a disease in any proper sense of the word. The most that can be said is that it may be considered a symptom of certain diseases. That is to say, inasmuch as it commonly attacks those who are suffering from certain nervous disorders, it might be said to be a symptom indicating the presence of such disorders. But, I repeat, it is not a disease per se; and one prominent medical authority goes so far as to admit that "in itself catalepsy is never fatal." He might have gone further, and said that other diseases are rarely fatal when catalepsy supervenes.
Catalepsy belongs exclusively to the domain of hypnotism. I employ this term in the broadest significance of its Greek radix; for no matter how the condition is induced, it is purely a sleep of the objective senses, a suspension of the vital functions, a rest of all the vital organs. It can be induced in perfectly healthy persons by the hypnotic processes on the one hand, or, on the other, it may supervene after a long period of illness or nervous exhaustion. In both cases the phenomenon is the same; and when the patient is intelligently treated, the effect is always salutary. It is, in the highest sense of the phrase, a manifestation of the vis conservatrix naturae it is, of a truth, "tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep".
Catalepsy is always easily induced in a hypnotic subject by the ordinary processes known to hypnotists, and the normal condition is as easily restored. It is always refreshing to the subject, especially when he is exhausted by mental or physical labor, - far more so than is ordinary sleep of the same duration. The same is true of the catalepsy which supervenes after a long period of illness or of nervous exhaustion. That this statement is true of the first class, we have the testimony of all who have been subjects of intelligent experiment. That it is true of the second class also, is attested by the fact that suspended animation is nearly always followed by the recovery of the patient from illness. The cataleptic condition marks the crisis in many diseases, especially those of the nerves. If the patient is properly managed during that crisis, his convalescence is assured.