A condition involving the sudden suspension of sensation and volition and the partial suspension of vital functions. The body assumes a rigid appearance, sometimes mistaken for death, and the victim remains unconscious throughout the attack. On occasion, the cataleptic state may be marked by symptoms of intense mental excitement and by apparently volitional speech and action. Sometimes the symptoms are hardly distinguishable from those of hysteria.
The period covered by the attack may vary from a few minutes to several days, although the latter occurs only in exceptional cases. An attack may recur, however, on only trifling provocation in the absence of strong resistance by the victim.
Catalepsy is said to be caused by a pathological condition of the nervous system, generally produced by severe or prolonged mental emotion, and should not be confused with hypnotic trance. The belief that the condition may occur in a perfectly healthy person is probably fallacious. There is speculation that catalepsy, like ecstasy and mediumistic faculties, may at times prove contagious.
Catalepsy is associated with schizophrenia and hysteria, and there is reason to believe that it can be self-induced in certain cases. Eastern fakirs have been known to cast themselves into a cataleptic sleep lasting for months, and cases have even been reported where they permitted themselves to be buried, being exhumed when the grass had grown over their graves.
Some forms of trance induced by hypnotism appear similar to the cataleptic state.
Dendy, W. C. Philosophy of Mystery. London, 1841.
cat·a·lep·sy / ˈkatlˌepsē/ • n. a medical condition characterized by a trance or seizure with a loss of sensation and consciousness accompanied by rigidity of the body. DERIVATIVES: cat·a·lep·tic / ˌkatlˈeptik/ adj. & n.