FANDOM


In Ancient Greek literature, the term ‘ecstasy’ refers to removal of the mind or body "from its normal place of function.”[1] It is generally viewed as an altered state of consciousness characterised by a diminished awareness of other objects, or the total lack of awareness of surroundings. It often implies the experience of a heightened state of consciousness or intensely pleasant feeling.

This idea of the heightened state of conscious is important to the concept of religious ecstasy (as formulated in Christian mysticism, especially in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity). The experience of religious ecstasy involves a state of intensified spiritual awareness, in which the subject may have visions of/communication with God, the Holy Spirit, Christ and his disciples, the Virgin Mary, or other venerated Christian figures. This is often accompanied by feelings of emotional and physical euphoria.

Modern examples of those who experienced religious ecstasy include Louise Lateau (1850-1883) and Nanette Leroux. In the case of Lateau, Dr. F. Lefebvre makes it explicit that he ‘shall use the word “ecstasy” in this treatise, not it its theological, but in its usual medical sense.’[2] However, it is debatable whether this is truly the case, considering the highly religious connotations of her experience (stigmatism and visions of the Passion).

Lefebvre describes Lateau’s experience as such:

“She makes use of the most simple and most familiar of prayers; she says the rosary in a low voice. She is seated on a chair; her bleeding hands are joined underneath the linen in which she conceals them: her attitude is collected, her face calm and serene. Suddenly the eyes become fixed, motionless, turned towards heaven — the ecstasy has begun… During the greater part of the time Louise remains seated. The body, inclining slightly forward, rests on the edge of the chair, motionless as a statue; the eyelids are unmoved, and the eyes gaze upwards, rather to the right. The expression of the young girl's face is one of profound and completely absorbed attention; she seems to be lost in far-off contemplation.”[3]

He also says:

“Louise is quite unconscious of her external actions, and of what has passed around her, but recollects perfectly what has passed within her mind… According to her account, she finds herself, at the beginning of the ecstasy, surrounded by extensive and brilliant light; figures then begin to pass before her eyes, and the successive scenes of the Passion are displayed to her. She relates them concisely, but with a singular clearness. She sees our Saviour. She describes His person, His clothing, His wounds, His crown of thorns. His cross. He pays no attention to her; does not look at her or speak to her. With the same precision and clearness she describes those by whom He is surrounded; the Apostles, the holy women, and the Jews.”[4]

 

Lefebvre found that Lateau could not feel pain in this state (tested via cutting with a pen-knife and the use of electrical currents). He also observes that ‘contrary to a well-established physiological law,’ whilst her pulse quickens, the respiration grows slower in the same proportion.[5] Lefebvre denies the idea that this could be an example of ‘a fit of natural somnambulism’, arguing that most who are receptive to somnambulism have a nervous or hysterical disposition, but that Louise Lateau ‘has none of these: she is not hysterical, she sleeps calmly.’[6] Albert Moll contended that ‘the ecstasy of Lateau has a great likeness to the hypnotic state. Ecstasy and hypnosis have many points in common, and are, perhaps, identical conditions.’[7]

Jan Goldstein relates the story of Nanette Leroux in her book Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy (2010), whose case unfolded between 1822 and 1825. This eighteen-year-old fell into catalepsy, a rigid state complicated by intermittent convulsions, somnambulic trances, and bizarre sensory difficulties.[8] One of those who examined Leroux’s experiences, Alexandre Bertrand, described her somnabulic trances as "ecstasy," ‘normally a category associated with Catholic mystical experience, but in this instance deployed to demonstrate the compatibility between science and religion.’[9]

Bertrand and Charles-Humbert Antoine Despine hoped that the successful treatment of a female hysteric (Leroux) through magnetic techniques (animal magnetism) would convince a sceptical panel at the Academy of Medicine of the efficacy of such treatments. The manuscript they prepared contains frequent discussion of elements that appear transparently sexual to a present-day reader but that were seemingly regarded as innocent by Leroux and her contemporaries. This suggests to Goldstein that the case belongs in the Foucauldian ‘pre-sexual’ sphere in which a range of now intimate acts were not imbued with any particular libidinal significance. It is not that physicians were unaware of sex or that sexual explanation was deemed too risqué, but that, on the contrary, it was too banal to serve as the cause of illness.[10]

Despine chose catalepsy as the proper medical label for Leroux’s condition as a whole, although he specifically identified certain of her symptoms as hysterical.[11] Nanette often engaged in somnambulism, or sleepwalking; with her eyes closed and a look of astonishment on her face, she would perform routine tasks or, more typically, act out “scenes” (the word is, again, that of the doctors) as if she were on stage. In her ordinary waking condition, she remembered nothing of what transpired during these episodes. She possessed, in other words, the capacity to enter spontaneously into an altered state of consciousness—the altered state that the techniques of animal magnetism of the era could elicit artificially.[12]

Here we see different examples of ‘ecstasy’ interpreted in a variety of both scientific and pseudo-scientific ways, with reference to a number of supernatural phenomena.  


[1]H. S. Versnal. "Ecstasy". The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Third, revised ed.). p. 505.

[2]Dr. F. Lefebvre, Louise Lateau of Bois D’Haine: Her Life, Her Ecstasies and Her Stigmata (London: Burns and Oates, 1873). p.1.

[3]Dr. F. Lefebvre, Louise Lateau of Bois D’Haine: Her Life, Her Ecstasies and Her Stigmata (London: Burns and Oates, 1873). p.25-7.

[4]Dr. F. Lefebvre, Louise Lateau of Bois D’Haine: Her Life, Her Ecstasies and Her Stigmata (London: Burns and Oates, 1873). p.28-9.

[5]Dr. F. Lefebvre, Louise Lateau of Bois D’Haine: Her Life, Her Ecstasies and Her Stigmata (London: Burns and Oates, 1873). p.34.

[6]Dr. F. Lefebvre, Louise Lateau of Bois D’Haine: Her Life, Her Ecstasies and Her Stigmata (London: Burns and Oates, 1873). p.118.

[7]Albert Moll, Hypnotism (London: Walter Scott, 1891) p.117.

[8]Ruth Harris’ review of Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux, By

Jan Goldstein (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), in The American Historical Review, Vol. 115, No. 4 (October 2010), p. 1228.

[9]Ruth Harris’ review of Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux, By

Jan Goldstein, in The American Historical Review, Vol. 115, No. 4 (October 2010), p. 1228.

[10]James Wood’s review of Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux, By Jan Goldstein, in History of Psychiatry, 2012, Vol.23(2), p.252.

[11]Jan Goldstein, Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2011) 12.

[12]Jan Goldstein, Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2011) 13. 

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.