Making the cut: A beginner’s guide to Klingsor Syndrome

In one of my previous blogs, I looked at one of the world’s rarest behaviours – male genital self-mutilation (GSM). As I noted in that article, there have only been about 125 cases ever recorded in the clinical and/or medical literature. (Having said that, it may be that this number of cases relates to those published in the English language as I did come across a Japanese case study of male GSM by M. Tomita and colleagues published in 2002 in the Japanese journal Hinyokika Kiyo, that noted that their case study was the 24th case of male GSM in the Japanese scientific literature). A 1988 study by Dr. C. Tobias and colleagues published in the South Medical Journal reported that self-mutilators (including all types of self-mutilation not just GSM) were most likely to suffer from schizophrenia, religious preoccupation, substance abuse, and/or social isolation.

Today’s blog specifically looks at genital self-mutilators who engage in the behaviour because of a religious belief, and are typically diagnosed as having Klingsor Syndrome. The name of the syndrome was derived from the character Klingsor in Parsifol (a Wagner opera) who engaged in an act of self-castration to gain entry into the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Holy Grail.

In a 1990 issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. I. Schweitzer wrote a paper called ‘Genital self-amputation and the Klingsor syndrome’. In his paper, he described two psychotic individuals, who had carried out GSM on themselves (one of which had done it in an attempt to kill himself). He noted that those most at risk from committing GSM were similar to self-mutilators more generally and comprised:

“Psychotic patients with delusions (often religious), sexual conflict associated with guilt, past suicide attempts or other self-destructive behaviour and depression, severe childhood deprivation, and major premorbid personality disorder”.

Dr. Schweitzer tried to argue that ‘Klingsor syndrome’ should be applied to anyone that carries out GSM as a result of psychotic illness and not just those with religious delusions. However, this does not appear to have been taken up that widely in more recent published case studies. A couple of (seemingly) genuine cases of the ‘archetypal’ Klingsor Syndrome, were reported in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. The first one was by Malay Dave and colleagues in 1997, and described the case of a 22-year old unmarried schizophrenic Muslim male:

“[He] was admitted in the urology department with self-inflicted traumatic amputation of the penis At that time some Muslim men accosted him and told him not to be seen in that locality again. After this incident the patient became fearful, started hearing voices belonging to the devil and Allah which would tell him that he was not… At the initial interview the patient was uncommunicative and rapport was difficult to establish. He had a perplexed affect…As the patient gradually became more controlled delusions of persecution, reference and control were elicited along with thought insertion and broadcast. His concept formation was average and auditory hallucinations (2 voices belonging to the God and the devil talking amongst themselves and to him, saying derogatory things) were elicitable. These voices had initially commanded the patient to cut off his penis”.

The second one was published in 2001 by Dr. Subhash Bhargava and colleagues. They wrote that:

A 25-year old unmarried male presented to the emergency services as he had severed off his penis with a knife. Patient reported of feeling no pain at that time and explained this act as carrying out the orders given to him by the goddess. The voice had assured him that by doing so his sins would be expiated and that he would attain sainthood. His family reported that he had disturbed sleep, a decline in work performance, increased talking, mainly religious in content and disinhibited behaviour off and on for the past seven months…Mental status examination revealed bizarre sexual and religious delusions and auditory hallucinations. The latter were accusatory as well as commanding in nature and mainly religious in content. A diagnosis of schizophrenia was made”.

A 2010 paper in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences by Turkish clinicians led by Dr. Erol Ozan outlined four cases of GSM (three schizophrenics, and one with psychotic bipolar depression) forwarded some other symptoms that appear to put men at risk of GSM including (i) failures in the male role, (ii) problems in the early developmental period, (iii) such as experiencing difficulties in male identification and persistence of incestuous desires, (iv) depression, and (v) having a history of GSM. They also proposed a new concept in formulating religiously themed psychotic male GSM – atonement.

Another more recent (2012) paper in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences by Indian researchers Dr. Ranjan Bhattacharyya and colleagues described a case of male GSM who was a paranoid schizophrenic who castrated himself at a time when no psychotic symptoms were present (but were enacted during a period of what the authors described as “post-psychotic depression”). Following a review of the psychological literature on male GSM, they considered that their case “best [fitted] the description for Klingsor Syndrome” probably because their case study was of a man “recovering from a psychotic episode with possible sexual guilt, religiosity and intense hatred towards women”. The religiosity in this case didn’t seem to be as pronounced as the two cases published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry (outlined above). Given the rarity of any kind of GSM, it would appear that Klingsor Syndrome is arguably one of the world’s rarest syndromes. Every new case study appears to add to our knowledge of this strange (and potentially life threatening) behaviour.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ajape, A.A., Issa, B.A., Buhari, O.I.N., Adeoye, P.O., Babata, A.L. & Abiola, O.O. (2010). Genital self-mutilation. Annals of African Medicine, 9, 31-34.

Bhargava, S.C., Sethi, S., & Vohra, A.K. (2001). Klingsor syndrome: a case report. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 43, 349-350

Bhattacharyya, R., Sanyal, D. & Roy, K. (2011). A case of Klingsor Syndrome: when there is no longer psychosis. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 48, 30-33.

Dave, M., Apte, J., Dhavale, H.S. & Pinto, C. (1997). The Klingsor Syndrome. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 39, 341-342.

Martin, T. & Gattaz, W.F. (1991). Psychiatric aspects of male genital mutilations. Psychopathology, 24, 170.

Murota-Kawano, A, Tosaka, A. & Ando, M. (2001). Autohemicastration in a man without schizophrenia. International Journal of Urology, 8, 257-259.

Ozan, E., Deveci, E., Oral, M., Yazici, E., & Kirpinar, I. (2010). Male genital self-mutilation as a psychotic solution. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 47, 297-303.

Rao, K.N., Bharathi, G., & Chate S. (2002). Genital self-mutilation in depression: A case report. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 44, 297-300.

Russell, D.B., McGovern, G. & Harte, F.B. (2005). Genital self-mutilation by radio frequency in a male-to-female transsexual. Sexual Health, 2, 203-204.

Schweitzer, I. (1990). Genital self-amputation and the Klingsor syndrome. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 566-569.

Stunnell, H., Power, R.E., Floyd, M., & Quinlan, D.M. (2006). Genital self-mutilation. International Journal of Urology, 13, 1358-1360.

Tobias, C.R., Turns, D.M., Lippmann., S., Pary, R. & Oropilla, T.B. (1988) Evaluation and management of self-mutilation. South Medical Journal, 81(10), 1261-1263.

Tomita, M., Maeda, S., Kimura, T., Ikemoto, I. & Oishi, Y. (2002). [A case of complete self-mutilation of penis]. Hinyokika Kiyo, 48, 247-249.

Waugh, A.C. (1986). Autocastration and biblical delusions in schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 656-658.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on May 14, 2013, in Case Studies, Culture Bound Syndromes, Mania, Obsession, Psychiatry, Psychological disorders, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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