Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Future of Trance and Ritual

By Tallulah Grey

Our modern world has become disenchanted with spirituality. We no longer search for beauty and meaning in our lives, but look for material gain and momentary bliss. Hallucinogenic substances that many consider to be Entheogens are outlawed, and many forms of spirituality are laughed out of what has come to be considered educated society. Courses such as this very one are few and far between. Try telling someone that you’re studying Trance or Divination or the History of the Supernatural at university and see what their reaction is. Is this a sign of humanity’s descent into cynicism, a world without miracles or magic? Is there still hope of acceptance for those who live a spiritual life? Trance is swiftly becoming both mundane and bizarre, with yoga and tai chi being considered more of a workout than a connection with the self or the divine, and psychotropic drugs that aid in that same connection considered taboo. However, popular culture, ever interested in the supernatural and the unusual, is fighting back with our bookstores and televisions being inundated with worlds where trance and ritual are not only accepted, they are the norm.

Fantasy novels such as the incredibly popular Harry Potter series may be helping to free the mind from modern cynicism, but they may also be aiding in our disenchantment. “The mainstream inability to see anything incorrect in children practising witchcraft (or children reading about children practising witchcraft) is our first indication of how thoroughly witchcraft and other forms of magic have lost any real potency in contemporary society.” (Ostling 2003 5) Ostling argues in his essay that books like Harry Potter are actually contributing to the disenchantment of the next generation. I personally disagree. JK Rowling’s novels, while dealing with the everyday in magic, “[making] the extraordinary ordinary” (Ostling 2003 16), also remind us of the magic in the everyday. The fantasy genre has, for decades, delighted minds young and old with the possibilities available in the world around us. The Jedi Knights of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ films have a very deep and personal connection with the world around them, and are able to draw strength from the Force which exists in all things. Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ bond telepathically with their Dragons, creating a partnership that can only be ended through death. The magical powers of Belgarath and Polgara of David Eddings’ ‘Belgariad’ come from what they call the Will and the Word: a strength that comes from deep within themselves, and can only be channeled via intense focus. These stories and many others show us that, even if trance and ritual are disappearing from our lives, there are aspects surviving in fiction. Whether or not that will be enough to reawaken the dormant part of us that craves a deeper connection with our world is yet to be seen.

Although “the use of psychotropic substances [may be] at the root of perhaps all religions”, (Shanon 2008 52) these substances are illegal in the majority of Western countries. Some very few religious groups have been given special permission to use Entheogens such as Ayuahasca, but these are not legally available for the masses. Would our views on spirituality be the same with easy access to Dimethyltryptamine and similar intoxicants? If you could purchase Ayuahasca at your local health food store and conduct your own rituals, surely your relationship with religion would be much more personal. Dimethyltryptamine exists naturally in many plants and animals, including humans, but its hallucinogenic nature brings its safety into question in legal circles. Once again, trance and ritual are becoming exclusive to the few able to find and use these substances, legally or illegally.

We live in a world of science where miracles and beliefs are being constantly disproved and cynicism is invading every mind. Possibilities are being ignored, fantasies are being forsaken. Religious trance is disappearing into a meld of other secular phenomena and rituals are becoming, for the majority of the Western world, an unnecessary observance best left in the past. Churches are still attended, ritualistic activities are still played out, but the reverence in which these were once enacted is starting to disappear. Ritual is becoming an obligation. Perhaps, as the next generation takes its place at the forefront of history, this will change, as they have been raised in a world of magic and enchantment. Perhaps, just perhaps, they will learn to shed this cynicism that has so pervaded our culture, and connect with the world and through that themselves once again. All we can do is hope.

Ostling, M. (2003) “Harry Potter and the Disenchantment of the World” in Journal of Contemporary Religion Volume 18 Issue 1, pp. 3 - 23

Shanon, B. (March 2008) “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis” in “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology Consciousness and Culture” Volume 1 Issue 1, pp. 51-74

Rosenzweig, R. (Spring 2006) “Intercessionary Prayer, Healing, and Jewish Shamanism” in Jewish Education News

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Trance and The Everyday

by Tallulah Grey

When originally searching for the subject of this essay, the topic: Trance and the Everyday seemed to escape me. All around us we see fantastic examples. The Hare Krishnas dancing through the city streets, Tai Chi in the parks, ravers wandering the Valley... But my mind kept wandering further afield. Eventually I found myself returning to my own childhood, reading the Bible and wondering what, other than God, could have caused the many miracles. My young mind, while totally certain that there was some sort of powerful being who caused this magnificent world to be, could not always accept things as simply ‘Acts of God’. I remembered reading Exodus and being completely transported by the journey taken by the Israelites, and started wondering once again what could have caused Moses’ amazing feats.

According to the Old Testament, Moses was a Prophet of God. He was given a vision of a burning bush and communicated directly with God. He took his people into the wilderness and was reported to directly channel God’s power through the working of many miracles. According to the Bible, he also lived for 120 years, a longevity gifted to him by God. Many of the miracles Moses was reported to have performed are similar in nature to those performed by Shamans all over the world. I chose to focus on one single event: the moment God first appeared to Moses, telling him to return to Egypt and free his people from slavery.

When first speaking with God, Moses witnessed a bush that was burning without being consumed. This could have been a hallucination caused by psychotropic plants like Acacia that grew in the region. These plants contain the same psychoactive properties as Ayahuasca, a psychedelic drink used by Shamans in the Americas.

Many species of Acacia, better known in Australia as Wattle, contain Dimethyltryptamine or DMT. DMT is a naturally-occurring psychedelic drug found in plants as well as the human body. If inhaled in smoke form, the effects are almost instantaneous and last for a short time. If the Burning Bush was Acacia, then Moses could have unknowingly been affected by the Dimethyltryptamine by breathing in the smoke. It is interesting to note that the Ark of the Covenant itself, in which the Holy Spirit was said to reside, was built from Acacia wood. This could be explained simply as a connection with Egyptian beliefs. The Israelites had lived for hundreds of years as slaves to the Egyptians, and would have adopted many of their traditions. Acacia appears in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and has connections to myths involving the Tree of Life as well as Osiris’ death and rebirth. (Shanon 2008)

Those undergoing visions while under the influence of high levels of Ayahuasca sometimes experience a shift in their perception of time. This could perhaps explain the burning bush as well. Instead of witnessing a bush that burned for eternity, Moses could very well have been experiencing one single moment that, for him, stretched on forever.

Another possibility of the burning bush’s origins could have been Harmal, a shrub which name means in Arabic both ‘taboo’ and ‘sacred’. There is a very long tradition in the region of using Harmal for medical purposes. It was also used in exorcisms, abortions and as anti-depressants, and was known at the time to have hallucinogenic properties. (Shanon 2008 58)

The concept of a miracle is a fascinating thing, but the human ability to fight them also fascinates me. At every turn, we find ourselves making excuses for the small miracles in our lives. We call them coincidences, lucky breaks. There is no denying that Moses was a strong man: a leader and protector of men, but whether or not he was God’s chosen Prophet is something impossible to prove. There are many aspects of his life that fit in well with the possibility that he was a Shaman. He brought his people out into the wilderness, healed them both physically and spiritually, and was their direct link to God. He also performed miracles such as parting the waters of the Red Sea and turning the River Nile into blood. It’s likely that we will never know the truth of these miracles, and perhaps it is best if we never do.

Shanon, B. (March 2008) “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis” in “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology Consciousness and Culture” Volume 1 Issue 1, pp. 51-74

Monday, June 22, 2009

Western Culture & Nature. Us & That or Us& Us?

steve colmbia darvall - -s40523916

as the crickets soft autumn hum is to us,
so r we to the trees,
as are they to the rocks and the hills.

.gary snyder.

Nature. Human nature. Bee nature. Arctic fox nature. Whale nature. Fungi nature. Red cedar nature. The nature of light. The nature of air. The nature of dust. The nature of soil. The nature of Earth. The nature of galaxy. The nature of gravity. The nature of universes. The common theme amongst these pieces of existence is nature. Although obviously a part of it (this article leans towards this assumption heavily) humans tend to perceive nature distinct from themselves. Especially in the current dominant culture on Earth, that is, Western civilization.

The following will discuss that beast that is Western Civilization and its general perception and attitude towards nature, what nature means to the majority of the people within and musings on what this may imply.

A recent online article entitled Guns, not charm, expel snakes from police station (Reuters, 2009) serves as a good introduction to the mainstream's view of nature. The final paragraph reports that 'villagers frequently have run-ins with wild animals in areas of the country that were deserted during the years of fighting (Reuters, 2009).' The words here imply a separation between human's and 'wild' animals and the places they inhabit. Places humans are not are deemed deserted and full of wild animals waiting only to have a 'run-in' with humans.

This separation from nonhuman entities, be it animals, rocks, trees, dirt, air or water, is the dominant theme that pervades Western culture and continues to support its movements and actions around the globe. Jane Caputi puts it bluntly by stating that 'to be civilized is to hold oneself in opposition to oneself; to be ashamed of the animality of the self, which to the fully civilized means the "filth" of the self. If we listen to the creatures and to the elements, and even to our bodies, we are then primitive, backwards (Jensen 87)." Where does this civilized belief come from and for that matter, how could anyone possibly be led to believe this?

As Derrick Jensen notes, 'We are embedded in the natural world. We evolved as social creatures in this natural world (Jensen 235)." To say anything less would be ludicrous, yet every moment that passes by, every action that does harm to the planet, every tree felled and mineral mined to be transformed into useless, dead matter is filled to the brim with the exact opposite notion, that is, that we are humans and the rest are resources to be developed. Except for those humans which are seen as resources. From Western culture's point of view, or at least the minority who seem to control it, the majority of humans are nonhuman, resources to develop the minority's resources, whether they are physical or emotional resources.

So where has this belief come from and developed? Ponting theorises that the 'transition to agriculture', perhaps 6000 years ago, from a hunter gathering society was most likely the change (Ponting 37).’ From there, the connection to the land began to dissolve. Towns grew and cities evolved that then began to bring in resources from elsewhere to support its population, essentially taking from others land and disconnecting itself from the land. David Suzuki recalls that his ‘grandparents had no sense of the sacredness of the land…they were too busy making a living (Suzuki 11).’

This then reaches the current world where sustainability is no longer possible within the culture as populations are reliant on other's resources. As a result, the Earth gets consumed. A human's needs have shifted from the land to that of cars, television, gourmet foods, gourmet loves, gourmet everything and all the extremes of technology. People are addicted to consuming and this addiction 'only promises to get worse.' It serves as a temporary filler of the hole, the void, the 'empty self’ that is left when our connection to the Earth and the beauty of life is buried (Gomes & Kanner 78). This empty self identifies with the culture surrounding it, one that is surrounded by steel and concrete, not the beauty of the natural world, and the earth that sired and raised them from the very beginning. 'This split between wild and tame lies at the foundation of both the addictive personality and technological society (Glendinning 53).'

But there is always a chance to realise this beauty, this grace. The blue or grey sky sparkling, the sound of a bird, the kiss of the wind on your skin, the touch of a raindrop, then raindrops, then a torrent, cascading down your face, your entire body, your entire being, your entirety. An entirety that encompasses all.

Jay Griffiths sees that another influence may be that ‘both classical and biblical traditions placed the city as the highest point in a hierarchy of imaginative environments built on wilderness. Culture was decreed as the opposite of nature and to be found in the city (Griffiths 37).’ Another influence may be that ‘Aristotelian knowledge is achieved through observation rather than intuition and stabilized not into a mythology but into an explicit theory (Oelschlaeger 67).’ Both these points stem from the mind separating and labeling what is around itself and placing things in hierarchies and theories, the mind’s realm. This only contributes to one’s perceived separation from nature.

Ralph Metzner sums this up eloquently; ‘Perhaps it would be fair to say that individuals feel unable to respond to the natural world appropriately, because the political, economic, and educational institutions in which we are involved all have this dissociation built into them (Metzner 65).’ The dissociation he refers to is that of humans to nature.

In truth, the causes of the current destructive mindset of many humans is as complex as nature is and is tightly entwined, but that does not mean one should simply dismiss it just because it is impossible to arrive at an objective truth. 'How could we be were it not for this planet that provided our very shape?...We should be thankful for that, and take nature's stricter lessons with some grace (Snyder 29).'

Ecologist Barry Commoner has proposed the 'Four Laws of Ecology'. They are that a) Everything is connected to everything else; b) Everything must go somewhere; c) Nature knows best; d) There is no such thing as a free lunch (Commoner 37). This seems fair enough. Seems again, obvious, even if it is still a human inventing some laws. Most anyone who has spent long periods of time in the wilderness will surely have been taught this, if not in so intellectual terms. One comes to simply know it, sense it, and become it. 'I want the guide of the wild to lead me to see, to touch with all senses the depth that is nature wherever I am (Rothenberg 21).' Nature, the Earth is our teacher.

On the other hand, Western culture has essentially inverted this and offered it up to the masses, which slurp it up. The majority of Western culture teaches that a) nothing is connected, we are all separate. Food is mass consumed with little or no thought as to what it is or where it has come from. It is eaten with no regard for the bodies' nutritional needs, guzzled or smoked down on a whim.
This then leads to b) everything must go somewhere? No, of course that is not true. The food you eat and its toxic filled crusts and skins don't flow into your arteries and innards. Don't even think about it.
c) Nature doesn't know best. We can fix that with genetic meddling and getting as far away from nature as possible. Besides, it’s scary. We don't want to be scared do we?
d) Free lunch? Yes please. No problem. It's a massive planet. We will just take from elsewhere. The distance between here and where we got it feels like it’s free, so let’s embrace that feeling to its fullest. Ahhh.....feels good. Now, no one rock the boat. We mean it, not even a slight movement. We don't want any fresh, vibrant, life supporting water to touch us. Fortunately, the boat will probably rock itself and is already in full swing.

All this perceived separation eventually leads to fear. The universe is an unknown unfolding mystery that cannot be controlled, and since one of the symptoms of separation is the need to control, fear arises. Often this leads to more separation to escape that which is feared, be it internally or externally. This can be seen by the countless acts of violence being perpetrated against the Earth and its inhabitants. It seems to be an ever spiraling chasm.

This attempt at control can also be expressed through those with a ‘positive’ view of nature but is really just another form of separation. Meyer believes that ‘this transformation of the biosphere springs as much from our deliberate efforts to protect and manage the life around us as from our wanton disregard for the environment (Meyer 9)’ There is that separation again trying to protect otherness.

Kathleen Deen gives another angle on a ‘positive’ view of nature and in this case, the Earth and people’s inaction ‘It’s nice to think the Earth is a Mother who will come after us and clean up the mess and protect us from mistakes, and then forgive us the monstrous betrayal. But even mothers can be worn out and used up, and then what happens to her children? (Leguin 67).’ This is an extremely valid point and is reminiscent of religious views of a higher power coming down to save us, redeem us and bring us to the light. Sure, the Earth has been our Mother, but one cannot take, take, and take. There must be an exchange, a codependence in order to sustain the relationship. In other words, it takes two to tango. Or in our case, it takes seven billion to salsa.

But could this be changing? Tim Flannery feels that ‘today that same dark, lurking fear is, I suspect, our best hope for a sustainable future. We have realised that we have no other home than this one, and we cannot remake it to suit ourselves (Flannery 123).’ Humans have backed themselves into a corner and are now forced to look the fear and the root of the fear head on.

‘The wild is not to be feared anymore, but to be loved, savored, enjoyed, inhabited respectfully so that we may ensure its presence long into the future (Rothenberg 14).’

'The physical universe and all its properties' is Gary Snydyer's preference when defining nature and it is this definition that is given experiential meaning when one ventures out into the wilderness. Then the lines, which were separate, begin to blur within the wild area, then the lines blur between the wild of the forest and the wild of the park, the wild of the city, the wild of the parking lot. Although the sense of wildness differs depending on one's surroundings, it could be said that that is yet another separation. As these separations begin to dissolve, perhaps what is left is the 'oneness' and unity that is experienced in religions and many indigenous cultures. It is this oneness and interconnectedness that is nature. Nature at its root level is this sense and it permeates everything. 'In such a world there is no wildness, as there is no tameness (Gomes & Kanner 28)'.

In summary, the above attempts to give a broad look at Western culture's perception and interaction with nature and its home, the Earth. We are inherently linked to the Earth and its complex processes and have been from the beginning of existence to this point, and for who-knows how long into the future, whether humans exist or not.

What is important here is awareness. An awareness of the reality of the now, in the present. An awareness of the planet, the culture you live in, the culture you don't, the land where you live, the land where you don't, the people you care about, the people you don't, the rocks, the air, salt, the soil, the trees, the furry bees, the magpies, the echidnas, the bush turkeys, the mosquitoes, the midges, the rivers, the seas, the dams, the pollution, the deforestation, the extinctions, the loves, the sorrows and the joys.

Contrary to the intellectual discussion above, awareness is simple. All it requires is a choice to be open to what is, what has come before, and what is coming. Forget the rest. The only rest that matters will bubble up from the warming springs that murmur away within, waiting for the debris to be cleared away in one brusque movement.


Commoner, Barry. The Closing Circle : Nature, Man and Technology, New York, Knopf, 1971.

Flannery, Tim. An Explorer's Notebook : Essays on Life, History & Climate, Melbourne, Text Publishing Company, 2007.

Glendinning, Chellis. "Technology, Trauma and the Wild" In Ecospychology : Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Edited by Gomes M & Kanner A & Roszak T, San Francisco, SierraClub Books, 1995.

Gomes M & Kanner A & Roszak T Eds. Ecospychology : Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, San Francisco, Sierra Club Books, 1995.

Griffiths, Jay. Wild : An Elemental Journey, London, Penguin Books Ltd, 2006.

Jensen, Derrick. Endgame : Volume 1 : The Problem of Civilization, New York, Seven Stories Press, 2006.

Knudtson P & Suzuki D. Wisdom of the Elders, Toronto, Stoddart Publishing, 1992.

LeGuin, Ursula. "Women/Wildness." In Healing the Wounds. Edited by Judith Plant, Philadelphia, New Society, 1989.

Metzner, Ralph. "The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship". In " In Ecospychology : Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Edited by Gomes M & Kanner A & Roszak T, San Francisco, SierraClub Books, 1995.

Meyer, Stephen M. The End of the Wild, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2006.

Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness, New York, Vail-Ballou Press, 1991.

Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World, Greatish Britain, Penguin Books, 1992.

Rothenberg, David, Ed. Wild Ideas, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Shepard, Paul. "Nature & Madness" In " In Ecospychology : Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Edited by Gomes M & Kanner A & Roszak T, San Francisco, SierraClub Books, 1995.

Snyder, Gary. The Practice of the Wild, Canada, Harper Collins, 1990.

online resources

Guns, not charm, expel snakes from police station. Accessed 10 June 2009.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Postural Techniques of Ecstasy

Postural Techniques of Ecstasy by Michele Walters

This essay examines the different forms of trance states and experiences used by various cultures to bring about an altered state of consciousness, with particular emphasis on the role of postures in the trance state. To examine this form of trance reference will be made to the work of Anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, who argues that there is a high degree of agreement in visionary context and physical sensation, cross culturally and trans-historically among individuals adopting similar body postures to induce an altered state of consciousness (Goulet and Young, 1994:324). Reference to studies by Yan Dhyansky (1987) of the University of California, on the Indus Valley as an origin of yoga practice some five thousand years ago, will also be examined along with more contemporary forms of yoga asanas, or postures, and mudras, or arm, hand and body positions used in the traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. These references will be used to argue that it is possible to take the trance postures out of the cultural, social and ecological frame of the originating culture in order to induce an altered state of consciousness in a modern Western environment. It will be shown that this blending of ancient wisdom with contemporary life is not an appropriation of the sacred spiritual traditions of these cultures but rather that the core practices themselves relate to, as Winkelman (1997:421) argues, “an innate drive within humans to seek an altered state of consciousness. Cowan (1996:15) differentiates between religion and spiritual practice arguing that one can belong to a specific cultural religion and also partake in cross cultural spiritual practice. D’Aquili (1975:54) argues that although techniques to attain ecstatic trance may vary, ultimately the same end state is achieved, resulting in a feeling of union and harmony with the universe. Goodman (1986:83) proposes that the physiological changes observed during the religious altered state of consciousness represent a common deep structure, and that the variety of religious experiences is only the surface structure. This suggests that the ecstatic trance state is one that invokes, inspires and transcends cultural space and time, providing a universal spiritual base for healing, both for the practitioner and the community (human and non-human) to which they belong.

In order to discuss how trance informs contexts of reality it is necessary to explain the concept of consciousness and religious behaviour. Krippner (2000:7) describes consciousness as the pattern of an organism’s perceptual, cognitive and affective activities at any given moment in time. Altered states of consciousness are therefore defined as changes to the ordinary waking state along with any number of dimensions which Baruss (2003:8) defines as “stable patterns of physiological, cognitive, and experiential events different from those of the ordinary waking state. Bourguignon (2004:138) describes the term trance as the many varied mental states from which the subject retains consciousness and gives evidence of intelligence, either his or her own normal intelligence or some foreign intelligence. Goodman (1990:9) states that religious trance is when trance occurs in a religious context, that is, when contact is made with the alternate, the sacred, reality and argues that this intelligence is not an internal body mechanism but rather that the body is enabled to perceive a certain part or aspect of the other dimensions (Goulet and Young, 1994:324). D’Aquili (1975:34) argues that religious ritual is a step by step social performance which is the key to the structure of the groups’ mythology or world view. Goulet and Young (1994:330) argue that spirits or other dimensions are nothing more than an aspect of sociological and psychological processes. However, they do agree, that the informants of these particular experiences need to be taken seriously which requires recognising the limits of scientific investigation, and concede the cross cultural experience allows for new understandings of how others perceive their reality.

A quotation from Robert S. De Ropp, in The Master of the Game (1968) states:
“If one wants to find out what lies beyond the frontier, the only way to do so is to go beyond it and see. On this journey one will do well to obtain both a map and a guide, but one will have to travel every step by one’s own efforts” (Coxhead, 1985:56).

It could be argued that ‘this map or guide’ has been left to us today in the form of carvings, drawings, stories and songs by ancient cultures which have their own universal symbolism and cosmology, inhabited by beings, gods and totems, displaying similar characteristics in various forms, depending on their place of origin (Matthews, 1991:1). Goodman (2003: 11) speculates whether art, as an expression of the religious, actually originates from an altered state of consciousness. Pondering the relationship between belief systems and neurophysiology, Goodman embarked on an investigative study to find out why posture of the body in meditation practices, could cause certain physiological changes (Goodman and Nauwald, 2003:3). Goodman searched for postures that could be used in her trance research and began using small statues and cave art that were thousands of years old, many of which originated in hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies that were animistic in nature (Goodman and Nauwald, 2003:3). In practicing the body postures and using the rhythmic stimulation of the rattle, at 210 beats per minute for fifteen minutes to induce trance, Goodman observed that certain postures enabled a specific trance experience which is mediated by the posture (Goodman, 1986:112). The results of this investigation confirmed that while in trance, increasing the pressure on a body part, straining certain muscles, or relaxing certain muscles, altered the trance experience (Goodman and Nauwald, 2003:19). Initially, Goodman and her co-workers, researched six postures, the number of which has now increased to over sixty body postures, which during trance, results in an altered state of consciousness and produces identifiable and specific religious experiences leading to a direct link with the spirit world (Spickard, 1991: 336). Goodman organised the various ecstatic trance postures into the categories of healing, divination, metamorphosis, spirit journey and initiation to describe tendencies or better uses of one posture compared to another (Gore, 2009: 43). The oldest known ritual posture Goodman used is known as the Woman of Galgenberg, which was created as a small statue 30,000 years ago in Austria, whose position is said to allow travel of the entire cosmos: through the lower world, the middle world, the upper world, and the realm of the dead (Goodman, 2003:14). Goodman (1990:218) describes the source of the visions experienced in the trance to be the alternate reality, stating that the body is tuned to the posture in the trance in such a way that we are enabled to experience, to perceive a certain part or aspect of the other dimension.

Anthropologist Erika Bourguignon’s comparative study in 1973 of 488 societies around the world found that 90 percent used at least one culturally institutionalised method to experience an altered state of consciousness (Goodman & Nauwald, 2003:3). Nauwald (2003:4) believes the Hatha yoga asanas also have their roots in the ritual body postures of shamanic cultures. Iliade (2004:405) argues that ascent of the shamanic type is found in the legends of the Nativity of the Buddha stating that “the Buddha symbolically traverses the seven cosmic levels to which the seven planetary heavens correspond and that the old cosmological schema of shamanic, and Vedic, celestial ascent was enriched by the metaphysical speculations of India”. Iliad (2004:407) argues that today it is no longer the Vedic “world of the Gods” and “immortality” to which the Buddha’s seven strides are directed, but rather the transcending of the human condition to final liberation and Nirvana (Iliad, 2004:407). Maxwell (2003:257) describes the Tantras, meaning woven threads, as an integral part of meditation rituals which have been developed to harness the powers needed to achieve enlightenment in a single lifetime. The human form is seen as the yogic “vessel” for following the path and the figure is paramount (Maxwell, 2003:25). Ratnasara Tantra states “He who realised the truth of the body can then come to know the truth of the universe” (Metzner, 1971:30). In Tibetan esoteric art, the Indian tantric forms grew among the indigenous shamanic religion called ‘Bon’ in which extensive use of the posture called Yab-Yum, or “father-mother” is a symbol of absolute necessity of joining the goddess’ transcendent wisdom with the god’s skillful means (Maxwell, 2003:260). Metzner (1971:30) argues that for millennia it was, and still is, the concern of Indian yoga methods to extract oneself from the subtle web of illusion (maya) spun by sense experience.

Dhyansky (1987: 91) describes the origins of Yoga as a practice to have begun over five thousand years ago in the Indus Valley, which is based on the discovery of over 2500 steatite seals depicting human figures in very specific postures, often with horned headdress and animals, including elephants, bulls, tigers and most commonly snakes. Dhyansky (1987:99) argues that the postures reveal age old concepts of yoga including prana “vital breath”, or “that which is constantly present everywhere” and the connection between prana, breath, mind and body. Dhyansky (1987:99) argues the snake represents the kundalini, which is believed to be very powerful and lies blocking the entrance of the nade or energy channels until it is awakened and removed. The following passage from the Hathayogaprakipika (1972, IV, pp.11-12) states that when kundalini is awakened then prana is able to enter susumna: “In the yogin in whom the kundalini sakti is awakened and who is free from all karmans (objects), the truly natural state comes into being on its own. Then the prana flows in the susumna and the mind is absorbed in the void; the knower of Yoga uproots all objects.” Dupler (2002:2651) states that in yoga practices, the yoga masters, or yogis, through the use of postures, breath and meditation, aim to achieve the goal of enlightenment or self-transcendence though joining the individual self with what they term the Universal Spirit or Cosmic Consciousness.

Later images in South Asian dance, art and religious liturgy depict geometrical designs, or yantras, for the transformation of visual sense experience, mantras for the transformation of auditory sense experience, and mudras for the transformation of bodily experience through the channelling of energies by means of special postures and gestures (Metzner, 1971:32). Reedy (1987:635) states the mudras are used extensively in Buddhism to help practitioners in their quest for enlightenment, with the art communicating complex metaphysical and practical ideas (Reedy, 1987:635. Although able to identify structural patterns in the mudra markings in art, Reedy concedes that specific information communicated by a set of mudras is impossible to obtain from textual or oral sources and that exact meanings of iconographic components are unknown (Reedy, 1987:63). Given the similar iconographic images described in the yoga traditions to postures revealed in other ancient art work, perhaps a key to unlocking the meaning of these postures could be the use of techniques as utilised by Goodman and her associates in their work with other sacred postures.

The obvious difference between the postures described by Goodman and those elicited in yoga practices is the binary of outside and inside, for Goodman the ecstatic trance perception is of going out, of leaving the body and journeying beyond the self whereas the yogic trance, emphasises the control of the mind and body allowing for an interpretation of the inner body. In shamanic trance, the soul is in enticed to interact with spirits and be the bridge between the spirit world and the world of the living rather than to experience an altered state per se (Townsend, 1997:433) In Yoga, the postures or asanas and mudras allow for the control or steadying of the mind, however ultimately it is in this control of the mind that it said to be freed from the body and roam ’outside’ after reaching the appropriate yogic state (Sarukkai, 2002:468). Both forms of spiritual practice facilitate the breaking down of perceptual boundaries in which altered states of consciousness allow for contact with the alternate, the sacred reality. Cowan (1996:15) argues that just as the Buddhist practice of yoga is not contained to the Far East, shamanic practice is not bound to any particular culture, continent or century. Cowan (1996:15) uses the analogy of Buddhism as an example of how resilience is inherent within the universal message of Buddhism allowing for other cultural expressions of its practices. Cowan (1996:15) believes that for all the exotic and mysterious phenomena associated with shamanism the experience is simple, timeless and universal. Goodman (1986:114) concludes that postures used in both the use of shamanic journey states and Buddhist mindfulness training have proven to be of great therapeutic value for modern practitioners.

Gore (2009:19) believes the remarkable cross-cultural versatility of ecstatic body postures derives from the profound insight that every ecstatic experience requires a ritual and with the sacred postures, the body itself provides the ritual when the body assumes the necessary pose. In shamanic practice or yogic practice, entry into an Alternate Reality, whether an ‘inner’ or an ‘outer’ reality is to experience what exists beyond the world of consensual reality. Coxhead (1985:56) states the evidence that there is something waiting for us on the other side, in what Harner termed ‘non-ordinary reality’, is worth whatever the price of seeking, from Ancient shamanistic practices to Buddhist ‘Enlightenment’. Winkelman argues that the universal neurobiological system is the same, brain, the same body throughout the history of religious trance practices, but that throughout time have become culturally elaborated (D’Aquili, 1975:33). Goodman’s findings suggest that posture and rattling produces reliable visionary content across participants and that the subjective experiences obtained with a given posture correspond with important information contained in myths, or involved in helping the participants with healing, problem solving, or making major life transitions (Woodside, Kumar and Pekala, 1997:70). Modern yoga practice contains the central ideas that physical posture and alignment can influence a person’s mood and self-esteem, and that the mind can be used to shape and heal the body. Yoga practitioners claim that the strengthening of the mind/body awareness can bring eventual improvements in all facets of a person’s life (Dupler, 2002:2653). The traditional role of the shaman to keep his community connected with the world of spirit embodied the experience of daily life. In modern terms, the use of expansive, positive states are constructive for our own well-being, creativity and growth, and enable us to be able to recognise the state we are in, and how to navigate through it in order to learn (Metzner, 1971). The use of ritual body postures, as refined and depicted in ancient practices, present as a doorway to an altered reality providing for both individual and community healing. As described by Iliade (2004:509) ecstatic trance in shamanism, is one that “defends life, health, fertility, the world of “light”, against death, disease, sterility, disaster, and the world of “darkness”, religious sentiments that are as relevant today as they were to the cultures in which they originated.


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sportsman's Transcendence

by s4144244

Transcendence is described as the ‘peak’ experience, an experience that immerses ecstatic feelings of unity and meaning of life. (Maslow citied in Curtin, p309) Tranquillity of self and connectedness to the world around evokes feelings of aliveness, reciprocity and a ‘notion of being-in-the-world.’ (Curtin p309, Porteous as citied in Ashley, p55) A notion so great one feels ‘beyond the reach of death’. (Hutch) Transcendence is a heightened awareness from the normal ‘waking state’, existing from excitement and adrenalin. (Coxhead p57, Curtin p309) It’s described as the ultimate ecstasy where ‘the flow of time,’ thoughts and emotions are suspended, an altered state of consciousness beyond the everyday and corporeal world. (Ashley, p55) Transcendence is “a harmonious experience where mind and body are working together effortlessly, leaving the person feeling that something special has just occurred”. (Csikszentmihalyi & Jackson citied in Hutch)

Rituals practised in order to able transcendence have existed throughout history of mankind and still exercised to this present day. Coxhead’s accounts of what he calls bliss experiences, show a variety of ways in which transcendence can be induced, wether that be intentional or not. What this essay will be looking at is transcendence via sport. The case studies looked at are of sport that is practised in indigenous and non-indigenous cultures around the world in order to see how the ritual of sporting activities brings on a transcendence experience and the importance it has on the participant’s lives and society.

In this essay the Tarahumara runners and Japanese Buddhist monks represent Indigenous sport in relation to transcendence. Parallel to them are surfers, parkour practitioners and general runners of non-indigenous sport.

The Tarahumara Indians are noted to be ‘the finest natural distance runners in the world’. They run as a way of life. Living in the merciless terrain of canyons in Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico, the Tarahumara are said to be able to run across fifty to eighty miles a day at race like pace. Long strides, without signs of fatigue, they complete there daily task through ritual. For Set races, such as the rarajipari, no formal training is needed, instead days prior to racing they smoke and drink. In Tarahumara culture, the running can be seen as a way to channel aggression, it is a social event that raises community spirits, some events celebrated as reciprocity to one another, or keeping away bad spirits. When white man came to the land they called them noble savages, realising they live in harmony to the world. However, Plymire interlocks the idea they are white man’s Indian, not free to live as before. Publicity and the tourism industry have put a price on their running. Can one put a price on transcendence? They began competing in the Olympics and organised American marathons but they didn’t do so well. The environment had changed. The course had changed. Their usual attire of breechcloth just over genetalia and old tire shoes were swapped for the modern day running gear. The reason for running was changed. Plymire retells accounts of when the Tarahumara were helping the whites for logging, in exchange for less than dollar per day’s work. (Plymire, 61) He reports the Tarahumara then were still great runners. Maybe because they didn’t know the value of the efforts and still saw it as a everyday ritual. “(They) did not seem about to become slaves to civilization”. (Plymire, 61) However, time has shown that white society has not helped preserve sovereignty of their culture. Statements have been made, that the Tarahumara lack time and discipline. This however, shows running for the Tarahumara Indians is a freedom, transcendence.

Japanese Buddhist Monks travel for one thousand days across the five peaks belonging to the Hiei Mountains toward enlightenment. Only dressed in a traditional white robe, a straw raincoat and sandals on their feet, they carry simply candles, a prayer book and a sack of vegetarian food. This running ritual stretches over forty-thousand kilometres of terrain and during the time of ritual they take on famines of food, water and sleep for up to nine days getting through them by chanting mantras. At some parts of the journey, they run for two-hundred days achieving a marathon length run everyday. One can only think of the transcendence they feel along the way. The last monk to have completed the journey said his trust was in god. A sense of being would be understandable as only forty-six monks are said to have completed the spiritual journey. The journey of heightened awareness, enlightenment, through fulfilment of Nirvana is a story of transcendence, used to bring back teachings to others.

The spiritual side of surfing evokes a surfer’s transcendent experience. Out on the ocean, they are alone with Mother Nature. They claim it to a ‘mysterious magic’. Feelings of unity and kinship with non human animals help cultivate self realisation. Surfing, is ‘riding on the pulse of nature’s energy. (Taylor, 936) Surfing transcendence is unity with the real world, an ‘escape from confusion onshore’. (Taylor) It is joining forces with the wave rather than a goal to conquer. It is meditative. Noise melts away, external thoughts are lost and mind is focused on riding the wave. Surfing in the tube accounts suggest time freezes. Surfing transforms consciousness and this transcendence awakens a great sense of self awareness. The waves can be a sense of fear because of the dangerous but banished by the reciprocated feeling of happiness and ecstasy. Surfer, Gerry Lopez, became known in the surfing world for his elegant style. Images of him sitting in lotus position connected to Zen principles of peace of mind, contentment of self and living in the pure moment. He promoted surfing as a collective identity and unity. Surfing culture itself promotes its sport as ritualistic and religious. Movies were being made that reminded surfers of the tranquillity on the waves and brought the community together. They excitement from surfing enticed people to want the image of surfing transcendence around them at all times, by decorating their house, cars and listening to surfing music. (Taylor) Surfing, in Taylor’s account and many others, evoke transcendental consciousness.

The word Parkour in French means ‘to travel through’. It is an extreme sport compiled by martial arts and dance. Practitioners, called the traceurs, ‘leap, spring, vault and drop’ over and from anything that intend to limit movement in urban society. (Geyh) Buildings, towers, railings, traffic all restrict the flowing movement of urban society by limiting movement space and place to the common city dweller. Daskalaki defines the city as an embodiment of power relationships and the material environment sets perception of self. He names them ‘socio-political structures’ that enforce ‘homogenisation, control and domination’. They build civic ethos of social interactions and create meanings of how people should relate to each other and reduce freedom of movement. (Daskalaki) The traceurs however, practice parkour to escape this confinement and seek transcendence. Said before, unity, freedom, reciprocity, ecstasy and sense of being define transcendence and all these aspects are found in Parkour. Parkour ‘remap’ or ‘re-embody’ urban space. In disciplinary resistance, traceurs use their bodies to swing and jump or even fly to overcome obstacles, breaking the lines of the city towards freedom. They engage and unite with the environment they inhabit to conjure a reciprocal relationship, meaning the once-were obstacles become a helping hand to possibilities. The goal of Parkour is finding the way, a conception of Taoist principle of ‘harmony within the universe’, the ‘flow within nature’. In an Urban Flow article, different traceurs claim feelings of ecstasy in the ability to over come obstacles, a sense of self and some claim the aloneness with the world which comes back to Curtin’s view of loss of time and place. There is a loss of external thought and the focus turns to ‘oneself, environment and the way’. The movement itself plays on grace and control, parkour as an art of movement, a flowing force. Parkour is an achievement of physical skills and a development of mental and spiritual well-being. (Urban Free Flow) To some, parkour is a way of life, just like any practised religion.

“It goes against all of the preset notions of what mankind is, a separate entity, man against nature, us against the world… to me, that’s what strikes me as important, no so much some ‘new art sport’, but more of a return to something that over the centuries we’ve lost. Something that fills that void. (citied: Daskalaki p62)

General running is ritualistic and contains feelings of transcendence. For general runners, transcendence is also available. Schultheis account of his transcendent runs was predominant when he was in nature. He ran beyond exhaustion. His rhythm and stride of body was on auto pilot and his mind became a ‘float’. His running felt like his feet were hardly touching the ground as he glided through the air. It was this feeling that kept him running. Was this his transcendence? Willett wrote an article on the ‘Running High’. Although she question wether it is true or not, she to claims her mind is in a different state of consciousness during a run. Schultheis describes his run as mind over body, mind in another dimension. The end of his runs he feel ecstatically away. He describes it as being away, totalling gone, looking into the sky. When he moved and importance of things shifted in his life, he lacked transcendent feeling while running. He moved towns and his environment had changed. He ran marathons with egotistic competitors who ran for different reasons. Running for him was escaping the material social constrictions of his society. Schultheis learned of the Tarahumara Indians that ran through their rugged homeland. He question what they have that he didn’t and comes to the understanding that the transcendence he wanted to renew was due to his connectedness to nature. “Running through landscape is a lot easer than running against it” (Schultheis,)

The sports practised in these cultures, indigenous or not activate peak and flow concepts of Csikszentmihalyi and Maslow into a transcendent experience. These accounts of all hold important transcendent discourses of unity, self awareness, loss of sense of time, feelings of ecstasy and transformation.

What contributes this experience are the aspects of modes in sport such as ritual, values, symbols and beliefs that make sport important in participant’s lives.

Birrel sees sport as a modern day ritual. Ritual, Driver explains, is the technique. It connects and transforms the practitioner to a state of transcendence. It is the activism to transcendence. “To view world spiritually is to view it as full of personal agency, this is what ritual does, takes reality to be enacted.. And is an enactment of reality.” Performing ritual is ‘actively inserting own actions, subjectivity and interactions” (Driver, 169) Driver explains rituals can be misleading. It isn’t a set of scripts that need to be followed. The ritual grows, as the person grows. (Driver, 187) Taylor describes it as the key to thoughts and feelings of understanding themselves and environment around. This is evident in each case study.

Sport also holds other values that contribute to ritual. Values of courage, gameness, composure and the sport bring dramatic encounter. In each extreme sport death is always at play. Courage is needed to over come it. Gameness is valued to keep on going, willingness to let go. Composure externalises thought and stress in dignity of respect to body. Dramatic encounter is important, wether that be running through harsh terrains, being with Mother Ocean or ability to over come urban milieu, it is the exposure of self and changes the normal to exquisite and special. (Birrel, 363)

Ritual links participant to social order. (Driver, 166) Puts them in place, which is why transcendence can have effect of sense-of-being. For surfers, they experience the sacredness of the ocean, and furthermore take back eco-friendly thoughts leading to environmental actions. This in turn deepens communal life. Parkour gives sense of connectedness those who practice and again, deepens the communal life. Beauregard shows this is evident in the Tarahumara culture when he quotes “'If running were removed from Tarahumara life, the total cultural imbalance resulting would be greater than if some sporting activity were dropped from our own complex culture'.

For all, it is social order to show we do not have power. It is a reminder “that we cannot control the world and that God is in the driver’s seat” but “ultimately the spiritual uncertainty of free will and fate emerge.” (Miller)Sports allow its agents to become free. Free from constrictions society place and reunites one to environment around them. This transformation is a renewal or reoriented self. (Driver, 178)

Sport is a consciousness transformation, physical healing, promoting spirituality and put forward environment ethos. Transcendence becomes euphoria, stimulation of body and mind, an endorphin to heighten senses. (Willett)Sport transcendence is an intimate connection between self and outer world. (Driver, 171) It is the experience of flow, bliss, loss-time and space continuum, a being in the moment, a self-transcendence. ‘The spiritual journey’s ultimate mystical destination is our realization and understanding that we are where we need to be, always part of the One, and always remembering the One.’ (Miller) Transcendence is important in all the athletes’ lives because it holds beliefs, values and symbols that create the transcendence and as the ultimate feeling it portrays the right way to life. (Taylor)


Ashley P, 2007 ‘Wilderness Spirituality’ Australian Geographer 38 1 pg 53-69

Beauregard A, Running Feet (term paper)

Birrell 1981 ‘Sport as Ritual: Interpretations from Durkheim to Goffman” Special Forces, 60, 2, pg 354-376

Coxhead N, 1985, 'The Relevance of Bliss: A Contemporary Exploration of Mystical Experience', Houndslow, Middlesex, Wildwood House

Curtin S 2006 ‘Swimming with Dolphins’ International Journal of Tourism Research 8, pg 301-315

Daskalaki M, Stara A and Imas M, 2008, ‘The Parkour Organisation: inhabitation of corporate spaces” Culture and Organisation 14, 1, pg49-64

Driver TL, 1991, The Magic of Ritual: Our Need for Liberating Rites that Transform Our Lives and Our Communities, New York, Harper SanFrancisco, Ch. 9, Transformation, 166-194.

Geyh, P 2006 ‘Urban Free Flow: A Poetics of Parkour’ A Journal of Media and Culture 9, 3

Hutch R, 2007, Speed Masters Throttle Up: Space, Time and the Sacred Journeys of Recreational Motorcyclists, International Journal of Motorcycle Studies, July,

Miller, Therese 2008 “Sport and spirituality: A Comparative perspective” The Sport Journal 11, 3

Pyne, D, 2006, The legend of the Tarahumara: Tourism, over civilization and the white man's Indian, International Journal of the History of Sport, 23, 2 ,154 - 166

Schultheis R, 1996, 1984, Bone Games: Extreme Sports, Shamanism, Zen, and the Search for the Transcendence, New York City, NY, Breakaway Books.

Urban Free Flow – Article, ‘A Natural Perspective’

Willett S, ‘A Runner’s High’

Japanses Buddhist Monk Article, Sydney Monring Herald -

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Music is so naturally united with us that we cannot be free from it even if we so desired"(Boethius)

Music, as a form of therapy has been increasingly studied over recent decades with promising results, including uses in pain management, mental illness, including autism, along with general well being and learning. These findings seem astonishing to the western world but in Shamanic cultures, music has been used for centuries to tend to a patient’s needs. This essay will seek to examine the neurological effects of music as well as the uses that are now apparent for music therapy and the parallels with ancient Shamanic practices.

Music itself preceded records, written and perhaps even spoken. There is evidence of musical instruments dating back to prehistoric times (MUSIC AND THE BRAIN). Every culture has a musical style, whether it be vocal, drumming and percussive, instrumental or all of these combined. Music is a central part of any culture and many cultures are intertwined and defined by the music they play. More recently, in western society music has become less a thing of spirituality and beauty, the inviolability of music has passed and music became background noise, given little, or no respect. At the same time, however, scientists have begun to research the effects that music can have on the brain, and on the physical body. These effects have astounded researchers, psychologists and accordingly there is no an increasingly growing field of Music Therapy recognised throughout western society.

There are many avenues into which Music Therapy is proving to be a useful tool, both as a means of therapy alone or accompanying another form of treatment. The uses range from general wellbeing, including mild depression all the way through to severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, as well as autism, and pain management. Other uses include memory preservation in cases of Alzheimer’s and Dementia and assisting with children with learning difficulties.

The techniques used vary with each case – and every patient’s treatment is specially configured to suit the individual patients needs and abilities, whether they are comfortable playing music, and their history with music and how the patient is feeling. The therapist uses all this information and his own knowledge to make a suitable plan for the patient. This system is much like a Shaman’s use of specific songs out of his knowledge of hundreds of songs – perhaps even composing one for the patient there.

When it comes to elderly patients who are suffering form memory altering diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia – Music therapy can be a useful tool in both the recollection and retention of memories. The music therapist can play songs from the patient’s youth. This can often help to “unlock” memories and the patient can work from these memories. Patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia often suffer from depression as they feel incapable of many simple tasks and composing a song with a music therapist can help the patient to work through their feelings. This same principle applies to patients with other mental illnesses.

As music is a powerful form of expression many patients suffering mental illness benefit from use of music therapy. With severe mental illness such as schizophrenia – the aim is to help the patients to work through their feelings as well as, more importantly, to build relationships. With Autism, patients are often shown rhythmic light displays and listen to music with a strong beat, such as techno. This can have a similar effect on the brain as Ritalin as the brain waves synchronize with the beat of the music.

This essay has demonstrated some of the effects that music can have on the brain as a therapy. This has only recently become apparent in the west, over the last forty years, but it was apparent to our anscestors, and remains apparent today in eastern societies. Shamanic practices have stayed the same over thousands of years, and while the west have moved forward with medical advances – our attitudes towards alternative therapies have gone backwards – are we too confident of what we created? Should we have held onto the ideas of our ancestors? Thankfully, we have become aware of our mistakes and seem to be moving forward into an era in which we accept our old ideas, inviting a new era of medicine which incorporates the traditions we nearly left behind. kids brain & music Alzheimer’s mental illness schizophrenia

Entheogenic Trance: A Move back to contact with the Divine--By Rowan L. Lines

RELN2110_Entheogenic Trance—A Move back to contact with the Divine.

This paper will aim to look at the role of entheogens in religious or mystical trance experiences, and the importance that entheogens hold for connection and a sense of belonging and community with the divine. The word entheogen will be defined, showing some conflicted views of the use of it—more so the implications that might exist with the use of the entheogen. Robert Forte (1997) posits that “direct experience of the divine is a goal of spiritual seekers everywhere” (3) and entheogens may act as a catalyst allowing the human condition to have this direct experience and a feeling of spiritual community, allowing—once more—everyday people the possibility to access, within a culturally specific mode, to the joys of the divine.

If we look at Winkelman (1997) or Maslow (1964), they view altered states of consciousness (ASC) in religious behaviour—almost certainly—as something that is universal to human societies (Winkelman 393, Maslow 19). Taking this inherent idea of ASC, Maslow looks at the issue of religious experience as 'peak experiences', something that is not restricted to merely theistic frameworks (Maslow xi, 19). Maslow's ideas can allow one to take the view that religious, mystical, or peak experiences are inherent to the human condition and that all of these experiences are the same at the core and this has always been the case (Maslow 19). Not only are these experiences similar world over, but the core role of the shaman, who uses these ASC or "techniques of ecstasy" (Eliade, 1964), is as well. To access ASC there are many different ways a shaman or individual can do this: through fasting, water deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, rigorous exercise ("dancing" and "long distance running"), sleep deprivation, drumming and chanting, social and sensory deprivation, as well as taking of sacramental entheogens or psychedelic substances (Winkelman 397).

What is an entheogen? The term entheogen was coined in 1979 to distinguish itself from the connotations of the terms psychedelic or hallucinogen, which were connected to the 60s Hippy-movement and the growing worldwide ‘War on Drugs’ (Forte et al 1). The term entheogen is used to refer to substances which can awaken or generate mystical experiences (Forte 1; Ruck 145). The word seems strange and not-real, but it has a solid semantic basis. Ralph Metzner (1988) objected to the term entheogen, as he saw it as “an unfortunate choice because it suggests the ‘god within’, or divine principle, is somehow ‘generated’ in these states,” Metzner’s experiences led him to conclude the opposite, “the god within is the generator…” (Metzner 1988, 19). This was not the definitions intention, and it seems Metzner prefers the term ‘hallucinogen’ or ‘psychedelic’ for the reason they act as catalysts or tools to allow for the effect of revelation, rather than implying that the substance itself produces these effects (Ott 205). Jonathan Ott argues that Metzner’s interpretation is a misunderstanding of the definition of entheogen and that it literally means “becoming divine within” not “generating the divine within” (Ott 205). Ott continues to argue that not only is it the right term to use “it is consistent and appropriate to speak of religious ecstasy catalysed by visionary plant-sacraments as ‘becoming divine within’ (205). In the end, Ott is agreeing with Metzner that the substances ingested are catalysing or facilitating “an intrinsic capability of human beings”, not as generating the experience themselves in a sense that would cause such experiences to be cheapened (Ott 205. Italics added).

Metzner, however, does raise a valid point as to the problem of word based semantics in dealing with drugs of a psychedelic nature, when trying to put across a valid and well thought out scientific or anthropological argument for the use or history of such substances. It is unfortunate that substances that are entheogenic and used in this context have been grouped up with other substances of abusable natures in the ‘War on Drugs’. The problem occurs when arguing the defining attributes that make up what could be called, or thought of, as a core-common mystical experience. While it is true that Maslow and Winkelman have argued for the core nature of the mystical experience, Metzner (1988) puts forward the idea that people who experience insight, while partaking of an entheogen or even in church or prayer, is not the same as one who can then apply that insight into practice—while this should be obvious it is often not taken into account when talking about the positives and negatives of mystical experience (Metzner 19). Thus, it seems that even though the mystical experience is core to the human condition the application of any insights attained in these states is not: “There is no inherent connection between mystical experience of oneness and the expression or manifestation of that oneness in the affairs of everyday life” (Metzner 19).

The Western church is often distrustful and sometimes openly hostile of spontaneous mysticism; this is even more so if it has occurred through the use of entheogenic substances (Braden 110). The obvious reason is they feel a slipping of power. The church loses the power as the providers, peddlers, and guides of the mystical and spiritual experience (Braden 110). One, then, does not need these middle-people for direct experience with God and the divine; however, it is this problem with contact with the immanence of the divine, which Braden mentions, the church also has objections with (110-11). It was in the seventeenth century that “Catholics were advised that the mystical experience was a gift from God, and was not to be sought after”, like a prize (Braden112. Italics added). What do entheogens offer the ailing faithful of the 21st Century? Entheogens offer them, what could be defined, as a real Eucharist—not a thing of metaphor and interpretation, but a tool to catalyse and propel one to experience divine oneness or the divine mind, the experience of monism. The Western church would frown upon this idea, they do not agree with the idea of “monistic absorption” as it goes against their doctrine of “union through love” (Braden 111). What people are missing from these traditional, dogmatic religions is a sense of the divine, Braden argues that this is due to the decline of “religious awe” (117). The question, then, is can people regain the sense of wonder they once had, this awe (Braden 117)? But this is something that primitive cultures has been doing for millennia, the ingesting of sacred substances, used as a sacramental catalyst to move them into a space where they can commune with the divine, unseen world.

It is necessary, argues Forte, to have a shamanic guide or even spiritual mentor that will aid one in the reintegration of an entheogenic, mystical experience: “Without the proper framework to understand mystical experience, even glorious encounters with the divine can be problematic or confusing” (Forte 3). Oft times, after ingesting an entheogenic substance one can experience what is called ‘ego-death’, where the self is disintegrated during an intense spiritual connection to the divine, the mentor or guide can aid in dealing with these powerful psychic states. Forte goes on to argue that the successful integration of ecstatic experience—entheogenic or otherwise—within a culture is due to an existing “suitable framework”, which defines or structures such experiences (3). It is therefore necessary, for a culture looking to delve back into the historic way of connecting with the divine, to have in place a framework which can deal with these experiences.

The idea of set and setting is a profound one when thinking about psychedelic substances (Lines np). Set and setting has an extremely powerful control over the type of experience an individual may have while under the effects of a psychedelic, in this way the substance "plays the role of a catalyst or trigger" (Metzner 3). Within a traditional psychedelic, shamanic experience one would guide the experience in a "carefully structured" (Metzner 5) way with the intention of either healing or divination. As David Steindl-Rast posits in his paper “Explorations into God”, “There are no shortcuts” (Forte 21). Entheogens will not give one a connection to the divine unless that person is focusing on that as their intention, one has to work with the experience, it will not happen on its own. Entheogens are tools to be made use of, it is through one’s spiritual journey that they will feel a longing for a deeper connection to something and it is here where entheogens can aid: whether that connection is to the sun, moon, nature, gods or goddesses. This focus on the mindset supports the participant in what can be quite powerful, traumatising, and stressful psychological experiences (Lines np). This is even so if the framework was one of the Western church, it is then possible that the church would feel less like they were not needed as the ‘middle-man’ and more needed as a guide of the spiritual and mystical experience, which seems to ring true to the vocation of the priesthood.

The ritualistic use of psychedelic substances, by the shaman, reaches back into prehistoric times (Metzner 2). These substances were always used in a respectful way, wary of the power they contained as shamanic divinational tools and as medicines (Metzner 2). Drug interaction in individuals is no longer viewed as a simple physiological action with the same effects in all people (Becker 67). There are many variables which affect the way a drug will interact in an individual and this is very important with regards to psychedelic substances that can alter perceptions in time, body, and vision (Lines np). Problematic or difficult experiences can happen within a religious framework or model, but within said framework the tools are available to turn these experiences into something “valuable and transformative” (Forte 3). The way in which any drug is taken has its effects influenced by set and setting, this being the case proper time and effort should be placed in making sure this can be achieved for the desired goal (Becker 75). Respect for the substance and focused intention is central and essential in these settings, during the undertaking of an entheogenic experience or inner journey (Metzner 5).

The direct experience of the divine is found within all the world’s major religions and it is seen “as an essential stage of spiritual development” (Forte 145). When in the right set and setting, with an entheogenic substance one can feel within a spiritual community, where they are supported and cared for in a sacred space. The entheogen does not create these feelings, but allows one to work with the experience and use it as a tool to explore and come in contact with the divine. Through entheogens it is possible for people to recapture the awe and wonder in the religious and spiritual, revitalise stagnating religions. Through the use of these sacred substances, and as long as they are respected as such, there is the possibility that many more people will turn back to religious beliefs. The ability for someone to experience the divine will do more for religious traditions than all the scripture and dogma and doctrine combined: “[people] need and want a sense of direct communion with the ultimate source of their faith,” entheogens provide this (Braden 19). When people stop listening, they stop feeling, and it is through the experiential aspect of entheogenic use that will bring people back to past, to experiences and knowledge that humanity has had for countless millennia, to contact with the divine, and a spiritual community within the self. The paper will end with a quote from David Steindl-Rast in regards to how he views the mystic experience:

The image I have in mind is that of a volcano. Our mystic experience is like a volcanic eruption. Fire, heat, light gush forth from our innermost depth. But the hot lava flows down the side of the mountain and cools off. The farther we are in space and time from the fiery eruption, the more this glowing magma turns into cold rock (Forte 21).


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Curing with Psychedelics by Chris Elcock

“And suddenly I had an inkling of what it must feel like to be mad.”
(Aldous Huxley, Doors of perception)

In this essay I intend to discuss the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs in Western culture. I will not provide an extensive survey of such drugs, rather I will examine the medical and psychological benefits offered by some of these mind-altering hallucinogenic drugs, and will argue that under medical supervision Western drug-taking can be viewed as a form of shamanism.
It has to noted straight away that the notion of mind-altering drug is rather vague, especially in a Western context. What qualifies as such in a given culture might not in another. French Anthropologist Julien Bonhomme pinpoints that the Warao indians of Venezuela use tobacco for their shamanic transes, in a similar way to other shamanic cultures who use so-called 'more powerful hallucinogens' such as, say, ayahuesca. (Bonhomme, 2008) Of course Westerners do not really consider smoking tobacco as a shamanic process - rather as a bad addictive habit.
The whole problem of drug use in the West is that it is mainly viewed as recreational, and dangerous. This is not the case in traditional shamanic cultures. The shaman can use drugs for purposes like “healing, divination, protection, and finding game animals” (Winkelmann, 1999). The healing aspect of shamanism is something that can seem alien to allopathic Western medicine. Traditional shamanistic cultures have little or no sense of fun associated with drug-inebriation, whereas Western youths can be seen as seeking something 'far out' and subversive (Boaz, 1990).The question remains open, at any rate, as to whether a total ban on psychedelics can be seen as plain coercion that dismisses shamanic practices as irrational and dangerous. One possible answer to this charge would be to argue that the Western culture is not equipped for such mind-altering drugs. It emphasises dualisms and attaches great importance to individual ego, contrasting deeply with the holistic approach in shamanism. Clinging to one's ego has often been cited as the prime cause for 'bummer-trips' (Leary, 1964).
The 1960's saw four main approaches to the use of LSD. Albert Hofmann, who synthesized the LSD-25 molecule, argued that it should be used under strict medical supervision only because of its potential dangers (Hofmann, 1980). Aldous Huxley had a more elitist vision, arguing it had to be used in intellectual circles only and not be brought to the masses, because of its dangers and because he believed reform could only come from the higher spheres of society (Hofmann, 1980). Timothy Leary had a more open conception of the drug, organising supervised LSD sessions for personal development. Author Ken Kesey had the most liberal approach, simply giving it to anybody under little or no supervision. He believed that it was an amazing gift (Wolfe, 1968) that had be shared with everybody. Here we can draw a parallel between the social stratification in shamanic societies, where the shaman has the unique role of administrating the drug through rituals, and the Western social structure embodied by medical practitioners – in Hofmann's opinion - as the only ones competent for drug administration - Hofmann was indeed very critical of Leary's methods. (Hofmann, 1980)
In Hofmann's views LSD stands as a unique kind of drug because it specifically targets the human psyche: “It can be assumed, therefore, that LSD affects the highest control centres of the psychic and intellectual functions.” (Hofmann, 1980) Hence it has a high potential for altering the human mind and even for curing various forms of mental illnesses. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert advanced several benefits in using psychedelic drugs for personal, inter-personal, aesthetic, or mystico-religious experiences. (Leary et al, 1964) But it was English psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond - who coined the word “psychedelic” - who was the first to provide a theory on the treatment of mental illness with LSD. He believed that Western science laid too much emphasis on the necessity of understanding phenomena in a rational and scientific way, and was too often guilty of neglecting unorthodox medical possibilities on the grounds that we partially or did not understand the mechanisms behind the phenomena: “Our preoccupation with behaviour, because it is measurable, has led us to assume that what can be measured must be valuable and vice versa.”(Osmond, 1957) Osmond offers the following explanation to the West's obsession with Reason: “We prefer such rationalised explanations because they provide an illusory sense of predictability.” (Osmond, 1957) Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain also noted that psychedelic therapies were disregarded by the conservative mainstream psychiatrist: “They were appalled to learn that some psychotherapists were actually taking LSD with their patients. This was strictly taboo to the behaviorist, who refused to experiment on himself on the grounds that it would impair his ability to remain completely objective.” (Lee and Shlain, 1985) This too is part of the holistic approach we find in shamanism. The shaman usually takes the drug with the patient and is by no means attempting to objectify the experience. But because it breaches the patient-practitioner barrier, it is seen as an invalid scientific experiment.
Of course the psychedelic experience may be of great reward in terms of personal development, but it has also been used to cure some mental illnesses. Lee and Shlain have underlined Osmond's work for curing alcoholism – amongst other mental illnesses. Following their drug experiences Osmond's patients “often spoke of an LSD session as insightful and rewarding.” (Lee and Shlain, 1985) Such treatment produced “remarkable results”, as we shall see. (Lee and Shlain, 1985)
Lee and Shlain go on to describe the two most common LSD psychotherapies of the 1950's. One is “the "psycholytic" or "mind-loosening" approach [which] utilized low or moderate dosages of LSD […] The drug was said to speed up the process of psychoexploration by reducing the patient's defensiveness and facilitating the recollection of repressed memories and traumatic experiences.” (Lee an Shain, 1985) This method was used in psychoanalysis to encourage catharsis of the patient. The second method on the other hand involves high doses of LSD to spur total ego-loss and depersonalisation of the subject. “This approach was particularly effective in treating people who were emotionally blocked; they were able to cut through a lot of psychological red tape, so to speak, and get right to the heart of the matter.” The general idea is that is the patient is face to face with himself and the problem and is forced to sort it out (a good example is provided at the end of this essay).
D.B. Blewett and D. N. Chwelos have endorsed these views in their attempt to offer a practical guide for a therapeutic use of LSD: “The great value of LSD-25 lies in the fact that when the therapeutic situation is properly structured the patient can, and often does, within a period of hours, develop a level of self-understanding and self-acceptance which may surpass that of the average normal person.” (Blewett and Chwelos, 1959) Hence it can be even more efficient than a traditional parapsychiatric methods, where “the release of repressed or suppressed [memories] [...] is likely to offer but temporary relief” (Blewett and Chwelos, 1959) because it goes straight to the core of the problem. It is somewhat like spraying perfume on a bad smell as opposed to getting rid of what is causing the bad smell. This method was successfully used “on a wide range of diagnostic categories: juvenile delinquency, narcotics addiction, severe character neurosis.” (Lee and Shlain, 1985) In her reminiscence of LSD experiments she conducted on patients suffering from mental illnesses ranging from depression to borderline schizophrenia, Betty Grover Eisner writes that her patients conditions improved by 72%.(Eisner, 1958). One of her patients was an alcoholic who had been hospitalised 23 times as a result of drinking. Following LSD sessions and discussion with his therapists, the patient was never re-hospitalised and was even able to drink again. (Eisner, 1958)
Nona Coxhead can also provide us with an interesting though quite uncanny use of LSD, when citing the example of John Willmin, a former Baptist Minister who went on a supervised acid trip because he was undergoing a crisis of faith, which had ultimately led to a nervous breakdown. The outcome was a deeply insightful and mystical experience, which offered him new perspectives in life. His perception of the divine also shifted from an anthropomorphic God to one of “Isness” and “Ultimate Reality”, i.e. a mystic feeling of unity with the cosmos. As a result he realised that he could no longer be a preacher for the Church: “Religious dogma are puny and trivial.” (Coxhead, 1985) Bonhomme has showed that religions interpretations can be manifold and are partly correlated to the subject's culture. Trying to accommodate the learnings with dogmatic scriptures seems indeed a difficult task. (Bonhomme, 2001)
Of course the therapist has to be present all the time and be very knowledgeable about psychedelic experiences. He thus becomes a kind of “Western shaman”, in that he is the patient's guide into the “Other World”, a reassuring force that helps him “relax and go with the flow” (Lee and Shlain, 1985) and avoid the possible traps of fear and nausea. However the importance of set and setting cannot be underestimated. Leary et al, Blewet and Chwelos, Lee and Schlain all underlined the importance of being well prepared for this kind of experience. To quote Leary et al, “long?range set refers to the personal history, the enduring personality” while “immediate set refers to the expectations about the session itself.” Setting refers to the spacial environment in which the drug session takes place. It should be “removed from one's usual social and interpersonal games and [be] as free as possible from unforeseen distractions and intrusions.” (Leary et al, 1964) Virtually all scholars and writers have written about the potentially hellish experience it can turn into. Sandison, Spencer and Whitelaw, who conducted several psychiatric experiments with LSD in the 1950's, wrote: "We would stress that all our cases were in danger of becoming permanent mental invalids, lifelong neurotics or suicides." (Sandison et al, 1954)
Hence it can be advanced that while such experiments with LSD may well have been in some respects a form of shamanism, there are nonetheless significant risks related to psychedelic inebriation, which, as I suggested earlier, boil down to the cultural differences between Judeo-Christian Western culture and traditional shamanistic cultures, in particular in relation to the importance attached to ego and dualism. In his utopian fable Island, Aldous Huxley wrote: “Dualism... Without it there can hardly be good literature. With it, there most certainly can be no good life.” (Huxley, 1962) What he was suggesting was that Western philosophy crucially lacked holism.
I would now like to examine the case of ibogaine. It is a psychoactive substance that can be found in in iboga, a sacred root used in various rituals such as divination, witchcraft, and initiation (Bonhomme, 2008). In 1984 Howard Lotsof, who at the time was addicted to heroin, tried ibogaine and found out, when he came down, that his addiction had vanished. Following his ingestion, Lotsof lobbied for seven years the National Institute on Drug Abuse to examine medical research on ibogaine (De Loen, 2004).
Ben De Loen's documentary provides many – often moving – accounts of former heroin and cocaine addicts who were radically cured without experiencing the usual withdrawal side-effects. Clinics in Amsterdam provide treatment in which the patient is given ibogaine under strict medical supervision. A doctor regularly checks on her and makes sure the patient's trip is a safe one. (De Loen, 2004) Interestingly, in witchcraft rituals in Gabon such as the Bwete Misoko, a mirror is placed in front of the patient in order to symbolically face her inner self and sort things out: “[the patient] agrees to be initiated to the Bwete Misoko by eating the vision-inducing iboga roots to see for herself the origins of her misfortune and to find a cure for it.”(Bonhomme, 2008)
Here it should be stressed that like all psychedelic drugs, ibogaine is not the curing element as such, rather a channel for the patient's recovery: “ibogaine is like a door you open, but there's a vacuum (the addiction) trying to suck you back in.” (De Loen, 2004) She therefore needs to have the necessary will-power to find the way out of her addiction – hence the use of the mirror in the Bwete Misoko. Philosopher Sheridan Hough reminds us that the effect of a drug does not depend solely on the drug itself, but is also subject to psychological (set and setting) and cultural influences (Hough, 1994) and argues that this alone makes it difficult “to reliably pick-out a “drug-sensation” as such”(Hough, 1994) We must therefore take care, upon trying to analyse the so-called 'effects' of a mind-altering drug, not to forget the holistic dimension of drug inebriation: biological, psychological, sociological and cultural aspects intertwine (Bonhomme, 2001). Trying to consider such and such drug as a medication for such and such disease can be in Bonhomme's views akin to ethnocentricism, in that “we are trying to determine whether it is true medication (or drug or poison), i.e. medication in the sense that we [Westerners] define it. This also points to the non-Western shamanic drug ritual as a 'total social fact', to use Marcel Mauss's concept (Mauss, 1923), and not simply related to the medical sphere drug inebriation has to be placed in a larger context of political, medical and religious institutions.


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