Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Importance of Shamanic, Ecstatic and Transcendent Experiences in Today's Western Urban Society

In today's society there is not much need or desire for shamanic experiences, there is however, a small amount of emphasis placed on both transcendent and ecstatic experiences. In western society there has been a lot of importance placed on fitness, both physical and mental, mainly due to the increasing number of obese people. To achieve the desired result of physical and mental fitness, people have begun exercising and removing the unwanted foods and drugs from their systems. People have also begun the idea of 'my body is a temple', this implies that only pure substances can enter the body. It is an eastern philosophy and as such incorporates activities like yoga, meditation, martial arts and tai chi. Another reference to transcendent behavior is that of 'being in the zone', this refers to an activity where one is completely focused and almost ignores their surroundings. This 'zone' can and does refer to anything, from a game (either physical or electronic) to writing. It is common for students to reach 'the zone' when writing assignments. When one is in this state it is possible for them to complete the task at hand in what feels like no time at all, the experience of timelessness is also common while playing electronic games. It is possible to 'get lost' in a game.

Recreational drugs can also be used to achieve transcendent or ecstatic experiences by transporting the user to an altered state of consciousness. Ralph Metzner (1998) in his article Hallucinogenic Drugs and Plants in Psychotherapy and Shamanism describes these altered states of consciousness using LSD and Ecstasy as his examples. Metzner writes that LSD was originally used as a type of chemical warfare and when that failed they used to assist in 'curing' alcoholism. It apparently gave the subject an epiphany and they stopped drinking. Ecstasy on the other hand was used for trauma victims as it enhanced the feeling of being relaxed and calm. According to the Courier Mail studies have shown that some recreational drug use is on the decline specifically cannabis. They are being replaced by what is known as Meow Meow, Bubble, Bounce or Drone. The name Meow Meow comes from the abbreviated chemical name 4-MMCAT (4-methylmethcathinone). This is a fertilizer, sold legally in the UK online, and it is apparently one chemical away from ecstasy. There have been a few cases in England of people dying after consuming this drug. One case that is relevant to this essay is that of Conrad in Melbourne. He apparently went into a psychotic trance after taking the drug and it has been known to cause people to act like animals, specifically cats (http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/breaking-news/meow-drug-sends-man-into-hypnotic-trance/story-e6freonf-1225839705450).

Drugs in the form of smoke, plant, and pill have been used during shamanic rituals for hundreds of years. Metzner speaks of some of the plants that are used during some shamanic rituals that produce a similar effect to that of LSD. It 'transports' the shaman to a different plane of existence so they can communicate with the ancestors or spirits to achieve the desired result. Shamanism is not and probably will not be a large part of western society. It seems to have more of an affect with within a small community were the leader/wise person would perform the rituals for the community. There is also the fact that today's western society is very much based on science rather than religion, and therefore western culture is aware of the affects of certain types of tools, such as foods, environment and drugs to help shamans transcend, on the body.

Winkelman (1997) suggests that the altered states of consciousness achieved in shamanic practice, either by internal or external means, are needed within today's society. There are many other religious organizations that promote this behavior, and according to his research this is a biological need within the human body. There are many ways to achieve this state: drugs, alcohol, meditation, and in many cases just plain old focus.
In conclusion it is the result from this paper that transcendence and ecstatic experience is very common and expected in western urban society, but that shamanic practice is not and most likely will not become popular in the near future. This is not because the practice is unfavorable in today's world, it is simply unlikely to assist or be well integrated into the western society at large. It is however, possible for smaller groups to become involved in the shamanic practice as it would have more of an effect.

References
The Courier Mail: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/breaking-news/meow-drug-sends-man-into-hypnotic-trance/story-e6freonf-1225839705450. Viewed Wednesday 30 march 2010.
Metzner R. 1998. ‘Hallucinogenic Drugs and Plants in Psychotherapy and Shamanism,’ Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 30, 4, 1-10. http://www.psychonautdocs.com/docs/Metzner%20-%20Hallucinogenic%20Plants.pdf
Winkelman M. 1997. ‘Altered States of Consciousness and Religious Behaviour,’ in Glazier S, Ed. Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook of Method and Theory. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 393 - 428.

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