Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tribal and Ritual Elements of Contemporary Doof Culture.

Tribes all around the world have used ecstatic dance, percussion, entheogens and the creation of a sacred ritual space to assist in the facilitation of transcendent experiences. However, these key factors which can be used to induce a trance state are not limited to tribal rituals. On the 12th of February 2010, the 5th annual EarthFreq Festival officially began, with a dance performed by the traditional owners of the land, and a group meditation. EarthFreq is an outdoor trance festival (doof) located at Landcruiser National Park, 40 minutes north of Kilcoy. A gathering of people from all walks of life, many were drawn to the event by its spiritual focus, natural setting and the promise of a wide variety of music ranging from psytrance to jazz. In this essay, I discuss some of the key elements of ritual present in outdoor trance parties and ways in which they assist with invoking ecstatic and religious experiences. Additionally, I will outline the similarities between tribal rituals and those present in doof culture.

Upon arriving at the festival I experienced the familiar sensation of leaving the outside world behind. It was Victor Turner (1969) who first spoke of separation as 'stage one' in the ritual process, and of the liminoid state (a variation on the term liminal – with liminoid referring only to voluntary practices). Despite the fact that arriving at an Australian trance festival might seem far removed from traditional rights of passage in a tribal context, the sensation of stepping over an invisible line into another world is very real indeed. Bahktin wrote that “ while carnival lasts there is no other life

outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom” (1968: 7) At a doof, this is very much the case. Right there in the middle of the bush there is a small town, complete with markets, cafes, hospital tent and performance areas, all elaborately decorated.

This decoration is part of the process of creating a sacred, other worldly space for the festivities. Often, one of the organizers will lead some kind of ritual, giving thanks to the land and guiding patrons in a grounding, connection and protection exercise or meditation. This is done with the intention of facillitating a spiritual connection to the space while ensuring the etheric safety of all in attendance, based on the principals of Pranic Spirituality. Although commonly known as 'New Age Thinking' many of the beliefs and practices which fall under the umbrella of 'Pranic Spirituality' have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Hindu practice and Shamanic ritual for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, this ritual serves to make sacred the space in which the festival is held, and bring patrons together in a sense of oneness. As noted by Strong, Australian doofs are places where “people of all races, sexualities and cultural backgrounds can come together.” (2001)

As night falls, a transformation takes place on many different levels. Des Tramacchi describes the various forms of transgression that take place in a doof environment. He notes that transgression of identity can be achieved through metamorphosis. Just like traditional Shamans employ the use of masks as a method for transgression, many 'doofers' are renowned for their elaborate dress and characterization (often as a faerie, elf or other mystical creature) which facilitates a similar transformation. Some people at doofs also participate in illegal activities, normally in the form of consumption of psychoactive substances. It seems that “transgression of laws provides a valuable mechanism for transcending the logic of the everyday.”(Tramacchi, 2001: 283)

Therefore, illegal activity such as drug taking is “frequently one of the ingredients in the category disruption that is the central mechanism of liminality.” (Tramacchi, 2001: 283)

What follows is an experience like none other. While some people choose to consume psychoactive substances to assist the process, it is not a necessity. The trance inducing qualities present in much of the music play a significant part in facilitating 'peak experiences' (Maslow, 1976). Like in many tribal cultures, repetitive, methodical percussion plays a large part in much psytrance music, a popular choice at trance parties. A peak as I have experienced it is not dissimilar from a sexual climax. It is when one's heart is filled with such an intense joy, when everything seems possible - and when the happiness and excitement felt is so overwhelming that one fears they might explode. It is important to note that this is not exclusively a drug induced experience. In fact, the most powerful peak experience I have ever had took place while in a meditative state, achieved through ecstatic dancing and without the assistance of substances. Ecstatic dancing is something common in both tribal cultures and in a doof environment, and the potential for trance is undeniable. During most tribal ceremonies, the shaman will guide the trance of his community, by guiding the drummers and therefore the music.

In this way also, a doof in not dissimilar, however, in this environment, the single person with the most control at any one time is the DJ. Hutson speaks of 'technoshamanism' the term given to the process of manipulating the trance state of many through the use of the digital music medium. He notes that “the goal of techno-shamanism according to the ravers is “phase locking” - this is to get the group of people assembled at the rave into a synchronized, synergetic, collective mental space or vibe (Hutson, 1999). This concept of collectivity also falls under Turners definition of 'communitas'. That is, an intense community spirit, where there is a feeling of equality, togetherness and connection. Communitas is a characteristic of that which is experienced by people sharing in a liminal state. It occurs both in tribal environments and at places such as trance parties, where there is a great sense of oneness and collective intention.

It is this intention that sets a doof such as Earthfreq apart from a warehouse rave or house party. Consciousness and spirituality are as a general rule, valued and accepted. Many people gather to celebrate the earth and nature, and doofs are often held in honour of Celtic and Pagan Festivals. “Participants will often celebrate celestial events (e.g. the full moon or a total solar eclipse) or... to celebrate seasonal transitions.” (D 'Andrea, 2007: 6)

Many people I have spoken to have had profound transcendent experiences in a doof environment. I have found personally that my life has improved significantly since experiencing the transcendent state. I feel more connected to myself, I have more self worth, greater acceptance of trials and tribulations, less fear, improved healing ability and a greater capacity for joy. The transcendent state has been valued by societies all around the world for its health and spiritual benefits and doofs are just one way in which some of these understandings have filtered through to the urban western world.

Earthfreq 2010 was just one of many Australian trance festivals or doofs, which employ many of the ritual elements present in tribal culture. A sacred space is created, there is a transgression of identity and metamorphosis through costume, on the part of the participants, ecstatic dancing to percussive music, entry into a liminal phase of transcendence, a sense of communitas, collective intention and often, use of entheogenic substances. These factors ensure that a doof is more than just a party, but a liminoid gathering of spiritual significance where “love, joy and fulfillment stand at the fore.”

Rebecca Caine 2010

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