Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Significance of Masks in Ritual and Spirituality - Omar Khateeb

The Significance of Masks
What is a mask? Is a mask just an ornament or article worn on the face for disguise, entertainment purposes or even as a form of protection? (Feinup-Riordan, 21). Masks have commonly been used during ritual and spiritual services and have been used to create, amplify or fulfill the wearer’s identity or sense of inner spirituality. Ritual masks can be found throughout the world and the functions of these masks in ritual are usually religious or magically inclined. Some characteristics include the enabling of communication with the unseen, undead, or giving magical powers to shamans or spiritual healers within tribes and various communities who wear them. This review article will explore the different themes, within different cultures, regarding the use of masks in ritual, and how it coincides and relates to identity building in ceremonies and proceedings.

In the study done by Meschutt et al in 1992, the notion of masks incorporated in death rituals is discussed and explored. They mention that, when a death arises within a tightly knit community with shared cultural and religious values (315), the deceased’s memory lives on as a life passage, or as a reminder in the creation of a mask. They proceed to explain that life and death masks were made for many different reasons, but specifically before photography was invented, life masks were the closest representations of an individual, whereas death masks served to preserve an individual’s features as a token of remembrance (positive and negative), and was also used when building statues. According to Meschutt et al, In the late 1890s, Laurence Hutton, who published ‘Portraits in plaster’ separated the creation of life and death masks into two categories, ‘the famous and the infamous’ (318). The category of the infamous was occupied by criminals, convicts, felons and so on (post-execution), however life masks for such felons also exist.

According to Keats (105), masks are also used as an expressive tool, as many therapists aid their clients in discovering the different ‘faces’ of the self; studying the differences in speech, gestures and mannerisms they portray upon donning a mask. And being both culturally and spiritually based, such masks represent a ‘multi-dimension’ (106) or second face to the face. Wearing a mask also gives the wearer a sense of freedom, the ability to perform acts or act in such a way they would not do in their everyday lives, or even be the mask (animal masks - acting like the animal, being the animal). Masked faces also portray different semiotics in the sense that they are used not only in spiritual and cultural contexts, but also for entertainment purposes, as a disguise or different facets of human nature. Evidence of the mask and its aura of spiritual power, specifically in ritual and healing processes, therapists began using masks within their realms of psychotherapy (107). Further exploring the study, it was found that patients with self-esteem issues and confidence issues enabled them to behave more socially and with newfound attitudes, acting almost as a ‘mediator between the client’s conscious and unconscious worlds of self’ (107).

Between Asian cultures, such as Japan and Balinese cultures, the donning of masks in ritual is strikingly correlated. Most masks are used in ritual and spiritual processes that, in turn, enable them to involve themselves in a ‘mysterious, other-worldliness that is apparent even to those who are uninitiated’ (Caldiron, 227). It is probable that such masks developed out of indigenous religious practices without any foreign influence; each has a strong identity and powerful, sometimes legendary, aura within the culture.

A report was published in the September 1980 issue of The Alcalde which explored the notions involved with mask wearing in the tribal regions of Mexico. Researcher, Donald Couldry, discovered that the masks were not just merely a disguise, but is also ‘a significant function that relates to shamanism, symbolism and social uses’ (20). He found that the Mexican Indians believed that the act of covering one’s face relates directly to the soul, and that Mexican masks were understood as mystical devices of transformation in which the ‘wearers become someone or something else’ (20).

A typical cliche that one may encounter when studying African art, or ritual practices is that men are the only ones who wear masks, while the women prepare, cook and clean for the festivities or ceremony. I was amazed when I read that women, too, don the masks and have their own rituals and ceremonies as well. In Zambia, men and women face initiations (men- mukanda, women- mwadi) (Cameron, 50), who would have thought that women also partake in mask-wearing festivities! In the 1998 study by Elizabeth Cameron, she spends time in the Kabompo district in Zambia to learn, observe and participate in the initiation rituals of men and women. Mwadi, meaning the initiation of the potential mother, is experienced as an interethnic ritual and is easily recognized by women from different ethnic tribes. When a young female matures (signified and recognized by her breast development), the family prepares and plans her initiation. The women, during their initiation phase, don masks and dance, guided by the four basic elements, first, her entire attire (clothes, mask, acoustic mask) acts as a disguise (focussing on aural presence), second, the transformation occurs, third, the masks as a mediator between structures, and fourth, the mask is seen as a medium of articulating power (57). The mask is not only seen as a means of disguise, but also as an intercessor, a medium of transformation. A completely new identity is created via the wearing of a mask, a journey to say the least.

In conclusion, the different cultures examined and explored today all demonstrated similar characteristics in relation to mask wearing. The mask is more than just a simple disguise, in ritual it is seen as a medium of transformation, a deity that enables one to be free, to be someone, or something, that they are not. Masks create identities for the wearer, an identity that he or she may never dream of showing or pursuing when they are ‘themselves’. Although different masks play different roles and have different powers across the various cultures and traditions, they each interrelate through similarity of function, interpretation - they all serve purposes. I understand that the relationship must be harmonious and respectful with the ‘divine’ entities or powers involved in the rituals or ceremonies, and that full focus and intention also plays a huge role in successful mask wearing for ritualistic and spiritual practices. This was an interesting topic to explore, although I have covered minor facets, there is still much more to learn about this fascinating practice.

‘The mask can be a limitation, but you just deal with it. You do get superhuman strength and pumpkin bombs and all this other stuff to express yourself with.' - William Defoe.


Cameron, Elizabeth L. "Women=Masks: Initiation Arts in North-Western Province, Zambia." African Arts 31.2 (1998): 50-61+93. Print.

Coldiron, Margaret. "Lions, Witches, and Happy Old Men: Some Parallels between Balinese and Japanese Ritual Masks." Asian Theatre Journal 22.2 (2005): 227-48. Print.

Feinup-Riordan, Anne. “The living tradition of Yup’ik masks.” 1992. 21. Print.

Keats, Patrice A. "Constructing Masks of The Self In Therapy." Constructivism in the Human Sciences 8.1 (2003): 105-24. Print.

Meschutt, David, Mark L. Taff, and Lauren R. Boglioli. "Life Masks and Death Masks." The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 13.4 (1992): 315-19. Print.

"The Mexican Mask - A Link to the Soul." The Alcalde 59.1 (1980): 20. Print.

Healing Mother Earth

Shamanism and Trance Practices: RELN 7110
Angela Bardon
Lecturer: Dr Sylvia Shaw

The following essay will seek to explore the importance of the study and experience of trance states in today’s urban western society. Neurotheology as a method of scientific research, studies the impact on the brain, of spiritual and religious transcendent states. Hence the results of Neurotheological studies are reviewed in order to demonstrate the healing qualities that can be made manifest for the body and mind through the trance state. The paper then explores my own personal experiences and how insights received whilst in the trance state, helped me to understand the healing properties of Indigenous sacred ceremony on the planetary energy grids.

Trance State:

The trance state is a valuable tool which allows one to transcend normal states of consciousness in which the rational mind has control, in order to receive

• Spiritual guidance from the other world and otherworldly beings.

• Insights into the nature of reality which cannot be received in the normal waking states

• Healing on spiritual, emotional, mental and physical levels (Metzner, 1998, pp. 5-6).

As I have children and pets whose welfare is dependent on me, and I still have to work/ study and participate in society, I enter the trance state spontaneously at a light level. Hume (2007, p.12 -16) describes this light level of trance, as one in which the shaman is engaged in both worlds, journeying and interacting in the spirit world, whilst still consciously aware of what is happening around them in the physical world. The only triggers that I require to enter a light trance state are time alone and silence. Winkleman (1999, p. 399) states that “emotional stressors will elicit both opioid and non-opioid forms of analgesia which have ASC induction properties”. Emotional pain is another trigger that can open a portal for me to enter into a light trance state. I enter the light trance state spontaneously, whilst doing house work, walking in nature or walking around the suburbs. The insights, understandings and spiritual guidance that I receive are extremely clear and I understand the messages immediately if my eyes are open during the trance state. Sometimes the messages I receive in the trance state are visions, which is a normal trance phenomena according to Hume (2007, p. 12), other times I hear words from within or intuition or feelings guide my way. Strangely enough if I try to mediate or close my eyes the messages I receive in the trance state become fuzzy.


Newberg (2010, p.21) states that there are wealth of studies which indicate the relationship between religion, and physical and mental health. Newberg (in Seybold, 2007, p. 83) states, that neurotheological studies indicate that during meditation and prayer, that “the posterior superior parietal lobe showed a decrease in activity”, whilst the activity in the frontal lobe and the limbic system in the brain increases. This change in brain function, allow the Buddhist monks and Franciscan Nuns to experience a transcendent state (Newberg in Seybold, 2007, p. 83). These brain changes that occur during meditation and prayer result in “improved concentration, attention and focus (Newberg in Seybold, 2007, p. 83). Altered states of consciousness (ASC) are also “characterized by a state of parasympathetic dominance” (Winkleman, 1997, p.397), allowing the mind and body to move into a state of relaxation. Any activity that helps one to move from a state of stress and overdrive, to a state of relaxation, has to be healing for the mind and body as a whole.

Earth Healing:

As I have walked the spiritual path I learnt that my own spiritual healing process, affects not only myself, but has bought spiritual healing for my extended family, as well as for mother earth and for the mass conscious. This knowledge is similar to the Shaw’s (2001, p. 206) inner knowing that “if I can correct what’s happening in my family, it’s a step towards creating a pocket of healing for a lot of people”. Jung (in Walter and Neuman Fridman, 2004, p. 207) uses the term psychopomp to describe a Shaman as one who mediates between realities. One of the duties of the psychopomp is to shift “souls of the dead to the spirit world” (Walter and Neuman Fridman, 2004, p. 207). I have been shown whilst in the trance state that I exist in multiple dimensions of reality. I exist in the physical. I also know that I exist in consciousness, sitting out in space watching over the planet and that I also exist working in the vibratory plains of the planet, as a psychopomp, shifting lost souls into the light and out of the planets vibratory plains. I am also aware of the journey of my energy essence throughout time and space. Walter and Neuman- Fridman (2004, p. 205) state that Shamanic practitioners “typically report that they are conduits for spirits’ power”. In the past I have been a channel for the divine source to shift higher vibrational healing energy, through my heart consciousness into what Jung ( ITS Tutorial School, 2005) calls the collective unconscious or what I call the mass conscious. Also in the past, Spirit has shifted higher vibrational energy through my bodies of consciousness into the planetary consciousness. Whilst I act as a channel for healing grace, I am always shown how the higher vibrational healing energy flowing through me is made manifest. I have visions where I see the energy flowing into the mass conscious, all around the planet. Whilst I am aware that I am a channel for healing grace, I acknowledge that it is not me doing the healing. I am simply the channel that the Divine Source uses to shift the higher vibrational energy through.

One of the most important things I learnt whilst sitting with the Native American Indian teachers was that ceremony is also healing for mother earth. The energy created through sacred ceremony, which is created through the medicine wheel (which is a spiral pattern), can be vortexed into a scared site and into the energy grids of the planet. These healing ceremonies create harmony and balance within mother earth’s energetic grid system.

My own inner spiritual insights and learning’s gained from the other world, through the trance state, and what has been taught to me by my Indigenous teachers, has been validated by another group of scholars. Whitt, Norman and Grieves (2003, 10-11) state that as Indigenous people dance and sing, and the power created through ceremony helps to replenish the land. Whitt, Norman, Roberts and Grieve (2003, pp. 10-11) also state that the ceremonies held at sacred sites regenerate not just the surface of mother earth, but also right down inside the ground. Indigenous people are now talking about their responsibility of maintaining the energy grids of the planet. Kiesha Crowther, also known as Little Grandmother, founder of the Tribe of Many Colours, talks online (2010, , about how she lays sacred crystals during sacred ceremony at specific sites on the planet for the balancing of the energy grids. Eileen Wani Wingfield (in Mc Conchie, 2003, p.23), Australian Indigenous Elder, states that their country is full of sacred sites,” and when it’s damaged, we got to dance”. My understanding of this is that the dance leads to the trance state in which healing can be made manifest for the damaged land.

Lorraine Mafi-Williams Australian Indigenous elder, ( in Freke 1999, 130-138) states that the Indigenous people have the responsibility to maintain the ‘energy grid’ which lies within Mother Earth’s crust and keeps the earth in balance. Mafi-Williams (cited in Freke 1999, 138) states that

“our people simply walk along the Earth and they could find fault in the energy grid. And they were able to energize the grid with crystals, or just human body energy going into the ground”.

Spirit taught me from within, that Indigenous ceremony at a sacred site is the equivalent of placing an acupuncture needle into an acupuncture point on the human body for healing purposes.

In telling this story, I didn’t come instantly to this inner knowing. I have had to learn many things on an individual level before my spiritual insights expanded into planetary insights. I am an ex- general and psychiatric nurse, so I have scientific knowledge from that period of my life. I sat with Hindu teachers to learn about the chakras and the spiritual anatomy of the soul. I learnt all about energy flow through the scientific world. I started my energy training looking at electrons, protons, neutrons and energy vibrations. I expanded my knowledge of energy into spiritual healing energy patterns through my attunements to Reiki , Sekhem and Seichim. I also learnt about environmental energy patterns through the writings of Starhawk, a pagan priestess. I was guided to do a basic Kinesiology course to learn about acupuncture points and the human bodies’ meridian system. In the Indigenous world I learnt all about the elements, the medicine wheel, ceremony and ritual, and women’s teachings. There was a long process of sitting in many realms of learning, involving most religions, complementary medicine and the scientific world, before I understood the mass conscious and planetary insights that spirit was teaching me. Each time I had to surrender to divine will, in order to enter a new phase of learning and to undergo the inner and hence outer transformation process of spiritual healing and purification. I spent many years in relative isolation, in physical and emotional pain.

Information that I gained in the trance state validates in my own mind, the teachings of Indigenous peoples. One only has to follow the news at present to hear about earthquakes, tsunami’s, floods, hurricanes flowing with increasing intensity across the planet. In my own mind it becomes clear that mother earth is in a state of imbalance. I often ask questions like, were destructive tornado’s present on the Lakota plains in the USA, prior to colonization? Prior to colonization, when there was a network of indigenous clan groups and tribes performing scared ceremony at sacred sites to keep mother earths, energy grids in harmony and balance, were there as many natural disasters occurring on the planet? The Indigenous people and their culture have been demonized by Christian missionaries and pathologized by science (Jilek, 2005, pp. 9-10). Information about the role of Indigenous people in planetary healing could be used for the healing of Indigenous people and the planet as a whole. Traditional Indigenous culture and spiritual practices play a vital role for the healing of mother earth.


The knowledge of the trance state, in which otherworldly insights, understandings, spiritual guidance and healing can be received, is so important for the development of harmony and balance in the chaotic and unbalanced western world, where science is the authority figure and only evidence based knowledge has legitimacy. Associate Professor Richard Hutch (21/3/2011, in RELN7101) stated that science cannot find all the answers to all of the problems that are happening on the planet. Newberg (2010, pp.17-21) states that one of the goals of neurotheology is create a working relationship between science and religion and possibly create a new discourse between the two. The healing process is what is needed in the here and now. Humanity needs to rediscover the innate beauty that exists within all of creation and the need for the diversity of religious systems and phenomena. Healing is also required by humanity, so that we may all walk gently on mother earth with the desire to revitalize, replenish and stabilize her. The trance state is a pathway to that healing process, and because the trance state is a natural brain state (Winkleman, 1999, p.403), it is possible for everyone to enter the trance state and heal.


Crowther, K. 2010. Kiesha Little Grandmother: One with Nature, viewed 19/1/2011,

Hutch, R. 2011. University of Queensland, Lecture on Psychology of Religion, RELN7101, (21/3/2011).

ITS Tutorial School, 2005. Psychology Dictionary and Glossary for Students, viewed 29/3/2011, .

Jilek, W.G. 2005. Transforming the Shaman: Changing Western Views of Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness, in Investigacion en Salud, 7, 1, 8-15.

Newberg, A.B. 2010. Principles of Neurotheology, Burlington, USA: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Mafi-Williams, L. 1999. Lorraine Mafi-Williams: Australian Aboriginal Tradition. In Shamanic Wisdom Keepers: Shamanism in the Modern World, T. Freke, Ed., 130-141. New York: Sterling Publishing Company.

Wingfield, E.W. 2003. ‘The Land’, in P. McConchie, (ed.), Elders: Wisdom from Australia’s Indigenous Leaders, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 11-26.

Metzner, R. 1998. ‘Hallucinogenic Drugs and Plants in Psychotherapy and Shamanism’, in Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 30, 4, 1-10.

Shaw, S. 2001, ‘Lose touch with the earth and lose touch with life’, in A. Dearling & B. Hanely, Eds., Alternative Australia: Celebrating Cultural Diversity, Lyme Regis, Dorset: An Enabler Publication, 200-207.

Seybold, K.S. 2007. Explorations in neuroscience, psychology and religion, Aldershot, England: Ashgate, ch.6, 75-86.

Walter, M.N. & E.J. Neuman Fridman (eds.). 2004. Shamanism- Encyclopaedia of World Beliefs, Practices and Culture, Vol. 1, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO .

Winkleman,M. 1997, ‘Altered States of Consciousness,’ in Glazier, S.,ED, Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook of Method and Theory. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 393-428.

Whitt, L.A., M. Roberts, W. Norman, V. Grieves. 2003. ‘Indigenous Perspectives’, in A Companion to Environmental Philosophy, 1st ed., D. Jamieson. 2003, 3-20. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

The Importance of Shamanic and Transcendental Practice in today’s Western Urban Society by Freya Whitehead

In today’s western urban environment, many people are in a constant state of stress and unhappiness. In this busy lifestyle of trying to juggle long work days with family time and domestic chores while worrying about having to do it all again the next day, one often doesn’t get the chance to take some time out to relax and recuperate. High stress levels can often lead to physical or emotional illness and the western way of treating these ailments is usually to prescribe some form of medication and send that person on their way (Chrousos 2000; DeLongis Lazarus & Folkman 1988). These means of living and healing are far removed from the traditional ways in which people of ancient cultures have lived with good health and in harmony with nature for many tens of thousands of years. This essay will explore the importance of shamanic and transcendental practice in today’s western urban society and the importance of the renewal or continuation of traditional practices for indigenous people that live in these areas.

Psychological stress, which is endemic in western urban societies, is widely known to be detrimental to health and wellbeing (DeLongis Lazarus & Folkman 1988). Findings of various academic studies suggest stress, and thus an increased functioning of the sympathetic “flight or fight” division of the nervous system, may play a role in the development of many mental physical and emotional complaints. A few examples include increased inflammation, impaired immune function, fatigue, peptic ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori infection, depression and sleep disorders (Chrousos 2000). Increased levels of circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, as observed in cases of chronic stress, can lead to metabolic disturbances which, when combined with immune dysfunction, may contribute to osteoporosis, hypertension and risk factors of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes such as dyslipidaemia, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance (Chrousos 2000). There is even evidence to imply an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis in people exposed to high stress compared with those with less stress in their lives (Hagglof et al. 1991; Warren Greenhill & Warren 1982). Many people from western cities are beginning to realise the effects that stressful, busy living has on their health and happiness. In turn, a rise in the popularity of shamanic and transcendental healing practices has been seen, especially those such as meditation and Qigong which are used to promote relaxation, decrease stress and improve one’s overall wellbeing.

The scientific uprising in the western world triggered in many people the idea that if something cannot be proven or explained scientifically then it should not believe in as it is not ‘real’. Though science works to satisfy our hunger to understand things and has unravelled some great mysteries, it could also be seen to have contributed to the rejection and cynicism that many people express towards shamanic and transcendental practises in western society. Shamans were, up until very recently, considered charlatans, mentally ill or possessed by a demon or the devil (Jilek 2005). However, this outdated fashion of thinking is slowly becoming less common and people are beginning to be more open to shamanic and transcendental healing practices, especially as they experience the benefits for themselves.

As mentioned previously, Qigong can be used to promote relaxation and increase health and happiness. It is believed to do so through tuning into and working with the flow of life energy known as ‘Qi’. Qigong involves various body postures and deep-breathing techniques, through which the liminal space can be accessed and balance within oneself and with nature or the cosmos can be accomplished (Harowitz 2009). That taking part in Qigong can be very healing and can markedly enhance health and happiness has been accepted by many people of Chinese origin for generations. In current times these claims are also supported by results of scientific studies and this evidence is likely contributing to the increased popularity of this practice in western society. Some benefits of Qigong which have been observed in scientific trials include: significant decreases in blood pressure of hypertensive individuals, improved glucose tolerance and lower blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in diabetics, decreased risk of osteoporosis, enhanced immune function, enhanced quality of life in cancer patients and better psychological health including the successful treatment of anxiety and depression among many more (Horowitz 2009; Liu et al. 2010). As many of these ailments are rife in urban centres of the western world, people living in these areas could potentially benefit enormously from participating in ancient healing practices such as qigong.

Another reason why shamanic and transcendent practice is extremely important in urban western society is that it is here that many people live who have been isolated from their own cultures and traditions. In many cases this separation has come about through horrible and traumatic incidents such as having been forcibly removed from their homelands and prohibited from practising their traditional shamanic healings and rituals. Therefore, these people not only feel traumatised by what they have been through but also disconnected from their culture (Wong & Wong 2006). Reuniting one with their culture and traditional practises has the potential to help heal emotional and perhaps even physical illnesses in these people. An example of this is the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction in Australian Aborigines and Native Americans through incorporating traditional healing practices and cultural elements into the western ways of dealing with these diseases. Many successful intervention programs focus on restoring or strengthening the cultural identity of the individual and employ traditional spiritual healing techniques, rituals or ceremonies as part of the treatment targeting alcoholism and drug addiction in these people (Brady 1995). The success witnessed through programs such as the one described, supports the argument that re-establishing a connection or balance with ones culture or spirituality may be fundamental to healing on all levels and to wellbeing as a whole.

Countless cultures around the world include in their traditions various shamanic and transcendent practices. Depending on the culture, these may include entering the liminal space in an altered state of consciousness and seeking healing or insight through transcending energies, or ritual and ceremony to maintain balance and connection within one’s own body, with their gods, ancestral spirits or with nature. In Australian Aboriginal culture, an example of this is that of the ‘clever man’ attaining a state of altered consciousness in which his spirit leaves his body to travel into the sky and commune with ancestral spirits or visit sacred sites. Through doing this it is believed the connection between oneself and his homeland and culture are reinforced and strengthened (Hume 2004).

It is apparent that in today’s Western urban society many people have become disconnected with their cultural traditions and healing practices. Whether this separation occurred in an individual’s lifetime or in their ancestral past is not necessarily of great importance. Either way, in most cases knowledge has been lost, once-important rituals and ceremonies are no longer being performed and traditional shamanic and transcendental healing techniques are second-place to westernised medicine. As described in this paper, many ancient cultures deem ceremonial participation or ritual practice of some type as being vital to maintaining the connection between themselves and the gods/ancestral spirits/cosmos. Shamanic and transcendental practices of healing such as that of Qigong are becoming increasingly accepted, even by the scientific community, as being beneficial to ones overall wellbeing. In summation, as discussed in this paper through partaking in shamanic and transcendental practices whether it be to re-establish cultural connection and identity or to seek healing of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self, balance and wellbeing can be attained. Through reaching this equilibrium, the balance and connectedness within oneself and with the cosmos can be strengthened or regained and this has the potential to benefit the individual and the western urban community as a whole.



Brady, M 1995, ‘Culture in treatment, culture as treatment. A critical appraisal of developments in addictions programs for indigenous north Americans and australians’, Soc Sci Med, vol. 41, no. 11, pp. 1487-1498.

Chrousos, GP 2000, ‘Stress, chronic inflammation, and emotional and physical well-being: Concurrent effects and chronic sequelae’, J Allergy Clin Immunol, vol. 106, pp. S275-S291.

Delongis, A, Lazarus, RS & Folkman, S 1988, ‘The impact of daily stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators’, J Pers Soc Psychol, vol. 41, no. 11, pp. 1487-1498.

Hagglof, B, Blom, L, Dahlquist, G, Lonnberg, G & Sahlin, B 1991, ‘The Swedish childhood diabetes study: indications of severe psychological stress as a risk factor for Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus in childhood’, Diabetologica, vol. 34, pp. 579-583.

Horowitz, S 2009, ‘Evidence-based health benefits of Qigong’, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 178-183.

Hume, L 2004, ‘Accessing the eternal: Dreaming “the Dreaming” and ceremonial performance’, Zygon, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 237-258.

Jilek, WG 2005, ‘Transforming the shaman: Changing western views of shamanism and altered states of consciousness’, Articulo de Investigacion, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 8-15.

Liu, X, Miller, YD, Burton, NW & Brown, WJ 2010, ‘A preliminary study of the effects of Tai Chi and Qigong medical exercise on indicators of metabolic syndrome, glycaemic control, health-related quality of life, and psychological health in adults with elevated blood glucose’, Br J Sports Med, vol. 44, no. 10, pp. 704-709.

Wong, PTP & Wong, LCJ 2006, Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping, Springer, British Columbia, pp. 515-529.

Warren, S, Greenhill, S & Warren, KG 1982, ‘Emotional stress and the development of multiple sclerosis: Case-control evidence of a relationship’, J Chron Dis, vol. 35, no. 11, pp. 821-831.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A critical review of Lee, Tedlock, and Krippner

This essay presents an annotated bibliography of three articles–‘The Epistemology and Technologies of Shamanic States of Consciousness’ by Stanley Krippner (2000), ‘Shamanism and its Emancipatory Power for Korean Women’ by Jonghyun Lee (2009), and ‘Zuni Scared Theater’ by Barbara Tedlock (1983).

Generally, the three articles examine concepts of shamanism such as its definition, the sociohistorical/ cultural context that shapes shamanism in different societies, the significance of rituals, the notion of continuity, and the importance of narratives in sustaining shamanism through time and space.

Not only does the word ‘shamanism’ take on a different form of meaning in the different articles, it also entails different social constructs that accompany it. In the article by Krippner (2000:108), he quotes Wilber (1983) who describes shamanism as a form of ‘religion’. In Lee’s (2009:187) article, he cites Eliade (1964) who claims that ‘shamanism is a religious phenomenon that is universal across many different cultures’. Although it is not explicitly explained in Tedlock’s article, it can be implied by looking at the whole phenomenon of Zuni Theater, which is sacred to the Zunis, and is held with great reverence and obedience by them. The word, ‘sacred’, has a similar vein of meaning to the etymology of the word, ‘religion’, in which the Latin term ‘religionem’ means ‘respect for the sacred’. Thus, shamanism, like any other mainstream religions, has its own followers who believe in the power and magic of its rituals, which bring forth healing, whether physically or spiritually.

While the Zunis in Tedlock’s article hold their metaphysical theatre with great reverence, the Koreans, generally, frown upon the shamanic practices in their country. The sociohistorical aspect in Korea explains how shamanism is dominated by Korean women who are marginalized in their society and are trying to construct the reality surrounding them. While the article by Lee (2009) delves deep into the sociohistorical background on how Korean women are marginalized, Tedlock’s article (1983:98) hardly has any references as to why Zuni theatre is male-dominated, as stated in the sentence: ‘The pairing between elder and younger brother kivas determines the selection of a chorus and of “female” dancers (since men take all the roles in kachina society masked dances), if a particular dance calls for such roles’. This begs the question as to whether women in Zuni society are suppressed or oppressed, or are unimportant. According to Tedlock (1983:97), in the past, the Zunis say that the Slayers would always take a woman with them to the valley of Death. Could it be because of this symbolic reason, women do not perform in the Zuni theatre?

The role that women play in both the Zuni and Korean societies is definitely different, given how shamanism in Korea empowers the Korean women and helps them in their healing process from the stigmatization and marginalization experienced. On the other hand, in the Zuni society, women hardly have a place in the theatrical performance, and this diminishes their roles in the metaphysical theatre.

Despite the different roles played by women in Korea and the Zuni society, the most pertinent point is how rituals in each society bring forth a powerful statement to the audience. According to Turner (1970:20), rituals become ‘a factor in social action, a positive force in an activity field’. This is a powerful statement on how rituals cannot be separated from its social context, and how influential it can be on the community. In Korea, according to Lee (2009:193), the kut is a ritual in which ‘the shaman dances in her flamboyant costume, sleeves fluttering in the air above, amid the clanging sounds of cymbals and he boisterous beat of the Korean double-headed drum’. The significance of the ritual extends far and beyond the musical extravaganza that the kut seems to portray–when the spirits descend, the words of empowerment strengthen the women and challenge the largely patriarchal circle in Korean society.

When the shaman goes into the altered state of consciousness, as seen in the kut ritual, the liminality is experienced when the shaman moves between the realms of the sacred and the profane (Lee, 2009). This liminality is also evident in the Zuni theatre, as stated by Tedlock (1983:94), when they ‘prepare themselves for the movement from ordinary profane reality to extraordinary sacred reality’. Krippner (2000:94) also emphasizes on the importance of liminality which ‘provide(s) a link between the ordinary world and those realms purportedly traversed by the shaman’. Thus, in all three articles, the journey from the profane world to the sacred world, and vice versa, is an important feature of shamanism.

Another important feature of shamanism that is evident in the three articles is the healing aspect. Krippner (2000:98) acknowledges how the shaman, upon reaching an altered state of consciousness, harnesses the knowledge of the ‘spirit world’ to ‘help and heal members of the social group that has acknowledged their shamanic status’. Lee (2009) emphasizes on how shamanism has given the Korean women a platform to heal their grief and suffering. While the ritual of kut somehow liberates the Korean women from the harsh verities of an everyday life of subordination and submissiveness to their male counterparts, the Zunis year-long rituals accompanying its metaphysical theatre serve to ‘unite the social, economic, political and religious aspects of the community’, as highlighted by Tedlock (1983: 93). The healing aspect in Zuni sacred theatre is implied through the symbolic significance of the Sun Father, who leads ‘the Zuni ancestors out from the dark underworld into his blinding daylight’, as described by Tedlock (1983:95). Just like the Korean women who are in the darkest despair, and are enlightened through the kut ritual, the Zuni ancestors are guided out of the darkness into the light, which represents renewal and life.

The idea of light versus dark should not be seen as two separate entities; rather they represent continuity from one realm to another. Life and death are also seen in a continuum, as shown in Zuni sacred theatre. To the Zunis, death is not final; rather, it is followed by rebirth, and follows a cycle, just like the celestial bodies of the moon and the sun. In Korea, the idea of continuity is seen when Korean women become shamans to help other women who are experiencing pain and suffering–a phenomenon that the Korean women shamans have experienced themselves before. The Korean women shamans are not detached from the women who come to them for healing; the very fact that they have been through the same suffering enables them to be more empathetic and sympathetic to the plight of the other Korean women. As cited by Lee (2009:195), not only would they feel a sense of relief after the shamanic ritual of kut, they would also ‘maintain harmonious households with prolonged prosperity’ (Kendall, 1985). The social good that is a result of the kut ritual is also a positive indication that Korean shamanism heals the individuals, and the society as a whole.

The idea of balance and harmony is also a recurring theme in the articles by Krippner (2000:102) and Tedlock (1983:99), as represented by the ‘four quarters of the universe’ and the ‘four cardinal points’ respectively. The four points generally cover the four directional bearings of North, South, East, and West. These four pertinent points mark the totality or the sum of the view of the world. Sarangerel (2000:8) highlights that in Mongolian shamanism, ‘awareness of the four directions is fundamental to the Mongolian view of the world’. The word ‘fundamental’ shows how important it is to have these important bearings in one’s life, especially one’s perception of the surrounding world.

The world of shamanism is alive and thriving up till this day because of the narratives that surround it since its inception. In Zuni sacred theatre, the rituals that the Zunis engage in are only possible because of the stories that are sustained through the elders, which are then passed on to the younger generations. According to Tedlock (1983:101), ‘the narrative recounts in detail each ritual activity the Council has engaged in since the previous winter solstice’. Just like the passing of seasons as represented in the Zuni theatre, the passing of stories from one generation to another ensures the continuity of the shamanic practice.

As Krippner (2000:98) says, he is ‘pleased that postmodernism points to the need for honoring multiple narratives, and becoming aware of the process by which narratives are constructed’. The different narratives only serve to enhance the storytelling, and should not be seen as invalidating the ‘real’ narrative. The ‘process by which narratives are constructed’ should be seen as an active and participative journey undertaken by members of a particular society–a journey of magic and wonder through the lens of storytelling.

Likewise, in Korea, the narratives take on the form of the kut, where it is a platform for the Korean women to express their life stories freely without any constraints. The kut not only offers a catharsis for the women, but according to Lee (2009:195), it also is a platform for the Korean women to tell ‘the stories that are never to be told’.

In conclusion, shamanism in different societies offers not only healing to the believers, but shapes the identity of a particular society, as seen by the examples cited in this essay. The shamanic practice, its significance, and its effect on the lives of its believers show how important shamanism is in the lives of its believers. And the narratives that accompany the shamanic practice of a society ensure its survival in the years to come.

Krippner, S. (2000). The epistemology and technologies of shamanic states of conciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7, 93-118.

Lee, J. (2009). Shamanism and its emancipatory power for Korean women. Affilia, 24(2), 186-198.

Sarangerel. (2000). Mongolian Cosmology Riding windhorses: a journey into the heart of Mongolian shamanism (pp. 1-20). Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

Tedlock, B. (1983). Zuni Sacred Theatre. American Indian Quarterly, 7(3), 93-110.

Turner, V. (1970). Symbols in Ndembu Ritual The forest of symbols: aspects of Ndembu ritual, Ithaca (pp. 19-47). Cornell University Press.

Online references


Transcendence through wilderness experience and meditation in western urban society

To rise from the meditation cushion or emerge from the wilderness, having touched an alternative reality, gained new insight or a profound sense of peace, is to understand the transformation that can result from a transcendent experience. This essay briefly outlines some perspectives on altered states of consciousness, and discusses the role of meditation and wilderness experience in achieving trance and states of ecstasy. Possible outcomes of these experiences are explored, as well as the role that meditation and wilderness experience can play in liminality. The conclusion is drawn that transcendent experiences from wilderness encounters and meditation have an important place in today’s western urban society. They can assist in dealing with the stress of everyday life, facilitate a sense of connection with self and ‘other’, and aid transition through a liminal stage to achieve personal growth and healing.

There are many definitions of an altered state of consciousness. Winkelman (1997, pp. 393-394) argues that across cultures there is a universal biological basis, whereby physiology and consciousness are altered in similar ways by different techniques which induce a state of “parasympathetic dominance” in which “slow wave patterns” dominate the frontal cortex. Ludwig (1966, p. 225) defines an altered state of consciousness as “…a sufficient deviation in subjective experience or psychological functioning…” from the normal waking consciousness of an individual. Hume (2007, p. 10) views a transcendent experience as one that “… becomes a reality…” as opposed to simply an exercise of the imagination. As everyday reality is perceived primarily through the senses, alternative realities can be accessed by working the senses using different techniques, resulting in a “…paradigm shift in perception.” (Hume 2007, p.1) An alternative definition might therefore be an experience of “going beyond” what we know with our physical senses to “know” things in a different realm or in a different way.

In reviewing transcendence achieved through wilderness experience, Heintzman (2009, p. 73) argues that there is a strong correlation between wilderness contact and “spiritual well-being”, despite the relationship between the two being complex and based on many factors. Psychological research supports the link between wilderness contact and healing, including increased relaxation, physical fitness, self-esteem, hardiness, flow, trust and sense of community (Davis 2003, pp. 9-10). Studies also show that transcendental experiences of tranquility and peacefulness may result from wilderness encounters, and may be followed over time by attitudinal and behavioural changes (Heintzman 2009, p. 75). Abram (1997, pp. 192-194) describes a transcendent experience of being in a cave and witnessing spiders spinning webs. He was so entranced by this activity that sounds and other stimuli around him disappeared. Following this experience he was left with a profound knowledge and altered view of the world through the eyes of other creatures and “non-human” entities. Abram (1997, p. 194) describes such an experience as a “…reverberation that temporarily shatters habitual ways of seeing and feeling, leaving one open to a world all alive, awake, and aware.” However, he conceded that is was difficult to maintain this ecstatic experience once he returned to his home in modern, urban America (Abram 1997, pp. 197-199).

Greenway (1995, p. 186) argues that the primary outcome of the transcendent experience of wilderness should be a shift away from “dualism”. He sees dualism at the heart of our Western thinking, which views the world divided into opposites such as good and bad, mind and body, human and non-human, resulting in a sense of disconnection. Greenway (1995, pp. 189-90) believes healing occurs in the wilderness when we recognize the concept of our separation from nature as no longer a reality, but as an “interesting idea” that we engage in to participate in society as we know it. He initially noted participants in his wilderness programs experienced distress when attempting to re-enter their normal lives and were returning to a sense of dislocation. This led Greenway to incorporate meditation into the process, noting that both wilderness experience and meditation are about the “reclamation of awareness” (1995, p. 192). Wilderness experience and meditation may therefore be useful for achieving a sense of awareness, connection and healing which may, with time and practice, carry over into ordinary waking states.

During meditation, Winkelman (1997, pp. 399-400) argues that changes in brain and body function, such as reduced cortical arousal, muscle tension, cardiac function and respiration, result in a shift to parasympathetic dominance. These slow wave states have been found to be optimal brain conditions for learning, memory, attention and self-realisation. They also lead to increased physiological and psychological well-being, including relaxation, reduced tension and anxiety, and improved access to unconscious information via different cognitive processes (Winkelman 1997, p. 405). Hume (2007, p. 13) notes that our sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, can be overloaded for prolonged periods of time in modern society, and that triggering the parasympathetic response reduces the stress produced by this overload. Thus, the physical properties of meditation may be useful for healing both physically and psychologically.

Additional to the physiological benefits of meditation, Austin (1998, p. 12) argues that during meditation, humans can gain insight that “strikes as a fact of experience”. This “awakening” occurs because the human brain undergoes significant changes, and continued practice can lead to ongoing transformation in the brain. The aim of many forms of meditation includes developing deep insight into the nature of mental processes, consciousness, identity and reality (Winkelman 1997, pp. 415-416). Through meditation, it may be possible to progress through a range of “levels of consciousness” from disillusion to increased understanding and an awareness of the true nature of self and reality. In this view, ordinary waking states are seen as suboptimal and distorted, and are identified with the ego and with mindless, unconscious identification with self, thought and behavior. Ultimately by “unlearning” this conditioning, and retraining the attention and perception, it is possible to experience the self as pure awareness. The practitioner may experience new realities, learning to know and see in a new way. As a result, a solution to a previously unsolvable problem or a pathway through a previous impasse may become apparent.

An important application for wilderness experience and meditation may be in assisting members of western society through the transitional or “liminal” phases of life, such as mid-life, marriage, divorce or career change. Turner (2008, p. 327) describes three phases of ritual experience, including separation, liminal and reaggregation. The liminal phase is “ambiguous” as the person has left behind their old self and ways of being, but has not yet reached the new state. Lewis (2008, p. 117) notes that there is little support in western culture for people going through the liminal phase, whereas in indigenous cultures there is context and support provided by family, mentors and rituals. Transitions in western cultures can be times of great disorientation and distress, as the identity is being reformed. Davis (2003, pp. 6-9) utilises a five-stage wilderness rite of passage, including preparation, severance, threshold, return and implementation. He claims that the threshold phase is best undertaken in an environment removed from everyday life, and that nature provides both the “support and challenge” required to test and confirm the transition. A transcendent wilderness or meditation experience may therefore assist people in transition phases of life to emerge with fresh insight and skills necessary for their new identity.

Ludwig (1996, p. 231) states that altered states of consciousness “…satisfy many needs both for man and society”. They may assist to see the world in new ways, experience feelings of connection to self and others, including non-human entities, experience feelings of peace and tranquility, and heal physically and psychologically. Perhaps most importantly, they may assist in transition phases of life, for which there is little context or support in western society. To emerge from the wilderness reborn, to have gone into the place of liminality and grown through, to have gone to the meditation cushion stressed in body and troubled in mind, to rise into a new reality and be changed by the “knowing”, are some of the reasons why trance and ecstatic experience are important in today’s modern urban society.


Abram, D 1997, Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world, Vintage Books, New York, pp. 174-201.

Austin, JH 1998, Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

Davis, J 2003, ‘Wilderness Rites of Passage: Initiation, Growth, and Healing’, Naropa University and School of Lost Borders, Naropa.

Greenway, R 1995, ‘Healing by the Wilderness Experience’, in D Rothenberg (ed.), Wild Ideas, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 182-193.

Heintzman, P 2009, ‘Nature-Based Recreation and Spirituality: A Complex Relationship’, Leisure Sciences, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 72-89.

Hume, L 2007, Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities through the Senses, Berg Publishers, Oxford, pp. 1-24.

Lewis, SE 2008, ‘Ayahuasca and Spiritual Crisis: Liminality as Space for Personal Growth’, Anthropology of Consciousness, vol. 19, no.2, pp. 109-133.

Ludwig, AM 1966, ‘Altered States of Consciousness’, Archives of General Psychiatry, vol, 15, no. 3, pp. 225-234.

Turner, V 2008, ‘Liminality and Communitas’, in M Lambek (ed.), A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, 2nd edn, Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA, pp. 326-339.

Winkelman, M 1997, ‘Altered States of Consciousness and Religious Behaviour’, in S Blazier (ed.), Anthropology of Religion, Greenwood Press, Conneticut, pp. 393-428.

Layla Klinkert, s42037695 Transcendence in Modern Western Society

In today’s Western urban society, derivatives of ancient shamanism, transcendence and ecstatic experiences can be linked to the new-age movement. The search for spirituality and enlightenment is a broad and mystifying subject matter. This essay seeks to provide justification for why topics such as transcendence and shamanism are significant in this day and age. It will also aim to (briefly) synthesise and analyse common links between transcendence, personal healing and the role environmental connectivity plays in the cultivation of spirituality.

In 1966, Arnold M. Ludwig states that an Altered State of Consciousness can range from changes in normal cognition induced psychologically, to mental states altered pharmacologically. ASC is defined by Ludwig as containing both a subjective component, being experienced by the individual, and also an objective component (i.e. behaviours observed by another individual).  Examples of modern trance-like experiences, such as raving or clubbing, indicate that individuals are choosing to alter their awareness or normal cognitive state. This may suggest that the desire to achieve ASC is to some degree evolutionarily advantageous.  In this respect, we may conclude that Ludwig’s view and this modern behavioural trait are inextricably linked. Ludwig reflects upon the notion that an innate human desire to achieve ASC, makes it seem foolish to accept that man’s attempt to lapse into trance is purely for exhibition or for clinical assessment. 

With regard to modern health issues, many health patients are now seeking alternative methods of therapy that can be compared with traditional shaman healing rituals. To all appearances, it can be said simply that people have a yearning to elucidate things. Outwardly it might seem that we are limited in knowledge and are trying to engage the new-age niche’ for assistance in achieving more life balance.  Reflecting more deeply still, transcendence and insight gleaned from studying shamanism may hold potential for enhanced explication of life’s mysticism. This essay will hopefully provide perspective on the contrasting aspects of fast-paced technological advancement in Western Urban society, and natures’ intrinsic flow of energy.

Scholars such as Tony Samara (2009) believe in holistic and inborn connectedness to the Universe. Samara states that humanity’s evolution and the evolution of the natural world are innately linked, and suggests that human DNA possesses key aspects of animals and the environment. He credits environmental wisdom for many messages regarding the physical benefits of medicinal herbs, curative foods and energy-restorative therapies.

Human adaption to circumstantial challenges has evolved into a more modern-day setting, and guides sought by travellers on enlightened journeys are merely reflective of said setting. That is to say, the natural process of time has enabled society to develop coping mechanisms to adapt to the stress that they are faced with on a day-to-day basis. For example, hunting for food, relocation for shelter and walking across landscapes, can be contrasted with today’s driving to the shops, buying dinner, before heading to the gym to exercise. However, studying a ‘new-age’ trend, it can be noted that more and more westerners are calling upon natural healing therapies and embracing more spiritual forms of treatment. Naturopathic healers guide therapy sessions by creating a different ‘world’, using music therapy and natural ointments to assist clients in achieving holistic health goals.

New-age practices, therapies and shamanic practices in the traditional sense can indirectly be compared to neo-shamanism. One example of a comparison is Naturopathic health treatment and ancient shamans’ healing rituals and techniques. In ancient tribal cultures, shamanistic practices assisted in the management of stress individuals felt from subjection to the environment. American anthropologist Joan Townsend suggests a parallel between such stress and the stress in today’s society, caused by over-stimulation of the modern material world. Townsend discusses the topic of neo-shamanism, prevalent in Western Urban culture, being used to broaden the mind, enliven the senses via creativity, as well as improving the quality of health and life in the modern-day individual. (2001).

According to Kocku von Stuckrad (2002), neo-shamanic practices rose to prominence following an excessive influence of scientific, rationalistic and materialistic philosophies in modern life. Stuckrad discusses a feeling of disenchantment with the world. Such a feeling, with a purely materialistic world-view, inspired people to search for greater connectivity to nature and a more holistic philosophy of life. To remark on the time constraints and pressures of Urban Western society, it can be noted that technology has developed so progressively to counter-act their harmful effects. However the issue of technological advancement is, in itself a paradox. Despite the denotation of the word; advancement, technology is perhaps to blame for much of the confusion, stress and complications in Western Urban society. In many respects, the need for materialism and rapidity paints over the art of ancient methodology for achieving life-balance and heightened levels of awareness. Thus, technology seems to be symbiotically creating stress to speedily alleviate it.

Regrettably, urban society has become so fast-paced that the effects have interfered with environment/human balance. Technologists have developed expedient paths to portals for ASC, such as brain-wave entertainment and binaural beat software, which are used to achieve relaxation and enhance ordinary mental state (Binaural Beat Technology in Humans, 2007.) Yet this is seemingly sterile and spiritually lacking. Portals, Lynne Humme (2007), discusses David Abrams’ perspective that primordial shamanic wisdom incorporates the view that nature holds a ‘power’ so great that it exceeds man’s rational thought (Abram, 1997).

Drug-induced experiences are certainly affective in altering the conscious ‘reality’, yet there is a danger of it becoming an addictive and costly form of fast escapism.  Travelling between OWS and ASC via the use of drugs or alcohol will indeed open a doorway to another state of mind. However, such methods do not enable participants to realize the heightened perception shared by leaders in spiritual healing and ritualistic practices, as shamans are specifically trained to be in control of the experience. From this perspective then we must revere, appreciate and grasp the richness of natural balance found in mother-earths’ environmental greatness, instead of resorting to convenient measures, such as constant reliance on substances.

Perhaps the search for heightened conscious experience is a method undertaken by individuals wishing to reduce stress levels inhibiting the potential of subconscious mind.
Or in part, this phenomenon may be reflective of a community goal to rectify the disruption of the natural flow of energy. Regardless, a reduction of stress caused by technology and materialism, allows for connectivity to natures’ calming influence and majesty.


Jilek, W. (2005). Transforming the Shaman: Changing Western Views of Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness. Investigacion en Salud, 7(1), 8-15.

Ludwig, A. (1966). Altered States of Consciousness. Archive of General Psychiatry, 15(3), 225-234.

Von Stuckrad, K. (2002). Reenchanting Nature: Modern Western Shamanism and Nineteenth-Century Thought. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 70(4), 771-799.

Townsend, J. (2001). Shamanism: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and Healing, 103(1) 253-254.

Samara, T. (2009). Shaman's Wisdom: Reclaim Your Lost Connection with the Universe, p70 of 120.

Wahbeh H., Calabrese C., Zwickey H., Zajdel J. (2007). Binaural Beat Technology in Humans: A Pilot Study to Assess Neuropsychologic, Physiologic, And Electroencephalographic Effects, 13(2): 199-206.

Hume, L. (2007). Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities through the Senses, Oxford: Berg.

The Role of Percussion in Shamanic Practice


The Role of Percussion in Shamanic Practice

Shamans are a feature of many cultures and indigenous peoples around the world. Despite differences in belief systems, shamanic practice often involves drums and other percussion instruments (Needham, 1967., Jilek, 2005). Percussion is an important part of the shamanic journey into an altered state of consciousness (ASC). Rhythmic drumming is also part of many rituals assisting the shaman with communicating with the spirit realm and healing (Needham, 1967). Some reasons for the prominence of drumming in shamanic practice may be due to the affect it has on the brain as explored by psychologists (Harner, 1980., Needham, 1967., Krippner, 2004). Percussion plays an important role in shamanic practice; including taking the shaman to an altered state of consciousness is a feature of many important rituals, it also has a fascinating affect on the brain.

Repetitive drumming is an effective technique employed by some shamans when delving into an ASC or trance state (Jilek 2005,. Harner, 1980., Finch, 2004. ). Jilek (2005) describes the ASC as an ‘ecstatic state’ where the shaman may communicate with spirits, experience visions and perform various unearthly duties. The drum (as well as other percussive instruments such as a rattle, gong, bell etc) may be specifically used for entering into the state, so the unconscious mind of the shaman is immediately signaled to delve into the ASC (Harner, 1980, pp 51). During the process the shaman may strike the drum himself or may have an assistant, most likely an individual who has shown an aptitude for shamanism. It is essential that the drumming continue for the shaman to maintain the ASC (Harner, 2005, pp 51). The Khakas people believe that the drum is actually a steed that carries the shaman on a journey; the drum itself designed with protrusions symbolizing nipples to provide sustenance for the shaman (Jacobson-Tepfer, 2004).The ASC is just one fascinating aspect of shamanic practice and percussion often plays a major role in achieving it.

Shamanic practice involves taking part in rituals specific to the culture and belief systems of the people. Drums may serve many different purposes in shamanic rituals, such as a communicator to the spirits, a vessel that carries the shaman, a spirit catcher or a purifying device (Finch, 2004, pp. 95). Hoskins (1988) describes a healing ritual of the Kobi people from Eastern Indonesia where the drum is anthropomorphized and becomes a direct mediator with the illness-causing spirits. In this ritual the drum itself is credited with healing power, the healed man said he ‘felt better with every beat’ (Hoskins, 1988, pp. 224). The Alai-Turk shamans believe the drum itself is a sacred being and a horse is sacrificed, the horses’ spirit is then caught with the drum. The drumming is also believed to purify those present at the ritual (Finch, 2004). Percussion is typical part of shamanic practice and is therefore present in many rituals.

Why are drums able to affect the human brain and even change the consciousness of the shaman? Andrew Neher researched the affect of drumming on the brain, finding that drumming can cause a change in brain activity when the rhythm corresponded with the theta EEG frequency of the brain (as cited in Krippner, 2004, pp. 209) The most effective range being 4-7 cycles per second; when exposed to these rhythms, the brain’s central nervous system is stimulated affecting the motor and sensory parts of the brain (as cited in Harner, 1980, pp.52) Neher’s research also found that a single beat of a drum ‘has many sound frequencies that simultaneously transmit impulses along a variety of nerve pathways in the brain’ (as cited in Harner, 1980. pp 52). Crawley, a psychologist researching percussion, found that; ‘the music of the drum is more closely connected with the foundations of aurally generated emotion than that of any other instrument’ (as cited in Needham, 1967, pp. 7). Other studies have shown that repetitive drumming has a healthy effect on the immune system of the listeners and enhances mood (Krippner, 2004).

Percussion is a fundamental part of shamanic practice and it is used to serve many different purposes. Repetitive and rhythmic drumming has the power to send the shaman into an altered state of consciousness where communication with spirits and other necessary tasks are performed (Harner, 1980., Jilek, 2005.). Shamanic rituals such as worship festivals and healing often feature percussion. During rituals, the drum may communicate directly with spirits, catch spirits, carry the shaman on a journey or purify the people at ritual. The drum itself is often seen as a sacred and revered object, the spirits of the drum appeased with a sacrifice (Finch, 2004.). Rhythm can dramatically affect the central nervous system of the brain and brainwaves; Neher discovering that the 4-7 range is the most effective range of rhythm (as cited in Harner, 1980. pp 52). Percussion and rhythm is a powerful tool of the shaman, it has the ability to alter the human brain and induce an ASC and create an atmosphere for many important rituals.

Reference List

Finch. R. (2004) Drumming in shamanistic rituals. In Walter, N. M. & Fridman, E. J. N. (Eds.), Shamanism: an encyclopedia of world beliefs, practices and culture (pp. 95-100). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Harner, M. (1990). The Way of the Shaman. New York: HarperCollins.

Hoskins, J. (1988). The drum is the shaman, the spear guides his voice. Social Science & Medicine, 27(8), 819-828.

Jacobson-Tepfer, E. (2004). Dear imagery in shamanism (Siberia). In Walter, N. M. & Fridman, E. J. N. (Eds.), Shamanism: an encyclopedia of world beliefs, practices and culture (pp. 547-551). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Jilek, G. W. (2005). Transforming the shaman: changing western views of shamanism and altered states of consciousness. Investigacion en Salud 7(1).8-15.

Krippner, S. (2004). The psychology of shamanism. In Walter, N. M. & Fridman, E. J. N. (Eds.), Shamanism: an encyclopedia of world beliefs, practices and culture (pp.204-211). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Needham, R. (1967). Percussion and transition. Man, New Series, 2(4), 606-614.

The Beating Drum, The Beating Heart: the role of music in shamanism

Shamanism describes the traditional practices of spiritual belief that forms a mediumistic bridge between the ordinary waking state and an altered state of consciousness to attain transcendence. This essay aims to address how music is an imperative element intrinsic to the shamanic practice of trance and ecstasy as a method to embody spiritual expression. Trance and ecstasy is fundamental to the practice of the shaman as a medium to transport to a controlled altered state of consciousness by involuntary dissociative means. Evidently, music is a fundamental function of the ability of the shaman to enter differential states of trance including emotional, communal and shamanic. These varying states of trance are vital to the shamanic culture as a means of healing and interconnectedness that mediates between the mundane and the profane as an insightful embodied social function. As a result, trance, ecstasy and music have an interconnected relationship that is vital to the role of the shaman.

Trance and ecstasy are transformative experiences that create a state of detachment from the physical world depleting the boundaries between the altered state of consciousness and the ordinary waking state. Altered states of consciousness “defy systematic definition and boundary” (Perry et al. 2010, p. 289). On the other hand, ordinary waking states of consciousness refer to the level of active awareness of the consciousness through sensory experience (King 2010). Peters and Price-Williams (1980, pp.399-402) argue that trance and ecstasy illustrate similar qualities that reflect a dissociative, hypnotic and orgasmic transformative experience. However, Rouget (1985, p.11) argues dissimilarities between the two, as trance is “always associated with… sensory over-stimulation…and ecstasy on the contrary, is most often tied to sensorial deprivation.” Nevertheless, for a shaman control is an imperative element for trance and ecstasy between the altered state of consciousness and ordinary waking state. This is corroborated by Eliade (1964, p.6) who argues that the fundamental role of the shaman in trance and ecstasy is the ability of the shaman to control the spirits and not be controlled. The element of control mastery also identifies the ability of the shaman to willingly enter or terminate altered states of consciousness (Mayer 2008, p.73). Essentially, as a function music is imperative to the inducement of varying states of trance that is a vital to the shaman to communicate between the ordinary waking state and the altered state of consciousness.

Shamanic practice uses music as a function to induce emotional and communal trance as a way to provoke transformation through altered states of consciousness. Walker (2003, p.43) argues that music has the unique ability to provide “the means of expressing, reviving and generating renewed…identity.” In shamanism, music through vocal and instrumental expression in the form of tempo, rhythm and volume is inherently associated with the multisensory movement of trance. This multisensory component identifies the significance of emotion during trance as it acts as an implicit tool to “generate insight into our feelings as sounds elicit issues significant for our emotions, personal development and values” (Winkelman 2010, p.195). Therefore, emotion is an intrinsic element to spiritual experience as it uniquely identifies the individual with the experience that associates consciousness with spirituality (Hume, 2007, p.17). Music is also a significant element in communal trance as a way of maintaining the induced trance state that allows for the provocation of emotion. Jilek (1987, p.598) argued that “induced communal trance… is triggered by the emotional power of sung words but is maintained by rhythm.” Hence, the shaman’s drum (dungar) acts as an agent that is referred to as “the horse who conveys the shaman on [their] journey” (Pratt 2007, p.519). Thus, shamanic trance is an assimilation of emotion and rhythm as a corporeal technique that acts as a conduit to induce the spiritual and animalistic realms into trance ritual.

Consequently, music induces shamanic trance that allows the shaman to act as an agent to enhance human wellness, community practice and animalist and nature relationships. Healing is an imperative communal function of the shaman (Dadosky 2004, p.126). The shaman can actively mediate between the mundane world and the spirit world and call on the spirits for help to heal the ill. By using music transporting technique the shaman can act as a “curative agent… [that has] the ability to promote health and wellness through enhancement of natural balance and harmony in our emotional systems” (Winkelman 2010, p. 193). The shaman is able to connect with these spirits during transcendence by the focus that is gained from the spiritual energy through music. Spiritual energy is culminated from the interconnected relationship between shamanism and nature that identifies the “all-embracing connectedness” between the animalistic, natural, spiritual world and the shaman. This is express through a shaman’s elaboration of the function of a shaman in society in the following excerpt:

My job is to help people find their own relationship with nature and appreciate that connection… I help people explore the world around them.
(MacLellan cited in Mayer 2008, p.75)

It is through transcendence by the means of music that this nature fulfillment and understanding can be achieved, identifying the significance of music in shamanism. Levin and Suzukei (2006, p.173) argue that music is an intrinsic element in shamanism to connect to the spiritual world that is transformed as a “medium of social salvation.” During shamanic ritual, it is music that creates social cohesion and develops a cultural identity. Walker (2003, p.43) describes the fundamental connection between the shaman, the community and music as an edification of the individual within the musical context that highlights the importance of “people, plants, animals and other phenomena within a landscape with which indigenous people describe as a profound connection” (Walker 2003, p. 43). The relationship with nature is most significant in the practice of manifesting a spiritual energy from the animalistic personas and totems that shamanism bases its foundation of worship on that is stimulated and reiterated through musical enhancement. As a result, music is a fundamental element in shamanism due to the powerful effect it has on the shamans ability as a healer and mediator between the spiritual realm that creates individual and communal interconnectedness.

Music is a vital element to the experience of transcendence and ecstasy in shamanic culture. Trance and ecstasy is concerned with both sensory and non-sensory components that are developed to enhance the ability of the shaman to mediate between a controlled ordinary waking state and an altered state of consciousness. By attaining this level of control, music is utilised to maintain and determine both emotional and communal states of trance that identify the significant relationship between music and spiritual connection as a result of the elementary components of the implementation of rhythmic and lyrical music. By implementing music into ritual, shamans are able to induce, maintain or exterminate trance that acts as a significant tool for the shaman to connect with the community, enable healing and deplete the gap between the mundane and the profane. Essentially, music is a vital component of shamanic ritual as a way to induce and maintain trance that seeks to benefit the individual and the community in spiritual phenomenon.

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