Shamanism and Trance Practices: RELN 7110
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.
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.
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, http://vimeo.com/11191065) , 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, http://vimeo.com/11191065
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, http://www.tuition.com.hk/psychology/ .
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Wingfield, E.W. 2003. ‘The Land’, in P. McConchie, (ed.), Elders: Wisdom from Australia’s Indigenous Leaders, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 11-26.
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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.