Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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.

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