Trancing in Religion

Trancing click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced is activity that results in an altered state of consciousness in which an individual is in a hypnotic-like mental state or at least profoundly absorbed.  This is a common technique used by shamans all over the world to enter the spirit world.  When they go into a trance, they commonly report that they are taking a journey in which they must pass through difficult situations in order to reach their own spirit helpers.  Those friendly spirits then aid the shaman in curing an illness, bewitching someone, or in some other supernatural way.

Around the world, shamans and mystics use a variety of methods to achieve a trance state.  These include:

1.   fasting
2. self-torture (flagellation)
3. sensory deprivation (prolonged isolation from normal human contact)
4. breathing exercises and meditation
5. prolonged, repetitive, ritual dancing and/or drumming (this can alter brain wave patterns)
6. hallucinogenic click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced drugs
Photo of a Crow Indian performing the Ghost Dance in 1908   Early 20th century Crow Indian
on the Great Plains of North
America using self-torture in
order to receive a vision from
the supernatural world.  Skewers
of bone are inserted through the
chest skin and tied with leather
thongs to a "sun pole."   He
will dance around it until the
skewers tear free.
  photo of a group of Turkish Dervishes with long flowing white skirts and jackets dancing in a circle   Turkish Dervishes using
prolonged, repetitive, ritual
dancing to enter an altered
state of awareness.
Accompanied by music,
they slowly dance around
in a large circle while
constantly spinning.  The
Dervishes are a mystic
Sufi sect of Islam.

The shamanistic use of hallucinogenic drugs has been widespread, especially in the Americas.  Their use has been particularly common in small-scale, egalitarian societies.  When such drugs are available, they are usually considered to be the easiest and the fastest method of contacting the supernatural.  Hallucinogenic drugs derived from plants are the most common sources.  Some of these drugs can quickly bring on visions of an overwhelming nature in addition to causing strong physical reactions.  The use of hallucinogens traditionally was not limited to shamans in Siberia, the Amazon Basin of South America, and Europe until the late Middle Ages.  In these regions, an experienced shaman usually functioned as a facilitator and guide for a group of people taking these drugs in an attempt to contact or enter the supernatural world.


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This page was last updated on Sunday, November 05, 2006.
Copyright 2000-2006 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.
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