Uniqueness in Ecstatic Trance

Uniqueness in Ecstatic Trance

     Ecstatic Trance has been practiced for thousands of years.  It is believed that the earliest humans lived in a trance or dreamlike state much of the time, and in this altered state of consciousness they regularly communed with their ancestors and other spirits of the Earth.  These guiding ancestral and Earth spirits gave them direction in how to live, hunt and gather.  Their spirit guides showed them which plants to eat, which plants to use for healing, and provided them with answers to the many questions of life.  But as time went on and the nature of consciousness evolved these spirits were not as readily available and to learn from the spirits was relegated to the shamans of the hunting and gathering communities.  The people came to their shaman with concerns of health and questions regarding how to live.  The shaman would typically go into a trance state to find the answers.  The induction of this shamanic trance state took many forms.   Shaman found the answer in sacred groves of trees, in caves, on mountain tops or in the tribe’s kiva.  Some would fast and go on a vision quest, which lead them into the trance state.  Some would use sacred dances, sometimes dancing for hours until they would fall in trance.  Some would find an altered state of consciousness by using some sacred herb.  Very common for many tribes was the use rapid drumming or the shaking of a rattle to induce trance, but it was in this state of trance that the shaman would find the answers to questions or the remedies for various problems of health.

    The anthropologist Felicitas Goodman sought in her research to find what elements were necessary to bring a person into a state of trance.  She initially found that to induce trance a belief is needed that the trance state is normal and valuable; that a sacred place is needed and entered; that some ritual is necessary for quieting one’s mind; and then rapid stimulation to the nervous system is needed such as provided by drumming or rattling.  She created a ritual that incorporated these four elements and though her students did go into a trance, the trance lacked direction.

     Generally what gave direction to the shaman in seeking an answer was the question for which they sought an answer.  But, in Goodman’s continued research she read an article by V. F. Emerson, a Canadian psychologist, who discovered that different meditation postures caused different but specific changes in such body functions as heart rate, breathing rate, skin moisture, bowel motility.  This led Goodman to examine the ancient art of the hunting-gathering peoples of the world in museums and books where she found what she believed were approximately 50 different postures used by shaman.  When incorporating these postures in her ecstatic trance ritual she found that some postures bring healing energy into the body, other postures are for divination for finding answers to questions, some are for metamorphosis or shape-shifting, while others are for spirit journeying, some into the underworld, some in our middle world, and some for going into the upper world.  There are also postures for initiation, i.e. postures that produced death-rebirth experiences.  The use of these postures makes Felicitas Goodman’s Cuyamungue Method unique, giving the trance experience needed direction.  It is her method and these postures that I use in teaching ecstatic trance.

Nicholas E. Brink, PhDAuthor of 

  • Ecstatic Soul Retrieval (publisher – Inner Traditions / Bear & Co.)
  • Power of Ecstatic Trance
  • Baldr’s Magic
  • Beowulf’s Ecstatic Trance Magic
  • Trance Journeys of the Hunter-Gatherers
  • Grendel and His Mother (publisher – Routledge)
  • Applying the Constructivist Approach to Cognitive Therapy: Resolving the Unconscious Past (Routledge)

Available from Postmark Books in Rosendale, NY or your preferred bookseller

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