What methods of inducing altered states of conscious does your tradition have?
Pondering this question aloud, I said something like, “Well, my current practice doesn’t involve much in the way of trance.” To which Ember quirks one eyebrow. It’s a very eloquent eyebrow. It should have its own sound effect. But I digress…
The point is, I do use trance fairly regularly. It’s just not the formal, high-ritual trance induction that I first learned as a baby witch years back. What I do now–just this past weekend, in fact–is the kind of low-level trance where one doesn’t lose contact with the world, but there’s a sort of other-world overlay. Not so much a visual, like a psychic head-up display, but more a feeling like high air pressure or some just barely sub-sonic vibration. I know it’s there, I feel it, but it’s not focused any one place, except maybe in the head and at the altar.
Inducing that trance is a matter of repetition. A simple chant, over and over. A simple drumbeat, over and over. If there had been room, there would have been a simple dance step, over and over. As it was, I stood in place, rocking back and forth and shaking my thyrsus staff, over and over. Twenty some-odd people, chanting the chant and beating the beat, over and over.
And, a bit of alcohol. This was a devotional for Dionysos, after all. Not much for any one person, not enough for even the lightest lightweight to feel. Just take a sip from the bottle and pass it on, even a small amount can be a cue that consciousness is changing, that it’s time to swap the grounded-in-reality eyes for the other-world-eyes.
The repetition gives rhythm to a world that’s mostly random noise. The words that are repeated are really only language for the first couple of rounds. For those rounds, they bring images to the conscious mind, identifying the power being called. After, they’re still there, but they’re sinking in, deeper and deeper. They start as words, become pictures, then become feelings. And those feelings set the tone of the vibration that’s not focused any one place, except maybe in the head and at the altar.
The world becomes a bit like fiction, given structure by the repeated rhythms that life doesn’t normally have. Something somewhere between the surface of our skins and the core of our perceptions shifts and folds, psychic origami given structure by the repeated rhythms, a new set of relationships into which to file our perceptions. We’re still in the same house we were, but it is now completely different because everything now relates to every other thing by the structure of the repeated rhythms as well as by what we know of their ordinary-world uses. For just a little while, feelings that are no longer words bind common things into uncommon meanings.
Then, the chant is done, the drum is still, the bottle is empty–I’ve seen to that, personally. People get up, move about, start talking to each other. The ritual part of the evening seems to be coming to a close, and the party part of the evening is getting started. The trance persists, the new rhythm of the world shapes the way people move and talk and feel, for just a little while. Interactions that seem ordinary are completely different because everything now relates to every other thing by the structure of the repeated rhythms.
The point is, I do use trance fairly regularly. It’s just not the overtly ritualized trance of the devotional. I don’t lose contact with the world, I just focus more on one part and less on another. Not visually, but more as a feeling, a change of atmosphere. The filter shifts behind my eyes, focused in my head and at whatever I’m working at.
Inducing this trance is a matter of selective attention. A slight re-arrangement of furniture from one pattern to another. A new playlist on the music box. A shift into a new room, a set of simple tasks repeated day after day.
Pondering this question, while writing, I realized that my whole life involves one form of trance or another. One pattern of relationships or another, giving form to a world that seems like random noise unless one learns to listen for the rhythms.
My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers.
Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.