HOW THE SHAMAN ALTERS HIS STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
A number of well known writers in the area of shamanism talk about altering their state of consciousness with the use of drugs. Being opposed to the use of hallucinogenic inducing drugs, these mind altering drugs will not be discussed or mentioned in this post.
There are a number of other ways in which a shaman may move from the ordinary state of consciousness into an altered state of consciousness. One of the better known methods, coming from the Far East, is that of meditation. Deep meditation takes a high level of practice to achieve an altered state of consciousness. One may not just decide to meditate and bingo. . . one is in another dimension.
One of the traditional methods of achieving an altered state is the use of sound. Sounds have been used for thousands of years. Flutes, rattles, humming, and drumming. It has been well established that sound produces changes in a person's brain waves, especially at the theta level.
The use of drumming requires a steady, monotonous beat gradually increasing in tempo until the shaman enters an altered state of consciousness. A frequency range of 4 to 7 cycles per second is generally viewed as producing the desired altered state.
The use of drumming usually requires an experienced helper; one who beats the drums. However, if such a drummer is not available, there are various audio tapes and CDs available. If one uses an electronic source, it is highly recommended that stereo headphones are used. The audio tapes and CDs have a 'return' element that brings the shaman back to ordinary reality.
THE SHAMAN AND TRANCE
The goal of the shaman is to commune with the spirit world to bring about his quest. To do this, he must go into a trance state. Some aboriginal shams use specific hallucinogenic drugs. Because of their inherent danger they are not recommended as a way to induce a trance state.
The use of drugs is not only dangerous psychologically but also physically. Additionally, they may very well limit the control and cooperation the shaman hopes to achieve within the spiritual world. I am aware that other writers will disagree and that is their prerogative. The ability to control a trance is essential and takes strong mental conditions. Drugs inhibit that control.
A trance state may be achieved through self-hypnosis, by altering he brain's theta waves, through deep meditation, and through astral projection. Music, dancing, and chanting may be used to induce the trance state. During this self-induced trance the shaman's spirit (soul) leaves the body and enters the world of the supernatural. . . to mind-walk. . . seeking answers to his quest.
The shamanic trance is non-focused. He acts as an information receptacle until a specific message is received from the spirit world. Once the message is received and the messenger is acknowledged, the shaman will come out of his trance and provide an interpretation.
Joseph Bearwalker Wilson in a 1978 treatise provides an excellent discussion of a theory of trance. He has said the shaman uses the trance state to find tune his senses. Using those enhanced senses, the shaman then, is able to mind-travel to the spiritual world, to enter a different dimension.
THE STAGES OF SHAMANIC TRANCE
The shamanic trance, of all that a shaman does, is the most often discussed and is frequently viewed as the ultimate experience in shamanism. The shamanic trance is not something that can be achieved with one lesson from some internet site nor can it be thoroughly learned from a summer course in the Arizona deserts, or a three week seminar. Practice makes perfect is the credo.
Generally speaking there are four basic levels of a shamanic trance. Stages might be the more appropriate term. It is not the intent or is it the suggestion that a shaman goes through each of these four stages each time he or she goes into a trance. Well practiced and experienced shaman may very well go directly into the fourth stage of the trance.
The first stage is common among beginners. One has a sense of being physically relaxed; even drowsy. There is a tendency to just stare off into space, unseeing. The pulse rate slows.
The second stage produces a feeling that the whole body is heavy; a sense of detachment occurs. There may be visual illusions and one is aware that one is in a trance.
The third stage brings full recognition that one is in a trance. Here, you may actually choose a part of your body not to feel pain. There is a greater sensitivity to temperature changes as well as to atmospheric pressure. There will be a loss of voluntary motion and reaction to external stimuli.
The fourth and final stage or level of the shamanic trance is the deepest. Here one eyes may be open and this will not cause any ill effect during the length of the trance. Control over several body functions such as heart beat, blood pressure, and body temperature becomes possible. Memories will be recalled and age regression may come into play. There will be a feeling of lightness, of floating or flying. Visual and auditory hallucinations are possible while at this stage of the trance.
It is while in this last stage that the shaman travels to dreamtime and there receives his or her instructions regarding the quest.