Shamanism And Hypnosis

Published by Angel


Shamanism, Hypnotism, And Altered States of Consciousness.

In the National Guild of Hypnotists training manual, the history of hypnosis is regarded as originating in ancient Egypt and Greece, though we now know that the use of altered states of consciousness goes considerably further back in time and culture, being used by ancient tribal shamans. (Of course, the methods and use of altered states of consciousness have changed over time.)

“Hypnotic trance,” says Bill O’Hanlon in A Guide To Trance Land, “is one form of altered state [of consciousness].” Such states, he says, share four characteristics: rhythm, defocusing attention, narrowly focused attention, and dissociation. Most peculiarly, perhaps, in regard to the first characteristic, he notes that “In shamanic ceremonies, altered states are often induced by rhythmic drumming.” 

But what are altered states of consciousness for? Earlier in the modern era, we came to believe that rational thinking was all we needed. Of course, we do need to think rationally about things, but, we have now discovered, rational thinking is not enough. Rather, it has to work with other, natural ways of thinking, or other natural brain functions. 

Great musicians, dancers, authors, artists, martial artists, poets, and even inventors and scientists have made significant use of daydreaming, imagination, intuition, and even relaxation. Notably, solutions to problem often appear in a flash of “inspiration” when we are not focusing on the problem and, most often, when we are relaxing. 

Since the earliest times, human beings have have known that altered states of consciousness serve a purpose (or, really, purposes) for the human individual. Ancient shamans, among others, used these states of consciousness for healing. Artists have used them for inspiration. And religious devotees have used them for communication with the Divine. (We can still witness the ecstatic states that Evangelical Christians can reach in upbeat church services. But we can also think of medieval Christian mysticism, Buddhist and Hindu Tantra, Taoist “inner alchemy,” and Sufism, among other traditional.)

Noting the use of rhythm by shamans to put someone into a trance, O’Hanlon (who’s an Ericksonian hypnotherapist) rightly associates rhythm with the heartbeat. Although there is probably more to it, the heartbeat controls blood flow through the body and affects the individual’s mood, and vice versa. The heart also races when we are angry and slows when we are relaxed, for example. So there is a direct link between rhythm and consciousness.  

While there’s no doubt that modern hypnosis has its earliest forerunners in Pharaonic Egypt, ancient Greece, and tribal shamanism, as the National Guild of Hypnotists training manual notes, it never quite disappeared. More intriguingly, in our technological age, ancient techniques and traditions are reemerging within the worlds of wellness and spirituality (including modern forms of shamanism). 

As ancient people knew (and as we are rediscovering) the human being is holistic. We are more than a rationalizing brain and a body that doesn’t seem to want to go along with the brain’s rational thinking. 

Undeniably, we move through different states of consciousness each and every day (sleep, daydreaming, imagining, intense focus, relaxation, and so on). They are part of us. And they are windows to our own true self, even our “genius,” which (with all of the competing pressures of life placed upon us today) can get lost or can be rationalized away. 

Like the ancient tribal shaman, the job of the modern hypnotist is to enable the individual to experience their true self (the source of their creativity) again, so that they know what they are aiming for in life, have a clearer idea of how to get there, and feel empowered to takes the necessary steps towards it. 

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