This article is from the Shamanism FAQ, by Dean Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
(The following edited extracts from a paper wrtten by Joseph
Bearwalker Wilson in 1978.It describes some theory of the
trance state as it applies to shamanism.)
copyright, 1978, 1995 by Joseph Bearwalker Wilson
(email@example.com) (Reprinted by permission of the author.)
In order to journey to the other dimensions of existence a shaman
induces an altered state of consciousness in himself similar to a
state of self-hypnosis. While in this shamanic trance he is in
complete control; able to take his consciousness and subtle bodies
into nonphysical reality where he visits the heavens and hells of
existence, communicates with and controls spirits, gains information,
retrieves souls, and makes subtle changes in reality which may affect
the physical world.
A classical, and fairly accurate descriptive definition of hypnosis
is "a condition or state of selective hypersuggestibility brought
about in an individual through the use of certain specific
psychological or physical manipulations of the individual." The key
words here are "selective hypersuggestibility." A hypnotherapist uses
that selective hypersuggestibility in order to help bring about
desired changes in an individual. On the other hand a person
practicing shamanic techniques uses that state in order to fine tune
his or her senses in order to see, feel, hear, and smell more
vividly while traveling in the other worlds.
The lighter trance states feel like those times when you are reading
a book, or watching television or a movie, and are so engrossed that
you are not aware of your surroundings. The deeper trances feel
similar to how you feel when you are first waking up in the morning.
You are aware that you are awake, your imagery is vivid and
dreamlike, and you feel relaxed, calm, and good.
The ability to attain a and control a trance is the result of
cumulative conditioning and mental training.
A weight lifter trains himself by practicing daily. He begins by
lifting relatively light weights and progresses to heavier and
heavier ones. Eventually he is able to lift a 200 pound weight above
his head with relative ease. By working in this manner he has trained
his muscles to respond according to his will. After he has reached
his goal he can maintain the ability by practicing only two or three
times per week. If he stops practicing entirely his muscles will
gradually loose their conditioning and strength and, after a time,
he will no longer be able to lift the weight. By reestablishing a
routine of practice he will bring his ability back to where it was.
This same principle applies to the trance state. You train your mind
to respond in accordance with your will in order to produce the
ability to develop a deep trance. This is done by daily practice. It
may take some time and effort to establish that ability, but once
you have it you will be able to maintain it by practicing only once
or twice per week. If you stop practicing entirely your ability will
gradually lessen. Like the weight lifter you will need to begin a
more regular practice in order to reestablish your abilities.
When you go into any trance you gradually progress from ordinary
consciousness into deeper levels. It's convenient to have a means of
measuring the depth of your trance, so the paragraphs that follow
outline some of the symptoms found at various depths. For convenience
sake I've divided the depths of trance into four major sections, and,
using terms borrowed from the hypnotic sciences, called them the
Hypnodial, Light, Medium, and Deep trance states.
In the Hypnodial Trance you progress from ordinary consciousness
through the following steps: feeling physically relaxed, drowsy, your
mind becomes relaxed and you may feel apathetic or indifferent, your
arms and legs start to feel heavy, you may have a tendency to stare
blankly, and have a disinclination to move your limbs. As you border
this and the Light Trance your breathing becomes slower and deeper,
and your pulse rate slows.
In the Light Trance you progress to a reluctance to move, speak,
think or act. You may experience some involuntary twitching of your
mouth or jaw, and sometimes of the eyes. You will feel a heaviness
throughout your entire body and a partial feeling of detachment. You
may also experience visual illusions. As you border this and the
Medium Trance you recognize that you are in a trance, but may find
that feeling hard to describe.
In the Medium Trance you definitely recognize that you are in a
trance and may experience partial amnesia unless you consciously
choose not to. By giving yourself the proper suggestions you can
make any part of your body insensitive to pain, and can experience
the illusions of touching, tasting, and smelling. You will be more
sensitive to variations in atmospheric pressure and temperature
changes. As you border this and the Deep Trance you may experience
complete catalepsy of your limbs or body. In other words, if your
limbs or body positions are changed you will leave them in the new
position until they are changed again.
In the Deep Trance you can have the ability to open your eyes without
affecting the trance. You will also have the ability to control such
body functions as heart beat, blood pressure, digestion, and body
temperature. You can make your body and limbs completely rigid. You
will be able to recall lost memories and experience age regression.
Here you can vividly experience the sensation of lightness, floating,
or flying. You can also experience both positive and negative visual
and auditory hallucinations both while in the trance, and, if given
the proper suggestions, after awakening from the trance state. (A
positive hallucination is when you are told that you see something
that is not there, and you see it. A negative hallucination is when
you are told that you do not see something that is there, and you do
not.) In this state you can also stimulate dreams and visions, both
during the trance state and (upon proper suggestion) later in your
Each depth of trance has valuable uses. For example, in the Light
and Medium Trances you can learn to begin practical shamanic
journeying so that you can see, hear, touch and smell experiences in
the worlds which border ours. In those trance states these journeys
will feel similar to a fantasy or daydream and you may wonder if it
is real, or just your imagination. As you train yourself to deepen
the trance the journeys become more vivid, until, in the Deep Trance,
they look and feel as though they are taking place in physical
Copyright (c) 1978, 1995 Joseph B. Wilson
Joseph Bearwalker Wilson (Bearwalker@aol.com)