This article is from the Shamanism FAQ, by Dean Edwards email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
From the Greek 'ekstasis', ecstasy literally means to be placed
outside, or to be placed. This is a state of exaltation in which a
person stands outside of or transcends his or herself. Ecstasy may
range from the seizure of the body by a spirit or the seizure of a
person by the divine, from the magical transformation or flight of
consciousness to psychiatric remedies of distress.
Three types of Ecstasy are specified in the literature on the subject:
a. Shamanic Ecstasy
b. Prophetic Ecstasy
c. Mystical Ecstasy
Shamanic ecstasy is provoked by the ascension of the soul of the
shaman into the heavens or its descent into the underworld. These
states of ecstatic exaltation are usually achieved after great and
strenuous training and initiation, often under distressing
circumstances. The resulting contact by the shaman with the
higher or lower regions and their inhabitants, and also with
nature spirits enables him or her to accomplish such tasks as
accompanying the soul of a deceased into its proper place in the
next world, affect the well-being of the sick and to convey the
story of their inner travels upon their return to the mundane
The utterances of the shaman are in contrast with those of prophetic
and mystical ecstasy. The prophet literally speaks for God, while the
mystic reports an overwhelming divine presence. In mysticism, the
direct knowledge or experience of the divine ultimate reality, is
perceptible in two ways, emotional and intuitive. While these three
varieties of ecstatic experience are useful for the purposes of
analysis and discussion, it is not unusual for more than one form of
ecstasy to be present in an individual's experience.
However, it can be argued that, generally speaking, there are three
perceptive levels of ecstasy.
a) The physiological response, in which the mind becomes absorbed in
and focused on a dominant idea, the attention is withdrawn and the
nervous system itself is in part cut off from physical sensory input. The
body exhibits reflex inertia, involuntary nervous responses, frenzy.
b) Emotional perception of ecstasy refers to overwhelming feelings of awe,
anxiety, joy, sadness, fear, astonishment, passion, etc.
c) Intuitive perception communicates a direct experience and
understanding of the transpersonal experience of expanded states of
awareness or consciousness.
While the physiological response is always present, the emotional response
may or may not be significant when intuition is the principal means of
ecstatic perception. Some have argued that beyond the intuitive state there
is a fourth condition in which the holistic perception exceeds mental and
emotional limitations and understanding.
The ecstatic experience of the shaman goes beyond a feeling or perception of
the sacred, the demonic or of natural spirits. It involves the
shaman directly and actively in transcendent realities or lower realms of
being. These experiences may occur in either the dream state, the
awakened state, or both. Dreams, and in particular, lucid dreams, often
play a significant role in the life of a shaman or shamanic candidate.