The Functional Roles of Vision, Ecstasy, Trance, Hallucinogens and Alternate States of Consciousness in Accelerated
Neuro-Genetic Learning and Processing of Emotions and Cognitive Skills;
What It Is, What It's Like, and How Shamans Do It
Ecstatic phenomena are fundamental to the human condition and are trans-historical and cross-cultural in occurrence. Ecstasy is human nature, though its expression may be suppressed or encouraged according to social pressures and consensus reality conceptions. (Eliade, 1964, 504)
Ecstasy, among other things, is a different kind of consciousness, alternative to the one that most people spend most of their waking adult lives in. Ecstasy may be considered an "alternate state of consciousness" (following Zinberg's 1977 definition). This implies that "different states of consciousness prevail at different times for different reasons.... Alternate states of consciousness is a plural, all-inclusive term, unlike usual state of consciousness, which is merely one specific state of A.S.C." (Peters, 1981, 8)
Alternate states of consciousness (ASC’s) may be perceived in several ways, and accepted or rejected accordingly by individuals and societies. Harner prefers to discern two basic states, or perceptual preferences: the "O.S.C.," or "ordinary states of consciousness," and the "S.S.C," the "shamanic states of consciousness." (Harner, 1980, xvi) With this model, mythical animals and spirits may be seen as "real" and normal to the S.S.C., but unreal and abnormal to the O.S.C. Those in O.S.C. may find such "fantasies" of little use, or even downright dangerous, while such things are often highly valued to those in S.S.C, and may be seen as providing important information about the state of socio-personal and environmental equilibrium. "Both are right, as viewed from their own particular states of consciousness. The shaman has the advantage of being able to move between states of consciousness at will." (Ibid.)
According to the McKennas, "access to unconscious processes" is considered to be higher among shamans and "schizophrenics" than "normal" people. (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 6) The difference between the shaman and the schizophrenic, as already noted, is that the 'latter is "spontaneously inundated and often overwhelmed." (Ibid.) The shaman, however, integrates these processes into manifest consciousness "without suffering personality disintegration" (beyond the initiatory stages mentioned below, Chapter 4). This is achieved or facilitated by means of the "techniques of ecstasy" which "trigger and control this process." (Ibid.) (The McKennas suggest that these processes involve molecular changes in the processes of the brain, and that tryptamines, such as those found in Psilocybin mushrooms may play an important role. (Ibid.) This will be examined further in discussing the role of hallucinogens in relation to a theory of consciousness.)
Shamanic tendencies to alternate states are not indicative of mental disorder, either during initiatory calling in which involuntary ecstasy may occur, or during developed shamanistic trance. The latter is a feature of voluntary interaction with spirits through temporarily induced "hysteria" or self-hypnosis, as well as occasional "possession." (Hultkrantz, 1978, 50)
Shamanic ”possession" differs from that of the medium, since the shaman "retains his own personality" and is the "master, and not the slave or passive instrument of the spirits." (Ibid., 42) My own preference is to interpret this interaction as a cooperative venture, rather than one of domination by either the shaman or the spirit entities. In either case, shamans generally tend toward soul journeys as their ecstatic form, while mediums tend to become possessed.
The development of shamanic consciousness involves a transformational shift from "ordinary" to “non-ordinary" perceptions and perspectives. This is done with full intent and attention, as floundering about in states of doubt and non-commitment will distract one from what is happening. The shaman must retain the ability to communicate information learned in alternate states and ascribe meanings relevant to participants in the social, consensus reality. (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 10)
For all intents and purposes, ecstasy and trance at will are equivalent to shamanic control over neural processes. The "techniques of ecstasy" require great sensitivity to hormonal as well as neuro-muscular, sensual,,and mental processes. (Ibid., 13) The integration of these states into "normal", waking consciousness requires an wholistic perspective of "brain-mind organization," on the part of both the shamans and their respective cultures. The McKennas see this perspective ecologically represented by their "hypothesis of neuro-transmitter and drug activity which attempts to explain how either cortical experiences could be modulated at the molecular level." (Ibid., 7) They perceive an integrated system of interactions with several environments, coordinated at multiple "levels" of energy resonance. (Ibid.)
The McKenna brothers theorize that the origins of consciousness lie at the sub-molecular interface of DNA and RNA to the neural processes of the brain. (Ibid., 18) At this shifting locus we find the deepest levels of mind and the buried unconscious. It is possible that the manipulation or interruption of these processes is involved in shamanic ecstasy, as well as schizophrenia. (Ibid.)
During "spirit-flight", for instance, the shaman travels through space-time in an ecstatic trance, often meeting "souls of the dead", and the "spirits" of animals, plants, and power places. Perhaps this state of consciousness allows the shaman to tap a “genetic script," reading out what is written there for the benefit of self and society. To this end, it is possible that neural DNA is the "repository of information" which could, under certain circumstances, "render the totality [or portions] of this information available to consciousness, and might include all personal memories and experiences and also all collective knowledge and experience, accumulated over evolutionary (and possibly cultural) history of the species and reflected in its genetic makeup." (Ibid., 97) Such a perspective is itself a product of the intuitive processes common to shamans.and their ilk.
Previous references to the distinguishing characteristic of shamanic trance mentioned the "experiential feature of control" over the trance states. This has been folklorically described as a "mastery of spirits." (Peters, 1981, 11) Nordland, however, contradicts this description , and argues that trance involves a loss of ego boundaries and personal volition of the body. (Nordland, 1967, 167) In a sense, both perspectives are true, depending upon whether one is an "observer" or a "participant," and upon whether the shaman makes the "journey" alone, or in the company of supportive colleagues.
Ecstatic trance as shamans experience it may also be compared with a "lucid dream," which is a dream.state in which one is aware of being in a dream, and has varying levels of control over the dream processes and imagery. (Peters, 1981, 104) In shamanic trance, the shaman seems detached even though s/he is participating in the events going on around him or her.
Ecstasy may be defined as the "' total suggestive absorption [of the participant] in the object of belief.'" (Hultkrantz, 1967, 57 after Ernst Arbman) This "suggestive absorption... reveals itself in a 'peculiar, strictly organized and intensively clear, conscious and realistic visionary state or dream.'" (Ibid.) This features "an 'almost dazzling inner clairvoyance of illumination' with 'actual perceptions of light of a purely hallucinatory or physically sensuous nature."' (Ibid.)
In this suggestive state, the shaman may return to a "golden age," "Garden of Eden," a primordial state of mythical space-time and harmony. S/he becomes the divine human child reminding profane human consciousness of its roots in the sacred. (McKenna & McKenna, 1975,12)
Because ASC's are internally arranged, they are difficult to observe in studies. (Karsten, 1955, 56) As primary forms of religious experience, divine revelation, inspiration, dreams, visions and ecstatic states are considered by some to be a "special gift which is inborn only in a few persons." (Ibid.) Other researchers disagree and suggest that, given the proper set of circumstances and motivations, almost any person can shift their focus, though few seem to develop this talent. Such persons as shamans, artists, mystics, musicians, scientists and other highly innovative and creative individuals are among those that do develop this capacity.
For all intents and purposes, the shaman's ecstasy may be considered to be the same as shamanic trance, since both of these states involve contact with the spirits. (Hultkrantz, 1978, 40) The "elements of control and volition of the trance state" are also common to all shamanic cultures." (Peters, 1981, 12) The shaman is not overwhelmed by the intensity of his experience but manipulates it in the service of the community." (Ibid.)
All "visions" are subject to cultural interpretations. The visions of "alien" cultures often seem crazy or jumbled to a non-native person because the forms of expression differ. It is important to understand, therefore, the cultural basis for a "vision" while leaving room for individual interpretations in variable contexts. (Ibid.,50)
It is impossible, then, for the shaman's visionary experience to be "abstracted from its cultural milieu...[in which] the symbolic system is crucial, for the symbols brought forth in the shaman's trance must be both transformative for the shaman and empathic for his audience." (Ibid., 15) The shaman "must give form to these states so they will serve the community... [made possible through a] cultural embedding of the altered state of consciousness." (Ibid.)
The Central Eskimo trance state is characterized by a quiet, contemplative state best suited for deep, dream visions. (Holtved, 1967, 26) Shamanic ecstasy for the Korean "Manshin," however, involves a multi-dimensional release from social norms and taboos. The Confucian, patriarchal social system that dominated Korea for centuries relegated women to a repressed, inferior status, giving rise among some to an ecstatic form of release. This is called "Shin Barom," the "wind of the spirits," and has strong sexual energy and orgasmic connotations. (Covell, 1983, 97-98)
Because of the altered awareness of the Korean “Manshin's” trance, she is "no longer in a normal state... so the ordinary rules concerning physical process are changed." (Ibid., 52) By being outside of the "rules" of "normal" physical and psychic realities, the shaman may be able to perform acts otherwise considered superhuman, as among some Yogis and ascetics. (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 15)
Nepalese shamans experience both trance possession and magical soul journeys, with the "seeing of visions" being reported for both states. (Peters, 1981, 10) The "Noidi" of Lappland and the Indian medicine-people of the Americas both experience ecstatic soul flight. (Karsten, 1955, 73) Among the latter, it has often been acknowledged that there was a prevalence of trance states prior to white, Christian colonization. For the "Puhágem" of the Paviotso, "those who used the trance were the more powerful shamans." (Park, 1938, 114) These trance journeys were shared with the audience at a curing rite; "as soon as the shaman returns to [ordinary] consciousness, he relates his experiences in the trance." (Ibid.) With the support of the singing audience, the "Puhágem" proceeds with the curative measures recommended by the spirit allies.
Different kinds of trance emerge depending upon the function the shaman is to perform. "Extra-corporeal" journeys might be necessary in a case of restoring a lost soul. (Hultkrantz, 1978, 41) During initiation, dream visions might be combined with learning sessions to abolish the sense of historic time so as to enter the sacred space-time continuum in which the shaman performs. (Eliade, 1964, 103)
Some trance states seem best suited for encountering tutelary spirits, such as the Huichol's "Tatewari," Grandfather Fire/Sun, or the Chumash "Old Woman Momoy," the Datura guardian spirit. (Halifax, 1982, 29) These elderly elemental entities reveal wisdom from the natural world, age and experiences of maturity to those that experience the ASC's necessary to perceive them. mythical beings also instruct the shaman (and others) on the best ways to live in the world by means of revelatory visions and/or dream visits which seem to leave more lasting impressions upon the recipient than simple instructions by means of rational discourse or rote imitation. (Ibid.)
Alternate states and their manipulation through the "techniques of ecstasy" are part of a "definite discipline" of which the goal is the psychological transformation of the individual, and indirectly, of his/her society. (Peters, 1981, 13) The social, altruistic orientation of the shaman's ecstasy and the pursuit of visionary knowledge are revealed in the typical mythical patterns of creation of order out of chaos, the derivation of wisdom from foolishness and trickery, and the development of knowledge out of ignorance. As core elements of myths, these patterns are also common to the re-birthing experiences associated with shamanic initiation and other ecstatic experiences. (Halifax, 1982, 29)
Shamanic trance is nearly always instigated on behalf of the shaman's community. "Shamanism is therefore a community-recognized religious vocation that involves the production of altered states of consciousness." (Peters, 1981, 8) Arctic shamans, for example, integrate trance into their tasks of recalling the soul of an ill person, removing "disease objects" from the body , retrieving information and discerning the outcome of "fateful events," all with the assistance of helping spirits. (Hultkrantz, 1978, 36)
Among the Samek, the shaman depends upon an ecstatic trance to bring about a "close communication with the spirits." (Karsten, 1955, 61) "Joiking," a performance to invoke the guardian spirit (Ibid., 68, 80), involves chanting and beating a drum, the head of which is often painted with visionary motifs which act as mnemonic devices to remind the shaman of the purpose of the ritual, and of the spirits to be contacted. (Ibid., 69) Such devices reflect the use of "sympathetic magic" to extend control over spirits by imitation or use of the image of that which is to be controlled or invoked. (Ibid., 76-77)
The East Indian "dehar's" trance is achieved during an ecstatic dance and is considered auspicious as it charges him with "life force." (Suger, 1967) While entranced, the "dehar" receives communications from the spirits that are primarily related to the needs of this world. (Ibid., 79) Through these communications, the "dehar" counsels how to avoid danger and misfortunes, but, unlike other shamanic practitioners, he does not attempt to induce the spirits to assist in or change events. (Ibid., 80)
Some shamans use spirit-flight as a means of "transportation" "anywhere at will." (Winstedt, 1951, 28) Others use it for both travel and supplication of spirit entities. The Chuckchee shamanistic performance often takes place after dusk to facilitate a sinking into trance. This is referred to as "an-na ackin" which literally means "to sink." (Borogas, 1972, 387) The shaman's task is to sink to the depths of the sea to visit the great sea spirit, "Taka nakapsaluk," to placate her for blessings of food and good health. (Ibid.)
The McKennas list several methods of achieving ecstasy. Among these they include "frenzied and prolonged drumming," dancing and chanting, sleep deprivation, fasting, isolation, solitude, and sensory deprivation. (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 14) Trance may also be induced by head-whirling, twirling about, and being exposed to hypnotic music, as well as using incense, ritual paraphernalia and items of power that facilitate the turning of attention from the profane to the sacred world of the spirits. (Winstedt, 1951, 61)
In order to be a fit vehicle of the spirits, the "dehar" of the Kafirs "must always take care to live in a state which enables him to receive communications from supernatural beings whenever they choose to communicate. If he does not possess the will to comply with the commands of the supernatural beings he cannot be a dehar." (Suger, 1967, 77) The ritual dance of the "dehar," like that of the "Manshin," requires that the shaman move "as the spirits direct her; her movements reflect their movements, their ecstasy, spirit borne." (Covell, 1983, 52)
The process of becoming a fit vehicle sometimes encompasses some extreme, though common, forms of personality change. Identity transformation may manifest as gender switch, such as in the case of the "Berdache," or "contrary," common to some Great Plains peoples. Other forms of external rejection of previous social roles and behavioral norms include, but are not limited to change of dress or costume, hair fashioning, and linguistic mannerisms. "By destroying his own pattern of character, he opens the way for the voices, the visions." (Nordland, 1967, 175)
One method of achieving alternate awareness that has received a lot of attention in "modern societies," usually with undue repressive measures, is the age old use of natural psychoactive substances. Such "artificial means" of inducing the dream-state" necessary to hold counsel with the spirits are not only ancient, but widespread, in fact, nearly ubiquitous to shamanism. (Karsten, 1955, 59)
In their fascinating book, The Invisible Landscape (1975, 14), the McKennas pay particular attention to the use of ''narcotic-hallucinogenic'' plants and substances by shamans to achieve alternate states. Other than the widespread use of tobacco, marihuana and hashish derivatives, the McKennas list several substances including Amanita muscaria mushrooms in Siberia, Peyoté (Lophophora williamsii) use among the Huichol, Psilocybin mushroom ceremonies among the Mazatec of Mexico, and Yagé/Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis cappii) divinations among the Jivaro and Putomayo. From this evidence it appears that the narcotic experience and the shamanic experience are, in very numerous cases, one and the same, though the narcotic experience must be molded and directed by the symbolic motifs of ritual to give it its peculiarly shamanic quality." (Ibid.)
Since the dawn of time, shamans and others have employed botanical agents to facilitate ecstasy and to "tap resources within themselves." (Dobkin de Rios, 1984, 12) Amanita muscaria, for example, has been extensively used by the Koryak, Chuckchee, Buriat, Yakut and other Northern and Asian peoples, and may have been the key ingredient of "Soma," the divine nectar of the gods mentioned in the Vedic poems of ancient India. (Rogers, 1982, 14-115 and also cited extensively throughout R. Gordon Wasson’s, Soma: The
Divine Mushroom of Immortality.) Other substances include tobacco snuffs and infusions (nicotine), San Pedro cactii and the toxic red-mescal bean (Sophora secundiflora), both of which contain the alkaloid mescaline, also found in Peyote. (Rogers, 1982, 114-115) Datura is widely used, as in Africa, where the Yoruba "shaman" employs it for the less than admirable purpose of aggravating the symptoms of his mentally disturbed patients so as to charge a higher fee for his services. (Ibid.)
The use of hallucinogens like Peyote among peoples within the shamanic complex is usually for the purpose of attaining access to a state of being that enables the users to perceive and harmonize themselves with the primordial order of nature's life sustaining relationships. The Huichol refer to this as a journey "to find their life." Annual Peyote pilgrimages mark the development of the shaman, though anyone who is able may participate, Five successful pilgrimages are necessary to become a full fledged "Mara Akame," or shaman. (Furst, 1977, 24-25)
"Toloache," or Jimson Weed (Datura meteloides), was used extensively by shamans in several Southern Californian cultures. It played an important role in the ritual life of the Chumash, the Southern Diegueno, Luisen , Serrano, and also somewhat for the Cowpa. (Park, 1938, 106) "Old Woman Momoy," or Datura, was used to induce dream visions to assist in the development of young adults, and to make them "more courageous." (Blackburn, 1975, 147) The Chumash had a good sense of which parts of the plants produced the strongest effects, as well as how much to use to achieve specific trance states. (Ibid.) Their ceremonies, which may or may not have involved "Toloache" use, were both public and private, depending upon whether they were intended only for the individual, direct family relations or the entire village social group. (Ibid., 14)
The solitude, hunger and intense concentration of the "Vision Quest" facilitates profound states of consciousness and the accompanying changes in self-identification. This is modulated to a large extent by a strong emotional channeling through a request for a message of some kind of communication from the "powers that be". Sun Bear, an 0jibway medicine-man, describes the prayer that accompanies a Vision Quest: "We call this process crying for a vision. We go out and we cry, asking the Creator to send us a sign, to give us something that will direct us and tell us our purpose in life. If a vision comes to a person and he moves forward with that vision, then that becomes his medicine, his path of power." (Sun Bear, 1983, 204) This process is never easy at first, as it often involves breaking away from one's learned, expected and familiar "scripts for life." (Ibid.)
The Paviotso have a fairly simple form of the "Vision Quest". A person seeking "power" spends a night alone in a semi-desolate place, such as a mountain cave. Arduous fasting and self-inflicted pain are unheard of with them, and a midnight snack is frequently included along with blankets to keep the seeker warm. Their prayer is equally simple and direct, and is addressed to the spirits of the place for the powers to heal others. (Park, 1938, 27)
Dick Mahwee, an elderly "Puhágem," relates his initial power-quest requests: "'I went into the cave in the evening. As soon as I got inside I prayed and asked for power to doctor sickness. I said, “My people are sick. I want to save them. I want to keep them well. You [spirit] can help me make them well, I want you to.help me save them. When they have died give me the power to bring them back [by returning their lost souls]." I said this to the spirit in the cave. It is not a person. It comes along with the darkness. This is a prayer to the night.'" (Ibid.)
Dick's prayer is significant not only in its specific location as to the source of healing power, or knowledge, but also in its form. This simple form, "My people are sick.... How may I help them?" is common to the Vision Quest prayers of several peoples. None seem as simple, though, as the case of California Pomo shamaness, Essie Parrish, who eschews arduous pilgrimages and self-sacrifice declaring, "I don't have to go nowhere to see. Visions are everywhere." (Halifax, 1982, 8)
Along with prayers, songs and chants are also powerful verbal means of connecting with spirits. The Montana Flathead Indians believed that when the spirit of an animal is making you sick "...you sing many songs about him to make him feel better. Any kind of songs. Songs that make you laugh and songs that tell you where he lives and songs that say mean things about him. The animal does not care. He likes to be sung about." (Rogers, 1982, 128)
Chants are powerful tools for the shaman. Their use involves the human body itself as a magical instrument to contact the spirits. Chants are frequently composed of a "few powerful words which are repeated with great emphasis." (Karsten, 1955, 85) In Hungarian shamanic practice, a "regos-song" is a chanted magical charm that invokes ecstasy. The phrase "Haj, regi (rego) rejtem!" could mean "Ho, through ecstasy I make magic!!!" (Fazekas, 1967, 111-112)
Music itself is a potent force in consciousness alteration. It is "the first step to divorce the medium from the mundane or secular world, to allow the mind of the medium to commune with or be possessed by spirits." (Covell, 1983, 40) Through the ritualization of music, the shaman, like the Korean "Manshin," separates herself from profane existence and temporal problems. She is then "allowed to meet the spirits with an empty and pure mind, to become a suitable vessel to pass along the commands and advise from the world which is real but unseen to those who deal in the profane." (Ibid.) While the "Manshin" is communing with the spirits, the musicians themselves often enter a parallel, supportive trance as they play upon their instruments. (Ibid., 43-44)
The sound of the drum is one of the most powerful tools for trance induction. The Penobscott "Maede olinu" derived powers from the knowledge that drumming connects all beings that, in one way or another, sense the drum's vibration induced sound. (Speck, 1919, 240-241) The rhythmic beat of the drum provides "insistent deep tones that disrupt the natural [or unnatural] flow [or blocks] of the body's rhythm, speeding or slowing it, causing the mind of the audience or participants to open upon a different reality." (Covell, 1983, 40) The striking, discordant manipulations of percussive instruments like drums, tambourines, bells and gongs "could stir frenzy or create peace." (Ibid.)
In Asiatic shamanism, the drum finds two general uses:
l) as an "excitant" to induce trance, and
2) as a "divination tool," as in the Lapp "ring-ceremony," where the direction of movement of a ring upon the beaten drum head indicates fortune or misfortune. (Rogers, 1982, 36-37) Among the Eskimo, drumming, either by the shaman or an assistant, is used to invoke trance and to facilitate spirit flight. (Holtved, 1967, 26) Whether in Asia or America, many shamans believe that the monotonous drum beats help control spirits and "all absent things." (Karsten, 1955, 82)
In an article entitled "Percussion and Transition,'' Rodney Needham observes that percussive instruments seem to generate "meaningful messages about transition in social life." (Needham, 1972, 391) He sees percussive instruments as ubiquitous to cultures where there are frequent attempts to establish contact with the "world of the spirits." (Ibid., 392)
Because of the nature of the repetitive impulse of the drum, Needham asserts that percussion type instruments are preferred in shamanistic practices because of psychological reasons rather than socio-historical reasons. (Ibid., 394) "'The music of the drum is more closely connected with the foundations of aurally generated emotion that that of any other instrument. It is complete enough in itself to cover the whole range of human feeling.'" (Ibid., citing A. E. Crawley, 1912, "Drums and Cymbals," from the Encyclopedia of Religious Ethics, p.91)
The cultural effects of interpretation and the specific emotions related to sounds differ, yet there seems to be a common basis to percussive appeal. The "comparative affective import" comes not from melody, rhythm, tone or period of resonance, but from percussion. It appears that "sound waves have neural and organic effects of human beings, irrespective of the cultural formations of the latter." (Ibid., 395) As to their ubiquity in terms of technological sophistication, percussive sounds are derived from both "primary" (of the body) and "elemental" (of the environment) phenomena, and are often the easiest to produce. (Ibid.)
"Rites of passage" involve a "formal passage from one status or condition to another" and are often marked by percussion and other noise generating devices. (Ibid., 396) There is a "significant connexion between percussion and transition" seen in the "conjunction of two primal, elementary and fundamental features, (1) the affective import of percussion, [and] (2) the logical structure of category change." (Ibid., 395) There is a combining of emotion and reason which produces a result which cannot be derived exclusively from one or another approach, but only from a conjunction of the two.
Francis Huxley notes that percussion can trigger alternate states of consciousness, perhaps by modulating brain-wave patterns through disturbances of the inner ear which "modulates postural attitude, muscle tonus, breathing rhythms, heartbeat, blood pressure, feelings of nausea and certain eye reflexes." (Ibid., 397) Hence, percussion can be aimed at the inner ear "in an effort to dissociate the waking consciousness from its organization in the body." (Ibid.)
Noise, especially the explosive sounds of firecrackers and drums is often used to punctuate certain stages of development and transition. This could involve several factors, among them the stimulation of K-complexes. These are bursts of EEG wave-forms associated with sudden, non-rhythmical sounds, K-complexes are often present in EEG readings when a subject is startled or when awakened from sleep when an unusual noise is perceived. (personal communication from Gordon Mumma, UCSC, 1986)
Monotonous stimuli, along with percussion, the transformation of the sense of personal identity, isolation from social norms, and intuitive learning are all basic features of shamanism. Monotonous drumming and dancing, restricted movement, staring at a flame or into darkness or through masks with special light effects for the eyes can facilitate an alternate state without ecstatic emotions. Sometimes demonstrations of ecstasy can be more of a performance to convince participants of the truth of the shaman's experience of the "other world" than it is in fact necessary to establish contact with spirits. Alternate states do not always preclude ecstasy. (Nordland, 1967, 174)
Apparently, monotonous stimulation increases emotional intensity and motor movements during which the higher cerebral centers detach from sensorial input, allowing the shaman to perceive experiences which are beyond the grasp of the uninitiated. (Ibid., 168) This is not unlike the achievement of auto-hypnosis by means of "self initiated sensory [and social] deprivation." (McKenna & McKenna, 1975, 24) Such sensory deprivation can produce "visual and auditory hallucinations and perceptual distortions" such as "hearing voices, seeing imaginary people, and having sensations of body-image distortion." (Ibid.)
Sensory deprivation and relaxation are believed to be capable of isolating the brain from body-centered consciousness. This allows regulation to take place by the inner-dynamics of bio-rhythms, like circadian cycles, rather than by sensory input. In this state, thoughts tend to wander and there can be "clear hallucinations of happenings" and presences not perceived by others. (Nordland, 1967, 169-171)
Both sensory deprivation and monotony function in similar ways by separating higher neural centers from "external" events and facilitating a focus upon "internally" generated thoughts and emotions, as well as images and sensations. These are the classic hallucinations which are internally perceived structures sometimes taking the shapes of "unclear figures... geometrical figures changing contours, altering in size and shape, etc." (Ibid., 172-173) They may also take the form of amazingly complex, highly detailed and intensely realistic images, sounds and sensations rivaling in clarity the pristine perfection of new-fallen snow on a crystal clear morning. Such is the jewel within the lotus of shamanic ecstasy.