Q8. What methods of inducing altered states of conscious does your tradition have?

Altered states aren’t emphasized much in my tradition. We recognize the value of induced altered states in ritual and spirit-work, but it isn’t part of our regular practices.

Our group has generally stayed away from rituals where participants are doing a lot of chanting or dancing or breathwork or any other tool to bring the entire group into an altered state. Part of it is because our rituals are open to the public, and we’d generally consider it dangerous to do with participants who hadn’t been screened in some way. Part of it is that it is just way outside of most of our members’ comfort zone. They aren’t interested in “letting go” to the extent required for that sort of work, or being in a vulnerable mental space with a big group of people. Part of it is fear of people behaving inappropriately.

We generally recognize any altered state work as something to be done only when you have a specific reason, and only with a small, well-prepared group of appropriate people. Within that context, we don’t advocate any specific methods. We’d be most likely to use chanting, drumming, and dancing to induce a mild altered state in a group of people doing a ritual together, and probably a combination of breathwork, visualization, and drumming for someone who wanted to learn how to induce an altered state in themselves. For a situation where the goal is for one person to access a very powerful altered state fairly quickly, like some type of personal initiation, we’ll often suggest ordeal work or some type of sexual activity, if the person is receptive to that. Those two methods aren’t especially controversial in my tradition, and within my tradition there isn’t generally a lot of fear of coercion or exploitation related to them. (There is a lot more I could say about that, but maybe some other time.)

We aren’t at all theologically opposed to the spiritual use of mind-altering drugs, but it is a fairly controversial issue for us, both for spiritual and legal reasons. Spiritually, a good number of people in my tradition see the casual use of these “entheogens” as spiritually reckless as well as disrespectful to the plant spirits, and would personally only approve of it in a very narrowly defined ritual context. Legally, as an organization we’ve always maintained a policy of “illegal things are illegal”, but our biggest concern is that almost every incident of dangerous, disruptive, or flagrantly inappropriate behavior we have had at our events has been from someone who was intoxicated. Even if some very responsible folks had very good reasons for wanting to include legal intoxicants in one of our public rituals, there would probably be strong resistance to it, due to fears about other attendees being disrespectful, violent, or sexually inappropriate while intoxicated, and discomfort with the exclusion of people who choose not to use intoxicants.

While we will occasionally do rituals with spirit possession, they are generally the sort where the person doing the possession handles the altered-state work “off stage” with an assistant or two. The ritual crew uses whatever techniques they feel are appropriate during the “off stage” preparation for the possession, and the rest of the participants are not in any kind of altered state at all. As a tradition, we do not practice any kind of group spirit-possession rituals, where any of the participants might spontaneously become possessed. It just isn’t something our gods have ever asked of us. That is a really big topic though, so I’ll write about how my tradition handles possession in future post.

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