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An on-going experiment on compliance and influence through extended degrees of separation or dissociation in reference to religion and psychopathology – Part 3

Varieties of dissociative trance induction 

Dissociative trance may be much more a part of our lives than we realize. Some Psychologist question whether we are ever entirely free of some form of trance, however subtle that trance might be. And of this we can debate that even our normal waking state is somehow altered by regular, daily influences – an understanding, which led Dr. Ernest Rossi to introduce the concept of the “common, everyday trance.” He eloquently expresses this in his work by saying “How little does the average consciousness recognize that it is dreaming, rather than awake; that it is altered in ways that it does not totally understand by its own past and currently changing experience and motivation.” On the other hand, some forms of dissociative trance are dramatic and gripping – especially those that still survive in some non-western society.

Dissociation remains the common factor in all types of trance. However, the appearance, function, and mode of induction vary enormously.  Victor Barnouw supports this point when he writes about trance in a cross-cultural perspective: “ While contrasting methods are used in different societies to bring about trance, there are also differences in the utilization of the trance state, once achieved, and here again cultural patterning is at work.” Virtually all cultures of the world make trance states available to their members – but these states are directly correlated to the customs, belief systems, and methods of survival utilized in a given society. In other words, there are considerable variations that give shape to the dictates found in different cultures of the world. The outward expression of the trance state will also vary depending on the variation of the methods employed to achieve it. Thus, one can readily see an almost endless formalized, culturally patterned ways in which dissociative trance can reveal itself. Often these fall into the category of religion, while other times they are not easily categorized into a particular nature. Hypnosis as an example of a method to achieve trance, and though unique to Western culture, is obviously not part of the culture’s religious heritage.

The argument to be made here is that there are some similarities, as well as notable differences between hypnotic and religious techniques for utilizing dissociative capabilities. However, and regardless of one’s means for classifying dissociative states, there are some important underlying patterns that exists concerning the techniques and processes for inducing such states.

As a conclusion to this short article, I should emphasize that some sort of dissociative trance can be found in virtually all cultures of the world. These are characterized by great superficial diversity. Yet the techniques themselves for the induction, share vast similarities. And furthermore, they fall into two major categories, which should be assessed in terms of the quality of the state, and its potential usefulness. After all, dissociation is an evolutionary adaptation for general survival purposes. Let us not forget or ignore the importance of the operator’s role and the impact of their suggestions. Nevertheless, An assessment of these categories based on the suggestions given by the person causing or affecting the trance state will inevitably deviate into the intent of the said operator, and further into human nature and the factors surrounding the organizational construct that is behaviour.

Barnouw’s classification of trance induction supports this generalization. Writing from a global perspective, he describes the two categories of induction that account for most forms of dissociative trance.

Sensory Depravation Techniques: Involve “a reduction of stereo-perceptive stimulation and/or motor activity.” In several laboratory experiments subjects were cut off from all sensory stimulation by being placed in sensory depravation tanks. The effects of these experiments strongly indicate that sensory scarcity greatly facilitates dissociation. However, reports by subjects participating in these studies reveal no predictable structure that is given to such states arrived at under these particular conditions. This is not surprising in view of what was said previously about the difference and or correlation between the processes of dissociation and suggestion. These experimental subjects ha entered into a dissociative trance by way of sensory depravation. But at no point were suggestions or directions given about how they were to give content to their (by default) content-less states.

Sensory Bombardment Techniques: This second category, and perhaps the more widespread of the two, involves flooding the senses with repetitive stimulation until a state of trance is elicited in the target person (the subject).  Of all the many possible instruments available for purposes of sensory bombardment, drumming is unquestionably the most common – as John F. Shumaker puts it, “From the dawn of the too-big brain, the human being has been drumming itself out of reality, so to speak.” There is even laboratory research demonstrating that continual drumming has very noticeable effect on central nervous system functions. These finding are readily and empirically verifiable by the prevalence of a variety of drums or drumming systems in varied popular genres of music. Moreover, this research has shown that continuous rhythmic drumming can lead to hallucination, a warped sense of time (distortion), and involuntary muscle movements. As has been observed in many societies, employing a combination of music, and repetitive speech (or chanting and prayer) people very often fall to the ground, moving involuntarily and disoriented from reality. At that point their dissociative trance seems so profound that they appear hyper-suggestible, but the extent to which the reality disconnect is true remains to be determined, in fact, it is the author’s opinion that a pathological quality of the human ability to dissociate is displayed during these instances of trance – leaning on our capacity for self-deception.

Placing further emphasis on the distinction between conscious and subconscious behaviour, many of these aspects of this trance state can be seen to characterize various psychopathological states, which carry the label of abnormal, since they make no sense in any recognized cultural context (especially in Western culture). Such forms of psychological and at times emotional disturbances can also be seen as inefficient personalized strategies of trance induction and usage that entail auto-suggestion leading to cognitive dissociation.