Therapeutic group ceremonials involving altered states of consciousness

Altered states of consciousness^,,7 and 8) are qualitative shifts in mental functioning which are subjectively and objectively recognizable during alert waking consciousness as deviation from general norms of experience and behaviour. Altered states of consciousness can be induced by physiological techniques (e.g. by rhythmic sensory stimulation) and by psychological influence (e.g. by individual and collective suggestion operant in a specific situation).

In most traditional non-Western cultures, and in pre-modern Western cultures, altered states of consciousness are interpreted either as due to possession by a supernatural entity acting through the possessed individual, or as a special state of the individual allowing close interaction with supernatural entities, such as perceiving them in visions and receiving their messages in order to obtain from them inspiration, power, or healing. These two basic variations of culturally defined altered states of consciousness have been designated possession-trance and trance respectively. (9) Initiation to such ceremonials can be described as a therapeutic process in which an altered state of consciousness is induced in the novice by ritualist leaders and by group influence, through psychological and physiological methods, usually in conjunction with physical activity, especially ritual dancing. The psychotherapeutic, psychohygienic, and socially adaptive functions of traditional group ceremonials involving altered states of consciousness in non-Western societies have been attested to by several expert observers. (!°,11,1 1 l4 and !5,> These functions can be summarized as follows.

On the psychological level, cathartic abreaction is facilitated and tension relieved; frustrated emotional and interpersonal needs are often gratified in a supportive group milieu; shame and guilt are deflected and anxiety is alleviated. Psychodramatic role playing permits symbolic expression of repressed aspects of the personality in a socially acceptable fashion in front of an empathic audience. The 'possessed' group members usually claim amnesia and are not held responsible for dramatic behaviour which is attributed to the supernatural entity possessing them. At the same time, group members are protected from harm or from overstepping the limits of decorum. Ritualist leaders exert therapeutic influence on new members through presented example and suggestive advice. Participants may eventually graduate to ritualist leaders by converting the initial sick role into a health-provider role and into an identification model for novices.

On the social level, the ceremonial group may help in the resolution of interpersonal, interfamily, and intergenerational conflicts by altering social relationships and by supporting the individual's needs in the social network. Group participation often leads to a restructuring of the social existence and to finding a sociocultural identity. In a tradition-directed society the participant may acquire social prestige by virtue of being chosen as the vehicle of supernatural powers, manifested in an altered state of consciousness. Possession-trance cults may serve as outlets for disadvantaged persons but also as channels for upward social mobility, especially in the case of female ritualist leaders in a male-dominated society.

In non-Western cultures there are a great number of cult ceremonials utilizing altered states of consciousness for psychotherapeutic and sociotherapeutic purposes. Only a few examples can be cited here.

In South Asia, there are traditional group trance rites of Indonesia,(! i6) such as kuda lumping, the phii pha possession groups in Thailand,(17) and the Hindu taipusam in southern India and Malaysia. (I8» In the Arabic-Islamic culture area, there are hamadsha and gnawa cults of Morocco/,1, and above all, the zar cult which originated in Ethiopia and is practiced in many Islamic countries (Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Gulf states, Iraq, Iran), providing effective ritual therapy especially for female patients with neurotic-reactive disorders.(2,2,23,24,2,2,27 and ^ For Black Africa it has been stated that cult dances associated with altered states of consciousness are a key aspect of traditional African psychotherapy.(29) Examples are the zebola ritual in the Congo,(30) the lup and the rab ceremonial in Senegal,*3. 32) the bori cult of the Hausa,(33) the Yoruba orisa cults in Nigeria,*34> and the vimbuza cult in Malawi.(35> Of equal importance are the possession-trance cults among Caribbean and Brazilian populations, such as the Haitian vodou, a syncretistic amalgamation of West African traditions, folk Catholicism, and Mesmerism,(36, 37383 and 40) the santeria of Cuba,(41) the shango of Trinidad,(42) and in particular the Brazilian umbanda which derived from traditional Afro-Brazilian cults (candomble, macumba, xango), absorbed Kardecian spiritism and some Amerindian culture traits, to develop eventually into the most popular group-therapeutic venture existing today. (4 i4,4546 and47> In North America, ancient Amerindian cult dance ceremonials utilizing altered states of consciousness have been revived and reorganized to respond to the current therapeutic needs of aboriginal peoples that have been exposed to harmful effects of rapid culture change. (48,49,5. and 51) Notable examples are the Sun Dance ceremonial of Amerindian tribes in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, the Dakotas, and Alberta, and the Winter Spirit Dance of the Coast Salish Indians in British Columbia, Canada, and in Washington State, United States. The initiation and preparation for these ceremonials involves the induction of altered states of consciousness by psychological and physiological means. Other examples are the pan-Indian Gourd Dance and the medicine societies of the Iroquois in Eastern North America. In the rehabilitation of alcohol abusers and drug dependents among North American Indians, greater success has been achieved through these revived cult dances and other indigenous therapeutic group rituals, such as the Sweat Lodge ceremonial, (52) than through any Western approach. Inspired by the revived ceremonials, Amerindian Alcoholics Anonymous groups have been reorganized along traditional patterns. (53) The success of ritual group therapy utilizing the hallucinogenic peyote cactus (Lophophora wiHiamsii), as practised by the Native American Church of North America in the rehabilitation of alcoholics, has been confirmed by Karl Menninger and other experts.(5 55)

Break Free From Passive Aggression

Break Free From Passive Aggression

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