This post is to follow up on our lecture on the role of shamanism in the production of rock art in the upper paleolithic and, more broadly, the relationship of art to religion. Shamanism, you will recall, is the ritualized practice of entering into a trance state in order to enact some practical end – healing the sick, calling for rain, bringing greater fertility. This trance state, whatever it is, is surely a mysterious thing. There are some universal aspects of it, however, that appear to be rooted in the central nervous system. As all humans have the same central nervous systems there are similar physiological aspects to altered states of consciousness. How we interpret the meaning of that altered state is informed by our culture.
What interpretations does our culture assign to the trance state?
Here’s a neat old video of a “normal” woman who took some LSD as part of a scientific experiment back in the 1950s. This was a moment in American history where such research was considered legitimate, the value – if that’s what you want to call it – of LSD was still something of an open debate. Today scientific discourses have changed in a way that would preclude such research from taking place now.
I love the old philosopher giving his little commentary at the end of the video. Especially the line, “That’s what death is going to be like. And oh what fun it will be.”
There are still a few organizations like MAPS (founded by New College alums, I might add!) that advocate exploring this taboo area of research and not without some success too, including using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and using ibogaine to break opiate addiction.
Oh, but where were we? Art! Yes, art and possible connections to entoptic phenomenon: the crazy geometric patterns (lattice work, spiraling, tunneling) that people often see while in a state of trance. Please do not miss this collection of art works produced by German drug patients in the 1970s.