BeyondWeird Home
Index  Previous  Next 

                              The Posture of Ecstasy 

     The nature of ecstatic states of consciousness may be encoded in their
     postures.  The types  of visions, prophecies or healing  abilities that
     accompany  ecstatic states  may  have less  to  do with  the  religious
     content  surrounding the  ceremonies of ecstasy  than with  the posture
     assumed by the people undergoing the ecstatic experience.

     This  unusual   hypothesis   is   being   proposed   by   psychological
     anthropologist  Felicitas  D. Goodman,  PhD,  based  on observation  of
     people  in ecstatic states and her experiments training people to enter
     such  states of consciousness.  In some  of her earlier re- search, Dr.
     Goodman learned that  she could induce an  ecstatic state in  a subject
     through  the  use of  a  gourd  rattle similar  to  that  used in  many
     primitive shamanistic ceremonies.  While a subject, alone, or in a
     group, walked in a circle, or  simply sat, Dr. Goodman would shake this
     rattle  in a steady manner for  15 minutes.  The use  of the rattle was
     based on the hypothesis that "acoustic driving" affects the functioning
     of  the brain, blocking the  verbal left hemisphere  and opening access
     the intuitive  right hemisphere.   Within five  minutes, most  subjects
     were  giving indications of being in an altered state of consciousness.
     At the end of the experiment, their verbal reports confirmed  that they
     had been experiencing something resembling an ecstatic state, including
     visions and variations in body image. 
     Noting that the  content of these visions seemed to  vary as a function
     of  which subjects had remained  standing and which  had become seated,
     Dr. Goodman ran a series of experiments to specifically test the effect
     of posture.

     To obtain experimental  postures, she went to ethnographic resources to
     locate either photographs of shamans in ecstasy, or artistic renditions
     of this  state.  She found  five different postural positions.   In her
     subsequent  experiments,  she  would  ask  her  subjects  to  assume  a
     particular posture,  commence the rattle  playing for 15  minutes, then
     obtain their reports.  She found that these
     reports  were  highly  consistent for  a  given  posture, but  differed
     between various postures.

     For example, one posture  was similar to sitting in  meditation, except
     that the  legs are  both tucked  under the body  and turned  toward the
     right.   Subjects  experienced  color sensations,  spinning and  strong
     alterations in  mood.   This posture  was that  assumed by  Nupe Mallam
     diviners.    According to  the  literature,  the divination  experience
     begins by alterations in moods.


     In  another posture,  subjects stood  erect with  their heads  back and
     their hands clasped at  the abdomen.  Subjects reported warmth,  a flow
     of energy  rising,  and a  channel  opening at  the  top of  the  head.
     According  to  the  ethnographic  literature,  this  posture  had  been
     associated with  healing, involving the flow  of energy.   In a similar
     manner, the  other postures tested produced  experiences resembling the
     reports of native shamans who assume the posture in their trance

     The author can only speculate concerning the mechanism by which posture
     affects the content of ritualized trances.  We know that posture affect
     mood states.   It is  perhaps by their  effect upon  a wide variety  of
     psychophysiological  variables  that  posture  affects  the  course  of

     (Source:   "Body   posture  and   the   religious   altered  state   of
     consciousness:  An experimental  investigation," Journal  of Humanistic
     Psychology,  Summer,  1986,  Vol. 26,  No.  3,  pp.  81-118.   Author's
     address:  Cuyamungue  Institute,  114  East Duncan  St.,  Columbus,  OH


Next: Creation Story