The term trance may be associated with hypnosis, meditation, magic, flow, and prayer. It may also be related to the earlier generic term, altered states of consciousness, which is no longer used in "consciousness studies" discourse.
Wier, in his 1995 book, Trance: from magic to technology, defines a simple trance (p. 58) as a state of mind being caused by cognitive loops where a cognitive object (thoughts, images, sounds, intentional actions) repeats long enough to result in various sets of disabled cognitive functions. Wier represents all trances (which include sleep and watching television) as taking place on a dissociated trance plane where at least some cognitive functions such as volition are disabled; as is seen in what is typically termed a 'hypnotic trance'. With this definition, meditation, hypnosis, addictions and charisma are seen as being trance states. In Wier's 2007 book, The Way of Trance, he elaborates on these forms, adds ecstasy as an additional form and discusses the ethical implications of his model, including magic and government use which he terms "trance abuse".
John Horgan in Rational Mysticism (2003) explores the neurological mechanisms and psychological implications of trances and other mystical manifestations. Horgan incorporates literature and case-studies from a number of disciplines in this work: chemistry, physics, psychology, radiology and theology.
The following are some examples of trance states:
- Enchantment: a psychological state induced by (or as if induced by) a magical incantation
- A state of mind in which consciousness is fragile and voluntary action is poor or missing
- A state resembling deep sleep
- Capture: attract; cause to be enamored; "She captured all the men's hearts"; in the sense of entranced
- A condition of apparent sleep or unconsciousness, with marked physiological characteristics, in which the body of the subject is thought by certain people to be liable to possession
- An out-of-body experience in which one feels they have passed out of the body into another state of being, a rapture, an ecstasy. In a general way, the entranced conditions thus defined are divided into varying degrees of a negative, unconscious state, and into progressive gradations of a positive, conscious, illumining condition.
- A state of hyper or enhanced suggestibility.
- An induced or spontaneous sleep-like condition of an altered state of consciousness, which is thought by certain people to permit the subject's physical body to be utilized by disembodied spirits or entities as a means of expression
- An altered state of awareness induced via hypnosis in which unconscious or dissociated responses to suggestion are enhanced in quality and increased in degree
- A state induced by the use of hypnosis; the person accepts the suggestions of the hypnotist
- A state of consciousness characterized by extreme dissociation often to the point of appearing unconscious.
Trance conditions include all the different states of mind, emotions, moods and daydreams that human beings experience. All activities which engage a human involve the filtering of information coming into sense modalities, and this influences brain functioning and consciousness. Therefore, trance may be understood as a way for the mind to change the way it filters information in order to provide more efficient use of the mind's resources.
Trance states may also be accessed or induced by various modalities and is a way of accessing the unconscious mind for the purposes of relaxation, healing, intuition and inspiration. There is an extensive documented history of trance as evidenced by the case-studies of anthropologists and ethnologists and associated and derivative disciplines. Hence trance may be perceived as endemic to the human condition and a Human Universal. Principles of trance are being explored and documented as are methods of trance induction. Benefits of trance states are being explored by medical and scientific inquiry. Many traditions and rituals employ trance. Trance also has a function in religion and mystical experience.
Castillo (1995) states that: "Trance phenomena result from the behavior of intense focusing of attention, which is the key psychological mechanism of trance induction. Adaptive responses, including institutionalized forms of trance, are 'tuned' into neural networks in the brain and depend to a large extent on the characteristics of culture. Culture-specific organizations exist in the structure of individual neurons and in the organizational formation of neural networks."
Hoffman (1998: p. 9) states that: "Trance is still conventionally defined as a state of reduced consciousness, or a somnolent state. However, the more recent anthropological definition, linking it to 'altered states of consciousness' (Charles Tart), is becoming increasingly accepted."
Hoffman (1998, p. 9) asserts that: "...the trance state should be discussed in the plural, because there is more than one altered state of consciousness significantly different from everyday consciousness."
According to Hoffman (1998: p. 10), pilgrims visited the
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From at least the 16th century it was held that march music may induce soldiers marching in unison into trance states where according to apologists, they bond together as a unit engendered by the rigors of training, the ties of comradeship and the chain of command. This had the effect of making the soldiers become automated, an effect which was widely evident in the 16th, 17th and 18th century due to the increasing prevalence of firearms employed in warcraft. Military instruments, especially the snare drum and other drums were used to entone a monotonous ostinato at the pace of march and heartbeat. High-pitched fifes, flutes and bagpipes were used for their "piercing" effect to play the melody. This would assist the morale and solidarity of soldiers as they marched to battle.
Joseph Jordania recently proposed a term battle trance for this mental state, when combatants do not feel fear and pain, and when they lose their individual identity and acquire a collective identity.
The Norse Berserkers induced a trance-like state before battle, called Berserkergang. It is said to have given the warriors superhuman strength and made them impervious to pain during battle. This form of trance could have been induced partly due to ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms.