Trance can be anything; it is simply open to suggestion. The numbered light on a pole, lit up near a cashier in the store, is a suggestion to pay for your items at that checkout. A roped off area made into a zigzag is a suggestion to form a line and wait to be served. A difference in flooring color or material can suggest to stay in a certain area until called upon or to divide departments.
We have been trained by ourselves and society to follow certain rules such as stopping at a red light or red sign or staying on a certain side of a solid double yellow line until it is separated into yellow dashes. The habits of driving follow through even when there are no cars or yellow lines. In grocery stores, people tend to stay to the left or right of an aisle depending on which direction they are going, as if they are still driving.
Color can induce trance, as can smell, touch, taste or sound. The list of trance inducements goes on and on, all the way back to the Bible, to Egypt, the Hun and beyond. Dim lighting, chanting, colors, textures and smells have been used to induce a trance and bring a mystical, spiritual or healing experience to the masses. These same strategies have also been used to prepare for war and armed conflict.
The ancient temples we are still unearthing today often were dimly lit, filled with smoke from fragrant plants and divided by large sheets of fabric, which were moved by the wind or men. Entering a temple made you feel small, and looking up at the beautiful building induced an instant trance. The slightest touch from a priest would deepen the trance, often paralyzing a person so that they would ingest potions or waters spiked with various herbs. Touching sacred objects and hearing muffled sounds while intoxicating fragrances filled one’s senses made for quite an encounter with the god or goddess of the temple.
Let me throw in haunted houses, as well. They are simply the opposite of a temple experience. One enters a haunted house expecting to be scared by disturbing things. However, instead of providing healing and relief, this experience can provoke nightmares and sleepless nights, as well as edginess and PTSD-like symptoms for several days afterwards. Some people get a thrill out of this sort of trance.
Even though both are man-made experiences — overwhelming the senses and inducing trance — they serve very different purposes.
The Catholic tradition
Let’s look at the old Catholic tradition. People enter the sanctuary, which is dimly lit by candles and stained glass. Very tall ceilings with rapturous scenes draw the eyes upward, towards the heavens. Instant trance! People are seated on benches that may not be comfortable, seemingly a reminder that you are unworthy of earthly comfort. The priest or authority figure enters, wearing bright colors and swinging an incense burner, led by a gilded cross lifted high above their heads, creating a feast for the eyes and nose. Perhaps an organ or choir is singing or there is chanting in another language. Instant trance!
The atmosphere is set and all the senses are engaged. Everyone stands or kneels at the wave of the hands of the priest. This is followed by ritual chanting or repetition of creeds and approved wording, reminding participants that they are poor and lost, unable to touch the God to whom they are praying. This creates the sense that this God may look down upon one or two and grant a plea, if the traditions are followed correctly.
Then comes the sermon. The authority figure stands high above the people in a pulpit, causing them to look up and receive these words, as if from God Himself. “You poor unworthy sinner!” Instant trance or a trance deepener! After a time, people drift off thinking about their sore bottoms or what they are going to do after the service or what they are eating for lunch or about their sinful actions and then they condemn themselves. In this self-incrimination state of mind, the music changes and the offering is taken.
The slow, monotoned music keeps the self-incriminated person in trance, and from this mindset they decide how much money will ease their troubled mind or ease their mental burden just enough to feel better — as if emptying their pockets is emptying their soul and they are redeemed. Each person decides how much to pay to have their guilt recompensed. If they are unable to decide, there is a preset suggestion of how much to pay, as well.
Towards the end of the hour, the people stand and are told, “Your sins are forgiven,” as the money is placed on the altar of gold, which is looked down upon by a cross or the figure of a man hanging on a cross, representing Christ, as if to judge whether enough was given to release you from your self-induced guilt.
The authority figure now has the people stand and they are told in an authoritative tone, “Your sins are forgiven. Go live in peace.”
Ominous, yet upbeat, music plays and candles are extinguished. In a grand procession, the authorities march out, followed by the young initiates in their training, often dressed in white robes. Then the people walk out of the sanctuary and shake the hand of the authority figure(s), thank them for easing their self-induced condemnations, and step out into the light of day. In the back of their minds there may still be doubt, a hesitation, making them feel either grateful to receive another chance or cautious, expecting a lightning bolt to strike them then and there.
Usually this trance wears off after an hour or so. After arriving home, you eat, then relax or talk with friends and family. But like magic, on Sunday morning, you wake up and for some reason you are compelled to get dressed up and to sit perfectly still on an uncomfortable bench, with people you avoided all week, to repeat approved words and create self-condemnation, and once again pay for forgiveness.
Why do people continue this trance? A person who is genuinely downtrodden can enter this atmosphere and look into the eyes of a statue or authority figure, offer a token of thanks and leave a different person, as if transformed by the whole experience.
A church service differs from a stage hypnosis show only in that everyone participates in the trance. During a hypnosis show, only the chosen few who are asked to come to the stage are part of the trance. The rest of the onlookers are just there for a good laugh or two.
Is any of this wrong? In my humble opinion, yes and no. Yes, it is wrong if people are robbed blind and repeatedly made to believe they are bad just because they are alive, while religious authority figures build their financial wealth on lies and greed.
But I also say no, this is not wrong. Many a historical figure and common man has had a divine encounter or inspiration by attending a religious service or a time of prayer. Many a desperate man or woman has entered a church and found forgiveness and the will to live or to change their ways during this church-induced trance. The downtrodden sinner was able to step outside of his problems long enough to surrender, realizing that there may be nothing he can do about his burdens except to hand them over or lay them down at the altar and leave them there, choosing to do better.
At times, magical things do happen as we enter prayer and meditation or embark upon pilgrimages — climbing high mountains to holy sights, touching holy objects, lighting candles in dark places, or entering a small room and telling an obscured person about our deepest darkest inward things.
Yours truly has been on many religious quests. One stands out among them — the time I climbed Bear Butte, a sacred Native American place, on a 100-degree day, searching for an answer. On my way up I realized I had not brought an offering. When I stopped for a brief rest, at my feet was a cigarette. I felt it was to be my offering, similar to when God provided Abraham a ram in a bush to offer in place of his son Issac. This cigarette was my offering, provided by God or some great chief, as tobacco is the traditional Native American offering. No doubt He was laughing at my quest and placed it there to help ease my troubled soul!
At the top, I stretched out on the ground for several hours in the burning heat, looking up from time to time as if hoping to see a holy man receive what I was seeking. Instead a fellow seeker came and went without saying a word. On my way down the butte I found myself picking up after him — bottles of water, sunscreen, granola bars, a pair of sunglasses and a handkerchief.
I collected these items and carried them to the bottom, then placed them on a bench, near the beginning of the trail, in hopes that an unprepared seeker may be aided by them on their journey. Perhaps they may find what they were seeking. I left the butte learning much about myself that day, sensing that a way would be provided as I stepped out in faith.
The trance of it
Is there really any answer, cure or relief in the religious ritual? Yes, but it is found in the trance of it, in believing that this is the thing that will make me whole again.
For ages, people have recited words and performed ritual sacrifices and offerings to obtain something. In the times before Christ, humans were sacrificed during new moons and eclipses to appease some god or spirit to bring back the sun or moon. At other festivals, virgins were laid on altars and impregnated by priests to bring about the changing of seasons, to ensure a plentiful year. Then, if a drought or bad storms occurred, the babies of these women or the women themselves were sacrificed to appease the gods and change the weather. It was either an honor or a disgrace to be sacrificed for such means.
There is nothing wrong with a religious belief or approved wording as long as it is does not impose upon the belief of another and causes them harm. By all means pray for one another! All religions teach about prayer or meditation to some degree — and about lifting up a fellow human in need, in our thoughts, prayers and intents.
Climbing Bear Butte is not for everyone! There is nothing wrong with wishing a downcast soul to be well or to find peace. But be prepared. By praying for your fellow human, you may find that the best solace comes from you. You may be called upon to offer a smile, kind word or listening ear.
Is the trance of religion bad? At its core, no. Take the best parts that your place of worship has to offer. If you don’t attend a place of worship, then look for the best in your fellow man or in nature — then take this best and internalize it. Go out into your world and take on more good things and be the best human being you can be, knowing these things, wherever you may find yourself.
Live your life from one trance to the next, knowing you have the power to change it for the better as you go along.