An altered state of consciousness, either spontaneous or induced, bearing some analogy to the ordinary sleep state, but differing from it in certain marked particulars. Among tribal peoples, trance states have been common since ancient times, used by the shaman, medicine man, or other religious practitioners for demonstrations of paranormal knowledge. Such shamans were forerunners of the modern Spiritualist mediums.
The term is loosely applied to many varied mental states (e.g., hypnosis, ecstasy, catalepsy, somnambulism, certain forms of hysteria, and the mediumistic trance). Sometimes, as in catalepsy, there is a partial suspension of the vital functions; generally, there is insensibility to pain and to any stimulus applied to the sense organs. The main distinguishing feature of the trance is that the subject retains consciousness and gives evidence of intelligence, either his or her own normal intelligence or, as in cases of possession and impersonation, some foreign intelligence.
In hypnosis, the subject, although indifferent to sensory stimuli, has been known to exhibit a curious sensitivity to such stimuli applied to the hypnotist's body (see Community of Sensation ).
In ecstasy, which is frequently allied with hallucination, the subject remains in rapt contemplation of some transcendental vision, deaf and blind to the outside world. It was formerly considered to indicate that the soul of the ecstatic was viewing some great event distant in time or place or some person or scene from the celestial sphere. Today such a state is believed to be brought about by intense and sustained emotional concentration on some particular mental image, by means of which hallucination may be induced.
The mediumistic trance is recognized as being similar to hypnosis, for the hypnotic trance, induced many times in the same subject, may become spontaneous. It then strongly resembles the trance of the medium.
Some Spiritualists have objected to the term trance being applied when there is no sign of spirit possession. The entranced medium (who seems able to produce this state at will) frequently displays an exaltation of memory (hypermnesia), of the senses (hyperesthesia), and even of the intellectual faculties.
Automatic writing and utterances are generally produced in the trance state and frequently display knowledge the medium does not normally possess, or knowledge that is said to give evidence of telepathy. Such were the trance utterances of the medium Leonora Piper, whose automatic phenomena in the late nineteenth century provided a wide field for scientific research.
Spiritualists believe these phenomena are caused by spirits of the dead acting through the medium's physical organism, as distinct from ancient ideas that trance personalities were all the result of demonic possession. Moreover, the trance messages of Spiritualist mediums are said to come from the spirits of deceased persons, and this assertion is often supported by the medium's exhibiting the voice, appearance, or known opinions of the dead friend or relative.
Such trance representations supply a large part of the evidence on which the structure of Spiritualism rests. In cases of fraud, however, the information concerning the deceased was probably obtained by normal means, or, in some cases, obtained telepathically from the minds of the sitters. While there is some strong evidence for a Spiritualist view, there are also many cases when other explanations seem more appropriate.
Subjective Aspects of Trance
Some light can be shed on the nature of trance from the reports of those who have experienced it. The great medium D. D. Home, for example, described his movement into trance before a committee of the London Dialectical Society in 1869: "I feel for two or three minutes in a dreamy state, then I become quite dizzy, and then I lose all consciousness. When I awake I find my feet and limbs cold, and it is difficult to restore the circulation. When told of what has taken place during the trance it is quite unpleasant to me, and I ask those present not to tell me at once when I awake. I myself doubt what they tell me."
Lord Adare, who studied Home's mediumship, observed, "The change which takes place in him is very striking; he becomes, as it were, a being of higher type. There is a union of sweetness, tenderness and earnestness in his voice and manner which is very attractive."
W. Stainton Moses, himself a medium, added his observations:
"By degrees Mr. Home's hands and arms began to twitch and move involuntarily. I should say that he has been partly paralysed, drags one of his legs, moves with difficulty, stoops and can endure very little physical exertion. As he passed into the trance state he drew power from the circle by extending his arms to them and mesmerizing himself. All these acts are involuntary. He gradually passed into the trance state, and rose from the table, erect and a different man from what he was. He walked firmly, dashed out his arms and legs with great power and passed round to Mr. Crookes. He mesmerized him, and appeared to draw power from him."
"I feel a cold shivering," stated Annie Fairlamb, "a sensation as of water running down my back, noise in my ears, and a feeling as if I were sinking down into the earth; then I lose consciousness."
Leonore Piper noted: "I feel as if something were passing over my brain, making it numb; a sensation similar to that experienced when I was etherized, only the unpleasant odour of the ether is absent. I feel a little cold, too, not very, just a little, as if a cold breeze passed over me, and people and objects become smaller until they finally disappear; then, I know nothing more until I wake up, when the first thing I am conscious of is bright, a very bright light, and then darkness, such darkness. My hands and arms begin to tingle just as one's foot tingles after it has been 'asleep,' and I see, as if from a great distance, objects and people in the room; but they are very small and very black."
It is interesting to note that when the Seeress of Prevorst (Frederica Hauffe ) awoke from trance, she said that the persons around her looked so thick and heavy that she could not imagine how they could move.
Objective Aspects of Trance
On awakening from trance, Piper often pronounced names and fragments of sentences that appeared to have been the last impressions on her brain. After that, she resumed conversations at the point where they were broken off before she fell into trance. It is significant to quote from among the mumbled remarks during her return to consciousness, "I came in on a cord, a silver cord." Before she became conscious she heard a snap, sometimes two. They were physiological experiences. She said she heard "sounds like wheels clicking together and then snaps." Similar observations have been made by individuals reporting out-of-the-body travel experiences.
Describing the development in Piper's trances, Sir Oliver Lodge writes in his book The Survival of Man (1909):
"In the old days the going into trance seemed rather a painful process, or at least a process involving muscular effort; there was some amount of contortion of the face and sometimes a slight tearing of the hair; and the same actions accompanied the return of consciousness. Now the trance seems nothing more than an exceptionally heavy sleep, entered into without effort—a sleep with the superficial appearance of that induced by chloroform; and the return to consciousness, though slow and for a time accompanied by confusion, is easy and natural…. For half an hour or so after the trance had disappeared the medium continues slightly dazed and only partly herself…. A record was also made of the remarks of Mrs. Piper during the period of awaking from trance…. part of them nearly always consisted of expressions of admiration for the state of experience she was leaving, and of repulsion— almost disgust—at the commonplace terrestrial surroundings in which she found herself. Even a bright day was described as dingy or dark, and the sitter was stared at in an unrecognising way, and described as a full and ugly person…."
Piper's trances seemed to have three distinct stages— subliminal 1, in which the medium was partly conscious of her surroundings but saw things distorted and grotesque; subliminal 2, in which she was possessed by spirits and lost contact with the material world; and subliminal 3, a deep trance in which the loss of consciousness was complete, the body became anaesthetic, and automatic writing began.
William James found Piper's lips and tongue insensible to pain while she was in trance. Richard Hodgson later confirmed this by placing a spoonful of salt in Piper's mouth. He also applied strong ammonia to her nostrils.
James also led what became a series of more intrusive experiments, once making a small incision in Piper's left wrist. During trance the wound did not bleed and no notice was taken of the action. It bled freely afterward and the medium bore the scar for life. In England, Lodge pushed a needle into her hand. At another time, Charles Richet inserted a feather into her nostril. Harsh experiments in 1909 resulted in a badly blistered and swollen tongue that caused the medium inconvenience for several days, while another test resulted in numbness and partial paralysis of her right arm for some time afterward. Although these scientific experiments were of great importance, it is obvious that the experimenters overstepped the mark in causing inconvenience and pain to the medium.
The trance of the medium Eusapia Palladino was described by Italian researcher Cesare Lombroso:
"At the beginning of the trance her voice is hoarse and all the secretions—sweat, tears, even the menstrual secretions are increased. Hyperaesthesia … is succeeded by anaesthesia…. Reflex movement of the pupils and tendons are lacking…. Respiratory movements … passing from 18 inspirations to 15 and 12 a minute … heartbeats increase from 70 to 90 and even 120. The hands are seized with jerkings and tremors. The joints of the feet and the hands take on movements of flexure or extension, and every little while become rigid.
"The passing from this state to that of active somnambulism is marked by yawns, sobs, perspirations on the forehead, passing of insensible perspiration through the skin of the hands, and strange physiognomic expressions. Now she seems a prey to a kind of anger, expressed by imperious commands and sarcastic and critical phrases, and now to a state of voluptuous erotic ecstasy. In the state of trance she first becomes pale, turning her eyes upward and her sight inward…. exhibiting many of the gestures that are frequent in hysterical fits…. Toward the end of the trance when the more important phenomena occur, she falls into true convulsions and cries like a woman who is lying-in, or else falls into a profound sleep while from the aperture in the parietal bone in her head there exhales a warm fluid or vapour, sensible to the touch.
"After the séance Eusapia is overcome by morbid sensitiveness, hyperesthesia, photophobia and often by hallucinations and delirium (during which she asks to be watched from harm) and by serious disturbances of the digestion, followed by vomiting if she has eaten before the séance, and finally by true pare-sis of the legs, on account of which it is necessary for her to be carried and to be undressed by others.
"These disturbances are much aggravated…. if she is exposed to unexpected light."
"My eyes ache a good deal after a séance," said Annie Fair-lamb, "and generally my lower limbs are thin, sometimes very thin, and usually I feel pain in the left side."
Pioneering researcher F. W. H. Myers distinguished between three successive stages in trance. In the first stage the subliminal (subconscious) self obtains control. In the next stage the incarnate spirit, whether or not maintaining control of the whole body, makes excursions into or holds telepathic intercourse with the spiritual world. In the third stage, the body of the medium is controlled by another discarnate spirit.
The first stage is well illustrated by the case of Alabama minister C. B. Sanders, whose trance personality always called itself by the name of "X Y Z," and claimed to represent the incarnate spirit of Rev. Sanders exercising his higher faculties. He spoke of Sanders in his normal state of consciousness as his "casket," but showed no evidence of direct communication with discar-nate spirits.
The nineteenth-century histologist Gaëtano Salvioli, investigating hypnosis, noticed for the first time that in trance the flow of blood to the brain is greater than in waking hours, which might account for the greater psychical activity and an increase in muscular excitability.
Theodore Flournoy frequently found complete allochiria, a confusion between the right and left side, with the medium Hélène Smith. In trance she would consistently look for her pocket on the left side instead of on the right. If one of her fingers was pricked or pinched behind a screen, it was the corresponding finger on the other hand that was agitated. Allochiria is one of the stigmata of hysteria.
Lombroso also called attention to the fact that Eusapia Palladino, who was usually left-handed in sittings, became right-handed in one séance and fellow researcher Enrico Morselli became left-handed. This observation served as confirmation of one doctor's hypothesis of transitory left-handedness in the abnormal state, and the transference to the sitters of the anomalies of the medium. The left-handedness seemed to indicate the increased participation of the right lobe of the brain in mediumistic states.
Morselli measured Palladino's left-handedness in dynamo-metric figures. He found, after a séance, a diminution of 6 kilograms for the right and 14 for the left hand. The spirits around Leonore Piper always communicated on the left side. The trance, as a rule, began with hissing intakes of breath and ended with deep expirations.
There is a suggestion in this of pranayama, the yoga system of breathing. "Like the fakirs," wrote Morselli, "when they wish to enter into trance, Eusapia begins to slacken her rate of breathing." The seer Emanuel Swedenborg believed that his powers were connected with a system of respiration. He said that in communing with the spirits he hardly breathed for half an hour at a time.
The poet Gerald Massey, who published an alternative history of humankind, wrote of his own mystical vision: "You know Swedenborg and Blake claimed a kind of inner breathing. I know that is possible. I have got at times to where I find there needs to be no further need for expiring, it is all inspiration, I consider that consciously or unconsciously we all draw life from the spirit world, just as we shall when we pass into it."
"I have tried to simulate the deep and rapid breathing of Rudi in the trance state," writes psychical researcher Harry Price in his book Rudi Schneider (1930). He says: "This breathing has been likened to a steam engine, a tyre being pumped up, etc. Taking off my collar and tie and with my watch in my hand, I found that in six and a quarter minutes I was exhausted and could not continue. I have known Rudi to continue this hard breathing, interspersed with spasms and the usual clonic movements, for seventy-five minutes without cessation. And this while being held and in a most uncomfortable position, while, of course, I was quite free."
Trances did not always come at will and occasionally appeared when not desired. In Cambridge, England, at the request of F. W. H. Myers, Piper looked into a crystal before going to bed. She saw nothing but looked exhausted the next morning and said that she thought that she had been entranced during the night. The next time when she went into a trance, her spirit control "Phinuit" said that he came and called but no one answered. Piper's trances generally lasted about an hour. On one occasion, in Sir Oliver Lodge's experience, it lasted only for a minute.
The trance, as a rule, is continuous. In the mediumship of Mrs. J. H. Conant, much discomfort was caused at an earlier stage by the medium's return to consciousness as soon as the control had left. She had to be entranced again for the next communicator. Each change took about ten minutes. In the case of Rudi Schneider, the trance was similarly intermittent but the same entity, "Olga," remained in control.
To be roused from trance by a materialized spirit is exceptional. The spirit form "Katie King" was said to have roused the medium Florence Cook when the time of her farewell arrived and a tearful scene was witnessed between the two. The novelist Florence Marryat, who was present at this séance, describes a similar experience with the medium Mary Showers in her book There is No Death (1891): "The spirit ['Peter'] proceeded to rouse Rosie by shaking her and calling her name, holding me by one hand as he did so. As Miss Showers yawned and woke up from her trance, the hand slipped from mine, and 'Peter' evaporated. When she sat up I said to her gently: 'I am here! Peter had brought me in and was sitting on the mattress by my side till just this moment.' 'Ha, ha!' laughed his voice close to my ear, 'and I'm still here, my dears, though you can't see me."'
The medium F. W. Monck was once apparently awakened by the common consent of the materialized spirit and the sitters. However, controversy surrounds the mediumship of Florence Cook, Mary Showers, and Monck, and these unusual occurrences seem to be but further confirmation of the fraud engaged in by the three mediums.
Usually the medium has no remembrance of what has passed in the trance. To all intents and purposes he or she is an entirely distinct being while in that state, with physiological functions totally different from the normal ones. Florence Marryat wrote that the medium Bessie Williams ate like a sparrow, and only the simplest things. "Dewdrop" (her guide ), on the other hand, liked indigestible food and devoured it freely, yet the medium never felt any inconvenience from it.
About 1846 the limbs of Mary Jane, servant girl of a Dr. Larkin of Wrentham, Massachusetts, were, under the spirit influence of a rough sailor, thrown out of joint in several directions in a moment and without pain. Larkin was often obliged to call in the aid of his fellow doctors and two or three strong assistants to replace them. On one occasion the girl's knees and wrists were thrown out of joint twice in a single day. These painful feats were always accompanied by loud laughter and hoarse, profane jokes.
On the testimony of S. W. Turner of Cleveland, Ohio, in December 1847, the Spiritual Telegraph reported the peculiar adventure of a medium called William Hume. In a trance state and under the control of "Capt. Kidd," Hume threw himself into the lake to recover a ring and was brought out of the water, still in trance, after swimming for 15 to 20 minutes, without injury to his health.
Trance in Animal Magnetism and Hypnotism
The first surgery on a subject in mesmeric trance was performed in France in April 1829, by M. Cloquet on a Mme. Plan-tin, a 64-year-old woman who suffered from an ulcerated cancer in the right breast. The operation lasted 10-12 minutes. The patient's pulse and breathing remained unchanged. She was not awakened until two days later. The case was reported to the Section of Surgery of the Academy. In 1836 a Dr. Hamard invited a member of the academy, M. Oudet, to extract a tooth from a somnambulic patient. The operation was a success.
In England the first operation in mesmeric trance took place in 1842, in Nottinghamshire, on James Wombell, whose leg was amputated above the knee. W. Topham, a London barrister, was the mesmerist, and the operation was performed by Squire Ward, M.R.C.S. James Esdaile records a number of similar incidents in his book, Mesmerism in India (1846).
There is one instance on record in the mediumship of F. L. H. Willis, who later acquired a medical degree and became professor of materia medica in New York, when not the patient, but the operator was in trance. Controlled by the spirit of "Dr. Mason," Willis successfully performed a difficult operation.
Apart from Swedenborg, the first modern conversation with spirits of the departed through the use of trance was recorded in May 1778 by the Societé Exegetique Philantropique of Stockholm. A 40-year-old woman was controlled in trance by her own infant daughter and another young child of the town, who gave accounts of both their Earth lives and their existence in the spirit world.
The somnambulic state in mesmerism was the discovery of the Marquis Chastenet de Puységur. Franz Anton Mesmer himself was aware of something unknown in the "magnetic sleep" and warned against deepening it. The use of animal magnetism was primarily for healing power, and the possibility of intercourse with spirits was largely avoided. It cropped up as early as 1878 in Tardy de Montravel's writings, but he opposed it. Kaleph Ben-Nathan admitted the possibility in 1793 but contended that spirits with which a somnambule might hold intercourse would be spirits of an inferior order and that magnet-ists practiced sorcery and divination.
Dr. Alexandre Bertrand recorded the exclamation of his young somnambule: "There are no spirits, they are stories, yet I see them, the proof is perfect." J. P. F. Deleuze conceded in 1818 that the phenomena of clairvoyance established the spirituality of the soul, but he did not consider spirit intercourse proven by the phenomena of somnambulic trance. In later years, however, under the effect of Dr. G. P. Billot 's experiments, he appeared to have changed his belief. Billot's somnambules were mediums in the present-day sense. The spirits who possessed them proclaimed themselves to be their guardian angels and on occasion produced physical phenomena.
Louis-Alphonse Cahagnet recorded fully developed trance communications through the early medium Adèle Maginot. Before Cahagnet's appearance, an official acknowledgment of trance took place in 1831 when an investigating commission of the Royal Academy of Medicine reported on the phenomena of animal magnetism and found it genuine and the state of somnambulism, although rare, well authenticated.
In Germany the theory of spiritual intercourse in trance took a quicker hold on the imagination of mesmerists. Jung-Stilling (J. H. Jung ) founded the school with the theory of the psychic body and its elements, based on the luminiferous ether. Auguste Müller, of Carlsruhe, appears to have been the first somnambule whose spirit communications and other phenomena were carefully recorded; Fräulein Römer, the second. Müller was the first interplanetary traveler, making claimed clairvoyant excursions to the moon. The most stirring account of intercourse with the spirit world was the story of the Seeress of Prevorst, Frederica Hauffe, published in 1826 by Dr. Justinus Kerner.
Cahagnet, L. A. The Celestial Telegraph; or, Secrets of the Life to Come Revealed Through Magnetism. 2 vols. London & New York, 1851. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1976.
Dingwall, E. J. Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena. 4 vols. London: Churchill, 1967-68.
Esdaile, James. Natural and Mesmeric Clairvoyance; With the Practical Application of Mesmerism in Surgery and Medicine. London, 1852. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Fahnestock, W. B. Statuvolism, or Artificial Somnambulism. Chicago, 1871.
Flournoy, Theodore. From India to the Planet Mars. New York: Harper & Bros., 1900.
Garrett, Eileen J. My Life as a Search for the Meaning of Mediumship. New York: Oquaga; London: Rider, 1939. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Goodman, Felicitas D., Jeanette H. Henney, and Esther Pressel. Trance, Healing and Hallucination: Three Field Studies in Religious Experience. Wiley-Interscience, 1974.
Gopi Krishna. The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
Inglis, Brian. Trance: A Natural History of Altered States of Mind. London: Grafton, 1989.
Kerner, Justinus. The Seeress of Prevorst. London, 1845.
Laski, Marghanita. Ecstasy. London: Cresset, 1961.
Salter, W. H. Trance Mediumship: An Introductory Study of Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Leonard. London: Society for Psychical Research, 1962.
Spiegel, H., and D. Spiegal. Trance and Treatment: Clinical Users of Hypnosis. New York: Basis Books, 1978.
Sunderland, La Roy. The Trance, and How Introduced. Boston, 1860.
Wavell, Stewart, Audrey Butt, and Nina Epton. Trances. London: Allen & Unwin, 1966.
"Trance." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/trance
"Trance." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/trance
According to Gilbert Rouget (1980), a trance is a "temporary state of altered consciousness that obeys a cultural model." In the Middle Ages this term was applied to the agonies of death and the Passion of Christ. The word trance appeared in connection with the fakirs in a supplement to the first edition of the book Neurhypnologie by James Braid, the British doctor who popularized hypnotism. It was also used at the end of the nineteenth century to refer to the state of depersonalized mediums embodying the spirits of other people. From the perspective of physicians and psychologists of that era, exotic, spiritualistic, or Catholic trances could be explained in terms of provoked somnambulism, hypnosis, hysteria, or neurosis, notions that seemed to give a scientific explanation for these phenomena. Sigmund Freud associated himself with this tradition to some degree when he entitled one of his articles "A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis" (1923).
This perspective was reversed when ethnologists such as Alfred Métraux, Michel Leiris, or Roger Bastide began to use this term, which in their view was less ethnocentric, less psychologizing, or less psychiatric in tone than the words hypnosis or hysteria. Trance became the general term for experiences, rites, and beliefs relating to possession, shamanism, ecstasy, or divination observed in other cultures. From then on, magnetic somnambulism, hypnosis, and even psychoanalysis were seen as coming out of an Occidental trance culture. Thus, in The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949/1969), Claude Lévi-Strauss described psychoanalysis as a "modern form of shamanism."
While the question of a psychology or a psychoanalysis of the trance continues to be raised, it has been given away, in many contemporary studies, to that of the relationship between the individual and the cultural realms.
See also: Animal magnetism; Benign/malignant regression; Hypnosis; Jouissance (Lacan); Relaxation principle and neocatharsis.
Freud, Sigmund. (1923d ). A seventeenth-century demonological neurosis. SE, 19: 67-105.
Lapassade, Georges. (1990). La Transe. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. (1969). The elementary structures of kinship (James Harle Bell, John Richard von Sturmer, and Rodney Needham, Trans.) Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1949)
Michaux, Didier (Ed.). (1995). La transe et l 'hypnose. Paris: Imago.
Rouget, Gilbert. (1980). La musique et la transe. Paris: Gallimard.
"Trance." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/trance
"Trance." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/trance
trance / trans/ • n. a half-conscious state characterized by an absence of response to external stimuli, typically as induced by hypnosis or entered by a medium: she put him into a light trance. ∎ a state of abstraction: the kind of trance he went into whenever illness was discussed. ∎ (also trance music) a type of electronic dance music characterized by hypnotic rhythms and sounds. • v. [tr.] (often be tranced) poetic/lit. put into a trance: she's been tranced and may need waking. DERIVATIVES: tranced·ly / ˈtranstlē; ˈtransid-/ adv. trance·like / -ˌlīk/ adj.
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of lovers—Lipton, 1970.
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