Skip to main content



ECSTASY . The term ecstasy (Gr., ekstasis ) literally means "to be placed outside," as well as, secondarily, "to be displaced." Both senses are relevant to the study of religion, the first more than the second perhaps, inasmuch as it denotes a state of exaltation in which one stands outside or transcends oneself. Transcendence has often been associated or even equated with religion. If such an understanding of ecstasy carries the historian of religion into the hinterland of mysticism, the second sense, involving as it does spirit possession and shamanism, carries one to the borderland of anthropology and even psychiatry. The vast range of phenomena covered by the term supports the adoption of an approach toward its understanding that uses a variety of methods, one of which, the philological, has already been engaged. Ecstasy can thus mean both the seizure of one's body by a spirit and the seizure of a human by a divinity. Although seemingly in opposition, the two senses are not mutually exclusive, and between them lies the vast and diverse range of phenomena covered by the umbrella term ecstasy, with the magician standing at one end of the spectrum and the psychiatrist at the other. The historian of religion tries to grasp the significance of the intervening terrain with the help of historical, anthropological, phenomenological, sociological, psychological, and philosophical approaches to the study of religion.

Historical Approach

Ecstatic techniques reach back to prehistoric times; utilizing the principle of survivals, the historian can reconstruct these techniques by extrapolating from the role of shamans in modern primal societies. In the realm of history proper, the mystery religions that flourished in the Greco-Roman world, such as those celebrated at Eleusis and those centering on Orpheus, Adonis, Attis, Isis and Osiris, Mithra, and others, provide examples of the role of ecstasy in religion. The emphasis on secrecy in these cults makes it difficult to delineate the exact role played by ecstasy in their rituals, but those rituals are generally believed to have led to ecstatic states that signified salvific union with their deities. Elements of ecstasy are not absent in Israelite religion, where groups or individuals were seized by the spirit of Yahveh; the case of Saul is often cited in this respect (1 Sm. 10:116).

It is significant that even the phenomenological approach to ecstasy, though it does not divorce the ecstasy of the shaman from communion with spirits, does point out that the "specific element of shamanism is not the incorporation of spirits in the shaman, but the ecstasy provoked by the ascension to the sky or by the descent to Hell" (Eliade, cited in Lewis, 1971, p. 49); the descent of Jesus into hell and his ascent to heaven, according to the Athanasian Creed, provide a rudimentary parallel to shamanistic ecstasy. Even when spirits are associated with the work of the shaman, the parallel persists. In Revelation, for instance, it is ecstasy that rules from the first moment: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, 'Write what you see in a book'" (1:1011). John turns to "see the voice," whereupon he sees seven lampstands and, in the middle of them, "one like a son of man": "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (1:17). Later we are told how John saw an open door in heaven, and he heard a voice saying, "Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this" (4:1). John responds, or something within him responds: "At once I was in the Spirit" (4:2). Again he looked, saw, and heard. Another example may be provided from a later chapter of Revelation : "And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast" (17:3). Finally there is the vision of the New Jerusalem: "And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God" (21:10). Many religious traditions chart the path to ecstasy with precision and sophistication. Hinduism speaks of the various steps of Yoga leading to samādhi ; Buddhism speaks of jhāna s and nirvāa ; Christianity speaks of the mystical way; and Islam speaks of the hal and maqam, or states and stations en route to divine knowledge (an imagery that may be compared to the "mansions" of Teresa of Ávila), as well as of wajd ("ecstasy").

Anthropological Approach

The anthropological approach emphasizes the role of the shaman and the phenomenon of possession in both prehistoric and contemporary preliterate societies. Shaman is a widely used term, the "lowest common denominator of which is that of the inspired priest" (Eliade, cited in Lewis, 1971, p. 49). In the anthropological approach, it is the shaman's role as a psychopomp that is preeminent. Through an ability to achieve a state of ecstatic exaltation, acquired after much rigorous training and careful, often painful initiation, the shaman is able to establish contact with the spirit world. In the course of this exaltation, the shaman may affect the postmortem fate of the deceased, aid or hurt the diseased in this life, as well as encounter the occupants of the spirit world, communicate with them, and then narrate the experiences of ecstatic flight on his or her return from there.

Phenomenological Approach

It must be remembered, however, that while all shamans are ecstatics, all ecstatics are not shamans. Taking a broader phenomenological approach, one discovers that a variety of means, such as dancing, drugs, self-mortification, and so on, have been used across cultures and at various times to induce ecstasy and that these have generated ecstatic states ranging from the shamanistic to the mystical. If the first step of the phenomenological method is to classify, then one may employ Plato's distinction between "two types of mantic or 'prophecy', the first the mantikē entheos, the 'inspired madness' of the ecstatic, e.g. that of the Pythia; the second the systematic interpretation of signs, such as the augury of the flight of birds" (van der Leeuw, vol. 1, 1938, p. 225). This last category may be excluded from consideration here as a form of soothsaying. A further distinction has to be made between shamanistic and mystical ecstasy, with the experience of someone like Saul providing a bridge between the two. As Gerardus van der Leeuw writes: "With the Shamans, still further, we find ourselves on the road to the prophets, but of course only in the sense in which Saul too was 'among the prophets', that is as regards the ecstatic frenzy that renders possible a superhuman development of power" (ibid., p. 218). We must therefore consider three categories of ecstasies (and accordingly, ecstatics); they may not always be separable, but they are distinct: the shamanistic ecstasy, the prophetic ecstasy, and the mystical ecstasy. The differences among the three emerge clearly when we consider the nature of ecstatic utterances.

The ecstatic utterances of the shaman relate to the world of the spirits and to the shaman's movements in that realm. Eliade clearly distinguishes between non-shamanic, para-shamanic, and shamanic ecstasy, the characteristic feature of the last being the shaman's ability to communicate with dead or natural spirits. The ecstatic utterances of the prophet relate to God: the prophet literally speaks for God, though there are borderline cases, such as the priestess at the oracle at Delphi whose cryptic utterances had to be interpreted. These may be contrasted with the ecstatic utterances known as shaīyāt in Islamic mysticism; a typical example is provided by al-allāj's proclamation, "I am the Creative Truth" ("Anā al-aqq"). This highly mystical utterance, which cost him his life, has been explained in later Sufism as resulting from a mistaken sense of identity with God due to God's overwhelming presence in mystical experience (as if a piece of red-hot coal in a furnace would call itself fire or a candle in the sunlight would mistake the light of the sun for its own).

Sociological Approach

The sociology of ecstasy or ecstatic religion, as explored by I. M. Lewis, provides another useful dimension to the topic. This approach relies heavily on the indirect application of the work of Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. Following Durkheim, Lewis draws attention to the socially integrative function of the shaman who, at ritual services, instills in the people a sense of solidarity by emphasizing the shunning of adultery, homicide, and other socially disruptive practices, and who often plays an active role in settling disputes. At the same time, however, the study of ecstasy also exposes the limitations of Durkheim's approach in certain contexts: the cultivation of ecstasy, especially in mysticism, may lead to a breach within a religious tradition instead of playing an integrating role in it. Thus, Sufism was viewed with suspicion by Islamic orthodoxy until the two were reconciled by al-Ghazālī. A more Weberian approach views the shaman as discovering through his ecstatic flights the reasons for whatever may have befallen his client, providing the client with "meaning," which according to Weber is one role of religion. Moreover, a subtler application of the Weberian approach makes further generalizations possible. Thus, according to the relative-deprivation theory, secret ecstatic cults may flourish particularly among women or dispossessed groups in patriarchal or authoritarian societies. This may be as true of women dancing ecstatically in Dionysian rituals in Greece in the fifth century bce as it is in the zār cult in Sudan in modern times.

Another issue raised by the sociological approach to the study of religion is the role of ecstasy in societies that are in the process of secularization. Two views seem to prevail. One is to look upon the cultivation of cultic ecstasy as possessing cathartic value in a society undergoing rapid social change. A broader view suggests that the process of secularization does not so much do away with the need for transcendence as it provides surrogates for it. A convergence exists between the sociology of religion, which maintains that there are religious phenomena that belong to no determined religion, and the Tillichian theological viewpoint, which maintains that, though modern people think they have overcome their need for ultimate concern or transcendence, what has really happened is that they continue to seek it in secular contexts (as, for instance, in ecstatic participation in football matches). It may be further added that ecstasy is by definition an extraordinary experience that transcends routine, so that the increasing bureaucratization of modern life may impel the sort of person that Eliade called homo religiosus to seek such ecstasy all the more. It has been speculatively suggested, for instance, that the evidence in Indus Valley culture of yogic practices possibly possessing an ecstatic dimension may reflect that culture's highly organized, homogeneous, even monotonous appearance.

Psychological Approach

Various approaches to ecstasy have been discussed so far but, inasmuch as ecstasy is essentially concerned with the mind (or what lies beyond the mind), one might expect the psychology of religion to prove the most illuminating. The psychology of religion, however, is a discipline with boundaries that are difficult to define strictly; this is even more true when it is applied to a subject like ecstasy, which the psychology of religion itself approaches with methods that can vary from the transpersonal to the psychiatric. Thus, one must distinguish clearly among certain approaches within the psychology of religion: the psychoanalytical approach, the pharmacological approach, and the mystical approach.

The psychoanalytical approach has been applied to ecstasy at two levels, the shamanistic and the mystical. Claude Lévi-Strauss has argued that the cure administered by the shamanwho, unlike the modern analyst listening to the patient's words, speaks out on behalf of the patientinvolves "the inversion of all the elements" of psychoanalysis yet retains its analogy with it. J. M. Masson sees in the ecstatic, oceanic feelings of the mystic a reversion to the experience of the fetus in the womb.

Modern developments in pharmacology have brought what might be called chemical ecstasy into the limelight. Drug-induced ecstasy was not unknown in ancient times. The soma of the Vedas, which R. Gordon Wasson identified with the mushroom called the Amanita muscaria, was supposed to be one such drug; it has even been suggested that techniques of yogic ecstatic trances were developed in post-Vedic Hinduism as a substitute for the soma -induced trances once the Aryans moved deeper into India and lost contact with the geographical source of the mushroom. Mexico provides another example of the religious use of drug-induced ecstasy in the peyote cult, which Aldous Huxley popularized in a modern version through his experiments with mescaline. But it was the discovery of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) that threw the door wide open to this avenue to ecstasy, with its open advocacy by modern experimenters such as Timothy Leary and Alan Watts.

Modern psychology tends to dismiss these experiences as chemically and artifically induced and therefore not genuine. Such a dismissive approach is difficult for a historian of religion to countenance; drugs can be the means to, rather than the cause of, these ecstasies. But the fact that such chemical experiences are not always ecstatic should not be overlooked; neither should the widespread assertion that drug-induced ecstasy may be distinguished from mystical experience primarily because the drug does not usually transform the personality and the subsequent life of the user, and that mystical experience usually does. Psychedelic drugs can be used not merely to induce ecstasy but also to gain power, a fact mentioned by Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtra and illustrated in the contemporary writings of anthropologist Carlos Castaneda.

For many, the classical focus of the discussion of ecstasy is still provided by mysticism, notwithstanding the elaboration of the role of archaic and chemical techniques in this context. Mysticism, for our purposes, may be conveniently defined as the doctrine or belief that a direct knowledge or immediate perception of the ultimate reality, or God, is possible in a way different from normal sense experience and ratiocination. The two channels in which the mystical tradition of mankind has flowed are thus naturally identified by emotion and intuition. The ecstatic experience resulting from them has been distinguished accordingly as "communion" in the first case, in which the devotee, though psychologically merged in God, remains a distinct entity, and as "union" in the second case, in which the aspirant achieves an ontological identity with God. The distinction is crucial to an understanding of mystical ecstasy: in the first case, access to the ultimate reality is "gained"; that is, it is something that originally did not exist; in the second case, access to the reality is "regained"; that is, it is something that always existed but was not recognized until the moment of ecstasy. Martin Buber's distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationships is relevant here. Some traditions recognize the existence of both these types of mysticism. The Hindu mystic Ramakrishna (18361886) contrasts the two ecstasies as offering a choice between "tasting sugar" and "becoming sugar," without insisting that the two be viewed as mutually exclusive.

Ecstasy in the Hindu tradition is basically experienced in three modes: nontheistic, theistic, and trans-theistic. In the nontheistic mode, it results from the suppression of all mental modifications; because of its restriction to the person of the practitioner and the absence of any outside referent, R. C. Zaehner refers to this mode as enstasy : "By 'enstasy' I understand that introverted mystical experience in which there is experience of nothing except an unchanging, purely static oneness. It is the exact reverse of ecstasy which means to get outside oneself and which is often characterized by a breaking down of the barriers between the individual subject and the universe around him" (The Bhagavad-Gītā, London, 1973, p. 143). Although the Yoga Sūtra, to which Zaehner's statement applies, also recognizes the existence of God, the theistic mode of ecstasy that flows from the love of God is best described in the Bhakti Sūtra : "It is as if a dumb man who has tasted a delicious food could not speak about it." The ecstasy experienced through the transtheistic or absolutistic mode in Hinduism is similarly considered ineffable because, in it, the distinction between the one who experiences and the experienced is annulled. Thus one is left with the Upanisadic paradox of the experience of the Absolute: "But where everything has become just one's own self, then whereby and whom would one see?" (Bhadārayaka Up. 4.5.15). Does Meister Eckhart provide an answer to the question when he says "The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me"?

The Islamic mystical tradition emphasizes the passing away of individuality in God (fanāʾ ), who alone represents divine unity (tawīd); this loss of self into God provides the experience of inward ecstasy. In Islamic mystical poetry wine symbolizes the "ecstatic experience due to the revelation of the True Beloved, destroying the foundations of reason" (Arberry, 1950, p. 114). Such ecstatic experience of God constitutes the ecstatic's knowledge of God (maʾrifah ).

In Buddhism ecstasy plays an important role in the trances; the typical text of the first trance runs as follows: "Detached from sensual objects, O monks, detached from unwholesome states of mind, the monk enters into the first absorption, which is accompanied by Thought-Conception [vitakka ] and Discursive Thinking [vicāra ], is born of Detachment [Concentration: samādhi ] and filled with Rapture [pīti ] and Joy " (Dīgha Nikāya 1.182). It should be added, however, that in the fifth stage, ecstasy gives way to equanimity, and the final attainment of nirvāa is characterized not by ecstasy but by knowledge and bliss.

In Christian mysticism too, ecstasy plays a key role. We see it in the statement of John Cassian (360435) that "by constant meditation on things divine and spiritual contemplation the soul is caught up into an ecstasy." It is at the heart of the fourteenth-century text The Cloud of Unknowing :

God wishes to be served with both the body and the spirit together, as is proper, and He will give man his reward in bliss both in body and in soul. In giving that reward, He sometimes inflames the body of His devout servants with wonderful pleasures here in this life, not only once or twice, but very often in some cases as He may wish. Of these pleasures not all come into the body from outside through the windows of our senses, but come from within, rising and springing up out of an abundance of spiritual gladness and out of true devotion of spirit. (cited in Progoff, 1957, pp. 172173)

It may be noted that, here as in other instances, ecstasy is not divorced from knowledge of God, and the text spells out stages for its attainment. In Christian mysticism, as in other forms of mysticism (especially theistic), different stages are delineated, perhaps the best known being the passage of the soul to God, first through the illuminative, second the purgative, and finally the unitive ways.

The Cross-Cultural Approach

Following Gershom Scholem's study of Jewish mysticism, we can ask why ecstatic experiences take particular forms constrained by each individual culture. Why, for instance, did Teresa of Ávila not have ecstatic visions of Kālī? The Hindu mystic Rama-krishna is said to have had visions of figures outside Hinduism, but he is known to have been somewhat familiar with the traditions in question. Yet C. G. Jung argued that some of his clients gave evidence of certain archetypal ecstatic visions that transcend the bounds of time and space. The role of depth psychology in uncovering the roots of ecstasy, it seems, has yet to be fully explored; the same is true of the other extreme, the physical symptoms accompanying the states of ecstasy. In ecstasies of the shamanistic and prophetic type the hypothalamus has been shown to become inactive so that people in trance become impervious to physical maltreatment or deprivation, though they still respond to speech and social communication. In ecstasies of the mystical type, signs of life have been known to fade, sometimes to the point of apparent disappearance.

Humanistic psychologists such as Abraham H. Maslow have taken some interest in ecstasy in its relation to the concept of peak experience. This interest is even more evident in Ernst Arbman's monumental work, Ecstasy or Religious Trance (19631970). In this psychological study of ecstasy, Arbman emphasizes the close relation between ecstasy and mystical experience and, within mysticism, between ecstasy and visionary experience. He classifies the latter as assuming three forms, which represents a trichotomy of medieval Christian mysticism traceable to Augustine: corporeal, imaginative, and intellectual. These three forms may be instantiated, respectively, by the experiences of the prophet Muammad in receiving the Qurʾān through an angel, some of the experiences of Teresa of Ávila, and the recorded experiences of Ignatius Loyola and Jakob Boehme. The distinction between these three forms of ecstatic visionary experiencethe corporeal, the imaginative, and the intellectualis said to lie in the fact that, while the first experience is felt as something actually or objectively perceived, in the second case it is something experienced only inwardly, in a psychic or spiritual sense. The third type of vision, in which the sense of the word intellectual seems to correspond more to Platonic than to modern usage, apprehends its object without any image or form.

How might we establish the genuineness of the experiences represented by this classification, even if the existence of a mystical realm is granted, and even if it is further accepted that the pathological state of mind might be the most receptive for such experiences? Or, to broaden the scale of skepticism, how do we know that the shaman's journeys do in fact occur? The phenomenologist of religion is disinclined to ask such questions, as are the followers of some other disciplines, but the historian of religion cannot choose to ignore them since almost every tradition concerned with ecstatic experience has provided evaluative criteria for distinguishing between genuine and spurious experience. More generally, what is the role of the philosophy of religion in ecstatic experiences? This is a thorny issue, complicated by a fundamental epistemological problem: philosophers use reason in order to know, but ecstatics reason because they know. And yet a philosophical approach to ecstasy still seems possible if two factors are taken into account: an ecstasy, however prolonged, is usually a temporary state, and it can be experienced by religious mystics and nonreligious mystics alike.

Duration and Efficacy

The duration of the ecstatic trance is variable. William James regarded transience as one of the four marks of the mystic state, but allowed only for "half an hour, or at most an hour or two." On the other hand, according to the Hindu mystical tradition, an ecstatic trance can be so profound that one does not recover from it at all. One reads of mystics who remained in a state of trance for six hours (Teresa of Ávila), three days (Ramakrishna), five days (Ellina von Crevelsheim), and even six months (again, Ramakrishna). Moreover, not merely mystics per se but also otherwise intellectually or aesthetically gifted persons have experienced ecstasy. Rabindranath Tagore describes one such experience:

I suddenly felt as if some ancient mist had in a moment lifted from my sight and the ultimate significance of all things was laid bare. I found that facts that had been detached and dim had a great unity of meaning, as if a man groping through a fog suddenly discovers that he stands before his own house. An unexpected train of thought ran across my mind like a strange caravan carrying the wealth of an unknown kingdom. Immediately I found the world bathed in a wonderful radiance with waves of beauty and joy swelling on every side, and no person or thing in the world seemed to me trivial or unpleasing. (cited in Walker, 1968, p. 475)

This passage raises a vital issue: if ordinary mortals can experience ecstasy along with the great mystics, and if ecstasies are terminable, then what do the great religious traditions of the world ultimately have to offer by way of salvation? If the answer is ecstatic union and ecstasy is a temporary phenomenon, then how lasting are the results of the spiritual path? Must one follow it to experience ecstasy?

The answer is not entirely clear, but both the theistic and nontheistic mystical traditions have approached an answer by asking whether ecstasy and union (in a mystical context) are identical. For Plotinus the two are one:

For then nothing stirred within him, neither anger, nor desire, nor even reason, nor a certain intellectual perception, nor, in short, was he himself moved, if we may assert this; but, being in an ecstasy, tranquil and alone with God, he enjoyed an unbreakable calm. (Plotinus, Enneads 6.9)

For Teresa of Ávila, ecstasy and union are not identical:

I wish I could explain with the help of God wherein union differs from rapture, or from transport, or from flight of the spirit, as they call it, or from trance, which are all one. I mean that all these are only different names for that one and the same thing, which is also called ecstasy. It is more excellent than union, the fruits of it are much greater, and its other operations more manifold, for union is uniform in the beginning, the middle and the end, and is so also interiorly; but as raptures have ends of a much higher kind, they produce effects both within and without (i. e., both physical and psychical). A rapture is absolutely irresistible; whilst union, inasmuch as we are then on our own ground, may be hindered, though that resistance be painful and violent. (Teresa of Ávila, Life 20.13)

Apart from the question of whether, in either the theistic or nontheistic context, ecstasy represents union, and if so, to what extent and degree, there is a further question: does such ecstatic union constitute the summation of religious experience? There seems to be some difference of opinion on this point. Thus, according to W. R. Inge,

Ecstasy was for Plotinus the culminating point of religious experience, whereby the union with God and perfect knowledge of Divine truth, which are the conclusion and achievement of the dialectical process and the ultimate goal of the moral will, are realized also in direct, though ineffable, experience. Plotinus enjoyed this supreme initiation four times during the period when Porphyry was with him; Porphyry himself only once, he tells us, when he was in his 68th year. It was a vision of the Absolute, 'the One', which being above even intuitive thought, can only be apprehended passively by a sort of Divine illapse into the expectant soul. It is not properly a vision, for the seer no longer distinguishes himself from that which he sees; indeed, it is impossible to speak of them as two, for the spirit, during the ecstasy, has been completely one with the One. This 'flight of the alone to the Alone' is a rare and transient privilege, even for the greatest saint. He who enjoys it 'can only say that he has all his desire, and that he would not exchange his bliss for all the heaven of heavens'. (Inge, 1912, p. 158)

Yet when we turn to other religious traditions, the culmination of the religious life seems to be distinguished not so much by a transient, if repeatable, ecstatic union as by a blissful state of being. The final goal of a Christian existence, for example, is the "eternal life" of the beatific vision or the kingdom of God, and not transient ecstasies; and the final goal of Buddhism is the attainment of the lasting happiness of nirvāa, which is attained for good, unlike the temporary ecstasies of the trances.

Even the word 'happiness' (sukha ) which is used to describe Nirvāa has an entirely different sense here. Sāriputta once said: 'O friend, Nirvāa is happiness! Nirvāa is happiness!' Then Udāyi asked: 'But, friend Sāriputta, what happiness can it be if there is no sensation?' Sāriputta's reply was highly philosophical and beyond ordinary comprehension: 'That there is no sensation itself is happiness.' (Rahula, 1967, p. 43)

Given the scope and variety of the phenomenon of ecstasy, our approach has been to use a variety of methods. It might then be proper to conclude by raising a methodological point: can or should one's approach to the study of ecstasy be translated into the terms of some other human phenomenon (a method often pejoratively described as "reductionist")? Eliade argues this point:

Since ecstasy (trance, losing one's soul, losing consciousness) seems to form an integral part of the human condition, just like anxiety, dreams, imagination, etc., we do not deem it necessary to look for its origin in a particular culture or a particular historical moment. As an experience ecstasy is a non-historical phenomenon in the sense that it is coextensive with human nature. Only the religious interpretation given to ecstasy and the techniques designed to prepare it or facilitate it are historically conditioned. That is to say, they are dependent on various cultural contexts, and they change in the course of history. (Eliade, cited in Wavell et al., 1966, p. 243).

Thus, fasting, drugs, meditation, prayer, dancing, and sex have all been used to induce ecstasy in the course of human history.

A dominant trend in the study of religion on this point is reflected in what Charles Davis says of reductionistic explanations in general, which also applies to the explanations of ecstasy. His discussion is entitled "Wherein There Is No Ecstasy," a line from T. S. Eliot that refers not to the absence of ecstasy per se but to its absence in "the mystical dark night of the soul." Davis has this to say:

There is no difficulty in accepting reductionistic explanations of particular religious beliefs and practices, if such explanations are sufficiently grounded. Every expression of the transcendent is a particular experience. The particularity of the experience is due to non-transcendent factors. Hence, in that particularity, it is open to non-religious explanations. As for a reductionistic explanation of religious faith as such, in my judgment a reductionistic explanation is so little grounded and so patently the result of an inadequate development of the subject who offers it that I do not grant it any degree of probability. But I am not infallible. Despite the certitude of my judgment, the possibility of error and illusion remains. (Davis, 1984, p. 398)

Scholars will no doubt continue to debate the issue of ecstasy, and shamans, prophets, and mystics continue to experience itif a secularized world will let them do so.

See Also

Enthusiasm; Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Mysticism; Psychedelic Drugs; Shamanism.


Arberry, A. J. Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam (1950). London, 1979.

Arbman, Ernst. Ecstasy or Religious Trance. 3 vols. Edited by Åke Hultkrantz. Stockholm, 19631970.

Davis, Charles. "Wherein There Is No Ecstasy." Studies in Religion / Sciences religieuses 13 (1984): 393400.

Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. 2d ed. Princeton, 1969.

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Rev. & enl. ed. New York, 1964.

Inge, W. R. "Ecstasy." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 5. Edinburgh, 1912.

Leeuw, Gerardus van der. Religion in Essence and Manifestation, vol. 1. Translated by J. E. Turner. London, 1938.

Lewis, I. M. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. Harmondsworth, 1971.

Mahadevan, T. M. P. Outlines of Hinduism. Bombay, 1956.

Maslow, Abraham. Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. Columbus, Ohio, 1964.

Nyanatiloka. Buddhist Dictionary. Colombo, 1950.

Progoff, Ira, ed. and trans. The Cloud of Unknowing. New York, 1957.

Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. Rev. ed. Bedford, U.K., 1967.

Tart, Charles T., ed. Altered States of Consciousness: A Book of Readings. New York, 1969.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism (1911). 12th ed. New York, 1961.

Walker, Benjamin. The Hindu World, vol. 2. New York, 1968.

Wavell, Stewart, Audrey Butt, and Nina Epton. Trances. London, 1966.

Zaehner, R. C. Zen, Drugs, and Mysticism. New York, 1972.

Arvind Sharma (1987)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ecstasy." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 18 Sep. 2018 <>.

"Ecstasy." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (September 18, 2018).

"Ecstasy." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved September 18, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.