Summary of My PhD Dissertation Proposal: Exploring Ecstatic Experience Examined Through the Evocative Technology of Gospel Choir
By Sharon Alexander
“Music emerges as
the single most important elicitor [of religious] experience.”
–Neuropsychologist Scott Atran
I have been a student of biophysicist James Oschman for forty years. As a graduate student studying somatic psychotherapy and massage as a healing art, I have been fascinated to understand the biophysics of the human energy system. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on Concepts of Energy in the Healing Arts. But I noticed that I could find very little published on the biophysics of altered state experience. This hole in the research has bothered me ever since. Back in 1980, when I first became curious about the biophysics of orgasm and other ecstatic experiences, I could not find much research literature on the subject. But times have changed and, upon returning to the subject all these years later, I have been able to find many more recent writings — from diverse disciplines — in which the subject has been addressed. I therefore propose to address and explore the biophysics of ecstatic experience. Specifically, I propose to show how the rules of synchronization and entrainment apply to ecstatic altered states of consciousness, and particularly to group altered state experiences. I propose to examine particularly the ecstatic experience, and to do this through an exploration of the evocative musical technology of gospel choir. Thus my research merges an exploration of the biophysics of consciousness with the exploration of ecstatic musical technology.
There is, currently in the early 21st Century, “a wave of passion” spreading out in the Judeo- Christian world (as Newsweek Magazine acknowledged in 2005), a great fascination with the ecstatic experience; “a profound desire to have the personal experience of God.” What is ecstasy? Ecstasy is defined as rapturous delight, exaltation, bliss, a sense of being taken or moved out of one’s self or one’s normal state of consciousness, and entering a state of intensified or heightened emotion, so powerful as to produce a trancelike dissociation from all but the single overpowering feeling. For thirty-five years, since becoming a somatic psychotherapist, I have been curious about the nature of consciousness, and particularly the ecstatic “altered” state experience, that remarkable “psychophysical” (to use consciousness researcher Michael Winkelman’s term of choice) transformation often described as indescribable.
All ecstatic experience, it seems, is “aroused,” “induced,” or “ignited”. Arousal refers to heightened physiological activity in the nervous or endocrine system. And the physiological process of this arousal or ignition is fundamentally similar for everyone. One is said to “ascend” to ecstasy. Experiencers may describe a “spiritual conversion.” While some people may be inclined to dismiss the experience of ecstasy as a form of hysteria — or worse, psychosis — most adults have experienced at least a taste of ecstasy if they have had a particularly powerful sexual orgasm.
THE ISSUE OF TERMINOLOGY IN CONSCIOUSNESS
I propose to begin my discussion by addressing the question of terminology.The nature of consciousness, altered consciousness, and ecstatic experience is addressed across a wide spectrum of disciplines. And these disciplines — including musicology, anthropology, theology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, neurophysiology, consciousness studies, and biophysics — have quite different vocabularies for describing what may be similar or even identical phenomena. For example, as religious studies scholar Ann Taves noted in her book Fits, Trances, and Visions (1999): “Psychiatrists most commonly refer to dissociation (or more distantly hysteria); anthropologists to trance, spirit possession, and altered states of consciousness; and religionists to visions, inspiration, mysticism, and ecstasy.” (p. 7)
Taves argued that the choice of terminology “carries with it (limiting and distorting) presuppositions and associations [and] obscures the subjective experience of the native actor” (pp. 8–9). Indeed, as sociologist and researcher into the Pentecostal movement Margaret Poloma has concurred in her book Main Street Mystics (2003), such difference in vocabulary has constrained the ability of experts in different fields to transcend “assumptions and paradigms,” and has resulted in a “lack of shared understanding about the nature of mysticism” (p. 25). How much could be gained were physicists to examine the phenomenon of “trance induction”; or were theologians to educate themselves in such concepts as “synesthesia”?
Now, in the 21st century, science is able to take key concepts from physics and explain how they apply to biological systems. This new field of “biophysics” provides tools that allow a fresh and interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of biological interactions. Using terms from physics such as “excitation,” “amplification,” “frequency,” “synchronization,” “resonance,” “entrainment,” and “phase transition,” we can apply them to the human body-mind, allowing me to develop the perspective of the excitable, synchronizable, and ultimately entrainable human.
In fact, I would argue that overall, physics actually offers the most useful vocabulary for examining consciousness and ecstatic experience. We are indeed, as neurosurgeon and coma survivor Eben Alexander (2012) has suggested, at the convergence of science and spirituality. For instance, where sociology might use the term “emotional contagion,” physics might refer to the phenomenon in terms of “oscillatory entrainment.” Where music might use the words “attunement” or “groove,” physics might use “resonance.” The field of psychology offers many opportunities for reframing concepts using the helpful terminology of physics: I speak, for example, of the concepts of “attention,” “habit,” “ego,” “complexes,” “dissociation,” “suggestibility,” “induction,” “trance,” “bonding,” and “rapport.”
THE BIOPHYSICS OF OSCILLATORY SYSTEMS
To support my hypothesis, I propose to guide the reader through the scientific rules of oscillation, resonance, synchrony, amplification, entrainment, and coherence as they relate to the vibratory human being. Both the individual bodymind and the group bodymind of the congregation can be recognized as oscillatory systems. As such, they are subject to the rules of oscillation, synchronization, resonance, amplification, and entrainment.
An oscillator is defined as anything that has a periodic motion or rhythm. We know that inanimate rhythmic vibratory systems), such as pendulum clocks — in fact all oscillators — have the tendency to synchronize (that is, to operate in unison) with other oscillators that are vibrating at similar frequencies. They do this by way of entrainment (pulling together rhythmically), through the process of what biomathematician Arthur Winfree called “frequency pulling.” Such synchronization allows groups of oscillators to lock phases, pulsing together as single units or systems. Such synchronization breaks out abruptly; biophysicist Mae-Wan Ho referred to this as a “phase transition.”
The body-mind is also full of rhythmic processors, each subject to “entrainment,” a concept defined by ethnomusicologist Judith Becker (2004) as “when two or more seemingly independent processes mutually influence each other to converge in a common pattern” (p. 127; cf. Clayton, Sager, & Will, 2004; Will & Turow, 2011).
Humans are designed to synchronize with, mirror, and mimic others. Heartbeats can synchronize. The heart electromagnetic fields of a group of people can entrain others into coherence if they are coherent (, 2019). The muscle actions of bodies can synchronize (as in group dance), brainwaves and heart rate variabilities between people can synchronize (Morris, 2010; McCraty, 2020; Ruiz-Blais et al, 2020), and people even tend to synchronize gestures when conversing (Condon, 1971, 1986). Newborns demonstrate interactional synchronization with care givers within the first half hour of life (Benzon, 2011).
When oscillators synchronize, it allows the oscillators to function as a single unit or system (Strogatz, 2003). Becker calls this “structural coupling.” In a high arousal musical event, where rhythmic entrainment is at work, all involved become subject to this “structural coupling,” “becom[ing] one in a rhythmically coordinated domain” (2004, p. 141), creating a temporary identification with that combined consciousness. Resonance, rhythm, and repetition all promote social cohesion. And “intention” locates, sets, and locks in a frequency, according to Strogatz (2003). We humans are indeed excitable, synchronizable, and ultimately entrainable. A group of people can be synchronized surprisingly easily.
I will explain the biophysics of this resonant field: what happens when energy is added to an oscillatory system, how the system is synchronized, and how a larger resonant field can be created. Within a coherent system, information is communicated almost instantaneously; the system is transparent to itself (Ho, 2005). Also, in such a combined system, energy is shared throughout the system; borrowed so to speak. And when that happens, energy is actually freed up in the combined system, available to be used by the system (Strogatz, 2003). We invariably find this synchronization joyful.
As my discussion involves the use of terminology which may either be unfamiliar to the reader or may involve definitions not typically utilized for such terms, I propose to preface my research with a glossary defining a number of terms that will be important in discussing ecstatic experience. Among the terms to be defined: affirmation, altered-state experience, amplification, anesthesia, anointing, astral realm, attachment, attention, attraction, attunement, aura, automatism, baptism of/in the Holy Spirit, beat, blessing, bonding, call-and-response, catharsis, chakra, character type, charisma, coherence, collective consciousness, consciousness, contagion, conversion experience, death-and-rebirth, dimensions, dissociation, drive, ecstasy, ego, emotional contagion, energy, entanglement, entheogen, entrainment, evocation, excitement, faith, faith healing, field, frequency pulling, glory, glossolalia, gospel, gravity, group field, group mind, gyroscope, habits, harmony, heartsong, hologram, holographic mind, Holy Ghost, hymn, hypnosis, identity, imagination, induction, initiation, intention, interference, invocation, love, magnetism, matter, meditation, mind, morphic unit, non-locality, observation, one accord, oscillation, Pentecostalism, perception, personality, phase transition, polyrhythm, possession, praise, prayer, precession, programming, prophecy, psyche, psychic abilities, pulse, quantum coherence, quantum jump, quantum physics, rapport, resonance, revelation, rhythm, rhythmic entrainment, ritual, sanctification, scalar waves, seizure, self, shaktipat, shamanism, slain in the Spirit, soliton, soul, spirit, spirit possession, spiritual, spiritualism, standing waves, state, suggestion/suggestibility, synchrony, synesthesia, system, testimony, thought form, torsion waves, torus, trance, transducer, vibratory, vortex, wave motion, worship, and worship realm.
INTRODUCING SHAMANIC TRANCE AND THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN AROUSAL & INDUCTION
By way of introduction to my subject, I propose to begin by offering understandings of the nature of ecstatic altered-state experience, (or as psychiatrist Norman Zinberg called it, “alternate states of consciousness”) suggesting this state may be recognized as an arousal of the sensory-motor nervous system which somehow alters perception, perhaps by changing the brain’s filters or even by changing the perceiver’s vantage point. Shamans are considered to be “masters of ecstasy.” They achieve this state by a process of entering into trance to make contact with the spirit world. I propose to briefly review the literature examining shamanic experience of “trance” as well as the widely-researched associated altered states of “hypnosis” and “possession.” The role of trance appears to be important in group ecstatic experience, and is under- researched, particularly in religious settings. As ethnomusicologist Judith Becker (2009) noted during her researching of the ecstatic experience of the Pentecostal church:
“Trancing is a psychological event and a physiological event. But no religious community, as far as I know, presents a physiological counterpart to their religious explanation of trance; the physiology of trancing remains a mystery. In spite of striking similarities in the behavior of trancers far distant geographically,…we understand little of what is happening within the bodies of trancers.” (p. 45)
I also propose to briefly review literature on the understandings of music as the language of emotional and physiological arousal; including the role of the voice and of bodily motion. Music, as ethnomusicologist Judith Becker (2004) and others have noted, can be a powerful group synchronizer and unifier; especially highly rhythmic music. There is a strong connection of music to the ecstatic experiences reported by religious trancers, including Pentecostal worshippers. Music can take the listener or singing out of the physical body and into numinous experience.
WHY GOSPEL CHOIR?
As a singer, I have long been fascinated by the ability of music to elicit ecstatic experience, and have particularly been drawn to the musical modality of gospel choir. Gospel (“good news”) is a powerful African-American spiritual musical tradition. The soulful melodies and rhythmic beat of gospel seem to contain the remarkable ability to help people find joy, comfort, healing, and a sense of God’s personal love.
I first examined this subject in 2005 in a workshop I taught at a progressive Jewish Renewal spiritual conference. The power of gospel music seems to have been largely overlooked during the heyday of Westerners’ fascination with such Oriental techniques of spiritual transformation as meditation, yoga, and tai chi. Gospel choir is also a socially cohesive group experience, offering the opportunity to transcend the individual self to merge into a larger communal ecstatic experience. Therefore, I have chosen this musical form as my entry point for exploring the evocation of ecstatic experience.
It is the thesis of this dissertation that African-American gospel churches, through their passionate music, offer by design one the most powerful music technologies in existence for using synchronization and entrainment to evoke these embodied ecstatic communal altered-state experiences. The genre of gospel and the history of its rise as an African American ecstatic musical path have been well documented. I propose to offer a brief literature review of this documentation.
ECSTATIC ORIGINS IN AFRICAN AND JUDEO-CHRISTIAN PRACTICES
I would suggest that the profound ecstatic power of the gospel service owes its origins to a unique blending of Judeo-Christian and African ecstatic practices. The black gospel church has successfully merged the ecstatic structure of the Judeo-Christian worship trajectory (Heflin, 2000) with trance induction technology largely traceable to West African “danced religion” practices, originally associated with trance, spirit possession, and ring shout (cf. Caponi, 1999). Though gospel themes are traditionally Christian, the secrets to the musical techniques used in this musical form originate from the wisdom of African tradition, which invokes the power of rhythmic song to raise energy, build spiritual community, and affirm its goals. Both gospel church and African religious traditions are ecstatic paths that use the excitation of the nervous system to create an altered state of consciousness to invite spirit contact. In both traditions, ecstasy is defined in terms of “ascension” and involves the altering of perception. In both, the goal is to access the power of a greater Source, by calling it down.
Both Pentecostal and gospel services practice an ecstatic style of worship in which participants seek to literally “sense the presence of the Holy Spirit with and in their bodies” (Meyer, 2010). There is an emphasis on “total participation, total commitment, and loud, strongly emotional delivery” according to ethnomusicologist Judith Becker (2004, p. 97). Music is used very intentionally in these services with the goal of provoking intense emotional reactions from worshippers. Music is the locomotive, or driving force, to transport worshippers to an altered state experience of the divine.
WEST AFRICAN DANCED RELIGION
Gospel songs are polyrhythmic, repetitive, interactive, and driving. The propulsive technology of Gospel music, incorporating many of the unique ecstasy-inducing methods rooted in West African spiritual practice (including polyrhythmic percussion, the incorporation of the body into prayer, and dialogic participatory communal music making), provides tools not only of arousal, but also of induction and entrancement.In gospel choir, the body is thus used as the vehicle to experience the divine through the senses. Most of these techniques are traceable back to African group excitatory ritual practice sometimes known as “danced religion.” These are practices originally associated with spirit possession ritual. I propose to review the elements of West African danced spirit-possession religion in the origins of the technology of gospel music, which have been well-described in the literature.
I propose to particularly examine aspects relating to body-rhythm and melody: polyrhythms, repetition, the offbeat clap, and swing, the role of melody, the charismatic vocal techniques of the soloists, the power of the personalized emotional heartsong — with its use of everyday language and simple action verbs, the major pentatonic scale, the simple catchy language and melody, the style of harmonization, and the aural transmission. Incorporating many of the unique ecstasy-inducing methods rooted in West African spiritual practice, gospel music techniques (including polyrhythmic6 percussion, the incorporation of the body into prayer, and dialogic participatory communal music making) can be recognized not only as tools of arousal and incitement, but also of induction and entrancement. Perhaps, as biophysicist Jim Oschman has intriguingly suggested (in personal conversation), these techniques may be acknowledged as tools for altering both the reception and emanation of frequencies.
THE TECHNOLOGY OF GOSPEL CHOIR
Most studies of gospel music techniques have not focused directly on their role in arousing ecstatic experience nor on why those techniques are so effective in creating such experiences in the congregation. In my exploration of the gospel style, I asked myself if it were possible to isolate and identify the arousing techniques of gospel music performance. Could the sources of those techniques be considered generic enough to be used in non-Christian spiritual settings with the goal of evoking ecstatic experience? And, finally, were these techniques simple enough to be easily taught to those who might want to use them evocatively?
I set out to study the elements of the gospel style, mainly through direct observation made during the many gospel workshops and performances I attended between 2003 and 2010. My study and analysis of the gospel form has involved ten years of personal experience of singing in gospel choirs (including weekend GoGospel workshops in Switzerland in 2009 and 2010, and the Stockholm Gospel Festival in the summer of 2010), as well as my own conducting of gospel-style choirs, the interviewing of gospel conductors (including Cynthia Nunn, Troy Bell, Malcolm Owens, and others who all visited Switzerland from the United States), and the viewing of numerous private videos of gospel performances that are available online at such sites as YouTube. Indeed, throughout my research, the internet has proven to be a valuable tool in locating both written and video sources online.
In the course of my participation in gospel workshops, I have observed the importance of dialog in the genre: the soloist’s call and the choir’s response; the use of gaps and spaces in sung lines; the bass anchor line holding the piece rhythmically together, freeing the higher voices and particularly the soloist to soar. And finally, I have examined the attention given to creating and building excitement in the congregation: the use of repetition, the spontaneity and improvisation that are encouraged in soloists and instrumental accompanists, the expectational drive, and other tricks of tension and resolution designed to drive the congregation wild.
If one asks a gospel singer about techniques, one might very well receive the reaction I got from one vocalist I met on tour in Amsterdam in 2009, who said — “Techniques? We ain’t got no techniques. That’s just how we sing. It’s normal!” But once I began to list for her the techniques I had by then collected, she discovered with surprise that indeed there DOES seem to be an identifiable set of techniques to the gospel style. One, therefore, sees that there may be value in examining this form from the “outsider” perspective of the ethnomusicologist.
In fact, I have identified approximately two dozen specific techniques for inducing ecstatic experience; techniques remarkable in their simplicity and designed to raise the congregation’s energy, to build its cohesiveness, and to open the group to an altered-state experience.
I propose to describe these techniques in detail. These gospel techniques can be conveyed simply to choir conductors, to singers, as well as to would-be gospel composers so that they might more easily achieve their objectives of creating a communal ecstatic experience through music. (I also briefly propose to describe two dozen specific techniques as an Appendix: Summary List of Gospel Choir Techniques.) Briefly, the techniques include:
• The African major pentatonic scale and its ability to offer easy harmonization (Work, 1940; Roberts, 1998)
• The incorporation of rhythm instruments that maximally engage the body in movement
• The polyrhythmic syncopation and clap on the off-beat which are the hallmarks of gospel; as well as the driving, forward-propelling 12/8 swing rhythm — to engage, arouse, and entrance the body, and to build group energy (Wilson, 1992/1999; Floyd, 1995; Darden, 2004/2006)
• The use of tools of intensification: repetition, tempo increase, key modulation, and utilization of the elements of drive and overdrive (Lovell 1972; Roberts, 1998; Allen, 1991; Hinson, 2000).
• The use of such traditional community-building techniques of call and response, a bottom anchor line, aural learning, and participatory responses from the community (Floyd. 1995; Barnwell, 1989; Darden, 2004/2006; Jackson, 1964).
- The role of the anointed soloist; using the voice as instrument of emotive invocation (Southern, 1983; Burnim, 2006).
• The use of simple heartfelt daily speech and earworm melodies to create memorable heartsongs; and a song structure that builds an upward trajectory (Ames, 1955/1990; Lovell, 1972; Cusic, 1990; Darden, 2004/2006; Hinson, 2000).
• Use of Praise (grateful hallelujahs) and Affirmation (the expression of intentional will; “Yes, God!”).
The primary objective of gospel style music is the creation of a communal ecstatic experience. I would suggest that gospel choir’s unique technology is designed to evoke emotional arousal and group field induction.
The term arousal refers to heightened physiological activity in the nervous or endocrine system. The ecstatic gospel choir experience must be aroused, and the physiological process of this arousal or ignition is fundamentally similar for everyone. Thus, it is safe to say that the ecstatic experience is a normal physiological process and a learnable skill. Ecstasy also appears to be a contagious phenomenon, “acquired” from others via resonant entrainment. Gospel techniques can be re cognized as tools of arousal; that is, of amplification, synchronization, and entrainment. As previously mentioned, high emotion increases suggestibility.
But the arousal techniques are not the only important ecstatic element at work in gospel performance. It is the intentional component of the performance that is of paramount importance. The tools of praise and affirmation are particularly useful in raising the emotional energy of the congregation. Affirmation is the use of a positive present-tense statement encouraging the experience of a situation as if the desired outcome has already taken place. (A variation of this concept is expectant faith, as in the faith patients may have in their doctor’s ability to cure them.) Émile Coué (1923) used affirmation to help athletes improve their performance and O. Carl Simonton (1978/1992) used affirmation as a tool to heal patients.
Praise and affirmation are also powerful tools in increasing coherence of the heart rhythms of a group (McCraty 2002; 2020); and are thus useful in raising and organizing the emotional energy of the heart: both individually and of a whole group. Thus, it could be said that praise and affirmation can induce a group heart field. Gospel uses this tool masterfully in organizing the intention and thus the hearts of the entire congregation.
Indeed, I would suggest that what makes gospel music so effective in rousing congregations to ecstasy is that it combines the Christian religious relationship with Jesus, who is perceived as a personal and loving savior, with a group of powerful ecstasy-inducing techniques originating in African spirit possession religion. I would suggest that gospel music can be described in a two-word positive exclamation of affirmation: “Yes, God!” The message is a positive and emotional one, calling upon Jesus for help and acknowledging his constant presence, and suggesting that miraculous results may follow.
Gospel choir thus utilizes specific techniques of musical synchronization, amplification, and entrainment, combined with the affirmative conscious praising of God, in the goal of building a group resonant field of one accord, with the specific intention of helping the members of the congregation make the ascent into personal conversation with the divine and, upon occasion, to a state of absolute ecstasy.
In summary, I have come to recognize that the unique techniques used by gospel choirs make ideal tools for arousing the congregation’s emotional energy, for inducing a cohesive group field, and for evoking an altered-state experience; offering a host of easy to teach excellent destabilizing and entrainment techniques, particularly those with rhythmic influence; most notably the “drive” sections of performance.
I have concluded that these evocative techniques must be universally available to groups who wish to have a congregational ecstatic, transcendent experience; and that the combinations of these techniques are in use in ecstatic religious rituals of many traditions, from voodoo to Sufi. I have thus applied these techniques in subsequent “jospel” (Jewish gospel) workshops that I have given in the Jewish community since 2005 (such as at the biannual Aleph Jewish Renewal Kallah conference), and have received a great deal of enthusiastic response from participants.
THE ECSTATIC TRAJECTORY OF THE GOSPEL SERVICE COMBINES AFRICAN SPIRIT POSSESSION WITH THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN GOAL OF REVELATION
I have come to learn that the structure of the Judeo-Christian worship service is intentionally designed to create a communal ecstatic experience, an analysis provided largely through the research of Pentecostal minister Ruth Heflin (1990/2000), and her examination of the pathway of the service from praise to worship to glory. It seems that Jewish, Christian, and African traditions have all found that organizing and setting the group intention at the heart level, through congregational psalms of praise (T’hilim in Hebrew) — that is, expressing sincere appreciation of God, expressed with emotional fervor — has the power to entrain the whole congregation into a single group trance field or, as I might alternatively put it, a group nervous system.
Using specific musical amplification, synchronization, and entrainment techniques, combined with the emotive power of the personal heartsong, the musical style of the gospel service is designed to consciously induce the group resonant heart field of one accord, and, further, to invoke a higher power to accomplish healing and change. One accord literally means “one heart.” I propose here that this concept be examined not only allegorically but, indeed, literally as a bioenergetic process. The heart is the strongest pulsatory source in the body, creating the most powerful electromagnetic field. The congregation begins to resonate together and becomes a collective, a more coherent organization; or, as Pentecostal minister Heflin called it, a “holy choir.” In previous examinations of the gospel musical style, this biophysical process is alluded to but never explored directly. In my research, I will attempt to directly address these processes.
Anthropologist Glenn Hinson, in his doctoral dissertation and later book Fire in My Bones (2000), viscerally described the energetic arc of the black gospel service. I propose to review in detail (with Professor Hinson’s kind permission) his description of the “emotional trajectory” of the service. The Pentecostal element of “possession by the Holy Spirit,” has clearly offered a place for the spirit possession experience of the African Religion.
The congregation works together to bring down the Holy Spirit. The goal is to whip up the room into a collective emotional and physical experience, a path of ascension until the anointing falls. The combination of strong emotional arousal, use of praise and affirmation, heartsong, emotive soloists, and techniques of rhythmic entrainment and intensification, bring the hearts of the congregation into coherence, creating a palpable sense in the room; the group trance state of one accord, sometimes called the holy hush. The congregation, which has been working toward the creation of this group field, can sense when it arrives and the congregation enters trance together.
As Becker (2004) summarized the process, the service begins with slow soothing music to set an “attitude of worship.” But then the pace picks up and becomes more rhythmic, more driving and more repetitive, propelling the congregation with its “hand-waving, hand-clapping, foot- stomping choruses of ‘Amen!’” (p. 99). Some members will be moved to tears, some to dance in the Spirit, some to quiver and jerk in trance, possessed by the Holy Ghost, some to fall under the Spirit, and some to be moved to testify the words they have received in “emotional revelation” from the divine. By the end, all are joyfully exhausted. This is known as “having church” (ibid.).
Becker described several phases in the Pentecostal transformative process: Salvation, Sanctification, and Baptism of [in/with] the Holy Spirit — this last a transpersonal shift also known as “conversion.” As one congregant was quoted:
“Sanctification is just more of the same thing as being saved, but [Baptism in] the Holy Spirit is different–it knocks you about and you don’t know what is going on….When the Holy Spirit hits you it is like getting over your head in water….I felt, after the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that I loved everyone. I felt that God loved everyone–sinner as well as others….After one has had the baptism of the Holy Ghost one will never be satisfied with another religion” (Wood, 1965, pp. 24–26).
This last process of conversion may be recognized as a surrender to an experience of the divine; surrender to a new state or even a new system of consciousness.
One is said to “ascend” to ecstasy. Sufi master Pir Vilayat Khan called it a “shift…from our ordinary vantage point to that of the divine” (as quoted in Pattee, 1988, p. 18). From such descriptions of “ecstasy,” it can easily be acknowledged that ecstasy may be explored as a biophysical phenomenon. When examined from the standpoint of biophysics, the activities of “praise” and of “affirmation” can be now be understood as additional evocative techniques to ecstasy. The state of “one accord” might now be recognized as an example of “entanglement” and system organization. Gospel techniques can be recognized as particularly effective techniques for raising communal energy, for developing heart and brain coherence, and for achieving ecstatic altered state experience.
FLUID DYNAMICS: WATER AS MEDIUM OF RESONANCE
I will take here the opportunity to explore the dominant role of water in resonant communication in our oscillatory bodymind systems. As noted by dancer and movement researcher Emilie Conrad (2007), our bodies are moving containers of water; fluid oscillators as it were. Water is a highly resonant substance and proves to be an organized, excitable, amplifiable, imprintable, and programmable medium, according to the groundbreaking research of bioengineer Gerald Polack (2013). Water can be programmed to hold and transmit a pattern, and it is a critical medium in the resonant communication and information exchange that occurs between the bodies of worshippers; able to exchange this communication at a distance. Because of its resonant property, water is also inductive. It can carry agitated rhythmic resonance, and induce a mob mind or a holy hush. Sound, emotion, and subtle energy frequencies are all transferable from one water body to another through resonance (Conrad, 2007). The synchronization of fluid waves may be central to the creation of trance (Vaitl, et al., 2005; cf. Tomatis, as cited in Wilson, 1991/2006). The human voice is particularly powerful in contacting the water in the body and directing emotional messages through resonance.
BIOPHYSICS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
With the background provided above, I believe it is possible to expand the understanding of oscillatory systems to explore the biophysics of consciousness. From the study of physics, we know that oscillatory systems are subject to both intensification (i.e., amplification) and to frequency shifts (Oschman, 2000/2001; 2003/2005). I will argue that not only the body but consciousness itself has oscillatory processes and is thus subject to all the traits of any oscillating entity: that is, frequency and amplitude disruption, synchronization, and entrainment (Hunt, 2018; Hunt & Schooler, 2020; Koch, 2004; Dahaene, 2014; Grossberg, 2017; Fries, 2003, 2015). Thus, gospel choir techniques could be recognized, as Oschman has suggested, as tools used for the altering of both reception and emanation of consciousness frequencies.
A) THE COUPLING OF CONSCIOUSNESS
The brain can synchronize, as reported by various researchers, including Gellhorn (1969), Lex (1979), and Mandell (1980). Indeed, consciousness is a resonance phenomenon. Consciousness states can be induced into coherence through the matching of rhythms (as utilized by psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Milton H. Erickson). Trance states involve an increase in synchronization of cortical rhythms. As Winkelman (1986) summarized, temporal lobe dysinhibitions result in synchronous slow wave EEG patterns originating in the limbic system and projecting into the frontal cortex of the brain. Brain rhythms are also able to synchronize between people (Pérez, Carreras, Duñabeitia, 2017).
Becker (2004) noted the role of synchronization in speech and somatic rhythms in cultural group cohesion (cf. Erickson and Mohatt, 1982; Tannen, 1984; Collins, 2004). But I would further suggest that we also witness the process of entrainment in the shared resonant field represented by such under-researched phenomena as the “affect attunement” or bonding between parent and child, and the relational merged consciousness known as rapport that may occur between client and therapist (cf. Kestenberg, 1975). Becker (2004) posited that such structural coupling also occurs between the trance dancer and the ritual he or she is participating in. As group dynamics expert Randall Collins (2004) noted, intense emotional experience is the strongest glue of such solidarity; more powerful than mental will.
Both the individual body-mind and the group body-mind of the congregation can be recognized as oscillatory systems. As such, they are subject to resonance, amplification, synchronization, and entrainment. Contagious synchronization and entrainment occur in the gospel church through the effects of rhythmic induction and intensification on the biological (perhaps water) systems of the bodies of the congregants, as well as the emotional techniques that pull the heart fields of the participants into one field.
As previously noted, when synchronization occurs, what has been functioning as separate systems is pulled into a single system. Becker called this “structural coupling.” We humans are indeed excitable, synchronizable, and ultimately entrainable. In a high arousal musical event, where rhythmic entrainment is at work, all involved become subject to this structural coupling, “becom[ing] one in a rhythmically coordinated domain” (2004, p. 141), creating a temporary identification with a group consciousness.
Crowd mind expert Gustav Le Bon (1895) recognized this phenomenon, this tendency to develop a group trance state; a group rapport or attunement which may be recognized as a resonant group mind field or “group nervous system.” As he wrote: “The phenomenon of trancing is transpersonal, does not take place in one particular mind alone, though it also takes place there….The groups acts like a unit” (p. 124). In such a combined system, energy is shared throughout the system; borrowed so to speak. And when that happens, energy is actually freed up in the combined system, available to be used by the system (Strogatz, 2003). We generally find this synchronization energizing, harmonious, and joyful. I wonder if this freed energy may play a role in the healing and other unusual phenomena reported in group trance rituals.
One’s consciousness can be entrained to a stronger system. This could be called “induced identification.” A “charismatic” leader can seduce (i.e., induce) or “pull” others into rapport through his or her emotional “magnetism.” Highly effective tools of entrainment include such amplification techniques as rhythm, exaggeration, repetition, use of extremely intense emotional energy, and various call & response techniques that effectively throw energy back and forth between leader and group. All inductive entrainment techniques are also highly contagious.
In a highly emotionally-aroused crowd (or congregation), people will catch the group rapport state. If people are in a state of “expectant attention” (i.e., faith), they will fall under a “spell” of “fascination.” They will become more receptive, more suggestible (i.e., entrainable). Social contagion rather easily overcomes the habit of the individual self as the nexus of decision- ma king.
B) SOCIAL CONTAGION
We are all familiar with physical contagion, as in the transmission of disease; but there is also such a thing as emotional contagion and social contagion (Schoenewolf, 1990; Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). Behavior initiated by one person may be picked up and mimicked by others. Yawning, smiling, laughter, are all “contagious.” So are manias, mass hysteria, or mob mind, referred to as “shared psychosis”; all of which are caught emotionally. I would suggest that the concept of contagion should be recognized as an entrainment phenomenon; relevant whenever resonance is a factor. We all have the built-in ability to catch expressions, vocalizations, postures and movements (Hatfield, Rapson, & Le, 2009), and the emotions (Collins, 2004) of those around us through the process of resonant entrainment.
Ecstatic trance seems to be such a contagious resonant entrainment phenomenon. Spirit Possession is also highly contagious, according to possession researcher Felicitas Goodman (1988). Induction into trance is also subject to contagion, transmittable between one person to another. Experiencers can become habituated to induction, able to develop lasting reduced thresholds for such neural excitability and thus greater susceptibility to trance altered states (Winkelman, 2000).
C) EMOTION AS INDUCER, CONVEYOR, AND AMPLIFIER
The role of emotion is significant in human synchronization and entrainment. “Human emotions are highly contagious” according to Nummenmaa, et al., who also found that “experiencing strong emotions synchronizes brain activity across individuals” (Aalto University, 2012; cf. Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). The heart, because of its strong electromagnetic field, is the major (that is, the strongest) organ of emotional entrainment, bonding, and empathy (Maret, 2009). Certain emotions increase coherence in the heart’s electromagnetic field; such as gratitude and appreciation (McCraty et al., 2009). When experienced in groups (such as congregations or concert attendees), such coherent emotions create maximum synchronization and coherence between the hearts of all group members; leading to a group field, a single pulsating system, as it were (McCraty, 1998). New Age teacher Gregg Braden documented this heart- generated group field as a potentially powerful healing field in videos of Chinese doctors healing tumors ([woodveryimportant], 2010).
As historian of religion Ernst Arbman (1063–1970) noted, “profound emotionality” is an important element of communal religious trance (pp. 1–3). Emotional arousal combined with rhythmic entrainment can be a powerful inducer of trance. According to hypnosis expert Dick Sutphen (2013), emotional charge is also a powerful conveyor of suggestion. Emotional arousal can create the synchronized collective consciousness or groupthink that is commonly referred to as “mob mind,” according to Gustav LeBon (1895), who noted that when the public is aroused, suggestions can be easily implanted. (I thus suggest that mob mind be seen as an induced form of possession.) Additionally, the arousal of emotion has powerful effects on the sensorimotor system. There is evidence of emotional charge being converted to physical symptoms. Emotional arousal can cause the muscles of the mouth, the tongue, and the arms, legs and torso of the body to move spontaneously, as in involuntary automatisms (as will be discussed below). It can also directly influence what we perceive sensorily.
EXAMINING POSSESSION TRANCE THROUGH AN UNDERSTANDINGOF THE EGO
To better understand such altered states of consciousness as trance and spirit possession, I propose examining the nature of the ego and how it is impacted by suggestion and/or trance induc tion.
A) THE EGO SELF
For the purposes of this discussion we can define the ego as each individual’s felt experience of a separate embodied self. In Flor-Henry’s understanding, consciousness should be conceptualized as “habitually established patterns of information processing” (Flor-Henry, et al., 2017, p. 20), that is, a process of experience rather than as discrete states (Shapiro, 2015; as cited in Flor-Henry, p. 20). The ego is, according to Flor-Henry’s understanding, the habitual pattern of processing that creates the sense of self-identification that one associates with one’s physical embodiment. He suggested that trancing disrupts this habitual pattern of processing. The more these altered patterns of consciousness are practiced, the more entrainment occurs, creating habitual persistent changes in cortical circuitry (Tei, et al. 2009). Such building of habitual patterns is also evidenced in worship trance practices (cf. Poloma, 1997, 2003).
Extending this train of thought further, one may examine the formation and maintenance of the ego self. Westerners tend to relate to the self or personhood as stable and bounded and independently developed. But Becker (2004) reminds us that the sense of self is culturally developed and culturally constrained. Certain learned conceptions of self lend themselves better to trance than others. As anthropologist Erika Bourguignon (1968) observed, the occurrence of trance in societies is ubiquitous. But the stories our western culture tells us about our “bounded, unique, inviolate self” may actually get in the way of having the experience of surrendering the self (p. 89). We have been trained to accept only a certain notion of acceptable selves; that is, the rational self, the problem-solving mental governor of the body, and the disengaged self of personal will and control. Flor-Henry (2017) concluded that “trance states may be much more common than what is generally accepted, representing an underused potentiality rather than an exceptional gift or psychopathology” (p. 9).
I propose that the ego is a habitually structured process of organization that has been developed by our consciousness as we learn in infancy to associate with embodiment; a construct; a map or habit pattern of self-identification. The ego is a learned, conditioned phenomenon which is continually maintained through habit and reinforcement. This is an attachment remarkably easy to disrupt, as sensory deprivation studies have shown (Sacks, 2007/2008). The continuity of self actually requires constant sensory-motor feedback in order to be maintained. Indeed, research with infants who are deprived of touch will actually fail to thrive and will literally leave their physical bodies; that is, die (Spitz, 1945, 1946; Harlow & Zimmermann, 1958; Field, 2001/2003; Ardiel & Rankin, 2010; McGlone, Wessberg, & Olausson, 2014; and others).
B) SUGGESTIBILITY AND THE PERMEABILITY OF THE EGO
The ego or self is shown to be an organized pattern, field, or system, with an axis of identification and boundary. The weaker the boundaries, the more susceptible the ego is to destabilization, and the more available and responsive to suggestion (Goodman, 1988). Under trance, the ego boundaries are weakened and the internal authority is immobilized, causing the subject to become highly suggestible. Trance scholar Ernst Arbman (1963) called trance a state of suggestive absorption (p. XV). This shift to a more receptive mode is sometimes referred to as an increase in permeability of the ego structure. Both mind and body are highly susceptible to suggestion, according to Baker (1990). The importance of suggestion and community expectation in trance dissociation should not deny the reality of the experience, however. Human potential author Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote several books in the 1970s about the miraculous powers of suggestion alone in healing (1971/2002; 1977/1992). As humans, one could conclude, we are “susceptible” to the stories we are told.
Children, with weaker ego boundaries, seem to be much more in touch with the “angelic realm” and are reported to be much more suggestible than adults (Pearce, ibid.; Lipton, 2006; Shor 1969/1990), to the point of being able to defy the normal laws of science. Indeed, neurobiologist Bruce Lipton (2006) suggested that children are habitually in trance, as their EEG patterns show high levels of theta and delta waves. Developmental psychologist Heinz Werner suggested that indigenous peoples also have weaker ego boundaries and greater tendency toward trance because their group identity is stronger than their individual ego (Werner, 1948/1973; cf. Shor, 1969/1990). Other research has posited that women’s boundaries between self and other may be “thinner” than men’s, making them more receptive to others (Sered, 1994). I would note this tendency as well in bodyworkers, who purposely make their boundaries more permeable to messages from their clients’ bodies. I also wonder if, as we age, we begin the process of reverting back to a less boundaried and thus more suggestible ego organization — one reason why the elderly seem to be more easily duped by con-men!
When we consider the issue of suggestibility, I wonder if we might consider suggestibility a reflection of entrainment? Does dissociative trance itself reflect an entrainment process, explaining why those in dissociative trance are more suggestible? Does the fact of children’s weaker ego boundary correspond to greater ease in their entraining with other systems of organization? And can merged entrained group identity (i.e., group trance), such as the one accord (i.e., “one heart”) that is evoked in the gospel service, invite more individual and group suggestibility as individual ego boundaries are weakened?
C) TRANCE TEMPORARILY DESTABILIZES THE SELF
Trance temporarily destabilizes or destructures the pattern of the self. Trance makes the boundary of the self-construct permeable to the influence of any highly energized and organized thought form or system; whether created by oneself through absorption and self-suggestion, or by merging with another individual (rapport), or by pair or group merging (bonding, one accord, mob-mind). Trance is arguably evidence of a linking or merging with another system.
D) ECSTATIC TRANCE AS LEARNED SENSATE HABIT
Ecstatic trance is a learnable state. Techniques can be taught to enhance one’s ability to focus and become absorbed, and to learn to exert control over autonomic processes. Shamanic traditions, yogic practices, and Eastern meditation practices are notable examples. Ecstatic experience is a learned response typically “practiced within a communal [religious] framework” (Becker, 2004, p. 1), typically tied to “institutionalized ritual” (Sarbin, 1968). The subjective content of the ecstatic experience is “culture dependent” (Siikala, 1982, p. 104). Religious trance ritual is thus, as Becker noted, where the experiencer learns how to enter the trance and what the parameters of the altered state experience should be.
Becker recognized that trancing is a very physical event; a “sensate” mystical experience as meditation researcher Arthur Deikman (1990) called it. “Trancing is a learned bodily behavior acted out within a culturally pregiven religious narrative” (Becker, 2004, p. 42). And techniques to evoke such ecstatic experiences typically involve the emotional arousal of the sensory-motor nervous system and the endocrine system (cf. Wilber, 2006; Walsh, 2007). As Becker described: “[Ecstatic trance ritual] is usually accompanied by music and often involves strenuous activity on the part of the trancer. Institutionalized, religious trancing takes place within a context of sensual overstimulation” (2004, p. 1).
In trying to understand trance consciousness, Becker noted the role of the lower brain, the home of the biological “proto-self” (as Damasio called it); the part of the brain engaged in “primitive intentionality,” “action readiness,” and the maintenance of the basic metabolic survival mechanisms of the body (ibid., p. 134). This level of biological self is neither identified with the personal ego nor with autobiographical history. It is organism-centered (Friedson, 2006). Becker recognized the importance of the emotional arousal of the lower brain, both in the arousal of the autonomic nervous system, and in the stimulation of trance consciousness. Indeed, she suggested a correlation between “learning to control deep-brain…emotional responses, respiration, blood pressure, and skin temperature” and the learned ability to change consciousness (p. 146).
Trance (including ecstatic trance) consciousness is typically induced. I have never seen a good dictionary definition of trance induction; only that induction consists of any number of techniques that lead an individual to a state of higher suggestibility. However, psychiatrist Sidney Cohen (1971) suggested that trance induction can be understood as any process that disrupts one pattern (or cohesion) of cortical processing to create a new one (as cited in Winkelman, 2000). Tart (1969/1990) concurred, using the term “destabilizer.” Trance induction is said to excite, incite, arouse, or invoke a dissociative change in consciousness. Typically, rhythmic entrainment is known to function as an inducer, but actually anything that introduces energy that disrupts the normal pattern or system of consciousness while promoting another one will do. Focused suggestive attention, pain stimulation, acoustic stimulation, hypoglycemia and dehydration, sensory over-stimulation, and hyperventilation are all techniques used to induce trance via disruption of the nervous system, as reported by Tart (ibid.). Of course, ingestion of hallucinogens may be added to this list.
Gospel choir is extremely sophisticated in its use of intensification and induction techniques, as we will discuss below. The response to the inducing stimuli is also variable depending on the “nervous sensitivity or reactionary susceptibility” of the experiencer (Siikala, 1982, p. 110). Higher susceptibility to induction is correlated with higher susceptibility to suggestion. Trance is inducible by another’s suggestion, and it is also auto-inducible. It can also be induced by being in the presence of someone already in trance. And one can increase one’s susceptibility to induction with practice.
Botanist, anthropologist, and recorder of supernatural phenomena, Lyall Watson (1979/1987) suggested that the effect of the hypnotic induction procedure “is to weaken the boundaries we normally erect between ‘me’ and ‘not me’”; that is, the surrender of the I (pp.289- 292). We can think of the methods of induction as tools to make the self more permeable, as we have discussed previously. As Becker notes, there are many sometimes surprising ways of creating a permeable self. “Situations of extreme stress, illness, or drug use….Living among people who hold very different senses of self may also precipitate a change in one’s own subjectivity” such as witnessing spirit possession happen (Becker, p. 106).
As trance appears to involve a destabilization of the ego habit pattern, I suggest that induction be defined as any process that temporarily creates that destabilization. I suggest that we are “induced” as well into our own established ego habit patterns, the ones we have come to identify with as our sense of body-identified self.
F) POSSESSION OF THE SELF
To surrender to trance, one has to experience the self-identity as without firm form. If we recognize the “self” as a culturally-learned concept, as malleable and fluid, we can understand that it can become the vehicle for transformational experience. Trance induction involves a willingness to surrender, to become permeable; to let go of ego control and social decorum, according to Becker (2004): “The price of ecstasy may be a loss of dignity” (p. 94). The reward, however, is a sense of merging with something greater than the individual self and potential accessibility to knowledge not available to normal consciousness (Bourguignon 1968, 2004; Goodman, 1988). The trancing self is available for suggestive reprogramming and even for possession, that is, being taken over by another source of consciousness; referred to in trancing traditions as spirit possession. The surrender of the self to forces beyond one’s control is a learned skill (Begelman, 1993). Rather than a neurosis or pathology, it should be recognized as a gift, according to the acknowledged father of psychology, William James (1902/1958).
As ecstatic music researcher Graham St. John (2011) suggested, entrancement “implies the relinquishment of individual will and autonomy to an external power, higher energy, or extraordinary life force” (p. 211). In spirit possession traditions, it is when this ego-self is disrupted that both miraculous healing and prophetic revelation are enabled. All that is required is trance and the suggestion that such extraordinary reality is possible. Religious frameworks such as the Pentecostal church offer such cultural support. The worshipper expects to surrender a part of the self. It is in this surrender to something larger that miraculous healing occurs. “One must become a prepared, anticipatory, open, and empty vessel,” as Becker proposed, “submitting to the penetration of one’s bodily boundaries by a spirit more powerful than one’s own” (2004, pp. 99- 100). In the Pentecostal community the trancer is culturally prepared through community narrative to receive the Holy Spirit.
As Becker noted: “Many trances involve the penetration or invasion of the body by another self, an alien spirit, the ‘Holy Spirit,’ a deity or a devil” (ibid., p. 14). Possession trance may involve displacement of the primary soul or the cohabitation of two souls in one body. Possession involves the self becoming porous or permeable; a willingness to become dissociated (as in dis- association or withdrawal) from the addiction to one vibrational pattern of self and the surrender to another pattern or vibrational system, an archetypal or ancestral or spirit world (Crabtree, 1985; Smith, 1997).
Ritual possession requires “submitting to the penetration of one’s bodily boundaries by a spirit more powerful than one’s own” (ibid., p. 100). Another way to put this is to think of the ego structure as an overlay, which may be dropped to allow access to possessional states. Indeed, as possession researcher Felicitas Goodman (1988) admonished, it is important to help the host rebuild the solidity of their ego structure afterwards, a boundary of protection.
The phenomenon of possession trance is a culturally suggested, culturally learned, culturally supported, and culturally habituated ability to detach from and surrender one’s personal ego identity, as a means of calling in otherwise inaccessible healing, guidance, and prophecy. One calls up what one expects or organizes oneself to call up. In the gospel church worship experience, the presence of the Holy Spirit is invoked to manifest throughout the church. When that Spirit descends into the congregation, various individuals may feel themselves “possessed“ by that Spirit to become “an instrument of God’s spirit” (Hinson, 2000).
Possession, similarly to trance, must be induced. Possession is always associated with excitement, a high state of physiological arousal, energized through strong emotion (Goodman, 1888). Possession shares traits with histrionic personality disorder, epilepsy, and hypnotism in that all are evidence of a rhythmically hyper-excited and thus abnormally synchronized brain (Spanos, 1979; Lehnertz et al., 2009; Garcia- Hernandez, 2010; Baghdadi & Nasrabadi, 2012; Westerink, 2014; DeGiorgio, 2001–2014; and others). Sensory experiences reported in possession states, such as altered perception, uncontrolled motor activity, imperviousness to injury, shakes, sweats, and tremors, indicate a neurophysiological foundation.
MIRACULOUS EFFECTS REPORTED IN GOSPEL CHURCHES
I have identified a number of transcendent “miraculous” effects most commonly attributed to ecstatic Gospel, Holiness, Sanctified, Charismatic, Evangelical, and all other Pentecostal church services as congregants experience being directly touched by God. In addition to one accord, the induced group worship field previously mentioned, there are reports of ecstatic shifts in consciousness point to a transcendent alteration of perception; that is, a heightened sensory experience, a level of awareness in which perception is at an acuity not normally accessible. In the case of the Pentecostal, Holiness, and Gospel churches, these reports include the ecstatic experience of “glory,” the personal gift of “grace,” and the communal experience of the “descent of the Holy Spirit.” In Gospel churches, other seemingly miraculous “synesthetic” experiences (where sensory modalities become mixed) have also been documented; for instance, of blind pianists becoming excited enough to jump off the stage and run through the aisles of the church. There are also conversion-associated effects: ecstatic motor behavior, possession by the Holy Spirit,, healing miracles, and prophecy.In application of my research I propose to briefly explore these phenomena and their possible explanation.
Many of the techniques used by gospel choir are designed to excite the nervous systems or brains of the congregation. I would thus suggest that many of the unusual effects evoked in gospel services seem to be the result of an excited sensory motor nervous system or brain, in combination with suggestion, cultural expectation, and emotional contagion.
Glossolalia, (or speaking in tongues), is a good example. Considered to be a vocal automatism, studies show that glossolalia is an activity that is a learned cultural response. It is “induced” by highly emotional rousing group activity and is likely the result of reduced cortical control and disorganization of functions that the brain has normally learned to integrate, and results from a rhythmic discharge pattern of the excited subcortical brain (Tinnin, 1990; Goodman, 1972; Goodman, 1988).
AUT O MAT I SM S
Other reported spontaneous motor behavior automatisms of the excited body consist of involuntary movements varying from jerky to undulatory, including shaking, shivering, trembling, swooning, falling, jumping, dancing, running, twisting, writhing, bowing, or even seizure-like convulsion (Baker, 1990). Experiencers report the sense of the body being taken over. In African religion, these movements may be considered representative of “spirit possession.” In Black American Gospel churches, these experiences are associated with “baptism of the Holy Ghost.” Some of these movements can be attributed to cultural expectation, but others seem to occur spontaneously, of their own volition. And, like other “hysterical” symptoms, some of these reactions also seem to be contagious, with the reaction being initiated by one person and then picked up and mimicked by others.
Such activity may be the result of the arousal of excessive neuronal discharges, manifesting as waves of energy flowing through the body. These movements may be the result of hyperstimulation of the reptilian brain (Poloma, 1997, 2003; Oubré, 1997) and/or of the temporal lobe, the area of the brain involved in emotional response (Maliia & Mindruta, 2013). It may be that abnormal synchronization of neuronal discharges in the brain is responsible for these automatisms, (Goodman, 1972; Hunt, 1989/1996), similar to the physiology of epileptic seizure (Lehnertz et al., 2009). Forcing energy into a system rhythmically at the right resonant frequency, (known as oscillatory driving), disrupts normal communication between parts of the brain. Anesthesia functions by a similar process of synchronizing oscillator-driving, according to anesthesiology researcher Emory Brown; blocking communication and causing the posterior brain to simply “go offline” (2015).
Research on the physiology of orgasm also points to excited synchronous activation of large numbers of brain neurons, leading to activation of high threshold discharge systems (Lin, 1982/1997; Komisaruk, 2006). The orgasmic response is not necessarily limited to the sexual organs. For instance, a sneeze may represent a similar charge-discharge response. Apparently, any part of the body can build up a synchronous or coherent charge, which is then discharged mechanically; for example, overbreathing (hyperventilation) can overcharge the physiological system (Grof, 1988) resulting in tetany, tremor, and what radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1972) labeled “streaming.”
Such discharge may occasionally set off a soliton (solitary long frequency) tsunami-like pulse or shock wave through the body; a single undulation (Lin, 1982; Komisaruk, 2006). Reich (1972) and others argued that the entire cellular biological system can be charged up to the point that the body seems to be breathing oneself in such longitudinal undulatory (orgasmic) waves. Such waves of movement can be seen in amoebic streaming patterns of movement. Movement researcher Conrad (2007) called it “reptilian motion.” Recent research in fluid dynamics and motion has shown that the resonantly undulating wave motion of a fish (even a dead one) can actually generate enough energy to passively propel the fish upstream (Beal, et al., 2006; Hook, 2018). Soliton waves, by the way, have unusual properties, according to biophysicist Oschman (2003/2005); they do not lose energy as they travel and are therefore very efficient means of transferring energy in living systems.
The unusual bowing forward movement that has been reported to occur in the gospel church may be recognized as a modification of this undulatory wave experience (Murphy, 1994; Conrad, 2007; Poloma, 2003); a movement that I suggest physicist A.S. Davydov (1987) would recognize as an “asymmetrical soliton” and which also may be recognized as corresponding to Reich’s “orgasmic reflex” (1942/1960).
Other phenomena reported in gospel services include synesthesia (a preceptors anomaly which occurs when stimulation of one sensory modality triggers a perception in another sensory modality), and other perceptual changes. As Becker reminded readers, all perception is subjective. It is learned via bodily interaction and past bodily experiences. In addition, our perception is habitual, a “vibratory habit pattern of perspective” (Satprem, 1981/1992, p. 21). Western conceptualization takes such habitual perception as factual and correct. But there is no proof that it is. According to psychiatrist and mysticism investigator Deikman (1969a/1990a), we can learn to “dishabituate” our usual organization of consciousness.
Some researchers suggest that we can imagine the brain as functioning with perceptual filters, controlling information flow, which under certain conditions can be disinhibited, allowing brain cross-talk (Cytowic & Eagleman, 2009). We can also imagine conditions creating a “retuning” of these brain filters (Jahn & Dunne, 2009; cf. Strassman, 2001); that is, change the frequencies we can recognize.
Our perceptual systems function generally in response to the excitement of our sensory organs and nervous system; that is, perception begins when a stimulus molecule sets a receptor molecule vibrating in resonance. Thus, it could be said that we literally sense via movement. All our sense organ receptors are responsive to only certain electromagnetic frequencies, limited by our sensory organs’ sensitivities. But adding excitation to the system may cause more receptors to fire, and increase nerve conduction (Schrödinger, 1959/1967). And, importantly, even specialized receptors may be excited by more than one kind of stimulus, providing that the intensity of that stimulus is sufficiently high.
Synesthetic altered perception can be created when the body and its perceptual organs become highly aroused. Consciousness researcher Hunt (1989/1996) referred to this as “supercharging” the system. Reports of ecstatic shifts in consciousness that occur under such conditions of high emotional arousal point to a transcendent alteration of perception; that is, a heightened sensory experience, a level of awareness in which perception occurs at an acuity not normally accessible. Becker proposed that “[s]pecial neuronal connections have been established in relation to the ritual world that allows the trancer to see extraordinary sights, to hear more intensely than one normally would, and to experience emotions that stimulate feelings of closeness to the holy” (2004, pp. 116–117).
In addition to the receptors becoming more aroused, it is our brain which actually construct our perceptual images by creating coded wave interference patterns of information (Talbot, 1991/1992). When the brain becomes overexcited, areas responsible for registering one type of sensory message may register messages of a different type, so that an auditory message triggers an odor or a kinesthetic message triggers a visual reaction. The result may be access to what is usually called extrasensory perception, which Hunt referred to as “supersensory” perception, or even perception from a new viewpoint, a new perspective. Another way to put it is to recognize this experience as a change in frame of reference. Such ecstatic synesthesia may explain stories of blind musicians jumping off the stage and running through the aisles of the church; becoming able to see through their skin. This hyperexcitation may also explain the descriptions of glory kinesthetically felt by worshippers as raining down upon them.
SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT
In addition to the automatisms and perceptual changes discussed above, excitement of the nervous system may lead to other somatic experiences of Divine Presence often reported in Pentecostal worship events. Being slain in the Spirit, (alternatively expressed as falling under the power), is described as an event that happens typically when an excited spiritual leader touches the forehead of a congregant, who then falls backward rather than crumpling, hopefully to be caught by fellow congregants designated with such a role (Poloma, 2003). This is an example of induction through touch. Why do congregants fall in that way?
Consciousness researcher Valerie Hunt (1989/1996) examined the effects on the magnetic field that occur associated with changes in consciousness. Both transcranial electrical stimulation as well as transcranial magnetic stimulation will affect consciousness. If the normal flow of the brain and spinal cord-generated DC semiconducting current is disrupted, such as through rhythmic synchronization, “normal” intrabrain communication may be disrupted. Trance and even anesthesia can be induced (R. Becker, 1990). Hunt’s research found that either increasing or decreasing the magnetic field can have dramatic effects on balance, psi powers, healing abilities. Hunt reported that such an experience as “being slain in the Spirit,” involves a sudden disruption of the magnetic field of the body.
Faith healing is one of the hallmarks of a Pentecostal service. Worshippers call upon Jesus for help, and may be miraculously healed of their infirmities. Sociologist and Pentecostal researcher Margaret Poloma considered this an act of “bonding” with a loving God. Others have suggested that miraculous healing is a physical response of the body to the felt presence of God (cf. Mullen, as quoted in Poloma, 2003).
Research has suggested that faith healing is largely the product of expectation and suggestion (Krippner & Achterberg, 2000). But we should not forget that suggestibility is likely synonymous with entrainability, and is also associated with weak ego structure (that is, weak identification with the body-associated self). Adding high emotional arousal to the suggestion of surrendering to a higher power will greatly increase the likelihood that a believer will indeed surrender the ego self to a higher power.
Suggestibility and Imagination are highly correlated, according to hypnotism investigator Robert Baker (1990). The Sufis conclude “that imagination itself is a faculty of perception” (Talbot, p. 260); a corollary to the idea that changing perception alters reality. As we have seen, highly suggestible or imaginative subjects would bethe best candidates for miraculous healing and other suggested effects. Some individuals are able to evoke the physiological changes they wish by imagining the feelings that are present when such a change occurs (Barber, 1984). Imagination has been reported to influence the actions of white blood cells (Smith et al., 1981). Llinás (2001) and Pert (1997) both noted the possibility that cells receive and respond to emotionally charged information directly. Suggestions can be given to the body, as with autogenic training, even down to control of a single cell (Basmajian, 1963; as cited in Baker, 1990).
To understand the power of faith healing and associated miracles, some researchers suggest thinking of both mind and body in terms of programmed recordings, codes, patterns of information (Llinás, 2001; Lipton, 2006; Sheldrake, 1981, 1988). Programming occurs below the level of the rational mind. Addictions, compulsions, indeed all habits, are programs. Trauma registers as a program as well, according to Conrad (2007, p. 265). Once a pattern has been imprinted into the system, it tends to replicate. The system can be helped to open, but it will tend to recoil, resisting repatterning (Ibid., p. 276). All physical and psychological healing requires the reprogramming of the field signature pattern.
Suggestion, (including autosuggestion), reprograms the pattern. In fact, anything implanted or programmed into the bodymind as possible, becomes “part of our reality potential” and can be repeated successfully, according to human potential author Pearce (1997/2002, p. 110). Reprogramming can result in bloodless wounds, painless operations, enormous strength and ridiculous weakness. Pearce, himself, demonstrated before witnesses that he could place glowing cigarettes against his skin without pain or injury, receiving neither burns nor blister (1971/2002).
The healing power of expectant faith is about creating a belief pattern. Believing in a treatment will produce a better result (Frank, 1974, as quoted in Walsh, 2007; cf. Mehl-Madrona, 1997). Correlated to this is affective trust, the confidence a patient has in his or her doctor or healer (Sandner, 1979; McClelland, 1989, as quoted in Krippner & Achterberg, 2000). I suggest that affective trust might be understood as a variation of “rapport”, as discussed below.
Hypnosis research is helpful in understanding the ability of the mind to enter into the state known as rapport. I have previously suggested that trance makes the boundary of the self- construct permeable. In hypnotic trance, the subject may, through the suggestion of the hypnotist, give up his or her ego control and executive function to the higher authority of the hypnotist. The subject thus joins the therapist in a shared commonality of perspective; a “mutually-shared system” (Pearce, 1977/1992, p. 246); a single consciousness. This is a merging of systems via entrainment. In this shared system, the sense of separate self is temporarily disrupted. This may be recognized as a resonance phenomenon, a new frequency pattern; a shift in system of identification. (Pearce, 1977/1992; Dow, 1986; Tart, 1969b,c/1990b,c; Ludwig, 1969/1990).
“Calling upon a higher power” implies a willingness to surrender to, to be possessed by, or put differently, to become entrained to a higher field. Thus, calling upon a higher power may be framed as opening one’s field to the possibility of entrainment to such a higher field, or to a stronger resonant system. This is an example of induction into rapport. The resulting merging of consciousness with this larger, stronger, or more coherent system could be considered the establishment of a state of rapport with the divine.
In this state of rapport, just as suggestions are known to be able to be “programmed” by hypnotists (Achterberg, 1985; Baker, 1990; Coué, 1923; Lipton, 2006; Pearce, 1971/2002), it may be possible for healing to occur via reprogramming (Sutphen, n.d.; 2013). Altered states of consciousness researcher Michael Winkelman (2000) suggested that this reprogramming occurs in the limbic and reptilian nervous system. We typically refer to this as state-dependent learning, but I would suggest that we could also call it system-dependent learning.
Grace is the sensed experience of the gift of love descending from the divine; the sense of being filled by God’s compassionate presence and affection. This may be another example of ecstatic synesthesia, the perception of sensory information not normally available. But the emotional content of the perception points to involvement of the heart in the experience. Is this an indication of the heart’s emotional entrainment, or even “bonding,” to a “higher” or more “coherent” system of consciousness?
LAYING ON OF HANDS
Group ritual, as in church practices, activates the power of the group mind, offering the resonant strength of such a larger field or system. Laying on of hands is one of the most common ways of promoting healing in the Pentecostal church. Biophysicist James Oschman (2000/2001) refers to this phenomenon as “therapeutic entrainment.” This is a case of using induction through touch, leading to body-to-body rapport; that is, a merging of fields.
PHYSIOLOGICAL MIRACLES: HEALING OF WOUNDS, STOPPING OF BLEEDING, LACK OF PAIN
One of the stranger aspects of trance is its analgesic effects, physical endurance capabilities, and other transcendence of normal bodily limitations (Becker, 2004, p. 147). Perhaps the most famous of these is the ability to walk on burning coals without pain or injury. But stories abound of other seemingly magical results. The release of opiates can only partially explain these effects. How can Balinese trance dancers dance for hours without fatigue and not only avoid the sensation of pain when stabbing themselves, but also avoid the physical damage of wounds and bleeding? (Becker, 2004; and others). Can physiology explain what is happening or is there actually a true connection with the spiritual world at work here?
Pearce (1977/1992) reported extensively on miraculous healing cases in which pain and bleeding may be stopped by a combination of the suggestibility of the experiencer, their strong bonding (entrainment) to a higher authority, their willingness to completely surrender to this higher authority, and their positive expectation — even absolute belief — that the healing suggestion will work. Can it be that possibilities programmed into a merged self are available that would not be available to the body-identified self we habitually inhabit?
Hawaiian shaman Serge Kahili King (1987, 1988) has a similar explanation for successful fire-walking. He credits devotion, the total faith or belief in the presence and protection of a divinity. Another was to frame this is in terms of attachment and identification with a more powerful, more coherent system. To achieve this attachment requires intensely energetic motivation and a trancelike state of focused attention, with intention focused on oneness and harmony. Deikman (1982) refers to this as a shift to “receptive” mode.
THE SUDDEN CONSCIOUSNESS SHIFT OF CONVERSION: AND THE ROLE OF EMOTIONAL CATHARSIS
The most life-altering effect that can result from the visitation by the divine presence is the experience of spiritual conversion, an overwhelming transformational experience that occurs when an individual worshipper feels suddenly touched by God. The experience has been described as a sense of bursting open or breaking apart, as if a bolt of energy had been applied. Spiritual conversion is also known as being born again. This is a feeling of being reborn, fresh, washed clean; a state in which “all things [become] new” (Helland, 1996; as quoted in Taves, 1999). People who have experienced conversion often say that the transformative effects last for the rest of their lives. It is in the context of a conversion experience that possession by the Holy Spirit, healing miracles, and prophetic revelation become available in the Pentecostal church. Unsurprisingly, the factors that favor such a conversion experience include: temperament, expectation, the tendency to automatism, and passive suggestibility (Coe, as cited in Taves, 1999, p. 268).
Conversion occurs in an atmosphere of high emotional tension and is associated with emotional catharsis. We have previously discussed the important role of emotion in consciousness. Catharsis is the emotional expression and release of strong repressed emotion. Catharsis is not just a powerful emotional release, but a temporary disruption, a detachment from or opening of the habitual ego construct; a possibility for disintegration and reorganization of identification. Any major shock to the system of the self may initiate spontaneous reorganization of the system.
I suggest that catharsis and conversion refer to the same sudden parasympathetic “collapse” as Davidson (1976) descri bed occ urring in al tere d stat es of consci ousne ss: ext ensive ergotropic/sympathetic activation leading to trophotropic/parasympathetic collapse. Gellhorn (1969) noted that disruptive stimuli can evoke this collapse, including all those stimuli known as trance inducers; including auditory driving, ritual dancing, repetitive motor behavior, and hallucinogens (as cited in Winkelman, 1986, p. 179). Finally, Sargant (1974) noted that this action “can lead to erasure of previously conditioned responses, changes of beliefs, loss of memory, and increased suggestibility” (as cited in Winkelman, 1986, p. 177).
This represents a situation in which energy is added to the system, destabilizing it. Resonance potential is built up, and then there is a sudden entrainment (via Winfree’s frequency- pulling) to (or merging with) the newly accessible “higher field,” “pattern,” or “system” of information. Catharsis impairs judgment, leaving the subject open to suggestion and even the dramatic reprogramming I have described previously (Sutphen, n.d., 2013; cf. Tart, 1975). Conversion always indicates mental reprogramming, according to hypnotism expert Sutphen (n.d.; 2013). All situations of reprogramming require either weakening of the ego-self or detouring around it. All physical stressors and, indeed, many of the musical techniques utilized by gospel choirs can be used as reprogramming tools (Sutphen, n.d.; Combs & Holland, 1990).
Faith healing makes use of this intense transformative process. Poloma suggested that the associated emotional catharsis is responsible for effecting a powerful healing. Indeed, catharsis may be at the base of all religious healing, according to René Girard (1977; as cited in Dow, 1986). Consciousness researcher Charles Tart (1969/1990) envisioned this as a “disruption and reorganization” of consciousness. I would suggest that this process actually represents a disruption of one’s habitual ego formation. Thus, the cathartic experience directly correlates to the shaman’s initiation experience of transformational death-and-rebirth; an experience of reordering of one’s life. As one shaman put it: “Healing always involves a death and transformation of some part of the person” (Mehl-Madrona, 1988, p. 133).
Bio-physicist Mae Wan Ho (1998/2005) described living systems as “organized by intrinsic electrodynamical fields, capable of receiving, amplifying, and possibly transmitting electromagnetic information in a wide range of frequencies — rather like an extraordinarily efficient and sensitive, and extremely broadband radio receiver and transmitter” (p. 139).
Might such a consciousness shift as may occur in conversion be reframed as resulting from an electromagnetic field dis-integration and reintegration? Physician Rick Strassman, who researched the mind-altering drug DMT, reported a frequency “threshold” for psychedelic experience (2001, p. 5). Transpersonal psychologist Ken Wilber (1998) referred to this as a “switch point.” Physicist Claude Swanson (2003) explained this as a sudden “voltage shift” (p. 140). At this point, according to telemetry instrument measurements by Valerie Hunt (1989/1996), she interestingly observed a sudden “shift to high frequency, high amplitude vibrations,” which she concluded “move the consciousness higher and higher into the spiritual realm” (pp. 261–262).
The ability to prophesy is another important phenomenon known to occur in Pentecostal services. Indigenous religious systems worldwide utilize prophecy, often obtained through possession (Bourguignon, 1973). Though there is a strong element of cultural suggestion to prophecy, access to the prophetic mind is evoked through excitation. Indeed, supernatural phenomenon author Lyall Watson (1983/1991) made a direct connection between synesthetic ability (which we have discussed previously as stimulated by high excitement) and precognition.
Human potential author Joseph Chilton Pearce, in explaining the source of prophetic information, uses the analogy of lightning striking after a build-up of “resonant potential” (2002/2004, p. 192), perhaps as a resonant thoughtform response to a thoughtform question; the answer coming “through the neural circuitry of the brain but not from it” (p. 192). The lightning bolt metaphor is suggestive of Hunt’s reports of a sudden increase in amplitude of electromagnetic field in ecstatic consciousness; also referred to as a quantum leap (Forman, 1998) or phase transition (Leonard, 1978/2006). In resonance terms, the shift in consciousness can be recognized as a change in resonant exchange.
If prophecy is indeed the result of resonance to a new field of information not available under normal circumstances, it would be created through a process of vibratory entrainment. And answers might only come to minds that are organized, filtered, or attuned to be able to attract the answer resonantly. It is affirmational intention that organizes the heart and mind of the receiver enabling him or her to attract the answer. In other words, revelation might be a frequency synchronization phenomenon, of both reception (perception) and emanation (motor activity).
There is also evidence that sudden access to revelatory information in the Pentecostal church may have a correlation to the existence of the group field we have previously discussed as “one accord” (Poloma, 1997; 2003). Hunt (1989/1996) recognized the merged consciousness of one accord as a new field organization. It is in this merged field that prophetic revelation is reported to occur. Becker (2004) referred to it as a structurally-coupled “supra-individual domain,” in effect, a group nervous system, or even a group self (p. 129). This “expansion of self,” as human potential author Thaddeus Golas (1972/2008) put it, is experienced as a new “state” or even a new “system” of consciousness. This conversion to a new state of consciousness seems to shift the frame of awareness and to bring with that shift unusual healing and revelation miracles, as well as unusual perceptual and kinesthetic powers.
In summary, I will suggest that the vocabulary of physics is useful in describing altered consciousness experiences. Both the body and consciousness are subject to oscillatory processes, and thus follow the biophysical rules of resonance, synchronization, amplification, and entrainment. Under entrainment conditions, suggestibility is enhanced, as is social contagion.
Both music and emotion can be powerful enhancers of entrancement. And coherent group emotion is particularly effective in amplifying entrainment. I will suggest that the gospel choir uses a set of induction techniques that are particularly effective in evoking trance and in coupling consciousness.
I will have particularly addressed the concepts of trance, induction, rapport and the malleability of ego boundaries, the role of the heart in organizing intention and affirmation, and of the fluid of the body as the vehicle for establishing a trance field, destabilization and restabilization of the self, and the surrender of self to a larger or stronger system.
I will suggest that the ego self is malleable and fluid; it is a culturally developed and culturally constrained habitual pattern of information processing. I will suggest that induction destabilizes one pattern of cortical processing and promotes another. Induction weakens ego boundaries, making the self more permeable, more available and responsive to suggestion. I will propose that suggestibility is a reflection of entrainment. Musically-induced religious trance typically utilizes sensory overstimulation.
I will suggest that the self may be surrendered to (or coupled with) another source of consciousness; and that in this surrender, healing and revelation are enabled. I will suggest that trance consciousness disrupts the habitual ego process and allows a subject to merge with another consciousness system. With practice, trancing can create new self-transcendent habit patterns of cortical processing. The trancing self is available for reprogramming.
I will suggest that the process of ecstatic state conversion may involve the surrender to (i.e., a frequency entrainment to or a merging with) another field, system, or organization of consciousness; a shift in identification to a new reference point. And I will suggest that it is the merging with — the identification with — this new stronger (perhaps more coherent) system of consciousness that enables the mystical, prophetic, and even miraculous healing and psi experiences that happen in a gospel church.
I will suggest, in other words, that the elements involved in miracles experienced in the gospel church are the techniques used to give access to the spirit world: trance induction, a death- rebirth purification ritual (the indigenous equivalent of “shock” therapy), and the surrender of the ego to a higher authority.
In corroboration, I offer a piece of research I came across from the Qigong healing modality. Qigong master Luke Chan created a video in 1995 at Huaxia Zhineng Qigong Clinic & Training Center (the world’s largest Chinese medicineless hospital, founded by qigong grandmaster and doctor Ming Pang) ([Munay79], 2011; [nembokidde], 2014; cf. [woodveryimportant], 2010). In this video, four healers used forceful rhythmic mantra chanting, while focusing attention together on a feeling of gratitude and appreciation in their hearts as if the healing had already taken place, as if the patient were already healed. A sonogram showed the tumor disappearing in less than three minutes.
This Qigong healing modality interestingly features important elements that I will have suggested are key to the ecstatic effects of gospel church experience. They are key to shamanic group healing practices as well:
• sharply focusing attention on the body part needing healing, creating a “somatic consciousness”;
• programming the body to heal through suggestion, affirmation, and imagination;
- using vocal repetitive rhythmic resonant entrancing/entraining “induction” such as chanting;
• focusing intention with absolute belief and expectation on the result wanted as if it has already happened, which we can call “affirmation” or “expectant faith”;
• using the heart, the strongest generating organ of electromagnetic fields in the body and focusing on the emotions that create the greatest rhythmic coherence of the heart field — forgiveness, appreciation, gratitude — to build the strongest coherent electromagnetic field possible in each healer;
• establishing, through resonant entrainment (synchronization), a coherent combined group resonant field of “one accord,” which involves, by definition a frequency shift;
• thus entraining the field of the patient into the larger, more coherent group field of the healers; and
• facilitating the surrender of the ego to a source of higher authority; thus creating a larger, stronger field (or pattern) of healing and grace.
In summary: these Chinese healers used powerful elements that reflect those I will have outlined in my research of gospel choir: repetitive, excited group chanting and a combination of total faith, directed intention, and verbalized affirmation. One could say that the hearts of this healing group have come into “one accord,” a group-rapport trance state functioning as one organism. The result of this group rapport trance state, I suggest, is the creation of an unusually powerful, coherent, synchronized group- “field,” “system,” “pattern,” (or even “thought form”) of healing and spiritual community. This single-entity group-state of rapport facilitates the surrender of the individual egos of the healers to a higher (that is, more coherent) system of authority, thus enhancing the possibility for healing, miracles, and grace to come through. In the case of the gospel church this higher system of authority is, of course, recognized as Jesus.
Researcher on religious experience Robert K.C. Forman (1998), human potential author George Leonard (1978/2006), Hawaiian Huna shaman Serge King (1987, 1988), and others have perceived this state to be a “phase transition,” “phase shift” (Leonard, 1978/2006, p. 32), or “quantum leap” (Forman, 1998) in experience; according to Forman, “a deep shift in epistemological structure [in which] the experienced relationship between the self and one’s perceptual objects changes profoundly.” There is a shift to a new structure (or dimension, or system) and this “new structure [may] become…permanent” (p. 186). I suggest that all of us have come to similar conclusions about the nature of conversionary experience.
DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
In final comment, I intend to suggest directions for future research. For instance, ecstatic synesthesia cries out for examination. Also, the findings in my research might be a good springboard for re-examining the ground-breaking research of Masters and Houston (1996/2000) of 50 years ago on psychedelic altered-state experience.
I will include a number of important appendices to this research. Group ecstatic experience is an entrained experience. This is its power, but also its danger. I will thus add several appendix articles addressing the dangers of group entrainment and group ecstatic experience, with thanks to hypnotherapy expert Dick Sutphen (2009) and others who would alert readers to the potential of using synchronization techniques in the service of mind-entrainment or “brainwashing” or other “boundary abuse.”
Additionally, David Lukoff (1998) and others have discussed the delicate line between ecstasy and delusion, with guidance for those in “spiritual emergencies.”
Additional appendices include the following:
-a condensed list of gospel choir techniques.
-a brief discussion of the history, sociology, and politics of communal ecstatic experience, with thanks to political historian Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Dancing in the streets: A history of collective joy (2006).
-descriptive quotes of ecstatic experience.
-two articles, the first on the health benefits of singing; the second a Newsweek Magazine article from 2005 about the search for spirituality in contemporary America.
-an explanation of pre-gospel African American musical styles in comparison to gospel;-an outline of comparisons between several different paths of ecstatic experience.
-a break down of the ecstatic Jewish service prayer by prayer.
-an examination of the sociology of African American music.
-a pictorial look at sacred geometry and sacred physics as they might pertain to the understanding of ecstasy.
-an examination of theories relating to acquired savant syndrome.
-discussion of the energetic structure of the body and the charge-discharge nature of the orgasm.
I propose to conclude with a list of suggested reading resources for the curious, a sample discography, a list of available downloads, and an accompanying USB drive of recorded examples of gospel performance and teachings, which I have personally collected.