This morning, I finished Belinda Gore’s “The Ecstatic Experience: Healing Postures for Spirit Journeys.” The premise, drawing on the work of Gore’s mentor, the late Felicitas Goodman, is that assuming particular postures can facilitate the experience of shamanic trance.
Gore uses the term “ecstasy” to denote trance states, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Ecstasy is that which takes you outside yourself, but it needn’t involve journeys to the Otherworld or technicolor visionary experiences. But we’ll lay aside that quibble for now, since there are so many other quibbles I want to get to!
I have long experience with Otherworld journeying, so there’s no argument from me on that basis. My problem is, well, with the nature of the claims — not on the effectiveness of the postures, but on their purpose and derivation. The idea that ancient people must have stood or sat in these postures for trance-journeys is, well, a bit odd and not at all supported in historical record. Body-positions can have a whole host of connotations in art: religious/metaphoric, artistic, even practical in the sense of accommodating the medium (i.e., “I don’t have enough rock to carve a standing woman, but I can do a sitting one — as long as she’s the right shape!”)
I don’t have enough knowledge regarding the Mayan and Olmec cultures Gore focuses on, but I do know about Cernunnos, whose posture is included in the text as facilitating “metamorphosis.” How does she know the “All-Mother Anu” gave birth to him and that “his role was to sing the souls of the dead to the Summerland”? I’m all for unverified personal gnosis, but this was presented as some sort of historical fact. The fact is that the Gundestrop cauldron was likely made in Thrace and that Cernunnos is not mentioned in any Celtic myth. The title — “horned one” — likely referred to a deity with a proper name. (I honor him as Bel/Bile, but that deity is not reflected in myth or literature either; I acknowledge this openly, which isn’t the same as claiming it’s ancient truth or somesuch.)
Frankly, I don’t think these postures were used historically for trance purposes. Cernunnos sits cross-legged — in what yoga calls the “easy pose” — because people sit cross-legged on the ground all the time. His torc and snake are symbolic. If you assume the posture and have a trance experience, more power to you — just don’t claim the ancients did it.
As far as whether they work in shamanic trance…. I have no plans to try. I have my own means for entering trance states, although I’m always eager to learn new practices, whether or not I use them. In my opinion, holding one of these postures for 15 minutes will likely cause great physical pain, which is counterproductive when it comes to trance.And for the record, I’m in very good shape and do yoga quite a bit. In my younger days, I used to do figure modeling and am well-versed in the agony that results from holding virtually any position for even 10 minutes.
It’s interesting, though, particularly when people were recounting their visions in the text. If the method presented here works for you, go for it. I’d love to hear about it.