Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religion & Culture / Religious Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Ronald Grimes

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Certain techniques are virtually universal in the production of religious trance. Rhythmic drumming, chanting, singing and vigorous dancing, for instance, are all commonly accepted as playing significant roles in the induction of trance states. But the effectiveness of these techniques has yet to be explained fully. Contemporary neurophysiological and brain sciences can provide the basis for a more comprehensive explanation of trance induction techniques and trance states. In accounting for trance within a neurophysiological model, two questions are fundamental. What kind of neurophysiological activity typifies a trance state? And how do trance induction techniques stimulate and generate the neurophysiological dynamics that occur during trance? In attempting to answer these two questions, I consider the functioning of the autonomic nervous systems, cerebral lateralization of cognitive functions, ergotropic and trophotropic excitation and the concept of ergotropic-trophotropic turning. I show that a heightened state of ergotropic excitation is the neurophysiological counterpart to trance. Trance induction techniques thus become stimuli which excite the ergotropic system. Also, I explain why hemisphere-dominant activity is not an inherent features of trance states. I consider the possession trance of Vincentian Shakers and the shamanic trance of the Kalahari Kung in terms of neurophysiological theory. I also try to account for Michael Harner’s technique for inducing a shamanic state of consciousness on the basis of neurophysiological activity. The neurophysiological model of trance adds a dimension to the understanding of trance states and trance induction techniques. In some cases the level of ergotropic excitation is high enough that the neurophysiological dynamics evoked by trance induction techniques are clear and unequivocal. In other cases the level of excitation is not sufficiently intense for clear indices of neurophysiological activity to be readily available. When the latter case exists, specific neurophysiological activity can be suggested but not confirmed. I present the neurophysiological model of trance as one of many tools available for the investigation of trance phenomena. Other avenues of investigation must be followed for an understanding of the experiential component of trance states.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season