Altered States of Consciousness (Explaining Human Culture)

Back to: Interactive View | Table View

View exercise overview

Overview
Exercise ID: 1.26
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II
Source: Produced by HRAF


Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Single subject specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Altered states of consciousness
Region selection: pre-selected
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Set by teacher
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:
Samples:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? Yes
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No
 

Jack Dunnington, Carol R. Ember, Erik Ringen, Human Relations Area Files

These eHRAF exercises are designed to accompany the module Altered States of Consciousness in Explaining Human Culture. After reviewing evidence for practices involving altered states of consciousness (ASC) in prehistory, the module gives a general picture of what we have learned from cross-cultural research about ASCs, from trances and their frequency, predictors of variation in types of trances, vision quests, and dreaming and out-of-body experiences.  At the end, the module briefly discusses what we do not yet know.

The first set of exercises is Level I; the second set Level II. The Level II exercises may be best done as group exercises by assigning each student a few cultures each and then tabulating the results. We recommend that more than one person code the same culture so as to discuss reliability of coding.

Level I

  1. Some subjects that may be of interest to cross-cultural researchers are not specifically indexed in the eHRAF subject-indexing system, the Outline of Cultural Materials (OCM). “Altered states of consciousness” is one such example. This exercise illustrates how different subjects can be used to extract information on “altered states of consciousness.”
    Instructions: Using the “Browse SUBJECTS” function of eHRAF World Cultures, search “Altered states of consciousness” and note that there are three different OCM subjects suggested which you could use.

1.1 Reading the subject descriptions, which one is more likely to pick up passages about dreaming or the vision quest? Which one is likely to include going into trance? Which category seems unlikely to about cultural customs?

  1. Using “ADVANCED Search”, check out two of the categories—1) “revelation and divination” among the Chipewyan of North America (look particularly at the documents written by David Merrill Smith) and 2) “ecstatic religious practices” among the Central Thai of Asia, looking at the document by Robert Textor.Instructions: Doing one search at a time, add the culture name using the A-Z button and in the Add Subject box add the subject category using the A-Z button. You can jump to the desired document by clicking the name in the document list.

2.1 What different types of altered states are described?  Summarize briefly what you found
2.2 Try searching with the two OCM codes (using an “or” between them) adding the keyword trance* (use an asterisk to cover “trance” and “trances”. Did you find any additional results not covered by the OCM codes?

  1. Altered states of consciousness are sometimes associated with psychoactive substance use. Read the following passages in eHRAF World Cultures  on San, Koryak, and Yokuts in which altered states are associated with or achieved via psychoactive drugs.

Instructions: To get to a particular document, go to the tab Browse Documents, put in the surname of the first author and click on the document you want. Click on the Page List down arrow in the upper right corner, and then click on the page that you want.

San: Katz, Richard, “Education for transcendence” Pg: 293

Koryaks: Jochelson, Waldemar, “The Koryak” Pg: 582-583

Yokuts: Latta, Frank Forrest, “Handbook of Yokuts Indians” Pg: 197-199

Level II

    1. Institutionalized trances are generally divided into: a) Experiences in which the soul is believed to leave the body, and b) Experiences in which a person’s body is possessed or taken over by a spirit.
      1.1. Using “ADVANCED Search”, search for the subject Altered states of consciousness (trances) using its corresponding OCM code (Ecstatic Religious Practices, 786 OR Revelation and Divination, 787) in conjunction with the word trance*. Further narrow your search to include only cultures within the Middle America and Caribbean subregion.1.2. Browse through the search results of these 5 cultures: Garifuna (Gonzalez document), Haitians (Laguerre document), Huichol (Myerhoff document), Kuna (Chapin document), and Miskito (Conzemius document). Look for examples of each type of institutionalized trance. How many examples of each did you find, and what criteria did you use to identify them?
    2. Possession trance is more likely to be found in societies with higher complexity, (i.e. those that are more sedentary, have higher dependence on agriculture, higher political integration, and are more politically integrated), and less likely to be found in lower complexity societies (i.e. more dependent on hunting and gathering, more nomadic, and more egalitarian). But is this distinction consistent across all cultures? The following is a list of passages containing information about trance states in eight different cultures.
      2.1. Read the following passages, recording whether the trance-behavior that is being described in each culture seems to be characteristic of possession trance or non-possession trance, or whether both types of trance are present.
      CulturePassagePossession Type
      Innu Lips, Julius, "Naskapi law: law and order in a hunting society" [p.480(B)]
      BalineseBelo, Jane, "Bali: temple festival" Pg: 11
      Saami Anderson, Myrdene, "Saami ethnoecology: resource management in Norwegian Lapland" Pg: 189
      Fellahin Hopkins, Nicholas S., "Spirit mediumship in Upper Egypt" Pg: 408-409
      Semang Endicott, Kirk Michael, "Batek Negrito religion: the world-view and rituals of a hunting and gathering people of Peninsular Malaysia" Pg: 95.

      Lye, Tuck-Po, "Changing pathways: forest degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia" Pg: 16
      Copper EskimoRasmussen, Knud "Intellectual culture of the Copper Eskimos" Pg: 25-27
      KurdsIzady, Mehrdad, "The Kurds: a concise handbook" Pg: 238
      Mi'kmaqPrins, Harald E. L., "The Mi'kmaq: resistance, accomodation, and cultural survival" Pg: 36
      KunaChapin, Mac "Curing among the San Blas Kuna of Panama" Pg: 550.

      Moore, Alexander "Lore and life: Cuna Indian pageants, exorcism, and diplomacy in the twentieth century" Pg: 98
      JivaroReiss, W. (Wilhelm), "A Visit among the Jivaro Indians" Pg: 15.

      Tessmann, Günter, "The Indians of northeastern Peru" Pg: 352-353
      IbanLow, Hugh Brooke, "The natives of Borneo: edited from the papers of the late Brooke Low, Esq." Pg: 115-116
      2.2. Once you have tabulated the trance type in each passage, read the culture summary for each culture. Using the following criteria as guidelines, classify each culture as either “higher complexity” or “lower complexity”:More complex: Significant dependence on agriculture, sedentary residence, high political integration.Less complex: Significant dependence on foraging, nomadic residence, egalitarianism.
      CulturePassagePossession TypeCultural Complexity
      Innu Lips, Julius, "Naskapi law: law and order in a hunting society" [p.480(B)]
      BalineseBelo, Jane, "Bali: temple festival" Pg: 11
      Saami Anderson, Myrdene, "Saami ethnoecology: resource management in Norwegian Lapland" Pg: 189
      Fellahin Hopkins, Nicholas S., "Spirit mediumship in Upper Egypt" Pg: 408-409
      Semang Endicott, Kirk Michael, "Batek Negrito religion: the world-view and rituals of a hunting and gathering people of Peninsular Malaysia" Pg: 95.

      Lye, Tuck-Po, "Changing pathways: forest degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia" Pg: 16
      Copper EskimoRasmussen, Knud "Intellectual culture of the Copper Eskimos" Pg: 25-27
      KurdsIzady, Mehrdad, "The Kurds: a concise handbook" Pg: 238
      Mi'kmaqPrins, Harald E. L., "The Mi'kmaq: resistance, accomodation, and cultural survival" Pg: 36
      KunaChapin, Mac "Curing among the San Blas Kuna of Panama" Pg: 550.

      Moore, Alexander "Lore and life: Cuna Indian pageants, exorcism, and diplomacy in the twentieth century" Pg: 98
      JivaroReiss, W. (Wilhelm), "A Visit among the Jivaro Indians" Pg: 15.

      Tessmann, Günter, "The Indians of northeastern Peru" Pg: 352-353
      IbanLow, Hugh Brooke, "The natives of Borneo: edited from the papers of the late Brooke Low, Esq." Pg: 115-116
      2.3. Now that you have a complete table, do your observations conform to the generalization that more complex societies are more likely to have possession trances than less complex societies? How many cases fit the generalization?  How many do not?