Hypnotic Trance and its Uses
The field of hypnosis began to develop in the late 1700’s when Franz Mesmer first began to experiment with the techniques that later came to be called “Mesmerism”. The altered states of consciousness that people would enter into under the influence of the environment and their own expectations were interpreted in a variety of ways depending on who was drawing the conclusions. According to Mesmer the altered states were a result of “magnetic fluid”, first coming from actual magnets he was holding or positioning on the person in his role as a medical doctor. Then later by charging himself and various objects with ‘magnetism’, that most magick users these days would call “Chi”, “Odic Force”, Bioplasmic Energy, or some other term denoting personal life-force energy used in magick.
The term hypnosis was developed by the surgeon James Braid who, after attending several demonstrations of mesmerism at Manchester Athenæum at the beginning of November 1841, gathered enough objective evidence that trance was a real event. This demonstration by a travelling mesmerist, the equivalent of today’s stage hypnotist, intrigued Braid who did not subscribe to the magnetic field/fluid theory of how trance was induced. After some experimentation on himself and others he found that fixation on a particular point in space to tire the eyes, or even the idea of the eyes becoming tired, was enough to cause the phenomena he had seen on the stage and be able to replicate it without using the “magnetic fluid” model/theory propounded by the mesmerist. At the end of that November he was able to deliver his own lecture at the Athenæum to demonstrate this by replicating the same occurrences as the mesmerist had done, but without the physical contact that the latter claimed were an essential part of the process.
Braid went on to develop the foundations of much of what most people think of as hypnosis today, even the name, hypnosis, named after the Classical Greek God of sleep. This was because early on in his experience he thought the trance state was related to sleep, but later experiments and experience showed that it wasn’t. Braid then tried to change the name/term to “monoideism”, which means the fixing of the mind on one idea, but by then too many people were familiar with the old name and didn’t want to change it.
This fixation of the eyes and mind is common in many forms of divination, and spiritual systems that emphasise contact with the divine. The mental state that this induces, covered by the umbrella term “trance” is a form of balancing both the conscious and subconscious minds. As a qualified hypnotherapist I have had experience of this type of trance, and as a magickal practitioner I have used and experienced the state of mind induced by the mesmeric technique. Both, to me, have the same type of ‘feel’ but the mesmeric state has a greater sense of depth to it, and a sense of potential. As opposed to the fixation induced trance which allows access to the subconscious but without the feeling of profundity and connection in the more traditional trance.
The training I did as a hypnotherapist also introduced me to one other type of trance I had not previously been aware of, that of the everyday trance. We spend more time than many people know in a state of inward focus, which is the definition of trance. A 20th century hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson, is most well known for developing it as a tool for therapy and exploring various uses of the trance state including time distortion and some types of mystical states. He did some work with Aldous Huxley, who was most known for his book “The Doors of Perception” detailing the states of mind he attained by ingesting various drugs. Erickson and Huxley explored the same sorts of numinous states without drugs, the results leading Huxley to say that although drugs enabled him to glimpse these mystical conditions trance was a more effective way of reaching and exploring them.
Erickson realised that many people spend a considerable portion of their lives in different types of trance. Therapy-wise this means that trance is one of the things keeping a problem, or perceived problem, fixed in place. Most people are familiar with everyday trance in various forms. One of the most common is the “driving trance” which many people who drive have experienced where they arrive at their destination perfectly safely- but with no conscious memory of the journey to get there. This is because they were in a state of internal focus, concentrating on the road and their driving, sometimes aided by external factors such as the interplay of light and shadow on the road and the sound of the engine.
For Pagans understanding everyday trance can be useful in enhancing skills and deepening spiritual experiences. These states explain situations such as sightings of the “Little People”, ghosts, and types of spontaneous psychic phenomena as these trance states enabling the perceiver to experience and interact with other levels of reality. In the next article we will explore some of the techniques for inducing these states and how to manage them for the best effect in magick and ritual. Until then practice noticing how you enter your own trance states during various everyday tasks and, if it is safe to do so, see if you can manage them to do the task you are doing even more effectively.
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