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Altered States During Shamanic Drumming

Altered States During Shamanic Drumming

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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming 
 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming: A Phenomenological Study 
  Anette Kjellgren & Anders Eriksson
University o KarlstadKarlstad, SwedenTis study investigated the experiences gained rom a 20-minute shamanic-like drumming session. wenty-two persons participated and made written descriptions aterwards abouttheir experiences. A phenomenological analysis was applied which generated 31 categories,that were organized into six themes: 1) Te undertaking o the drumming journey, 2)Perceptual phenomena: visual, auditory and somatic, 3) Encounters, 4) Active vs. Passive role,5) Inner wisdom and guidance, and 6) Reections on the drumming journey. A multitudeo detailed experiences were described such as visual imagery, hearing sounds, encountering animals, as well as gaining insights. Participants generally appreciated the drumming sessionand ew negative eects were noted. Te conclusion made is that shamanic-like drumming can be a valuable supplement to other psychotherapeutic techniques.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
(2), 2010, pp. 1-10
he drum is an important tool in indigenouscultures or achieving shamanic visionary trance states (oten described as “journeys”).Drumming can be used alone or in combination withsinging or dancing. Te main rhythm used in drumming or shamanic purposes is typically a steady rhythm o about 4 to 5 beats per second (Neher, 1962; Symmons &Morris, 1997). Tese requencies correspond to the theta dominated activity in the brain (Neher, 1962), whichalso seems to acilitate visionary experiences with vividimagery, altered states o consciousness and perhaps alsoexperiences o paranormal occurrences (Symmons &Morris, 1997). During this journey the shaman is awakeand alert, and is able to move at will between ordinary and non-ordinary reality (Maxeld, 1994). In the worldview o a shaman, the purpose o such a journey could be or example contacting the spirit world to gaininormation about which medical plant to be used or how to nd ood. Tis is done or an individual, a amily, ora community that seeks his or her help (Metzner, 2009).Some eatures o altered states o consciousness(ASCs) are perceptual changes, body image changes,disturbed time sense, alterations in cognitive unctions,but also experiences best described as mystical orineable (c. Kjellgren, 2003). ASCs can be induced by a variety o techniques such as sensory isolation (e.g.,prayer, meditation, otation tank), sensory overload (e.g.,rhythmic drumming), physiological methods (e.g., long distance running, hyperventilation) or by psychoactivesubstances (e.g., LSD, ayahuasca, MDMA).However, dierent opinions on the concept“altered states o consciousness” exist, and the term issubject to several denitions. A classic denition by art(1972) is
a qualitative alteration in the overall pattern andmental unctioning, such that the experiencer eels hisconsciousness is radically dierent rom the way it unctionsordinarily” (p. 1203)
 Another denition by Krippner (1972)is “a mental state which can be subjectively recognised by an individual (or by an objective observer o the individual)as representing a dierence in psychological unctioning rom the individual’s “normal” alert state” (p. 1). In thesedenitions, ASC is described as a recognised deviation inpsychological unctioning compared to the ordinary baseline“normal” state. Rock and Krippner (2007) have pointedout a possible conusion in the discussion o altered stateso consciousness, where
per se is conused with
the content o consciousness.
Tey emphasize that the term“altered pattern o phenomenological properties” shouldbe used instead o ASC, to minimize this conusion. Tisis an important distinction, which needs to be discussedurther. Also, whether or not shamanic journeying statesare really altered states is, in act, a contentious issue in theliterature (see, e.g., Krippner, 2002). For the present study, we are using the term ASC as a way o describing subjectivealterations in psychological unctions, as compared to theexperienced normal state.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
Kjellgren & Eriksson
In a historical perspective ASC might beconsidered “the world’s oldest healing method”(c. Eliade, 1972). Ancient cultures and nativeshamanistic societies have used consciousnessaltering techniques or the purpose o healing and wellbeing or persons suering rom diverse ailments.Several scientiic studies indicate positive andhealing eects or methods known to induce ASCs,such as meditation (c. Kjellgren & aylor, 2008),sensory isolation in lotation tanks (Bood et al.,2006; Kjellgren, Sundequist, Norlander, & Archer,2001), yoga (Kjellgren, Bood, Axelsson, Norlander,& Saatcioglu, 2007) and psychedelic drugs in a spiritual or clinical setting (Johansen & Krebs, 2009;Kjellgren, Eriksson, & Norlander, 2009; McKenna,2004; Morris, 2008).Drumming as a method or achieving ASCs orspiritual experiences also became popular in the New  Age or neo-shamanic movement in the Western world(Bittman et al., 2001; Lindquist, 1997). Te book,Te Way o the Shaman, by Michael Harner (1990)has likely been one o the actors contributing to thisinterest. Since the participants in the present study  were not shamans, we have used the term “shamanic-like drumming” instead o “shamanic drumming,” assuggested by Rock, Abbot, Childargushi, and Kiehne(2008):echniques may be conceptualized as “shamanic-like” insoar as they bear some relation to shamanictechniques and yet depart rom what may properly be called shamanism. For example, listening tomonotonous drumming to acilitate soul ight onbehal o one’s community may be considered a shamanic technique, while recreationally listening tomonotonous drumming to acilitate purported shitsin consciousness is merely “shamanic-like.” (p. 80)It was early pointed out by Walsh (1989) thatscientic research on drumming was rather neglected andthat such studies were needed. Since then several studieshave been perormed, evaluating the phenomenologicaleects and dierent aspects o monotonous drumming such as change in mood and visual imagery, as wellas comparisons with other induction techniques orinstructions (Rock, 2006; Rock, Abbott, Childargushi,& Kiehne, 2008; Rock, Abbott, & Kambouropoulos;2008; Rock, Baynes, & Casey, 2005; Rock, Casey, &Baynes, 2006; Rock, Wilson, Johnson, & Levesque,2008; Woodside, Kumar, & Pekala, 1997). In the study by Rock (2006) a thorough analysis o phenomenologicalcontents during rhythmic drumming (as well as orother induction techniques and control condition) was perormed. As an extra manipulation control, thisstudy investigated the eects o a “shamanic journeying instruction” (as proposed by Harner, 1990) abouthow to perorm the journey and also i an additionalreligious inormation aected the outcome. Anotheraim with this study was also to explore the origin o the mental imagery. Several themes emerged in thephenomenological analysis o participants’ experiencessuch as predatory creatures, whirlpools, helping spirits,obstacles, and religious mental imagery. Shamanic journeying instruction coupled with religious instruction were associated with the highest religious imagery, andit was concluded taht most o the visual images wereprimarily rom autobiographical memories. All techniques involving ASCs (both non-drug as well as drug induced) are heavily inuenced by a person’s set (expectancies) and the setting (environmentand circumstances) where the technique or methodis perormed (Gustason, 1991). We are interested inanalyzing the psychological experiences obtained during shamanic-like monotonous drumming and how suchexperiences are interpreted. Since we realized that the setand setting are o great importance we deliberately choseparticipants with an interest in transpersonal psychology in the hope that their ability and enthusiasm to engagein a task like this are superior to persons without theseinterests. We also expect this sampling to generate richand elaborated descriptions.
he aim o the present study was to make a phenomenological analysis o the experiences gainedrom a “shamanic-like drumming journey” in a groupo Swedish students o transpersonal psychology. Ourresearch questions were: a) What kind o experiences/themes might emerge? b) Do participants experiencesome kind o healing or benecial eects o thedrumming journey?, and c) Are there any occurrences o concurrent negative or disturbing experiences?
 A total o 22 persons (3 males, 19 emales),mean age 48.45 years (SD = 12.62), participated ina shamanic-like journeying drumming session. Allparticipants were students in a course on transpersonalpsychology at Karlstad University, Sweden. Tey had
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming 
on average participated in similar drumming session2.68 times beore (
= 3.75, range 0 – 15 times). For sixo the participants it was the rst time.
 A shamanic-like drumming session wasperormed (rhythmic live drumming) in a dimly-litroom or 20 minutes. All participants were lying downon mattresses on the oor. Instructions on how toperorm this imaginary journey were given beore thedrumming started. Aterwards data was collected using  written reports.
Data collection
Data was collected on participants’ estimationo the time duration o the session, the subjectiveexperience o the process, and the degree to which thephenomenology o the event deviated rom normal.
Duration estimation.
Immediately ater thedrumming stopped, participants were asked to writedown their estimation o the duration (in minutes) o the drumming journey. Te actual length (20 minutes) was not known to the participants. Tey were notinormed beorehand that they were going to be askedthis question.
Drumming experiences 
 A questionnaire withthree questions was constructed or use in this study.Te questions were: 1)
Please describe your experiences during the drumming 
, 2)
Was the drumming a positive or a negative event? Please describe 
, and nally 3)
Were there any experiences during the drumming that you believe can have any importance or your everyday lie? 
Te questionnairealso included questions about age, gender, and numbero earlier experiences with drumming journeys. Eachparticipant lled in this in silence ater the drumming  journey was completed. Te questionnaires were already distributed (upside down) beore the drumming began,in order to minimize distraction and movement inthe room. Tere was no time limit or lling in thisquestionnaire. Te data gathered here was used or thephenomenological analysis.
Degree o experienced deviation rom normal state 
 As a supplement to the phenomenologicalresearch, a set o quantitative data were also gatheredusing the EDN (Experienced Deviation rom Normalstate) questionnaire. Tis questionnaire consists o 29statements (items), each responded to on a VAS-scale 0-100 mm (endpoints 0 = No, not more than usually; 100= Yes, much more than usually). Here are some exampleso the items:
I saw scenes rolling by like in a lm; I could hear sounds without knowing where they came rom;Perception o time and space was like in a dream.
All thepoints obtained rom these 29 items were averaged toprovide an “index o experience” (0 – 100). Tese valuesreect the total experience o deviation rom normalstates. Te scale reliability measurement Cronbach’salpha or EDN was 0.94 in the present study. Te EDNscale has been used in several earlier studies (e.g., Boodet al., 2006; Kjellgren et al., 2007; Kjellgren & aylor,2008; Kjellgren, Lindahl, & Norlander, 2009-2010;Kjellgren & Buhrkall, 2010) with Cronbach’s alpha ranging between 0.91 – 0.97, which indicates very highreliability or this scale. Te validity o the scale hasbeen conrmed in studies where comparisons betweentreatments such as relaxation in a otation tank or yoga  with control conditions (relaxation in armchair and/orresting on a bed) have been done (Kjellgren, Sundequist,Sundholm, Norlander, & Archer, 2004; Kjellgren etal., 2007). Te EDN-scale has generated consistentmeasurement across dierent conditions.Te EDN tests have been extensively used inconnection with otation-tank research (e.g., Kjellgrenet al., 2001; Kjellgren, 2003). ypical EDN values ateran individual’s rst experience o sensory isolation in a otation-tank are about 30 EDN points and about 40points on subsequent occasions. By comparison, theexperience o resting on a bed in a dark, quiet roomscores 15 EDN points (Kjellgren et al., 2004). Tere wasno time limit or response to this questionnaire. Whenthe questionnaire was completed participants tiptoedout o the room in order to minimize disturbance andinteractions.
Beore the drumming started all participants were inormed that their participation was voluntary and were assured o total condentiality. Tey werealso inormed that all the data reporting was to be doneindependently. Te participants were all gathered in a room with mattresses on the oor. Beore the drumming began, all were instructed to perorm a “Lower world journey” as described by Harner (1990). Te instructioninvolved visualizing (closed eyes) a hole in the groundas an entrance or the journey, then going througha tunnel, and nally trying to nd what was at theend o this tunnel. Tey were instructed to search oran answer or solution to a personally pre-ormulatedquestion or problem area. Tey were also instructed tovisualize going the same way back to ordinary reality 

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