ASC's And Ritual
This article by Anna appeared in Web of Wyrd, issue number 7.
Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) are an integral part of ritual.
They can be defined as any mental state recognised by the individual as
different from his or her normal waking consciousness. As such, the act
of separating yourself from the mundane world, having a ritual bath or
shower and preparing the ritual space, is enough to induce some sort of
ASC in most people. Taking on a magical persona involves an ASC, as does
invocation of godhead, dancing or chanting to raise power, meditation,
scrying, and going through a guided visualisation or pathworking.
The use of ASCs in magic and ritual has many benefits. By means of a
guided visualisation or pathworking you can have experiences that would
harm you or be impossible in the mundane world. For example, in a
visualisation relating to fire you can stand in the midst of a roaring
fire or become the flame itself; experiences which might deepen your
understanding of the element fire. Another experience reached through
ASCs is that of the god or goddess being called down upon you, something
that enriches and enlivens your magical life.
Entering an ASC is normally part of the process of stepping onto the
astral plane, reaching the Otherworld, tapping racial memory or the
collective unconscious, contacting inner guides or obtaining information
from your own unconscious. To raise power, many enter an ASC by dancing,
chanting or using breathing techniques. It's then much easier to focus
your concentration, draw on energy, and let it flow through you and into
the object of the spell.
Simple ASCs shouldn't be forgotten. Being able to relax the first time
you cast a circle in front of everyone might help you remember the
words, and will certainly help you focus the power you need. Meditation
is another fundamental skill in magical arts, one that is used at all
Some ASCs can help you find out more about yourself. By doing so, you
can understand and remove the beliefs and blocks that prevent you from
developing, from using your magical abilities to their full extent.
These blocks are erected as part of the process of growing up. As an
example, if you're told often enough as a child that the fairies that
you see at the bottom of the garden don't exist, eventually you come to
believe it. Understanding and getting rid of this belief twenty years
later so that you can see the fairies again can be a long process, one
which can be speeded up by techniques using certain ASCs.
Like many things, ASCs are tools, often valuable, but also dangerous.
One danger is not coming out properly at the end of a ritual. Being in
an ASC can feel wonderful and it can be tempting to stay there. You see
it happening at some of the New Age workshops, where people get a nice
emotional spaced-out high from a session, and hang on to that feeling as
long as they can - "workshop junkie". The problem is that in an ASC you
do not always have full access to those parts of yourself needed to
perform mundane tasks like driving a car, or doing your job satisfac-
torily. Remaining in an ASC can be quite destructive if you need to
function in the "normal" world.
Occasionally an ASC can trigger what is known as an abreaction in
someone. Entering the ASC removes the barrier the person has put
between their conscious mind and a traumatic experience they've had. As
a result the person suddenly goes through the experience again, bursting
into tears, yelling with anger, shivering with fear, and so on. This
sort of reaction needs to be dealt with therapeutically; telling the
person to forget it only makes the experience and any problems it has
caused, worse for them. Not only does the person controlling a group ASC
experience need to be able to handle such abreactions, but he or she
also needs to be able, when putting a new group into ASCs, to recognise
individuals with borderline psychoses. The reason is that putting such
people into an ASC, especially trance states, can push them over into a
full-blown psychosis. For example, putting an epileptic into trance can
trigger epileptic seizures.
Control is an important aspect of ASCs. In a ritual, at least one person
should remain in control, able to take over and bring the group out if
anything goes wrong. That person makes sure that no-one is taken over by
an entity which remains after the circle, and that no inappropriate
suggestions are made. (In ASCs, especially trance states, you are much
more suggestible, and might inadvertently pick up someone else's comment
as a suggestion - after all, this is the principle upon which TV
advertising is based.) They also make sure that everyone comes out and
grounds properly at the end of the ritual.
Another area where control is important is where an ASC is entered from
another ASC. Pathworking, visualisation and scrying is often more
intense, more meaningful, if done in circle. This is because when you
start to do the pathworking or whatever from a mild ASC instead of your
own normal waking state, you tend to go further or deeper, and thus gain
more from the exercise. However, using drugs to enter an ASC before
performing ritual is a completely different matter. Drugs leave you with
no control over the first ASC you enter, so the outcome of entering a
second one can be quite different from what you expected. The harder the
drug, the bigger the problem is likely to be. A drug might, on a rare
occasion, have a place in ritual, but only when the effect of the drug
on the person taking it is known, there is a very good reason for its
use, and someone else is available to deal with any problems that might
arise. Drugs also sap the magical will and discipline by preventing you
from learning how to achieve the results you desire by yourself, and
encouraging you to be lazy. In the end your ritual work suffers.
ASCs are a fundamental part of magical ritual. The basic arts -
meditation, concentration and visualisation - all involve ASCs in some
form. It is easy to get caught up with the glamour of something
different, something that feels good, that is outside our normal
experience and upbringing, and forget that, like most things, there is
a negative side to ASCs. They are a tool; useful once you master them,
but dangerous if misused. For many, ASCs have become the basis of their
path to spiritual development.
Next: Berserkir (Mike Howard, W o W #7)