TRANCE AND THE TRICKSTER: HYPNOSIS AS A LIMINAL PHENOMENON**
Stanley Krippner, Ph.D.*
ABSTRACT: "Limen" is Latin for "threshold," any number of which are crossed during indigenous rituals, especially by "tricksters." This paper makes the case that hypnotic phenomena are liminal in nature and that hypnotic practitioners (such as Milton Erickson) share many traits with traditional "tricksters." The ambiguous nature of hypnosis has been apparent since the days of "animal magnetism" and "mesmerism." Hypnotized people often report hallucinations that confound their ordinary distinctions between reality and illusion, external and internal processes, and many other binary oppositions including time and space, as well as mind and body. In addition, hypnosis can obscure the distinction between fact and fiction in one's memory, as is evident in the "recovered memories" controversy. The role played by imagination is central to both indigenous rituals and hypnosis. This has been acknowledged by APA Division 30's recent description of hypnosis as a procedure in which someone "is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented." Hypnosis is a multifaceted phenomenon requiring explanation at multiple levels. Some investigators and practitioners have missed the importance of the social context in which hypnosis occurs, while others have come close to destroying the most interesting and useful hypnotic phenomena under the guise of objectivity. The liminal nature of hypnosis insures that its investigators face a valiant struggle, but the scientific and clinical value of hypnosis makes the quest worthwhile.
In indigenous cultures, rituals assume key roles in community identity and social support. Whatever their specific functions may be, rituals are ways in which mythological themes are performed. Whether they concern health and healing, the passage from one phase of life to another, supernatural beings and requests for their favors, or preparations for the hunt or for war, the behaviors apparent to those who witness rituals or participate in them are dictated by an underlying belief system or world view.
Victor Turner (1982) was an anthropologist who specialized in the study of rituals, especially those marking life passages. These periods of transition were filled with opportunity as well as danger. Previously established roles and relationships were deconstructed and then reconstructed. Turner and his followers used the terms "liminal" and "anti-structural" to refer to these periods of time as well as to people who live their lives "on the limen" or "at the edge." These men, women, spirits, and animals appear in cultural myths as "tricksters" because they can cross social, spatial, or temporal boundaries, play jokes on their superiors, and can even change or shift their shape (Chinen, 1993; Hyde, 1998). "Limen" is Latin for "threshold" (Sanders, Thalbourne, & Delin, 2000) and any number of thresholds are crossed during indigenous rituals, especially by "tricksters" who cross boundaries even in the absence of a formal ritual or ceremony.
In community settings, these individuals are often shamans, seers, court jesters, or "two-spirited people" of ambiguous sexuality; they are given considerable latitude for their unconventional and outrageous behavior because they perform important services for their social group. They are respected and adored, but -- to some extent -- feared as well. They may live in yurts or in castles; they may be reimbursed handsomely or meagerly; they may be ascetics or be surrounded by spouses and lovers. Nevertheless, they represent existence at the margins of their community and the rituals they create or recreate are marginal, or liminal, as well.
However, liminality is not only an anthropological phenomenon; the concept has been applied to phenomena in such diverse fields as communication, psychology, geography, and literature. Coleridge took the position that imagination and reality are closely connected, and (according to some contemporary scholarship) altered his account of the creation of his "Kublai Khan" poem (in a drug-induced liminal state) to render it more consistent with his "romantic" account of creativity (Simonton, 1999, p. 819). Kekule's claim to have discovered the benzene ring in a liminal state (i.e., "a reverie [with] the atoms gamboling before my eyes") has also been questioned (Weisberg, 1986). On the other hand, there is little doubt that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein emerged from pre-sleep hypnagogic imagery and that Harriet Beecher Stowe was falling asleep in a church pew when the image of a dying "Uncle Tom" seemed to pass before her (Krippner 1988, pp. 81,136). However, hypnosis and other liminal phenomena are fragile; the condition may vanish if someone just knocks on the door. Coleridge's account of the alleged "visitor from Porlock" who interrupted his poetic daydream may not have been authentic, but it was a valid description of the vulnerability of liminal phenomena.
Liminality not only characterizes an imaginary, hypnagogic, or hypnotic experience but the entire milieu surrounding it. Coyotl is the Aztec word for “trickster,” and hypnotic phenomena often resemble the coyote stories found in many North American indigenous traditions. The coyote element in hypnotically-facilitated psychotherapy can trick clients into changing their dysfunctional behaviors (Rutzky, 1998). Hansen (2001) describes the ambiguous nature of hypnosis, something apparent since the days of "animal magnetism" and "mesmerism" (p. 139). Some hypnotized people report hallucinations that confound their ordinary distinctions between reality and illusion, external and internal processes, and many other binary oppositions that are blurred by hypnosis, including time and space (e.g., Aaronson, 1968), mind and body (e.g., Nash, Lynn, & Stanley, 1984). In addition, hypnosis can obscure the distinction between fact and fiction in one's memory, as is evident in the "recovered memories" controversy (e.g., Sarbin, 1995).
Hypnosis often overcomes the boundary between conscious awareness and what has been kept "unconscious" or put out of one's awareness. Hypnotic induction, which can take a number of forms, contains a number of ritualistic elements. Turner (1968) observed that rituals embody "storehouses of meaningful symbols by which information is revealed and regarded as authoritative, as dealing with the crucial values of the community” (p. 2). The practitioner of hypnosis, whether a psychological therapist, a psychiatrist, a so-called "hypnotherapist," an anesthesiologist, a research specialist, or a stage entertainer shares certain values with his or her client, patient, volunteer, or research participant. The client recognizes the authority of the practitioner, and begins to think, feel, and imagine according to the overt or covert expectations of the situation.
Imagination and "Trance"
The role played by imagination is central to both indigenous rituals and hypnosis. Division 30 of the American Psychological Association has described hypnosis as a procedure that "typically involves an introduction" during which a subject, client, or research participant "is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented." The hypnotic induction "is an extended initial suggestion for using one's imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction."
A hypnotic procedure is used to encourage and evaluate responses to suggestions." When using hypnosis, one person is guided by another to respond to suggestions "for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought, or behavior." Persons can also learn self-hypnosis, "which is the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one's own." If the person responds to hypnotic suggestions, "it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced." Many practitioners "believe that hypnotic responses and experiences are characteristic of a hypnotic state. While some think that it is not necessary to use the word 'hypnosis' as part of the hypnotic induction, others view it as essential."
"Details of hypnotic procedures and suggestions will differ depending on the goals of the practitioner and the purposes of the clinical or research endeavor." Procedures typically involve "suggestions to relax, though relaxation is not necessary for hypnosis and a wide variety of suggestions can be used including those to become more alert."
"Suggestions that permit the extent of hypnosis to be assessed by comparing responses to standardized scales can be used in both clinical and research settings. While the majority of individuals are responsive to at least some suggestions, scores on standardized scales range from high to negligible." These scores "are groups into low, medium, and high categories. As is the case with other positive-scaled measures of psychological constructs such s attention and awareness, the salience of evidence for having achieved hypnosis increased with the individual's score" (Executive Committee, 2004).
This definition holds that if a client appears to respond to the proffered hypnotic suggestions, it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced. Many practitioners believe that hypnotic responses and experiences comprise a hypnotic "trance." While some practitioners think that it is not necessary to use the word "hypnosis" as part of the hypnotic induction, others view it as essential. Hypnotic practitioners continue to debate whether hypnosis involves a special state or if it is indistinguishable from ordinary awareness that has been modified by suggestions, "demand characteristics," and other social influences.
The former group of practitioners often write and speak about a "hypnotic trance," using a definition of that term that infers a narrowness of awareness of the environment and selective focusing often accompanied by involuntary movements
(Cardeña, 1992). However, the same set of behaviors characterize many accident victims, brain-injured patients, drugged or drunken individuals, participants in esoteric rituals, and people whose illnesses have resulted in some type of coma or stupor. Hence, for the term "trance" to have any utility, the question of intention must be raised. The practitioner, or "entrancer," is aiming to "induce a trance" in order to accomplish an agenda of some sort. But this raises another problem: most hypnotized individuals do not lack conscious awareness at all, even when they appear to be engaging in activities that seem to be involuntary on their part.
The anthropologist Erika Bourguignon (1976), an expert on so-called "spirit possession," has differentiated between "possession" (in which a "spirit" has produced changes in someone's behavior, health, or disposition without an accompanying shift in awareness); "possession trance" (in which someone loses conscious awareness, while the invading spirit's own behavior, speech patterns, and body movements "take over" and can be observed by outsiders), and "trance" (a so-called "altered state of consciousness" including the loss of conscious awareness but without the presence of a spirit or other outside entity).
In "possession trance," the intrusive spirit may be quite benevolent, bringing new insights to the "possessed" individual by means of "automatic writing," "channeling," or "mediumship." Sometimes the spirit plays the role of a trickster, teaching the individual life lessons through embarrassment, playful activities, or humor. These results are quite different from those cases in which an invading entity takes over a victim's body as the result of a malevolent sorcerer's curse or simply to gratify the spirit entity's "earthbound" impulses and desires. These types of "trance" are extremely dissociative; the client manifests experiences and behaviors that seem to exist apart from, or appear to have been disconnected from, the mainstream (or flow) of his or her conscious awareness, behavioral repertoire, and/or self-identity (Krippner, 1997, p. 8).
In formulating hypothetical constructs regarding "trance," anthropologists have had more experience than psychologists and, as a result, their constructs are more sophisticated and utilitarian. Hence, the case could be made that the English language word "trance" is better suited for anthropological field work (e.g., Belo, 1960) than for the clinical practice of hypnosis, and should be used by hypnotic practitioners cautiously and descriptively, if at all. A hypnotic practitioner is not an intrusive spirit or a sorcerer; observations of the so-called "trances" induced in some people by hypnotic practitioners pale by comparison with the major shifts in consciousness, behavior, and sense of identity that characterize "trance" activity in indigenous cultures. From a psychological perspective, this type of activity is the result of imaginative processes, i.e., the creation of mental images that may have little or no connection to information about consensual reality perceived by one's senses and those of one's peers. As a result, it makes more sense to talk and write about "the hypnotic condition," "the hypnotic situation," "the hypnotic process," or "the hypnotic experience," than about "the hypnotic trance." The former terms acknowledge the fluid, liminal nature of hypnosis while the latter term implies a static condition that is not as characteristic of phenomena "at the edge" or "on the limen."
Imagination and Performance
The close connection between hypnosis and imaginative processes has been recognized for decades. Stage hypnotists, after a clever selection process that brings a raft of highly suggestible volunteers to the front of the room, easily evoke any number of hilarious and outrageous behaviors. They may state, "You are a dog," and the volunteers will beg and bark. They may suggest, "You are watching the funniest movie you have ever seen in your life," and the volunteers will double over with laughter. A minute later the volunteers are sobbing and crying after having been told, "You are watching the saddest movie you have ever seen in your life." Stage hypnotists, whatever else may be said of them, know how to manipulate the limen; perhaps something can be learned from them when a practitioner needs to induce hypnosis quickly, especially in emergency situations (S. Spiegel, 2003).
Those research participants who also are endowed with extremely high levels of susceptibility to suggestion have no problem in reporting seeing a friend entering the door even though a moment earlier they had been talking to that friend who was sitting in a nearby chair. These individuals will use remarkable ingenuity (often called "trance logic") to explain such anomalies. The behavior of both laboratory subjects and stage volunteers is liminal in nature; consensual reality is often temporarily abandoned, identities can be switched, and social roles, including gender stereotypes, often are reversed. For those who volunteer for stage hypnosis, the results may later be seen as embarrassing. Even so, they are amusing at the time, and apparently are quite satisfying to most of the volunteers once the show is over.
Sophisticated practitioners are aware of the trickster properties of hypnosis and exert extreme care in deciding whether to use hypnosis to retrieve memories or to explore details of consensual reality. On the other hand, unsophisticated practitioners, including many so-called "hypnotherapists" who believe that hypnosis per se is a complete therapeutic system, often have no hesitation in hypnotizing eyewitnesses to "improve" their memory regarding an accident or crime. They may use hypnosis as a "short-cut" to discover the traumatic childhood event supposedly responsible for a client's maladaptive behavior as an adult. They may utilize hypnosis to unravel the circumstances of one's "alternate identities," "past lives," or "alien abduction experiences." In each of these cases, the hypnotic trickster lurks, ready to match its wits with a naïve practitioner who exults over discovering a previously neglected instance of childhood molestation, a forgotten face from a bank robbery, an "identity" that insists to prefers to remain dissociated from its host, a reincarnation scenario that easily explains chronic back pains, or an alleged sexual examination on the operating table in a gigantic space ship.
Amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein's (1956) book about reincarnation, The Search for Bridey Murphy, brought him more celebrity than any qualified hypnotic practitioner of his day (for evaluations of this highly publicized case, see Ducasse, 1960; Gravitz, 2002; Kline, 1956; Stevenson, 1994). The hypnotized housewife in this instance could be seen as a performer. Even giving the amount of volition involved the benefit of the doubt, it was later discovered that the central figure in this case was involved in dramatics in high school and enjoyed "play-acting" (Gravitz, 2002, p. 6). There was no information available to support the view that the Bridey Murphy case was a hoax; however, the trickster rarely engages in deliberate hoaxes but in more complex activities such as cryptomnesia, the unconscious manufacturing of narratives based on fragmentary data, a typical liminal phenomena. But the trickster had another smile coming. Publication of the Bridey Murphy case appeared to stimulate clinical practice and research not only in hypnosis but, in Gravitz' words, "psychotherapy, memory, neuroscience, forensics, and others" as well (p. 10)
While the trickster, reclining on its limen, is laughing heartily at so-called "past life" reports and those practitioners and clients who take them seriously, this trickster also knows that there are legitimate uses for hypnosis, even in controversial areas. When properly applied, hypnosis has a mixed but often helpful track record in assisting eyewitnesses to produce verifiable data. Hypnosis, in the hands of an experienced practitioner, can be useful in uncovering instances of child abuse that often leads to justifiable punishment for the perpetrators. Hypnosis has assisted some patients who have been properly diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, and even in judiciously determining if past life reports and alien abduction experiences could be "screen memories" for less dramatic but still significant events that deserve attention and treatment. One cadre of experts holds that it might be less flamboyant and just as dependable to obtain this information without hypnotic induction, resulting in useful data that is less vulnerable to distortion, to confabulation, or to lawsuits.
In addition, naïve or unethical practitioners may actually do more harm that good as they fall into the quicksand of the limen. They may convince clients that only "past life therapy" can help them out, neglecting current life crises that demand immediate attention. They may persuade clients that a close family member abused them as toddlers, and trigger family ruptures that may never heal. They may use their persuasive powers to convince clients that having sexual relations with the practitioner is the most effective solution to breaking through years of repression and its attendant stressful symptomotology². It is here that the trickster's dark side takes over; the faux pas of some naïve practitioners evoke little but humor when brought to light, while other practices are foolish at best and malevolent at worst. These incidents, when publicized, have contributed more to the marginality of hypnosis than even the most ostentatious stage and television exhibitions.
Limens and Boundaries
Hypnosis blurs a variety of psychological boundaries. For example, it asks who is in control, the practitioner or the client? Most contemporary practitioners tell their clients that "hypnosis is really self-hypnosis," attempting to empower them and assuring them that no Svengali will try to "control" their mind. On the other hand, some clients develop guilt reactions if the hypnotic session is perceived by them to be less than satisfactory, blaming themselves for their failure to perform. Hypnosis also smudges the mind/body distinction; for example, successful hypnotic treatment for warts, burns, and an unusually varied number of other skin disorders (Waterfield, 2002) is a reminder that skin is the boundary between oneself and one's environment. Hypnosis is sometimes used as an anesthetic for surgery, reducing the need for drugs and further deconstructing the division between mind and body.
The Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire (Hartmann, 1991) is a pencil-and-paper test that has been employed in a number of studies of hypnosis and related phenomena. It claims to differentiate between people manifesting "thick" and "thin" boundaries or, in Hartmann's terminology, those who "score thick" and "score thin." Those respondents who "score thick" appear to be well-organized and dependable, but defensive and "well-armored." Those who "score thin" are likely to be open, unguarded, undefended, and sensitive. If they "score thin" on the consciousness sections of the measure they tend to have higher hypnotic ability than "thick scorers" do (Cardeña, 1993). In comparison with the "thick scorers," they are able to exert more control over their autonomic nervous system and can produce greater changes in skin temperature when thinking of hot or cold situations. Hansen (2001) compared "thin scorers" to the Greek god Hermes (also known as "Quicksilver" and "Mercury"), the messenger of the gods and the deity in charge of boundaries. Hartmann (1991) remarked that those who "score thin" shift between fantasy and memory quite quickly, "not being quite clear what state one is in" (p. 27), a trait also attributed to Hermes. (Terminus was the original god of boundaries, but was eclipsed by Hermes who, perhaps, tricked him out of his status.)
I once participated in a study (Krippner, Wickramasekera, Wickramasekera, & Winstead, 1998) involving members of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Yelm, Washington. On Hartmann's Boundary Questionnaire, the mean total score for the Yelm group was 343, indicating "very thin boundaries,” because average scores range between 250 and 300; Hartmann (1991, p. 67) has reported a mean of 273 for a sample of 866 individuals. The only two groups tested by Hartmann who had received comparably high scores (when compared with the Yelm group) were college music students and people reporting frequent nightmares. The members of the Yelm group also received high scores on measures of dissociative tendencies and absorption capacities, both of which have been associated with hypnotic susceptibility. In addition, these individuals were "psychic claimants," purporting to have developed remarkable clairvoyant skills during their years of study at the Ramtha School.
Our study assumed importance in light of the reported illnesses often characterizing psychic claimants. Several "remote perceivers" who were research participants in classified U.S. governmental studies became seriously ill or suffered deaths at an early age (e.g., Schnabel, 1997). There are no data regarding how representative such high profile cases are of psychic claimants as a group. However, numerous reports of this nature over the years lend urgency to this investigation. Because psychic claimants occupy marginal positions in Western societies, their inclusion in governmental studies probably came as a validation for them. At the same time, it could have placed them in a stressful situation where they felt the need to "produce" and "get results" to maintain their status. Psychic claimants and other tricksters who become part of mainstream society often place their health at risk because of the stressful coping skills that are demanded. One exception was the court jester who consorted with nobility but was expected to maintain authenticity, often being the one person at court permitted to provide an honest reaction to a critical political decision. A current exception is the clown whose role in a circus performance is unpredictable and irreverent as well as comical (Willeford, 1969). During a visit to the Moscow Circus in the 1990s, a clown easily identified me as a foreigner, walked over to the aisle where I was sitting, and sprayed me with seltzer water. It induced laughter from everyone including me, but no other member of the cast could have taken this action.
The Semantics of Hypnosis
The term “hypnosis” was popularized by James Braid, an English physician who disliked the term “mesmerism,” named after its originator, Franz Anton Mesmer, and conceptualized as a physical fluid (Gravitz, 2004). Braid concluded that Mesmer’s purported cures were not due to “animal magnetism” as Mesmer had insisted, but to suggestion. He developed the eye-fixation technique of inducing relaxation (also known as “Braidism”) and called the process “hypnosis” (after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep) because he thought that hypnotic phenomena were a form of sleep. Later, realizing his error, he tried to change the name to “monoideism” (meaning influence of a single idea). A similar attempt was made decades later by Edmonston (1991), who felt that "anesis," from the Greek word for "relaxation" would be more accurate. However, the original name stuck; indeed, some practitioners claimed that the term "hypnosis" was more commercially viable than a competing term. In other words, semantics played an important role in the history of hypnosis and actually directed the way that this modality was practiced and perceived. To this day, many hypnotic practitioners use such terms as "you are going into a restful sleep," even though such a suggestion would be counter-productive if taken literally.
The historical roots of hypnosis reach back to tribal rituals and the practices of native shamans. Agogino (1965) stated, "The history of hypnotism may be as old as the practice of shamanism" (p. 31), and describes hypnotic-like procedures used in the court of the Pharaoh Khufu in 3766 B.C. Agogino added that priests in the healing temples of Asclepius (commencing in the 4th century, B.C.) induced their clients into "temple sleep" by "hypnosis and auto-suggestion," while the ancient Druids chanted over their clients until the desired effect was obtained (p. 32). Vogel (1970/1990) has pointed out that herbs were used to enhance "verbal suggestion" by native healers in pre-Columbian Central and South America (p. 177). However, none of these activities can legitimately be called "hypnosis" because the concept, as it is used today, was not constructed until the 18th century and the term was not coined until the 19th century.
Gergen (1985) observed that the words by which the world is discussed and understood are social artifacts, "products of historically situated interchanges among people" (p. 267). Therefore, I prefer to use the description "hypnotic-like procedures" because native (i.e., indigenous or traditional) practitioners and their societies have constructed an assortment of terms to describe activities that resemble what Western practitioners refer to as "hypnosis." To indiscriminately use the term "hypnosis" to describe exorcisms, the laying-on of hands, dream incubation, and similar procedures does an injustice to the varieties of cultural experience and their historic roots. Cardeña (1996) has discussed the similarities and the differences in hypnotic and shamanic phenomenology in his seminal article, "Just Floating in the Sky," and has extended these comparisons in an article that takes up the issue of "truthful trickery" (Cardeña & Beard, 1996).
Such terms as the "hypnotic trance" and the "hypnotic state" have been reified too often, tending to distract the serious investigator from the ingenious uses of human imagination and motivation reported from many cultures that are worthy of study using their own terms (Krippner, 1993).
A survey of the social science literature as well as my own observations in several traditional societies indicate that there are frequent elements of native healing procedures that can be termed "hypnotic-like." This is due, in part, to the fact that alterations in consciousness (i.e., observed or experienced changes in people's patterns of perception, cognition, and/or affect at a given point in time) are not only sanctioned but are also deliberately fostered by virtually all indigenous groups. For example, Bourguignon and Evascu (1977) read ethnographic descriptions of 488 different societies, finding that 89% were characterized by socially approved alterations of consciousness.
The ubiquitous nature of hypnotic-like procedures in native healing (e.g., Bowers, 1961) is also the result of the ways in which human capacities -- such as the capability to strive toward a goal and the ability to imagine a suggested experience -- can be channeled and shaped, albeit differentially, by societal interactions (Murphy, 1947, chap. 8). Concepts of sickness and of healing can be socially constructed and modeled in a number of ways. The models found in indigenous cultures frequently identify such etiological factors in sickness as "soul loss" and spirit "possession," "intrusion," or "invasion" -- all of which are diagnosed (at least in part) by observable changes in the victims' behavior as related to their mentation or mood (Frank & Frank, 1991, chap. 5). Unlike infectious diseases and disabilities resulting from physical trauma, these conditions -- including many of those with a physiological predisposition -- are socially constructed, just as the changed states of consciousness identified by Bourguignon and Evascu are shaped by historical and social forces within a culture.
For example, there is no Western equivalent for wagamama, a Japanese emotional disorder characterized by childish behavior, emotional outbursts, apathy, and negativity. Nor is there a counterpart to kami, a condition common in some Japanese communities that is thought to be caused by spirit possession. Susto is a malaise commonly referred to in Peru and several other parts of Latin America and attributed to a shock or fright, often connected with breaking a spiritual taboo. It can lead to dire consequences such as the "loss," "injury," or "wounding" of one's "soul," but there is no equivalent concept in Western psychotherapy manuals.
Cross-cultural studies of native healing have only started to take seriously the importance of understanding indigenous models of sickness and treatment, perhaps because of the prevalence of Western behavioral, psychoanalytic, and medical models. None of these have been overly sympathetic to the explanations offered by traditional practitioners or to the proposition that Western knowledge is only one of several viable representations of nature (Gergen, 1985). The anthropologist Arthur Kleinman (1980) has commented,
The habitual (and frequently unproductive) way researchers try to make sense of healing, especially indigenous healing, is by speculating about psychological and physiological mechanisms of therapeutic action, which then are applied to case material in truly Procrustean fashion that fits the particular instance to putative universal principles. The latter are primarily derived from the concepts of biomedicine and individual psychology....By reducing healing to the language of biology, the human aspects (i.e., psychosocial and cultural significance) are removed, leaving behind something that can be expressed in biomedical terms, but that can hardly be called healing. Even reducing healing to the language of behavior...leaves out the language of experience, which...is a major aspect of healing. (pp. 363-364)
The value of a cross-cultural approach is to extend the range of individual and social variation in the scientific search for an understanding of human capacities (Price-Williams, 1975). Most illnesses in a society are socially constructed, at least in part, and alleged changes in consciousness also reflect social construction. Because native models of healing generally assume that practitioners, to be effective, must shift their attention and awareness (e.g., "journeying to the upper world," "traveling to the lower world," "incorporating spirit guides," "conversing with power animals," "retrieving lost souls"), the hypnosis literature can be instructive.
Western hypnotic models are often assumed to represent universal processes; however, this assumption is easily challenged. Yoga, meditation, and the martial arts used to be conceptualized as "self-hypnosis," but further investigation demonstrated the need to understand them on their own terms. In the meantime, native healing procedures are worthy of appreciation from the perspective of their own social framework and need not be Westernized with the "hypnosis" label.
Hypnotic-Like Procedures in Shamanism
Winkelman (1984) conducted an archival study of 47 traditional societies, identifying four groups of spiritual practitioners: shamans and shamanic healers, priests and priestesses, mediums and diviners, and malevolent practitioners. With the exception of priests and priestesses, these practitioners purportedly cultivated the ability to regulate and/or shift their patterns of perception, affect, and cognition for benevolent (e.g., healing, divining) or malevolent (e.g., casting spells, hexing) purposes. Although priests and priestesses rarely entered altered attentional states themselves, they presided over rituals and ceremonies that often had, as their intent, the elicitation of changes in the behavior and experiences of their supplicants for religious purposes.
Hypnotic-like procedures are often apparent in the healing practices of native shamans. Shamans can be defined as socially sanctioned practitioners who purport to voluntarily regulate their attention so as to access information not ordinarily available. They use this information to facilitate socially appropriate behavior and healthy development -- as well as to alleviate stress and sickness -- among members of their community and/or for the community as a whole. Among the shaman's many roles, that of healer is the most common. The functions of shamans may differ in various locations, but all of them have been called upon to predict and prevent afflictions, or to diagnose and treat them when they occur. To do this, these indigenous practitioners operate on the limen of consciousness, often engaging in out-of-body journeying, spirit incorporation, altered perception, creative cognition, and what anthropologists refer to as "trance."
Shamanic healing procedures are highly scripted in a manner similar to the way that hypnotic procedures are carefully sequenced and structured. The expectations of the shaman's or hypnotist's clients can enable them to decipher task demands, interpret relevant communications appropriately, and translate the practitioner's suggestions into personalized perceptions and images. Just as expectancy plays a major role in hypnotic responsiveness (Kirsch, 1990), it facilitates the responsiveness of shamans' clients as well as expediting shamanic "journeying." Shamans themselves display what Kirsch (1990), in discussing the hypnosis literature, calls "learned skills"; the shamans' introduction to hypnotic-like experiences during their initiation and training generalizes to later sessions, and they can ultimately engage in "journeying" virtually at will. For this reason, it is debatable whether shamanic "journeying" is a form of dissociation; there is no shift of the shaman's personal identity, and the shaman appears to be in control of the "journeying" process and usually does not incorporate the spirit entities encountered along the way (Ripinsky-Naxon, 1993).
Japanese shamans of the Tohoku region believe that they can contact the Buddhist goddess Kannon who assists with their diagnoses, producing visual or auditory imagery that the shaman experiences and reports. This is an example of the "translation" that characterizes both hypnotic sessions and shamanic imagination. These shamanic "translations" have been studied by Achterberg (1985) who considers dreams, visions, and similar processes a venerable, and often accurate, source of vital information on human health and sickness. So ubiquitous is their process of gleaning pertinent information from fantasy-based symbols and metaphor that shamans, as a group, might be considered prone to imagination and fantasy production. Indeed, they frequently resemble the highly hypnotizable individuals who, on the basis of interviews and personality tests, have been designated "fantasy prone" (Lynn & Rhue, 1988).
However, to engage in fantasy involves exercising one's imagination, and this can be done without transcending one's sense of identity. Thus, most "fantasy prone" individuals do not have frequent experiences that can be labeled either "dissociative" or "transpersonal" each time they exercise their imagination. In fact, the concept of "dissociative" (which originally referred to "double consciousness") only goes back to the end of the 18th century, while "transpersonal" is a 20th century term; neither are appropriate labels for phenomena that occurred many centuries ago.
Victor Turner and his colleagues in anthropology had the advantage of observing more extremes of the human condition than did their colleagues in other fields. Consequently, their theories often provided insights unavailable from other sources (Hansen, 2001, p. 53). They used comparative methods to examine a great diversity of phenomena across disciplinary boundaries and cultural frontiers. Turner's examination of rituals helps outsiders understand the arduous training required of shamans, the crisis experiences and spiritual ordeals they often undergo, and the importance of rituals in marking the passage of a shamanistic apprentice into a shamanic practitioner. The term "creativity" does not appear in most indigenous societies; however, what Westerners would term creative behavior and creative products often are apparent in rituals, in trickster tales, in the day-by-day practice of shamans, as well as in the hypnotic-like procedures used in service of the community (e.g., Babcock, 1990). Such outward marks as body scars, special clothing, and pieces of artwork symbolized the transformation that was thought to have taken place during the ritual and the events surrounding it, events often recalled but dimly because of the hypnotic-like procedures employed during the ritual.
Thanks to the efforts of a few anthropologists and to such groups as the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, there has been a revival of shamanic practice among indigenous people and even among tribal groups living in urban centers. However, the shamanic sensibility can be found among Westerners as well, most notably among performing artists, musicians, poets, and even among a few psychological therapists and psychiatrists. Milton Erickson (e.g., Erickson & Rossi, 1980) was at odds with mainstream psychiatry during much of his professional life, even though his emphasis upon using clients' positive potentials for therapeutic change seems reasonable to contemporary therapists (Matthews, Lankton, & Lankton, 1993, p. 187).
As a teenager, he contracted polio and was told that he would never walk again. If he had lived in a tribal society, many of his peers would have interpreted this malady as a call to shamanism; in any event, he was walking with crutches within the year. In addition, he was color blind and tone deaf; Erickson developed his other senses to compensate, and felt that his clients could exceed their self-perceived limits as well.
Erickson disagreed with the commonly held assumption of his time that the same therapeutic approach is appropriate for all clients in all circumstances; instead, Erickson focused on the context of the presenting problem and the unique learning style and resources of the client (Matthews, Lankton, & Lankton, 1993, p. 189). He emphasized the events in a client's daily life rather than his or her past history. Regarding hypnosis, Erickson attempted to create a context in which hypnosis would naturally occur. He utilized a client's ongoing behavior, perceptions, and attitudes for therapeutic change. He used both direct and indirect suggestions, clever "teaching stories" replete with paradox, parables, metaphors, and anything else that would tap into the client's storehouse of hidden potential (Calof, 1996).
Erickson proposed that life was to be enjoyed and that this enjoyment was closely connected to discipline in daily living, to one's social network, and to one's self-image (Matthews, Lankton, & Lankton, 1993, p. 196). For example, when an inpatient at a state hospital told Erickson that he was Jesus Christ, Erickson responded by asking him to make some bookcases because Jesus was a carpenter. Thus, the process of change had begun (p. 210).
Erickson's fragile health history inaugurated a life on the edge, and a hypnotic technology of paradox and narrative that existed on the limen. As a prototypical trickster, he utilized no single therapeutic approach; instead Erickson attempted to create a therapeutic modality on behalf of the best interests of his or her client in a given milieu and for a current problematic situation.
Implications for Hypnosis Research
Granted that hypnosis is a liminal phenomenon, granted that hypnosis has a deconstructive potential, and granted that the trickster metaphor typifies hypnosis, what are the implications for research and practice? First of all, it is apparent that there is not one hypnotic process but several. Individual differences in hypnotic response have been charted by Pekala's Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory (1991), and his attempt to operationalize the term "trance" is a positive attempt to clarify hypnotic constructs and terminology (Pekala & Kumar, 2000). Nevertheless, I agree with Heap (1999) that such terms as "hypnotic state" and "hypnotic trance" have been eroded of much of their explanatory power, and that the evidence for "trance logic" has grown weaker rather than stronger over the years (e.g., Stanley, Lynn, & Nash, 1986).
T.X. Barber (1999) made a seminal contribution by identifying three types of highly hypnotizable persons, the "positively set," the "fantasy prone," and the "amnesia prone." Time will tell whether these differences actually represent separate dimensions or whether they reflect differences in hypnotic induction and practitioner-client relationships. Furthermore, one could ask if there are psychophysiological differences between these groups. Spiegel (1998), for example, has reported more left frontal theta activity on the part of high hypnotizables, as well as differences in event-related potentials. Identifying the neurophysiology of hypnosis has been put forth as a solution to its current "intangibility" and the "conflicting" data that characterizes the field even when hypnotizability tests are employed (Abela, 2000). However, the trickster element in hypnosis may resist sitting patiently waiting for a photographer to adjust a camera lens, or a brain scan device, so that an accurate likeness can be taken. As Kihlstrom (2003) has observed, the neural correlates of hypnosis may depend on what the hypnotized subject is doing at the time (p. 181).
Instead of seeing hypnosis as a "state," many investigators have found terms that are more useful. For example, Brown and Fromm (1986) spoke of the "domain of hypnosis" and its three dimensions: the altered state, its expectation and suggestibility, and the hypnotic relationship. The hypnotic "domain" has also been discussed by Hilgard (1992) who advocated the study of individual differences, and how hypnosis' phenomenological aspects can serve as correctives to objective scores. Evans (2000) proposed a multi-factorial model of the domain of hypnosis, including expectation, suggestion, cognitive distortions, imagery, "trance logic," and dissociation.
These terms are consistent with Victor Turner's description of those labile, marginal phenomena that fall "betwixt and between" the mental and the physical, the rational and the irrational, the objective and the subjective, in other words, the domain of the liminal. As an anthropologist, Turner focused on rituals and practitioners who blurred structural divisions that allowed new forms to emerge, insuring the health of the social group. In much the same way, hypnosis fosters individual health by undercutting those personal myths and behavioral structures that have become dysfunctional. The unique advantage of the hypnotic domain is that it is able to utilize suggestion, imagery, paradox, and other liminal phenomena in the service of the psyche's positive development and the restoration of vigor to the organism.
A "domain" is not a unitary phenomenon, and the accumulating data concerning hypnosis reveals the complexity of studying experiences and behaviors occurring on the limen of human activity. Like hypnagogic and hypnopompic states, mystical states, what Jungians refer to as "psychoid states," what some Islamic traditions call the "imaginal realm," and a host of anomalous phenomena (e.g., clairvoyant, out-of-body, near-death, and synesthetic experiences), hypnosis poses challenges to those who appreciate it and want to mine its treasures. The concept of a hypnotic domain permits investigators and practitioners to consider that hypnosis may differ in various times and places, and that there are immense individual and contextual differences in hypnotic phenomena.
As Kihlstrom (2003) has pointed out, the situation would not be as problematic if hypnosis was not a multifaceted phenomenon requiring explanation at multiple levels. Some investigators have missed the importance of the social context in which hypnosis occurs, while others have come close to destroying the most interesting hypnotic phenomena under the guise of scientific objectivity (p. 170). The liminal nature of hypnosis insures that its investigators face challenges and struggles in searching for their quarry.
Nevertheless, the struggle is worth it. Hypnosis, or more properly, the varieties of hypnotic experience, can play an important role in alleviating human pain, trauma, and other forms of suffering (e.g., Flemons, 2001; Spiegel, 2003). Hypnotic experiences can enrich the quality of human life. Above all, an understanding of hypnotic phenomena, however partial and fragmentary it may be, is one of the most productive paths currently available for the understanding of human nature and human consciousness. These insights may play a role in illuminating the steps that need to be taken by men and women to insure their survival on a fragile planet in an era when cultures are tattered and when the continuation of human life itself is at risk.
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(1) In addition, there is an extensive literature on the role played by hypnosis in the investigation and treatment of such anomalous phenomena as putative telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis. The French psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot used hypnosis with hysterics, especially those who were sleepwalkers and who reported clairvoyance, or remote perception. Hansen (2001) observes, "Here again we see a confluence of liminal elements" (p. 398). Hansen has written an entire book. The Trickster and the Paranormal, in which he describes the social marginality of so-called parapsychological phenomena. In his words, "The central theme developed in this book is that psi, the paranormal, and the supernatural are fundamentally linked to deconstructuring, change, transition, disorder, marginality, the ephemeral, fluidity, ambiguity, and blurring of boundaries" (p. 22). Some of the ideas developed in this essay were inspired by Hansen's unpublished manuscript of 15 October 2002, which he graciously made available to me when I told him that I was preparing this manuscript.
(2) Hypnosis and illicit sexual activity have long been associated. During Mesmer's heyday in Paris, the King of France appointed a commission to investigate the so-called "animal magnetism." The committee was headed by Benjamin Franklin and included a number of prominent French scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier and Joseph Ignace Guilliotin. In their public report, issued in 1784, they disparaged Mesmer's notion of a "magnetic field," asserting that imagination and imitation could explain the phenomena (Franklin et al., 1784/2002). The commission also produced a secret report (Bailly, et al., 1784/2002), meant only for the eyes of the king, warning that hypnosis could lead to sexual immorality (Hansen, 2001, p. 140).
*Preparation of this paper was supported by the Chair for the Study of Consciousness, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, San Francisco, CA.
**Alan Watts Professor of Psychology, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. This address accompanied the 2002 Award for Contributions to Professional Hypnosis given by Division 30 of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Psychological Hypnosis.