Human beings need ecstatic trance. Trance states have played a vital and necessary role in human culture and in the shaping of human history, causing some anthropologists to label the attainment of these states the 'main need' of the 'ceremonial animal' that is the human being. Trance states traditionally help communities reinforce shared bonds, establish values, gain insight into the nature of reality, establish reciprocal relation with the natural world, and even heal. Yet in the modern world, trance states have been pathologized by both institutionalized religion and science, and ecstatic ritual has lost its centrality. Finally, anthropologists are recognizing what many cultures have known all along — that trance states are essential for human thriving, and that when we lose access to these states we seek ecstasy in darker, more destructive ways. This episode goes deep into the trance states that have defined cultures and traditions for thousands of years. We look at trance in India, Ancient Greece, Africa, South America, and beyond and explore what it means when a culture loses its ecstasy.
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