Brain Scans of Shamans Show Ability to Alter Consciousness Naturally
A new study is the first to investigate what occurs in an alternate state of consciousness by looking inside the brain of a shaman.
Shamanism is considered to be the most ancient form of healing and spiritual practice. While science has been studying the healing benefits of the psychoactive plants used by shamans to enter into an altered state of consciousness, there have been very few studies to look at the neurological nature of the state itself. A groundbreaking new study investigated the shamanic state of consciousness accessed without the use of psychedelics.
Carlos Tanner is a longtime student of traditional shamanism and the director of the Ayahuasca Foundation. an educational and ceremonial center in Peru. “Shamanism refers to an alternate dimension, a dimension where spirits reside, where communication is possible, where greater insights can be acquired and brought back to the waking-day life,” Tanner said. “So a shaman would be someone who can enter into a different dimension and then pull that back.”
The process by which shamans access this state is rooted in the rich tradition of what Tanner calls, a ‘science of consciousness enhancement.’
“Oftentimes, there is the term ‘ceremony’ to describe the intentional entrance into this shamanic state. So there would be a preparation where there might be rituals to essentially prepare, certain clothing might be worn, and the use of certain tools, oftentimes a musical instrument, might be used,” Tanner said.
“All of those are a beautiful science of consciousness enhancement that, I think, has been developed through the continual use of a psychotropic substance, although to a point where, in many cases, the psychotropic substance is no longer needed to enter that state because the consciousness enhancement that was provided by the psychotropic substance can be accomplished without it.”
Richard Harris Ph.D. is a researcher at the University of Michigan who conducted the recent study on the shamanic state of consciousness. Dr. Harris and his team were interested in investigating this state in its purest form, unaffected neurologically by the use of any exogenous substances. To facilitate the entrance into the altered state without the use of psychedelics, the practitioners all listened to a recording of shamanic drumming.
“So, we did a study with 24 shamanic practitioners and 24 normal, control individuals and we collected EEG data (electroencephalogram data), you know brain activity data, while each participant had their eyes closed while they were listening to classical music which was the control condition, and then while they were listening to shamanic drumming music which was the more experimental condition,” Dr. Harris said. “So, what we’re doing with the shamanic drumming, we’re using the person’s own physiology to engender the state.”
In addition, researchers compared the brain scans of the shamanic practitioners in this study, to scans of participants on psychedelics in other studies.
“We found key differences between entering the shamanic state of consciousness and altered states engendered by things like psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA,” Dr. Harris said. “It’s important to know that, even though phenomenologically there are some differences in the experience, like out-of-body, spiritual, blissful states—some of those experiences are the same—but the underlying neurobiology is different.”
Specifically, the researchers found increases in gamma brainwave activity in shamanic practitioners not on psychedelics, without the typical decrease in alpha brainwave activity seen in those on psychedelics. Just what are the implications of these findings?
“That’s kind of what it’s showing is, that shamanic state of consciousness, you can get there without taking a drug. I think that’s important for the average person and that might give them more insight into how they tick,” Dr. Harris said.
Comic Bill Hicks' Excellent Inter-Dimensional Adventure
Comic Bill Hicks was described as “irreverent, outrageous, shocking, angry,” and “genius.” He loathed media-entrained helplessness and consumerism, referring to America as the “United States of Advertising.” Called the “comedian’s comedian” by critics, Hicks performed in the U.S., U.K., and Australia until his death in 1994 at age 32.
But the adjectives above cannot fully describe Hicks, who waged war on the cultural trance, calling for a new, awakened consciousness. He was a rock n’ roll Gabriel on the razor’s edge, trumpeting a vision of a vast, human evolutionary shift. Look and listen between the lines and other descriptors will come to mind; “visionary,” “prophetic,” and yes, “dimensional traveler.”
One of Hicks’ alter egos, “Goat Boy,” was a startling stew of Pan, Dionysus, Bacchus, and any hedonistic diety you can think of. Goat Boy was the comic gestalt of Hicks’ libido — seriously explicit, but paradoxically wise and child-like. Gerald Nachman, the San Francisco Chronicle theater critic wrote, “However rough he gets, I felt my head opened up by Hicks. He’s not everyone’s cup of chicory, but If you like your comics witch’s brew-strong, Bill Hicks is the wit of choice.”
Harmonic Convergence 1987
As a teenager, Hicks and his friends discovered psilocybin mushrooms as a tool for spiritual insight. From an even earlier age, Hicks had explored eastern meditation traditions and subjects in the “Course in Miracles” genre. He earnestly and sincerely sought enlightenment, say his surviving friends. And he believed unshakably in UFOs and multi-dimensionality.
Laser-focused on a career as a comedian, Hicks began sneaking out of his parent’s house to perform in a Houston comedy club at age 14. By 1985, he was established as the leader of the pack of the Houston comedy scene. Hicks was living like a rockstar; drugs, alcohol, wild parties, etc., and over the next few years, he fell into addiction and behaviors that impacted his career and was losing credibility as an artist and performer.
“Bill knew he needed to get sober. From a career standpoint, it became apparent he needed to turn things around,” wrote friend Kevin Booth in his book. But according to Booth, now a filmmaker and producer, the 1987 Harmonic Conversion event was the turning point. The event was organized by author Jose Arguelles, the Aug. 16, 1987 date was chosen because of planetary alignments and the Mayan calendar. Hicks, Booth, and another friend prepared days in advance with meditation and clean diets.