The first physician to study energetic transference and animal magnetism was Franz Mesmer. Mesmerism became hypnosis, named after the Greek God of Sleep. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud refused to dabble in it because he believed it stripped patients of their defenses. Another psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, transformed his beliefs about hypnosis over the course of his life. In the 60s and 70s, Milton Erickson, a psychologist and psychiatrist, wrote of and practiced indirect suggestion, light forms of hypnosis or trance. His embedded questions and commands have been cornerstones of modern Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NPL). Some therapists continue to place their clients in trances whether or not their clients are aware of that practice or not. Countless scoundrels have pounced on embedding procedures to sway us into becoming gullible consumers of ideas and products.
Likewise, date-rate drugs such as “roofies” (rohypnol), GHB and Z-drugs render those who take them vulnerable. They incapacitate the user, causing dissociation and partial amnesia. While sometimes taken for pre-anesthesia or insomnia, these drugs are employed by predators at clubs, bars and parties as caplets to dissolve in alcohol of unsuspecting victims of sexual assault. The half-life of the drugs is short and the victim can seldom recall in detail events that occured after swallowing these spiked drinks. In response, there have been patents obtained and products manufactured for straws, cups and nail varnishes that change colors when dipped into drinks containing date-rape drugs.
Both of these methods disinhibit others, place them into states that make them more receptive to suggestion and toy with their natural conscious states and rhythms. For purposes of this essay, I shall call their effect ‘trance’.
What Erickson brought to psychiatry beyond that of Mesmer and his ilk was that we all go in and out of light hypnotic states throughout each day. ‘Zoning out’ is a continuum from a very light to a very deep trance state. Daydreaming and dissociation (essentially going outside of ourselves) happen when one is basically unconscious. Carl Jung capitalized on the unconscious as a gold mine of what we do not yet know about ourselves consciously. He placed synchronicity, dreams and metaphor at it apex.
Going into a light trance can be helpful. Storytellers such as your grandmother might have known that when you were helping her shell peas, her stories could better soak into your mind. Rosary beads were/are other touchstones used to help one reside in an unconscious state so that spirituality could resonate better. Teachers who are mindful that their students have glazed eyes know that their messages are entering the unconscious. Counselors skilled in Ericksonian methods can help a self destructive or disordered client transform his or her life. Writers such as Joseph Conrad (e.g., Heart of Darkness), movies such as the Swedish Millennium Series, symphonies such as those by Debussy and Dvorak, all transport us to other realms as if they could somehow affect our circadian rhythms.
Going into a light trance can be risky. As noted above, predators can take advantage of us, rendering us helpless and susceptible. About the time when Erickson became popular, a therapist placed me in a light trance. I knew it when he said, “don’t forget your umbrella” and I felt suddenly lightheaded and realized I had been in an altered state. I did not return. Unfortunately, Erickson’s techniques/NLP have appealed to salesmen, who try to manipulate us, to gigolos who try to flatter us, to shyster lawyers who try to trick us, and to evangelists who want us to buy into their heresies and fill their wallets. While we laugh at melodrama villains who make heroines swoon with swinging pocket watches, alas – there are villains among us who do not wear black hats and capes.
Now for the punch line: I had an experience last week whereby a person that I hardly know placed me in a trance. He (mandolin), a dobra player, and I (bodhran and cajon) had just played for a couple of hours outdoors. It was a sunny Spring day. I am a really good listener and usually take in most of what people say to me. But, the mandolin player stopped playing and started talking to me directly. Each word slid off my gray matter as if it were made of Teflon. I could hear his voice but had no idea what he was saying. It didn’t seem to matter. A petit mal seizure? An ear roofie? A light trance? Since I came unprepared with a straw or nail gloss that I could dip into the air between us, I simply gathered up my drums and flew.