Wednesday 22 May 2013

Trance, dream, prophecy and revelation


It puzzles me that altered states of consciousness should be necessary for prophecies and revelations - I mean for real prophecies and revelations.

Because, this fact of happening during 'altered states' is nowadays taken to confirm that prophecy and revelation are bogus, a pathological product of a malfunctioning brain - and that is indeed pretty much how I used to see things before I was a Christian, e.g.


But that wasn't how people saw things through most of human history.

Past societies knew perfectly well that abnormally functioning brains could and did produce hallucinations, delusions and the like - but they also believed that altered states of consciousness were associated with genuine prophecy and divine communications.


But why the association between prophecy, revelation and altered states?

Most plausibly, it is as if altered states are necessary to overcome some bias or resistance in us - some resistance to divine communications - that is, to communications which come neither from the external environment nor from inside our own brains and bodies but otherwise.

The bias is that attending to environmental and personal stimuli is 'biological' - and seems to overwhelm other possible activities; the resistance is - in a nutshell - sin: that we do not want to perceive divine communications, we resist divine communications, and therefore these must come when our resistance is down.


It is important to consider this question in terms of the absolute reality of human agency, of free will - and that God is not able (or perhaps will not allow Himself) to overcome human agency, but rather that free will is a fact of the situation - free will must be 'worked around' because it cannot/ will-not be overcome.

So even though God can force a communication to be seen or heard, He cannot force it to be understood correctly.

And even when God is able to communicate his will on a matter, He cannot force the prophet to agree to that will - the prophet might (because he is free) hear the word of God, understand it, yet and oppose God's will.


Therefore, the mode of divine communication needs to take into account that the prophet is a free agent, and mode must therefore be persuasive of choice; because free will, if properly understood, is the kind of thing which simply cannot be coerced.


(Indeed, some persuasive techniques - ancient and modern - exploit this fact, in that they may successfully persuade free will and result in the desired choice by asserting that free will has no choice! That free will does not exist, or can be/ has been, coerced - 'therefore' the agent 'might as well agree' to what is being asserted. This is, indeed, a routine of the modern era - telling people they are blank slates formed by the environment and/or helpless robots controlled by their genes, and 'therefore' they 'ought' to choose to do whatever propaganda tells them!)


Among genuine divine communications, it is notable that there are some prophets who see God (in some form) and receive direct communications while wide awake, in clear consciousness;  some who receive messages brought by angelic visitations; many example of receiving a message in a dream; and also there are visions during prayer of possible trance states.

Probably, an interesting approximate typology could be devised which examined the nature and circumstances of these modes in the context of the strength and weaknesses and roles of the specific prophets concerned, and the needs of God - maybe even a hierarchy of prophets, ranked in terms of their openness to God's communications... but I don't know enough even to begin this.



Arakawa said...

I think to understand the use for altered states of consciousness, one promising question to look at is synaesthesia, which strikes me as a necessary ingredient. Direct spiritual communication might need to be translated into something perceived by the earthly six senses, at the very least to be intelligible in the retelling.

This may or may not be a factor with divine revelation, where all bets are off, but the lesser spirit communications of the kind discussed by Ramer in Notion Club Papers (, which lack revelatory import, seem to be filtered through synaesthesia of one form or another.

(For instance, the couple of times I've experienced the sort of 'knocking' he talks about, it manifested itself as a musical chord, tinged with far more malevolence than it otherwise would be if played in waking life. But this seems to be an arbitrary translation of the actual phenomenon -- perhaps a defense mechanism by the mind, to signpost a threat in unmistakeable terms.)

Arakawa said...

An additional point to the one I made above being: if a mechanism for most spiritual communication is synaesthesia of something in the soul with some earthly sense, this may fit the pattern of a few true communications among a lot of false ones, with discernment of the true from the false being difficult (and ability of the individual to discern itself wildly varying, depending on how prone they are to this kind of synaesthetic perception without an actual external stimulus).

The Crow said...

An altered state is necessary to clear away the powerful conditioning we are all subject to, by default.
Obsessing about that new refrigerator, which tablet to buy, and how to pull that hot chick in Wal-Mart, is not conducive to Divine Revelation.

NC said...

Corinthians recommends doing prophesy as central to church, only behind charity. Charity is well practiced by many Christians, yet oddly pursuing spiritual gifts is not.

There is a heirarchy of spiritual gifts listed in Corinthians. That - and following the guidelines for church and developing spiritual gifts - would be a good place to start.

It's a bit difficult to say that Christianity is in some kind of trouble when so few (or no one) follow the Bible's recommendations to develop spiritual gifts.