Friday, July 13, 2012

Essay on Ecstasy in Religious Rituals

Ecstasy in Religious Rituals Essay

Religion, being an important part of human life, has many various faces. However, it always has one similar feature - spiritual journey to higher level of consciousness. Be it a prayer, meditation, dancing, singing, or other rituals, religious practices help people aspire God. Among a great number of religions there exist those that employ unusual methods of spiritual communication with divinity. Many exotic religious rituals include so-called ecstasy, the altered state of consciousness that drives a person to connection with God. This religious ecstatic trance is usually accompanied with appropriate music, movements, singing, meditation, and other actions in order to assist in spiritual process. Let us look at some ethnographic religious practices where ecstasy and trance play important role in the ritual process.

Sufism, the occult Islamic current, is one of the most mysterious religious teachings in the world. This tradition is seven hundred years old, focusing on love, purity, and seeking of truth. Sufism includes multiple branches and practices, such as Tariqahs (Orders) - guidance in aspiring to the Divine. One of the twenty-seven traditional Sufi orders, the Chishti Order that is distributed widely in New Delhi, India and Pakistan is known for applying various religious practices in their mystic rituals. This teaching is based on Nine Principles, emphasizing tolerance, openness, and unity. Their seek of truth and purity Chishti Sufis oftentimes express in Sema and Qawwali, mystical religious ceremonies. Sema is a dancing practice that also involves prayer and singing. This ritual is also known as "Whirling Dervishes" dance. The goal of Sema is to go through mind and find truth, recognize love and leave ego. Sema, being one of Nine Principles, often leads to ecstatic state while the process of dancing. Qawwali is the ritual with devotional music, when the group of musicians lead the audience to hypnotic trance with playing and singing. During Qawwali the group usually plays dholak and tabla (Indian drums) and harmonium, performing songs about 15-30 minutes long. Chishti Qawwali songs usually include instrumental compositions, manquabat (praising Maula Ali), naat (praising the Prophet Muhammad), and hamd (praising Allah). Songs begin quietly and turn very loud mainly performed with high-frequency voice, which has a hypnotic effect and helps the musicians and the audience reach the ecstatic state of changing consciousness.

Another ethnographic example of religious ceremony is Barong and Rangda ritual dance. This practice is distributed in Indonesia and Bali, where Balinese Hinduism prevail. Being a part of Bali culture, Balinese dancers are famous all over the world, performing their shows in theaters. However, the real religious ecstasy may be reached only during original ceremonies in local temples. The dance of Barong and Rangda, the heroes of traditional mythology, is a unique combination of colorful costumes, expressive characters, singing, dancing, and drama, usually performed during weddings or religious festivals. That is why it is oftentimes called a religious theatre. This ceremony has mythological background, presenting the fight between good and evil. Rangda is a witch-monster that represents an evil of the world trying to kill young prince Sadewa. Sadewa fights with her, turning to Barong (the king of good powers, usually represented by an animal) with help of God Shiva. However, nobody wins, as for the powers are equal, and the balance of good and evil is finally established. This ritual involves many dancers, wearing colorful costumes and masks of deities, and is very beautiful and impressive. The ceremony consists of several dances, each one being an important part of the whole action. One of them involves sharp knives and is rather dangerous. Usually the dance of Barong and Rangda leads the dancers to ecstatic state with help of magic spells and religious energy.

Finally, the last religious practice we will observe is Pentecostal Church practice. Pentecostalism derives from Christianity, thus the general beliefs of this religion are based on Biblical texts and are rather similar to Evangelical Christian movement. However, this teaching distinguishes by the practice of so-called baptism in the Holy Spirit. The worship process of Pentecostals is also different, presenting combination of prayers, songs, music, and movements. This activity is very emotional and energetic, involving the congregation in the process. Usually the ceremony starts with mix of prayer and song, following by a long sermon accompanied by music. Soon the leader urges the flock to join him in the worship song. At this part every parishioner may behave different - people are praying, singing, crying, dancing, trembling, or tongue-speaking in ecstatic trance. This activity is usually very loud and noisy, as every participant expresses the desire to unite with Holy Spirit individually. One of the most important practices of Pentecostal religion is so-called speaking in tongues. It means the divine language that was mentioned in the book of Acts, when Jesus made his apostles to speak an unknown language that was understandable for audience from different countries. The concept of tongue-speaking is a necessary part of Pentecostal religious practice, being an important condition for salvation. While tongue-speaking the person usually drives himself to some kind of hypnotic state, which intensifies with music and loud voice of pastor. The trance is sometimes so strong that the person does not remember it after coming to consciousness. Although this worship practice may seem a cacophony of noisy sounds for us, this ceremony plays an important role in Pentecostal religion.

As we can see, religion may be expressed through a great number of diverse shapes, from traditional prayer to extreme practices. Sometimes it is not enough in certain religions to attend temple or tell a prayer for communicating with God. Some people try to alter consciousness in their spiritual connection with the Divine, and ecstatic trance appears to be a good tool in this task. Mystic ceremonies of Chishti Sufis, religious theatre of Balinese culture, and unusual tongue-speaking in Pentecostalism - these different rituals have one in common, sending the participants into trance. I want to believe that ecstasy really helps people to unite with God. However, I would not like to try it myself.
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