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How Hypnotizable Is Your Shaman? By Ralph B. Allison, M.D. PO Box 957 Paso Robles, CA 93447-0957 Presented at the Annual Interdisciplinary Conference of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness Bastyr University Kenmore, Washington April 4-8, 2001 Abstract: Hypnosis research has determined that humans have an innate, lifelong degree of hypnotizability, rated from 0 to 5. Those on the high end of the continuum have certain personality traits which might predispose them to being the most able to conduct certain shamanic rituals, such as being possessed by spirits. Personality traits associated with low, middle, and high degrees of hypnotizability will be described. These facts might explain why certain shamans prefer some procedures rather than others. It would also explain why certain shamans cannot do some mental procedures which are often done by other shamans. For three decades, I conducted many hours of hypnotherapy with many highly hypnotizable patients. While my patients were very hypnotizable, I was not. To treat them successfully, I invented some pretty strange hypnotic techniques which worked. At the time, I had never even heard about shamans, as that was not a subject covered in medical school. It is now generally accepted in the academic field of hypnosis that each person is endowed, since birth, with a certain "grade of hypnotizability," which has been scored on standard tests from 0 to 5. The majority of persons are in Grades 1-4, while unhypnotizable persons are called Grade 0, and those who can do everything and anything possible in trance are called Grade 5. The hypnotizability level is constant throughout the life of the individual. It is also related to the type of mental illness that person is most likely to manifest, if stressed beyond his or her limits. The structure of the standard test for hypnotizability has been described by the father and son team of academic psychiatrists, Herbert Spiegel at Columbia University, and David Spiegel at Stanford University. The full test and how to score it are in their book, "Trance and Treatment." The test for hypnotizability is designed to take only 5 to 10 minutes, and is used as a screening test for therapy and research. There are two parts to the test. 1. Upward gaze of the eyes, followed by the eye roll test. The subject is asked to look upward as far as possible while keeping the lids open. Then the subject is asked to close the eyelids, and the examiner sees how much sclera is showing between the iris and lower lid. 2. Arm levitation. The subject is asked to let his or her arm float and raise, and questions are asked about tingling, dissociation, floating, and amnesia. Herbert Spiegel, after reviewing the results of thousands of persons so tested, came to the conclusion that there were certain personality styles and traits which could reasonably be associated with each of the three groups, those who were low, medium and high in his hypnotizability scale. Here is a summary of his findings: 1. Low Hypnotizability Limited degree of dissociation Sharply focused attention with concomitant and constant peripheral awareness Slight suggestibility Predominantly cerebral Ever critical Biased toward cognitive dynamism Relatively remote from or somewhat independent of ecological (contextual) influence 2. Mid-range Hypnotizability Moderate tendency to dissociate Capable of focalized attention with less emphasis on vigilant peripheral awareness Moderate degree of suggestibility Tends to shift away from "brain" orientation to "heart" or intuitive feeling Seeks mid-way balance between internal commitments and responsivity to social or ecological context 3. High Hypnotizability Extreme propensity to dissociate Marked ability for total absorption Almost complete abandonment of peripheral awareness and readiness to respond uncritically to new signals. Clear preference to be dominated by the "heart" rather than the "brain." Bias towards feelings and intuition over logic and rationality Ready to suspend critical judgement and comply with impositions from the outside. Ecologically sensitive and most vulnerable to persuasion. Since these authors' subjects were primarily psychiatric patients, they found that there were certain diagnoses which seemed most common to those who fell in one or the other of these three groups. Typical mental disorders of the three groups are as follows: 1. Low Hypnotizability Obsessive compulsive disorder Anorexia Generalized anxiety Schizophrenia Schizoid, paranoid, and avoidant personality disorders 2. Mid-range Hypnotizability Bipolar disorder Reactive depression Bulimia Borderline, passive-aggressive, and antisocial personality disorders 3. High Hypnotizability Multiple personality disorder Fugue Amnesia Somatization Post traumatic stress disorder Histrionic and dependent personality disorders Of special interest to psychiatrists using hypnosis in treatment are those patients who are in Grade 5, who comprise about 4% of the human population. Herbert Spiegel listed a number of personality traits which are common to this group, who can do any type of hypnotic maneuver ever described. 1. Posture of trust Intense, innocent expectation of support from others Expect all attention and concern be focused on them Lack of cynicism 2. Suspension of critical judgement Willing to replace old premises and beliefs with new ones, without usual cognitive screening and scrutiny 3. Affiliation with new events 4. Relative telescoping of time Focus almost exclusively on the present, not past or future Do age revivification when asked to age regress under hypnosis 5. Trance logic Unaware of extreme incongruity 6. Excellent memory Talented in rote and eidetic (visual) memory Learning is uncritical; take in everything 7. Intense capacity for concentration Writers who watch characters behave in their minds and then write about them 8. Fixed personality core Dynamism so fixed it is subject to neither negotiation nor change Special kind of learning which occurs at critical times and remains intact throughout subsequent development 9. Role confusion Paradoxical relationship between hard core dynamism and chameleon-like malleable overlay provokes role confusion and reactive sense of inferiority 10. Greatest susceptibility to possession by benevolent spirits (My addition from MPD patients) Slippery connection between mind and body allows possessing spirit easiest pathway to borrow the body. Mind goes into "yellow submarine" where awareness is controlled by possessing spirit. In his introduction to Shamans of the 20th Century, by Ruth-Inge Heinze, Stanley Krippner writes that "shamans were the world's first physicians, first diagnosticians, first psychotherapists, first religious functionaries, first magicians, first performing artists, and first story-tellers. Shamans can be defined as community-assigned magico-religious professionals who deliberately alter their consciousness in order to obtain information from the 'spirit world.' They use this knowledge and power to help and to heal members of their community, as well as the community as a whole." In her stories of contemporary shamans, Heinze reports on a number of different procedures that shamans use in this helping mission. In her stories, and other similar reports, there are listed a number of procedures, all of which some, but not all, shamans regularly use. Each procedure requires a certain mental faculty, and I have attempted to group these procedures together, based on the likelihood that a certain degree of hypnotizability would be required to accomplish them. My hypothesis is that among shamans there is the same range of hypnotizability as among the rest of the population. Therefore, some shamans would be more comfortable doing certain procedures which are easiest for someone with their level of hypnotizability. For example, a shaman with low hypnotizability might be quite comfortable repeating a ritual the same way each time, a ritual which has been standardized for centuries. But the same shaman would be incapable of becoming possessed by a benevolent spirit, no matter how hard he or she might try. That procedure requires high hypnotizability. Yet a shaman with high hypnotizability might be able to learn an ancient ritual, the same as would the low hypnotizable shaman, but he or she would not want to do it indefinitely, since it is not as interesting to do as to roam around in the "spirit world." A shaman in the mid-range of hypnotizability might be more interested in a flexible procedure, which changes from client to client, but which does not require going into a trance state. Such procedures might be those related to healing specific illnesses of clients, with the use of specific incantations or herbal medicines. Such a shaman might also use psychedelic drugs to bring about his or her own altered state of consciousness, something a highly hypnotizable shaman would not need to do. This hypothesis is completely speculative at this point, since, to the best of my knowledge, no one has tested the hypnotizability of professional shamans, by the methods outlined by the Spiegels. So it is suggested as an explanation as to why such a wide range of procedures are all grouped under the term "shamanic." Low Hypnotizability Procedures Chanting Exorcizing evil spirits with rituals Propitiating deities for blessings Mid-Range Hypnotizability Procedures Fortune-telling or omen-reading Spiritual healing Ritual dancing leading to trance state Use of psychedelic drugs to induce altered state of consciousness Herbal medicine High Hypnotizability Procedures Being a medium with ability to invoke spirits and directly communicate with them Direct apprehension of future events - precognition Possession trances There has been an incorrect assumption on the part of Western psychology and psychiatry that all "human minds" are essentially alike, and one can talk about what "the human mind" does. Therefore, when we observe shamans of other cultures, if we assume the same to be true with their minds, we focus on their procedures and tend to grade the procedures as more or less shamanic. "Who" the shaman is tends to be related to "what" he or she does, not what kind of a mind he or she might have. However, at least in the area of hypnosis, it is clear that there is a spectrum for the trait of hypnotizability. It is also true that there are certain mental disorders which will most likely occur to those in one of the three broad groupings. It is also true that there are certain mental traits which are more likely to occur in those in one of the three broad groups. Therefore, it might be true that certain procedures which have been used by shamans in many cultures over many centuries are most easily done by a professional shaman who is in one of the three broad groups. In Stanley Krippner's description of shamans, he writes that they are persons "who deliberately alter their consciousness in order to obtain information from the 'spirit world.'" This would imply that only those shamans who are highly hypnotizable would qualify for that designation. My hypothesis is that such a qualification is unnecessarily limiting. My hypothesis is that there are many shamans who are endowed with low or mid-range hypnotizability, who can perform the other types of shamanic procedures listed above, but not voluntarily go easily into trance state and commune with spirits in another dimension. They may fully believe in the existence of these spirits and their world, but they are not able to travel there without the aid of psychedelic drugs or other assistance, none of which are needed by the highly hypnotizable shamans. All are shamans, but not all can do everything listed, especially in the area of easily altering their own state of consciousness. References



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