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Revisiting the shaman’s ecstasy: The intense emotion that ignites the performance of song and dance

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‘Ecstasy’, long considered a primary experiential marker of shamanism, has been conflated with Mircea Eliade’s description of ‘cataleptic trance’ and the subsequent notion of an ‘altered state of consciousness’. More recent scholarship contests this fixation on the mental state of shamanism, whether in the Arctic or its presumed geographical migration elsewhere. We retrieve the more common etymology and definition of ecstasy as heightened emotional excitement, underscoring how it awakens the shaman’s song and dance performance. Highlighting ecstatic emotion brings back into focus early reports of the shaman’s trembling and shaking body, whose experiential plasticity, musical improvisation, rhythmic variability and movement spontaneity were later masked by an academic obsession with trance. With a performing arts orientation, shamanism’s wider spectrum of action and experience reappear onstage.
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Keywords: Mircea Eliade; dance; ecstasy; neo-shamanism; shamanism; trance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Creative Therapy

Publication date: September 1, 2018

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  • Research into spirituality receives comparatively little attention in western dance practices but Dance, Movement & Spiritualities provides a platform for those practitioners and researchers who are actively and creatively working with spirituality at the centre of their practice/research. Contributions are invited from across disciplines.
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