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Dervish from Sudan who fell into a trance through a special dance (2005)

Trance ([ trɑ̃s ]; from Latin transire, “to go over, to cross”) is a collective term for altered states of consciousness with an intense mental experience. In contrast to the usual waking consciousness , these states are characterized by the following features:

  • a highly focused concentration on one process
  • with simultaneous very deep relaxation
  • an elimination of the logical-reflective mind

Trance states can either be intentional (e.g. visual imagination in daydreams , self-hypnosis , shamanic techniques ), through (permitted) external suggestion ( hypnosis ), constant attention to monotonous stimuli ( e.g. vigilance , mental absorption , orgasm ) or through diseases ( pathological trance and Obsession ) and drugs .

Apart from the latter two trances, the will and a special trigger are necessary conditions for trances to arise. In addition, the person's cultural or religious background has a decisive influence on the type and depth of the condition.

Each trance is associated with a narrowing of consciousness in varying degrees of intensity: the sensory perceptions and the feeling of personal identity - the self- awareness - are temporarily severely restricted or completely faded out.

Physical and mental changes

Trances lead to various temporary mental changes:

  • Narrowing of perception and attention
  • either negative (hiding real things) or positive hallucinations (imagining unreal things)
  • significantly reduced or increased memory
  • changed perception of time (stretching or standing still)
  • special sense of control
  • special emotionality

and physical changes:

  • altered muscle tone (either rigidity or hyperactivity)
  • involuntary movements (e.g. Carpenter effect )
  • Pain and numbness

There is no one-size-fits-all definition of trance. The above definition of terms forms the lowest common denominator of various definitions .


The highly concentrated immersion in an activity that can often be observed in children is sometimes referred to as a “light trance”

In comparison to wide, panoramic mindfulness, trance is strictly speaking any focused and thus limited attention . The increased focus of attention on certain aspects of the sensual experience, depending on the depth of the trance state, goes hand in hand with a weak or strongly reduced alertness .

Scientifically, a more precise distinction is made: degrees of alertness are referred to as vigilance stages .

The consciousness researcher Charles Tart describes the state of average or normal attention as an everyday trance. Tart calls attention in its social constitution and function the consensus trend. In this perspective, any type of concentration is considered a trance, so hypnosis would prove to be the highest level of concentration attainable while awake.

Trance-like states of consciousness can also occur during various activities such as sports, lovemaking, activities that also require high concentration, as well as in (psychological) extreme situations.


To trigger a trance that is neither induced by a drug nor traumatically created, certain stimulus patterns are repeated several times in loops. A trance becomes deeper with a higher number of repetitions. Most stimuli based on repetitive, rhythmic language and sensory stimuli and movements such as drum music , dance , songs , light flashes and mantras and repetitive linguistic influence. This also includes the combination of rhythmic trance music with visual stimulation. This combination of music with light effect systems is typical at concerts and in discos .

For example, drum rhythms consist of individual tones that together form a theme. The trance can then be controlled through repetition and modification. But trance states occur quite often and unnoticed in all people. Sometimes a monotonous noise such as that of a machine is enough, provided it is heard long enough. If a person no longer perceives such a sound, although it still exists, it is most likely already a kind of trance.

Neurological model

Similar neurological and physical processes can be observed in all trance-like states of consciousness. The beginning of the trance is marked by stiffness of the body, sweating and difficult breathing. In 1988 David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson described the following “neurological model” for mental states .

Trance and other states of intoxication are achieved through "hyper-arousal" or a "hyper-calm state". In both cases, there is a slowdown in the accumulated electrical activity in the brain. The changes in consciousness are divided into three phases according to the neurological model:

In the first phase, geometric shapes such as points, zigzag stripes, grids, parallel lines and meandering lines are perceived. These phenomena are called phosphenes ("imagined perception of light").

In the second phase, various geometric shapes emerge, which those affected - depending on their cultural or religious background - perceive as meaningful symbols .

In the third trance phase, a kind of vortex or swirling tunnel appears that seems to suck in people. In this phase, deep-reaching experiences such as synaesthetic perception (merging of different sensory stimuli), leaving one's own body or entering other levels of reality (“beyond”, “spirit world”, etc.) are experienced. The impressions of this third trance phase are also often reported through so-called near - death experiences .

In trance states, visual, somatic (body perception) and acoustic hallucinations occur. Things are "seen" larger or smaller than they actually are. Animals are also often seen. Visual hallucinations often appear as if they follow one another and then run into one another ( palimpsest- like). Somatic hallucinations are accompanied by the feeling that your own body is transforming into another, such as an animal. In addition, in a trance one often perceives flowing water and has the feeling of floating or swimming in it. Such perceptions are primarily related to changes in the amygdala (area of ​​the brain), which is sometimes responsible for spatial orientation and for the feeling of fear and aggression.

Based on this model, Lewis-Williams developed a popular theory of prehistoric shamanism based on comparisons with rock art in South Africa . However, the conclusions are viewed by many critics as highly speculative.

to form

The method of hypnosis is a relatively modern way to trance
Certain ritual postures ...
... and rhythmic sounds are the culturally transmitted ways to trance

Transitional forms

Daydreams , imaginary journeys or the creative flow are deliberately brought about and consciously controlled concentrations that hide large parts of the perception. Such phenomena are seen either as preliminary stages or as light forms of trance.

Therapeutic trance

If a patient who undergoes psychotherapy succeeds in breaking out of his usual frame of reference and his convictions by intensely experiencing new thought patterns and associations in front of his "inner eye" that help him to solve his problems, one speaks of a therapeutic trance .

Hypnotic trance

In a trance induced by hypnotic procedures, deep relaxation is created while being alert at the same time. The hypnotized person is still able to move at will and to say meaningful sentences, but their attention is extremely limited and focused on little content. A special feature is waking hypnosis, in which a person is in a trance-like state and there is even a rapport , but still apparently wide awake . The person moves and behaves in such a way that an inexperienced observer cannot see any difference to the normal waking state. This form of trance exists subliminally and does not impair waking consciousness.

The Austrian trance researcher Giselher Guttmann found that, in contrast to other trance states, there is no significantly different electrical activity in the cerebral cortex under hypnosis than in the normal waking state.

Various stages of trance are known in hypnosis: While the ego-consciousness is still awake in mild to medium stages, it is lifted in a deep trance. This shows that trance is generally not a sharply delimited phenomenon , but that the transitions from the normal waking state to individual trance levels are fluid.

Spiritual trance

The Ethnology shows that trances as spiritual, ritual or ecstatic are referred to belong to 90 percent of all human cultures for religious or therapeutic repertoire. In these ecstatic trances , which are mainly described in connection with shamanism concepts, very real-looking pictorial hallucinations are deliberately brought about by various spiritual beings using different techniques.

In many religions, trance is viewed as a means of connecting spiritually or magically with God , spirits or other beings or mythical places. This is intended to provide messages or knowledge in order to solve worldly problems. In some cultures, drugs are used for this. Almost everywhere certain ritual postures are used in conjunction with rhythmic drums or rattles to initiate spiritual trances. The rhythmic stimulation is a mandatory requirement.

Drug induced trance

Even in this drug- induced form of trance, a person can move at will and reproduce sentences that are related to one another. Hallucinations often occur in this trance form . The trance is triggered by psychoactive or dissociative substances. These include hallucinogens such as LSD , mescaline , psilocybin and psilocin . But also dissociatives like ketamine or phencyclidine . There have also been reports of cannabis- induced trance-like states.

Traumatic trance

Acute pain as a result of physical injuries can trigger a trance. This also includes painful rites such as in Shiite Ashura and the Indians' sun dance or a pleasure pain in connection with BDSM practices. In this trance, the body's own endorphins are released , which reduce the sensitivity to pain and can lead to a trance state. A traumatic trance can also be caused by emotional injuries.

See also


  • 2001: Jörg Büttner: Trance, charlatans and shamans. The psychology of extraordinary states of consciousness. Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2001, ISBN 3-8311-2945-2 .
  • 1992: Felicitas D. Goodman : Trance - the ancient way to religious experience. Ritual postures and ecstatic experiences. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 1992, ISBN 3-579-00969-9 .
  • 1998: Felicitas D. Goodman, Nana Nauwald: Ecstatic Trance. The workbook. New ritual postures. Edition Nada, Bad Bevensen 1998, ISBN 3-933467-00-4 .
  • 2007: John Grinder, Richard Bandler, Sabine Behrens: Therapy in Trance. NLP and the structure of hypnotic communication. 13th edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-608-95140-0 .
  • 2007: Bernhard Leistle: Sensory Worlds . A phenomenological-anthropological study of Moroccan trance rituals. Doctoral thesis University of Heidelberg 2007 ( download from
  • 2007: Stephan Matthiesen, Rainer Rosenzweig (eds.): Von Sinnen. Dream and trance, intoxication and rage from the point of view of brain research. Mentis, Münster 2007, ISBN 978-3-89785-572-4 .
  • 2003: Gabriele Quinque: Temple Sleep. Basics of trance work. Param, Ahlerstedt 2003, ISBN 3-88755-012-9 .
  • 2005: Gunther Schmidt : Introduction to hypnosystemic therapy and counseling. Carl-Auer, Heidelberg 2005, ISBN 3-89670-470-2 .
  • 1995: Charles Tart : Living wide awake and conscious. Paths to the development of human potential - the guide to conscious being. 2nd Edition. Arbor, Freiamt 1995, ISBN 3-924195-24-2 .
  • 2000: Dennis Wier: Trance. From magic to technology. Pieper and The Grüne Kraft, Löhrbach 2000, ISBN 3-922708-17-X .

Web links

Commons : Trance  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Trance  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Walter Ötsch, Thies Stahl: The dictionary of NLP: the NLP encyclopedia project. 2nd Edition. Junfermann, Paderborn 1997, ISBN 3-87387-336-2 , pp. 200-202.
  2. a b c d Giselher Guttmann in Nana Nauwald, Felicitas D. Goodman, Friends: Ecstatic Trance. Ritual postures and ecstatic trance. 4th edition. Binkey Kok, Haarlem NL 2010, ISBN 978-90-74597-81-4 , pp. 36-39.
  3. a b Birce Polat: Differential differences in flow experience when practicing music. epubli, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-8442-4892-0 , pp. 14-15.
  4. Arno Müller, Christian Stickel: The gateway to trance: theory and practice of hypnotherapy. Junfermann, Paderborn 2010, ISBN 978-3-87387-746-7 , pp. 15-17.
  5. ^ Charles Tart : Wide awake and living consciously. Paths to the development of human potential - the guide to conscious being. 2nd Edition. Arbor, Freiamt 1995, pp. ??.
  6. Marvin Harris: Cultural Anthropology - A Textbook. From the American by Sylvia M. Schomburg-Scherff. Campus, Frankfurt / New York 1989, ISBN 3-593-33976-5 , p. 289.
  7. Jean Clottes, David Lewis-Williams: Shamans: Trance and magic in the cave art of the Stone Age (= Thorbecke Speläothek. Volume 2). Thorbecke, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-7995-9051-X .
  8. Jan Ahlrichs: Shamanism. In: Private website, November 10, 2016, accessed February 25, 2019.
  9. E. Goldsmith: The Way. An ecological manifesto. 1st edition. Bettendorf, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-88498-091-2 , p. 423.
  10. ^ Walter Hirschberg , Wolfgang Müller: Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition. Reimer, Berlin 2005, pp. 380-381.