Psycho-practices in Mystical Traditions from the Antiquity to the Present. by Andrey Safronov - HTML preview

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[62]. But for subjectivity, there are a number of other shortcomings of the empiric approach; for example, it requires direct participation of a person that went through corresponding experiences, and his wil ingness to share with these experiences, that is not always possible in case of investigation of religious background. Besides, the empiric approach does not enable the description of intrapsychic processes that are connected to the experience or that had invoked it. At the same time such approach makes it possible to by-pass a complicated methodological and ideological issue of religious experience interpretation as a purely psychological one, what deprecates its spiritual content and is not accepted by religious psychology adherents.

Th e energetic approach was used by Freud in his late works for description of intrapsychic tension decrease during catharsis that he compared to a process of release the “psychic energy” that is “blocked” within the traumatic situation. Th e question of substantial or metaphoric nature of this energy is solved in diff erent ways by diff erent schools. Freud himself related “energy” to metaphor, but his closest follower W. Reich [201] has formulated the “orgone” theory that was based upon substantial nature of psychic energy — the orgone. Th e psychotherapy of today is using this approach to its advantage in many 34 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

directions, mainly of corporeal-oriented character, but the question of the energy “being real” is bashful y avoided. Th e energetic approach gives a good explanation to the essence of such practices as confession and self-confession, ritual cleansing, cathartic dances, carnival practices etc.

Th e structural-psychologic approach makes it possible to describe psychopractice as a process of inner restructuration of the psyche. Th e best elaborated methodology of psychic reality description is available from psychoanalysis, with concepts of Jung being those most adapted for description of religious phenomena. Th e psychoanalysis practical therapeutic orientation makes it the only school that disposes of effective description system of intrapsychic changes that result from a psychopractice. Th e psychoanalysis itself was established as psychotherapeutic practice which main target was to enlarge individual’s conscious sphere due to its taking over objects of the unconscious sphere by means of their apprehension. With consciousness’ enlargement and amplifi cation, the number of suppressing unconscious elements subsides, while the positions of the consciousness become more solid thus providing its release from the eff ects of unconscious mind. It is worth mentioning that on the way to this there also comes merger of conscious mind with diff erent unconscious archetypes and sub-personalities, stil not at the cost of consciousness imprisonment by these archetypes, but on the contrary — due to the absorbing of there contained energy, emotions, experience and knowledge by the conscious mind.

Freud has formulated this basic principle of psychotherapy by the wel -

known phrase: Where id is, there shall ego be.

Th is concept was signifi cantly developed by C.G. Jung who introduced the categories of “the Self” and “the Person”. Th e Self is both the symbol of conscious and unconscious mind reunion and at the same time the transcendence in relation to them. It can be depicted only in part, and partial y it remains incomprehensible and indeterminable for a while. At the level of unconscious mind the Self is the archetype that reveals itself in dreams, myths andfables as a “supraordinate personality”. Th e Person stands for social roles, masks. On the ground of this methodology Jung formulated the target of psychopractices that is metaphysical y contained in the necessity that is proper to psyche —

the individuation, the process in which a personality acquires the wholeness and integrity of its existence.


Th e evolution of structural-psychological approach was rather suffi -

cient. In major part it related to detailed diff erentiation of intrapsychic objects. Th e following categories were added: the “defense mechanisms” (A. Freud [321]), “the programs and scenarios of superconscious mind” (E. Berne [21]), “the sub-personalities” (R. Assagioli [13], G. Gurdjieff

[205]), “the attitudes” (R. Harris), “the perinatal matrices” (S. Grof [61]) etc. Th e purposes of psychopractices — both religious and those established within psychotherapeutic schools — were correspondingly specifi ed. Th e structural-psychologic approach (though this term was not used) was applied in works of native researchers dedicated to closely related problematic, for example the work of J. Yuzvak [363, pg. 141].

Th e existential approach is related to description of rituals as a set of actions performed within specifi c reality connected to individual’s sacral world. It is not possible to describe processes that take place in this world from the point of common logic in an adequate way [359].

Such approach is considerably widespread in anthropology but it can be used to the advantage of religious psychopractices’ description as wel , the more so because from psychologic point a signifi cant part of religious rituals can be considered as psychopractices.

Th e “energy” approach proposed by S. Khoruzhij that originates from the mode of spiritual practices’ description that is conventional for the Hesychasm can be treated as a synthesis of the energetic, structure-psychologic and phenomenologic approaches. According to the energy approach, “the individual changes “his whole-self”…, but the self that is taken and considered not substantial y, but from the position of action and energy, as a summation of all physic, psychic, mental actions and impulses that are cal ed “creatures’ energy” by the Orthodoxy. Such summation or confi guration of energies makes up individual’s “energy pattern”, its projection ontoenergy background, the being-acting dimension… Th e practice…performs transformation of the

“self”, the own energy pattern that is treading to some particular ty-pethat is acknowledged as the goal and the destination point, the“telos” of Spiritual practice” [309]. One cannot but note the similarity between the “energy” approach and the energetic approach of psychoanalysis.

It was also acknowledged by the author of this approach: “In terms of method and principal these are Freud and psychoanalysis that our advanced model is closest to: they develop the energy discourse of a man 36 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

and deeply analyze the Borderline phenomenon”. Still, staying within an obviously religious context, S. Khoruzhij strictly distinguishes himself from the psychoanalysis: “… but this proximity is radical y shattered by contrast of many principal positions. Psychoanalysis is an ideologized discourse, it illuminates only one part of Anthropological Borderline, the topography of Unconscious Mind, and militantly rejects the existence of others — fi rst of al , the meta-anthropological Borderline” [309]. To our opinion the diff erence between the approaches is more suffi cient and lies in fact that the “energy” in the context of “energy approach” is the self-sentiment, the mode of individual’s self-perception — that is expressed by the aforementioned quotation, while the “energy” of the psychoanalytic approach is the basis of diff erent observed processes, including those observed by the individual himself, itself not being the object of observation. In this sense the distance between these approaches appears much more signifi cant than it seems at fi rst sight.

Th us, modern science disposes of signifi cantly manifold store of facilities for description of inner content of psychic experiences that can be applied to the investigation of religious psychopractices.



Basing upon the above listed methodological approaches and taking into consideration the focus of the present work, that is, the study of religious psychopractices, let us formulate characteristic features of religious system elements within the reference system of individual’s inner world.

Th e religious image — that is, any object that is emotional y notional for an individual or a group of individuals, stirring up their religious feelings [235; 241]. In terms of the afore-drawn structureal-psychologic approach the religious image belongs to one of structural elements of the psyche. Th e defi nition given by us correlates suffi ciently with the mentioned doctrine of C. Jung; moreover, it enables avoiding of such a delicate issue as the existence of god or deities, as wel as can be applied for description of utmost non-traditional forms of religiosity. Needless to say that the religious image should not always be PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 3 7

a supernatural creature, though supernatural creatures might make up the most numerous group of religious images. To this very group we can also relate the deities of polytheistic religions, the creatures that personify natural phenomena, the second-ranked creatures of monotheistic religions: the saints, angels, the ghosts such as brownie, satyrs

\wood goblins\ etc. A separate category of supernatural creatures is made by the forefathers that are and have always been anobject of worshipping in all known religions.

Items — fetishes — can also serve as religious objects. In early forms of religions fetishes enjoyed their independent role, while later they were transformed into symbols of more abstract religious images.

As examples of fetishes one can draw icons, statues of gods and other religious objects. In some cultic systems religious images can be those of people. Th e most vivid and notorious samples of such phenomenon were the cults of GodKingsthat existed in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the countries of Far East [325, pg. 85]. Th e offi ciating priests can also be partial y related to people that make up religious objects. Final y, an idea, a process or a method can also come as religious object, and this wil be shown in further sections. Here we should draw another quotation of E. Fromm that il ustrates diversity of religious images: “Man may worship animals, trees, idols of gold or stone, an invisible God, a saintly man or diabolic leaders; he may worship his ancestors, his nation, his class or party, money or success; … he may be aware of his system as being a religious, diff erent from those of the secular realm, or he may think that he has no religion and interpret his devotion to certainallegedly secular aims like power, money or success as nothing but his concern for the practical and expedient” [335].

In this way E. Fromm has pointed out a mostly important moment: the majority of religious images are not comprehended by peopleas such.

In order to make the defi nition of religion image more specifi c we shal characterize its features from position of individual’s inner world.

1. As a rule, religious images come as formations of an unconscious mind. Th ey cannot be completely grasped or comprehended. Moreover, almost al religious systems contain bans to perform discussions about supernatural forces and phenomena.


2. Religious images are the objects with strong emotional constituent element. Th is peculiarity is revealed in rising of believers’ emotional tone during discussion of religious topics. It is this very feature of religious images that makes them signifi cant for individual’s life.

3. Religious images are wholesome objects not subjected to analysis or breakdown into any constituent parts. Any attempt to provide some analyses upon them results in loss of that atmosphere of sanctity and mysteriousness.

Th e source of religious images’ existence can lay both in individual’s personal experiences that were subjected to mythologization, as wel as in images that had already been mythologized at cultural level and imposed upon individual through methods of upbringing or, as it wil be shown further, by means of special psychopractices.

Th e ritual is an a priori determined succession of actions and psychic states that assumes achievementof some particular result [235; 241].

Th e purpose of rituals may lie in outer modifi cations of ambient reality as wel as in inner alterations of psychic state of the ritual performing individual. In this case the ritual simultaneously performs the function of a psychopractice. In terms of their forms rituals can be divided into following groups:

Th e mysteriesare the most complicated type of religious rituals that assumes a big number of participants playing back cosmogonical or mythological stories in fi gurative or symbolic form [48].

Magic rituals are the acts of individual’s infl uence on actual environment that are based upon application of sympathetic and homeopathic magic principles. Depending upon the tasks set magic rituals can be divided into rituals for luck attraction, rituals meant for healing or related to love, as wel as rituals related to bringing damage to other people and creatures [325].

Unlike magic rituals, the prayers are grounded upon perception of nature as governed by supernatural creatures and represent conditional or unconditional requests addressed to these creatures. Along with the request itself conditional prayers also contain the so-cal ed “spiritual coupons” promised by praying people (piety, performance of religious prescriptions, sacrifi cing), since having them in possession might in-PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 3 9

crease the possibility of the request performance. In this case a veiled assumption of the supernatural creature’s wil being dependent upon

“spiritual coupons” owned by the individual brings the prayers close to magic rituals [278].

Sacrifi ce is a rejection from part of an item that belongs to an individual or a group of individuals for the benefi t of supernatural creatures. Th e form of rejection can vary in many ways: from ritual property committing to the fl ames up to its contribution into church possession. In almost al known religions a sacrifi ce is a most widely-spread method of “spiritual coupons” accumulation. Yet it is worth mentioning that in some cases rituals connected to off ering heaving maynot be of sacrifi ce character, but bear feature of a magic ritual. For example, kil -

ing of a person at the dawn of a new agricultural season that is proper to many agrarian cultures is not a sacrifi ce to spirits but a magic ritual of cal ing for rain that is based upon homeopathic principle: the more tears and blood shedding from the off ering, the more rains the season shall bring [325, pg. 550].

Glorifi cation rituals is a group of rituals that are not that widely spread; like prayers, they are addressed to supernatural creatures, but in this case they do not contain any requests but simply express individual’s ecstatic attitude to the object of cult.

A particular interest is stirred by rituals that can be united into one group, being related to actualization of world perception, for instance, the delivery of faith formula that is practiced by many religions. For example it is a must for an orthodox Muslim to utter the “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God” several times a day. To this very group one can also relate the rituals of worship (adoration) which essence lies in status actualization of worshipping individual.

On the basis of the aforesaid let us pay attention to some issues that are signifi cant from the point of view of psychology. First of all, religious rituals are not comprehended as such at the time of their performance, for example, the 1st of May demonstration is not realized to be a mystery by the majority of its participants, though it is by al of its features. Th e second point is that psychological and religious goals of the ritual may be diff erent.


Practical y al religious systems include three main blocks of rituals: 1. Seasonal rituals, connected to annual cycles of nature; 2. Daily-basis rituals;

3. Th e rituals that accompany the individual’s life cycle. In particular, they enclose the initiation rituals, i.e. the rituals that infl uence uponchanging of person’s social status or his status within a religious group, as well as healing (curing) rituals. It is this very group that in major wayreveals their features as those of psychopractices, and thus it shall be subjected to more thorough scrutiny.

In addition to aforementioned groups of rituals which are common for al religions, each religion has its specifi c, solely proper rituals.

A ritual is a comprehensive element of al known forms of religion.

Yet, notwithstanding the manifold factual material available, the core subject-matter of religious ritual stil remains insuffi ciently comprehended and studied.

It was Z. Freud [324] who initiated psychological description of religious rituals, being the fi rst to raise a question about psychological infl uence of a religious ritual and accordingly about feasibility of such ritual usage for aff ecting (or self-aff ecting) upon psyche for solving some psychic problems. Despite the acknowledgement of Freud’s priority in this aspect we shall yet notice that his research studies of religious rituals’ psychological nature were limited within the aforementioned conclusions. Freud did not try to broaden his investigations in direction of other religious rituals’ types, and this was also stipulated by insuffi cient database relating to this issue. In addition to this, Freud did not consider the case of conscious (deliberate) application of religious psychopractices,since despite of their presence in European tradition (for instance, the “Spiritual exercise” of the Jesuits) they were not much known to the wide academic community.

Further development of psychoanalysis methodology, in particular the concept of psyche’ mechanisms of defense that was formulated by Anna Freud [321], facilitated signifi cant enlargement of the list of similar analogies and rituals subjected to persuasive psychological interpretation. Th e most bright analogy is the similarity between the defense mechanism of suppression that reveals through one’s “forgetting” the factors that bother him, and the magic ritual of deliverance from PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 4 1

troubles by means of getting rid of (burying, burning, drowning) an item that symbolizes them.

Another sample is the analogy between the transference– the mechanism of defense that transfers emotional tension from one object onto another one, usual y the one that is closer — and various rituals of religious cult items’ consecration through their contact with other, already consecrated items [235].

Such analogies enable to draw one common conclusion in relation to psychological meaning of religious cults. Let us thus remember that from psychological point of view the objects of ritual manipulation are those objects that haveexpressed emotional colouring. Such colouring is also proper to religious images that are actualized during the process of rituals. Th e performance of corresponding actions with religious images and items facilitates redistribution of unconscious tensions according to the schemes that are provided by psyche defense mechanisms. Furthermore, it is the performance of ritual that launches corresponding mechanism of defense. In terms of psychology energetic model this idea can be expressed in the fol owing way: rituals come asa technique of managing the unconscious mind energies [235]

and thus can be considered as a kind of psychopractice.

Structuring of religious images in one’s consciousness comes out as mythology. A myth is a mostly signifi cant and absolutely essential compound of a religious system. Russian philosopher and theologue S.

N. Bulgakov wrote that “A cult is an experienced myth — the myth in action” [31].

Th e most primitive interpretation of a myth narrowed it down to mere imaginary or illusive description of reality. In his criticism of researchers in support of this position, A.F.Losev wrote in his “Th e Dialectics of Myth”: “Th ey want to disclose the essence of a myth, yet fi rst dissect it in a way it no longer contains neither fabulous nor miraculous elements at al . It is either unfair or absurd”. “One should fi rst share the point of view of mythology itself, become a mythological object on one’s own” [146].

Th e ontological function of a myth was highlighted by M. Eliade:

“Any religion, even the most primitive one, is the ontology — it rdis-closes the “existence” of sacred notions and divine images, fi gures out 42 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

“the actual y existing items”, and thus creates a world that is no longer ephemeral or inconceivable, as if in the nightmare, as wel as a world that diff ers from what it always becomes when there is a risk of existence immersion into the “chaos” of absolute relativity without any visible “center” that could provide with orientation” [359].

Th us, the most important feature of the myth that diff ers it from any other form of world description is that the mythology involves the individual inside, making him a kind of associate to the events described in the myth. Th e text alone, beyond its emotional perception, is not the myth. Th e text may seem absurd and pointless to the strange reader so far as it does not evoke any essential feelings. Th e experience of the myth happens only in case there is a resonance between the text contents and the mythological “world view” of the reader.

Th ere are the following types of myths defi ned [48; 58; 84; 368]: the foundational, or cosmogonical, myths, astral myths; the anthropogonical myths that tel about creation of a man, the mankind forefathers, fi rst human pair etc.; the eschatology myths, i.e. myths about the last day (apocalypse).

We suggest there is one more type to be introduced, and we shall be calling it the existential myth [230; 235]. We shal draw some results below in order to substantiate the reasonability for this.

In early 60-s Clyde Kluckhohn and Fred Strodbeck who studied variants of cultural dominants on the instance of agricultural and culturally developed communities of South-Western America: Spanish Americans, Mormons, Indian tribes of Tjekan, Cuna and Navajo [388, pg.

157] made an assumption that estimative dominant-convictions inside each culture are not chaotic but interrelated (i.e. form an integrated cultural theme) and diff er signifi cantly from corresponding dominant-convictions of other cultures.

For the purpose of their investigation the researchers took 5 abstract categories that they consideredto correspond to “panhuman questions” which answers should beavailable in every culture:

1) man’s attitude to nature;

2) man’s attitude to time;

3) modality of human activity;


4) modality of interpersonal relationships;

5) idea about individual’s inner essence.

Th ese obviously existential notions were to have been subjected to verifi cation by analysisof certain human behaviour, in particular the behaviour of agricultural communities’ members at the moment of show-ers of rain suddenly pouring down on them. Each respondent was to select out of suggested variants of replies (in terms of sociology the methodic applied is referred to as the “stiff ” one) the description of the behaviour type that he considers as the most preferable, most adequate in relation to the situation. In general, the results of the interview confi rmed initial assumption of authors that there are rather explicit intra-cultural correspondences and cross-cultural diff erences.

Yet the authors failed to perform correlation of cultural dominants with mythology peculiar to correspondent communities. In the meantime the ontology appropriate of every culture can be traced in its basic cosmogonical myths. As observed by G. Gachev, “Every people see the Unifi ed dispensation of Genesis in peculiar projection that I call the “national world image”. Th is is the variant of invariant… Th e national world image implies in pantheons, cosmogonies, shows itself through the set of main archetype-symbols, through art” [50, pg.11].

We don’t support such emphasis of outstanding role of the “national” world image — it is rather that diff erent world images correlate with diff erent cultural traditions, but the main idea of world image manifesting in mythology is pretty expressly set. Still, in any case, mythological stratum comes as one of the deepest strata of human psyche that determines existential mode of worldview, i.e. primary mythological pattern through which prism an individual perceives himself, his whereabouts in nature, in society, and his attitude to supreme notions.

We shall be calling the myths that compose this pattern the existential myths. Th ese myths refl ect the notions that S. Khoruzhij refers to as

“the topology in energy dimension of genesis” [310, pg. 65], professor S. Krymskij cal s “the value-notional Universum (VNU)” [116, pg.102], while L. Bevzenko defi nes as “the innermost individual world model”

[19, pg.42]. Let us note that individual’s world contemplationcovers al essential elements that surround him: the Nature, the Cosmos, the Society, his own inner world. Yet it is in the cosmogonic myths that 44 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

such worldview is displayed in the most defi ned and conscious way.

Th e emergence of existential mythology in other aspects of culture can be traced through analysis of the most popular metaphoric images that are used in corresponding culture.

Let us single out cosmogonic myths that contain elements of world contemplation. Th ough in their most pure form such myths existed in must ancient culturesyet it is easy to show that their infl uence upon life of a modern individual is so far rather signifi cant.

1. Th e myth of the World Mountain emerged in Indian culture and is peculiar to Indian mentality [50; 84]. According to this myth, the world is a mountain that holds al living creatures on its surface: from minor creatures up to deities. Th us according to this mythological pattern the world is of static and hierarchic character while living creatures are dynamic and can take diff erent places in the already formed hierarchy. It is easy to understand that the caste system of India was the refl ection of this existential myth. And indeed the old-Indian society was static and hierarchic. Al existing social roles (dharmas) and functions connected to them were described beforehand. An individual had nothing but to take his niche and follow his dharma or try to upgrade his status in cosmic hierarchy by means of diff erent esoteric systems like yoga.

2. Th e World Tree myth was spread among the Aryan people [50; 84], in some variations of shamanistic mythology. Th e notion of the tree also existed in the Kabbalah and Tibetan tradition. In this myth the world is represented as a hierarchic and dynamic system that also assumes manifold alternatives for the course of events. People are not separated from the world but come as branches of this tree that give new bourgeons. Th e image of the world tree and its adjacency with our mind is revealed in the notions of the “family tree model”, “family roots” etc. In general one can state that the world tree myth is the basic one for the European culture. And it is not occasional y that diff erent sciences prefer to produce results in forms of “dendrograms”, from Linnaeus’ tree of species and Darwin’s evolution tree up to the tree of discourses, rhizomes and structural-logical schemes. Th e main idea of

“multi-cultural” is the derivative from seeing the culture through the prism of this myth.


3. Th e myth of a River existed in Ancient Greek mythology and was appropriate to corresponding worldview mode. Th e “river of time” [50; 84] that “you cannot step twice into” represents the worldview where the world is linear and dynamic, while individual is static. “We are aliens at this feast” — this is the modern motto that corresponds to this existential myth.

4. Th e cyclic myth, the myth of a Wheel [50; 84]. In this pattern the world and al events in individual’s personal life, as wel as in life of society and nature, are treated as cyclic. Th is cyclic form is proper to the Buddhism mythology.

Th e above formulated concept of existential myths shal be of signifi cant methodological assistance in consideration of esoteric psychopractices in traditional cultures.

Symbols are another constituent element of religion that shal fal under our study. Each religion has a set of symbols that appears practically simultaneously to the religion itself and becomes more complicated in the course of its development. It was yet Jung who pointed out that those religions that tried to refuse from symbols gradual y either disappeared due to their inability to satisfy the request of believers or in a circular way once again came back to creation of religious symbols [366]. One could have observed this process on the instance of early Christianity and Buddhism, as well as Protestantism.

Th ere are also numerous samples of modern neo-religious systems, since their journey from rejection of symbols to establishment of their own systems is much shorter — ca. 5 years [248; 235]. Th us symbols are obligate constituents of every religion. Th e psychological nature of symbols has been thoroughly studied by representatives of psychoanalytic school who considered the world of symbols to establish a kind of link between the conscious mind that fi ghts for its deliverance and self-systemizing, and the unconscious mind — including the collective one — with its transpersonal contents. As an example, C. Jung declared symbol to facilitate the transition of psychic energy from unconscious mind so that it could have been used deliberately and for the benefi t of practical purposes. He described symbols as “psychological machine” that “transforms the energy” [366].

Another essential element of every religion is the system of restrictions and taboos (let us call them commandments) that are imposed 46 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

upon its followers. Even the most archaic of known religions disposed of the developed taboo system. By this we cannot but observe that not al of these bans can be explained from the point of social structure optimization, wellness benefi t, hygiene etc. Many religions use system of bans that obviously reduce the survival potential of this population or that are completely irrational.

It was W. Reich who made the fi rst steps towards psychological interpretation of religious commandments’nature [202]. Basing upon his studies — mainly those of Christianity — W. Reich made a conclusion that religion increases the level of individual’s neuroticism by prohibiting unconstrained realization of his sexual needs, and then channels the thus emerging tension, providing the ability of such needs’ symbolic satisfaction or catharsis . And indeed there isn’t any religion in the history of mankind that would have contained no system of sexual taboos or restrictions [202, pg. 158]. By the way, according to W. Reich the totalitarian regimes also use systems of taboos and restrictions in order to manage the populace [202, pg. 210]. Th e corresponding discourse was further on developed by M. Foucault who scrutinized the role of sexual element in strategy of ruling authorities [336].

Having acknowledged the view of W. Reich and M. Foucault we can add that the majority of religious systems block not only sexual, but other basic human needs as well. We shall draw explicit examples using the idea of humanistic psychology about the hierarchy of needs

[160] (A. Maslow’s pyramid).

Physiological needs. Many religions impose restrictions not only upon sexual, but also upon other physiological needs of a man: food, sleep, water, excretion, etc. Th us, diff erent fastings,which physiological value is not yet verifi ed, can be related to food restrictions, together with limitation for taking some kinds of food that diff er in various religions. In particular, drinking is limited in Islam during the feats of Ramadan, since taking at least one drop of water during the daytime is considered sinful. Practical y al monkish orders of Christianity, Islam and Krishnaism impose restrictions upon sleep. Th ere are such forms of restrictions as night services and al -night vigils, etc.

Th e need of safety is frustrated in al religions that impose bans upon increase of individual’s material welfare.


Th e creativity needs are frustrated by diff erent prohibitions of por-traying some particular groups of creatures (for instance, people in Islam, god and spirits in Judaism etc.), as wel as canonic limitations of religious creative work.

Th e aforementioned facts imply the commandments to be essential elements of any religious systems or those systems that come close to them, since they provide “saturation” of religious images with required psychic energy.



1. In context of today religion is a rather complicated cultural phenomenon that cannot be adequately determined by any classical defi nition. Th e category of “religion” hasn’t got any strictly prescribed limits, being tightly intertwined with other elements of culture. Considering this, it is necessary to include the following adjacent phenomena into the investigation object fi eld: mystic experience, esoteric systems, occultism, latent religiosity and some secular rituals.

2. Psychological and religious experiences are closely intertwined, and this has been acknowledged by both scientifi c and religious anthropology. Th e study of these phenomena is feasible on basis of complex approach that includes “radical empiricism” of W. James, psychoanalytical concepts of individual and collective unconscious mind, phenomenological and transpersonal approaches.

3. Th e description of anthropological elements of religious psychopractices is possible on basis of several core paradigms, while each of them facilitates consideration of diff erent aspects of such practices.

4. Th e most appropriate approaches for description of intrapsychical processes resulting from religious psychopractices are the structural-psychologic approach, the energetic and energy approaches.

5. Th e topography of individual’s inner worldview, his world contemplation can be described on the basis of existential myths that major cultural traditions are grounded upon.

Section II






2.1.1. States of Consciousness —

the History of Case Study

Individual’s ability of experiencing diff erent states of consciousness is one of the fundamental psyche features, with corresponding need being one of the basic human needs. Moreover, the selection of some set of consciousness states for a norm is one of the main characteristic features of corresponding cultural tradition. Th e history of different states of consciousness investigation is rather young. Th is is stipulated by specifi city of European culture due to its limitation of knowledge and experience within a narrow range of phenomenological phases, i.e. due to its relatively monophasic character. In general, the only state of consciousness in our culture that is institutionalized, legitimate and appropriate for receipt of information about the world is the “normal vigilant consciousness”. Th ere are also states of sleep and alcoholic intoxication that are conditionally acknowledged by European culture. Yet the “desire to change the state of consciousness from time to time is a normal congenital disposition that is analogous to hunger or sexual appetence” [405, pg. 17]. Th at is why European culture created rather peculiar methods of integrating the experience of altered states of consciousness into social life without infringement of culture monophasity principle. One of them is the sanctifi cation that lies in putting people that are able to experience ASC beyond the limits of human status, and correspondingly those of society [237]. Typical sample of such practice is the canonization 50 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

that “offi cially” sanctifi es an individual. Upon analysis of hagiography one can see that all saints were aff ected to experiencing altered states of consciousness.

Another method that is opposite in directivity yet similar in its essence is marginalization, that is casting-off people who can get into the ASC beyond social life. Actual y, it is this very method that the medieval inquisition, as wel as mental medicine of the recent two centuries, were busy practicing [338].

Th e third method of ASC experience integration that is proper to European culture isintellectualization of such experience, that is, an attempt to treat it as a result of intel ectual activity. As an example of such actualization we can draw perception of Greek philosophy by modern rationalist mind. Indeed, the traditional Greek natural philosophy does not correlate with mystic experiences, but is this real y so?

One can easily see that strange — though they have already become customary — sayings of Th ales and Heraclitus about the world consist-ing of water or fi re gain a completely diff erent interpretation in terms of considered hypothesis. Modern psychology knows much about the states when a person senses the world to be “fl uid and amorphous“ or


Th e desire to drive mystic experience out of scientifi c knowledge sphere is vividly illustrated by the saying of Schopenhauer: “A mystic is opposite to philosopher in proceeding from his inside, while philosopher does it from the outside. A mystic comes from his inward, positive, individual experience where he fi nds himself as eternal, integral creature etc. But he can only tell his convictions and in this way we can only take his word for it; thus he is not able to convince.

A philosopher, on the contrary, bases himself upon common notions, upon objective and generally comprehensible phenomena and facts of self-comprehension that are inherent in everyone” [350, pg. 598]. Th e above set quotation illustrates inadequate understanding of the ASC

experience and its consequences by Western intellectual tradition, since there is no understanding of available personal after-eff ects of such experience. We shall further on describe the charisma-upgrade eff ect resulting from one’s having such experience, that obviously provides particular infl uence if not upon veracity of such experience, PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS. Andrey G. Safronov 5 1

then at least upon “penetration” of such ideas; the last — as shown by the recent century experience — being rather signifi cant especially in the sphere of humanitarian knowledge. Th e issue of personal charisma and its role in establishment of psycho-therapeutic schools shall be treated in details in section nine.

Curiously enough, but the uptight, suspicious attitude to mystic experience is perceptible not only in European, but even in Indian intellectual tradition as wel . According to E. Torchinov [292], “… in India, where the gnosis of yoga (djnana) was often treated as the most sophisticated form of cognition, references to yoga transpersonal experiences in course of philosophic disputations were prohibited”.

Th e study of altered states of consciousness was also complicated since the majority of scientists themselves didn’t have any personal experience of ASC, while mystics and religious personalities didn’t endeavor to share with their own one. Th e fi rst statement about the necessity of having personal experience of ASCs for their understanding and adequate evaluation was made within transpersonal psychology. Such approach, beingabsolutelydiff erent from the traditional scientifi c in which the researcher acts as an independent subject,was in al iance withthe spirit of those times. Th e post-modernistic period and its ethos of liberty together with tendency for elimination of all possible boundaries couldn’t but inspire researchers upon search for psychological freedom that could mean the right of free disposal with one’s states along with refusal from traditional forms of these states’ study.

In terms of transpersonal psychology there appeared some contiguous disciplines like transpersonal anthropology (Charles D. Laughlin, John McManus, Jon Shearer), transpersonal ecology and ecological philosophy (Warwick Fox).

It is true that transpersonal psychology was and continues to be subjected to criticism that is based upon the question of whether the transpersonal psychology is properly rightful, i.e. if it is an empiric science. Th ey say that in case transpersonal psychology is not an empiric science it has neither qualifying epistemology nor eligible means for data obtaining; its methodology is subjected to doubts as well. Still, its outer non-similarity to traditional fundamental sciences becomes so far less frightening, while the signifi cance of ob-52 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

tained results– both in scientifi c and social terms — becomes yet more explicit.

It was mostly at the same time that the attitude to “abnormality” of altered states of consciousness that up to recent time were considered pathological by Western mind [218; 219; 279] was changed. Some research studies — for instance, those carried out within the framework of humanistic psychology — completely refuted this concept. Th us, having inquired hundreds of people who had spontaneous mystic experiences (or “peak experiences” as they were referred to), Abraham Maslow showed that mystic experiences are not the symptoms of pa-thology and have nothing to do with psychiatry. Th ey often happen to individuals without any serious emotional problems who can be treated as completely “normal” in al other aspects. Moreover these emotions, being experienced in favourable environment and well adopted, can produce very useful results: improve one’s vital activity, facilitate creative skills and “self-actualization” [159].

Th e fi rst investigators of altered states of consciousness evoked by meditative and yoga practices assumed al ASC to be more or less equivalent. Later on it became clear that this was an absolutely untrue assumption. For instance, the ASC related to Indian meditative practice embrace a wide range of diff erent states: from pratyahara, when any reaction upon external exciters subsides, up to the state of ecstatic acceptance of al elements of being that is practiced in Bhakti yoga. Some practices — the particular satory of Zen tradition — lead to the feeling of integrity when any sense of separation oneself from the world disappears. Th ere are states in which al objects and phenomena fade away, like they do in Buddhist nirvana or Vedic nirvikalpa samadhi, or all phenomena are treated for forms and modifi cations of consciousness, as it is in sahaja-samadhi.

In this way we can see that the evaluation of induced altered states of consciousness by western scientifi c community was subjected to signifi cant modifi cations. And if initial y they were treated as merely pathological, today numerous research studies confi rm their favourable capacities as if coming back to the historic point of view in which they are treated for a doorway to mystic integrity, the supreme welfare and ultimate aspiration of mankind [309].


2.1.2. Altered States of Consciousness

in Polyphasic Societies

Yet the European culture experience concerning altered states of consciousness is not the only one available. Th ere are other methods of ASC experience integration used by societies that base themselves upon the concept of numerous realities experienced by some individuals or al members of this society, i.e. the polyphasic ones. Th e analysis of many diff erent cultures shows that not only the majority of them acknowledged as aff ordable those states of consciousness that diff er from the “common one”, but they even subjected them to institutionalization. Th e monograph [405] shows that ninety percent of several hundred various societies have institutionalized more than one states of consciousness [405, pg.11].

In this case the stability within the society was ensured by regimen-tation of transition process between the states. One can say that the existence of polyphasic societies is based upon principle of separation of phenomenological phases. Such separation is possible through diversifi cation of time (for instance, carnival cultures [17]), of space, of social strata, as wel as by means of social or intel ectual dissociation.

It is also possible via establishment of special buff er between phases or people involved into the altered states of consciousness experience, for instance, the practice of interpretation of information received while being in the ASC in terms of common reality by special y trained people. Such practice is known to have been applied by Greek oracles, in shamanistic traditions, in Tibetan Buddhism.

Diversifi cation of phenomenological phases is also achieved by means of beforehand scheduled rituals and employment of publi-cally acknowledged techniques of getting into alternative states (for instance: putting someone into sleep, group dancing and collective taking of psychoactive substances under socially controlled conditions).

Th e technology of interpreting the experience gained in ASC in application to everyday life is also important. Th is was done by generating the system of symbols that denote such experience. Th e performance of common reality actions that have analogues in other realities can be related to such symbols.


Thus, misunderstanding of some rather widely spread cultural phenomena is often based upon insufficient attention paid to this function of symbolism. For instance, there is a frequently asked question about a Philippine healer inquiring whether he really believes in power of his treatment, for he knows this is merely a manual dexterity. This seems to be a paradox, but it will disappear as soon as we realize that the action performed is a therapeutic staging that illustrates to those present the events that take place in magic reality. That “retrieving” of an item out of the sufferer’s body the healers had been so vigorously criticized for is merely a symbol. In traditional animistic cultures every man understands that the item was present in healer’s arms yet before the treatment, but now the spiritual substance of the disease has passed over onto it. Yet the western person would like to believe that the healer does remove material equivalent of the diseas, and a piece of tissue in his hand is that very tumor.




Upon analysis of various religious sources one can observe that practically all religious systems include description of ASC. In the meantime the role and the essence of ASC in religious life is one of the least investigated issues in psychology of religion.

Short-period but very intense experiences that enable a believer to see surrounding reality in a completely new way in many religious traditions were crucial for further religious advancement of an individual.

In oriental tradition this state is referred to as the enlightenment, in mystic traditions this being the initiation, while in Christian, in particular those of Protestant kind, this is cal ed the conversion. Th is state is very important since the memory preserves it as a mystic experience that individual’s faith and religious feelings will be based upon in future. In his fundamental work “Th e Varieties of Religious Experience”

[72] W. James describes additional features that accompany such states and remain as elements of mystic experience:


1. Deliverance from oppression. One’s confi dence that “…at the end everything will be if not fi ne, then at least right”.

2. Emergence of sense of cognition in respect of previously unknown facts; moreover, such cognition comes not as logical knowing but as a directly non-determined knowledge, or the “insight” as it comes in terms of psychoanalysis. One’s seeing new, more profound meanings in previously familiar sayings and texts is a widely spread form of such cognition.

3. Th e sense of the world as if subjected to some objective modifi -


W. James referred to the three aforementioned features as the state of confi dence that fol ows the individual during his whole life nourishing his faith even after returning into his common state of consciousness.

Many scientists wrote about signifi cance of personal mystic experience for establishment of one’s religious feelings. Some of them, for instance, the already quoted professor E. Torchinov even consider the availability of such experience to be a major criterion, as he does in his defi nition of religion: “Religion is a set of notions, beliefs, doctrines, cult elements, ritual and other forms of practice based upon transpersonal experience of some kind that assumes one’s disposition to reproduce this basic experience” [290, pg. 64]. However we can hardly agree with such defi nition. We think that the main problem of this defi nition is that — as one can easily see — the major part of common parishioners are those who had never experienced any transpersonal states, yet they dispose of some particular scope of religious feelings, in particular the faith. Th ese religious feelings can be induced upon them by other people already having either such feelings or mystic experience of their own.

Th us personal mystic experience and the state of confi dence serve as sources of religious feeling not only for them experiencing person, but also for his surrounding or his followers, creating by this the necessary charisma in terms of M. Weber. And indeed, practical y al known religions were founded or substantial y reformed by persons with signifi -

cant mystic experience who were more than once subjected to the state of religious trance. Moreover, the state of confi dence, as wel as other components of charisma, has some kind of substantiality (the term is introduced analogously to Weber’s “substantiality” of power [37]). Th e 56 Andrey G. Safronov. PSYCHOLOGICAL PRACTICES IN MYSTIC TRADITIONS: FROM ARCHAIC TO OUR DAYS

state of confi dence’ substantiality is contained in its feasibility of transfer from some people onto other as a result of empathy eff ects and the so cal ed “contagion”. Th is is how the “disciple’s eff ect” is explained: as a rule, individuals that surround the head of religious community with his personal religious experience have their charisma and the “state of confi dence” even if they haven’t got such experience of their own. Th is can also come as explanation of “spiritual desolation” that comes at the end to many sermoners who were subjected to few trance occurrences and had some restricted mystic experience. (“Like the bathhouse door, if frequently open, shal soon vent out the warmth that is kept inside…

the same happens to soul when someone talks too much, though tel ing good things only, so it shal yield up its memory”. Saint Diadochos of Photiki,, pg.47). Due to this feature of substantiality the “state of confi dence” is subjected to conservation law: if increased in one place, it shall be reduced in some other. We can hence draw the illustrative saying by G. Gurdjieff : “Th e power of occult knowledge comes in inverse proportion to the number of those people having it” [205].

It is worth mentioning that though mystic trance passes off for majority of people with only experience of these occurrences left, some individuals can remain in such state within their whole life, or rather permanently. Having much of charisma, in many religions these people come as saints. Th eir unconventional bearing that is further subjected to fetishization and rationalization is a mere consequence of their consciousness’ uncommon states. Furthermore, in many religions it was this extraordinary behaviour that was interpreted as fi rst sign of sanc-titude. Let us remember, for instance, Russian fools for Christ, Zen masters or “insane wisdom” of Tantra adherents.

Th e above-set reasoning concerning the experience of altered states of consciousness and their role in religion development has signifi cant value in terms of eliminating an old contradiction between psychological and sociological theories of religion origin. Th e example of such contradiction can be easily traced when we compare the defi nition of religious psychology as a form of group psychology that was given by a wel -known Soviet philosopher D. M. Ugrinovitch [296] with the aforementioned defi nition of E. Torchinov. In fact, collective processes in a religious group are possible only in surrounding of charismatic leader whose mystic experiences come as a source of the group existence.


Th e attitude to ecstatic trance states enables to single out crucial diff erence between the religious system and the esoteric one. In religion the state of trance is subjected to fetishization, becoming the source of religious sense, but it cannot be reproduced, evoked artifi -

cial y, which means there are no methods of this state’ transmission to other people. Like religious systems, esoteric ones also base themselves upon achievement of specifi c altered states of consciousness. But unlike religion they use a system of methods for their achievement by every practicing individual. In fact, the baseline of each occult system is formed by some essential set of altered states of consciousness reproduced by every next generation. Th e task of each practicing individual lies in that successive investigation of states out of this set, this including primary achievement of each state that is usual y done with help of a teacher, practice of one’s lasting staying in each of these states, mastering the method of deliberate entry into and exit out of the state and further extension of the baseline.



As it was previously observed, the ASC study case is complicated by their manifold and by fundamental diff erence between various ASC.