ecstasy, mysticism, and hallucinations

ecstasy, mysticism, and hallucinations
   The term ecstasy comes from the Greek noun ekstasis, which has a variety of meanings and connotations, including departure, dismissal, mental derangement, and poignancy. In the present context it translates loosely as 'being outside oneself'. Ecstasy can be designated as a mental and physical condition associated with the apprehension that that which is perceived is the ultimate reality. When and by whom the term ecstasy was introduced is unknown, but it has been in use for a very long time, and has had different connotations for representatives of various mystical, religious, philosophical, anthropological, psychological, and biomedical traditions. The British classical scholar, writer, poet, and paranormal researcher Frederic Myers (1843-1901) aptly captures the classical mystical connotation of ecstasy when he portrays the condition as "a wandering vision which is not confined to this world or this material world alone, but introduces the seer into the spiritual world and among communities higher than any which this planet knows." An early attempt to differentiate between the metaphysical and scientific connotations of ecstasy can be found in the work of the French alienist Alexandre Jacques François Brierre de Boismont (17971881), who uses the term ecstasy to denote a state of over-excitement of the nervous system expressing itself in the form of a habitual elevation of ideas and feelings, brought about by concentration on a single subject. As Brierre de Boismont asserts, "This condition of the mind is also the most favourable to the existence of hallucinations, and hence they are very common in the ecstatic." Brierre de Boismont designates some types of ecstasy as physiological, and others as pathological in nature. As he maintains, "It is... important to distinguish between what we shall term physiological ecstasy and morbid ecstasy. In other words, we consider that ecstasy may have no influence over the reason, and may only consist in enthusiasm carried to the highest degree, while, on the other hand, it may give rise to extravagant, reprehensible, and unreasonable acts ... This division enables us to arrange in one class prophets, saints, philosophers, and many celebrated persons whose ecstasies have resulted from profound meditation, from a sudden enlightenment of their thoughts, or from a supernatural intuition; while in the other class may be ranged the pythoness of antiquity, the celebrated sects of the Middle Ages, the nuns of Loudun, the Convulsionists, the Illuminati, and many other religious enthusiasts." To Brierre de Boismont, ecstasy is associated on the one hand with * mysticism, and on the other with conditions such as catalepsy, hysteria, somnambulism, and animal magnetism. In present-day biomedicine and psychology the term ecstasy has a chiefly emotional connotation, referring to a mental state characterized by intense pleasure and elation, such as may occur during hypomanic or manic episodes, mystical states, drug-induced euphoric states, orgastic states, and extreme aesthetic experiences. In this reading, ecstasy may be accompanied by a * trance-like state characterized by an altered consciousness, slowness of breathing, bradycardia, catatonic symptoms, *total anaesthesia, and hallucinations. Ecstatic states tend to have a gradual onset, but they may also be paroxysmal in nature. In the latter case, the term rapture is used. Conceptually as well as phenomenologically, ecstasy is considered to be related to other states of altered consciousness, including *trance, *dissociation, hypnotic states, and somnambulism. Hallucinations occurring in the context of ecstasy tend to be *visual or *auditory in nature, but they may occur in any of the sensory modalities or be *compound and/or *panoramic in nature. Today many cases of ecstasy are associated in an etiological sense with *psychic aurae occurring in the context of paroxysmal neurological disorders such as migraine and epilepsy, or in the context of catatonia, dissociation, the use of *entheogens (i.e. *hallucinogenic substances), and the final stages of dying (i.e. * deathbed visions). As to their neurobiological correlates, ecstatic states are associated primarily with aberrant neuronal discharges in the temporal or temporo-parietal lobe. It has also been suggested that both ecstasy and 'the clear light of death' experienced in * deathbed visions may be associated with the massive release of the neurotransmitter dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Today a person intentionally employing ecstatic states for the purpose of exploring the psyche may be called a *psychonaut. When occurring in the context of an epileptic or migrainous * aura, ecstatic states are referred to as * ecstatic aurae. In the parapsy-chological literature the expression 'ecstasy with looking back at oneself' is used as a synonym for *out-of-body experience.
   Brierre de Boismont, A. (1859). On hallucinations. A history and explanation of apparitions, visions, dreams, ecstasy, magnetism, and somnambulism. Translated by Hulme, R.T. London: Henry Renshaw.
   Kahlbaum, K. (1866). Die Sinnesdelirien. Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychischgerichtliche Medizin, 23, 56-78.
   Myers, F.W.H. (1903). Human personality and its survival ofbodily death. Volume II. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Dictionary of Hallucinations. . 2010.

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