In the first part of this topic on trance, I wrote little about what trance is and why I believe it is one of the most undervalued and underused tools in modern witchcraft today. As promised, this post will feature some methods of trance that are used both widely and seldom. I think one of the reasons why trance is a bit misunderstood in modern craft is because of its associations with some of the more taboo methods.
Witches who trance can use a wide variety of techniques to achieve the trance state. It has been my observation that most witches have at least one go-to method while others use many methods, or even all of those showcased in this post. I find that its good to be well-versed and knowledgeable about as many techniques as possible. Some of the work I do calls for a method that might be well-suited to my goals, while other work will have be aiming to incorporate as many methods and techniques as possible. You’ll also notice that many of these cross over into other methods.
Breath - First and foremost, trance is an embodied practice. No matter what method you engage in, all trance causes a change in the body in some way. In trance, the changing of breath is not just a by-product of trance but a tool used to induce it. The main goal with breath as a tool is to speed up or slow down the heart rate, causing either an inhibitory (calm) or exhibitory (excited) state. There are many ways to change the breath, some of which are highlighted in the methods that follow this. The most basic use of breath is to master the the slowing down and speeding up of your breathing. An easy method to slow the breath down is to breath in for a count of five, hold for a count of five, exhale for a count of five, hold for a count of five, and repeat. Remember to breath from the belly, which is extremely important. If you’re stomach is moving but not your chest, you’re doing it right.
Movement - The well-known circle dances are an obvious method of raising energy, but fast movement can induce trance, too. Remember, anything that can consciously speed up or slow down the heart rate can induce trance. Have you ever been to a nightclub and danced for hours and hours to the point of feeling intoxicated without being under the influence of any substances? This is trance. Similarly, slow movements can calm the body down and bring clarity to the mind. Certain forms of yoga do this. Traditional British witch Cecil Williamson was known for using a rocking chair to induce trance to banish unwanted influences. He would hold an effigy of the person while rocking and slowly chanting “away, away, away...” Walking a labyrinth is a form of walking meditation that can induce a light trance if the walked is well focused.
Sound - If you’ve ever been to a drum circle then you know that the sound of a drum or many drums has a very bewitching effect on the body and mind. It is known at Pagan festivals that the drummers of a dance circle “feed” energy to the dancers who in return feed the energy back to the drummers. The result is a circulation of energy that induces trance states for all participants. What we think of as “white noise” can also induce trance, which explains why many people like to sleep with a fan on or a window to the street open. Meditate on a river bank and let the sound take your conscious worries away. Nature provides some of the best soundtracks for trance there is.
Separation - Separation could also be called “isolation” or “silence.” To make yourself separate from your everyday reality is trance-inducing. This could be one reason why initiates in some witchcraft traditions are blindfolded and have their hands tied while being lead to the altar. Separation is one of the lesser used methods because it (in a way) uses our own innate fears to propel us into an altered state. Humans have always been afraid of the dark in some way. Witches seek out the dark places and use them as points of power. If you talk a lot, keeping silence will be an effective method for you. If you like to move around a lot, being bound will induce trance for you.
Sexual Activity - An obvious mind-alterer, sexual activity is a well-known and taboo method. Individuals experienced in this method can direct their consciousness in accordance to what they’re doing. This is another method that can induce trance and raise power at the same time.
Substances - The use of drugs or alcohol is one of the most controversial trance methods in the modern witchcraft movement. It is not my place to tell you whether the use of these things for trance is right or wrong. You will have to decide that for yourself. I will say that the history of this method extends far back to ancient times and is one that we should be knowledgeable about, at the least. In my own tradition, all initiates are taught about the historical use of plants and drink to alter consciousness, although each individual chooses whether to pursue further study and practice of those methods or not. The one comment of guidance I will make on this method is that one should always be well-versed in all the other basic methods of trance before working with this method. The most tame example of this method is drinking one glass of red wine before ritual, a practice that many modern covens observe today.
Visuals - The first method of trance I ever learned was a visual one. I was told to stare at a single candle flame until all other thoughts floated away. Like any form of meditation, candle gazing usually results in all your thoughts rushing to the surface of your mind at once. But if you practice well enough, you can induce a very worthy trance from this one simple method. Starting at the crashing waves of the sea is another natural example. I also know someone who stares deeply into the eyes of her cat for a fast method of trance induction.
As you can see, not all of these techniques are right for everyone. In addition to the methods I’ve left off for lack of discussion time, there are many variations to each technique listed above. As with anything that involves changing the state of the body, please be careful and confident in the knowledge of the method you use. While conscious breathing might not be all that dangerous, ingesting random poisonous plants from the woods in your backyard could earn you a free ticket to the hospital or the morgue.
Used consciously and wisely, I believe that trance is truly the key to unlocking some of most effective powerhouses of the human mind and spirit. Through trance we can come to know ourselves, our world, and the unseen worlds around and within us. And best of all, learning these different techniques can be quite fun! If you have a trance method you favor, I encourage you to post in the comments below if you can.
David Salisbury is Wiccan clergy within Coven of the Spiral Moon, a coven based in Washington DC. The focal point of his spiritual practice is one of service, activism and respect. He currently lives with his partner (a psychic medium) in the DC/Maryland area of the United States.
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