Biogenetic Structural Perspectives on Shamanism and Raves: The Origins of Collective Ritual Dance

Biogenetic Structural Perspectives on Shamanism and Raves: The Origins of Collective Ritual Dance

Michael James Winkelman (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8665-6.ch001
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Abstract

The worldwide development of raves and similar collective rituals characterized by all night communal rituals involving dance, drumming, music, and often the use of psychedelic substances can be understood as a modern manifestation of the same biological principles underlying shamanism. The shamanic ritual was a nighttime ceremony which engaged all of the community in a powerful interaction with the spirit world as the shaman beat drums or rattled while singing, chanting and dancing. The common underlying biogenetic structures of shamanism and raves involve: the social functions of ritual; the effects of dance and music as systems for social bonding and emotional communication; and the effects on consciousness that produce alterations of emotions, identity and consciousness and personal healing.
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Introduction

In recent decades societies worldwide experienced a rapid growth of phenomena of raves, trance parties and electronic dance music. Why are youth drawn to an emotional participation in these practices involving overnight gatherings characterized by drumming, driving music, dancing and other technologies for altering consciousness such as psychoactive substances?

Rave practices can be seen as a social phenomenon with cultural bases. But St. John (2004) notes that in spite of the heterogeneity of global rave phenomena, it manifests considerable homogeneity. A number of investigators (e.g., Hutson, 2000; St. John, 2004; Tramacchi, 2004; Rill, 2010) have noted that the cross-cultural similarities in raves have substantial parallels with the ancient practices of shamanism. Ravers also have conceptualized their practices as a form of “technoshamanism,” with the DJ functioning as a “harmonic navigator” who manages the group mood and mind (Hutson, 2000).

In comparing raves with a selected group of shamanistic entheogenic practices, Tramacchi points to their commonalities, including: ritual preparation; the overnight character of the practices; the centrality of dance and music; pharmacologically-induced alterations of consciousness; and the formation of social relations that enhance communitas, characterized by intensified group identification. The enhanced communitas involves a broader trend of ‘retribalization’ of modern society and an effort to reconnect with the matrix of ritual (Takahashi, 2004).

This effort after a reconnection with ritual reflects a human longing and need for connection with something basic to our human nature. These aspects of human nature can be best appreciated by understanding the nature and origins of shamanism. Correspondences of rave practices with the cross-cultural characteristics of shamanism reflect similar adaptations to something basic to human nature. This paper proposes an explanation of the appeal of raves and similar practices can be found in the biogenetic bases of shamanism. Shamanistic practices are characterized by all night communal rituals involving dance, drumming, music, and often the use of psychedelic substances. Interdisciplinary research indicates that all of these practices have deep evolutionary roots that help to explain why such similar phenomenon was found in pre-modern cultures around the world.

This paper leaves the description of the new manifestations of these technologies of consciousness, community and self to other articles here and instead focuses on providing a biogenetic explanation for the forms and functions of these practices. This biogenetic approach is comparative, beginning with an examination of the similarity of the rave practices to shamanic and animal rituals to show how these post-modern rave phenomena reflect adaptations to ancient biological facets of human nature. These involve dispositions for activities involving nighttime ritual, dancing, drumming and musical vocalization.

This paper proposes that the attraction of contemporary psychedelic trance parties and raves have biological foundations in the effects of ritual, dance, music and psychedelics on social relations, consciousness and well-being. These underlying biogenetic structures of shamanism and raves have bases in: the social functions of ritual in group integration; the effects of dance and music as systems for social bonding and emotional communication; and the effects of alterations of consciousness in producing alterations of emotions, identity and consciousness and personal healing. Modern techniques of inducing “ecstasy” provide tools for enhancing social bonding, a connection with ancient impulses from deep-seated human needs. Rituals elicit attachment related opioids, reinforcing community cohesion and psychobiological synchrony of the group. Key to raves is musical forms that facilitate dance and alterations of consciousness (i.e., trance music, techno, drumming and bass). Furthermore, these musical events are infamous for the use of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, or colloquially “ecstasy”) as well as other psychedelics, primarily LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin mushrooms that alter consciousness. Understanding the biological bases of these impulses allow us to better appreciate their roles in the post-modern world and why raves integrate ritual, dance, music and psychedelic drugs in ways similar to ancient shamanic practices.

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