One of the universally shared traits of religion, religious behavior is ritual. Ritual produces a transformation. What kind of transformation depends on the ritual and on the need of the society.
For example it can bring a transformation of a sick person to a healthy person. That is it brings healing. It can involve initiation; initiation of the young people; boys they often also girls being initiated into adulthood.
The question is of course what exactly happens and we change our state of consciousness. It is said quite generally that we see a different reality. The question then arises what is reality and for 2000 years our European philosophers have tried to answer that question and they have never gotten to any reasonable answer.
What the religious specialist says is something actually much more reasonable. He says there is reality, we don’t know what that is but we know that it has various phases. There is the ordinary reality and then there is the sacred reality the reality into which we step when we are in the religious altered state of consciousness. There is a beautiful representation of that in a little charming figurine from Tlatilco from Mexico it’s about 3,500 years old . It is a little human figure a woman she has wide thighs and a narrow delicate hip, delicate waist and she has two faces. And with one face she looks into one reality and with the other face she looks into the other reality. Seems to me nobody could say it more cogently.
Now what exactly happens when you go into the alternate reality? Well let’s take the example of the shaman. Let us say a child is ill and the shaman says the child is ill because its soul wandered away it got lost, so the shaman has to take a spirit journey in order to recover the soul.
I recall here of the translation of a Chinese hymn, one of the many ethnic groups in mainland China, where the content is something like, child do come back you’re out there among the rocks and you freezing you should come home, supper is waiting for you, home is waiting for you, come back child come back and make your body well again.
The change to the religious altered state of consciousness is momentous. The changes in the body are momentous. That shouldn’t be such a change of understanding because after all, we know for example what happens in the body with you just open your eyes… that’s a momentous event o n the physiological basis. and this is also a momentous event on the neuro-physiological basis when we change our state of consciousness. Now how is this brought about? It is brought about usually by rhythmic (sound) stimulation. All around the world people are aware of (the power of) rhythmic stimulation. it can also be brought about by singing, by clapping, clapping is also rhythmic stimulation. Ritual without a switch into the altered state of consciousness is simply not possible.
– Felicitas Goodman