Last week I shared my experiences of spiritual ecstasy. This week I want to look at why experiencing ecstasy is important-at least for this witch.
There are some excellent articles on ecstasy that have been published in Witch Eye, a Feri tradition journal. One I really enjoyed was Ecstasy and Transgression in the Feri Tradition.
Ecstasy derives from the Greek “existanai” which means “to displace, or drive out of one’s senses.” That is the key to ecstasy, that it drives one out of a sense of ego or thought-centered experience, into a place where one can enter the mystery directly. The experience of ecstasy allows us to make a distinction between the essential self as opposed to the conceptual self, a self that is socially constructed. It is by displacing the conceptual self that we enter into union with our gods and our universe, without trying to figure them out intellectually. We are able to attain a sense of moving beyond ourselves and into the experience of all. This is not the easiest thing to do, especially in an individualistic culture where we value the separate person and preserve the ego at all costs. To intentionally drive oneself beyond your senses means violating some major cultural norms and mores.–Cholla
I will admit that I resent my ego. It causes me tremendous pain. I often imagine it as a ball and chain that is shackled around my ankle. It is constantly bombarding me with cries of, “I want! I want! I need! I need!” Witchcraft traditions celebrate desire, the material, and the body. It elevates want and desire from a place of sin to a place of acceptance and celebration. I appreciate that, but I’ve been driven to dark, dark places by my wants and desires, by my cravings. I wonder sometimes if people with addiction issues simply feel and relate to wants and desires differently than other people. These cravings and wants can drive me to a self-centered existence where I am focused only on meeting those desires. God is turned out. It can feel like quite a battle when I am engaged in ego-centric behavior. I have to work a program of daily spiritual maintenance, humility, and willingness in order to keep those things at bay.
“Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity. If I keep on turning my will and my life over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I’ll look like the hole in the doughnut.” This, of course, is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 36
I always smile when I read that sentence, and think of the newcomer who is afraid of becoming the doughnut hole. I crave deeply the concept of being a nonentity, of melting into the divine. Of achieving a state where I am no longer an individual with an ego but instead just a spirit in complete union with God/dess.
Ecstasy is the result of the transpersonal, the divine, temporarily (or permanently) infusing the personal. Ecstasy is surrender. The Talking Self gives up control, structure, expectations, and its network of preference and aversion. We have in that moment our own experience stripped of analysis and fear, suffused with the power of the divine, the radiance and awareness of Ether as pure consciousness. In those moments we experience the world as it really is, not as we think it is, or think it ought to be.–Gabriel
I love the word surrender. Simply reading that word can send a wave of relaxation through my body so strong that you could see it happen physically. Surrender is a big concept in recovery, and one we place in a positive and loving light. Surrender is when you stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Surrender is finally see the world as it is, and you accept it. Surrender is when you begin to work with the tools you actually have. Surrender is when you pry the boards off the windows and let the sunlight of the Spirit shine in. Surrender is when we stop being motivated by fear and start being motivated by love. I can have an educational experience of surrender. In that case, the entire process unfolds over time and I deal with it emotionally and cognitively. In a moment of ecstasy, this process of surrender, often such a long and arduous one, happens quickly and somatically. My bodily separation from God/dess is quite quickly annihilated. I am not possessed by God/dess, but I am possessed by the shining light of their presence. When the light fades and I am able to put together thoughts again, changes have occurred. There is a larger space inside. A truth may have been revealed. Something previously hidden is now come to light.
And yes, it feels GOOD. Sometimes it feels exhilarating, sometimes it feels primal and animalistic, sometimes gentle. But it does feel good. I do like to feel good. I do like transcendent experiences. This is why I did hallucinogenic drugs, in an attempt to shake those experiences from the tree. But while having ecstatic experiences for the simply pleasure of them is not a bad thing (I guess, but I am actually struggling with this concept), the real usefulness of the experience reveals itself elsewhere.
In the article I mentioned above, the authors suggest that ecstatic experiences offer two things: 1) a state of profound compassion for self, and 2) “a way to know the heart’s desire without having to sort it out from what everyone else desires for you.” The first I can acknowledge. I’ve come down from my ecstatic experiences with a new understanding of how very human I am. I come down with a new sense of compassion for how hard I am on myself, and begin to bring into my life an awareness of how much more I may be able to experience if I could just let go of some of the judgment. As for the second, since I have started having ecstatic experiences in the past year, I’ve begun to have more clarity about the things I need to do in order to claim my purpose. I’ve begun making concrete steps towards that. Things have shifted quite a bit since my first experience.
Ecstasy has also led me to become more aware of the shining light of divinity within me. It has helped me to surrender to my own divine reality, my own divine power. My own holiness and basic bodily sacredness. Once you have been filled with the light of the Divine you cannot help but make space for that in your body all the time.
Ecstasy is a lot of work. It requires physical and psychological effort to overcome the powerful cultural bonds that restrict the witch. One of the problems is that you need a lot of time, and you have to be willing to dedicate that time and openness to what can happen. Chanting a line or two for a few minutes is not going to cut it. It takes persistence to keep chanting the same lines over and over. You have to slip into that place where words have no meaning, and it takes awhile for that to happen. -Cholla
To this point, I’ve had ecstatic experiences unexpectedly. There is a long tradition in Reclaiming and Feri witchcraft of working to achieve ecstatic states through dancing, chanting, breath work, and singing. Over the next year I’d like to bring more purpose and awareness to this area and begin to get to a place where I can play a more active role in interesting these states. I believe they hold important work and messages for me.