The Dangers of Altered States of Consciousness
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012|
|There are clearly risks to cultivating altered states. For example, Altered States of Consciousness may induce mental illness in unstable individuals, or they may naturally progress into mental illness, even among the sound of mind. Because no one can know if this will occur, the risk is similar to that of taking powerful, experimental drugs, or like rushing down to the beach to watch a tidal wave. You may or may not be engulfed, but if you are it will be too late to change your mind.|
The Dangers of Altered States of Consciousness
There are clearly risks to cultivating altered states. First, ASCs may induce mental illness in unstable individuals, or they may naturally progress into mental illness, even among the sound of mind. Because no one can know if this will occur, the risk is similar to that of taking powerful, experimental drugs, or like rushing down to the beach to watch a tidal wave. You may or may not be engulfed, but if you are it will be too late to change your mind.
Arnold M. Ludwig, writing in Charles Tart’s (ed.) Altered States of Consciousness, observes, “As a person enters or is in an ASC, he often experiences fear of losing his grip on reality and losing his self-control.” For example, in one of her altered states, modern shaman and bestselling author Lynn Andrews could not distinguish reality and believed she was going insane. “I was terrified. I began to inhale great breaths of air, gasping. I sobbed uncontrollably. I had finally done it—I had lost my mind.”
Those New Agers who successfully “integrate” pathological experiences may, with the proper instruction, come to interpret them positively as an experience of “spiritual emergence” (i.e. their emergence into a higher state of being). More and more psychologists who personally explore states of consciousness are now blurring the distinction between sanity and insanity and reinterpreting psychopathological conditions as a form of “higher consciousness.” Some actually view insanity as a spiritual blessing. Unfortunately, they rarely seem to ask the right questions concerning the personal, social, and spiritual implications of their interpretations or experiences.
Second, as we have seen, altered states can open a person to the supernatural realm and contact with spirits who are really demons. No one can logically deny that a legitimate connection exists between altered states of consciousness and spirit influence or spirit possession. Psychologist Kenneth Ring is correct when he observes that Western materialism has done society a disservice by not interpreting this consequence properly:
Another common occurrence when functioning at this [particular] level of consciousness is encountering “entities.” Though sometimes benevolent, they are more often threatening and are intent on gaining control over the individual’s body or consciousness. There are many cases of such instances of attempted or successful possession to be found in the literature on spiritualism, magic, witchcraft and madness, but in the West we have typically dismissed these symptoms of possession as hallucinations….
Such visitations are by no means restricted to those who have ingested a psychedelic agent—they are potentially available to anyone who has entered this region of consciousness by whatever means….
In my own view, many of the claims made by “mental patients” that they are possessed by alien entities are best understood as representing a perfectly accurate assessment of what has happened to them. It is time that we began taking the concept of possession seriously instead of dismissing it as a superstition or an hallucination.
A third problem with altered states is their ability to profoundly affect one’s perception. For example, the ultimate goal of most ASC programs is the destruction of the “limited” personal self to “uncover” the alleged “true” Self, which is said to be divine and one in essence with God.
Leading consciousness researcher John White explains:
But the critical point to be understood is this: the value of mystical and transformative states is not in producing some new experience but in getting rid of the experiencer. Getting rid, that is, of the egocentric consciousness which experiences life from a contracted, self-centered point of view rather than the free, unbound perspective of a sage who knows he or she is infinity operating through a finite form….
The perennial wisdom is unchanging; truth is one. That is agreed on by the sages of all major religions and sacred traditions, all hermetic philosophies, genuine mystery schools and higher occult paths. Enlightenment is the core truth of them all. Even more broadly, it is the essence of life the goal of all growth, development, evolution. It is the discovery of what we ultimately are, the answer to the questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is life all about? …
Enlightenment is realization of the truth of Being. Our native condition, our true self is Being, traditionally called God.
Unfortunately, this internal experience of oneself as “God” usually seems to be accomplished through possession by a spirit entity who manipulates the states of consciousness toward such false perceptions.
Of course, we should emphasize again that not all altered states are the result of spiritualistic influence, and one must be careful not to label certain mental states as demonic when they result only from normal or abnormal brain physiology. In other words, many ASCs have no spiritistic influence at all. For example, this would be true for individuals practicing biofeedback or meditation-induced ASCs where the methodology itself (and not spiritistic influence) is the cause of the ASCs or of components of them. Indeed, as physiological psychology professor Dr. Elizabeth Hillstrom points out:
Many are due to mundane causes. Many of the unusual visual events in altered states are undoubtedly illusions or hallucinations caused by disruptions in the normal cognitive and perceptual operations of the brain. Others may be due to an abnormal activation of brain mechanisms that are responsible for dreaming…. Sensory deprivation and Eastern meditation can also affect the operation of neurons to a certain extent, because both states can apparently alter the electrical patterns (EEGs) that emanate from the brain. There are several phenomena that might be created through interference with the neuronal operations that underlie perception.
In addition, the fact that everyone can dream indicates that everyone has the capacity to normally experience complex fantasies and vivid imagery in their own consciousness:
Another mind-brain mechanism that may be artificially activated during altered states is the system that creates our dreams. Although human beings vary in their ability to produce fantasy and mental imagery while they are awake, research indicates that virtually everyone experiences vivid complex fantasies while dreaming. This plus other observable characteristics of the dream state suggests that we must have some type of built-in brain mechanism that can create new images, or pull up and modify old ones from memory, and then shape these into incidents or stories without our conscious instruction. Since this mechanism can operate in one altered state (while we are asleep), perhaps it can also operate in others, particularly at deeper levels of those states, when conscious awareness is greatly diminished. This hypothesis is supported by studies of hypnogogic hallucinations brief episodes of dreaming (usually less that 3 minutes) that some people experience when they are fully conscious.
Nevertheless, this same author also warns about the development of altered states. She points out that biblical accounts of trances and visions that were used to communicate God’s will have particular attributes that distinguish them from New Age varieties. For example, in Acts 10:9-16 where Peter fell into a trance, the Holy Spirit waited until after the vision and trance had passed in order to help the apostle comprehend the vision and then instruct him in what to do. In other words, in distinction to New Age visions and trances, where the spirits work within these parameters to give revelations, God works outside of them to give His messages:
In a few biblical cases, contact with spiritual beings [here, godly angels] had such a profound impact that it apparently induced an altered state. In one of Daniel’s visions (Dan. 10:9) he saw an angel, and the experience was so powerful that he fell into a “deep sleep, [his] face to the ground.” Interestingly, the angel did not try to communicate with Daniel when he was in that state. He awakened him and told him to stand up and listen carefully to the message so he could record it accurately.
Dr. Hillstrom concludes that there are no indications in Scripture that people should enter altered states or trances in order to draw closer to God, a common theme in New Age circles. She points out that, according to 1 Peter 4:7 (and other Scriptures), Christians are to be “clear minded and self-controlled” so that they may pray or study Scripture. Thus, the biblical means of spiritual growth and sanctification, e.g. meditation on Scripture, prayer, fasting, “are surely not meant to put us into altered states of consciousness.” Further, as we have argued all along, these states are clearly open doors to the intrusion of demonic spirits:
However, it is obvious that such states could certainly magnify any influence that these [demonic] spirits might exert on the human mind. In fact, Satan and his forces could hardly find a more opportune situation in which to deceive or mislead people. If this seems like too strong a statement, stop and review the various characteristics of altered states. In altered states, people are subject to vivid imagery, unconstrained imaginative processes that resist conscious control, and intense emotions. Having largely set aside their ability to think rationally and critically or to exercise their will, they have become hypersuggestible, which means that they are likely to accept any “spiritual truth” that enters their minds. Even more remarkably, they seem to be primed for mystical experiences and may attach great spiritual significance to virtually any event or thought, no matter how mundane or outlandish. Seeking mystical experiences through altered states, as defined here, looks like an open invitation for deception.
Finally, Hillstrom points out some of the further problems with altered states of consciousness besides that of assisting demonic intrusion or deception. Of concern is the fact that the key characteristics of altered states are generally similar:
Altered states also have important commonalities. They can all impair one’s ability to test reality, to think critically and logically or to remember. They create a passive state in which mental events seem to develop on their own and are simply experienced rather than being controlled. Many also weaken emotional restraints, allowing moods to swing from wild jubilation to deep fear and depression. In addition, they can all create perceptual distortions and hallucinations and precipitate unusual bodily sensations like numbness, dizziness, tingling or rushes of energy…. They can make people hypersuggestible, so they are open to many strange beliefs and are easily influenced by the suggestions of other people. Altered states have the singular ability to make all kinds of improbable events seem exceptionally real and significant…. One final effect of altered states is their apparent ability to facilitate or enhance mystical experience….
In conclusion, to develop ASCs is not to participate in a form of higher consciousness or true spirituality, as New Age proponents would have us believe. Rather, it often involves abnormal, regressive states of consciousness—ones particularly conducive to demonic contact and manipulation. The radical change in worldview is characteristically toward the occult, encouraging both occult practices and occult philosophy.
The growing acceptance of altered states by millions of people, their use in psychotherapy, medicine, education, and many other fields is a reflection of the growing influence of paganism in our society.
- Arnold M. Ludwig, “Altered States of Consciousness” in Charles Tart, ed., Altered States of Consciousness (Garden City, NY: Doubleday/Anchor, 1972), p. 16.
- Lynn Andrews, Jaguar Woman and the Wisdom of the Butterfly Tree (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 183.
- Stanislav Grof, Christina Grof, eds., Spiritual Emergency (Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1989).
- Garabed Paelian, Nicholas Roerich (Agoura, CA: The Aquarian Educational Group, 1974), p. 77; Ring, “A Transpersonal View,” pp. 149-50.
- Ankerberg and Weldon, The Coming Darkness, ebook; Ankerberg and Weldon, The Facts on Spirit Guides, ebook; ; John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Demon-Possession: A Medical, Historical, Anthropological and Theological Symposium (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1976).
- Kenneth Ring, “A Transpersonal View of Consciousness: A Mapping of Farther Regions of Inner Space,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1974, no. 2, pp. 142-43,150.
- John White, ed., What Is Enlightenment?: Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path (Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1984), p. xiii.
- e.g., Tal Brooke, Riders of the Cosmic Circuit: Rajneesh, Sai Baba, Muktananda…Gods of the New Age (Batavia, IL: Lion, 1986).
- Elizabeth L. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), pp. 71-72.
- Ibid., p. 75.
- Ibid., p. 78.
- Ibid., p. 79.
- Ibid., p. 79.
- Ibid., pp. 69-70.