Described by parapsychologist F. W. H. Myers as ‘‘a change
in the centre of perception from the material into the spiritual
world,’’ ecstasy is a state of rapture in which insights and visions
of the invisible world unfold. It is characterized by an exaltation
of sensory faculties. It is common to all religions and is one of
the most-attested psychic experiences in both civilized and
primitive countries.
The Waldenses, Italian Protestants of the twelfth century,
sustained persecution from Roman Catholic forces with the superhuman
strength and energy that came to them in ecstastic
states. They routed French and Savoyard troops that were fifty
times more numerous. During the war in the Cevennes, three
thousand religious enthusiasts stood their ground against sixty
thousand men of the king commanded by the best generals of
France. In like measure, the Convulsionaires of St. Médard in
Eckartshausen, Karl von Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
the eighteenth century endured frightful blows—which could
have felled an ox—on their chests and stomachs while in the
ecstatic state.
Ecstatic states were frequently reported of Christian saints
and were integral to the experience of such mystics as St. Teresa
of Avila. In evaluating claims of visions of the Virgin Mary,
officials of the Roman Catholic Church ask, among other
things, whether or not the person was in a state of ecstasy during
the vision.
In Hindu mysticism, ananda is the name given to the blissful
condition of higher consciousness, and gurus often adopt a
name extolling the virtue of such activities as meditation in
producing that state.
It is clear that there are degrees of ecstasy, ranging from euphoric
to transcendental states. Hindu mystical teachings have
charted the different stages of samadhi, mystical trance, with
their qualitative degrees of ecstasy. Samadhi is the aim of traditional
yoga systems, in which body, mind, and spirit are controlled
and purified.
In some forms of tantric yoga, the vital energy known as
kundalini, commonly the dynamic of sexual experience, is
transformed into spiritual force as it follows its pathway
through subtle channels along the spine and through the vital
centers in the body (chakras) to the crown of the head, culminating
in mystical experience accompanied by blissful sensations.
However, this particular yoga is said to be more likely to result
in sexual fixation and obsession.
Similar to tantric yoga is the sex magic of Western occultists
developed in the late nineteenth century out of the alchemical
tradition. Aleister Crowley, best known for his experimentation
and development in this field, viewed sex as the primary
tool available to the magician in raising magic energy.
In both the Eastern and Western mystical tradition, many
have argued that celibacy is the more rewarding lifestyle for
those on the mystical path. In such celibate systems, the mundane
ecstatic pleasure of sex has supposedly been sublimated
into spiritual force, and the ecstastic experience has been transcended
in mystical union.
In the 1960s, as transpersonal psychology developed, consciousness
studies became a primary area of research. Ecstasy
was pigeonholed under such categories as the ‘‘highest state of
consciousness’’ or ‘‘expanded state of consciousness.’’ Note was
made of the many ways of inducing such states of their desirability.
Attempts have also been made to correlate such states
with various measurable body states, but progress has been difficult
because most such states occur spontaneously and in the
context of sacred activity.
Avalon, Arthur [Sir John Woodroffe]. The Serpent Power. Madras,
India, 1922.
Bucke, R. M. Cosmic Consciousness A Study of the Evolution of
the Human Mind. N.p., 1910.
Danielou, Alain. Yoga The Method of Re-Integration. London
Christopher Johnson, 1949. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.
University Books, 1955.
Gopi Krishna. Kundalini The Evolutionary Energy in Man.
Boulder, Colo Shambhala, 1970.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. London,
Row, M. C. Nanjunda. Cosmic Consciousness, or the Vedantic
Idea of Realisation of Muktu in the Light of Modern Psychology. Madras,
India, 1910.
Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism A Study in the Nature and Development
of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. London Methuen, 1911.
White, John, ed. The Highest State of Consciousness. Garden
City, N.Y. Doubleday Anchor, 1972.

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