Why trances aren’t religious experiences

Some of you are sure to find this controversial.

That’s not why I say it, though.

I only say it because it’s true.

Think of any religious ritual. It can be ancient folks howling at the moon or modern folks kneeled in prayer. Fiery sermons, church choirs, dancing around a bonfire, imbibing of shared food, splashing water on people…

All of these are hypnotic.

And not in the sense that “everything is hypnosis! Reading is hypnosis! Breathing is hypnosis!”

Even if you believe that, religious rituals are all especially hypnotic.

The entire point of them is to shift your mind out of its usual fixation on problems, the past and the future.

It brings you into the moment and opens you up.

I love hearing folks talk about religious epiphanies. They talk about how in a moment of intense prayer, intense community or intense hardship, it was as if their soul opened its eyes and they saw reality for the first time. In that moment, they knew pure joy, love, bliss and surrender.

That’s common among experienced meditators too, whether or not they meditate for religious reasons.

And, yes, I’ve experienced that in hypnosis more times than I can count.

But hold on…

I’m claiming that religious rituals and experiences are actually hypnosis.

How do I know it’s not the other way around?

What if every hypnotic experience, from stage hypnosis to intensive psychotherapy, is actually the divine speaking through you?

Well, by definition, that explanation is impossible to disprove. Anything could be any sort of divinity.

But ignoring that…

Here’s how to think scientifically. When you have two explanations, which has more predictive power? Which has more practical utility?

When people first discovered biological cells, many of them – many scientists, even – said it was proof of some mysterious life force. What separated a living clump of molecules from one that was inert or dead was some form of magic.

They couldn’t see the complexity inside the cell. All they saw were tiny blobs that somehow created life. From their perspective, maybe that idea makes sense…

But you can’t do anything with that explanation. Declaring a cell to be magic probably felt satisfying, but they couldn’t use that magic to heal wounds, improve plant growth, manufacture new materials or anything at all.

Back to hypnosis and religion:

If I assume all trances are caused by a religious force, then I might try to improve my trances in religious ways. I might add a crucifix, a Star of David, some burning incense, some chanting in Latin…

Doing that with my clients would not be great. Some would respond, others would resist, most would just be confused.

What about the opposite, though?

If a preacher learns hypnosis, will that improve their religious rituals?

That sounds laughable to some of you, I know. But many of the more popular preachers have training in hypnosis. They use hypnotic language patterns and non-verbal hypnotic gestures too often and too precisely to be a coincidence.

Then there’s always Derren Brown. One of his shows was a fake faith healing. He admits it right at the start – this isn’t the divine in action, it’s pure psychology.

Then he runs through a flashy, entertaining and, yes, hypnotic performance that leaves most of the audience amazed and feeling better.

To put it another way:

Faith healings use a supercharged form of the placebo effect. But taking a sugar pill isn’t faith healing.

Religious rituals are hypnotic, while hypnotic rituals work even on sceptics.

There’s no symmetry here. Hypnosis – a secular science – is the beating heart of organised religion.

Nothing like a little heresy in your day, hmm?

If you’re wise, you’ll see this as a strength of religion. It uses what’s available (or what the generous Creator provides) to help its followers.

If you’re unwise, you can deny the truth of this, then figure out a counterargument later.

Either way, religious or not, you can sign up for a hypnosis session here:


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