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PostPosted: Mon Feb 08, 2010 10:41 pm 
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Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2007 12:52 pm
Posts: 1231
Location: Bat Country... goddamn bats...
A little background first - this was for an assignment I had back when i was in university. Anth 3320 or some crap... To be honest, I can't really recall the course being about Religions Ritual and Symbolism. It was an anthropological study of religion, but not a very in depth one, and symbolism wasn't covered at all. I took it in my 1st year of Anthropology and, despite how poorly the draft below is written, I ended up scoring a decent mark. Not sure what I got, but I did pass that course with an A- or so.

And by the way... some of the terminology in my essay, was used by the original author of the paper I was critiquing.  

My personal favourite is "Technoshamanism".



Rants on The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures
A critical review of Scott R. Hutson’s anthropological study of the youth-based ecstatic dance subculture.

Joseph Laflamme
Prof. John Van Esterik
Anth 3320: Religious Ritual and Symbolism

Rants on The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures

In his article, Scott R. Hutson discusses the nature of raves and the experiences of event attendants. Raves as he describes them are all night dance parties that feature various genres of ‘electronica’ music, where participants attempt to attain ecstatic states through a combination of drugs, music and Victor Turner’s notion of ‘communitas’. All of this is possible thanks to the postmodern set and setting of raves, as well as the events structure and the liminality of ‘technoshamans’. Naturally, the reason and the result for all these elements being combined are for the individuals to attain and experience an altered state of mind.

This paper will examine Hutson’s “The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subculture” in the contexts of postmodern expression, physiological and symbolic spiritual healing, communitas, liminality of technoshamanism, and external perspectives in regards to other movements. While Hutson’s attempt to understand the subculture was logical, it was derived from questionable sources. This however does not detract any bit from the arguments due to the logic and the associations with other subcultures; borrowed and derived methods and ideas from other subcultures appear almost as instinctive in human nature and are part of all cultures.

A lack of subjectivity at raves has often made it difficult to understand a purpose for the events. In reality, there is no purpose. The rave subculture is effectively the result of postmodern influences on the youth subculture. Hutson quotes Jameson to clarify this idea, in that “Postmodernism is typified by the disappearance of the subject” [1984: 60, 64]. Without subjectivity, a patchwork of ideas is put together. Jameson argued that with the decline of high modernist style, the producers of culture have nowhere to turn but to the past [1984: 65]. Those in the rave subculture saw this quite clearly with the emergence of a genre called “Happy hardcore” in which the producers mixed current rhythmic styles and the latest synthesizer sounds with the melodies and lyrics of pop hits from a decade earlier. The result was a rehashing and re-popularization of hits made by Cyndi Lauper, Mike Oldfield and even Foreigner almost 10 years or more prior . This trend eventually repeats itself when remixes are made years later of previous original rave hits .

In the realm of the physiological effects, ravers enter altered states of consciousness via a combination of external and internal affects. With the aural exposure to loud, repetitive rhythm-based music and bombardment of visual stimuli, the human central nervous system is affected in a way that is not fully understood. The stimuli contribute to stimulation of certain sensory centres not normally affected under normal circumstances [Warms et al 2004: 240]. It is with sensory overload that these physiological affects are possible. Thus, the body requires the senses to be bombarded by audio-visual cues to induce a trance state. Just as sensory overload is paramount to achieving trance states, a secondary yet equally important factory is necessary to achieve the trance state – physical exhaustion. Quoting other anthropologists Hutson says, “Extended rhythmic dancing and bodily movement brings on physical exhaustion… that may alter consciousness” [Lee 1967: 33; Rouget 1985: 118]. Ravers are not alone in placing their bodies under physical stress to achieve altered states. Hutson points out that other cultures like the Dobe Ju/’hoansi of Namibia often induce trance-states through extended ecstatic dance [Warms et al 2004: 239].

Unfortunately, Symbolic spiritual healing is not as straightforward. In some of the accounts Hutson uses, the raver recalls the night as a transformative experience. He even refers to a DJ Keoki song by the name of “Caterpillar” ‘which appropriately signifies the possibility of metamorphosis’ [Warms et al 2004: 243] . Clearly, the individuals having gone through these experiences are transformed in some manner, but how in the spiritual sense is not quite clear. It is quite clear that opinions are changed and shifted, as recalled in the testimony of one raver.

[On Sunday morning after the rave] I see people headed off to church dressed in the Sunday best and I just have to smile because I know that last night on the dance floor, I felt closer to God than their church with all of its doctrines and double standards will ever bring them. [Warms et al 2004: 238]

In spite of the views of the anonymous raver quoted above, the rave is no different from the church. A hypothesis could be proposed that this raver, inexperienced with indoctrinated church ritual, is unaware of similar ecstatic states that are sometimes achieved by churchgoers, or alternatively, has been to church and failed to achieve a similar ecstatic experience. Their experience leads them to shift their opinion to favour raving over church, as it is easier to “see God”. Additionally, symbolically, the rave offers much more than supposed connections and sights of God. It offers a sense of community, which is necessary for the spiritual experience. In many ways, the rave reflects the structure of a church, inasmuch as it reflects the structure of a tribal experiential dance. Comparing the two environments is not difficult at all. Raves are [preferably] often held in large halls, are attended by a mass of individuals, who take a holy sacrament of 3,4 methylene-dioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), are lead by a single figure; the disk jockey and all are working towards a single goal of spiritual enlightenment [Warms et al. 2004: 238]. The parallel is of course is with any Christian movement that holds its event in a large hall or church, is attended by a congregation that receives a holy sacrament of bread and wine, and is lead by a single figure; a priest or reverend, who is leading his congregation to a goal of spiritual enlightenment.

Unfortunately, the truth behind these so-called “spiritual” healings, lie within the fact that the use of MDMA – a drug that lowers inhibitions – has heavily altered their mood. Its wide preference is due to how it brings ravers, an almost instantaneous emotional boost . Moreover, it has wide preference because of its efficacy in lowering inhibitions and boosting an individual’s happiness, which results in their feeling of being free. In reality, the biologically damage that MDMA causes outweighs any “healing” that an individual obtains. While removing inhibitions, the drug floods the synapses of the brain with serotonin, which not only allow an individual to let go of their inhibitions, but allow them to stay awake for a prolonged duration. While the raver embraces this effect, which allows them to partake in extended rhythmic dancing, they choose to ignore the after-effects of the drug. MDMA has a heavy downside. That is, after the drug has run its course, the brain will lack the proper amount of serotonin when the individual returns to a normal schedule. This debt of serotonin results in a period of depression that may last a few days or in severe cases, weeks [Erowid 1998]. Once the raver enters this emotional downward spiral, any spiritual healing they may have experienced at the rave, becomes canceled.

As mentioned previously, there are notions of ‘communitas’ within the rave subculture. Communitas, of course is what is explained as a modality of social relationship from an area of common living [Creative Resistance 2003]. Social relationships of course are the mainstay of any culture, for without social relationships, there is no reason to have a culture. Conversely, common living is equally important, as a reason for social relationship, although not necessary in the rave context. Thus, communitas in the rave subculture is a matrix of social relationships based upon a preference for electronica music, and is removed from external socioeconomic and ethnic background [Warms et al 2004: 237]. While such circumstances make a specific ideology hard to define, they ultimately contribute to a wide range of ideals and allow them to be expressed. Therefore, racism and prejudice are left at the door, when a raver enters a rave. They become no longer part of the outside world and become apart from the outside world [Warms et al 2004: 241]. In addition to this becoming apart from the outside world, the doctrine of “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect” (PLUR) is adopted [Warms et al 2004: 240]. This doctrine is further reinforced by the use of the mood-enhancing drug, MDMA, which contributes heavily to the Love aspect of PLUR. With the combination of all these socio-cultural conditions, it is rather difficult to deny that the rave experience is unlike anything else, because nothing comes close to what the rave experience offers. Never before has a culture like the rave subculture been possible, because social relationships have never been so border-free. Ironically, considering the amount of attention given to the socio-cultural side of the rave subculture, Hutson’s analyses of such factors at play are quite possibly bear the most truth in his paper.

As mentioned before, the Disk Jockey (DJ) can be likened to that of a priest or reverend. Inasmuch as a DJ can be viewed as a priest, they can be viewed as any kind of spiritual leader. Hutson decided to view the DJ as a shaman, a tribal figure that leads the ecstatic dance. Although, the parallel with priests makes sense, Hutson’s argument makes more sense in paralleling the DJ with a shaman because of the control the DJ has over the crowd. Just like shaman’s, the DJ’s role is to lead the rave in its spiritual journey. Thus, the DJ becomes a “Technoshaman”, an individual who leads the spiritual journey by manipulating and controlling the flow of the electronic music being played. Hutson says, they are the harmonic navigator that “senses when it’s time to life the mood, take it down, etc., just as the shaman did in the good ol’tribal days” [Warms et al 2004: 239]. However, Hutson fails to explore the liminality of the technoshaman in the rave context. The technoshaman is rarely set aside for these spiritual journeys. To be more precise, they are the focus of the event’s proceedings. It would be more appropriate to label the DJ as a “Technopreacher” more than a “Technoshaman”. Furthermore, traditionally Shamans also administer medicines for spiritual journeys – a task that the DJ does not assume – which is a role taken up by drug dealers at raves.

Surprisingly, Hutson makes a complex comparison of raves with the Grateful Dead following. Understandably, this is based upon the conception of how both involve drug-induced ecstatic states. However, Hutson makes prior references to other cultural movements. Rather than expanding on the briefly mentioned parallels of the 1970’s disco scene, he chose to compare the altered states induced at Grateful Dead concerts, citing Pearson and Sardiello. It comes as rather difficult to understand this, as it denies the origins of the rave scene, which are deeply rooted in previous music subcultures such as new wave, and disco . Nonetheless, Hutson draws on shamanistic parallels between band and deadhead, raver and DJ. Hutson forgets that he previously made a link with disco citing that early raves were “simulacra of past all-night disco extravaganzas…” [Reynolds 1998a: 58-59]. As well, Hutson fails to point out that the socio-cultural structure of the Grateful Dead following, which was predominately white, unlike the previous disco subculture which was more ethnically diverse in its following. Hutson concludes the section by explaining that the drug induced altered states of consciousness and symbolic aspects of Grateful Dead concerts mirror the rave scene, but the physiological mechanisms are not present [Warms et al 2004: 242].

Hutson next argues that the rave subculture also resembles other North American subcultures that emphasize healing in the spiritual sense. He explains that the spirituality and ideals mirror other movements, such as the Rainbow People, because of a global village mindset, that is blind to age, race, sex and class [Warms et al 2004: 244]. He also explains that Socio-culturally, the rave subculture is disinterested in political activism; however this is not entirely true. In the year 2000, political forces in Toronto, Ontario began to deem raves as bacchanalian threats to society. The response was iDance, a massive rally staged on the doorstep of the City - Nathan Philips Square - protesting the unfair crackdown on the rave subculture . Moreover, Hutson describes raves as being like cults, but with a counterintuitive distinguishing difference of detachment at daylight. That is, in the early morning, after a long night of dancing, a raver detaches themselves from the group and goes home [Warms et al 2004: 244]. Additionally, ravers are unlike the Rainbow People, in that, while they might borrow ideas and symbols from Native American groups, they do not undermine or trivialize the identities of the groups they borrow from [Warms et al 2004: 245].

Having explored the contexts of physiological and symbolic spiritual healing, communitas, liminality of technoshamanism, and external perspectives as compared to the rave subculture, Hutson makes some strange and questionable observations. Hutson fails to develop his theory further in some areas, particularly evidence for the effects of physically induced trance states; emotional aspects of spiritual ecstasy; the trans-cultural exclusivity; simulacra of disco and socio-political involvement of ravers in society. In spite of these poorly developed avenues of discussion, Hutson does explain the post-modern perspectives within the rave subculture, and does so quite thoroughly. His explanations for post-modernism in the rave scene go further, clearing up that lack of subjectivity is reason for finding meaning. Evidently, finding meaning is exactly the goal of ravers embarking on a “spiritual” journey led by a technoshaman, whether they are aware of it or not. In the end, Hutson makes a convincing enough argument in favour of rave subculture, due to all the factors involved.

Works Cited

“Excerpts from the Writings of Victor Turner” Creative Resistance Rev. Sept 23, 2003. November 29, 2004 <http://www.creativeresistance.ca/communitas/defining-liminality-and-communitas-with-excerpts-by-victor-turner.htm>

Warms, Richard, James Garner and Jon McGee, eds. Sacred Realms: Essays in Religion, Belief and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004

“MDMA (Ecstasy)” Erowid Vault Rev. Mar 3, 1998. November 28, 2004 <http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/mdma/mdma_effects.shtml>


Unfortunately, I can't find the original doc, but here's an excerpt of it.


Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn pictures? - Hunter S. Tesseract

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