Migraines and Visionary Experiences
“One of the most arresting of Lewis-Williams’s and his colleagues’ conclusions in this ground-breaking and important field of study has been the replication of the shamans’ trance states by volunteer subject under controlled laboratory trance conditions. This suggests that trance itself proceeds through three stages, from a light to a deep state. In the lighter stages of the trance the subjects see and replicate what the researchers call ‘entoptic’ phenomena – that is, images that are seen, as it were, within the eye. These are comparable with the effects often produced by migraine: jagged, intermittent streaks of light, streams of dots and broadly geometric shapes passing before the eyes. It can be demonstrated that all these entoptic phenomena are to be identified in the art produced by the societies that practice shamanism, all over the world. In the second stage of trance the geometric shapes begin to take on forms that will be identifiable to the subject, familiar animals for example, or symbols of apprehension or distress”.
~Michael Rice, Swifter Than The Arrow: The Golden Hunting Hounds of Ancient Egypt
I’ve had migraines ever since high school, but they did not progress to be so severe or crippling until later in life, particularly after having been diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I now average at the very least one migraine a week, though I do my best to keep it under control by careful monitoring of lifestyle, such as what food I eat, and my sleeping patterns (which is a complicated issue, as I also suffer from insomnia).
I have always associated my migraines with visionary experiences, and the above quote seems to cement this as a more common or related experience. The “auras” associated with my migraine attacks frequently take the form of landscapes, deities, animals, and other forms. Under a migraine attack I can have some of the deepest and most profound of visionary experiences, but they do not exist exclusively within that spectrum. If possible, I go to a cool, dark room and lay flat on my back. Control of my breathing is key–the more intense the pain, the more important it is to control and regulate my breathing exercises. Commonly under severe pain, people want to take short, sharp breaths. It took me quite a bit of discipline to master my breathing while under this duress, and part of this was due to sheer necessity. Migraine medications don’t always work on me–and especially not over-the-counter medications, so mastering my breathing and “breathing out the bad” is my only recourse. This parallels the visionary experiences of the !Kung, who do not depend on any form of hallucinogen other than breathing exercises, and dancing to exhaustion, for example.
The ordeal path, or the tactics of the ascetic, are common visionary routes. It only seemed inevitable, I suppose, that the spirits and related entities would take advantage of these migraine attacks as yet another vehicle for contact–a very reliable and effective vehicle. During early childhood, I achieved this sort of contact by rocking back and forth, sometimes for hours on end. I have reached trance-states so deep using that method, that people would shout at, shake and hit me, and slap their hands in my face, and I wouldn’t wake up. It was this behavior that contributed to me being diagnosed with a severe learning disability at age seven. Even to this day I still rock, only now with the use of a rocking chair–something I use as a form of soothing and self-regulation, especially after being overwhelmed with too much stimuli. I’ve always found it a very useful form of meditation as well as trance-inducing procedure.
In the end it all boils down, at least to me, to somehow mastering the trials and challenges you’ve been given. I may never get rid of my migraines–just like I may never get rid of my chronic illness, but I can use it in such a way to make it work for me, and maybe ultimately make it work for others, too. Who knows. I’m a work in progress, like all things in life, and the evolution will never stop. I can only hope I evolve in the right direction and therefore, transform what’s around me as well.
Soon there will be a review up here of Michael Rice’s Swifter Than The Arrow, a book I’m enjoying for the most part, as it combines two of my favorite things–cynology and egyptology. I think I would like to do more book reviews here on this blog in general. One of the reasons why I started this in the first place.