God can dance: psychedelic raves and spirituality

psy trance rave

By Larisa Rusu

Raves as culture have been gaining popularity beginning with the ‘80s in the developed urban centers of the western world. These gatherings are usually distinct from other types of music festivals, and are easily recognizable through a set of features − such as the music genre, location, theme and length of the event.

Psychedelic raves’ music scene are fuelled by psychedelic trance DJ sets, which is a genre of electronic dance music (EDM) emerged during the 1980’s in an Indian town (specifically Goa beach). The little beach of Goa attracted in the ‘60s large crowds of hash smoking (at the time legal) hippies who were seeking a closer connection with Oriental spirituality, the religious practices and spiritual rituals of the locals. The so called ‘full moon parties’ and newly established Goa trance were made famous by the dance lovers’ community and had been moved to some of the western countries like Germany, Britain, France, Hungary.

Goa Trance Festival

Goa Trance Festival

Psy trance gatherings have been ever since associated with spiritual practices and religious motives, even if their most frequent participants may not be religious in the common understanding of the word. These spiritual travels are created by using psychedelic substances which alter the normal state of awareness and which, in combination with the low frequency beat from psy music help reach deeper levels of consciousness. This kind of repetitive tune and steady drumbeat cycles (135-150 bpm; 170-300 bpm) has been used in shamanic rituals and it is said to produce changes in the central nervous system and regulate brainwaves. As a result, these continual low frequency sounds slowly induce us in a ‘theta brainwave’, the state where the conscious mind is absent. Such state is found, for example, when we are engaging in activities like half sleeping, waking dreams, meditating.

The music and its effects have a great importance for understanding the ‘spiritual’ experiences of ravers. The participants often declare having experienced feelings such as love, unity, connectivity with people and higher entities.

“I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche)

Dancing has a great deal to do with that feeling of connectivity. Dance has been used in various shamanic rituals and indigenous ceremonies in order to reach higher states of consciousness. Increased periods of dancing are said to release endorphins, which results in that state of euphoria they experience.

(Goa) ravers are often considered to be in close connection with nature and militants for ecology and self sustainable ways of living. A common trait for psychedelic raves which add to the spiritual and ecological character is the choice of location/time period. Festivals’ outside locations range from forests, lakes, sea-sides and the time period is often chosen for its astrological meaning.

Eastern and Western philosophies are fully explored and religious syncretism is obvious. One can easily find symbols from cultures worldwide (Indian, Tribal, Aboriginal) and different deities displayed altogether.

Nowadays, in the context of a global rave culture commercialized within the trance sphere festivals, psychedelic-like gatherings are common with a specific youth subculture. These self entitled ‘global tribes’ support alternative living methods, environment awareness and harmony and sustainability.

The motto of Boom Festival (Portugal) says it is “not only a festival, it is a state of mind. Inspired by the principles of Oneness, Peace, Creativity, Sustainability, Transcendence, Alternative Culture, Active Participation, Evolution and Love, it is a space where people from all over the world can converge to experience an alternative reality.”

David Green: “Trance-gression: Technoshamanism, conservatism and pagan politics”
Brian Kelch: “Psy-Trance Gatherings and Mystical Experiences”
Francois Gauthier: “Rave and religion? A contemporary youth phenomenon as seen through the lens of religious studies”

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