Alteration of consciousness in Ancient Greece: divine mania

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Abstract

Ancient Greece was unique in its attitude to alteration of consciousness. Various altered states of consciousness were commonly known: initiates experienced them during mystery rites; sacred officials and enquirers attained them in the major oracular centres; possession by various deities was recognized; and some sages and philosophers practised manipulation of consciousness. From the perspective of individual and public freedom, the prominent position of mania in Greek society reflects its openness and acceptance of the inborn human proclivity to experience alterations of consciousness, which were interpreted in positive terms as god-sent. These mental states were treated with cautious respect, but never suppressed or pushed to the cultural and social periphery, in contrast to many other complex societies, ancient and modern.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-273
Number of pages17
JournalHistory of Psychiatry
Volume31
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Alteration of consciousness
  • ecstatic experience
  • madness
  • mania
  • possession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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