Embodied Spiritual Practices – Trance Postures

In November 2017, I was intrigued to learn about an experiential session held for a group of students at Princeton University on Ecstatic Trance Postures led by a Druid practitioner, James Lawer from NYC. How could I have missed an opportunity to participate in such an interesting event right in my own backyard (living only 20 miles from Princeton Campus)! If young students at Princeton were on to this form of embodied spiritual practice, I had to learn more. The session, which was described in an article from the Daily Princetonian, led me to do further online research about the Postures, and I eventually made the link back to Anthropologist Dr. Felicitas Goodman and the Cuyamungue Institute in Santa Fe, NM, which she founded to train practitioners in teaching these postures to those interested in this body-oriented practice.

Today, the Institute is run by Laura Lee and her husband Paul Robear. As Lee explains,  “Seekers the world over found their way to Santa Fe to work with Goodman, to learn and practice the simple yet powerful formulation she culled from historical records. This was the essential steps of an ancient ritual, in part using postures depicted in the artwork of early, indigenous cultures, which she found was a key to inducing that Ecstatic state of consciousness (ESC) so highly prized by mystics through the ages.” 

Lee adds that “Goodman essentially found two streams of artifacts: those with the instructions on how to hold a posture (depicted by both images shown below)…

and artifacts that depict the trance journey itself, as shown by this image (shown below) of the spirit journeys so common in our trances, where a bird picks us up and carries us on a journey through the sky of the Upper World.” 

Medallion on Jug #2, Gold Treasure of Nagyszentmiklos, Hungary, 10-11th Century AD, Kunsthitoriches Museum, Wien – In her book “Where the Spirits Ride the Wind” (pg 75) , Dr. Goodman points out that in our spirit journeys we are so often taken up by birds to fly, and she sees that portrayed in this artifact from Hungary

As Lee and Robear continue with the wider missions and teachings of the Cuyamungue Institute, they are also actively working to articulate and contemporize Dr. Goodman’s work, bringing Ecstatic Trance Postures to a larger community, and add to its extensive archives with ongoing research. Along with their online experiential sessions, they host discussion sessions with guest speakers on a variety of topics, including astrophysics, archeoastronomy, anthropology,  archeology, and brain-mind research. When I suggested that Cosmology was another field aligning and resonating with their work, along with the “Journey of the Universe” material, Lee instantly agreed.  

Last year in April while on vacation visiting a friend in Albuquerque, NM, I tried visiting the Institute but I was a few weeks early, as their summer season of workshops had not yet begun. Luckily, I found a teacher on the East Coast in Swarthmore area of Philadelphia, PA closer to my home, and attended several posture sessions with a small group. Once the current pandemic started spreading in January and February, I found that the Cuyamungue had turned to using online sessions through Zoom given the situation with Covid-19 which has opened up access to these postures for an audience world-wide. Each week a 2-hour introductory session is held which covers the basics of one particular posture, and provides an opportunity for us to practice the posture together online. There is time after the experience to share our individual experiences from the session and to learn about the historical and cultural context of the posture we practiced. I’ve found that this format works very well despite the limitation that we are not all physically present in the same space during these sessions. Material for this blog was originally delivered as an online Zoom presentation to share my passion for Cosmology and Deep Time with the Cuyamungue Institute’s global community — a community which I’ve come to know and appreciate over many months during this time of Covid-19.

In May 2020, at one of the Zoom sessions, Laura Lee mentioned that an astrophysicist participated in the work of the Institute, and as he was also an archaeoastronomer, would be their special guest for the upcoming Solstice. The topic on “How to Create a Mini ‘Megalithic Observatory’ in Your Own Backyard”, was of special interest to the Cuyamungue Institute, she said, “because in our trances we so often find ourselves out in the Cosmos, interacting with the the stars, our sun, galaxies, and lines of life force and communication. The experiential aspects of journeying are so enlivening and expansive, we develop such a personal relationship to the celestial bodies in this way, so let’s do so on the ground, by celebrating our star’s passage over head just as our ancient ancestors did.”

I was excited to think about how areas of scientific inquiry alongside Ecstatic Trance Posture practice might work together.  This blog entry is really a way for me to continue exploring the question of how the Ecstatic Trance Posture might work together to open our mythic imagination as we continue to learn more about our deep connection with all of life and with this amazing Universe from which we all come. How might the postures help us explore a more heartfelt, embodied connection with all of life?