Trance Captured on Video

A great discussion on the Medical Anthropology listserve focused on good films for trance. I’ve provided the list below, complete with links to the films, extra notes in brackets, and some YouTube clips.

Joshua Moses asked:

Dear colleagues, I was wondering if people could recommend film footage of trance states of various kinds–rituals, dance, shamanic, church based etc.
The geographical region is not important. I would be grateful for you assistance. Thank you.

The Replies:

Sheila Cosminsky (Rutgers): A classic film on trance is Margaret Mead’s Trance and Dance in Bali, which shows dancers with knives under trance [also recommended by Beverly Bennett of Cultural Ideas].
Also, Jero on Jero, a Balinese Trance Seance Observed [also Balinese Trance Seance, included in the DVD, was recommended by Geraldine Moreno at Oregon].
Other films are: N/um Tchai: the Ceremonial Dance of the !Kung Bushmen, and Macumba, Trance, and Spirit Healing.

Michelle Ramirez (University of the Sciences in Philadelphia): There’s always the classic “Holy Ghost People” by Peter Adair, which shows folks in Appalachia (in what very much looks like trance-like states) handling snakes.
[You can also get this documentary in a series of six YouTube clips starting here; I’ve embedded below another clip that contains some of the most relevant footage]

Philip Benjamin (Monash University), who relayed this info from another listserve:
“There’s a video posted at Guide: Artists Videos.
Scroll down to *Charles Irvin’s* “Membrane Lane.” The intro lasts about five minutes, then Irvin mentions the FMSF (False Memory Syndrome Foundation) and goes on from there. The video lasts for 30 minutes. Although not new information, I’m told that it seems pretty accurate. For me, it helped make sense as to why it is more politically acceptable to use “psychosis” as a description of phenomenon that is clearly dissociative.

Barbara Rose Johnson (Institute for Global Communications): You might check out the publications and blog of Australian anthropologist Graham St. John who documents global techno/psy/etc trance dance culture… One of his research projects is Global Trance Culture: Religion, Technology and Psytrance and
see his main site, Edgecentral. [Quite interesting, but unfortunately I didn’t find any video.]

Kathleen Ragsdale (Mississippi State): Natl Geographic TABOO SERIES (vol 1 and 2 set) has some compelling footage on trance. I don’t have the dvd set right in front of me, but I think one is called “Tests of Faith” (Greek Orthodox fire dancers, others) and another is called “Spirit Worlds” (Malaysian Hindus’ pierce their tongues/backs on pilgrimage to Batu Caves, exorcism in India, Santeria in Cuba). I purchased the 2-vol dvd set on ebay.
[You can also get a taste of the Taboo series through this video clip on shamans.]

Joan Koss-Chioino (Arizona State): I have video with excellent examples of trance by spirits and Spiritists in Puerto Rico. It is old and therefore not of the best quality but it also illustrates the project I carried out developing a bridge between Spiritists and mental health professionals sponsored by the PR department of health.
I can order a set (4 1/2 hr) of 2 DVDs for anyone interested (idjdk at [You can also visit Koss-Chioino’s ASU website.]

Felicia Heidenreich (Assistance Publique Hopitaaux de Paris): This is a link to a French website with a lot of ethnographic films, some of them are surely about trance states. [The site is definitely recommended – almost all the clips are online, and playable through Real Media; here’s at least one related to trance]

Finally, some stuff I found. The Wikipedia entry on trance is pretty good, and Greg wrote about getting into trance, bodily postures, and Felicitas Goodman last year.

For video here is a YouTube clip on Candomblé. It really covers more the music, and includes some opening clips that reminds me of preparing chicken as a child, but you can get a sense of how music links to dance and trance later in the video.

This clip is Thaipusam Ritual: Pain & Trance.

14 thoughts on “Trance Captured on Video

  1. Thanks for doing this. I was too lazy to reply to the Med Anth list, but you must include Jean Rouch’s classic Les Maitres Fou. It’s available in French (no subtitles) on youtube in 3 parts:;; and and at most college libraries.

    [Editor’s note: You can also find Les Maitres Fou/The Mad Masters with English subtitles on YouTube. Here’s the link to the first of three parts.]

  2. Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks followed up on this post with his Possession and Trance post.

    Vaughan highlighted Rebecca Seligman & Lawrence Kirmayer’s excellent article on Dissociative Experience and Cultural Neuroscience (pdf).

    Vaughan also mentioned possession among the Zar Cult in Sudan, and included this video on Zar and a link to the anthropologist Gerasimos Makris discussing Zar rituals.

    One of my students did some work on Zar this past semester, and here are some references he found:

    Makris GP, Ahmad Al-Safi. 1991. The tumbura spirit possession cult of the Sudan, past and present. Women’s Medicine: The Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Pp 118-136.

    Broddy J. 1988. Spirits and selves in northern Sudan: the cultural therapeutics of possession and trance. American Ethnologist 15(1): 4-27.

    Kenyan SM. 1995. Zar as modernization in contemporary Sudan. Anthropology Quarterly 68(2): 107-120.

    Grisaru N et al. 1997. Possession by the ‘Zar’ among Ethiopian immigrants: Psychopathology or culture-bound syndrome? Psychopathology 30(4): 223-233.

    Al-Adawi SH et al. 2001. Zar: group distress and healing. Mental Health, Religion and Culture: 4(1): 47-61.

  3. The avant-garde filmmaker Mayan Deren documented Haitian voudon rituals in her unfinished 1953 film Divine Horsemen.

    The linked DVD version is an edit of Deren’s Haiti footage assembled (and titled) after her death by her husband, Teiji Ito with Cherel Ito. Deren’s own work, trancelike in itself, is also available on video.

  4. Pingback: Estado de trance

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