Possession Trance Experience Spectrum

In my previous trance post I linked to Raven Kaldera’s outline of the levels of deity assumption. The possession spectrum I trained with through Hrafnar and Seidhjallr describes more differentiations between Shadowing and Possession, and uses the metaphor of two people in a car together. The underlying point is the same, and many of the terms are the same.

The terms I learned in the American Magic Umbanda House were somewhat different, but also overlapped. They reinforced my habit of calling the possessing entity the Rider, the human medium the Horse, and general references to possession relative to one’s Head. These are distinctly Afro-Diasporic idioms. I also learned to refer to possession trance as “Dancing the Powers”, e.g. “Ember danced Freyja last Saturday.” with the ritual location being referred to as the Floor.

Personally, between my various linked settings and training, I’ve come to think of possession trance experience in terms of percentages.

00% – Alone Within Myself. The essence of this state is to be centered. Actively focusing on this state is a form of meditation, and surprisingly challenging at times. Otherwise it’s just everyday life and my focus, like most people’s, is on whatever I’m doing.

This is, in my case, a very stable state.

10% – Presence can be hard to determine whether it’s actually localized to me or not, but I know I’m not alone. If I’m the only one in the room who has a sense of such presence, I understand that They are present internally to me rather than present in the room, and thus it’s a very, very mild form of possession trance. I don’t usually try very hard to determine where the lines are unless there’s a problem. The world is brimming with presences, and passing through my personal space is fine as long as They do no harm. Presences come and go frequently without my even noticing.

Presences aren’t something I need to do anything to maintain, and thus they are as stable as the one who is present.

They rarely prompt a reaction on arrival and departing never hurts.

20% – Shadowing feels like someone looking over my shoulder and making comments in my ear. It can be unnervingly intimate if it’s not a power I know, but usually feels affectionate and comfortable. Often I don’t notice until something prompts a humorous response, and I “hear” laughter, or a wry retort in my mind, as if from behind me, in a voice not my own. If you ever see me suddenly look to one side and offer a retort of my own, order someone you can’t see “Back in the box!”, or otherwise object to someone in my personal space that you can’t see, it’s generally because someone shadowed me too closely without making sure I noticed and was okay with it.

If accepted, shadowing can go on indefinitely without any problems.

A shadow departing rarely hurts, though if I may miss Them when They’re gone if I was particularly enjoying it.

30% – Heavy Shadowing feels like wearing a sort of cloak of Their energy, but I’m still myself and in control. I can hear Their commentary if there is any, and others generally look at me and notice there’s a change in my presence, but still see it as me who is there. Occasionally some tone of voice or look in the eye of Theirs will break through and catch someone’s attention, but those moments are fleeting.

Heavy Shadowing is generally for doing ritual in Their honor, or otherwise interacting with people on Their behalf as a priest. Starting at this level I may not feel my own aches and pains, and any anxiety I may have been carrying goes away unless specifically prompted by instability in the trance. My senses are altered, so things may smell, taste, or even look different. What kind of different usually depends on who is doing the shadowing.

I have similar experience just dropping into the kind of consciousness required for performing rituals without a deity shadowing me, so I know many of those effects are more a product of my altered consciousness than of Their presence. But the effects are amplified by Their presence, and sometimes They can take the opportunity to actually solve problems for me that would otherwise just come flooding right back when I’m done.

It can be draining to maintain the required focus, since They’re not present enough to carry me through it. It is stable, though, and very effective for ritual purposes.

A strong shadow departing usually feels like a lightening of my load, as if I was carrying a heavy blanket and have put it down. It doesn’t hurt, generally, but I can be a bit melancholy after, and any anxiety or pain that I was not feeling while I was strongly shadowed will usually return, which hurts in its own way.

40% – Driver’s Seat is getting into wrestling territory. The 40-60% range is a struggle between myself the Power riding me for control of the vehicle that is my body. Our consciousness is solidly shared, but it’s becoming questionable exactly who is in control, or should be. If I’ve never carried a particular power before, this phase is almost inevitable unless I have been able to do a lot of preparation in advance to open myself before They arrive. Oracular Seidh has that side effect, usually, which is why it’s all too easy to allow possession when I’m already in the chair. This has been a problem for me at times in the past, which is why I require a Guide who can maintain control of the ritual if I’m going to go that far out.

It’s not a stable state. I will either back up to 30% or try to relax towards 70%, depending on the context. If for some reason I can’t do either of those, my body may start physically shaking from trying to hold back further possession.

Being pulled out of trance from this state can be painful, if not done gently or very well timed. If nothing else, I can’t have gotten this far without my shields relaxing, and returning to normal consciousness with relaxed shields can be very painful for my hypersensitivity.

50% – Shared Control almost never happens so perfectly as 50/50 in my experience, but I’ve met some folks who seem to walk through the world as an avatar of their deity, and I gather for those folks it’s a more even split, more constantly. For me, it’s more an experience of constantly flipping back and forth between 40 and 60 until something happens to push it the rest of the way. It’s rare that this happens at all – usually once I hit 40% it’s straight through to 70%, but sometimes something is off. In order to avoid this, I have learned not to try and offer myself as a medium if I am having a high-anxiety day for unrelated reasons. I’m always a bit anxious before trance work, of course, but if my only worries are for the work itself, I set them aside as part of the process.

Needless to say, it’s not a stable state at all, and I almost never actually spend any time there.

Usually if that’s the state I’m in, anyone intervening will be helping me relax into stronger possession rather than trying to pull me out of it.

60% – Passenger Seat, Active is when I’ve relinquished direct control, but retained the ability to intervene. Past 50% control is getting into what I call Possession. 60% to me feels like  I’m still struggling with letting go. I know I need to, but for some reason I’m not trusting myself, the rider, the setting, or the people around me. I can still insert myself into the conversation directly, if necessary, which can be helpful if the querent is very sensitive and the rider is being insensitive, but is otherwise usually more harm than help. That is why I’m rarely willing to speak myself. I can’t yet let Them speak directly without interference, so we’re usually sitting together quietly waiting for control to finish resolving.

It’s a tense state to be in, but comparatively stable. It’s stable the way standing on two feet and holding the support bar is stable when you’re riding a train. You can’t afford to let go, but as long as you hold that tension, yeah, you’re not going to fall down.

Coming out of it is both a relief from the tension and painful until I can re-center and put my shields back up. Often my body is twitchy, and my eyes won’t focus correctly for a bit.

70% – Passenger Seat, Passive is when I’ve relaxed into Their control, but I’m still involved enough to offer commentary or objections to the Rider/Driver, but I no longer have even interference access to my mouth or hands, so any commentary from me is entirely internal. I can still re-assert control of my own volition if it seems necessary, provided, of course, that the rider doesn’t object. From this point onward, I believe it is fair to expect the rider to take away with Them anything harmful They initiate, like alcohol, capsaicin, and other foods I shouldn’t be eating. Harder proofs like healing of self-inflicted wounds apparently require deeper states, but I don’t really know, because the powers don’t do that with my body.

Relaxed in the passenger seat is a stable state, and a fairly enjoyable one, at that. It’s very interesting to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I have learned a great deal from spending time in this state, especially from Freyja, who has used it very deliberately to teach me about beauty and love.

Coming out of it is disorienting, and can be painful until I fix my shields. Being forced out of it is very painful.

80% – Back Seat means I have accepted the rider’s control, but am still present and observing. I’m too far back to intervene, or offer commentary, and have periods of missing attention. What I do remember when I come back to myself is fuzzy, and may be inaccurate.

The back seat is a very stable state. Lessons from this state are generally more internally focused, deep communion exchange that is more emotional and conceptual than linguistic. A great deal has been taught to me in this state, but I learn less from watching the rider interact with others, and more from the direct interaction with the rider internally.

At this point I can’t re-assert control of my own volition because I lack volition. External prompting, or the rider choosing to leave can both end the session. I am trained to respond especially strongly to “The Hour Grows Late” as a cue phrase, but unless the rider is actively refusing to let me go, I generally start to re-assert control in response to any commentary that indicates it’s time to wrap things up.

Coming out of it is painful in the same way coming out of a very warm, comfortable bed into freezing air is painful. It can feel like all my nerves are scraped raw, and I am naked in front of everyone. I often burst into tears, but this happens less now than it used to.

90% – Full Possession means everything is kind of vague and fuzzy, but I can remember it if prompted. I don’t remember myself being there at all, it’s more like a dream through someone else’s eyes. I remember my dreams very vividly, however, so that’s not an obstacle in my case. My impression is that other people are already amnesiac at this point.

I think Full Possession is usually a stable state, but it’s honestly hard to say from my own experience, because my time sense, which is iffy at best, is completely shot when I’m in this state, so any fluctuations pass like swells on open ocean, and I have no idea how long or short they may be.

Coming out is about as disorienting as being woken from a dream – how disorienting depends on how suddenly. I have to be actively helped out of this state. I will not respond to casual cues unless the rider actively chooses to acknowledge them. Freyja tends to be very polite unless She has a very good reason to keep hold of me, at which point no one who knows me would argue the point.

I’ve seen various powers refuse to leave Their mediums at this level, and it takes significant effort to bring the medium up to a level where they can help us pull them out of it. People who have issues with dissociation for personal reasons may refuse to surface and return the rest of the way on their own. As a warder I know it can get messy, especially depending on why they find their bodies or lives too painful to return to.

Personally I’ve had some pretty strange problems trying to pull out of full possession, but they’ve never been a product of me refusing to return that I can recall. Once or twice I’ve gotten stuck in a way that I couldn’t pull myself out of it any further than I was pulled by others, stuck in the altered consciousness separately from any possession presence. A few times I’ve had trouble where I had only part of my body back under my own control – either my head such that I could talk and look around and interact, but not move my body at all, or one or another limb was somehow left out of the process.

99% – Full Amnesiac Possession (also called In The Trunk) is not something I’ve ever experienced for more than a moment or two. I don’t believe 100% possession is possible, because that last 1% needs to retain the body. Another way of putting it is that in Heathen lore, the body IS a Soul Part, and thus the part that never leaves, even when one is possessed. That’s not quite my understanding, but it’s similar.

Full Amnesiac Possion appears to be a very stable state on the mediums I’ve seen who can do it. Pulling people out of it is challenging if the rider doesn’t feel like cooperating, even if the medium is well trained. If they’re not, or if the medium has any reasons of their own to balk, it can be almost impossible for an untrained warder to pull someone out of this state.

Most of the time, I’d say when I’m open to possession (as opposed to doing some other ritual work, which may prompt Shadowing with no intent towards greater depth), I carry in the 70-80% range, with it wavering over the course of the ritual depending on how steady the energy is, and whether there are contradictory cues in my environment.

Regardless, I don’t believe I’ve ever gone past 90%. Either I lack the ability to relinquish that last bit of control, or I have an unusual ability to remember in contexts where others would usually forget. My impression from working in various settings with other mediums is that it’s some of both. On the one hand, I have no desire to relinquish control of my life, so I don’t leave when the opportunity presents itself. On that same hand I’m perhaps not as trusting as I could be, so I won’t leave when the opportunity presents itself. On the other hand, as a dreamworker, I have spent most of my life practicing the ability to remember what happens when my conscious mind is offline, and have gotten very, very good at it.


About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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13 Responses to Possession Trance Experience Spectrum

  1. Angela says:

    Thank you for this explanation. I’ve carried Powers before, but haven’t been able to call it a ‘possession’ because it didn’t seem to have the right earmarks. I haven’t yet been able to get past 60% as so much anxiety rises in me. I have once gone 70%, and the Power did Not Okay Things for the few moments She had me, so… yeah. But thank you for the breakdown.


    • EmberVoices says:

      You’re welcome. I’m sorry you had iffy experiences. 😦

      Possession is a varied experience. I think when we practice within cultural contexts it’s important to respect the traditions involved, but I don’t think that it’s helpful to tell people that their experiences aren’t valid just because they’re insufficiently drastic.

      Honestly full amnesiac possession, while possibly more reliable as a source of information for other people, is not necessarily a good idea for even experienced mediums. It depends tremendously on the relationship between the medium and the Power riding them, whether it tends to go well or not.

      Frankly, despite it being a major element of my own practice over the years, I worry about glorifying mediumship at all. It seems to be at the expense of valuing far more essential roles like interpersonal ministry, and warding. -E-


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  4. Great write-up 🙂 Very useful. Are you posting it somewhere that people can access it consistently?

    From this scale, it looks like I usually get as far as 70%, with at least once getting the 80% (with the attendant problems coming back out). I’m hoping there’s a –gentler?– way to come out of 80%, but if so, I haven’t seen it yet.

    One thing that I’ve noticed about my experience with trance that isn’t mentioned above is changes in my body temperature. I normally run cold (cold hands and feet, pretty much constantly), and by the time I hit 40% possession, my body temperature will start shooting up (or it will at least *feel* as if it is). I have no idea whether my core temperature actually changes at all, but my extremities feel much warmer and I very easily get overheated in this state. I’m not sure if this is a response that other mediums experience, but for me, it’s 99% reliable in telling whether or not I’ve hit what I consider to be trance possession.


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