Divine Mania : Alteration of Consciousness in Ancient Greece book cover
1st Edition

Divine Mania
Alteration of Consciousness in Ancient Greece

ISBN 9781138298118
Published October 24, 2017 by Routledge
412 Pages

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Book Description

‘Our greatest blessings come to us by way of mania, provided it is given us by divine gift,’ – says Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus. Certain forms of alteration of consciousness, considered to be inspired by supernatural forces, were actively sought in ancient Greece. Divine mania comprises a fascinating array of diverse experiences: numerous initiates underwent some kind of alteration of consciousness during mystery rites; sacred officials and inquirers attained revelations in major oracular centres; possession states were actively sought; finally, some thinkers, such as Pythagoras and Socrates, probably practiced manipulation of consciousness. These experiences, which could be voluntary or involuntary, intense or mild, were interpreted as an invasive divine power within one’s mind, or illumination granted by a super-human being.

Greece was unique in its attitude to alteration of consciousness. From the perspective of individual and public freedom, the prominent position of the divine mania in Greek society reflects its acceptance of the inborn human proclivity to experience alteration of consciousness, interpreted in positive terms as god-sent. These mental states were treated with cautious respect, and in contrast to the majority of complex societies, ancient and modern, were never suppressed or pushed to the cultural and social periphery.

Table of Contents

Introduction  1. Prophetic mania  2. Telestic mania and near-death experiences  3. Bakcheia  4. Mania on the battlefield and on the march  5. Nympholepsy  6. Poetic mania  7. Erotic mania  8. The philosopher’s mania and his path to truth  Epilogue: Perspectives on divine mania

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Yulia Ustinova is Associate Professor at the Department of General History, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. Her research focuses on ancient Greek religion and its role within the society. In addition to the study of textual and archaeological sources, her approach is based on the application of results of cognitive neuroscience, anthropology, and sociology to the interpretation of historical phenomena.


"Ustinova’s book on divine mania is an excellent and highly innovative contribution to the study of Greek culture. By applying a cognitive approach, she explores embodied experiences of Greek religion. As "people are biological and cultural creatures at the same time" (p. 18), an unbridgeable dichotomy of these categories can no longer be presupposed. The book is a successful example of how the application of cognitive sciences to a historical study of Greek culture can lead to new insights into complex cultural phenomena." - Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"Ustinova builds on the growing interest in cognitive science approaches to Greek religious thought. This monograph displays careful attention to philological detail and a wide range of theoretical toolkits, founded on the interdependence of humanity’s biological and cultural dimensions." - American Journal of Philology


"Yulia Ustinova’s Divine Mania is the first comprehensive overview of the source evidence for alterations of consciousness in ancient Greece... Whereas earlier generations often fell into the trap of cherry-picking “rational consciousness” in ancient Greece, Ustinova succeeds admirably in avoiding that temptation in this splendid overview of its counterpart, alterations of consciousness. Divine Mania recovers a treasure trove of rejected knowledge that gives access to some of the most important esoteric origins of Western culture." - Aries - Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism