1st Edition

The Routledge Companion to Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient World

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after November 16, 2021
ISBN 9780367480325
November 16, 2021 Forthcoming by Routledge
632 Pages 148 B/W Illustrations

USD $250.00

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Book Description

For millennia, people have universally engaged in ecstatic experience as an essential element in ritual practice, spiritual belief and cultural identification. This volume offers the first systematic investigation of its myriad roles and manifestations in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

The twenty-nine contributors represent a broad range of scholarly disciplines, seeking answers to fundamental questions regarding the patterns and commonalities of this vital aspect of the past. How was the experience construed and by what means was it achieved? Who was involved? Where and when were its rites carried out? How was it reflected in pictorial arts and written records? What was its relation to other components of the sociocultural compact? In proposing responses, the authors draw upon a wealth of original research in many fields, generating new perspectives and thought-provoking, often surprising, conclusions. With their abundant cross-cultural and cross-temporal references, the chapters mutually enrich each other and collectively deepen our understanding of ecstatic phenomena thousands of years ago. Another noteworthy feature of the book is its illustrative content, including commissioned reconstructions of ecstatic scenarios and pairings of works of Bronze Age and modern psychedelic art.

Scholars, students and other readers interested in antiquity, comparative religion and the social and cognitive sciences will find much to explore in the fascinating realm of ecstatic experience in the ancient world.

Table of Contents

List of figures
List of contributors
Preface, Jeffrey J. Kripal


Introduction, Diana L. Stein, Sarah Kielt Costello and Karen Polinger Foster

Part One: Setting the Stage
1. Contextualizing the Study of Ecstatic Experience in Ancient Old World Societies, Sarah Kielt Costello
2. Not Only Ecstasy: Pouring New Concepts into Old Vessels, Etzel Cardeña
3. From Shamans to Sorcerers: Empirical Models for Defining Ritual Practices and Ecstatic Experience in Ancient, Medieval and Modern Societies, Michael J. Winkelman

Part Two: Psychoactive Substances Past and Present
4. Psychoactive Plants in the Ancient World: Observations of an Ethnobotanist, Giorgio Samorini
5. Ecstasy Meets Paleoethnobotany: Botanical Stimulants in Ancient Inner Asia, Alison Betts
6. Caucasian Cocktails: The Early Use of Alcohol in ‘The Cradle of Wine,’ Stephen Batiuk
7. Mind-altering Plants in Babylonian Medical Sources, Barbara Böck
8. Plant-based Potions and Ecstatic States in Hittite Rituals, Rita Francia
9. Forbidden at Philae: Proscription of Aphrodisiac and Psychoactive Plants in Ptolemaic Egypt, Riccardo Andreozzi and Claudia Sarkady
10. The Ring-Kernos and Psychotropic Substances, David Ilan

Part Three: Ecstatic Experience and the Numinous
11. Beer, Beasts and Bodies: Shedding Boundaries in Bounded Spaces, Anne Porter
12. Lament, Spectacle and Emotion in a Ritual for Ishtar, Sam Mirelman
13. Writing for the Dead, Welcoming the Solar-Eye Goddess and Ecstatic Expression in Egyptian Religion, John Coleman Darnell
14. Altered States on Prepalatial Crete, Emily Miller Bonney
15. Bodies in Ecstasy: Shamanic Elements in Minoan Religion, Christine Morris and Alan Peatfield
16. The Mycenaeans and Ecstatic Ritual Experience, Susan Lupack
17. Emotional Arousal, Sensory Deprivation and ‘Miraculous Healing’ in the Cult of Asclepius, Olympia Panagiotidou
18. Ecstasy and Initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries, Alice Clinch
19. Apolline and Dionysian Ecstasy at Delphi, Yulia Ustinova
20. Communing with the Spirits: Funeral Processions in Ancient Rome, Maik Patzelt

Part Four: Expressions of the Ecstatic Mind
21. Ecstatic Experience and Possession Disorders in Ancient Mesopotamia, Ulrike Steinert
22. Ghosts In and Outside the Machine: A Phenomenology of Intelligence, Psychic Possession and Prophetic Ecstasy in Ancient Mesopotamia, John Z. Wee
23. Ecstatic Speech in Ancient Mesopotamia, Benjamin R. Foster
24. Ecstatic Experience: The Proto-Theme of a Near Eastern Glyptic Language Family, Diana L. Stein
25. Understanding the Language of Trees: Ecstatic Experience and Interspecies Communication in Late Bronze Age Crete, Caroline J. Tully
26. Psychedelic Art and Ecstatic Visions in the Aegean, Karen Polinger Foster
27. Sight as Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient Mediterranean, Nassos Papalexandrou


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Diana L. Stein, Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, UK, specializes in seals and sealing practices in the ancient Near East. She has authored, co-authored and co-edited several volumes including Das Archiv des Šilwa-Teššup: The Cylinder Seal Impressions (1993); The Pula-hali Family Archives (2001); and The Tablets from the Temple Precinct at Nuzi: Private Archives and Administrative Documents (2016), as well as numerous articles relating to Near Eastern chronology, mythology, iconography, material culture and ritual practice.

Sarah Kielt Costello is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Houston–Clear Lake, USA. Her research areas include early Mesopotamian and Cypriot art and archaeology, as well as museum and heritage studies. She recently co-edited Object Biographies: Collaborative Approaches to Ancient Mediterranean Art (2021) and has written numerous articles and book chapters. She has worked on archaeological projects in Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, and Greece.

Karen Polinger Foster (retired, Yale University, USA) specializes in the art of the Aegean, Egypt and the ancient Near East, about which she has written numerous books and articles. Her latest publications include A Mesopotamian Miscellany (2020) and Strange and Wonderful: Exotic Flora and Fauna in Image and Imagination (2020). She has served as the archaeological illustrator for projects in Egypt, Syria, Italy, and France.


"This is a landmark work in the revival of studies on ecstatic states and the ways in which these experiences have informed religious beliefs and ritual practices throughout the ancient world." - Patrick McNamara, Boston University School of Medicine, USA

"This innovative volume is particularly excellent in its interdisciplinary approach and broad definition of the ancient world, bringing together so many experts in the study of ecstatic experience." - Laurence Totelin, Cardiff University, UK

"This book goes far toward systematizing our reaction not only to what Emily Vermeule memorably described as "the individual and strange" in Aegean art but also to their wide-ranging manifestations elsewhere in the ancient world, enlarging our understanding of the vital roles they played in religion and society." - John G. Younger, University of Kansas, USA