The Routledge Companion to Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient World  book cover
1st Edition

The Routledge Companion to Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient World

ISBN 9780367480325
Published December 31, 2021 by Routledge
560 Pages 33 Color & 61 B/W Illustrations

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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 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

Part 1 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 2 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-Kernoi and Psychotropic Substances

David Ilan

Part 3 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 4 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, specializes in seals and sealing practices in the ancient Near East. She has authored, co-authored and co-edited several volumes (1993, 2001, 2003, 2016), as well as numerous articles relating to Near Eastern chronology, mythology, iconography, material culture and ritual practice. Her research and fieldwork have taken her to Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Iraq.

Sarah Kielt Costello is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Houston–Clear Lake. 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) 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, Associate Professor of Neurology, Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine

"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, Reader in Ancient History, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University

"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, Professor Emeritus, Department of Classics, University of Kansas

"[T]he collection contains a lot of varied and fascinating information and original perspectives and interpretations that will be useful not just toresearchers and students but to anyone interested in the ritual role of altered states of consciousness in the ancient world. It is clear there is a wealth of archaeological, iconographical and textual evidence  that testifies to the prevalence and diversity of ecstatic experience in the ancient eastern Mediterranean. The volume succeeds in demonstrating that ecstatic experiences were of fundamental importance to ancient religious expression" - Helene Whittaker, CLARA