1st Edition

The Routledge Companion to Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient World

    560 Pages 33 Color & 61 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    560 Pages 33 Color & 61 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    560 Pages 33 Color & 61 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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.

    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



    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

    "Well documented and inspiring!" - Bibliotheca Orientalis