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How Does Chanting Work?


Guest Hazel
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I would like to understand how chanting and mantras work and what effect, if any, they can have on the person or group using them.

 

I have recently started working with mantras within my yoga practice and it got me thinking that people from all cultures work with sound and chanting in some way. There seems to be a great importance placed upon the use of sound through chants and sacred mantras.

 

But do they really work and if so how?

 

Also, is the reason for using chants/mantras always the same or can that purpose change depending on the group using them?

 

I did try to search the forum on this subject but could not find anything, so my apologies if I have missed an existing thread.

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Hmm...

 

This is very much a personal view, so take it with all the usual warnings, pinches of salt and reservations (terms and conditions apply).

 

I very much doubt if the content of a mantra or chant matters a great deal. There is no automatic value in a specific sound or combination of words. It does help if they mean something to the chanter, however.

 

The purpose is to quieten the mind by causing it to fix on a specific thing (the chant). A repetitive phrase or sound is used to block out other sensory input, thereby at once relaxing and concentrating the mind. As such, it is a meditational aid. The aim is to become what I can only describe as "super aware" of one's own psyche in particular in the context of the form or meaning of the chant. In that state, the mind can then "springboard" into other ideas, even other states of consciousness if you are sufficiently susceptible to such states.

 

The use even of a meaningless sound or tune (or a combination of sound and tune in, for example, Gregorian chant, though I accept that is not meaningless) can also have an effect in that the repetition of sound itself has the same effect of blocking out the extraneous. Any ideas or insights that arise in the resulting state of mind may be a little less disciplined as a result of lack of meaning not providing a specific reference from which the mind can then work.

 

Ultimately, I wonder if the use of chant is a way of using the voice in a way similar to those who seek to induce trance states with drumming. Listening to certain types of music or even watching certain visual effects (I think of the so-caled flicker effect which, I understand, can induce visions in some people) also have their effect, I think, by blocking out sensory input and allowing the mind to relax and concentrate on one effect. In other words, it's a do-it-yourself meditational aid.

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I think Ellinas is spot on. I don't chant myself, but I am a musician. And in particular I love the use of drones in music (I play Northumbrian Small Pipes which have drones). I think drones definitely help to enter an altered state of mind as can drums...... put the two together and you have a powerful combination. Chants and mantras also have both drone elements and are rhythmic and so I'm sure they can lead to trance. Maybe that is why chanting is used so much in various religionus, whether it be Buddhist chanting or Christian gregorian chant...... it's all the same.

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Thanks everyone for your replies.

 

Ellinas your post is very helpful. I can see how chanting can be used as a meditation aid. Although I am new to chanting I sometimes find that when I do I can become absorbed in the chant to the point where sensory awareness of the outer world becomes less. A bit like reading a good book :) It is not a loss of consciousness more a single pointed awareness of, in this case, the vocal sound. However, even when this happens I find I am still keeping my mind busy and active. I would of thought in meditation you need also to reach a still point, quite point.

 

I have also found that at times the sensation of vibration can be quite soothing. Because of this experience I am now wondering if chanting can have a physical effect and create changes in the body itself in some way. I know in yoga they believe that to be true, but as it has already been said, different people will have different ideas on this.

 

Do people here think that chanting works well to build energy up as well as helping induce trance states?

 

I am not so sure if it goes beyond altering personal mood and mind states.

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For me, chanting is one way to an altered state of mind - but more of the trance state and lessening of inhibition - so it goes with dancing and movement! I can't meditate with it - that has to be more quiet and contemplative.

 

Chanting raises power and allows for it to be directed - as in ritual workings - IME.

 

I suppose it can alter mood - as in chanting and dancing ... but then, I am seldom aware of a "down" mood being fairly even-tempered!

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Do people here think that chanting works well to build energy up as well as helping induce trance states?

 

I am not so sure if it goes beyond altering personal mood and mind states.

 

Yes, definitely. A few years ago I was at a Scottish Pagan Fed conference and the wonderful Claire Hewitt took a class on raising energy through singing. There were about 30 of us, and she got us singing rounds of Summer Is A Cumin' In, overlaying and overlapping and building up the energy of the room to the point that I could actually see it humming, golden, like a vortex. It was incredible and everyone there felt exactly the same way about it.

 

I think it depends though on what the chant is and how it's done. Some chants sound like dirges to my mind and I find it difficult to "get into the groove". I participated in one ritual where I was asked to lead a chant and it was about Herne, and although I sang it with a relatively upbeat tempo as it seemed to be to encapsulate the feeling of new life (it was near Beltane), joy and frolic, the others, who to be fair were more experienced in group ritual than I, slowed it right down to a funereal trudge. I found it hard to feel any energy building then.

 

So yes, I think it's possible to both raise energy and control the energy through chant.

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Do people here think that chanting works well to build energy up as well as helping induce trance states?

 

I am not so sure if it goes beyond altering personal mood and mind states.

Yes, definitely. A few years ago I was at a Scottish Pagan Fed conference and the wonderful Claire Hewitt took a class on raising energy through singing. There were about 30 of us, and she got us singing rounds of Summer Is A Cumin' In, overlaying and overlapping and building up the energy of the room to the point that I could actually see it humming, golden, like a vortex. It was incredible and everyone there felt exactly the same way about it.

 

What a wonderful experience that must have been :)

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To be honest, chanting is not something that works overly well for me. I'm not saying that it has no effect (enough for me to have formed the views set out above), but getting to the point where I achieve stillness is actually far easier for me via listening to certain sorts of music (strange as it might seem, Mike Oldfield's "Song of Distant Earth" and Vangelis' music to "1492; Conquest of Paradise" seem to be particularly effective) or via breathing exercises.

 

For that reason I can't really comment on the "raising energy" - though I would wonder if that is something more easily sensed in a group activity; but that is something beyond my experience.

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I think of chanting as more of a group ritual than something to practice alone. There is something called muscular bonding. It's all about how moving together, and also singing together and playing music together and things like that creates a kind of group energy. a kind of collective heightened experience.

 

I quickly googled and found this article that has a bit about the whole idea, and an experiment they did looking into it.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/were-only-human-all-together-now/?page=1

 

I imagine chanting alone is quite different. I've never done that.. Any of you lot practice chanting alone or is it always a group activity for you?

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