In ritual and religious practices, movements of spinning, twirling, circling have physical effects, and several studies have analysed the neurophysiology of the dissociated states of the mind brought about by such rhythmical circlings. Some claim that the rotations of the dervishes’ twirls coincide with the theta rhythm in the brain.[1] Scott Atran[2], an anthropologist who studies the relation between neurological processes and religious states, suggests that the dervishes’ turning confuses their body’s coordinates, desynchronising the interplay of inner ear and retina, confounding their sense of gravity. As their brains lose track of what is up and down, what is ceiling and what floor, the dancers feel suspended, as if floating in space. The symmetrical flows of information between the brain’s front and its back is disturbed, the self loses its boundaries and constraints.[3] In states of ecstasy – be they ritually induced or produced by the “vertigo” [4] of revolution – the subject does not experience itself as a more truthful or authentic solitary individual. The momentary lifting of codes and hierarchies does not reveal a more essential self, but, on the contrary, dissolves the individual in what Turner has called a “communion of equals”, in the joyously unbounded communitas.


[2] Atran, Scott, “Chapter 10 THE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION,” in NeuroTheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience, ed. Rhawn, Joseph (San Jose, Calif.: University Press, 2003), accessed May 21, 2014 as online document: .

[3] Attran, 8, 12.

[4] Kaejane, Guillermo, ‘Seven Key Words on the Madrid-Sol Experience, 15M’, 20 May 2011,