Monday, April 7, 2014

Producing Prayer’s Perceptions

From Cults In Our Midst, by Dr. Margaret Singer, among persuasion techniques used by cults are:

Continuous overbreathing causes a drop in the carbon dioxide level in the bloodstream, producing respiratory alkalosis. In its milder stages it produces dizziness or light-headedness. More prolonged overbreathing can cause panic, muscle cramps, and convulsions. Cults often have people do continuous loud shouting, chanting or singing to produce this state, which they reframe as having a spiritual experience
Constant swaying motions, clapping or almost any repeated motion helps to alter a person's general state of awareness. Dizziess can be produced by simple spinning or spin dancing, prolonged swaying and dancing. Group leaders relabel the effects of these motions as ecstasy or new levels of awareness.

As a teenager I would often get dizzy during Shacharis. And the shukeling in some shuls, to borrow an image from Mark Twain, could power a city if only someone would find a way to attach the bobbing upper bodies to a generator.

The above techniques are not used in the frum world for blatant manipulation in the way they’re used by cults, but it seems likely these behaviors – prolonged chanting causing changed breathing patterns and repetitive motion – evolved and became a standard part of davening for the same reasons that cults urge them on their members. They are physiological means to produce real experiences which can then be pointed to as experiential proof of the validity of davening in particular and Judaism in general.


  1. Rabbinic Judaism is a cult that has had over 2000 years to perfect indoctrination and brain washing to preserve their religious cult. It is much deeper than prayer swaying. It starts with circumcision.

    1. The interesting thing is that OJ doesn't meet the definition of a cult, at least as defined in the book. And I so wanted it to!

  2. Important last paragraph. When people have a "powerful experience" in prayer, it can be a very *real* experience from a physiological/sensory standpoint - and for that reason it's almost hard *not* to misidentify it as a supernatural encounter/communion - i.e. "deveikut".

    It's a trap I must admit I've fallen into before, multiple times, and not just with davening but also re: believing in pseudoscientific claims - e.g. the idea of "chi" flowing from person to person - based on having a "powerful experience".

    And it really took educating myself in skeptical thinking to even have the tools to properly evaluate such claims and experiences. Almost hard for me to believe that it's not a core curriculum subject taught to every schoolkid. I just kept saying to myself: Why didn't anyone tell me about this before?!