A trance is an altered state of consciousness. There are a number of different types, ranging from spiritually open trances of mediums to the meditative states reached in many religions. Historically, some people have attached great importance to a state of trance, since it occupies a space between sleeping and full wakefullness, and people in this state are often highly suggestible. In addition to being a part of religious practices, trances are also used therapeutically by people like hypnotherapists, and some people attempt to enter this state on their own for various reasons.
The precise definition of a trance can be somewhat fluid and hard to pin down. Generally, it is defined as a mental state which is clearly disassociated from normal consciousness. Someone in this state may still be experiencing very intense brain waves and intellectual activity, but the individual is also clearly not entirely awake.
In religious practice, many people people meditate, intake various substances, or pray to reach a trance-like state. This state is supposed to facilitate communication with the Divine. Christians can be said to be going into a trance when they reach a deeply introspective state of prayer, just as Native Americans enter the state when they consume peyote. In many religious traditions, holy men and women also enter trances, and it is believed that they are gifted with divine communications during them.
Spiritual mediums also use the trance state in much the same way that religious people do. A medium enters this state in the hopes of reaching out to the spirits. At a seance, people can ask the medium various questions once he or she has entered a trance state. Supposedly, when the medium answers, it is with communications from the spirit world. Psychics also claim to be able to use the state to communicate with “the other side.”
In therapy, a hypnotic state can be very valuable for the treatment of various conditions. Hypnotherapists entrance their patients to make them more suggestible; trances can be used to assist patients who are trying to quit smoking, for example, or to gather information about a patient's past while he or she is relaxed and calm. There are various techniques for inducing these therapeutic states; many of these techniques rely on using a calm voice and relaxing music to calm the patient and open his or her mind.