Altering consciousness, or achieving Gnosis (az sometimes called in Chaos Magick circles), iz a subject one could dedicate an entire book to. It functions az a lapse in thee conscious/rational/discursive/ discriminatory mind that allows thee subconscious mind to fully function or az a break in, or overwhelming ov, thee parts ov thee mind involved in rational function. It iz considered, at least by most chaos magicians, a necessity for effective magick. There are az many ways ov achieving thee altered state as there are people to achieve it. This state has been called meditation, Dhyana, self-hypnosis, thee magical trance, and other names. Thee term "altered state" refers to changing thee cycles per second on which our brain waves operate. It is a natural state that we all enter into quite regularly when we focus on anything. We slip into trance when driving, exercising, reading, or doing any other activity in which we limit our attention; the only difference is that, in Magick, we seek to consciously control this process.
First, thee altered state can be broken down into three categories: Inhibitory, excitatory, and chemically induced. In inhibitory form, thee altered state iz achieved by progressively silencing thee mind until only a single object ov concentration remains. In thee excitatory mode, thee mind iz raised to a very high pitch while concentration on thee objective iz maintained. (Peter Carroll, Liber Null, pg. 31). A Chemically-induced altered state iz attained by thee use ov various drugs. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Thee Inhibitory methods are considered more time consuming generally, and typically involve relaxing and "slowing down", so to speak. Thee Excitatory methods, on thee other hand, usually take less time, but require a great deal ov physical excertion, and become harder to achieve for many people, over time, because a tolerance may be built up. Thee Chemical methods are typically thee easiest, but carry with them thee possibility for lack of control and inability to use it for anything once you're there, not to mention legality issues and health risks.
Some examples ov Inhibitory altered states are sleep deprivation, fasting, sensory deprivation, and intense concentration. Examples ov excitatory altered states are such things az sex, rage, panic, pain, dancing, and chanting. Chemically-induced altered states can be broken down into the categories of stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens (most of which have either stimulant or depressant qualities as well.)
So, why all the different methods ov attaining altered states ov consciousness? Well, everyone's different, for one thing. What works easily for one person may prove incredibly hard for another. What takes one person 45 minutes, someone else may do in 10. Experimentation is thee best way to find out what works best for each individual. I'll give examples ov several possible methods ov achieving altered states.
Another reason, in my opinion, for getting acquainted with several methods iz that different methods are better suited to different things. I believe that some ov thee more "extreme" methods produce much more "extreme" states ov trance, and that thee level ov trance directly effects thee magick you're doing. Az an example, it would take a greater altered state to summon a goetic spirit to visible manifestation than it would to charge a sigil to get your best friend to buy you a Coke. Silly example, I know, but my point is that sometimes 30 minutes of concentration will get the job done, and sometimes it may take 3 or 4 days ov sleep deprivation.
Now, let's investigate some modes ov attaining an altered state. We'll start with inhibitory. Here are some basic ideas to get you started.
Reciting a mantra.
Progressive muscular relaxation.
Deep, rhythmic breathing.
Visualizing a blank screen in your mind (attempting to think ov nothing)
Sitting still and focusing on thee rhythm ov your heart beats.
Try any ov these, or a combination ov a few ov them. There are a number ov other ways, some ov which we will investigate in a moment, but these are a few simple ways to get into a light altered state. When you have entered this light altered state you may notice some ov thee following:
A tingling feeling
A feeling ov warmth or coolness
A feeling ov lightness
A feeling ov floating
These, and other sensations, are indicators ov a light trance state. In a heavier state one may also experience some ov thee following:
Auditory and/or visual hallucinations
Distortion ov time.
Here iz a simple exercise I use. It iz a very basic form ov Raja Yoga-style meditation. It uses progressive muscular relaxation, deep regular breathing, and concentration on counting backward. This exercise will, with practice, teach you to silence thee body, emotions, and mind.
Situate your body in a comfortable position wherever you are. Make sure that no part of your body iz physically restricted. Try to clear your mind ov all thoughts for a moment, and take a few deep breaths. If possible, close your eyes and focus on your physical body. Beginning with your feet, feel your toes and relax them. Feel your feet and relax them. Move on to your ankles and relax them. Continue feeling and relaxing each part of your body: your calves, knees, thighs, pelvis, inner organs, lower back, stomach, upper back, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, neck, head, face, ears, eyes, forehead, until you are totally relaxed. If you feel a part of your body tensing again, go back to it, feel it, and relax it. With practice this can be done very quickly. Mentally say to yourself that you are going to count down from 23 to 1, and that, when you reach 1, you will be in an altered state ov total relaxation and focus. Begin counting, saying to yourself between each number that your are in a deeper state ov altered consciousness, more relaxed and more focused. When you reach 1, you will be in Thee Altered State. You may simply enjoy this state, perhaps as a daily meditation, or perform whatever Magick you wish from this point. When you are ready to return to normal consciousness simply count from 1 to 5, telling yourself that you will awaken refreshed and relaxed.
From these techniques, one may wish to pursue more advanced methods such as sleep deprivation, fasting, and sensory deprivation. These methods can take a fair amount ov time, though, and they're not thee easiest thing in thee world to do, obviously. Sleep deprivation and fasting can take nearly a week to produce "good" results, but thee state iz well worth it, if that level ov trance iz what you need.
Excitatory forms ov altered consciousness, like I've said, are typically much faster initally, but often there is the matter of a tolerance being built up, which makes these methods take longer with repeated use, not to mention that some of them can be dangerous. That's not to say that these methods aren't advisable, just my thoughts...
Sex is a common method ov excitatory altered state. This includes masturbation az well az sex with one or more partners. For most people, simple sex, with a simple orgasm, is not enough to produce a very long state ov altered consciousness. Alot ov people may come back with "I've rubbed one out to charge a sigil many times, successfully." Yeah, me too. That wasn't an extended altered state though, just a few seconds at thee point ov orgasm, which is generally sufficient to charge a sigil. In my opinion, when you need to remain in a trance state for a fair amount of time, it takes more.
Sex Magick techniques are far beyond the scope ov an article ov this size, and there are several books on thee subject. One would do well to investigate such things az Tantra, Karezza, Crowley's Eroto-Comatose Lucidity, and other things of that nature. A bit ov introspection about one's personal taboo's might be a good idea az well, az experiencing these taboo's are often just what thee proverbial doctor ordered to produce an intense altered state.
Az another example, let's consider pain. Piercing, cutting, branding, self-flagellation, the list could go on and on. All of these things are valuable for reaching an altered state. If you've ever been pierced, think about thee exact moment when thee needle went through, and you were "out of it" for a few seconds. That few seconds could be used to charge a sigil. Az with what I said about sex earlier, though, sometimes you need more than a few seconds. Modern Primitive suspension practices might be something to investigate here.
I do not personally use any Chemically-induced forms ov altered consciousness anymore and choose not to comment on them or give anything in thee way ov a "how-to". Anyone who has ever experienced such things az LSD or Peyote, or any number ov other substances, can understand thee positive and negative effects ov using them in magick. I will direct thee reader to investigate thee work ov Dr. Timothy Leary for helpful ideas. Az a side note, there are also many legal chemicals worth exploring if one should find chemically-induced altered states to their liking. Caffeine, alcohol, Salvia Divinorum and many other herbs have interesting effects.