For many thousands of years humans
have felt the need to communicate with a power greater
than themselves. When life seemed tough in those ancient
days, it was comforting to believe that what man couldn't
deal with could be passed "upwards" for that
greater power to help with. To us nowadays this may
seem like an abdication of responsibility, but to ancient
man with his limited control of natural events, it must
have felt good to have a superior being on your side.
That belief in a super-natural power
went hand in hand with the belief that when a person
died, somehow part of him (the essence or "spirit"
of the person) continued to exist after death as a separate
entity independent of his physical body, and that spirit moved
on to new pastures to live another kind of life. They
didn't know exactly where the spirit went to, but it
must have gone somewhere because it was not visible
Ancient man was in awe of natural
forces - wind, rain, lightning, thunder, storms etc.,
believing these were expressions of the mood of the
great creator who (logically) lived high in the skies.
It made sense that when a person died, his spirit went
to the skies too. It was also assumed (wrongly, as we
now know) that when the spirit was set free from the
body and went to join the creator in the skies, that
spirit was suddenly all-knowing and powerful, and was
immediately endowed with great wisdom and insight. Thus
it became acceptable to ask one's departed friends and
family to use their new-found wisdom to help those left
behind on earth with advice and problem-solving.
Quite how ancient man discovered the
means to communicate with departed spirits is not known
(perhaps trial-and-error?) but we do know that methods
were discovered and honed over thousands of years,
using nothing more than the human mind and a few mental
props such as incense and oils, musical instruments
and drugs, to produce an altered state of consciousness
where physical reality was suspended for a while
in order to facilitate communication with the spirits.
Several methods were devised, which
differed according to the culture of the particular
area. One method, used by the Ancient Greeks, was to spend
a few days in dimly-lit underground caves, and when the time was
considered right the person seeking answers to life's
problems would stare into the surface of a
large oil-filled cauldron and receive the required answers.
Another method consisted of staring into a crystal ball
- after a while images were conjured up in the mind.
More modern methods involve blindfolds, earplugs and
water flotation tanks. The common theme running through
all methods is sensory
Put simply, when the
mind is deprived of external stimulation such as sensory
information from the eyes and ears, it will tend to
form its own sights and sounds. Nature abhors a vacuum!
And if the mind can be influenced to think of
a certain pre-determined subject when all other sensory
input is withdrawn (or
just as importantly, when the sensory input bores
the mind), then
it will often produce images relating to that subject.
This seems to be the way in which the manteum works
- convince the mind beforehand of the subject matter
and it will often produce the desired result, namely
communication with those departed souls.