As with most things, brain wave levels are on a continuum. We do not experience only the four distinct levels outlined here. With practice we can move quickly between levels, but we can also experience a slow movement through the various levels. There is no difference between various types of trance. We go through some or all of the levels shown here whether we are going from wakefulness to sleep and back to wakefulness, being hypnotized by another person, going through a guided meditation, self-inducing trance or hypnosis, or doing invocation, channeling or oracular work.
Because trance is as natural as sleeping and waking there is no danger in it. We can not get lost or stuck while in trance. The worst thing that can happen while meditating or doing astral projection is that we sometimes fall asleep and forget the messages we received.
However we are suggestible while in Theta and Delta (deep and very deep) levels of trance. This means that we can be influenced by what we hear. Subliminal self-help tapes and hypnosis to help us stop smoking, lose weight, improve study habits, gain confidence, etc. can work because of this suggestibility. Because of this suggestibility, we can be influenced while in the Theta and Delta stages of trance we should avoid participating in trance and hypnosis practice with anyone who we do not know well and fully trust.
We can not be coerced to do anything in trance which goes against our ingrained sense of ethics but we need to be free from worry that anyone will impose their will on us while we are in this suggestible state. Appropriate guided meditations will not include any suggestions which could influence a person's free will. Guided meditations used in Wicca are for the purpose of introducing practitioners to their own ability to work in altered states of consciousness and to prove that the individual has complete control over the level and purpose of all trance work.
In the practice of Wicca we find that we can best receive messages and images from the gods, elementals and animal guides while in Alpha, Theta, or Delta levels of consciousness. We need to be wary of messages or signs which we experience while in full Beta awareness. In Beta our conscious mind is in control and can create or distort messages which appear to be from the gods or other sources outside of ourselves.
You will meet many people who seem to hear and see all sorts of otherworldly messages and beings which seem to be somewhat unbelievable. If we are at all empathic or intuitive we usually find that these same people live in nearly a constant state of being flighty and ungrounded. One must be centered and grounded before moving effectively from Beta to deeper levels of trance, and it is only when we let our subconscious take more control than our conscious mind that we are open to messages from the gods, etc.
With practice you will be able to recognize the various levels of consciousness in yourself and in others. Do not be overly concerned with memorizing the various levels and names of the levels. The important thing to remember is that trance occurs on a continuum and for the purpose of meditation deeper is better, but only to a certain point: There is no point in attempting to achieve the Delta level when working alone! The reasons for that will become apparent as you read on.
Beta: This is the level where we are most awake and most alert. All of our senses are consciously alert and active. Most of our waking time is spent in the Beta level. We are in the Beta level when we are doing critical thinking, solving math problems, and consciously seeking an answer or object. Beta brain waves are measured between 13 and 35 C.P.S. (Cycles Per Second).
Beta is the level at which we need for operating tools or machinery or for driving a car. When you are driving a familiar route and suddenly realize you are not aware of the last ten miles you drove, or you have just exited at the correct off-ramp without conscious thought then you have been driving in an Alpha (less conscious) state. This is probably not dangerous, but we recommend trying to stay in Beta while driving or operating dangerous machinery. If we slip into Alpha, then the next step is Theta (nearly unconscious state) which is definitely something you want to avoid when conscious alertness is required.
Beta is the level at which we tend to operate in a classroom setting when taking notes or waiting to respond to a question. Some people find learning and remembering easier if they move to the Alpha state when absorbing new information. Practice centering and grounding before class and you will be likely to see an increase in retention of the material presented. When taking exams or at any time you need to recall the material learned go into the Alpha state again for an easier retrieval of the material.
When you find yourself thinking and figuring, with your mind going around in circles, and still unable to solve a problem you are operating on the Beta level. When you become aware of this center yourself, ground and move to Alpha for more productive problem solving.
Stress and anxiety are linked to the Beta level of consciousness. With practice we can slip easily into an Alpha state and rid ourselves of stress and anxiety at any time. However, trance itself is not a permanent solution to all stress and anxiety that we experience. The root cause of these very physical and negative feelings must be found and eliminated for permanent relief.
Alpha: This is a state of heightened awareness of all of our senses. We slip in and out of the Alpha level throughout the day. Daydreaming, watching a good movie, reading a good book or talking with a friend involves Alpha level consciousness. Alpha brain waves are measured between 8 and 12 C.P.S.
Alpha is easily achieved by centering and grounding. We need to be in at least the Alpha level when we begin ritual, divination or a guided meditation. We are still aware of our surroundings to some degree while in the Alpha state, but our conscious mind is relaxing and letting go of its focus on those things which negatively impact the meditative or trance state.
We can experience at least some input or influence of the gods while in Alpha. This can be especially helpful while speaking Quarter Meditations in ritual, doing divination, or any time we need to access information on the craft.
Theta: Theta is a state of heightened creativity. It is in Theta that we experienced REM (Rapid Eye Movement) in sleep. When experienced outside of sleep this altered state of consciousness provides the creative level at which scientists, writers, musicians and other highly creative people function. Theta brain waves are measured between 4 and 8 C.P.S.
Most people will experience meditation, guided meditation, and astral projection in the Theta level. This is the ideal which allows the words of the guided meditation to come through while at the same time allowing us to experience the full range of creative images presented to us by our subconscious. This level also allows us to remember our experiences in meditation and astral projection and bring them back with us as we return to full consciousness. Frequently the feelings and images we bring back from meditation will be stronger than exact words which we may be unable to remember.
Invocation of the gods can be experienced in Theta or Delta states. In Theta we our conscious of the gods speaking through us and have some control over whether or not we allow them to speak through us. The closer we are to Delta while under invocation the less we will remember what occurred during the invocation.
Ideally a Priest or Priestess coming back after an invocation will remember some of the images which accompanied the words spoken by the god or goddess and will be able to relay those images in words to those who were present for the invocation. It is the duty of the Priest and Priestess to be very careful not to attempt to interpret, and put their own spin on the meanings of any words or images received until after others have heard them in their pure form. Since many or most messages from the gods are open to interpretation it is natural for a coven to discuss the messages and reach possible conclusions as to their meanings.
While divination can be done in Alpha, ideally we are in Theta level when we do perform it. At this level we are free from our tendency to insert our personal interpretations into readings and we are open to the gods working through us.
Delta: The Delta level is found in both profound sleep and somnambulistic trance. Delta brain waves are measured between 1 and 4 C.P.S.
People who walk in their sleep are called somnambulists (which means, literally, sleep walker). People in Delta are also sometimes able to speak. There is no memory of talking or walking in a somnambulistic state since the conscious mind is completely asleep.
Stage hypnotists put their subjects in the Delta level of consciousness in order to make suggestions of auditory, visual and perceptual hallucinations. The subconscious mind is completely open and the person will respond to any suggestions in a very literal manner.
Deep invocation of the gods and Oracular work are done in the Delta level of consciousness. The Priest, Priestess, or Oracle invites a god or goddess to speak through him or her as they go deeper into trance. The person in Delta leaves their body, in effect moving their conscious mind aside completely in order to let the god or goddess take control and speak and act through them.
A Priest or Priestess invokes a god or goddess and allows that god or goddess to speak through him or her bringing messages to other members of a coven. This is frequently called Drawing Down the Moon (or Sun) but technically that term is only appropriate when it is, indeed the goddess of the Moon or god of the Sun which is being invoked. If a Priest or Priestess merely speaks or recites words attributed to the god or goddess (as in The Charge of the Goddess) this is not a true invocation.
An Oracle is a Priest or Priestess who serves the gods and the people in a way similar to that of a Priest or Priestess under invocation. An Oracle's purpose and method of operation is somewhat different in that the Oracle generally sits in silence until questions are asked directly to the god or goddess who then answers (frequently in a veiled or cryptic manner) through the Oracle.
Because the Delta level of trance achieved in invocation or oracular work is somnambulistic there is no memory of what has been said or what has occurred during the trance. For this reason this level of trance work is always done with another person or persons present to receive the words of the gods.
Some people are very much naturals at achieving the Delta level of trance, for others much practice may be needed. Additional practice is needed to allow the gods to actually speak through us while we are in the Delta level of trance. It does no one any good for us to have the gods speaking to our subconscious minds but unable to speak through our mouths. This part of invocation/oracular work does not necessarily come naturally or automatically with Delta trance. It can be frustrating for those watching to see a god or goddess take over the body of a Priest or Priestess only to have no words come through. This is one reason why invocation work is done at the Theta level more often than that at the Delta level. A working partner, experienced in trance work, will help the Priest or Priestess with allowing the gods to speak through him or her.
See Meditation and Astral Projection articles for further information.