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  1. Recollections of an occasional pagan activist

    Scene: meeting of Leeds Anti-Fascist-Action, some time in 1986:

    “Okay, I’ve been asked to come and facilitate a magical action. I know some of you are very skeptical about this, which is okay by me. Feel free not to participate. You might think it’s all a bit silly. You could just think of it like some of the Agit-Prop stuff Danbert and co. did in the town centre a couple of years back. A lark, nothing more.

    So … you won’t mind then when I ask you to meditate on the swastika….” Continue reading »

  2. On Beauty: the human, the divine – I

    What comes to mind when an Indian text tells us, for example, that the goddess Tripura is beautiful? To be sure, from the perspective of practice at least, we cannot help but associate such statements with our own culturally-based conceptions of what constitutes beauty. But it helps, I feel, to know something of the social milieu from which these works sprang forth – its ethos, its ideals and aspirations, its cultural mores. What follows is the first in a series of posts in which I will try and explore Indian concepts of beauty, and how they relate to tantra practice and in particular, to the Saundaryalahari. This opening post is very much a general introduction, outlining some of the key concepts. Continue reading »

  3. Book Review: Fanny & Stella

    The arrest of Ernest “Stella” Boulton and Frederick “Fanny” Park in drag, at London’s Strand Theatre on 28th April 1870 led to one of the most sensational trials of the Nineteenth century. Charged with not only “the abominable crime of buggery” but also conspiracy to commit “said crime” and – “to disguise themselves as women and to frequent places of public resort, so disguised, and to thereby openly and scandalously outrage public decency and corrupt public morals.” The arrest of Fanny & Stella is the opening act in Neil McKenna’s uproarious account of the affair in Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England (Faber & Faber, 2014). Continue reading »

  4. Book review: Modern Tantra by Donald Michael Kraig

    Donald Michael Kraig (1951-2014) was a highly acclaimed author and teacher – perhaps best known for his 1988 book Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons from the High Magickal Arts (published by Llewellyn Publications). His new book – published posthumously – is Modern Tantra: Living One of the World’s Oldest and Continuously Practiced Forms of Pagan Spirituality in the New Millennium (Llewellyn, 2015). It is available as a paperback, Kindle edition, and via Scribd subscription. Continue reading »

  5. Chakras into the west: James Morgan Pryse’s “The Apocalypse Unsealed”

    For some time now, I’ve been idly collecting notes for a monograph – or perhaps a lecture or two – on the early twentieth-century European authors who played a role in shaping contemporary western discourse on the chakras; in particular, it’s reification into the ubiquitous seven-chakra schema reproduced ad nauseum in hundreds of contemporary new age, occult, and yoga texts, together with its increasing medicalisation.

    The obvious sources for much of contemporary chakra discourse are Sir John Woodroffe, whose translation of the Ṣaṭ-chakra-nirūpaṇa, entitled “The Serpent Power” appeared in 1918, and Charles Webster Leadbeater’s 1927 book, The Chakras. I also thought it would be interesting to take a look at Jung’s 1932 Kundalini lectures, and how he interpreted chakras in terms of individuation. A recent blog post by scholar-practitioner Christopher Wallis: The Real Story on the Chakras has rekindled my interest in this project, and I thought that – rather than posting about the “big three” mentioned above, I’d write about a rather less well-known author with a rather novel interpretation of chakras – James Morgan Pryse. Continue reading »

  6. On Numinous Sound: some opening thoughts on Mantra

    The King of Mantras, O dear One! is at all times engendered by the union of Śiva and Śakti, and by that of the Yoginīs, the Vīras, and the Vīrendas. Thus constituted, delighting in the utmost bliss, the Goddess, whose nature is vibration [spanda], of innate beauty, once known, is to be freely worshipped.
    Yoginīhṛdaya 2, 17-18 (transl. André Padoux & Roger-Orphé Jeanty)

    At the end of the last post in the Saundaryalahari series, I promised that I would say something on the subject of mantras. This is a vast subject, and even with over a quarter-century of study & practice at my back, it is still a topic which I would approach only slowly. Before diving into the historical & philosophical complexities of mantra, I thought I’d begin then, with some reflections on my own early encounters with mantra-practice. Continue reading »

  7. Lecture notes: Omar Garrison – I

    Back in 2012 I started a series of posts entitled “Lecture Notes” which related – in various ways – to the lecture I did at Treadwells Bookshop that year examining the widespread view that tantra is fundamentally, about sex. More specifically, I wanted to present the idea that this identification is the end-product of particular historical processes and cultural ping-ponging, and chose to do so by looking at three different textual representations of tantra & sexuality – the writing of William Ward at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Richard Burton’s translation of the Kamasutra at the other end of the nineteenth century, and finally Omar Garrison’s Tantra: the yoga of sex which was published in 1964. (there were also two posts on Edward Sellon which was an initial dive into the fuzzy boundaries between anthropology and pornography). But I never actually got around to writing up some of my thoughts on Omar Garrison until now, having become sidetracked into looking into early sexological writing on the subject of “sacred sex” (Marie Stopes and Havelock Ellis) and some futher work on the Kamasutra. Continue reading »

  8. Book review: Tantra Illuminated

    I’m often asked by correspondents if there’s “one book” that will cover all aspects of tantra for a general reader. Of course there are many books which make the bold claim of being “the only book” a reader will ever need, but if there’s one book that I would unhesistatingly recommend to anyone – indeed that deserves a place on any bookshelf – it would be Christopher Wallis’ Tantra Illuminated (Mattamayūra Press, 2013, 506pp, p/bk). Continue reading »

  9. Book review: Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You

    Devdutt Pattanaik’s 2002 book, The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore (Harrington Park Press) was one of the first non-academic works to provide an in-depth exploration of potential queer themes in Hindu mythology, so I was interested to see what his latest offering – Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You (Zubaan and Penguin Books India, 2014) – would be like. Shikhandi is retellings of tales from a variety of sources, ranging from the Mahabharata, the Yoga Vasishtha, various Puranas, Tamil literature and oral traditions, to the Navanatha Charita and oral traditions of the Hijras. Continue reading »

  10. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVIII

    The one who repeats the fifteen-syllable mantra of Tripurā attains all desires, all enjoyments, conquers all the worlds, causes all words to emerge; achieving identity with Rudra, one breaks through the veil of Viṣṇu and obtains the supreme Brahman.
    Tripurātāpinī Upaniṣad

    So to verses 32-33 of Anandalahari. These stanzas are held by all commentators to express the secret fifteen/sixteen-syllable mantra of Tripurā-Sundarī. Continue reading »