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  1. Chakras into the west: Rama Prasad’s Nature’s Finer Forces – II

    For this second post on the subject of Rama Prasad’s 1890 book Nature’s Finer Forces and its relevance to the development of contemporary discourses regarding chakras, kundalini and related subjects, I’m going to examine the “controversy” over Rama Prasad’s work that I mentioned in the previous post. Continue reading »

  2. Chakras into the west: Rama Prasad’s Nature’s Finer Forces – I

    As promised at the end of the last post in this series, for this next part I’m going to take a look at the work of Rama Prasad – in particular his 1890 book, Nature’s Finer Forces, first published in Lahore under the title of Occult Science: The Science of Breath in 1884.

    Why this particular book? I find Nature’s Finer Forces interesting for a number of reasons. Although it does not have a great deal to say about chakras/kundalini – what it does say – and how Rama Prasad presents an explanation of the subjects covered using the scientific terminology of the time is of value. It is frequently assumed that scientific interpretations of chakras, etc., are a western or ‘colonial’ overlay or imposition on indigenous, premodern representations of the transmaterial body. That Rama Prasad and a number of other Indian authors of this period (some of whom I’ll be examining in future installments) did so, raises interesting questions regarding cultural intersections and the formation of knowledge. Also, Nature’s Finer Forces was to some extent, the cause of controversy within the Theosophical Society – prompting Madame Blavatsky to make some fairly unequivocal statements on the subject of Tantra. Continue reading »

  3. Reflections on a ‘Kundalini’ experience – I

    I’ve started working on an autobiographical writing project recently – looking back on some of my earlier writing, and reflecting on what experiences and ideas prompted me to do a particular piece, placing it within the context of my personal trajectory at the time, and how my ideas have changed since. An example of this process that I thought would be of interest to enfolding readers follows, an examination of the events which contributed to one of the first essays I ever wrote relating to the general subject of tantra, entitled “Kundalini: A Personal Approach”. Continue reading »

  4. Book Review: My Years of Magical Thinking

    My Years of Magical ThinkingWe live in an age of enchantment. Over the last thirty years or so there has been a gathering tide of interest in magic, from popular culture to the academy. Esoteric and Pagan studies are both rapidly expanding fields, and magic, far from having declined or been relegated to the marginal or countercultural, is now increasingly being shown to be a key influence in many aspects of contemporary culture, from the arts to the sciences. Indeed, many of the key figures associated with the so-called Age of Enlightenment have been shown to have had a deep engagement with the occult, ranging from Descartes’ interest in Kabbalah to Newton’s writings on Alchemy. 1 Magic is being celebrated and explored in ways undreamt of by those who uncritically accepted Keith Thomas’ pronouncement in the 1970s that magic had “declined”. Rather than attempting to explain away or banish the occult back to its supposedly marginal status, there is an increasing focus, in a wide range of disciplines – from history to cognitive neuroscience – to explore magic’s affects and possibilities. Surfing the crest of this occultural zeitgeist comes Lionel Snell’s new book, My Years of Magical Thinking. Continue reading »

  5. Tantra & Possession – II

    In my April 2017 Treadwells Lecture, I briefly touched on the growth of theistic religions in India during the early centuries of the common era. With the rise of theistic forms of religion, we get different articulations of how to enter into an intense, affective relationship to one’s chosen deity. Some devotees sought to absorb the power of their deity through the exchange of glance – darśan – a reciprocal act of seeing & knowing. Similarly, ingesting food (prasad) allows the divine grace of the deity to enter the body and thereby diminish the boundary between devotee and deity. Another powerful means to establish a relationship with deity is to take on the form of the deity – or take on a form that is considered pleasing to the deity. This doesn’t necessarily involve possession – but it’s not difficult to see how, once these ideas become popular, they can quickly develop into possession by a deity as indicative of a state of grace or power. Continue reading »

  6. Tantra & Possession – I

    This post is the first in a series based on my May 2017 lecture at Treadwells Bookshop of London entitled “Tantra & Trance Possession” together with some additional material which had to excluded for lack of time.

    Introduction
    Chamunda by Maria StrutzWhy Tantra & Trance Possession? Possession as a magical or religious practice is not something that is commonly associated with Tantra – I’ve tended to find that occultists are surprised to hear that tantra practice has a place for possession workings – it’s something that we are far more used to hearing about in relation to traditions such as Santeria, Candomble, etc. It’s possible we don’t think of possession in relation to India due to the overwhelming trope of the “mystic east” and the related idea that Indian religions – and Indian esoteric religions in particular, are world-denying and “peaceful”. In fact, possession is very common across South Asia – there’s a great deal of ethnographic material on contemporary possession-oriented practice in India. For this lecture, however, I’ll be focusing on historical material – of which there is a great deal, so what you’ll be getting is selected highlights. Continue reading »

  7. Jottings: on comparative demonologies

    At my May 2017 lecture at Treadwells Bookshop examining Tantra & Trance Possession, I gave a very brief outline of “afflictive possession” in both Ayurvedic & Tantric texts – and what is sometimes referred to as bhūtavidyā (‘the science of spirits’) including some remarks on how this subject is treated in the Netra Tantra – an eighth-century Kashmiri text, possibly composed in court circles, which has much to say on the subject of possession, exorcism, and related topics. Continue reading »

  8. 2017 Lectures so far

    A quick announcement for some up-coming lectures in the UK. Continue reading »

  9. Book Review: An Introduction to Indian Philosophy

    Not long ago, I ran into a friend who asked what I was reading at the moment. I replied that I was reading a book on the work of Kumārilabhaṭṭa, a seventh-century Indian philosopher of the Mīmāṃsā school. This led to a good deal of explanation about what the Mīmāṃsās thought, what Kumārila had to say in particular, and why I was interested in his work in the first place. After all that he said something to the effect that he thought that Tantra wasn’t a philosophy – or at least that as a “tradition” it wasn’t given over to much philosophical speculation. Continue reading »

  10. Armed Yogis – I

    “Never have I seen such yogis, brother.
    They wander mindless and negligent, proclaiming the way of Mahadeva.
    For this they are called great mahants.
    To markets and bazaars they peddle their meditation – false siddhas, lovers of maya.
    When did Dattatreya attack a fort?
    When did Sukadeva join with gunners?
    When did Narada fire a musket?
    When did Vyasadeva sound a battle cry?
    These numbskulls make war. Are they ascetics or archers?
    They profess detachment, but greed is their mind’s resolve.
    They shame their profession by wearing gold. They collect stallions and mares,
    acquire villages, and go about as millionaires.”
    Kabira-bijaka

    For my first post for 2017 I thought I’d explore an issue that I touched on in the introduction to the lecture I gave at Treadwells Bookshop in London – “Yogis Behaving Badly” last November – armed Yogis. Continue reading »