On Tuesday 10th of July I will be giving a lecture at Treadwells Bookshop entitled “Tantra, Sex and the Orientalist Imagination”.
Say Tantra and most people think sex. Whether it’s sacred sexuality, sexual magic or ‘tantric massages’, the word evokes an exotic or liberating sexual experience – but how did this idea come about? In this lecture, I’ll be rummaging through the works of a wide variety of authors – ranging from Orientalist scholars, Christian missionaries, to travel writers and pornographers, and exploring the relationship between between sex and empire. I’ll be taking a look at the influence of the Kama Sutra and its publication by Richard Burton, then onwards through to the psychedelic sixties and Omar Garrison’s Tantra: The Yoga of Sex. I’ll discuss how, almost as soon as the notion of “tantra” emerged it became associated with dark deeds, night-time orgies and sexual depravity, and examine how the various representations of tantra reflected wider cultural trends and anxieties throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Directions & Contact Details for Treadwells.
I first heard about the Nath Sampradaya in 1986, through an initial meeting (and later practicing with) members of AMOOKOS, the West-East tantric magical “order” founded in 1978 at the behest of Shri Gurudev Mahendranath (Dadaji) – a.k.a Anton Miles, a “white sadhu” who had (or so I was told) been initiated into a branch of the Natha Sampradaya in the early 1950s (See here for some further discussion of AMOOKOS and its contested and convoluted history as a “western Natha Siddha Transmission”). Dadaji/Anton Miles certainly deserves more attention. Quite apart from his status as a sadhu, he is known to have fought in the International Brigade against Franco’s fascists in the 1930s, was arrested in Brighton for demonstrating for Unemployment benefit reform (an event which was briefly mentioned in the New York Post), and claimed an association with Gerald Gardner’s Bricket Wood Coven as well as a meeting with Aleister Crowley. The Naths though, were presented as “hardcore” tantric practitioners, as having “founded” hatha yoga, and as being an “outsider” tradition with little contact with mainstream culture, and moreover, that they were “dying out” as India modernised and became less amenable to tantric practices. In those days, there was not much in the way of scholarly work available on the Naths, apart from George Weston Briggs’ 1938 book, Goraknath and the Kanphata Yogis. Continue reading »