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  1. Lecture notes: On the Kamasutra – II

    Having discussed the “discovery” and publication of the Kamasutra, I will now examine some aspects of its history and influence beyond the confines of Burton’s closed circle of gentleman erotophiles. For this post, I will discuss the some of changes in representation of the Kamasutra in the West throughout the twentieth century. Continue reading »

  2. Thoughts on Initiation

    I was chatting to a friend recently about her deepening involvement with Vajrayana Buddhism and whether she should take the initiatory step of formerly taking refuge. Her dilemma was whether to “enter the stream” of the tradition or simply continue to benefit from the techniques being taught. For me this highlighted some questions that I’ve been musing on with regards the nature of what initiation is and how it may (or may not) be of benefit. Continue reading »

  3. Heart Practice II: the goddess dwelling in the heart

    The Heart is the subtle vibration of the triangle which consists of the incessant expansion and contraction of the three powers, and it is the place of repose, the place of supreme bliss. This very Heart is the Self of Bhairava, of that which is the essence of Bhairava, and of the blessed supreme Goddess who is inseperable and nondifferent from him.
    Abhinavagupta, commentary on Paratrisika-laghuvritti, transl. Paul Muller-Ortega

    So, Mind, call out “Kali! Kali”;
    meditate on the Mother’s form.
    In this way, that cloud-coloured Syama
    will dance, always
    dance, in your heart.
    Kalyankumar Mukhopadhyay (transl. Rachel Fell McDermott)

    Placing one’s chosen deity in the heart is a core element of tantra practice (see, for example Reading the Saundarya Lahari – III-2 for some related discussion and an example from the Todala Tantra.) I have been doing this now (as the beginning phase of formal puja, as formal meditation, and, increasingly, as a day-to-day, moment-by-moment rememberance) for nigh on twenty-five years, so it’s probably high time for me to make some reflections on this particular aspect of sadhana. Continue reading »

  4. Book review: The Wanton Green

    The Wanton Green A key feature of contemporary Paganism is our relationship to place. Curiously though, there seems to be little in the way of in-depth exploration from within the Pagan community of how we make and sustain our relationships with places, nor of place-making as a social or political practice. There are some excellent scholarly books examining place-making – such as Corinne G. Dempsy’s Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth: Adventures in Comparative Religion (which I reviewed
    back in July) and Adrian Ivakhiv’s Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona which argues that “sacred spaces” are heterotopic – where meaning is created, contested, and negotiated by different groups. Hopefully, The Wanton Green (Mandrake Books, Oxford, 2011, 222pp, p/bk) – an anthology of contemporary Pagan writing on our relationships with places – will inspire further explorations of Pagan approaches to place-making. Continue reading »

  5. Pathways in Modern Western Magic

    Concrescent Press have just released a new anthology – Pathways in Modern Western Magic, edited by Nevill Drury – to which I have contributed a short essay – The Magic Wonderland of the Senses: Reflections on a Hybridised Tantra Practice. Continue reading »

  6. Jottings: Reading like a frog, reading like a lion

    “Every journey begins with a single hop.”
    Kermit the frog

    Occasionally I find myself, when trying to approach a subject for writing & reflection – flitting between many different texts. So a couple of weeks ago for instance, I picked up Catherine Bell’s Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice to browse on my morning train ride, glanced at an online article by Lakoff & Johnson at lunchtime, and took in a gulp or two of Jaideva Singh’s translation of the Spanda-Karikas in the evening – all in relation to wanting to articulate a hazy idea related to ritual practice. Continue reading »

  7. Reading the Saundaryalahari – an aside

    As an “interlude” before moving on with my reflections on further verses of Saundaryalahari I want to discuss the matter of the Samayacara and Kaulacara divisions in Srividya practice, as mentioned in a previous post. Continue reading »

  8. A few links of note

    Here’s a few links to articles which relate to some of the themes on enfolding that have captured my attention of late. Continue reading »

  9. Heart Practice – I

    “The emissional energy of Sambhu thus abides everywhere. Out of it [arises] the ensemble of motions of the liquid bliss of joy. So indeed, when a sweet [song] is sung, when [there is] touching, or when [there is the smelling of] sandalwood and so on, when the state of standing in the middle [the state of indifference] ceases, [there arises] the state of vibrating in the heart, which is called precisely “the energy of bliss,” because of which a human being is with-heart.”
    Abhinavagupta, Tantraloka

    “A heartfelt practice requires attentiveness to the stillness and movement of experience – to the multiple tightenings, contractions, fluidities and expansions of immediate somatic experience. Attentiveness is the doorway to a new curriculum of breath, silence, and listening – listening in the body, listening to feeling, listening to the ordinary experiences of life – hearing [and seeing] with the heart. It is in the ordinary, disregarded or forgotten phenomena of the everyday that we discover insight and freedom. From the ordinary we distill the essence of human/heart experience.”
    Diana Denton, The Heart’s Geography: Compassion as Practice

    Continue reading »

  10. Lecture Notes: On the Kamasutra – I

    Following on from the last post in this series in which I examined William Ward and his contribution to the assciation between tantra and sex, I now want to turn to the second of the three texts I examined in my Treadwells lecture – the Kamasutra. I selected the Kamasutra specifically because it is so frequently assumed to be a “tantric” text, and because I wanted to use it as a “lens” through which to examine the period it was first published in – the late nineteenth century and in addition, its later influence in the 1960s and beyond. For this first post, I will discuss the Kamasutra and the cultural context in which it was published, and follow up with a discussion of the Kamasutra’s wider reception in the twentieth century. Continue reading »