Skip to navigation | Skip to content



  1. “A thousand kisses darling”: Sex, scandal and spirituality in the life of Charles Webster Leadbeater – I

    This essay started off as a lecture presented at Treadwells Bookshop of London in February 2008, as part of LGBT History Month.

    Introduction
    The Theosophical Society was one of the most influential esoteric movements of the Twentieth Century, not only in terms of its role in formulating many concepts that remain popular in contemporary occult and new age ideology, but also in shaping the modern world as we know it. In this series of posts, I will examine the sex scandals that dogged the career of one of the Society’s most infamous members, Charles Webster Leadbeater, a prolific author and lecturer, who was hailed by his followers as one of humanity’s most advanced adepts, yet at the same time, denounced by others as “a sex-pervert.” Continue reading »

  2. Review: Two books on Bauls

    In my recent post on syncretism I made mention of two books that I had recently read concerning the Baul tradition. I found both of these books helpful in relation to their attempts to understand religious difference and the negotiation of Identity, and what follows is a brief review of each. Continue reading »

  3. Some Thoughts on Syncretism…..

    I’ve recently been digging into the “Yogis, Heros and Poets” anthology on the Nath tradition that Phil recently reviewed. The article that I found most striking was reflection by David N. Lorenzen on the similarities between the perspectives of Gorakhnath and the mystical poet Kabir in relation to their perceptions of religious difference. For Lorenzen the inspired intellectualism of these two teacher/poets allowed them to express a sense of liberty from religious division that seemed in contrast to mere folksy syncretism. Continue reading »

  4. Book review: Counter-Tourism: the Handbook

    Here is a treat for anyone who has wandered round a historic site, bored by the expected and provided routes and interpretations. Counter-Tourism by Crab Man (Triarchy Press 2012) is a challenge, an invitation and a license for the gentle naughtiness of doing the unexpected thing. Continue reading »

  5. Book review: Contradictory Lives

    The Bauls of West Bengal and Bangladesh are a religious group renown for wandering the countryside, begging for alms, singing and performing their music. In practice and belief, they combine elements from the wider Vaishnava community and unorthodox esoteric elements from tantric-oriented groups such as the Sahajiyas and Sufism. Bauls are opposed to the caste system, sectarianism and argue that truth cannot be found in texts, rituals, or temples. They hold women in high regard and view them as gurus in relation to their male partners. This “ideal” image of Bauls, as nonconformist mystics dominates both academic and popular representations, but says little of their actual lives, and in particular, the lives of women Bauls. Continue reading »

  6. Dialogue III: On the pleasures of initiation

    “Initiation is of three kinds: Initiation by touch (Sparsa), Initiation by sight (Drksamjna) and Initiation by thought (Manasa) – all these three are done without Rituals and without exertions. O My Beloved! Initiation and instruction by touch is likened to the slow nourishing of its young with the warmth of its wings. O Paramesvari! Initiation and instruction by sight is like the nourishing of its young by the fish through its seeing alone. Initiation and instruction by thought is like the nourishing of its young by the tortoise by only thinking of them.”
    Kulanarva Tantra, transl. R.K Rai

    “Now I am going to reveal to you this devotion to the Guru, give me your undivided attention. Just as the river Ganges joins the sea with its wealth of water, or the Vedas enter the abode of the Supreme or a chaste wife dedicates her life with its good and bad points to her husband, so he dedicates his heart along with his senses to the family of his Guru and becomes verily the temple of devotion to him. Just as a wife keeps on thinking of her absent husband, the thoughts of the place where his Guru dwells crowd his mind….”
    Jnaneshvari (13, 371-375) transl.M.R. Yardi

    Continue reading »

  7. Are there “queer pagan mysteries”?

    “Religion becomes queer when it breaks up the desiring self, when it refuses to confess an identity, when it refuses to say who we are, and acknowledges a plural self with polymorphous desires. To queer religion is to queer the foundations of theology, its monotheism, its monosexuality and its monopoly of truth”.
    Jeremy R Carette, Michael Foucault and Theology: The Politics of Religious Experience

    Not long after my post on queering deity I received an email inviting me to participate in a “Queer Pagan Mysteries” workshop (that’s “participate” with a price tag, of course). My answer was that I wasn’t sure what constituted “Queer Pagan Mysteries” but that I’d be interested in finding out what was being referred to here. Continue reading »

  8. Book review: Sex before Sexuality

    How do we approach the sex lives of our forebears? In much of contemporary esoteric literature, there’s a tendency to assume that the identity categories we are so familiar with nowadays are universal and can be applied unreflexively to premodern cultures in Europe and beyond. Indeed, there is a trend towards looking for evidence for the existence of those same sexual identities in the past, in order to legitimise them – and to argue that “the ancients” for example, were really, just like us. There has been a considerable amount of scholarship contesting such assumptions of course, but its not always accessible to a non-academic reader. Sex before sexuality: A Premodern History (Polity Press, 2011, 200pp, p/bk) provides a useful introduction to contemporary theories on the interpretation of attitudes to sex in the premodern period. Continue reading »

  9. 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 »

  10. 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 »