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  1. 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 »

  2. 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 »

  3. Intensities: Walking sacred London

    My working day begins with a passage through London, a tour through a slice of history in a city which continually rewrites itself. It is during my daily walk to my workplace that I take time to connect to my sense of the sacred – found in moments of connection; in chance encounters; in memories of my own past entwined with the histories of of the places I pass and the spaces passed through; in those instants when I am caught unawares by wonder; thoughts stilled in the swirl of the senses. Continue reading »

  4. Book review: The Grade Papers of the Magical Order of AMOOKOS

    The Grade Papers of the Magical Order of AMOOKOSThis book consists of the collected Grade Papers of the East-West Tantrik order, Amookos. These papers were originally published back in 1989, under the title of Tantra Magick which has been out of print for a number of years. This is a welcome re-edition for Kindle (and also available as an epub for Adobe Digital Editions), which contains some extra material.

    Amookos emerged from the contact between Mike Magee and Leonard Miles (a.k.a. Dadaji). Dadaji was an early traveller to India who had arrived in India in the early 50s, pre-dating the hippy trail, and he was initiated into the Adi-Nath sampradaya in 1953. A fuller history of the sampradaya and Amookos can be found here. The book is a distillation of Mike’s experiences and Dadaji’s inspiration. It aims to turn the sometime obscurity of Tantrik material into something useful and usable. I think it succeeds admirably. Continue reading »

  5. Strange Adventures in Tantra

    Having just read Phil’s excellent overview of some of the key challenges in seeking to engage with the broad array of traditions and practices that might be described as being “Tantric”, I started to reflect more on my own personal engagement with some of this material.

    If it’s so problematic to dialogue with these traditions without risking either Modernist over-simplification or cultural appropriation, what motivates a self-identified Chaos Magician to attempt such an undertaking? What follows are some personal reflections on the lived phenomena of what I found myself doing, the arising of these urges often deeply challenging my existing self-concept and assumed identities. Continue reading »

  6. Jottings: on defining tantra

    “Not knowing that the truth is situated within one’s Self, the deluded is confused by looking for it in treatises. One whose judgement is so poor is like the shepherd who sees his goat in a well when it is actually already within the flock.”
    Kulanarva Tantra, 1.96

    “the Tantras are generally mere manuals of mysticism, magic, and superstition of the worst and most silly kind.”
    Monier Monier-Williams

    Sometimes, when I do public lectures on tantra, or just natter on to people in the pub or round a campfire, I’m asked to give a “definition” of tantra. This is something that I’m generally reluctant to do, as tantra is such a wide-ranging field, that it’s well-nigh to sum it up in a one-size-fits-all definition. So for this post, I’m going to explore some of the ways that contemporary scholars have attempted to get to grips with the problem of defining tantra. I’d argue that it’s useful to acquaint oneself with these issues, particularly, if, one is drawing on contemporary scholarship on tantra for inspiration and guidance. Continue reading »

  7. Book review: Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth

    I’m generally wary of the comparative approach to the study of religion (and myth), if only as, as an approach it has tended to supress or conceal differences between cultures, giving rise to the illusion of homogeneity by reducing the expressions of other cultures to the concepts being deployed by the person doing the comparison. Comparative approaches, so often uncritically map the religious features of other cultures onto European classifications, and thereby work as a form of cultural imperialism. Comparative models have also been used to support the flawed notion that magical/religious techniques can be easily “lifted” from their cultural context. Continue reading »

  8. Lecture Notes: On William Ward

    “The Tuntrus are fabulously attributed by the Hindoos to Shiva and Doorga; and are said to have been compiled from conversations between these two deities; the words of Shiva being called Agumu, and those of Doorga, Nigumu. Narudu is said to have communicated these conversations to the sages. Through the inability of men to obtain abstraction of mind in religious austerities, yogu, &c. the ceremonies enjoined in the veda could not be performed; in compassion to the people, therefore, say the learned Hindoos, the Tuntras were written, which prescribe an easier way to heaven, viz by incantations, repeating the names of the gods, ceremonial worship, &c. &c.
    At present a few of the original tuntrus, as well as compilations from them, are read in Bengal. Those who study them are called tantriku pundits.”
    William Ward, A view of the history, literature, and mythology of the Hindoos

    For this post I’m going to examine the work of the Reverend William Ward (1769-1823), who provided one of the earliest European accounts of tantric beliefs and practices, and was one of the most widely-read and influential observers of Indian life and religion throughout the nineteenth century. Continue reading »

  9. Lecture Notes: On Edward Sellon – II

    In the previous post on Edward Sellon I took a look at Sellon’s pornographic writings within the wider of context of nineteenth century attitudes to India & sexuality. For this post, I’m going to take a look at some of Sellon’s scholarly work, it’s reception, and its role in the representation of tantra. Continue reading »

  10. Book review: A Queer and Pleasant DANGER

    I think it’s pretty important to say from the outset, that with regards Kate Borstein’s books I’m a bit of a fanboi. Two of her earlier works – Gender Outlaw and My Gender Workbook are generally viewed as seminal for those of us whose gender expression fails to fall neatly into binary tick boxes. Bornstein in person is feisty and unapologetic about where she feels she has had to travel in order to become more herself. Continue reading »