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 »
Continuing right on from the previous post in this series, I will now examine verse 8 of Anandalahari. Continue reading »
“Meaning is not in things, but in between; in the iridescence, the interplay; in the interconnections; at the intersections, at the crossroads. Meaning is transitional as it is transitory; in the puns or bridges, the correspondence.”
Norman O Brown, Love’s Body
Whenever I exit London Bridge station, I make a brief nod in the direction of Cross Bones graveyard – its part of my recognition of London’s network of sacred spaces. I’ve been to some of the monthly vigils held at this place, but more often than not, just strolling past it – and knowing that it’s there amid the bustle of London is enough for me. Continue reading »
“Infinite and endless creations are threaded on me as pearls on a string. I myself am the lord that resides in the causal and subtle bodies of the jivas. I am Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. I am the sun, moon, and stars. I am the beasts and birds, the Brahmin and the untouchable. I am the noble soul as well as the hunter and the thief. I am male, female, and hermaphrodite. Whenever there is anything to be seen or heard, I am found there, within and without. There is nothing moving or unmoving that can exist without me.” Devi Gita
Pretty much all of the Pagan public rituals I have participated in over the last decade or so have shared a common feature – some kind of circle – which does not feature in my own practice of tantra puja. Whenever I facilitate open pujas, some of the commonest questions that arise are related to the differences between contemporary Pagan ritual processes and tantra puja as I practice it, so this post is an attempt to reflect on these very basic distinctions and how they are underwritten by very different ritual ontologies. Continue reading »
Continuing from my last post in this series I will now turn to a brief examination of verse 7 of Anandalahari – which together with verse 8, provides a preliminary dhyana – a meditation/ritual image of the goddess. Continue reading »
I’ve been involved in the UK Queer Pagan scene for a number of years now, but whenever I decide to try and write about this, I find myself reflecting on what for me is a core issue – what happens when “Queer” is placed next to Pagan? Continue reading »
For this Group Book Review, I’m going to review three books which focus on Indian Sadhus and Yogis. In popular texts, sadhus and yogis are frequently represented as disengaged from the world – socially isolated and in popular works on tantra, often portrayed as marginalised “antinomian” figures existing on the edges of Indian society. All of these books challenge these representations in various ways. Continue reading »