I am currently reading Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse – Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938). It contains the following interesting passage “… the medicine man… and the ‘God wood tree’ (Birch Gum) . He had a covenant with that tree on the sunny side… One day we were there to prevent the enemies of the medicine man from harming him. He took a strong nail and hammer with him and drove the nail into the tree up to the head with three strokes, dropped the hammer and walked away rapidly without looking back. Later on he sent me back to fetch the hammer to him. He proved to me that all you need to do to poison a person and leave them horribly swollen was to touch a chip of this tree to their skin while they were sweating. It was uncanny”. Reading this, it occurred to me that if that was the sunny side of the tree, I wouldn’t be at all keen on meeting the person with a covenant with the shadow side.
What does it mean to have a covenant with a tree? Western en-visionings of shamanism very frequently focus on relationships with animal spirits guides. What about relationships with plants? Continue reading »
I’m very pleased to announce that I have an article in the forthcoming inaugural edition of Abraxas – a new esoteric journal which is a collaborative venture by Treadwells Bookshop and Fulgur Ltd – so it will be both full of fascinating content and look fantastic to boot! Other contributors include Stephen Grasso, James Butler, John Callow, Daniel Schulke and Sarah Penicka-Smith. My own contribution is based on my Treadwells lecture from September 2008 – The Third Eye: The Fantastic World of Lobsang Rampa. There will be a launch party for Abraxas at Treadwells on the 30th October.
A great deal of contemporary magical discourse establishes a “hard” distinction between theory and practice – and between theory and experience. If you look on occult forums you’ll regularly see people indulging in a kind of magical oneupmanship by claiming that they have “direct experience” whilst others have only read books, so their views don’t carry as much weight. Equally, there is much bashing of so-called “armchair magicians” – people who have lots of theories or opinions, but haven’t yet made the leap into putting those theories into practice. There seems to be a general assumption that to be an occutist is to “practice”. This was pretty much my own stance for several years – I avoided “grand theories” of how various occult phenomena are supposed to work (whether they were based on jungian archetypes, “inner energies” or quantummery) and later, tended to avoid much of what I saw as the “theoretical overlay” of tantra as “unneccesary” to my practice. Continue reading »
Sometimes, when I look at tantric texts, I’m reminded of Joss Whedon’s description of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a “fairy story” rather than a “driving manual”. If you look at the majority of magical “how-to” books written these days, they are often presented as “manuals” – “here’s an explanation of this concept” – followed by “here’s how you do it” possibly followed by some discussion of the author’s own experience. Some authors will assume a shared language, whilst others will take great pain to explain what they mean by a particular term or concept. There is a general assumption though, that the reader may be unfamiliar with what the author is writing about and so good authors take that into account and explain stuff, to varying degrees. So there’s a degree of expectancy amongst occult practitioners that written material will, on the most part, be accessible, and, to varying degrees, familiar. Continue reading »
A central theme in our approach to tantra is “awake-awareness”.
One way of explaining this concept is being awake to what’s going on around you in the present moment, rather than becoming caught up in future fantasies or mulling over past events. A lot of our general practices aim at extending our capacity to be “awake-aware” and so can be done anywhere, as we go through our busy daily lives – rather than distinct practices that we set aside time for. We don’t make the distinction that you’ll find in a lot of western magic between magical v. mundane, spirit v. matter, lower v. higher, etc – we don’t compartmentalise different aspects of life that way – and quite a few of our exercises can be done anywhere, any time you have an odd moment, rather than having to set a special time aside. Whilst we do encourage people to try out various types of daily practices, we’re also very aware that people who have busy lives can’t always do this. So Tantra is not so much about pursuing a distinct set of practices but living one’s life in a particular way. Continue reading »
Here’s a few quick capsule reviews of some the books I read last year:
Joy Dixon’s Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England (John Hopkins University Press, 2001) is a fascinating study of the relationship between the Theosophical Society and emerging feminist politics from the 1890s to the 1930s. Dixon shows how the relationship between personal transformation and political/ethical change became inextricably linked during this period, and looks at the tensions produced by these debates – both within the TS itself and the wider culture. Also, anyone with an interest in occult gender politics will probably find this book useful, as Dixon reviews the emerging conceptions of sexuality & gender during this period and how they clashed – from the all-too-familiar idea of masculinity as “positive” and femininity as “negative” to the challenges to this position found in the writings of Francis Swiney and Susan E. Gay, for example. She also discusses nascent occult theories of homosexuality, such as the “Uranian” as a spiritually advanced being whose emergence was a “sign of the times”. Some of these debates are still going on today in the contemporary occult scene – and some of the justifications are pretty much the same too. Continue reading »
At the British Museum, 28 May – 11 October 2009 / Room 35 / £8
Maria & I visited this fantastic exhibition – 56 paintings from India, none of which have been displayed before in Europe recently, and I’d urge everyone who has an interest in precolonial India or Tantra to go if you get the chance. The show draws on 10 years of research by the art historian Debra Diamond. Continue reading »