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  1. Theorising Practice – I

    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 »

  2. Approaching texts

    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 »

  3. Pondering daily practice

    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 »

  4. 2008 reading: Occultism in history

    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 »

  5. Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur

    At the British Museum, 28 May – 11 October 2009 / Room 35 / £8
    Exhibition Overview

    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 »