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  1. Tantra, sex, and the transgressive imagination – I

    “Like the concept of the primitive or the shaman, Tantra is a profoundly Janus-faced category: attacked in some historical periods as uncivilised or subhuman, and celebrated in other periods (particularly our own) as a precivilised unsullied original state, a sort of Eden before the Fall when harmony prevailed, when sex was free and unrepressed, when the body had not been subjected to modern western prudishness and hypocrisy.”
    Hugh Urban, Tantra: Sex, Secrecy Politics and Power in the Study of Religion

    Sometimes You Gotta Break the Rules
    Burger King

    Continue reading »

  2. On Queering deity: Ardhanarishvara and other conundrums of gender

    “Her body is dance preparing for the creation of differentiation,
    his is the dance of destruction that destroys everything.
    I bow to Śivā, mother of the universe.
    I bow to Śiva, father of the universe.
    Her ear ornaments are radiant precious stones giving light,
    his adornments are hissing snakes.
    He is embracing her, and she is embracing him.
    I bow to Śivā and I bow to Śiva.
    Ardhanarinatesvara stotra (Ellen Campbell, 2002, p105)

    If they see
    breasts and long hair coming
    they call it woman,
    if beard and whiskers
    they call it man:
    But, look, the self that hovers
    in between
    is neither man nor woman
    O Ramanatha.
    Dasimayya(10th century Virasiva poet)

    Continue reading »

  3. Heart Practice: Tantra as ethical practice – I

    “Using the plow of truth,
    sowing the seeds of love,
    plucking the weeds of falsehood,
    pouring the waters of patience;
    they look directly into themselves
    and build fences of virtue.
    If they remain rooted in their good ways,
    The Bliss of Siva will grow.”
    Appar (seventh-century Tamil poet-saint, from Pandian, 2009, p21)

    “Ethical encounters are jubilant, joyous encounters of both affectivity and liberty.”
    Patricia MacCormack, Posthuman Ethics

    A great deal has been written about tantra as a transgressive practice and the perceived necessity of moving beyond normative values in order to discover “freedom”. However, the idea of tantra as an ethical practice seems to me to be relatively unthought. For this post then, I want to make some preliminary reflections on the possible ethical dimensions of contemporary tantra practice. Continue reading »

  4. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – V

    “When she, the supreme power, [becoming] by her own free will embodied as all that exists, perceives her own throbbing radiance, the chakra is then being produced.
    The Heart of the Yogini Tantra

    “I worship that goddess who is supreme Siva, whose form is the indestructable a-letter, manifesting the tides of the waves of the kulas.”
    Nityasodasikarnava 1:10

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  5. East meets West: New Thought, Thelema, and The Holy Order of Krishna

    We are once again being taken to task for some of our writers quoting often the slogan of verse I8.63 of the Bhagavad Gita “Yatha ischasi tathha kuru” – of which we accepted Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” as the best English paraphrase; and if there is so much public opposition to the very mention of Crowley’s name we have to bow thereto, and do so. But that is not to deny that Crowley had been trained in India of men who were great Yogis such as Karunananda, Sabapati Svami’s disciple. In deference to occidental opinion we shall paraphrase the Gita dictum by the English in “Fulfill thy Will”.
    The Kalpaka, Volume 26, 1931, issues 4-5

    Much has been written about the westward transmission of Indian esoteric themes in the early twentieth century – via movements such as the Theosophical Society, esoteric groups such as the OTO, and charismatic teachers such as Pierre Bernard, but instances of transmissions in the other direction – of Indian esotericists engaging with western occultism, seem to be rarer. Continue reading »

  6. Some useful online resources – II

    Back in 2010 I did a brief review of some online resources I’d found useful. Here’s a few more. Continue reading »

  7. Book review: Bodies & Pleasures

    Michel Foucault’s work is everywhere these days, and even if you don’t read books on history, ethnography, feminism, sexuality or queer theory, then you will certainly find contemporary scholars exploring aspects of tantra – Hugh Urban, Geoffrey Samuel, Gavin Flood or Loriliai Biernacki for example – drawing on his work. If you’re wondering what all the fuss about Foucault is, then Ladelle McWhorter’s Bodies & Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalisation (Indiana University Press, 1999, 260pp, p/bk) might well be a good place to start. Continue reading »

  8. Book review: Once and Future Giants

    I have a deep and abiding affection for mammoths and an awful creeping suspicion about our ancestorsʼrole in their extinction, so I started reading Sharon Levyʼs Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Animals (Oxford University Press, USA; 2011) with a mixture of wariness and excitement. Both were justified. Continue reading »

  9. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – IV

    Following from the previous two verses (examined in the last two posts – (see Reading the Saundarya Lahari – III-2 for summary) which together, produce an image of the goddess for dhyana) verses 9-10 shift focus suddenly towards what seem to be, at first glance, expositions of the goddess in relation to the chakras. Verses 9 and 10 are often interpreted in relation to various yogic accounts of Kundalini. Some contemporary commentaries on Saundaryalahri take this as a cue to go into long, detailed expositions of Kundalini schemas. I’m not going to do that, however. Continue reading »

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

    I’m going to close this series of posts on the Leadbeater scandals with some general observations. The Leadbeater scandal erupted at a time when, as Eve Sedgwick has argued, the ‘nameless abomination’ of homosexual desire was subject to increasing scrutiny – being named, pathologised, and (cautiously) celebrated through various scientific, medical, legal artistic and occult discourses. The discovery of the homosexual as a type of person was the subject of early sexological investigations, and at the same time there was an emergence of discourses which made a link between inversion and religious (in the writings of Havelock Ellis and Edward Carpenter, for example) – even mystical sensibilities – and the idea that the appearance of the invert or Uranian sensibility represented a new phase of human spiritual progress. The Leadbeater scandals emerged at a time when the many facets of the “sex question” were being hotly debated. Continue reading »