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  1. 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 »

  2. “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 »

  3. Book review: Rewriting The Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships

    All of us inherit sets of rules and scripts about how we think we should behave and who we should be in relationships. Such beliefs often have their genesis in our families of origin, the cultural trends we imbibe and the shaping provided by our own experience and emerging sense of identity. In the process of trying to make sense of the pain and dislocation that many of us experience in seeking closeness and relationship, it can be tempting to “buy into” a set of apparent certainties. Recent trends in self-help literature have tried to make of the confusion by playing “The Game”, “The Rules” or by mapping gender difference according to planetary allegiance. While I can understand the impulse of such books in trying to find a cure to what ills us, I must confess to being highly unconvinced by their over-simplicity and gender stereotyping. Continue reading »

  4. Krishna in the dock: the 1862 Maharaja libel case and its consequences – I

    The cardinal idea of the doctrine of Vallabhacharya is the incarnation in his person and in that of his descendents of Krishna, and the enjoyment for that reason, of the right to confer upon the faithful the privilege upon this earth of a personal union with the deity of their worship. Theoretically speaking, were this personal union to be regarded spiritually and held to elevate the mind to an intimate union with the highest moral principle; were it to hold forth by meditation and isolation some incentive to a consideration of self-annihilation and self-denial, this doctrine might have claims upon our attention as doing some, however limited, a good. But preached to a people who, from climatic influences and early conditions of puberty are peculiarly lascivious and prurient, the evil grows more and more enormous with the progress of the sect. …Gloomy faiths, bound to asceticism, have no real hold on the moral conduct of the professors of them, but a religion which rushes into an opposite extreme, and stimulates an evil too great already for the patience of mankind and civilisation, deserves to be trodden out.
    Anthropological Review, Vol.4, No.14, 1866

    Continue reading »

  5. Group Book Review: Esoteric Studies

    For this post I’m going to briefly review four scholarly texts dealing with various aspects of esoteric studies which I’ve read over the last year or so. Continue reading »

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

    This post examines the “third phase” of the Leadbeater scandal – the events in Australia and Leadbeater’s association with the Liberal Catholic Church. Continue reading »

  7. Elizabeth Sharpe and “The Secrets of the Kaula Circle”

    Elizabeth Sharpe (1888-1941) is one of the “forgotten” writers on India of the early twentieth century. Born in Bangalore in 1888, she seems to have spent most of her life in India, with a brief trip to England in the 1930s. She wrote several books concerning aspects of Indian life, including at least one work on tantra; translated sanskrit texts such as the Siva Sahasranama; and had a passionate interest in the education of women in India. She is best-known for her 1936 novella, The Secrets of the Kaula Circle – a tale of black magic and left-hand tantric “orgies” which featured a recognisably unflattering portrayal of Aleister Crowley. Continue reading »

  8. Lecture notes: On the Kamasutra – III

    In the first post in this series, I discussed the “discovery” of the Kamasutra by Richard Burton and its publication in the nineteenth century, and in the second post the western reception of Kamasutra and its incorporation into sexological discourse throughout the twentieth century. These two posts were useful for me to write, in that they enabled me to think about some future directions for exploring the relationship between representations of tantra and sexology/sex-therapy, which I may return to at later date, but in doing so, I realised some months later, that I hadn’t paid much attention to the actual content of the Kamasutra. So, for this third post, I’m going to take a cue from Daud Ali’s (2011) suggestion that, in examining the Kamasutra (and related texts) it is useful to move beyond the limited frame of viewing these texts as simply books about sex, and instead, approach them from a wider perspective – what Ali terms a “kama world” – wherein kama (sensual pleasure) “was not abstracted into a special, sui generis category in and of itself, but instead formed part of wider practices of aesthetic, material and ethical transformation.” Continue reading »

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

    This post examines Leadbeater’s return to the Theosophical Society, problems with the press and the “second scandal” – the court case over Krishnamurti. Continue reading »

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

    For this post, I will further explore the unfolding of the 1906 scandal, the Theosophical Society’s response and the efforts to contain it. Continue reading »