Review: The Mysteries of the Red Goddess
The Mysteries of the Red Goddess by Mike Magee, Kindle Edition Prakasha Publishing 2011 (3999kb, unlimited simultaneous device usage, text-to-speech enabled). £10.46 (incl. VAT and free whispernet delivery).
Mike Magee has been providing invaluable translations and insights into tantric texts since the late 1970s. He’s also renown as an IT journalist – launching two major news sites – The Register and The Inquirer and has been named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the 50 most influential Britons in technology. Now he’s taken the leap onto Amazon’s Kindle platform and released The Mysteries of the Red Goddess which combines a translation of the Vamakesvara Tantra together with an exposition of themes and ideas which relate to the Sri Vidya tradition.
The Vamakesvara Tantra is widely recognised as one of the primary texts of the Sri Vidya tradition. Although, like many tantras, it is difficult to date accurately, scholars such as Guy L. Beck and Douglas Renfrew Brooks have offered the opinion that it was composed before the the ninth century (a 12th-13th century commentary ascribed to Jayaratha states that an earlier commentary was made by Isvarasiva, a 9th century Kashmiri author). In this book, Mike gives a translation of the five patalas of the text – which is one part of a larger work – the Nityashodashikarnava (he gives a summary of the content of the second part, the Yogini Hridaya on his website.
The translation of the tantra itself is prefaced by a general introduction to Lalita Tripurasundari and to the key themes of Sri Vidya practice. Mike provides an overview of the nine arvanas (or mandalas) of the Sri Yantra and the various groups of saktis dwelling therein, briefly discourses on Lalita’s fifteen-syllable mantra, and provides some extensive dhyanas on Lalita and Her Paradise Island. There is an excellent and very welcome section detailing Lalita’s fifteen Nityas (“eternities”) including their yantras, mantras and dhyanas. This exposition forms a very useful recap for practitioners, and those with some familiarity with tantric themes, but I daresay that a general reader who is new to all this will find themselves having to do some research.
The Vamakesvara Tantra is a dense, sophisticated text which shows influences of Kaula and Kashmiri Saivism (for a discussion of the relationship between Sri Vidya and Saivism see Brooks in The Roots of Tantra, Brown, Harper, SUNY 2002). The first patala is mainly concerned with instructions for creating the “great chakra” (i.e. the Sri Yantra). The second patala is an exposition of various abhicara rituals (see this post for some discussion) – sometimes termed the “six acts”. The third patala is an exposition of the Tripura Mudras and the fourth gives the siddhis obtained from the worship of the Goddess. The fifth patala gives the rules for homa and japa sadhana.
All in all, The Mysteries of the Red Goddess is a great little ebook, and whilst it will be of particular interest to contemporary practitioners of Sri Vidya, it will benefit anyone who is interested in finding out more about tantric practices and traditions. Hopefully, Mike will see his way to releasing more of his translations and expositions in this format.
For more translations and summaries of tantric texts online and in pdf format, visit mike’s Shiva Shakti Mandalam website.
If you don’t have a Kindle, then you can always install one of the other Kindle format Reading Apps. I’ve tried both the PC and iPad versions of the Kindle App and they both work well – although the PC version does not support the creation of notes as the iPad does. I haven’t investigated the Kindle Cloud Reader as yet.
For scholarly approaches to Sri Vidya, I’d recommend Douglas Renfrew Brooks’ The secret of the three cities: an introduction to Hindu Śākta tantrism (Univ. Chicago Press, 1990) & Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Srividya Sakta Tantrism in South India (SUNY 1992) and Rajmani Tigunait’s Sakti: the power in Tantra : a scholarly approach (The Himalayan Institute Press, 1998)