Strange Adventures in Tantra
Having just read Phil’s excellent overview of some of the key challenges in seeking to engage with the broad array of traditions and practices that might be described as being “Tantric”, I started to reflect more on my own personal engagement with some of this material.
If it’s so problematic to dialogue with these traditions without risking either Modernist over-simplification or cultural appropriation, what motivates a self-identified Chaos Magician to attempt such an undertaking? What follows are some personal reflections on the lived phenomena of what I found myself doing, the arising of these urges often deeply challenging my existing self-concept and assumed identities.
Probably like many children born in the late 60’s my Mum did hatha yoga whilst pregnant with me. However significant this may have been for the Davies’ foetus, my finding the book that she learnt from when I was nine certainly had a huge effect. To the bewilderment of my long suffering parents, that book and my early attempts at the salutation to the sun proved to be gateway drugs to a lifetime of “strange” spiritual exploration. In contrast to a faith that depended primarily upon intellectual ascent to tenets of belief, here was an approach that encouraged experimentation with breath, diet and movement. It was not long before the mainstays of my youth became the music of George Harrison, visits to the local Hare Krishna restaurant and yellowed copies of Lobsang Rampa. Rampa wove in tales of strange siddhis with the Buddha Dharma. This idea that a religious tradition should also have a potent magical/shamanic tradition nested within it laid down a deep groove in my world view.
As my body underwent the alchemical awakening of puberty, I sought to use the channels of asana, pranayama and the Maha mantra of the Vaishnavas as a means of trying to negotiate the primary challenge of “identity vs. role confusion” (cf. Erik Erickson). Eventually I chose to run into the arms of the church in hope of escaping my growing sexualconfusion, but even here Pentecostal ecstasies found their messy way into my body via glossolalia and Holy Ghost tremblings. My own journey through Christianity and ultimately out the other side, felt as though it were a response to this deep need to experience religious sensuality as a whole body experience. Although the lives of St. Francis, St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila point towards such embodied ecstasies, personally I needed technologies that mapped this territory more fully.
Whilst training for the Anglican priesthood, the ideas of Jung turned on the lights with regards depth psychology and the potency of occult knowledge. These concepts were not abstractions, Jung’s ideas concerning anima and animus flicked another switch with regards my own gender fluidity. The breadth of his engagement with alchemical traditions allowed him to develop a psychological model that contrasted starkly with orthodox Christianity.The primary dualities of light/dark, Christ/Satan that are generally viewed as oppositional, are now viewed as being polarities within which a natural oscillation can take place over time. Whether using the yogic psycho-physiology of the Ida, pingala and shushumna or the severity/mercy polarity of the kabbalistic tree it becomes possible to dance with apparent opposites rather than struggle against them.
The decision to step out onto the path of occult knowledge and magical practice was not an easy one to take. The core conditioning received via the church dictated that such a journey was psychologically and spiritually dangerous. In many senses I’d agree – the desire to eat from the tree of knowledge brings with it a process of individuation that necessitates pain and growth. Such processes ask us to examine and challenge the beliefs that we have inherited so as to break new ground in the hope of becoming who we need to be.
As I began trying to find a path or magical tradition that made greater sense of my spiritual yearning, I became aware of how much of the tantric material I had absorbed was resurfacing within neo-paganism. From Theosophy, the Golden Dawn and the work of Crowley I came back into contact with a heady fusion of ideas that while potentially helpful, were also confusing in the lack of intellectual transparency with regards their origins. What would it look like to engage more thoroughly with the source material from which these ideas originated whilst retaining the spirit of creativity and rebellion that stirred their genesis? Personally I have found that my own attempts to cultivate a dynamic, magically informed sadhana have provided an invaluable lens through which I can appreciate the efforts of my tantric forebears.
My own attempts to make head-way along this path eventually led me to seek initiation within an Order that remains unapologetic about its east/west hybridism. My own initiating guru within the Amookos tradition was clear in stressing many of the commonalities that exist between hermetic and tantric approaches. Given my history this has helped me greatly in seeking to integrate different aspects of spiritual explorations. Some may be uneasy about this type of approach, but for me this considered syncretism continues to contain a potentially magical dynamism.