“Star and nerve-tissue are parts of the system-stellar and nervous forces are correlated. Nay more; sensation awakens thought and kindles emotion, so that this wondrous dynamic chain binds into living unity the realms of matter and mind through measureless amplitudes of space and time.”
Edward Youmans, 1869, The Correlation and Conservation of Force
This post will examine the arrival of thermodynamics in the nineteenth century and consider its wider cultural impact – in particular how it was used to reinforce gender regimes. Continue reading »
“By you is everything supported, by you is the world created: by you is it protected, O Goddess, and you always consume (it) at the end (of time).
At (its) emanation you have the form of creation; in (its) protection (you have) the form of steadiness; likewise at the end of the world (you have) the form of destruction. O you who consist of this world!
You are the great knowledge (mahavidya), the great illusion (mahamaya), the great insight (mahamedha) the great memory and the great delusion, the great Goddess (Mahadevi), the great demoness (mahasuri).”
Devimahatmya 1, 56-58
Sakti is one of the most fundamental aspects of Tantra – and potentially, one of the most bewildering. Continue reading »
For this next installment of what’s turning out to be a fairly slow-moving series I’m going to briefly review some of the features of dividuality which have emerged out of ethnographic accounts of personhood in Melansia, with particular reference to the work of Marilyn Strathern and Edward LiPuma. Continue reading »
In my last post in this series I examined the relationship between spiritualism and the rapid growth of communications technology in the nineteenth century. This time round, I’m going to focus on the notion of “female passivity” in terms of Spiritualism, and its relationship to wider cultural discourses of the period. Just as spiritualism took off at the same time as the rise of the telegraph, it also was contemporaneous with the growing tensions over women’s role and influence – the so-called “Woman Question”. Continue reading »
In the early part of the nineteenth century, electricity was thought to be the force most likely to prove the existence of the elan vitale or life force of Naturalphilosophie. Schelling, at the turn of the century, for example, proposed that heat, light, magnetism and electricity were all byproducts of a single universal life force. The arising of electrical models allowed polarities to be discovered within organisms – and between discrete classes of persons. Thus maleness or masculinity was assigned to the positive pole, and femininity to the negative. The gendering of electricity and energy continued in the nineteenth century, particularly in respect to medical theories and the notion of “nervous energy”, and the rise in popularity of Spiritualism. Continue reading »
“In taste, in learning, wit or science,
Still kindred souls demand alliance:
Each in the other joys to find
The image answering to his mind.
But sparks electric only strike
On souls electrical alike;
The flash of intellect expires,
Unless it meet congenial fires.”
Hannah More, The Bas Blue 1786
For this series of posts on the theme of polarity discourse, I’m going to focus on representations of polarity which make an appeal to forces – to electricity, magnetism, etc. Continue reading »
“I praise the circle of deities innate within the body, an elevated assembly continually present, the end of everything, vibrant and the essence of experience.”dehasthadevatacakrastotra
For this post, I want to discuss some “Tantric” themes which relate to embodiment – in particular, whilst stressing that Tantra constitutes an embodied practice, I also want to point towards a key difference between South Asian and “western” esoteric epistemologies – that underwriting Tantra’s embodied practice is what might be called an embodied theology. Continue reading »
One of the consequences of the mind (theory)-body(practice) divide in contemporary approaches to magic (and more widely, spiritual development in general) is the notion that the spiritual/magical is set apart from the material/everyday world. There is a pervasive belief that materiality (and the concerns that relate to it) is a burden to be overcome; that development requires that the concerns of the body be transcended. This kind of discourse tends to privilege abstracted knowledge over bodied experience. Yet all practices (including those understood as inwardly turning, such as meditation or visualisation) involve our bodies. Continue reading »