Tantra? It’s that sex stuff, right?
Chances are you’ve heard of Tantra. If you’re involved in occultism, you’ve probably heard something like “it’s an Eastern form of sex magick.” If you’re more involved in what might be called popular New Age beliefs, you’ve probably heard that Tantra is about having long periods of ecstatic sex. Either way, Tantra is still “that sex stuff.” If you’re into sex stuff you’ve probably looked at the “pop” books on Tantra with cute names published by enormous super-publishers. Otherwise, chances are you’ve primarily avoided it.
When I first started studying occultism I ignored Tantra for a different reason. I was simply following what I thought was my personal direction by limiting myself to studying Western magickal, spiritual, and occult techniques. I didn’t want to incorporate Eastern techniques. I had nothing against them. I didn’t think they were inferior. I just wanted to stay with Western techniques. I always felt disappointed that so many Westerners felt they needed to incorporate Eastern concepts, including Tantric concepts, into their Western practices. This wasn’t because I felt that Eastern practices were in any way “bad,” but rather that is was a way of saying, “We’re Westerners and we’re not as good as those of the East.” I just didn’t buy this self-deprication.
As part of my studies and practices, I discovered that there were plenty of methods and techniques that were distinctly Western. There were, and are, Western forms of healing and meditation that are just as practical and effective as those of China and India. When it came to finding something similar to Tantra, after a long period of research, study and practice, I started teaching the Western methods, some of which had been totally ignored by Western practitioners. I share this information in my book, Modern Sex Magick.As far as I can tell, this is the first modern book on sexual occultism that doesn’t rely on Tantra. Actually, and more accurately, most of the others rely on what the author thinks Tantra is. Look at the bibliographies of those books (assuming they include one) and you will find few, if any, primary sources. And again, few, if any of the authors describe being initiated into any Tantric tradition other than modern or Neo-Tantra.
Find the Good in Everything
This isn’t to say that any of the pop Tantra books are “bad.” They may have some very good information. It’s just that they rarely have anything to do with Tantra. Some do get into Tantric sexuality, but they end up implying that Tantra is only about sex. Indeed, for years one of the most popular books on Tantra was Omar Garrison’s, Tantra: Yoga of Sex. That would be like writing a book on a particular automobile and calling it Corvette: Yoga of Hubcaps. Actually, I like Garrison’s book. However, it gives a very incomplete concept of the nature of Tantra.
I have a book that claims Tantra comes from the Pleiades. It doesn’t. Another claims Tantra is about repressing sexual urges and it began in ancient Egypt. No to both. Still another claims that Tantra involves having sex for something like 13.5 minutes while rolling in the mud. It doesn’t. Numerous books about Tantra are actually about forms of Taoist alchemical sexual practices. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these books. In fact, some share some great ideas and techniques. They’re just not about Tantra.
What Gives You the Right???
Some of you reading this may be thinking, “Okay, Mr. Know-it-all. What gives you the right to write about Tantra? After all, you’re that Western magick guy.” That’s a fair question, and one I’ve often asked myself. While the full answer is too long to present here (hmm, maybe I should do a book?), I will give a simple and brief answer: no matter how hard I tried to avoid Tantra, no matter how hard I tried to deny it, the gods and goddesses had a different direction for me. As a result, I kept being confronted with Tantric ideas, studies, and practices.
As a result, I’ve been studying Indian Tantra since the 1970s. I was initiated into one Tantric group and was eventually given authorization to initiate into that group. As part of my initiation, I was given the name Shambhala Nath (or Shambhalanath), Sanskrit for “Lord of Shambhala.” By the 1980s I was writing about Tantra. You can go to this page and see a glossary of words important to Tantra that I had written (it has been expanded since then). Since that time I have been initiated into several other Tantric traditions, including being initiated by Sunyata Saraswati, co-author of Jewel in the Lotus, receiving training from Namadeva Acharya, the late Thomas Ashley-Farrand who was one of the world’s leading experts on mantras, as well as being initiated into the Babaji’s Tantra Kriya Yoga tradition and several other traditions that don’t want to be publicized. I’ve also amassed several thousand books and manuscripts on Tantra. My personal studies and practices have gone beyond what any one group teaches. I have given workshops and initiated people into Tantra all over the U.S. So I think I have the bona fides to discuss the subject.
Wrong Things to Say About Tantra
Anyone who claims that “Tantra says” or “According to Tantra” is, at best, not being accurate. Tantra has evolved over thousands of years and developed in areas where communication and transportation was challenging at best. As a result, different forms of Tantra, all of which are completely legitimate, have developed. Tantra doesn’t “say” anything. Nobody speaks for all of Tantra. Anybody who makes this claims is not being accurate. Different Tantric traditions may focus on completely different areas of life, so much so they seem to be totally different, yet the may come from a common source.
Let me make clear that all of this applies to me. I do NOT speak for Tantra. I cannot represent all of Tantra. I am not the ultimate authority in any sense of the word. What I CAN do is share what I know. Others may disagree. That doesn’t make one of us wrong and the other right, it just shows that we come from different backgrounds. I would just suggest that you ask any writer or teacher some simple question: With whom did you study? Into what Tantric tradition(s) were you initiated? As with all spiritual traditions today we practitioners need to practice due diligence. Otherwise you may end up learning from someone who is making things up.
Frankly, there is nothing wrong with practicing invented traditions—if they work. I know several people who successfully practice what evidence appears to show is a made up Native American sexual tradition. It may not be historically accurate, but that doesn’t make it bad.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. What such people are doing is, in my opinion, either a knowingly unethical or unknowingly incorrect form of negative cultural appropriation: stealing a simplified version of another culture for personal advancement. Why bother to call what you’re doing “Native American” or “Tantra” when it’s not?
I contend it’s because the purveyors are insecure about what they’re doing (and about themselves) and need a popular catch word in the hope of gathering followers. If nobody has heard of you, saying you’re teaching Native American secrets or Tantra is far more likely to get you students or followers than merely revealing what are your personal techniques.
It’s marketing, not fact. It’s claiming your sugar-filled, overly processed breakfast cereal is “part of a healthy breakfast” rather than admitting it’s overpriced and low in nutritional value.
So What is Tantra?
Tantra is one of the oldest, continuously practiced Pagan spiritual systems in the world. It’s not just about sex. It’s an entire approach to life. It includes magick, healing, divination, deities, monthly rites, seasonal rites, celebratory rites, and much more. Is it a religion? For many people Tantra, like other forms of Paganism, is a religion. It has many deities. Does it have a way of understanding how the universe works, like the Kabalistic Tree of Life? Yes, it has that, too, and uses a symbol far more complex than the Tree of Life for more specialization.
Note, however, that I seem to be writing about Tantra as a single thing. It’s so easy to write that way, but it’s not accurate. Many people only use parts of Tantra and don’t see it as an entire system. Others don’t use the Tantric symbol I mentioned in ways similar to the Tree of Life. Others don’t see Tantra as a Pagan religion. So what is Tantra? I’ll discuss that next time. If you have any questions or comments, write them below.