As with most ancient traditions, everyone wants to claim that theirs is the oldest and that all other traditions came from them. In the Western Abrahamic religions, both Christianity and Islam arose out of Judaism. Interestingly—some claim due to the monotheistic approaches of these faiths—they all claim that their’s is the real religion and their God is the real God. Well, this is not going to be a discussion of that.
The world’s third largest religion by number of adherents is Hinduism (about 1 billion followers) after Islam (about 1.5 billion) and Christianity (about 2.1 billion). However, I have to question whether it is appropriate to call any of these a single religion. Various Christian sects (the two largest divisions being Roman Catholic and Protestant) have major doctrinal disagreement with some sects derogatorily calling others “cults.” The two major Islamic sects, Sunni and Shia, sometimes have adherents in active, all-out war with each other.
Hinduism is a bit different. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word Hindu first appeared in the 1660s (some other sources date it three centuries or more earlier). It comes from the Persian Hindu (adjective and noun) meanng “Indian,” itself coming from Hind meaning “India.” These words come from the Sanskrit sindhu meaning “river,” specifically the Indus River. Sindhu came to mean the “region of the Indus,” and this gradually extended across northern India. So originally, the term “Hindu” did not refer to the religion, it referred to the area and its inhabitants.
The more accurate name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, meaning “the eternal law,” or the “eternal way.” It more than merely a religion or faith, it is a way of life—or more accurately, a set of ways. Thousands of years ago, travel and communication throughout India was difficult. As a result, different towns, villages, and cities had different beliefs and traditions. Sometimes, people in different locales would celebrate the same festivals on different days (India had dozens of calendars) and in different ways. They would give the same deity a different name. All of this—the different deities, the different modes of living, the different celebrations, the different forms of worship, the different philosophies—are accepted as part of Sanatana Dharma and are called Hinduism.
But within this massive distribution of various beliefs and practices, one thing does hold primacy: the source of all the beliefs comes from the ancient books collectively known as the Vedas. There are four primary collections of texts that are called the Vedas, and believers hold they are eternal. They’ve always been. This is unique, in that the Abrahamic religions tend to believe that the monotheistic deity is eternal, while in Hinduism the books are eternal. (Well, some of the deities are, too, but that’s another issue.) Buddhism developed much later, due to discontent with the sacrifices, incredibly ornate rituals, and societal control of the Hindu spiritual leaders.
According to “accepted” history, Tantra came later, anywhere from 700-1200 years after Buddhism. Certainly this is when the first specifically Tantric writing appeared, but Tantrics have always claimed that theirs is an oral tradition. It would be expected to not have writings. So when and where did Tantra really begin?
History of India
As I mentioned earlier, most Hindus believe that the Vedas are the source of their religions and practices. However, the major deities found in the Vedas include Agni (God of fire), Indra (God of war, weather, and king of the gods), Varuna (God of sky and rain), and Prajapati (Creator), dieties with few temples in India dedicated to them. They are not an important daily part of modern Hinduism. On the other hand, the traditional Tantric deities, including Ganesh, Hanuman, and especially Shiva and Shakti in her forms of Durga and Kali, are some of the most popular deities in Hinduism today, and India is literally filled with temples dedicated to them. To understand where the traditional Tantric deities come from we have to look at Indian history.
Okay, so here, in a nutshell, is what has been the accepted story of the history of India. There was an indigenous population of uncivilized, dark-skinned people known as the Dravidians. Later, a group of light-skinned people, called Aryans, came from the north, bringing civilization, spirituality, writing, and deities. This idea of the Aryan invasion of India has been popular for well over a century. In fact, one of its popularizers was Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society. And the curious thing is, this theory was invented by one man who was a linguist and not an anthropologist. His name was Max Müller. The only problem with the concept of the Aryan invasion is that there has never been any evidence to support it. There were writings by the indigenous Indians, but none from the supposed invaders who brought writing to India. There has recently been genetic evidence showing no invasion of India in many thousands of years. The idea of this Aryan invasion was popularized for religion, for racism, and for political power. A full explanation of the Aryan Invasion Myth would require a book, even though many people, within and outside of India, still cling to the myth.
So where did the Tantrics come from? As with most early cultures, people collected around bodies of water. Running through a valley on the west of India was a river known as the Saraswati. This river dried up and the people moved east into the rest of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and China. Some moved west into Europe (they may have been the source of the Druids). During it’s high period, its cities alone had a population rivaling that of all of Egypt. They had writing (the translation of the language is still debatable) and expanded their civilization through trade, primarily over waterways, but also over land. And the images of the deities are those of the Tantric deities. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Tantra, or perhaps more accurately “proto-Tantra” developed in the Indus Valley culture, also known by the name of one of its cities, the Harappan culture.
Support From a Surprising Source
Societies do not follow the laws of thermodynamics. Rather than getting simpler, they become more complex. Added population brings added energy to oppose entropy, so societies become more complex. It would seem, then, that rather than Hinduism (and Buddhism) leading to Tantra (as another rejection of Hindu formalism), the actual derivation is just the opposite. Tantra (or rather, proto-Tantra) came first. Its simplicity evolved into the many Hindu traditions and into Buddhism. That’s why so many Tantric traditions and concepts are part of both of these traditions.
Some of you reading this may be familiar with Raphael Patai, author of the book that is very popular among many Pagans, The Hebrew Goddess. In that book he showed how the ancient Jews worshipped a goddess as well as a god until the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 c.e. In his book, The Jewish Mind, he shares the startling information that the people of early India, who did travel to the Middle East, influenced aspects of the Kabalah! By looking at Kabalistic concepts that are neither Middle-Eastern nor Grecian, we have information on the very mystical nature of the beliefs of people living in India during the times of the Harappan culture, as well as some of their practical philosophy, including the notion of the spirituality of sexuality.
So here is a new model of the source of Tantra. It came from the earliest people of India, and they went on to influence Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Judaism (and therefore Christianity and Islam). They had mystical and occult beliefs that were severed from the tradition as it evolved to form what are now considered the more mainstream beliefs found in Hinduism.
For more information on Tantra, see my earlier post, A Book That Needs to be Written.
My Next Worldwide Webinar
Sunday, July 28, 2013
12:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. Eastern——9:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Pacific
Topic: Tarot & Magic
When people first learn to work with the Tarot cards they usually do so in order to do fortune telling, give readings, or do divination. As they become more advanced, they may use them as keys to Kabalistic Pathworking. However, there is much more which can be done with the Tarot cards, including using them to make positive changes in your life: magick.
In this live webinar you will learn the nature of ritual and magick plus several of magickal techniques that work with the Tarot cards, including:
- Using the Tarot cards as talismans
- Using the Tarot with colored candles
- The amazing technique of “Dancing the Tarot”
- Discovering how to use the Tarot as a synchronistic key to sex magick
Previous knowledge of the Tarot is not a prerequisite for this webinar. All you’ll need is your favorite standard Tarot deck and an open mind. This is perfect for Tarot beginners. It will also give people with some Tarot experience new approaches. For professional Tarot readers it will show how you can share magickal techniques with your clients and make your readings more memorable.
Please note that this is not a recording. It is a live, online event you can attend. You will be able to interact with me, live, from anywhere in the world. You will hear me live, just as I am talking. You’ll see my presentation slides. You’ll be able to download handouts. You’ll be able to ask questions and hear me respond in the webinar. You’ll see everything and hear me giving the workshop live. It’s as if you were in a room with me, only you can participate fromyour location anywhere in the world.
Therefore, please make sure to check the time. It’s 12:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. Eastern U.S.; 9:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Pacific U.S. time. If you are outside of the U.S. there is a small app available when you register that will determine the exact time for you from anywhere in the world.
For further details, and to register for this and other terrific online events, **CLICK HERE**. Attendance is limited by what the software can handle. So you don’t forget, click on the link above and register now.
(For those of you who don’t know, I became a Certified Tarot Master through studies with The Associated Readers Of Tarot over 30 years ago. I became a Certified Tarot Grandmaster through the Tarot Certification Board. I have taught classes in Tarot and given thousands of readings across the U.S.)