Tantra and Magic|
The following is one way we define Tantra. It appears on our website and is among our favorites: “Tantra is the magic of transforming your consciousness and thereby transforming your entire being.” Here are three definitions of magic:
1. The first comes from Aleister Crowley who famously said that magic is “the art and science of creating changes in conformity with the will.”
2. We have rephrased this to make it both more specific and more general, so under the second definition, magic is the art and science of creating both internal and external changes in conformity with the will.
3. Our friend Sylvia Brallier, who has studied Tantra, as well as various shamanic and magical traditions, describes magic as bringing together “intention and attention”. When intention and attention come together, magic happens, or to state it more formally, magic is the deliberate bringing together of intention and attention for the purpose of producing a desired result.
Magic and Transformation
In ancient cultures around the world, magicians were respected and sometimes feared. They appeared to have abilities beyond those of average human beings and ways of controlling natural forces that seemed superhuman. In the medieval world, in Europe, the Middle East and India, the line between magic and science was, for all intents and purposes, non-existent, since astrology and alchemy were both considered sciences. And while today it is common to think of magic as antithetical to Chrisitianity, pre-modern churches, both Catholic and Protestant, not only tolerated certain forms of magical practice but actively embraced them – petitionary prayer (which is fundamentally an attempt to create changes in conformity with the will by asking God to intercede on one’s behalf), divinatory prayer, and casting lots to determine God’s will were all acceptable practices among the Puritans, even as the clergy denounced various forms of popular magic.
Of course, various forms of magical thinking remain popular in the 21st-century, many of them not very far removed from the beliefs of our 17th-century ancestors, but as a consequence of the changes that began to take place during that period, magic has a bad name today, at least within mainstream society. The occult movements of the late 19th-century and the New Age movement of the late 20th reinvented magical practice for the modern era, but its role in society as a whole remains marginal and repressed. Conventional attitudes tend toward the dismissive. For some “magic” means entertainment and sleight of hand, mere trickery. For others, the word implies chicanery and fraud, and yet another segment of the population, including many who engage in petitionary prayer, believe that all magic is “black magic” and therefore evil.
Magical practices are far more common and socially acceptable in modern India than in the Western world, even as India becomes a technological superpower. We will not presume to explain or even examine the multitude of reasons for this, but it is worth noting that the magical and alchemical traditions in India are both far more integrated into the fabric of society and more readily available to the general population, both as textual and initiatory traditions. This is due, to some degree, to the lack of a strictly hierarchical Church, committed to stamping out heresy and witchcraft, and also to an ancient tradition of wondering Saddhus (holy men) whose spiritual practices were often aimed – at least in part – at developing magical abilities. Saddhus are still omnipresent and widely revered in 21st-century India.
Yogic and Tantric scriptures are replete with magical instructions. At its most sublime levels, Tantra is not about creating external changes or the quest for powers, although there are many Tantric scriptures that deal with this subject and provide detailed guidelines for conducting mundane magical rituals – spells for defeating enemies, attracting lovers, acquiring wealth, or curing disease (to name a few). In many instances, these spells are as crude those one finds in any folk-magic tradition. Indeed, they can be quite macabre.
The Damara Tantra, for example, includes instructions for “Bhuta Sadhana”, a ritual for invoking the Goddess Kali. After an initial period of abstinence and dietary restriction, the aspirant must obtain the corpse of dead infant from “the womb of a woman who may have been struck dead by lightning.” The corpse is dried and flattened over a period of one month, by which time there will be “no bad odour left in it”. At this stage, the corpse becomes the seat for the sadhana, and after days of ritual, the practitioner will start to see “numerous horrible sights.” If he gives in to fear or answers any questions from the apparitions, the magical practice will fail, and he may suffer severe physical consequences.
Eventually, a ferocious-looking, foul-smelling, half-naked female figure will appear before him, and he must ask her to sit before him and accept his worship, while mentally repeating her mantra. As the practitioner repeats the mantra, the Devi (Goddess) will inquire as to his request, and he must reply: “My only request is that you may always remain with me and fulfill all my desires.” She will try to dissuade him, but he must not be daunted. In the end, she will give him two objects; one of which will cause the Goddess to appear and grant his wishes whenever he brings it into contact with fire; the other of which he should carry with him always to ward off evil.
Taken literally – as it probably was and perhaps still is – this seems a bizarre and grotesque form of ritual, if not a truly absurd one (where and how would one obtain such a fetal corpse?). It certainly sheds light on why Tantra has been seen as a form of “black magic” by both Europeans and more orthodox Hindus. On a more metaphorical, esoteric level, however, the ritual can be understood as an alchemical process. Through focused practice, discipline and attention, we can transform those things we find most repulsive, horrifying and frightening. If we stay with the process and refuse to back down, no matter how frightened we are, through an act of will, these terrible things will become our allies and help us realize our dreams. This is perhaps the most extraordinary magic of all.
Author Bio :
Mark A. Michaels (Swami Umeshanand Saraswati) and Patricia Johnson (Devi Veenanand) are a devoted married couple and have been teaching Tantra together since 1999. Their first book The Essence of Tantric Sexuality (Llewellyn, 2006) won the USA Book News National Best Books 2007 Award in the Health: Sexuality category. Their second book, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment: The Key to Enriching Your Sexual Life (Llewellyn 2008), won the 2008 Indie Excellence Awards finalist in New Age Non-Fiction. TantraPM
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