In our universe, male and female join together to create new life. Likewise, particles of positive and negative electrical charge are necessary to form matter. And just like electricity, magnetism, that other fundamental conduit of energy and enabler of life, is reliant on the interplay of apparently opposite forces. The power and alchemy inherent in the union of opposites is central to many spiritual traditions-- even those that themselves appear "opposites" at first glance, having developed half a world away from each other. Here we'll explore the ways that European, particularly Celtic, Paganism, aligns with the Tantric wisdom of India.
In modern times, there has existed a certain fascination with the concept of East-meets-West. Indeed, this notion is a perfect analog to the broader theme of this article. The East-West cultural interplay of course first grew when technologies such as steamships and then airplanes enabled long distances to be traveled easily. It then exploded with the social revolution of the 1960s. Ever since, Western bookshelves and thinking, especially in the spiritual communities, have received a large heaping of influence from Eastern traditions.
Nonetheless, when people in the United States and Europe today hear the word "Pagan," they generally think first of the Celtic-Teutonic-Norse traditions and their offshoots. Perhaps shamanism, particularly the practices of Native Americans, also comes to mind. However, the rich and colorful traditions of India can just as easily fit under that broad umbrella category of "Pagan." You may be familiar with the scholarship that presents links between the Celtic and Hindu cultures by means of language and migratory patterns. It certainly makes sense, but to delve into the historical theories is beyond the scope of the present article.
Today, we're here to explore how the Tantric ideas about human sexuality and energy relate to the modern Witch. Like the term Pagan, Tantra is not a religion per se, but rather a spiritual tradition, a means to encounter the mysteries. For anyone comfortable with appropriating a slightly different take on familiar ideas into the practice of their Craft, Tantra has much to offer.
Though popular culture may lead people to believe otherwise, Tantra is in no way exclusively about sex. The word itself broadly relates to a body of traditions and teachings that come from India, much the same way that "yoga" actually denotes a lot more than the stretches/poses we may commonly think of.
Some feel that the term "Tantra" is actually the invention of Western scholars. Regardless of its origins, it is most often equated with the English word, "weaving." This is quite fitting, for whether a practitioner of Tantra is focusing on the sexual aspects or not, there is a "weaving" of inner energies that takes place, balancing and harmonizing a person's inner feminine and masculine. The Tantric practices also have as their goal a "weaving" of our humanity with Divine energies. As we harmonize ourselves internally through spiritual practices, we harmonize with the Universe.
Being that we're only taking a cursory look at Tantra as it relates to Witchcraft, it helps to keep the focus on sexuality, purely because it presents a clear lens through which to understand the broader goals of Tantra.
Within the varied ideas and practices of Witchcraft, a general view of human sexuality emerges that corresponds well with this Tantric idea of "weaving." Many are attracted to the Craft because of the emphasis placed on balancing masculine and feminine, God and Goddess. The full and holistic acknowledgement of life's polarities and the appreciation of their mutual influence is everywhere. The Wheel of the Year and its sabbats of course reflects the cycles of light and dark, and the different ways in which masculine and feminine manifest in different parts of the year. The Wiccan Great Rite comes to mind as well. Whether literal or figurative, the intention of that ritual is to fully harness the universal power created as male and female merge. Tantra teaches the respect necessary to approach and enjoy our partner, as well as ourselves, as an aspect of the Goddess or God.
Tantra is very focused on the movement of energy through bodily centers as a means to calibrate and optimize a person's health and consciousness. In all aspects of Tantra, one will also find an emphasis on ritual, something that will again be familiar to many Western pagans. The sanctity of certain actions and objects focuses the intention and attention of the practitioners, and imbue them with a greater capacity to experience the unknowns that lie outside the realm of human reason. Chanting, meditation, music, and candles all factor in to Tantric rituals. Even the presence of a magical dagger to ward off evil, called a phurpa, is reminiscent of the Wiccan athame. In fact, some speculate that Gerald Gardner's interest in ceremonial knives and daggers of Eastern cultures was behind the athame's placement in the rituals of Wicca.
Many may be familiar with the Indian concept of the chakras, the energy centers that are placed along the center column of the human body. Each chakra resonates with different aspects of consciousness. The word "chakra" itself means "wheel," again echoing the Witch's honoring life's cyclical nature. The chakras in the center of the body (seven in total) are in actuality the major chakras--according to the Indian traditions, there are many other smaller energy centers throughout the human body. Also, it should be noted that many spiritual traditions, including parts of what's called the New Age movement, teach that other chakras exist in our energy fields that extend beyond the physical body.
As a quick review, the seven major bodily chakras are lined up vertically, starting at the base of the spine and reaching to the top of the head. The first and lowest chakra resonates with primal ideas of survival and our place in the world. The second chakra, a couple of inches below the navel, relates to creativity and sexuality. Next up is the solar plexus chakra, which has to do with will and personal power. Then there is the heart, which connects the lower and upper chakras and of course opens up the transcendental connection to all of life through Love. Then there is the throat chakra, which relates to communication and self expression. Above that is the third eye which relates to intuition. The final major bodily chakra at the crown of the head is our connection to Divine source and the higher realms. Interestingly, each of these chakras relates to a gland in the body.
Specific to Tantric sexuality, raising the vital sexual energy from the lower chakras upwards through the body, and then cycling them around, is of prime importance. This is done in order that all of the chakras may be opened and properly flowing with the vital life energy. This is very much akin to raising the intent and energy prior to and during a magickal rite. All of us possess the life force itself; sexuality, and the new life that may result from intercourse, are just the most obvious ways that the life force expresses through human beings. When we see an athlete in their prime, a powerful dancer, or a performer who draws in audiences with their "animal magnetism," these are simply different ways we have of recognizing the vital life force in another.
During lovemaking or anything else that awakens this vital force, Tantra teaches that awareness is the key to unlocking power. Indeed, Tantra teaches us to live presently at all times. That idea of "being present" is repeated so often in certain spiritual traditions that it may sometimes lose its potency. People's eyes may glaze over when they hear yet another teacher or book speak of "being present." However, when we remember that living Tantrically, or presently, allows us to "make love to life," savoring the richness of all sensations and experiences... well, that sounds a lot more enticing, and something we'd be more motivated to practice!
Even for the couple who are at ease with one another and themselves, the holistic circulation of life force energy around the body during lovemaking may not come naturally. Of course on a biological level, sexual union is focused on the lower chakra areas. Those more primal instincts often hold the most sway during sexual experiences. What Tantra teaches is that through full body awareness, open breathing, attention to our partner, and yes, conscious use of intent and will, that we can learn to circulate that energy around our entire bodies. For men, we often hear half-baked explanations or jokes about learning Tantra in order to "last longer." While this may be a side benefit, it's actually missing the point.
Just as in the ways of the Craft, transmutation of energy is the name of the game. As is balance. If we equate the chakras to different aspects of our personality, it becomes clear that some chakras are usually stronger than others. No one is born with perfect balance. Some people will have their upper chakras open and thus have strong intuition and spirituality, but may have a hard time paying the bills. Likewise, others may be able to create financial prosperity for themselves, but carry around a heavy heart. Obviously, these examples are very basic and not nuanced, but they shed light on this idea of balance. Everyone's life path can be seen as an opportunity to redress the imbalances that they were born into for a particular incarnation.
Just as Witchcraft allows individual people to better balance themselves as a microcosm that's part of the macrocosm, Tantra does so in its own ways. When it comes to the sacred sexuality practices, you can visualize the vital life force, or kundalini, moving up through the ckakras, cleansing and clearing any that are not functioning optimally. If you feel tension and "blockages" in any physical area of your body, this corresponds with the emotional, non-physical as well. Such pain is often resistance to your fully expressing the natural self. The snaking energy that Tantric practice awakens in your being acts as a tonic for your chakra centers. As you clarify your energy in this way, you grow in you personal sense of ease, flow, and feeling of "rightness" with yourself in your body and in this world.
A wonderful outlook that binds both Tantra and Witchcraft is that everyone has the power and the right to get in touch with and develop their own vital force. In turn, this life force in each person is a localized expression and extension of the Divine.
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