Tantra: an Introduction

Tantra is as complex and diverse as the cultures that supported it, from its birthplace in India to its latest incarnation as part of New Age practice, with a heavy dose of Buddhism along the way. It has operated in religious domains, atheistic domains  and a variety of syncretic systems of all stripes. So what is it? I’m going to address seven basic questions about the nature of Tantra:

Question One: Is Tantra an occult practice?

Answer: Yes, and No. It depends on the particular school, tradition, and interpretation. For some, it is nothing but an occult practice; for it others, it is a philosophy, a cosmology, or sometimes just a sensibility.

Question Two: Is Tantra a philosophical approach?

Answer: It can be! Of course, that doesn’t make all Tantrists philosophers; however, beyond its ritual aspects, Tantra does present a rich range of philosophical thoughts, depending on school, tradition, and interpretation.

Question Three: Is Tantra a psychological approach?

Answer: Tantra is deeply intertwined with Buddhism and Shaivaism, which are both some of the psychological belief systems that I am aware of. I think the psychological aspects of Tantra will be obvious when we look at the Chakras.

Question Four: Is Tantra about sex magic?

Answer: I started this article by addressing this question, but it bears repeating: sex magic is a part of Tantra, but it is not a requisite, nor is it the sole point of Tantric practice. I will explore sex magic in the context of Tantra, as well as in the practice of Sigil/Chaos magic.

Question Five: Does Tantra condone the use of intoxicants?

Answer: As with the issue of sex magic, this is a topic I will address honestly, but within the context of ritual use, not hedonistic excess. Especially in the so called left hand, and/or Aghora paths, the use of intoxicants are ritually sanctioned, though generally not condones.

Question Six: Does Tantra require initiation under a Guru/Teacher/Tantric?

Answer: Mostly yes, though once again, as Tantra has taken root in the West, new traditions are opening up to self initiation. That being said, BIG DISCLAIMER: I am not a Tantric guru, nor am I a Tantric initiate. I’m here serving as a guide to a world that I find terrifying, beautiful, and useful as part of my own ritual praxis, but the point of these articles is to educate, not to initiate.

Question Seven: What themes make Tantra unique?

Answer: I’ll be describing multiple aspects of Tantra that make it unique from other ritual practices. These include the concept of energy centers known as chakras, symmetrical designs used for visualization called yantras (more commonly known as mandalas), chants that accompany these designs, called mantras, the use of hand gestures, known as mudras, the seemingly modern field of classical Tantric cosmology, and finally the core of (left hand) Tantric practice, the so called 5 Ms.

So, breathe deep (that’s probably at the root of ALL(!) of these practices), lay down your yoga mat, get the candles and incense ready, and prep your altar:

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