Barbara G. Walker on Tantrism & Asceticism - Peter Myers, November 10, 2001; my comments in the text are shown {thus}.

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I do not find Barbara Walker entirely reliable; for example, her entries on Taoism and Asceticism (below) seem quite partisan. Nevertheless she has many valuable insights.

Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1983.

{p. 973} Tantrism

The system ot yoni-worship, or female-centered sex-worship, allegedly founded thousands of years ago in India by women of a secret sect called Vratyas, forerunners of the devadasis or sacred harlots. The religion was associated with later written scriptures known as Tantras therefore it was called Tantrism. The primary object of its adoration was the lingam-yoni, sign of male and female principles in conjunction (the god Shiva and the goddess Shakti-Kali). Tantrism is still widely practiced in lndia, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet.

The basic principle of Tantrism was that women possess more spiritual energy than men, and a man could achieve realization of the divinity only through sexual and emotional union with a woman. A fundamental rite was controlled sexual intercourse, maithuna, Latin coitus reservatus: sex without male orgasm. The theory was that a man must store up his vital fluids rather than expending them in ejaculation. Through Tantric training, he learned to absorb through his penis the fluid engendered by his partner's orgasm and to prolong sexual intercourse for many hours. In this way he could become like Shiva, the God in perpetual union with his Goddess. Theoretically, the vital fluids thus conserved would be stored in a man's spinal column, mount through the chakras up to his head, and there flower forth with the inspiration of divine wisdom. The Tantras explain this and other practices based on worship of the Goddess, together with the philosophy underlying the rites.

The most sacred mantra (holy phrase) expressing Tantric worship was Om mani padme hum, the Jewel (penis) in the Lotus (vulva). The symbolic lingam-yoni often took the form of an altar, shaped like a penis in a vulva. Remnants of Tantric practice inspired the medieval European belief that "witches" worshipped at an altar represented by a female body.

Tantric Buddhism consisted of an uneasy marriage between an originally ascetic Buddhist cult with ancient sexual disciplines. Like its Christian offshoot five centuries later, Buddhism was founded on opposition to the female principle and the belief that men must avoid women, in order to conserve their souls' vitality by retaining their semen and concentrating on the Self. Buddhist monks claimed their prophet ordered them to quell all sexual desire, and never to see or speak to women.

Like early Christianity, however, Buddhism soon spread out along a continuum of sects ranging from the austere, puritanical Jains to exuberantly erotic Tantric Buddhists with principles like "Buddhahood resides in the vulva." All over Indian temples, Buddhist saints appeared with their voluptuous Shaktis in the divine embrace called Yab-Yum (Father-Mother), representing everlasting orgasmic bliss - the real cause of the beatific smiles on the faces of the bodhisattvas. Erotic forms of Tantric Buddhism penetrated all Asia, though patriarchal sects later suppressed them and denied their historical

{p. 974} existence. Tantric Buddhism flourished in China under the Six Dynasties, T'ang, and Mongol Yuan, until Confucian patriarchs succeeded in eliminating it. Japanese Shingon is an attenuated remnant. Tantrism is no longer mentioned in China or Japan; its art was destroyed; authorities pretend it was never there at all.

The same denial appeared in areas dominated by Islam where Sufi mystics had perpetuated a form of Tantrism. They emphasized the discipline of fana, "rapture," attainable only with a pir (Peri), a fairy mistress, also known as Fravashi, "Spirit of the Way." Through her, a man might achieve "the larger full surrender" said to pass beyond God to realization of the ultimate Void that swallowed even the gods.

Early Gnostic Christians sometimes called their religion synesaktism, the Way of Shakti, another name for Tantrism. These Christians were influenced by Oriental Tantrism as well as by some of its western forms, philosophies of Goddess-worship filtered through Pythagorean and Neoplatonic mystics. Plotinus equated the mind's progress toward the Ineffable with "the sight of a beautiful lady." Ascent of the mind toward realization of divinity was divided into six steps, beginning with perception of woman's beauty, culminating in contemplation of Universal Beauty.

Christians like the Ophites and Montanists apparently practiced sexual adoration of the feminine life force under the name of Sophia, the female Holy Spirit, a feminine soul or Shakti of God. Their rite of "spiritual marriage" was misunderstood by the orthodox, who later called it a Test of Faith. Certain male and female saints, they said, had proved their chastity by Iying together naked without copulation. Possibly it was not sexual intercourse per se that such "saints" had avoided, but only male orgasm. Like Tantric yogis, Gnostic saints sometimes thought themselves "perfected" by coitus reservatus, so they could indulge in nakedness and promiscuity without being sinful."

These sects were destroyed by the end of the 5th century A.D. and no more was heard of the famous Test of Faith. Orthodox fathers of the church ruled that sexual intercourse should have no purpose other than to beget offspring, and sexual pleasure should be altogether denied to women.

While Tantric Christians were condemned as heretics, Islamic leaders were attacking Sufi cults of love. Sufi mysticism survived underground, in the hands of troubadours who called themselves Lovers and adored the female principle as the world-sustaining power. Sufi yoni-worship influenced European troubadours, who founded cults of Courtly Love in the centuries following the crusades. The church called them devil-worshippers because they "sinfully" loved women instead of God, and women were equated with the devil by the theological opinion of the time. See Romance.

Heroes of the Courtly Love movement apparently practiced Tantric maithuna under the name of drudaria, a kind of love

{p. 975} associated with male self-denial, yet not at all chaste. On the contrary, its poetry was highly erotic. Bardic romances sometimes showed distinct connections with eastern Tantrism, as when Peredur's mystic lady-love revealed that she came from India, or when Tristan told his lady-love Iseult that his name was the syllabically-reversed Tantris.

Though never officially recognized, Tantric sex has been practiced throughout history in western nations, either in accordance with a secret teaching, or as an independent discovery. Medieval Goddess worshippers vilified as "witches" apparently knew of it, and may have used it as a birth-control technique. It was claimed that no woman was ever made pregnant at the witches' Sabbath.

Tao {I include this to show that Walker is not always reliable}

"The Way," Chinese version of Tantrism. Men were taught to reserve their vital forces, which could be dangerously depleted by ejaculation, and to let their weaker Yang nature absorb the powerful Yin force engendered by a woman's orgasm. Men were advised to keep thls "key" secret from women, for if women learned to suppress their own orgasms while bringing men to ecstasy, they would greatly surpass men in wisdom and spiritual energy {this is a ridiculous claim}. Their already superior Yin magic would remain in their bodies, while the man's lesser Yang magic would be added to it.

Lao-Tse said: "How unfathomable is Tao - like unto the emptiness of a vessel, yet, as it were, the honored Ancestor of us all. Using It we find it inexhaustible, deep and unfathomable. Now pure and still is the Way! I do not know who generated it. It may appear to have preceded God." {but Taoism is non-theistic}

{p. 62} Asceticism {Walker has a warped view on this topic, judging asceticism from a hedonistic standpoint. Although she's partly right, asceticism is also about shrinking the ego, to reduce conflict, to serve a greater good}

The religion of self-denial, such as practiced by early Christian eremites, characterized by self-inflicted pain, hunger, and other austerities, and renunciation of sensual pleasures.

Perhaps the earliest sectaries to regard asceticism as the key to heaven were Jain Buddhists (see Jains), whose theology influenced Persian patriarchs, who in turn influenced Jewish eremites like the Essenes. Jain Buddhist monks had already penetrated the courts of Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, and Epirus by the 4th century B.C., and were glorified in legend for the alleged magic powers they developed through prodigies of self-denial.

Originally, men's ascetic practices seem to have evolved from a notion that extreme forms of self-denial would bring them the magical female capacity to give birth. Oriental myths said the first

{p. 63} creator-gods acquired the ability to produce living things by Òpracticing fierce asceticism for ten thousand years.Ó

Though men never achieved the ability to give birth, they claimed other miraculous powers developed by asceticism. Perfected eremites were said to fly, to walk on water, to understand all languages, to turn base metals into gold, to heal lameness and blindness, and other miracles that became the common property of all scriptures including the Christian ones.

Jain Buddhists looked upon women as hopelessly inferior in the pursuit of asceticism. Their handbook said no woman could achieve Nirvana, because "in the womb, between the breasts in their navel and loins, a subtle emanation of life is continually taking piace. How then can they be fit for self-control? A woman may be pure in faith and even occupied with a study of the sutras or the practice of a terrific asceticilsm; in her case there will be no falling away of karmic matter."

Some of the ascetics openly despised sexuality and motherhood. The Mahabharata anticipated St. Augustine's remarks about the nastiness of birth: "Man emerges mixed with excrement and water, fouled with the impurities of woman. A wise man will avoid the contaminating society of women as he would the touch of bodies infested with vermin." Some advertised their renunciation of sex by castrating themselves or affixing large metal rings in the flesh of the penis.

Essenic Judaism and early Christianity were offshoots of the Jain tradition; urging abandonment of the family and of ali secular concerns. Like the art of the Jains, Christian art in the early medieval period showed stiff, crude, doll-like figures, apparently bodiless under their wooden draperies, even hands and faces badly drawn. Not even artists were permitted to study the human form. To look at something attractive - especially if it was made of flesh - was highly suspect because the observer might enjoy the act of looking. According to St. Jerome, a Christian must consider poisonous every act or experience having the smallest hint of sensual pleasure.

Pain, however, was permitted and encouraged throughout the Christian era. St. Catherine of Siena was highly praised for whipping herself three times a day, once for her own sins, once for the sins of the living, and once for the sins of the dead. St. Simeon Stylites was glorified for remaining motionless on top of his pillar, like Buddhist standing-yogis, until his living flesh rotted.

Fathers of the church constantly urged asceticism upon the faithful. Gregory of Nyssa touted it in terms of both wetness and dryness: As the tympanum, from which all moisture has been removed so that it is exceedingly dry, gives out a loud noise, so also is virginity, which receives no life-giving moisture, illustrious and renowned." Again he said: "We often see water, contained in a pipe, bursting upward through this constraining force, which will not let it leak, and this in spite of its natural gravitation; in the same way the mind of man,

{p. 64} enclosed in the compact channel of an habitual continence, and not having any side issues, will be raised by virtue of its natural powers of motion to an exalted love."

Moral tales told by the Christian fathers concentrated on renunciation of sexual love, and acceptance of painful martyrdom. The tale of Sts. Cyprian and Justina is typical. Cyprian, a pagan sorcerer, fell in love with the Christian maiden Justina and cast a love spell on her. Though sworn to virginity like all good Christian maidens, Justina was tortured by desire. Nevertheless she conquered her desire and proved her piety with such prodigies of asceticism that she impressed even Cyprian: she fasted almost to death, she slept naked on the stony ground, she mutilated herself to spoil her beauty. Cyprian was so intrigued by all this he turned Christian too, and was martyred along with his incorrigible virgin.

Human love was anathema to the early Christians who insisted that families must be abandoned. Sexual impulses were perverted into unnatural obsessions. The fall of Rome was not entirely unrelated to Christians' abhorrence of the basic social unit of the state: the interlocked loyalties and dependencies of the family. Jesus himself undermined the family in his teaching: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). Becker says Christianity stood for "renunciation of this world and the satisfactions of this life, which is why the pagans thought Christianity was crazy. It was a sort of anti-heroism by an animal who denied life in order to deny evil."

Principles of asceticism so embedded themselves in Christian society that nearly every kind of sensual pleasure came to be regarded as wicked only because it was pleasant. The delights of sacramental dancing were forbidden. A story from Ramersdorf in the Rhineland tells of a Christian missionary priest who found youths and maidens dancing together on the Sabbath. He called God's curse on them, which forced them to go on dancing day and night until they lost their minds. Some European peasants still abstain from sexual intercourse during the sowing season, in the church-fostered belief that sexual activity might call down a curse on the crop.

In the 18th century, theologians were still preaching the wickedness of even the most subtle feelings of pleasure. Beaumont counseled women especially to attribute any enjoyable bodily sensation to the devil's influence: "If ye perceive a sudden sweet taste in your mouths or feel any warmth in your breasts, like fire, or any form of pleasure in any part of your body, or . . . if ye become aware by occasion of pleasure or satisfaction derived from such perception, that your hearts are drawn away from the contemplation of Jesus Christ and from spiritual exercises ... then this sensation is very much to be suspected of coming from the Enemy; and therefore were it ever so wonderful and striking, still renounce it." Yet the obsessive contem-

{p. 65} plation of pain, starting with Jesus' pain on the cross, was always to be encouraged.

The most significant difference between Christianity and its pagan forerunners was this reversal of the pleasure-pain continuum. Earlier societies regarded sensual pleasure as a touch of divinity, and "bliss" - sexual or otherwise - as a foretaste of heaven. Woman was a carrier of the divine spark because of her capacity to give and receive physical pleasure. The Christian theory turned this opinion completely around. Fathers of the church taught that the human race must die out through universal celibacy, before Jesus could return and establish his heaven on earth {this unfortunate statement is untenable}. Reasoning that man fell from grace through woman, man could return to grace only by renouncing woman. Therefore, medieval churchmen came to identify sexuality with the worst of heresies and sins, especially since St. Augustine had labeled it the pipeline of original sin. Even Protestant theologians adopted this view. Calvin said that, because of its origin in sexuality and in a woman's body, every child was "defiled and polluted" in God's sight even before it saw the light of the day; a newborn infant is a "seed-bed of sin and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God." Martin Luther married an ex-nun, but still didn't think much of sex. He said, "Had God consulted me in the matter, I would have advised him to continue the generation of the species by fashioning them out of clay."

This note of arrogance, even hubris, in the idea of man issuing instructions to God, waas always a hidden component of asceticism despite its outward show of extreme or unnatural humility. "Nothing is prouder than the humility of the ascetic of other-worldiy spirit that proclaims itself superior to the whole natural world, or than the mysticism that renounces the self only to commune with God himself." Here lies the real reason for men's secret delight in ascetic principles and practices. It must be remembered that the original purpose of such self-denial was to become identified with a god and to acquire God's sacred powers for one's self.

Becoming a god meant acquiring the ability to perform miracles, as many Christian ascetics were supposed to have done. By definition, miracles flouted the laws of nature. Thus the ascetic became deliberately un-natural, confusing the denial of his own instinctual desires with denial of Mother Nature's observed habits. Ascetic ideals therefore placed body and spirit in conflict with each other. "Asceticism is the ethical code which arises inevitably from a dualistic opposition between the spiritual and the natural. These are represented as absolutely irreconcilable and mutually antagonistic; if a man is to escape the natural he must renounce the rights of his physical nature in the interests of his spiritual." The psychic problem of such dualistic opinion is still much in evldence. {end of text}

Shivaism, it seems, is also a kind of asceticism, but one that embraces sex. Asceticism is about training the will to live a simple life, avoiding ostentation or the accumulation of goods, plain living and high thinking; there is no reason why asceticism must take the puritanical forms Walker describes.

Barbara G. Walker on the "Star of David", the Kabalah, & Tantrism: jewish-taoist.html.

Alain Danielou & Camille Paglia on Shiva vs. Apollo: danielou-paglia.html.

Write to me at contact.html.

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