Tantra, Esoteric Christianity and Mary Magdalene.
When I was an ardent student of Tantra, I wrote a piece for a well-known men’s magazine about Tantra.
As a young woman, I used to be fascinated by men’s magazines which, apart from the articles on expensive toys such as Bentleys, etc., had some interesting and tongue-in-cheek pieces much better written, I am sorry to say, than those in women’s magazines, with their attempts to dumbify women.
To cut a long story short, the editor loved the piece but said that his readers would not read it unless it had practical tips on how to improve their sex lives!
Here is the major misunderstanding about Tantra. Let me clarify something right from the very beginning: Tantra is not a form of Kama Sutra. The Hindus have the Kama Sutra, and anyone who wants to spice up their sexual life should buy themselves a copy and practice all the positions with a willing partner, albeit they might need to take a few Yoga classes for certain positions.
Tantra is not about improving your sex life.
Tantra is about embracing everything, especially the things that have been banished by organized religions, as a possible means for spiritual evolution, and focuses on nothing else but complete union with the Divine. Sexuality is a part of that everything. However, Tantra is not about sexuality.
The reason we are so obsessed with this part of Tantra is because sexuality is misused by many in so many ways, and because the institutionalized religions have not the slightest clue on how to deal with it. The only way they have ever known how to deal with has been to either demonize it or to ask what is impossible for most of us, especially when young — that is, to just sublimate it.
We know how this has turned out, with many religious leaders being painfully bad examples in this area, over and over again.
The sexual aspect of Tantra is fascinating though. Not because it is at the center of Tantra, but because its approach towards sexuality is so enlightening. What if something that is the most powerful, yet often confusing and considered generally bad, is actually good when practiced with guidance?
This is no different from going to the jungle for a session of ayahuasca with a shaman.
If done with the proper intentions, with a real shaman, it can bring incredible insights and even a transformation. But if done as a drug experiment with some charlatan after a drunken party, the results will be probably different — although some people have received Grace even in those circumstances, others have paid a terrible price.
Just to clarify one more thing: Tantra is an offspring of Hinduism, or rather a response to the Vedantic approach, which in many ways is as dogmatic as traditional Western religions. Tantra is Hinduism’s rebellious branch, so to speak. Only later was it appropriated by other Eastern religions, and is usually presented in this updated way to the West.
I am going to focus here only on the original Hindu Tantra and its possible application in Esoteric Christianity.
In the original Hindu Tantra, as described by Abhinavagupta in the Tantraloka, the sexual ritual was practiced in a group setting of devoted disciples. The guru, his consort, and the disciples and their consorts were, ideally, spiritually advanced meditators.
So to start with, you practice sexual Tantra only when you are already an advanced spiritual practitioner and, ideally, with the guidance of guru. There are some exceptions, some of them very radical.
For this reason, meditation and chants proceed the sensual massage — the worship of the yoni by a man and the worship of the penis by a woman. The sensual massage is directed as the worship of the feminine principle by the man, and the masculine principle by the woman.
The purpose of the massage and intercourse — with or without ejaculation — or oral worship is to experience the original unity of the feminine and masculine principles, as represented by Shiva-Shakti in Hindu Tantra.
The sensual images of Hinduism, with Shakti on top of Shiva, are reminders of the original ecstasy of the universe, both sensual and procreative. For a Tantrika (a practitioner of Tantra) there is no contradiction here, as pleasure is God/Goddess-given when practiced consciously rather than abusively or perversely.
Thus sexual Tantra, when practiced consciously and under guidance, can take us to that original rapture from which the entire universe was created. How beautiful is that?
Now, how can this be applied in the Christian — or really any — Western religious context?
Not until we reach this state of consciousness does it even allow for that possibility. However, we have seen some attempts on the part of the more adventurous, and often sidetracked, Christian clergy and thinkers.
The one whom I completely adore is, of course, Jean-Yves Leloup, who, in my life at least, was the first priest to open our minds to the possibility that in his human incarnation Jesus was a sexual being. In fact, Leloup argues in his commentary on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene that for Jesus to be the redeemer, he needed to be sexual as well, as you can’t redeem what you have not experienced.
Another spiritual teacher I know has often told us that it is completely unfair to deify someone as a Great Being by saying he was a God and therefore he was different. This is spiritual hypocrisy, because as a human being he was like us, and he achieved what he achieved in this body to show us that we can achieve it too.
A true Great Being does not come here to be worshiped, they come to teach us how to evolve and become like them.
Another interesting note can be found in Dr. James Hughes Reho’s book Tantric Jesus: The Erotic Heart of Early Christianity, with its introduction by one of my favorites, Matthew Fox. Reho says that some early Christians included sexual practices in their liturgy. The echoes of these practices can be found in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip and its esoteric sections on the Bridal Chamber.
It is also in the Gospel of Philip that Jesus calls Mary Magdalene koinonos, which is often translated as companion or wife, which also, in fact, is another word for a sexual partner or a sexual consort. Incidentally, in Hinduism, female Tantric consorts were often translated as messengers, perhaps as a form of concealment from the scrutiny of organized religions.
Reho points out that another word is used in the same Gospel, describing someone as a regular spouse. It is especially interesting that Mary Magdalene is also undoubtedly described through all Gnostic sources as an elevated disciple of great importance who, like Jesus, accomplished spiritual androgyny.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says that Mary Magdalene must be respected by the male disciples as an equal (at least) because he has made her into a male (made her equal).
In the Pistis Sophia, another early Christian Gnostic source, Mary Magdalene is definitely at the forefront of the rest of the disciples as it is she who asks 39 out 42 spiritual questions asked of Jesus. In a way, the whole work is a dialogue between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
Again, in this respect, the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is very similar to that of Shiva and Shakti in the Hindu scriptures, where Shakti poses questions to Shiva on spiritual matters.
So, just as in the Hindu Tantra, the female practitioner is also often given advanced spiritual status, and carefully chosen not just to enjoy sex but to experience the Divine Union that created the universe through the joy of that particular union. Reho and the Gnostic Gospels make a good argument that Mary Magdalene was an elevated disciple (yogini) and, possibly, a Tantric consort, in Jesus’ life.
This might also explain why the institutionalized church was obsessed with degrading Mary Magdalene’s status, something they could not deal with due to the misogyny of their times and their own sexual neuroses.
What do you think?
Dr. Joanna Kujawa is the author of ‘Journaling to Manifest the Lost Goddess in Your Life’ and ‘Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus’, and many short stories, essays and academic pieces. She sees herself as a Spiritual Detective who asks difficult questions about spirituality, such as ‘Can spirituality and sexuality be experienced as one?’, ‘Who was the real Mary Magdalene?’, ‘How can we include eco-spirituality in our belief systems?’ and ‘How can we bring back the Divine Feminine to create a more balanced and interconnected world?’ Her goal is to create and participate in the shift in consciousness about spirituality, our connection to nature, and our place in the Universe. She has PhD from Monash University, and MA and BA from the University of Toronto. She is immoderately passionate about her Goddess News blog. You could connect with her via her website, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.