Lalita: She Who Plays

•08/24/2016 • Leave a Comment

Lately, I find myself going back towards Shakta Tantra. I am not a practitioner because I am not initiated and have no guru. So I’m loath to call myself a Tantrik but it’s something I’ve had an interest in for years.

 

I think my first real introduction was as a member of the now long defunct Z(Cluster) online chaos magick list where there were a few people that studied real Tantra. From there, I got into Phil Hine’s work on the subject here and here which led to both to Mike Magee’s ShivaShakti website and to Lalita.

 

Lalita (also known as Tripura Sundari) is a Hindu goddess worshipped by some Shakta Tantriks. (Shakta, in this instance, referring to Tantriks that worship Shakti, or the Goddess.) Lalita means “She Who Plays”. She is a beautiful enchanting woman known for her playful attitude and glittery shining appearance.

 

For those devoted to Her worship, Lalita created all of existence. Everything is part of Her. Including Her consort, Shiva.

 

As someone with a very playful side myself, the concept of a benevolent playful Creatrix of Existence has always been greatly appealing. I tend to view Her and Shiva as parents of Sri Ganesha and, as such, have periodically been placed on altars and worshipped.

 

As is the case with many Tantrik deities, Lalita is worshipped in different forms. Her image (that of a beautiful woman with long dark hair, dressed in red, often holding a noose and goad, as well as a sugarcane bow and 5 arrows) is one such form.


Her mantra is another. The mantra is Om Shrim i ka-e-i-la-hrim |  ha-sa-ka-ha-la-hrim | sa-ka-la-hrim. (Yes, it’s a mouthful.) This is considered to be Her.

 

Her third form is the Sri Yantra. A yantra is a sort of sacred diagram in Tantrik Hinduism (almost similar to a mandala among Tibetan Buddhists). Like the mantra, this yantra is another form of the Goddess. There is a particular way in which it is drawn, each angle is a different deity and has different significance. (There is a short video here.)

 

One of the advantages of worshipping Hindu deities is that there are well-established prayers, chants, and songs about them. I’m going to talk about this in the context of Lalita.

 

While understanding Hindu Tantra itself is dependent upon having a background in Hinduism as well as understanding Tantrik approaches and vocabulary, I’ve found that one can often get great results simply by focusing on traditional texts with prayer and a devotional attitude.

 

I’d like to look at three texts relating to worship of Lalita.

 

The first is the Lalita Pancharatnam. It’s a short piece in Sanskrit that employs vivid imagery of Lalita’s image as a form of meditation. Phil Hine did a blog on it here which includes the text in English but there are also videos that involve performances of it. This video has the text in transliterated Sanskrit and its meaning in English below the video.

 

Someone interested in Lalita worship can recite this each morning as a form of devotion (and as a daily reminder of prayerful beauty and joy).

 

The second piece is the Lalita Sahasranama which means “The 1000 names of Lalita”. It is an ancient text that mostly involves the reciting of the 1000 names/epithets of Lalita. About a year ago, I attended a recital of the Lalita Sahasranama at a Hindu temple not far from me. They do it every Friday night. It’s also a daily practice among worshippers of the “hugging guru” Ammachi who claims to be an incarnation of Lalita.

 

As there are 1000 names, it takes a long time to get through them. Here is a video (30 minutes long) of the Lalita Sahasranama conveniently with English meaning right on the video. Additionally, Amma’s group has a good English translation that I’ve used that can probably be found at an inexpensive price among the used books on Amazon.

 

I admit, this is a little much for me. But I have the audio track on my smartphone (performed by the Priya Sisters) and listen to it on my commute into work often. Though it’s hard to follow along with the different names sometimes.

 

Finally, there is the Saundarya Lahari. This is more advanced.

 

This is a piece involving Lalita Devi which functions both as a hymn to Her but also as a Tantrik guidebook to Her worship. Phil Hine has done an excellent series on the Saundarya Lahari which I highly recommend checking out. Phil’s piece uses the translation by Francis X. Clooney in his piece “Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary”.

 

The language often gets into Tantrik imagery and can be obscure and difficult, but there are some beautiful passages in there.

 

Also, there is a wealth of information at Mike Magee’s ShivaShakti site linked above. However, it’s a little overwhelming and difficult to follow if you’re new to Tantra.

 

Hell, I’m often confused by it and I’ve been studying this stuff off and on for years.

 

The best book on the subject of Hindu Tantra is Christopher Wallis’ excellent Tantra Illuminated. It goes deep into the philosophy behind Tantra and is excellent. It is, however, a little lacking on practical techniques. It is about Tantra (though Wallis does teach). Wallis’ book does feature a small section on the Sri Vidya branch of Tantra.
There’s also this cheesy but excellent video involving a mantra of Devi.

Pagan Atheism, Animism, and Non-Theists.

•08/20/2016 • Leave a Comment

As some of you may know, I tend to ‘hang out’ on /r/pagan over at reddit.

While I generally agree with the mindset there that a Pagan subreddit should be about Paganism (we tend to attract a lot of people asking about New Age stuff or crystals and other things that have little to do with Paganism), where I disagree with the subreddit (and with some Pagans) is where they stand on non-theist Paganism.

Basically, the mods are opposed to the idea of non-theists being Pagan. This includes pantheists or animists as well as Pagan atheists like John Halstead (who got into several arguments in /r/Pagan as a result of this stance, which he featured on his Patheos Pagan blog).

I’m all on board with the Polytheist movement. I don’t believe it’s OK for atheists to go around calling themselves polytheists. But Paganism has always sort of been a big tent that attracts a wide variety of people.

While I may take issue with extending that tent to include New Age folks (though there is often overlap with Wicca and New Age stuff), I honestly don’t see why non-theistic or atheistic nature worshippers should not be included.

Hinduism, much like Paganism, is not one religion but many different ones. There is definitely room for nature-worshippers, non-theists, atheists, animists and all sorts under the Hindu umbrella historically and philosophically.

I use that as my model for Paganism.

While I disagree with the atheist Pagan types, I will definitely consider them to be Pagans.

 

•08/08/2016 • 1 Comment

I’ve been practicing some form of Western Hindu polytheism since 2000-2001.(Mainly worship of Sri Ganapati.)

What I really wish there had been for me when I was starting out was a guidebook that oriented Westerners to the Hindu religions, with an emphasis on practice. Almost all that I found was informational (i.e., about the religion, not about how to practice it)…or written for Hindus using a great deal of terminology unfamiliar to the non-Hindu.

There were plenty of books on Tantra and yoga for Westerners. Often, uninformed and poorly written with an emphasis on the sex and magical end of things. (Though I will highly recommend Christopher Wallis’ “Tantra Illuminated” as a great book on Tantra. Well-researched and informative but gives only little in the way of practical application.)

I struggle with claiming the “Hindu” term for myself. I was not raised in the culture and it feels wrong for me to claim it. It echoes of cultural imperialism even if I’m well-intentioned.

There was one path available that was very open for white Hindus, ISKCON (Better known as the Hare Krishna movement.) I like the Hare Krishnas (though the organization has had their share of scandal and shitty behavior), but I’m not a Krishna-worshipper. I had no interest in giving up sex, onions, or garlic…but I love their vegetarian food and their emphasis on bhakti yoga.

Hindu temples were either unfriendly or inaccessible. I had no idea what to do or (importantly) what not to do. I did not want to offend the gods or the other HIndus. I kind of needed my hand held there and being (rightfully, considering how much Hindu culture has been exploited by the West) skeptical of outsiders..no one offered. It wasn’t their place to. This was not ‘my space’. I was an outsider.

There’s a great Kali temple (in a beat-up old strip mall!) not far from me that was very friendly when I visited. However, I don’t have a car. (I’m in a city with fairly good public transportation.)  If I lived closer or had a car, I would go there for worship. (Though I’m not particularly a devotee of Kali, they also have Sri Ganapati and repeat the Lalita Sahasranama (1000 Names of Lalita Devi) every Friday night.

Instead, for the longest time, I relied on Western sources. Mainly through the chaos magick writings of Phil Hine. I read through Mike Magee’s ShivaShakti.com (a vast resource of original Tantrik materials, though little context is given).

As I grew closer to Sri Ganapati, I wanted to learn more authentic Hindu practice. Thankfully, there were better resources on the Web than there had been when I started. Additionally, through research, I had picked up a basic Hindu religious vocabulary.

There is still a LOT I don’t know. Hinduism is thousands of years old and more complex than just about any other religion out there.

But, from a cultural standpoint, how would one go about creating an approach to the worship of Hindu deities..geared towards Western polytheists? I would want it to be respectful of the mother culture in which these gods come from. But I also don’t think that we must convert to Hinduism in order to worship Hindu deities.

Sri Ganesha is worshipped throughout Hinduism as well as in Tibetan Buddhism, even Japanese Shinto (Lakshmi and Saraswati are also worshipped in Shinto). Clearly these deities are not limited to traditional Hinduism, so why not Western polytheism?

I just want it to be done with respect to these deities and to Hindus.

 

 

 

Starry Bull Tradition

•08/05/2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m happy to see that there’s now a new website for the Starry Bull tradition, The Bakheion.

I’m still learning about it but between this site and what Sannion (founder of the Starry Bull Tradition) posts over at The House of Vines, I’m very intrigued.

I’ve been going through the material at The Bakheion in the past day or so (I’m recovering from surgery and thus have a lot of time on my hands this week), and it’s good. This is the kind of thing I love to see in polytheism.

(Sannion may not use the term “Pagan” but when I became a Pagan, this is what I wanted to see in Paganism. Revivals of ancient religions, inspired by and directed by the gods. Especially an ancient mystery religion. That to me is much more “Pagan” than the varieties of Wicca being called Pagan today.)

Historical scholarship, plus actual devotion to the gods.

This might not be my tradition but I enthusiastically applaud such efforts and wish we had more of it.

 

Non-Vedic

•07/31/2016 • Leave a Comment

The thing I’m discovering with the ADF material is that I’m not really all that interested in Indo-European religion.

While I do have some interest in particular deities in some religions that are derived from IE cultures, by and large, the forced reconstruction of IE religion doesn’t interest me.

Especially when it comes to Indian religion. As readers here know, I love Indian religion. But IE Indian religion is pretty much Vedism. I’m not really interested in Vedism. I’m more interested in the non-Vedic aspects of Indian religion.

Yes, Rudra is linked to Shiva but a large part of today’s Shaivism is not Vedic. Shaktism is not Vedic. My beloved Sri Ganesha is not Vedic. The Tantras are not Vedic.

All of the cool shit in Indian religion (other than perhaps fire-worship and soma, whatever the hell it might be) is not Vedic.

Surrounded By Blessings

•07/28/2016 • Leave a Comment

One of the recurring themes of my life is that I am intensely focused on whatever it is that I’m intrigued with at the moment, whether it’s religious or food related. Or perhaps something else entirely.

I will obsessively read whatever I can upon the subject.

Then, a distraction comes. A shiny new take on an old interest, or something completely new. And then that consumes me.

I often feel like I’m a bad polytheist because of this.

For a while, I was obsessed with Aphrodite and Hellenic polytheism. I’d made a promise to someone I’d never met at PantheaCon (kinda unwillingly) that I was going to work to rebuild Hellenic worship in Boston. (It wasn’t a vow. It was more of a sacred charge the priestess at the Hellenic shrine in one of the suites put before me.)

I checked with diviners to determine my course of action. I gave offerings regularly to Aphrodite for two months. (I gave either  I thought of it as a trial period. I made no vows to Her or any of the gods that I would continue. But my fervor dimmed. Then, I moved and it took a while to set up my altars. In that pause, I don’t want to say I lost interest. But it feels more like an obligation rather than love. I set up my altar to Aphrodite and still give offerings but I don’t feel as into it as I was.

On the other hand, we have Sri Ganesha. Now I’ve been off-and-on in my devotion to Ganesha over the years. Some months, my altar has done nothing but collect dust. Especially the years around my transplant, when I felt like I’d been abandoned by Him (for various reasons).

But I always keep coming back and, as the years go by, I feel the connection growing deeper and deeper. After 16 or so years, I feel a confidence to my Ganesh-worship. I worship in the morning, worship in the evening. I give what I can give, both in time and physical offering.

I see His influence in my life. Are all of my obstacles removed? No. Definitely not. But I have been blessed with a wonderful new apartment, a kind, beautiful, and amazing partner who loves me despite my craziness and eccentricities, a job which can be annoying but is still the best job I’ve ever had. I have the means to support myself and enough time to focus on things like blogging or worship or my cooking experiments. (I recently made my own homemade tofu! I should start a food blog.)

In a way, I see Aphrodite’s influence in my life as well. I am, and have been for all of my life, surrounded by love. Sometimes I’m too caught in my own shit to recognize it, but it’s there. I have been very blessed. I had a brother who gave up his kidney for me. I had parents who spent night after sleepless night taking care of me. (I was a very sick infant.) I have a wonderful girlfriend who has to remind me of things on a regular basis because my head is constantly in the clouds. I have a community of friends (Big F and little f) in the Quaker house I recently moved out of.

If that’s not Aphrodite’s favor, I don’t know what is. And I am deeply thankful for it. That’s what gets me going back to Her altar.

 

There’s a prayer that I made up for Sri Ganesha.

The image on my altar has a fairly common depiction of Him with four arms. He holds a noose in His upper left hand, a goad (like a dull axe, used to direct movement in elephants) in His upper right hand, His lower right hand is in the abhaya position (which means “fear not”) and the lower left hand carries sweets.

My prayer is “O Lord Ganesha, with your noose, pull me closer to You and what You want for me. With Your goad, keep me away from that which is harmful to me or that which separates me from You. May I always remember that I have taken refuge in You and not fear or worry. May I always be mindful of the many blessings You have surrounded me with, and not take them for granted.”

There’s a tendency to focus on the obstacles in life (and there will always be obstacles). But by focusing on the blessings, and affirming this on a daily basis..or even a weekly one, it helps me to overcome that attitude…which is, in itself…an obstacle.

 

Devotion Is Simple-PSVL

•07/21/2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m reblogging a blog entry from PSVL of Aedicula Antinoi on devotion because it’s excellently written and it’s something that really resonated with me. It’s a very long and in-depth piece but if you’re interested in polytheistic devotional work, it’s really worth your time.

 

 

 
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