Tantra, Esoteric Christianity and Mary Magdalene
‘If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa, Spiritual Detective :).
This blog comes as an attempt to investigate and perhaps even formulate a possible theory about the connection between the sacred Tantric teaching of Hinduism and esoteric Christianity, especially that which is contained in some of the Gnostic Gospels (primarily the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas).
But before I move in this direction, allow me to share something personal with you. 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, I found they 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 the 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. That is why the Hindus do have the Kama Sutra and anyone who wants to spice up their sexual life should buy themselves a copy and practise 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 sexual life.
Tantra is about embracing everything, especially the things that have been banished by organised 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 institutionalised 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 demonise 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 centre 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 practised with guidance?
This is no different than 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, while 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 practised 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 practise sexual Tantra only when you are already an advanced spiritual practitioner and, ideally, with the guidance of a guru. There are some exceptions, some of them very radical, which I have described in earlier blogs.
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 (whether 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 practised consciously (rather than abusively or perversely). Thus sexual Tantra, when practised 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 worshipped; they come to teach us how to evolve and become like them.
Another interesting note can be found in James Hughes Reho’s (PhD) book Tantric Jesus: The Erotic Heart of Early Christianity, with its Introduction by one of my favourites Matthew Fox. Reho says that some early Christians included sexual practices ‘in their lithurgy’. 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 – often translated as a ‘companion’ or ‘wife’, which, in fact, is another word for sexual partners or sexual consorts. Incidentally, in Hinduism, female Tantric consorts were often translated as ’messengers’ – perhaps as a form of concealment from the scrutiny of organised 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 pauses 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 for Mary Magdalene being an elevated disciple (yogini) and, possibly, a Tantric consort, in Jesus’ life. This might also explain why the institutionalised 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?
I would love to hear your thoughts in Comments as the Goddess News is intended as a free spiritual dialogue for us all.
To read more on Tantra, please refer to my blogs: http://www.joannakujawa.com/tantra-and-the-worship-of-the-goddess/
With Much love,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Goddess News©Joanna Kujawa