Shambhala Review

Mysteries of the Bridechamber


Recommended Reading

Sales and Distribution


A Yoga of Love:
Western Tantra

An Arctic Origin Of Civilization Part 1

An Arctic Origin of Civilization Part 2

Spiritual Psychology: An Evolving Paradigm

Shambhala: The Spiritual Axis of the World

Enneagram, Jesus and the Way
by J.C. Fontes

The Javanese Mystical Tradition

"Keys To The Parables"
By John R. Francis

G.I. Gurdjieff -The Hidden History of the Sufi

Prophet of Hope

The Roerich Expeditions: Magical Gifts

Sufis and The Nine Unknowns

Prophecy in the Third Millenium

Lessons of Old Age

Is Democracy Under Threat?

                      Site Links

Insight Forum

Search This Site

Site Map





A Yoga of Love: Western Tantra reviewed
Victoria LePage

Until very recently most people in the West have been unaware of the extent to which the Tantric tradition has been practiced throughout the ancient world, assuming it to be confined to an obscure branch of Hinduism, or else vaguely associating it only with the orgiastic agricultural festivals of Greco-Roman antiquity. But Tantra has roots deep in the religious life of the whole human race. It has even manifested, say some modern researchers, controversially in early Gnostic Christianity, as well as in a wide range of Western occult schools both medieval and modern.

According to the Italian esotericist Julias Evola, HinduTantra is essentially a practical discipline which strives to awaken and then unite the divine couple, the god Shiva and his consort Shakti, within the body of the yogi – Shiva representing Consciousness and Shakti Energy, active power – the aim being to achieve Self-realization and liberation from all existential attachments and limitations.1 Two different paths are available for the purpose: one is Hatha yoga, a type of Kundalini yoga which involves uniting the opposed principles within the body through extremely disciplined physical movements and postures practiced without the need of a partner; the other is a sexual yoga which, with the same goal in view, entails ritualized intercourse with someone of the opposite sex.

It was an ancient Vedic idea, says Evola, that sexual union, ritually controlled, could be elevated to the rank of a sacred marriage and a religious act.2 He calls it a yoga of Power that should not be practiced except by initates. It is unfortunate that the modern popularization of the art rarely mentions this caveat; for it has long been believed by Hindu masters that without intensive preliminary moral and physical training in the mastery of the hidden energies latent in the body, sexual yoga is a dangerous and difficult undertaking: obsession, sexual mania, spiritual degeneracy are ever-present possibilities. Yet the torrent of Western popular work in the field today usually glamorizes the art and ignores both its potentially negative aspects and its need for spiritual proficiency.

Part of the Eastern Tantric tradition is a complex metaphysic entailing esoteric and initiatory teachings of great breadth and antiquity. Indeed, modern research discloses that Tantra arose as a relatively late yogic development of the hieros gamos or sacred marriage, a more ancient form that was once confined to the royal families of the Neolithic age and celebrated worldwide in village compounds, forest shrines and the temples of high civilizations as far back as the historical records take us. Among these populations pre-Exilic Israel was no exception.

Geo Widengren, Professor of Religious History at Upsala University, agrees with other researchers when he speaks of ancient Israel mourning the death of the god Tammuz “after the jubilation ceremonies of the sacred marriage.”3 As well, the groundbreaking work of the Hungarian biblical authority Raphael Patai, himself Jewish, has helped to establish the reality of ancient Israel’s full participation in the worldwide Tantric Mysteries of the day. Patai quotes the Zohar, an influential medieval Qabalistic work, which claims that the marriage of the supernal King and Queen (Yahweh and His consort, the goddess Asherah) “could not be celebrated until Solomon had built the temple at Jerusalem, which was to serve as their wedding chamber, and thereafter their bedroom.”4 There, says the Zohar, the King, come down each night from his heavenly abode, embraced and kissed the Queen in sexual union.

Although long forbidden by the Jerusalem clergy, the hieros gamos and its associated cult teachings nevertheless survived in strength among Jewish expatriates in the Egyptian diaspora, as the biblical Book of Jeremiah (44: 15 – 19) demonstrates; and Patai tells us that, even as late as Jesus’ day, in Palestine the people of Judah still cherished the memory of the banned fertility Mysteries of old. These became Christianity’s hidden Tantric inheritance.

Arthur Versluis, in his highly informative book, The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism, seeks to unveil the sexual dimension in Gnostic Christianity, and in doing so traces the history of erotic mysticism, as he sees it, from the most ancient Egyptian Mysteries to the secret practices of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century occult brotherhoods of Europe and America.5 Behind all these varied forms of mysticism, he says, including that of Christianity, lies the one spiritual goal, the transcendent union of the opposites, leading to spiritual illumination. Exploring the mystery of sexual energy by reference to the Christian Apocryphal gospels, Versluis then poses the question: by what mysterious alchemy is consciousness transformed during the sex act into a mystical knowledge of God? What is the hidden modus operandi be by which a state of spiritual enlightenment is attained?

No credible answers have been suggested, apart from the practice of coitus interruptus – that is, intercourse without male ejaculation – a practice regarded by most cognoscenti as of dubious value. Nevertheless, the increase of Western popular work in the field has given the sex act a new respectability and an aura of spiritual legitimacy it has hitherto lacked, however little support there is in the known facts.

In a similar exploration of the Apocrypha, Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code and Margaret Starbird in Mary Magdalene: Bride in Exile, find evidence of Tantric mysticism at the root of Jesus’ mission. Starbird observes that “mandatory celibacy [of the Catholic priesthood] enforced after 1139, appears to have concreticised the erroneous assumption that Jesus was celibate.”6 Commenting at length on the Catholic Church’s denial of sexuality, of Eros, Starbird claims that

Christianity at its inception included the celebration of the hieros gamos, the ‘sacred marrige’ of opposites, a model incarnate in the archetypal bridegroom and his bride – Jesus Christ and the woman called ‘the Magdalene’.7

As Mary of Bethany, with whom Starbird identifies Mary Magdalene, the latter’s anointing of the Messiah with a jar of perfumed spikenard “prefigured the consummation of the nuptials during the marital act when the feminine secretions ‘anoint ‘ the masculine.”8

Likewise, the popular collaborative authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince cite the sexual arts of the high priestess in the temples of antiquity as bestowing enlightenment on the reigning king in a practice known as horasis or whole-body orgasm, that is, “enlightenment through transcendental sex with a priestess [or a sacred prostitute].”9 Jesus and Mary Magdalene, these authors suggest, reenacted this sacred temple union. Specifically, Egyptian magic and esoteric secrets were behind Christ’s mission, and for that reason he and the Magdalene reenacted the myth of the goddess Isis and her husband, the god Osiris – playing out a myth in which the human couple stand in symbolically for the god and goddess and mirror their divine lovemaking in order to receive gnosis.

In the sacred marriage the man and woman actually become the gods. It is the high priestess who becomes the goddess herself, who then bestows the ultimate blessing of regeneration – as in alchemy – on the man, who embodies the god.10

The modern explosion of such literature celebrating the spiritual heights to which sexuality can allegedly take us has been a covert triumph over the detested “prudery” of the Catholic Church, a raised flag for the liberated new world the West claims to be forging, a release into Western society of every libertine sexual ideal – but is it justified? Was Christianity in its infancy really continuing the sexual practice of the hieros gamos as known in the initiatory Mysteries of the bronze age?

As a seasoned scholar, Versluis is perhaps more aware than most of the strange contradictions that dog the relevant studies of early Gnostic Christianity. Despite the Church’s negative approach to the libido and its emphasis on celibacy, for Versluis early Christian literature seems to be pervaded by sexual overtones, the ascetic and the erotic being paradoxically coupled together Time and again, he observes, declarations by Christian mystics of strict celibacy occur side by side with reports of their licentiousness and even participation in nocturnal sexual orgies. Furthermore, highly ambiguous statements in the mystics’ own texts occur – statements that leave open the possibility that a truly purified soul may, as the medieval wise woman Bloemardinne says in her writings,, attain inner freedom to enjoy “seraphic sex” according to the demands of Nature.11

Describing the early Christian practice of virgines subintroductae which so greatly incensed the Church worthies, wherein dedicated young virgins slept under the same roof as a bishop or priest and even in the same bed, but apparently without intercourse, Versluis remarks that what was actually taught or practiced is now hopelessly obscured from our view: “What we are looking at here,” he comments, “is a grand riddle, a conundrum…” whose outline he ultimately fails to resolve. Despite all the historical light now being cast on the occult beginnings of the Christian religion, Versluis admits that the mass of relevant literature has yielded more questions than answers.

Nevertheless, while he concedes coitus interrruptus may well not be the whole answer, Versluis argues that what matters is one’s inner state of consciousness. “It is possible for someone to be ‘in the world but not of the world’, even outwardly engaged in sexual activity, yet inwardly detached from it and victorious over it.”12

I would suggest, however, that the evidence on which this kind of conclusion is based has been grossly misinterpreted. The basic contradictions evident in everything pertaining to this subject can be resolved only by accepting at the outset that the early Christians and their heirs meant what they said: if they claimed to practice sexual abstinence then that was no doubt the truth of it. That said, it must be noted that by the beginning of the Christian era Tantric practices had everywhere in the Greco-Roman world become degenerate and had fallen into disrepute. It would seem that reform was urgently needed and that Christianity was one of the new religions that supplied it.

According to esoteric lore, the great shaman masters of the Palaeolithic were able to raise sexual energy, the awakener, from the procreative centre up through the etheric energy centres of the spinal system to the fourth, the heart chakra, which is the first at which consciousness makes contact with the spiritual realms. At that time society, so it is said, was pure and brotherly. But with the Neolithic onset of agriculture, and especially with the replacement of shamanism by religious priesthoods, the human spirit became progressively coarser and more aggressive. By Graeco-Roman times it was deemed rare to be able to raise sexual energy beyond the third chakra, the seat of the personal will to power, and thus access to the higher transpersonal realms of Spirt was barred.

In the New Testament and particularly in the Apocrypha there is evidence that a revolutionary change in Israel’s age-long Tantric tradition occurred under Jesus’ direction. His mission involved a revival and at the same time a reform of the ancient Judaic Mysteries that were practiced until the Israelites were exiled in Babylon in the sixth century BCE. The new method bypassed the old reliance on sexual intercourse between the hierophant and the spiritual candidate – in most ancient cultures like Israel a high priestess and the king - in favour of a purely psychospiritual merging of energies that is still very little understood.

Although, despite all hype to the contrary, few have discovered for certain what form the new method took, the scriptures of the early Christian centuries stress again and again liberation from the old pagan order, a shift of physiological emphasis from the procreative centre to that of the heart, from “polluted” marriage to “undefiled” marriage, from reverence for fertility and the powers of Nature to reverence for spiritual knowledge, for gnosis - and above all, for the love/wisdom of the heart. The Christian emphasis on asceticism, on chastity accompanying the sacred marriage, was unknown to antiquity: instead of orgies and general concupiscence, a new mysterious ceremony called the bridechamber sacrament came into vogue. It advocated celibacy and awakened the psychic gifts attendant on a state of spiritual illumination.

Almost certainly there were ritual preparations for the bridal chamber that were passed down from Christ to the apostles, probably including a second baptism and an anointing with the chrism of Christ, but the bridechamber itself, with Christ as the bridegroom, offered “the direct revelation of truth to the individual; as such, it beckons as ‘the holiest of the holies.’”13

Andrew Welburn, a Fellow of New College, Oxford, points out that this new initiatory bridechamber rite was not unique to Christianity. It was also practiced in the contemporaneous Mithraic Mysteries that Rome imported from Persia, in which the highest grade of Nymphus or “Bride” referred to initiation by means of a sacred marriage with the Mystery-god Mithras, resulting in rebirth and an inner illumination. And the Mandaean sect as well, which in the time of early Christianity operated in Palestine and the Jordan valley, also celebrated the mysteries of the Marriage-Chamber which culminated in an initiatory rebirth and the raising of consciousness to cosmic enlightenment. The Mandaeans, who have always claimed that Jesus and John the Baptist were originally Mandaean prophets, still survive, and their symbolism is to this day strikingly similar to that of the early Gnostic Christians. Both the Mithraic and Mandaean movements practiced celibacy.

Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon in Gaul (ca. 130/40 – 200) was the first to record this Christian sacrament for posterity. Some Gnostics, he said,

prepare a ‘bridal chamber ‘ and perform a mystic rite with certain invocations, for those who are being consecrated (perfected), and they claim that what they are effecting is a ‘spiritual marriage.’14

Dr. Kurt Rudolph, one of the first modern scholars to research Gnosticism in depth, concludes that the ceremony of the bridal chamber was intended to be a reunification of the soul with Jesus Christ as the bridegroom – but not, he stresses, achieved by means of “a sexual act or a kissing ceremony, as was frequently assumed.” The bridal chamber, Rudolph says, “is the ‘Holy of Holies and ranks above the other sacraments… There is an explicit contrast between the earthly and celestial marriage: the latter is the ‘unsullied marriage’.”15

The new dispensation, however, was not for everyone. The so-called “sons of the bridechamber” - that is, Gnostics advanced in spiritual understanding - were not ordinary lay people but a special initiated group: in nascent Christianity they belonged to the advanced grade of pneumatics whose paranormal practices were kept secret from the laity. However, every human being baptised into the community, even women and slaves, could aspire to the more advanced grade by undergoing the necessary purification and course of study, a democratization that was in itself an enormous advance on the old pagan caste system.

A new world age was at hand, claimed reborn Christians, in which the ancient fertility Mysteries of field and stable were to be reconsecrated on a higher angelic plane, and the carnal was to be redeemed in a purer inner dimension. The Christian belief rested on the idea that when the soul descends to earth only a part of the individual incarnates. The lower self lives its life on earth as though spellbound, estranged from the angelic higher Self which remains in the worlds of spirit. The goal of the spiritualization process, states Rudolph, is therefore a resurrection of the lower unit and a reunification of the sundered elements of the individual. The “sons of the bridechamber” “are thus to be understood as brides of the angels, and their entrance into the world beyond as a wedding feast.”16 Furthermore, bearing in mind that every human being is internally both male and female, the spiritual marriage could also be looked on as a return to humanity’s primal state of androgyny.

That Christ was introducing a revolutionary reform in the pagan Mystery tradition, thus severing the Christian path from its carnal pre-Christian antecedents, certainly seems to be being presented to our notice. His supposed marriage or sexual liaison with Mary Magdalene, who has been characterized as “true Bride of Christ”, also needs to be placed in the context of this new initiatory form, which the Apocryphal gospels claim was transmitted by Jesus to all his inner circle of disciples. In this sense, all were Brides of Christ. Do we then know whether Jesus’ and Mary’s union was anything other than a special instance of the bridal chamber marriage enjoyed by all the disciples?

It is apparent we are faced by a number of considerations that must give pause to any too literally sexual an interpretation of the gospel allusions to a mystical marriage, whether it refers to Jesus and Mary Magdalene or to a more general Christian fellowship. Anyone seriously studying the spiritual works of saints and sages throughout the later Christian period, such as Jacob Boehme (1575 – 1619+) or the Russian priest Bulgakov (1871 – 1944), will come upon hints of an alternative interpretation equally mysterious, but one that takes us into regions utterly remote from sexual congress. Some commentators have speculated about it but without fruitful issue, so the following testimony by a modern mystic throws a rare, possibly unique light onto what is almost certainly the true nature of the bridechamber experience.

Heart to Heart, Soul to Soul.

In The Biology of Transcendence, the American author Joseph Chilton Pearce provides a classic example of the modern bridechamber experience – a true inner-plane fusion of male and female energies that yet remains chaste. Pearce’s primary devotion appears to be to his “hero” Jesus, but he is also a Siddha yoga initiate, a long-time disciple of the late Swami Muktananda, an Indian guru of note. Muktananda founded a modern revival of India’s ancient Kundalini yoga specializing in the siddhis or extrasensory faculties, with a cosmology based on Kashmir Shaivism. Pearce had not yet entered Siddha yoga at the time of his mystical experience and the part the Swami might have played in it remains moot. However, I believe the background influence of Siddha yoga is not at all improbable.

At all events, Pearce recounts in his book how his young wife had died and at the age of forty he was bringing up his four children alone. Alone one night, he had what he describes as the most significant and intense mystical experience of his life.

It occurred one evening when I was quite awake and began with the slow but complete materialization of my long-lost anima figure. She manifested in my arms, in full, tangible, physical form, her lips and body pressed against mine. She was now, however, a composite – my adolescent love surrounded by the presence of some ancient, archetypal She who was simultaneously the feminine Shakti and the power of creation herself.

While our previous combining had been one of spirit, more or less, this time the fusion with my anima included our actual bodies, cell by cell, with each fusing cell a complete ecstatic explosion unto itself leading, finally, to our collective fusion with that vastness that has no name and defies description. Love is too hopelessly abused and inadequate a word for the state I experienced, but I have found no other. I am left silent, for…all names and words must be left behind when we enter that cloud of unknowing…”17

Pearce reports that the eventual slow separation from both the transcendent vastness and his anima, with the shedding of the greater part of his self, was a devastation that nearly unhinged him. Only his responsibility to his children and his continuing need to be of service to Jesus held him, as he says, “to the near-barren life that remained.”18

This extraordinary account of an apparently inner-plane fusion of subtle bodies, sensed so vividly that the rapturous effects flowed through to the seemingly physical plane, almost defies the imagination, especially as the initiating agency is not specified. But lest the reader suspect that Pearce was the victim of an overheated imagination, I myself have witnessed several such psychospiritual initiations that have taken place in a more ritualized form in certain Javanese esoteric schools, and have been told of others. These are schools whose initiatory practices include, in the syncretic Javanese way, elements of both Sufism and Hindu Kundalini yoga, and are formalized group affairs. They also possess an uncanny similarity to the bridechamber sacrament.

Briefly, it is proposed that the reform instituted by Jesus consisted of a direct transmission of psychosexual energy to the heart centre, bypassing the lower cthonic centres and in effect transposing the hieros gamos from the physical plane to a subtle inner plane. The point of critical generative fusion of male and female energies, precipitating orgasm, thus occurred not in the sex centre but in the heart. This initiatory format closely parellels some forms of Indian and Javanese Sufism.

In The Chasm of Fire, a British author’s diary records the teachings of her Indian Sufi master in the following terms:

By our system it [kundalini or psychosexual energy] is awakened gently…we awaken the “King,” the heart chakra, and leave it to the “King” to awaken all the other chakras.19

Initiates descibe this “royal” centre of the heart, which reigns supreme over the three lower chakras of Nature, as sunlike, radiating luminous multi-colored rays of love and wisdom, the primary attributes of the spiritual Self. As the seat of the Inner Teacher, its awakening is said to be the beginning of true spirituality, true self-government.

In the aforementioned Javanese schools, the meditation master, who must himself be of an advanced spiritual grade, similarly works at a subtle level to directly awaken and activate the heart centre. Allowing for the difficulties of any descriptive approach to this subject, it can be said that he invisibly aligns his inner body to that of the candidate, energy centre to energy centre. In the process, the heart centre takes the pivotal place that the genitals take in normal sexual intercourse, and is awakened to a heightened activity by the influx of psychosexual energy. The orgasm thus precipitated actually takes place in the heart, and the resultant access of consciousness to higher knowledge is closely analogous to the condition early Christian initiates called the Gnosis of the Heart.

Induced by the officiating master, who acts in what amounts to the role of “bridegroom” during a group meditation of twenty or thirty people, the orgasmic spiritual expansion experienced by the new initiate is usually clairvoyantly shared by all. Participating in the rite as inner-plane witnesses, they become in effect “attendants of the bridegroom”, as the Gospel of Philip puts. The group witnessing role is in fact an intrinsic and indispensable part of the ceremony, as it was also in the Christian bridechamber rite. The Gospel of Philip says: “The bridegroom’s attendants are in one and the same condition: repose. Being assembled, they have no need of transformation, since they are engaged in contemplation… For if someone becomes a bridegroom’s attendant, that person will receive the light.” (Gospel of Philip, 107). As for the bride: “Let her appear only to her father and her mother and the best man and the bridegroom’s attendants: these are permitted to enter the bridal chamber every day.”(102)20

These Indonesian cases, then, closely resemble both Joseph Chilton Pearce’s experience and the “unsullied” marriage of the early Gnostic Christians. Horasis, or whole body orgasm, comes to mind, yet without sexual congress.

In its fullest expression as described by Pearce, the inner union is not bound by the limitations of physical space or time; it is therefore not necessary for the Javanese officiating master even to be present in the meditation hall, and his “bridegroom’s” role is for purposes of initiation rather than any personal relationship. Like modern forms of Sufism and Siddha yoga, esoteric Christianity too lays great emphasis on the importance of the heart in the spiritual quest. Heart to heart, subtle body to subtle body, the hierophantic contact awakens in the other a profoundly personal response that uncovers the most intimately sexual, ardently loving and deeply aspirational longings, but only as subjective responses incidental to a far higher transpersonal action which will ultimately annihilate them. The candidate is thus brought by psychosomatic means to the ecstasy of perfect spiritual unification, perfect male-female wholeness in every cell of the being. Such is today’s true spiritual marriage, a yoga of love that is arguably as different from Evola’s yoga of power as day is from night.

If the marriage of pollution is hidden, how much more is unpolluted marriage a genuine mystery! It is not concerned with flesh but rather is sanctified. It belongs not to desire but to will, not to darkness or night but to daytime and light.(Gospel of Philip 102).

Pearce makes no attempt to offer any explanation or background theory regarding his experience. But he does say that Baba Muktananda spoke many times about a subtle sphere of energy that surrounds our body like a cocoon, referring to it as the vibrations or wave forms of Shiva, the primordial god of the Hindus. “He [Muktananda] claimed that these wave forms were the frequencies out of which the universe formed and that the subtle sphere surrounding us contained the whole universe within it in subtle or potential form.”21

Within this auric sphere, then, we find the non-material or subtle body, whether etheric, astral or higher, in which the spiritual marriage supposedly takes place. Although invisible to physical sight, clairvoyants can see the psychospiritual energies irradiating the system, subtly and under the right occult conditions awakening the whole to an ecstatic revelation of the spirit. So we need to accept the possibility that Christian mystics routinely drew upon the metaphorical language of sexual union to express their experience of a mystical union that had no sexual basis whatever. “

Versluis makes it clear that the bridechamber Mystery, soon suppressed in the mainstream Christian churches, may well have been passed down to the medieval Bogomils and Cathars and to various Western underground occult schools. But how old it is, when it was first introduced before being taken up by Jesus and his followers, and when it spread eastward into the Sufi milieu is not at all clear.

In his study of ancient Vedic Tantra and Shaktism, Evola alludes briefly to the Worshippers of Love headed by the mystical Italian poet Dante Alighieri, as well as to other Western esoteric groups that have seemingly practised this variant form of mysticism during the Christian era. In such cases, Evola says, “what must have taken place is a kind of evocation of and a contact with the supersensual ‘subtle’ plane, although a real woman may actually have facilitated the contact.”22 He suggests that this relatively modern genre may actually have once been the preliminary phase of the hieros gamos that Western mystics developed into a yoga in its own right, but he gives no date at which this might have happened.

The Javanese have a genius for syncretic amalgamations, and Sufism in the Sunda Islands tends to be actually an amalgam of ancient Hindu-Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity, with a smattering of animism thrown in. So the bridechamber practice could have been inherited by Sufism from Hindu-Buddhist Tantra …or from some radical offshoot of early Christian theosophy inported into Indonesia. We simply don’t know. What is clear is that such experiences as Pearce’s may finally resolve the anomalies and absurdities that have plagued researchers in this field, and may give a new meaning to other mystical accounts of a like kind.

Jacob Boehme (1575 – 1624), for example, a cobbler and mystic living in a region of Germany, experienced many visions and spiritual experiences which he recorded in voluminous detail, and for which he was branded a heretic by the Lutheran Church. One such vision was that of the Divine Sophia, goddess of love/wisdom, experienced during the height of his grief and suffering over his persecution by the Church. Boehme, an ascetic, referred to Sophia as the betrothed, bride, mistress and teacher to those who are united to her.

As I was prostrate upon the mountain around midnight,” he writes, “and many kinds of storms engulfed me, she came to comfort me and wedded herself to me.”23 Are these words vague metaphorical terms or are they far more likely intended to convey some kind of direct psychospiritual union with an embodiment of the divine feminine such as Pearce describes? We still know very little about the body. For Versluis, Boehmean theosophy is informed by a recognition that “the physical world, which we take for granted as having substantial reality in itself, is in fact but a transient manifestation of hidden principles and forces…”24

Again, in the writings of Johann Georg Gichtel of Amsterdam (1638 – 1710), a recluse who insisted on total celibacy for himself and his followers, Versluis discerns a kind of Christian Tantrism. Gichtel urged his many correspondents to seek a new spiritual body realized by an inner marriage to the goddess Sophia, divine wisdom personified as female, a union which he saw as centrally important to the spiritual quest. He employed yogic images resembling the classical Hindu chakras to describe the progressive illumination of these centres in the body made possible by the occult marriage to Sophia.

However, excluded from this marriage was the genital region of the body – “the dark wrathful world” dominated by sexuality – which Gichtel regarded as infernal. Regeneration was to be accomplished not by sexual means but purely by “the purification and illumination of the upper centres, symbolized by the beams of light pouring forth particularly from the heart.” 25

Dr. John Pordage, a British theosopher contemporaneous with Gichtel, expounded in alchemical terms a similar scheme of body centres, but in the Philosophic Epistle on the True Stone of Wisdom, took his findings further. He speaks of the unique “philosopher’s fire” that may be stoked by secret means in the “oven” within the abdomen, which Buddhists know as the seat of meditation. The understanding of this fire, says Pordage, “is the key to the mysteries, which unlocks all things, and makes the work itself possible.” It is “the love-fire-life that flows out of the holy Venus or love of God”, and here alone (in the “oven” near the navel) “the love-fire of Veneris has the qualities of the right, true fire.”26 By this “right, true fire” Pordage is clearly referring to kundalini shakti in its higher state.

This energy, the Hindu Serpent Power, is not recognized by the Western academic sciences and is rarely addressed in our modern literature; yet it is absolutely vital for an understanding of all psychospiritual phenomena, and is at the heart of everything in the universe, from the highest spiritual plane to the most densely physical. In the latter instance kundalini is normally at rest in the lowest chakra of the human spinal system, where it is best known as a polarized cthonic power that both creates and destroys. Hence its well-known Hindu image as the goddess Kali with her mouth dripping blood and her girdle hung with human skulls, a dangerous and potentially fickle ally in any quest for transcendence employing means as gross as sexual intercourse.

However, kundalini shakti modulates into higher energy frequencies according to context, and in doing so becomes a purified nondual energy. As she rises on the planes, drawn up towards her divine counterpart, the god Shiva, she progressively unites with him and becomes a psychospiritual white flame that blesses and transforms all it touches. This benign fire which lights up the heart and activates other upper centres is thus still kundalini, but in a radically transformed nondual state.

As Pordage stresses, the energy that he calls the “love-fire-life” of Veneris is the key to all spiritual transformations of consciousness, and is at the heart of a yoga of love. For ascended kundalini eventually merges with her lord Shiva, or in Christian parlance merges with or becomes the Holy Spirit. In the head centres the divine Cosmic Power unites with its upward-rushing counterpart and becomes the same holy fire that was seen to sit upon the heads of the Pentecostal worshippers in Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:3)

The British mystic Thomas Lake Harris was even more explicit about the sole role of the upper body centres in the spiritual marriage. Harris, who migrated from England to America in 1828, was strongly influenced by the Christian theosophical teachings of Jacob Boehme and the Swedish scientist and visionary Emanuel Swedenborg (1700 – 1772), whose Church of the New Jeruslam Harris entered for a time.27 To his followers in the Brotherhood of the New Life in New York and later in California, Harris taught a doctrine of an androgynous male-female Christ, as well as a doctrine of “counterparts” in which every individual, whether male or female, has a counterpart of the opposite gender who may occasionally be incarnated at the same time, but is usually a discarnate spiritual being. One comes to know one’s counterpart through an inner revelatory process, Harris explained, leading to a spiritual transformation through union with a nonphysical being.

The goal of the spiritualizing process, according to Harris, is to achieve “the redemption of the body” by means of the internal union with one’s counterpart, which can continue posthumously. For elucidation of this doctrine we are indebted to the personal narrative, in the form of letters to England, of an anonymous young woman who joined the Harris community in 1881. In her letters abroad she describes how she came to feel her counterpart within her as her inner husband or angel, and how she gradually united with him in a sense of ecstasy and of “dissolving into an invisible other.”28 The process began with a strange vibrating sensation along the axis of the heart, her arms, which gradually extended to the whole of the trunk including the womb.

The first time that it came into my body, that is the trunk, it seemed to enter through the generative organs, and with it came the thought, this is like sexual intercourse, only infinitely more so, in that every atom of your frame enters into union with another atom to the furthest extremity of your body.29

She realized with reverance that “the Mother’s temple is within myself,” and that the womb and life-giving organs must be very holy. Eventually, the writer felt the currents of life flowing into her being continually, so that her only desire was to constantly pray to God in thankfulness.

The inner experiences of this young woman are again obviously very like those of Joseph Chilton Pearce, who also had his feminine counterpart or “anima.” Both accounts reinforce the notion that spiritual transfiguration through the union of the opposites can be sought inwardly, via the psyche or soul, rather than by a physical interchange with a partner of the opposite sex. Indeed, the sixteenth-century alchemists who produced the famous collection of images called the Rosarium Philosophorum (1550) believed the goal of the process was to be transformed into our original hermaphroditic state, and that only in that unified condition could the destructive powers of the primal Serpent be mastered and then usefully employed.

Despite a wave of bad publicity when Harris’s ideas and practices became known, Laurence Oliphant, one of his closest disciples for a time, gives voice in his novel Massolam (1886) to the religious and metaphysical implications of this secret teaching. “It is only when the [internal] sexes are united according to the divine intention,” he writes, “that the redemptive forces for the world’s deliverance can play through them; and it is through the operation of the divine feminine that this union must be achieved.30

The Secret Second Baptism

The concept of a purely intrapsychic or etheric fusion of energies conducted in the bridechamber ritual, leading to a heightened state of consciousness known as the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, remained a deeply-held mystery within the early Christian community, and remains so today. It may well be called the Way of Love in contra-distinction to the ancient Way of Power, for it depends on a love and longing for the divine Source of which only the heart is fully capable. Welburn believes there is a great deal of evidence that this path involved a secret nocturnal baptism, and stresses the prevalence of light symbolism in it, which the Gospel of Philip continually couples with references to the bridal chamber.

Every person who enters the bedroom will kindle the light and it will be manifest to him or her alone, hidden not in darkness and the night, but hidden in a perfect day and holy light. (107: 14 – 16)

This kindling of heaven’s light within the heart of the Christian initiate conferred great powers on the inner circle of Gnostics in the early church. Throughout the diaspora they became for a time its undisputed leaders, both men and women: prophets, teachers, healers, clairvoyants, exorcists, as well as scholars noted for their advanced Greek learning. However, the elitist implications as well as the scandalous sexual excesses imputed to them in the form of nocturnal orgies generated great resentment and hostility in the rising order of bishops and before long the bridechamber sacrament had been suppressed. Driven underground, it seems to have reemerged in a modified baptismal form in sects such as the Bogomils, mainly in Byzantium and Eastern Europe between 750 CE and 1400 CE.

The Bogomils were a “heretical” sect that practised in Eastern Europe from about the tenth to the fourteenth century. They are widely thought to have been influenced by Manichaeism and Persian Zoroastrianism, having descended from early Gnostics such as Simon Magus, Basilides and Valentinus. Passing on their psychospiritual teachings and practices to the Cathars of fourteenth-century southern France and possibly to the medieval Troubadours, who also had Sufi connections, they ultimately provided the inspiration for a great variety of modern evangelical and charismatic Christian sects.

The Bogomils offer a valuable insight into the discourse at hand. The ordinary outer baptism, said a Greek Bogomil called Constantine Chrysomallus, was useless for attaining higher consciousness. It could not eradicate the roots of sin; only expelling our inborn demons would bring that about. What mattered was an inner baptism, a secret tradition of “laying on of hands …by the skilful stewards of some mystic grace”31 which brought to the initiate a revelation of the indwelling Holy Spirit, culminating in spiritual awakening and perfection.

Since the hands are the terminals of the heart axis, we see here another somewhat diluted example of the bridechamber sacrament, one that was probably more comprehensible to later Christians than the original, but which still contradicts absolutely any notion of a sexually transmitted opening…whether by means of coitus interruptus or any other such strategy.

Yet the Bogomils, known to have promoted celibacy as well as vegetarianism, like so many other heretical sects of the time were accused by orthodox Christians of libertine behaviour, with erotic implications in their teachings as well as rumours of nocturnal orgies, and Chrysomallus was accordingly posthumously tried for heresy. Although the libertine accusations also laid against Thomas Lake Harris were probably equally unwarranted, since in his community the sexes were largely segregated, he was neverthless subjected to the medieval formula by which heretics were obliged to abjure their heresy: “Anathema to those who…gather to celebrate a feast on the first of January, and after the evening drinking session put out the lights and have an orgy, sparing no one on the grounds of age or sex or relationship.”32 Saying more for the prurient imagination of the accusers than the guilt of the accused, one wonders why this particular accusation is so persistently made.

The Jewish Kabbalist and controversial prophet Sabbatai Zevi (1626 – 76) and also Jacob Frank (1726 – 91), another Jewish Kabbalist strongly influenced by the Sabbatian Movement, throw light on this vexed question of sexual orgies. Sabbatai was found to be engaged in group “debauches” and “lewdness”, and it was said that orgiastic rites were continuously practised in Frank’s presence. But what is salient to this controversy is that Frank in particular was treated by his followers as a revered mystagogue and was, as Versluis records, “surrounded by coteries of beautiful and well-dressed women who catered to him”,33 almost like a harem. At the same time, he was never accused of actually having sex with any one of them.

One is at once reminded of the Hindu avatar Krishna and his flock of doting dairy maidens…and also of the above-mentioned Javanese tantric schools (in which again the sexes are usually segregated) wherein a group of meditating witnesses gathered about the teacher share clairvoyantly in the bliss of a psychospiritual initiation. It then becomes only too likely that these examples of highly esoteric and formalized group ceremonies, and of others like them, performed at night after a simple ritual feast, are the sole basis for the lurid accusations that adhere to them.

In The Rise and Fall of Atlantis, the author J.S. Gordon frankly confirms such a conclusion. For example, the Dionysian Mysteries, he says, were once the most sacred of all. However, they were completely misunderstood by Roman, medieval and modern scholars alike,

few of whom were able to perceive the inner truths concealed by the esoteric metaphors of the vine, the phallus and the Bacchic frenzy of the…female followers of Dionysos. Instead, they have mistakenly regarded these metaphors merely as literal evidence of licentious orgy. Whilst there is little doubt that this is indeed the degenerate form into which the ritualistic meetings fell in later Roman times, it certainly did not coincide with the original approach, which was fastidiously ascetic.34

Thus Gordon appears to be suggesting that sexual Tantra is historically a relatively late phenomenon that has devolved from a more esoteric psychospiritual one, and that therefore Christianity at its inception merely revived an ancient practice rather than instituting a novel reform.

Whatever the truth of it, the psychospiritual opening of the heart characteristic of the yoga of love is central to the worship of many charismatic modern Christian sects – and also to the psychic healing and clairvoyant powers that are manifesting among increasing numbers of people today. This uncovering of a new current beginning to flow in our Western culture is symptomatic of the revelatory times we live in. There is undoubtedly an undertow running beneath Western society today that is inexorably bearing the culture from the safe shores of familiar physical certainties out into the oceanic challenges and mysteries of the soul. As part of a larger planetary shift of consciousness, it is taking us from the ancient path of power-seeking to that of brotherhood, from the aridity of the senses to the greater freedoms of the visionary intuition. It is a trend, I suspect, that critiques of the Western mystical tradition will increasingly need to recognize as the signature of the future. --

1 Julius Evola. The Yoga of Power, tr. Guido Stucco, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, U.S., 1992.

2 Ibid., 117.

3 Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, quoting Geo Widengren, Harvest/Harcourt Brace, New York, 1976.

4 Raphael Patai. The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd. ed., Wayne University Press, Detroit, 1990, 128.

5 Arrthur Versluis. The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism, Destiny Books, Vermont, U.S., 2008.

6 Margaret Starbird. Magdalene’s Lost Legacy, Bear & Co., Vermont, U.S, 2003.

7 Ibid., 8.

8 Ibid., 131.

9 Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince. The Templar Revelation, Bantam Press, London, 1997, 353.

10 Ibid., 257.

11 Versluis, op. cit., 65.

12 Ibid., 58.

13 Ibid., 46.

14  Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1976, 245.

15 Ibid., 245.

16 Ibid., 245.

17 Joseph Chilton Pearce. The Biology of Transcendence, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2002, 179 – 80.

18 Ibid., 180.

19 Irina Tweedie, The Chasm of Fire, Element Books, Dorset, U.K., 1983, 245.

20 Bentley Layton. The Gnostic Scriptures, SCM Press, London, 1987.

21 Pearce, op. cit., 184,

22 Evola, op. cit., 208

23 Robert Powell. The Sophia Teachings, Lantern Books, New York, 2001.

2417 Versluis, op.cit. 77.

25 Ibid., 81.

26 Ibid., 84.

27 Ibid., 99.

28 Ibid., 110.

29 Ibid., 109.

30 Laurence Oliphant. Massolam: A Problem of the Period, Tauchnitz, Leipzig, 1886, 2:123.

31 Janet and Bernard Hamilton. Christian Dualist Heresies in the Byzantine World, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1998, 214

32 Ibid., 174.

33 Versluis, op. cit., 95.

34 J.S. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of Atlantis, Watkins Publishing, London, 2008, 7.

Copyright Victoria LePage 2009