This was probably my favourite of the four October essays to write, probably because it involved so many things that I love to think and talk about, but was also something I never, ever imagined I’d be writing for an anthropological audience, or maybe at all.
Years ago I was warned by a lovely acting HoD in an anthropology department to be careful of pursuing the study of esotericism – her exact words, more specifically, were ‘don’t ghettocize yourself’. One thing I’ve tried (and granted not always succeeded) at doing is to show how the esoteric, occult or ‘hidden’, as inaccessible and interior as they may seem, are still always and already social phenomena. What I specifically like about writing about Tibetan aliens and the convoluted interactions between Indo-Tibetan and Western esotericisms, is that while the material may be initially quite obscure for a lot of people, it offers opportunities to think about much more general questions: about tradition, authenticity and experience, about syncretism, cultural exchange and appropriation, about otherness and the sacred, about the spaces and links between individual revelation and collective inspiration.
The anthropology of extra-terrestrialism, ufology, and speculative futures is a small but growing field, and a lot of really great material has come out recently, and is currently being developed in this area. Although I’ve been familiar with and have been a critical fan of Crowley, Grant and Lovecraft for years, so much of the material I’ve been looking at on Tibetan aliens and hybrid practices of (neo)-tantra fell into my lap all at once quite recently and unexpectedly. I was pleased to discover that this piece didn’t fly completely over anthropologists’ heads and that other scholars could recognize how something as weird (and arguably racist and distasteful) as Tibetan aliens could illuminate so much about religious histories and contemporary religious practices. I’m hoping to put out more extensive work on Tibetan aliens, neo-tantra, and Thelemic Buddhism in the future, so watch this space (and please, do feel free to let me know more about your own thoughts on – and experiences with – extra-terrestrials and esotericism!)
Anyway, here’s the piece.
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