Embodying Healing: Tantric Ritual Short-hand and the Training of Anthropological Attention

AH syllable.jpg

Elaborate ritual procedures are a hallmark of Indo-Tibetan tantra. Tantric rites are often long and complex. Ceremonies typically involve multiple parts or stages, replete with lengthy chanted liturgies, extensive visualizations and gestures, and the making of both physical and imagined offerings. The ability to memorize such procedures, and to properly and elegantly execute the intricate choreographies of body posture and movement, recited mantras, and imagined forms which they require, is crucial to tantric expertise. Large-scale and extended rituals which involve a lot of people, ritual trappings, and processes are important in Tibetan Buddhist contexts and are conducted frequently. Yet the prevalence of externally elaborate ritual performances should not be taken to mean that smaller, quicker and more ‘internal’ rites are not also a vital part of Tibetan ritual specialists’ work. Continue reading

Secrets of the Sex Magic Space Lamas Revealed! Tibetan Buddhist Aliens and Religious Syncretism

tibetan aliens

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 Continue reading

Magic Without Savages and the Racialization of Ideas

magic and the savage post

Given the way history has unfolded, no matter who you might be, it is difficult, if not impossible to talk about magic without talking about time and temporality. Accordingly, then, to speak of magic is to inevitably invoke the lofty spirit-kings of modernity, rationality, and progress. I just started reading Christopher Bracken’s 2007 book ‘Magical Criticism: The Recourse of Savage Philosophy’. Bracken traces the ways Western Enlightenment philosophers and anthropologists have constructed categories of ‘primitive thought’ and how these remain influential today, despite formal disavowals of ethnocentric notions of the savage. He explains his position Continue reading

Grammar Mystics vs Grammar Nazis

grammar nazis

Living in India has taught me that Indian English has many cool and special features. One of these that I’ve noticed is that some people say “let’s catch up” when I would say “let’s meet up”, i.e. to mean let’s meet up, for the first time, as strangers, to get acquainted. When I first heard this my impulse was to protest Continue reading

On Weird Cultural Beliefs, Anthropologists’ Wizard-envy, and the Skeptical Native

graeber wizard envy ontology

“Apparently there’s virtually nothing, no matter how obviously crazy, a contemporary academic can’t get away with if they find some way to attribute it to Gilles Deleuze. (And in this case the authors themselves admit the link is fairly tenuous.)”

So, I finally got around to reading anarchist theorist, anthropologist, and public intellectual David Graeber’s recent piece in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, that looks at one of the sexiest, most trending topics in Cultural Anthropology right now, the ‘Ontological Turn’, and specifically how this trend has influenced debates about how anthropologists should go about studying and interpreting magic.

When I first came across OT theories as an anthropology student in Cape Town in 2007/2008, I happened to be conducting fieldwork on neo-Pagans and their understandings of what it meant to identify as ‘witches’ in South Africa, where not everybody thinks of witchcraft as a benign revival of pre-Christian nature-worship. When I read cutting-edge OT theory, I thought to myself Continue reading