(c) 1995 catherine yronwode
Tantra (which means "woven together") is a term loosely applied to a system of Hindu yoga in which the union of male and female principles is worshipped. In practice, this has led to a form of sexual ritual in which slow, non-orgasmic intercourse is seen as a path to an experience of the divine. A modified verion of Hindu Tantra can also be found in Tibetan Buddhism.
The term tantra is also -- for the sake of convenience -- applied to other (primarily Western) religious or spiritual practices in which slow, non-orgasmic sexual union or masturbation forms a path to the expreience of spiritual ecstasy. Some of these Western practices arose during the 19th century, apparently by spontaneous discovery -- although one popularizer of Western tantra (Alice Bunker Stockham) is known to have travelled to India to study Hindu tantra. Each "discoverer" gave his or her system a unique name -- Male Continence, The Better Way, Karezza, The Anseiratic Mysteries, Zussagent's Discovery, Magnetation, etc.
In my personal opinion the reason that Tantra persists as a religion despite the persecution of sexuality in most modern civilizations, the reason it arises spontaneously in different eras and places, and the reason that it crosses socio-cultural lines is that it is based upon some neurological hard-wiring of the human body; something which, when practiced correctly, allows the participants to experience what seems to be -- what IS, for all intents and purposes -- the presense of diety in the person of the sex partner.
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