Well, you know about this. Everybody does. There’s Siva and Sakti, male and female, penis and vulva, and the whole thing can be packaged as divine sexuality. We owe so much rubbish to New Age Tantras. In the real world things are a lot more complicated. They also make much more sense and are not quite as sexist. Ready to open your mind? One of the basic concepts that people assume to be Tantric is a polarity. Before we go into polarity, we should start out at the beginning. Most Indian religions postulate an ultimate Brahman, an undefined, nameless, all-enclosing consciousness. As Brahman is everywhere and nowhere, it is also everything and nothing. What you, I, and every other living entity perceive as itself is essentially Brahman in the form of jiva (the incarnate all-self, i.e. ‘soul’) plus a lot of misconceptions. These are called personality, personal history, ego, or identity. To be conscious of everything, Brahman has to be No Thing.

Out of Brahman arises the divine game. Numerous Indian religions started out from this point and decided that out of Brahman arises a polarity. This polarity is sometimes (not always) personified as Siva and Sakti. And here things begin to get complicated. Siva, as you know, is a much older deity than the Tantric movement. In popular folk belief, he is a god of ascetics, dancers, philosophers, saints, and yogis who walk the earth nude, or only clad in a leopard loincloth, smeared with white ashes, hair long and tangled, wearing serpents around his neck, a moon on his head, and a trident in his hand. It’s an image of the ascetic who has left society to seek liberation. To make things more complicated, his sign is a linga, usually a phallic image, carved out of wood, stone, or made from clay or other materials. This has led a lot of Western writers, especially disapproving ones, to identify him as a god of fertility and sexual indulgence. While there is some truth to this identification, you might consider that linga has several meanings. In the Puräqas, the linga appears as a radiant pillar of flame and sheer energy. It has no beginning or end, is attached to nothing, and crosses all the heavens, earths, and underworlds.

The primal linga is a column of vibration much like the countless trees of life, world pillars, and world mountains that appear in Eurasian Shamanism. It is the axis of the world and the way by which a shaman may travel into other realities. The primal linga is not a penis at all. The word linga has more meanings. 1. characteristic; 2. sign, symbol, emblem; 3. Siva’s emblem; 4. penis; in the twilight language it can also be a metaphor for the human spine, or for the entire human form sitting erect in meditation and yoga. Some texts, such as the Kaulajüäna nirnaya, describe a linga within the body that is adorned with various flowers: an image of the energetic counterpart of the human spine and the various cakras. Here, the worship of outer lingas, no what material, is considered a grave misunderstanding. Other systems propose that one should meditate on lingas in the head, breast, and belly, here the word means signs or characteristics. Now Siva is not only a god of folk religion, but he is also a god with numerous faces. There are hundreds of gods in India that have been identified, at one time or another, as aspects of Siva. When you read original texts (which I dearly hope you will) you will notice that the usual frame of the text is a dialogue between Siva and Sakti. This does not necessarily mean that these names appear anywhere. Often you can find the two calling each other by dozens of names within a single text.

Folk religion often misleads when its imagery is too simple. When Siva’s image is a penis (linga), the image of Sakti is a vulva (yoni). The two forms often appear in temples and shrines, much to the disgust of conquering Muslims, Christian missionaries, and Indian reformers, and have produced the mistaken idea that their cult is primarily one of lovemaking. To this day, and possibly today more than ever, people assume that Tantra is a form of sanctified eroticism, and that its devotees are obsessed with sexuality. Some of them may be, but just as many are living in chastity, in fact, most of the surviving schools of Tantra recommend celibacy. While Siva is easy to recognise due to his highly specialised iconography, Sakti remains universal. There are few representations of Sakti as such. Sakti, meaning force, power, energy (this includes form and matter in Indian thought) is rarely shown as herself in popular iconography.

Instead, she appears as one of many hundreds of goddesses. Depending on the mood of their interaction, Sakti and Siva assume various forms and personalities. In folk religion, the two are a divine couple whose lovemaking creates, maintains, and destroys the multiverse. This is a very simple idea as it implies human gender and sexual dynamics. It also implies a male and a female participant. Well and good for the simple-minded, or for the people who go to ‘Tantric workshops’ to get a bit of basic sexual education. In the more refined systems of Tantra, especially among the traditions of Kashmir, the polarity of Sakti and Siva is a lot more refined Tantric lore is complex when it comes to the question of gender and divinity, Some Tantric texts proposed that males manifest Siva while females manifest Sakti. In the influential Kulärnava Tantra, Shiva states: O Kulesvari! to speak much. In the midst of a Cakra, all men become like Me, and all women like You.

May be a step in the right direction, as it acknowledges a divine element in all human beings. However, as Smasana Kali insists, to believe that people are divine according to their genital shape and social role is daft beyond comprehension. It may violate the sensibilities of a good many simple-minded Säktas. Still, it takes much more than a simple set of genitals, costumes, and mannerisms to manifest Sakti or Siva, People who invest humans in roles of deified sexuality simply do not go far enough, Being Sakti or Siva according to gender roles and anatomy is not good enough. We have had millennia of sexual discrimination without anybody being significantly happier or wiser. Bodies may appear female or male, incarnate souls are both and neither. In most human beings divinity resicles only in potential, and possession of a vagina or penis is hardly enough to claim holiness. In fact, the more male’ or ‘female’ people pretend to be, the less divine they usually are. Spirituality should aim at wholeness and understanding, sexism aims at keeping people different and separate. It hardly matters whether a given gender is damned or deified: to insist on fundamental differences is to further apartheid. What happens when you forget about gender definitions (biological and social) and begin to see each being as unique?

In advanced Kaula, Krama, Trika, Siva is not a male god but pure consciousness. Siva could be described as pure, passive awareness, as a watcher and witness, as the formless self that delights in the ceaseless play of images, entities, and realities that constitute the world. As such, the supreme consciousness is literally nothing. Sakti, by contrast, is force, power, and energy, and as all things that exist are energy, Sakti is literally everything. We are a long way from gender here. Let’s have a look at kula and akula. Kula means family, group, cluster, or clan, and refers to Sakti. As Sakti is form and power, she is also things, and things, as we all know, relate to each other, create, maintain, and destroy each other, in Short, you cannot even perceive a single thing without being in relation with a lot of others. Thus, the way of kula is from the monad to the multiple, everything that exists is a Sakti and every Sakti creates more Saktis. Akula means without family, group, cluster, or clan and refers to Siva. Here Siva is the sentience that, free of religion and attachment, exists within the play but is not part of it. In meditation, kula is a form of trance where you disappear into everything, and akula a trance where you withdraw from everything to nothing. Both of them are pretty much the same regarding the outcome, but the way of trance-formation differs.

When kula and akula unite, we attain kaula. In this model, there are no male or female participants. Every being is consciousness (Siva) and form or energy (Sakti). Awareness is Siva, Body is Sakti. This means that every single thing this wide world consists of is Sakti. The body of every person, animal, plant, mineral, element, sprit, or god is Sakti. This goes for males as well as females. The male form, the female form, any form – all forms are undoubtedly Her Supreme form. (Gandharva Tantra). And where it comes to ritual worship, whoever YOU are, you are Siva consciousness in Sakti body. When you unite with your partner, you are always Siva, no matter whether you happen to inhabit a male or female body, and your partner, no matter gender, is always Sakti. By the same mouth you are Sakti to every other living being. In a very important way Sakti is what Austin Spare referred to as All-Otherness, while Siva might be considered all Thisness, if the Thisness were anything at all (which it isn’t). As most Tantric traditions proclaim, Sakti and Siva are two in principle, but in reality they are one (or none). It’s impossible to tell the difference. Without awareness, form does not exist. Without form, there is nothing to be aware of. Hence the famous saying that Siva is Sava (a corpse) without Sakti. Nor is this all there is to it. Another interpretation goes beyond this and proposes that both are consciousness, Siva being formless and Sakti being consciousness-in-form. A third interpretation proposes that both of them arise out of the Supreme Sakti, who happens to be pure consciousness.