SACRED SEX AND OUR ART
The heart-stirring electricity of sexual attraction can lead us to some of life’s juiciest experiences. There are reasons for that.
For one thing, the Universe is sexual – the play of two opposite but complementary forces. We can call the dual forces gravity and electromagnetism, negative and positive polarities, the Masculine and the Feminine, or God and Goddess. The relationship between the two forces is irresistible – as it should be – for without their coming together in union, Creation would never have happened. And for reality to keep unfolding, Creation must keep happening. That is where we come in.
Popes in pointy hats and long dresses might tell us that Creation happened once, and humans had nothing to do with it. Monks, chanting their mantras, might instruct us in getting beyond the whole manifest realm, because it is pure illusion, anyway. Physicists may simplify the picture for us by reducing everything to subatomic particles or vibrating strings. All fine and dandy until we look deeply into the eyes of our beloved, and our hearts pound, our breathing quickens, and our palms sweat – it all feels quite real, and at the moment, like it is the most important thing in the world. Could it also be showing us a path to higher consciousness?
Tantra approaches life in an all-encompassing way, with a burning desire for the eternal and a taste for the carnal. Tantra shows us how to attain enlightened realizations, starting right here in this body, with this pounding heart. Tantra is the path we followed – this writer woman and painter man – to an inner gasp of mutual recognition and the most sublime experience of our little identities being blown to smithereens. More lastingly, Tantra has led us to a peaceful, bemused appreciation of how archetypal forces romp across the movie screen of the Technicolor Kosmos, and how we can watch from our red velvet front row seats or jump into the action, according to our desire. Since we are artists, it inspired us to our divine capacity as Creators, and Venus and Her Lover is the result, our artistic offering to the eternal dance of love between the Masculine and the Feminine.
I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.
~ Henry Ward Beecher
Tantra is an ancient spiritual tradition whose philosophy and methodology guide the aspirant toward enlightenment. Its most basic meaning from the Sanskrit is “web”, which is related to the ideas of interdependence, interwovenness, and continuity [Spiritual Sex by Douglas, p. 3]. Tantu means “thread” or “cord”. The Sanskrit root word tan = “to expand, weave, spin out”. [Spiritual Sex, p. 1]. Georg Feuerstein, in Tantra – The Path of Ecstasy, extrapolates from word etymologies that tantra is “the ‘expansive’, all-encompassing Reality revealed by wisdom.” [Tantra – The Path of Ecstasy, p.2]. Maverick to Hindu and Buddhist orthodoxy, Tantra exalts the body as intrinsically holy, the world as a place to be enjoyed instead of transcended or denied, and the divinity of the Feminine as well as Masculine Principles.
Through tantric techniques, the kundalini (the powerful life force that rests coiled at the base of the spine) can be awakened, and as it ascends the nadis (energy pathways) of the spinal column, it can liberate consciousness in the chakras (energy centers of the body). As it loops around and descends, it infuses the practitioner with loving-kindness. The main approach of Tantra, Dakshinachara or the “right-handed path”, emphasizes cultivating the disciplines of mantra, yoga, and meditation, to awaken the kundalini. The minority approach, Vamachara, or the “left-handed path”, in addition to yogic practice, promotes sexual techniques, ritual, and practical magic. It is this sexual part of tantric spiritual science that has captured the attention of Westerners in recent years, which is not surprising considering how sexually repressed/obsessed Western society is.
Vamachara Tantra invites us to fully explore our five physical senses, to achieve spiritual union with a partner, and to evolve through the physical world of separation and fear into the soulful realm of unity and love. “Enlightenment through sex!” Now there is a catchy slogan! Tantra could almost become trendy, were it not in fact a practice, which requires commitment, surrender, desire, focus, and humility. Tantricas, like devotees of other spiritual traditions, learn that the time and effort invested yield benefits beyond their wildest dreams. That is because Tantra, like many spiritual practices, has the goal of personal transformation, which leads you precisely beyond your wildest dreams.
The neo-Tantra of the West has, in many cases, extracted the sexual practices from the greater nest of Vamachara Tantra, and taught them to workshop participants. Because we acknowledge the widespread need for sexual healing, we will refrain from judging these teachings on their spiritual merits, and will refer to them as neo-Tantra to differentiate them from the more-encompassing tantric traditions.
Ascending and Descending Currents
Humans, being curious creatures, have done their best to make sense out of their world. Our pre-history and history are a series of interpretations of the patterns – and the intelligence behind the patterns – that people have perceived. These different perceptions fall primarily into two camps: the ascending and the descending.
Ascenders endeavor to escape the toil and suffering of this world by aiming for the next world. The religions of the book (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) spell out our innate sinful natures, the unending struggle with worldly intellectual confusions, and with temptations of the flesh (bodies, sex, and addictions, which are sin), in order to attain Heaven. Of course, the fruits of Paradise cannot be tasted while you are alive. You have to die first. In Eastern practices (Hinduism, Buddhism), an ascetic approach to the material world denies sensory pleasures – in fact, it denies the reality of this world entirely. We are living an illusion (samsara). Transcending this world can attain release, and various meditation techniques open the practitioner up to direct mystical experience of nirvana, the formless realm. Climbing the “Stairway to Heaven”, via the hierarchy of the wisdom traditions, holds out the reward of reaching the summit, the pinnacle of enlightenment, or of eternity. The ascending strategy seeks a return to the One, God, the All That Is, the Great Spirit.
Descenders, on the other side, embrace Creation, the manifest world. They love Gaia (Earth) and all her children. Pagan and indigenous traditions celebrate fertility, the body, animal spirits, devas and other nature spirits. The Divine is immanent in Nature. The opposite of striving for formless emptiness, the descending strategy delights in the world of form and considers denial of it a sin. Since the Great Spirit, through Mother Nature, is the Ground of all reality, in serving others with compassion, you serve the Great Goddess, Gaia, the Source of Life. Embrace the Many.
Another descending orientation finds value only in the world that can be perceived with the five senses. Nothing else exists, and they can prove it! This strategy exalts science, materialism, hedonism, narcissism, capitalism, and intellectual pursuits. For those that might find Spirit lacking in this approach, Gaia and the Web of Life are elevated to the Ultimate and Eternal. The Romantics, for example, found spiritual satisfaction simply in Nature.
Ascent and Descent, with their opposite strategies for fulfillment, function to a certain extent, because they are both true. Unfortunately, they also have their fair share of pathologies – sexual repression (ascenders) and sexual exhaustion (descenders), to name just two – because while true, they are only partial. What they both cry out for is a union of the two, a sacred marriage. But how could two contradictory philosophies be united?
Tantra provides just such a marriage. It is a nondual strategy, which means that tantric practices help you ascend through the chakras and beyond, into the realm of Emptiness/the Void/Spirit/Godhead, where the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) of the two universal forces takes place. Or rather, with realization beyond duality, all phenomena become crystal clear, and find their rightful places in the Kosmos, including the soul self (atman) which realizes itself as infinite Self (Brahman). So joyful is this experience that the natural impulse is to then descend to create in the world. Seeing the Divine in every rock, blade of grass, and living creature, results in an outpouring of loving-kindness.
The nondual approach is promoted by schools of Shaktism, Shaivite Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, Taoism, and Zen and Vajrayana Buddhism. Western writers, such as Plato, Plotinus, Santa Teresa de Avila, Meister Eckhart, and R.W. Emerson, portrayed spiritual realms where dualism was dissolved.
Spirit, according to the tantric view, is both transcendental and immanent, and requires the cultivation of both wisdom and compassion. As Ken Wilber summarizes in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.
Flee the Many, find the One.
Having found the One,
Embrace the Many as the One.
[Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, p.336]
Ascent and Descent – the perennial religious war – resolve in a union of the two. Tantra, as a nondual practice, offers a way out of our troubled existence for the individual, the couple, and the world.
Tantra is a lifestyle, the main goal of which is salvation of one’s soul. Tantra says God exists everywhere. It inspires one to lead a pure life and leads one to the realization of the self as having a separate existence from one’s body. A true Tantrik knows no fear.
~ Bidya Nath Upadhyaya
Since Tantra’s nondual perspective describes reality as emanating from formless Emptiness, and since desire is what drives Emptiness into archetypal forms and a world of duality, and since this is happening all the time . . . certain concepts become apparent. Following are some lessons we learned through Tantra:
(1) What is Here, is Elsewhere.
What is Not Here, is Nowhere.
~ Vishvasara Tantra
In other words, we are the microcosms of the macrocosm. A corollary from Hermetic wisdom:
As above, so below.
As below, so above.
(2) Creation is continuous. The ever-present energy that permeates all being is constantly flowing from the unmanifest, timeless realms to the manifest world of time, and we are instruments of that creative process.
Divided into two parts, I create.
~ Devi Bhagavata
(3) Everything is sacred because everything is Consciousness, or Spirit.
And this Earth becomes a blessed being, and every I
becomes a God, and every We becomes God’s sincerest
worship, and every It becomes God’s most gracious temple.
~ Ken Wilber
(4) Creation results from the union of two opposite but complementary forces, which can be conceptualized as the Masculine and the Feminine, yab and yum, yang and yin, emptiness and form, nirvana and samsara, Sky/Heaven and Earth, wisdom and compassion, Ascent and Descent, the One and the Many, the Omega and the Alpha, and so forth.
The union of man and woman is like the mating of Heaven and Earth.
It is because of their correct mating that Heaven and Earth lust forever.
Humans have lost this secret and have therefore become mortal.
By knowing it the Path to Immortality is opened.
(5) The power is in the present. Creation happens in the eternal NOW. Whether through meditation or orgasm, it is important to experience intense presence.
All thoughts vanish with the onslaught of pure passion.
~ Kuttni Mahatmya
(6) Deity mysticism is A-OK! Since we are in human form, conceptualizing ourselves as gods and goddesses helps us bring Heaven to Earth, and Earth to Heaven in the hieros gamos (sacred marriage). Lord Shiva, as formless, zero-point energy or Emptiness, unites with Lady Shakti, the Creatress of myriad and wondrous forms.
You don’t have to practice; you get to practice.
~ JG Bertrand
Practices help you to become a tantrica:
Yoga. The body is a temple, and can be relaxed and strengthened through physical asanas (postures). The whole body is conscious, and therefore has its own wisdom.
Meditation. Realization of the Self (Brahman, Oversoul, or Superconsciousness) can be attained through regularly transcending the manifest world. Meditational focus is aided through pranayama (breathing to direct the life force), mantra (repetition of sounds of power), yantras and mandalas (mystical images), and mudra (hand gestures). Meditative practice opens the paths of internal Ascent and Descent:
Return to the One
Embrace the Many
Visualization. Directing the kundalini life force, via nadi pathways, through the chakras (energy vortices of the body) clears the path to enlightenment. Also, visualizing deities, such as the Dhyani (wisdom) Buddhas, can focus the mind.
Maithuna. Ritualized sexual union, performed either mentally in meditation or physically with a lover.
Sadhana. Keeping a regular spiritual practice of the above techniques can ground temporary peaceful or ecstatic states into a permanent level of awareness.
(8) Pleasure heals. Therefore, sex is not a sin; nor is the body sinful. Food can be savored. Likewise, art is enjoyed for art’s sake. In their sexual rituals, tantricas often include poetry, paintings, sculpture, and especially music and dance.
Role Models in Love
Children are raised on myths and fairy tales about how the hero acts, how the damsel reacts, and what dynamics play out in their relationships with each other. Bodice-ripping romance novels make much about the exciting play of sexual polarity between the swashbuckling man who ravishes the delicate woman. While that polarity can be quite erotic (and it can happen when the Masculine in man or woman sizzles with the Feminine in woman or man), society’s traditional mythos too often portrays a helpless, submissive female dominated by a strong man. Our own loving relationship found no paragon in the guilt of Adam and Eve, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the obliquity of Tristan and Isolde, or the irrelevance of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming. The sword-slashing, gun-toting females in Kill Bill and other Hollywood dominator romances did not do much for us, either. We did not find the new female equality with men, through equal ruthlessness and violence, the least bit sexy.
Many modern couples have devised egalitarian relationships, with their roles sensitively balanced. Finally, the old abuses are being healed through the loving couple. There is not much in the way of contemporary mythology extolling the 50/50 relationship model, perhaps because it is not as seductive. As much a necessary step forward as it is, David Deida, in his book, Intimate Communion – Awakening Your Sexual Essence, points out that equality has led to a blah sameness, a tepid eroticism. Deida notes, “The trouble is, many modern women have had to cloak their unique and natural expression of ‘Feminine radiance’ in order to succeed in today’s more Masculine-oriented economy. And many modern men, stuck in a vague transition point between old models of the masculine and new identities, have become ambiguous at their core, unable to be fully present and confident in relationships and in their lives.” [Intimate Communion, p.5] With egalitarianism established, he proposes then taking the next step into what he terms intimate communion, a mutual process of “open-hearted surrender, of being overwhelmed in love”. [Intimate Communion, p.7]
Opposites attract, and archetypally, Mars exemplifies the masculine warrior and Venus embodies feminine love and beauty. Their passion is legendary. Because simultaneous polarity and egalitarianism between the sexes is such an odd concept in either traditional male-dominated marriages or modern equal partnerships, Venus and Her Lover delves into the mythological underpinnngs of our gender roles to consider them, integrate them – and eventually transcend them – in the light of a new day. The characters
depicted in our art accept one another equally while titillating the erotic tension bet ween polarities.
Honoring the Goddess
Even as Hindu-influenced Tantra explains that the world arises from the divine interplay of the Feminine principle (as Goddess Shakti) and the Masculine principle (as God Shiva), it emphasizes the importance of the Feminine: “Shiva without Shakti is a corpse,” goes the Hindu saying. After all, it is “She” who creates in the world. In tantric ritual, honoring the goddess is foremost, and in tantric sexual practice, the woman sets the pace. Because of a man’s quick response time and a woman’s more measured energy-building, female timing and male ejaculatory control lay the foundation for delicious sexual dalliance. Such respect for the woman calls up her divinity and allows the man to explore his. Through our tantric practice, our lovemaking felt sacred; in one sense we had been transported to Mt. Olympus and now cavorted among the gods and goddesses. Our own identification with Venus and Mars led us into the dwelling place of archetypes, and as our project progressed, other mythological characters appeared in the works: Kali, Tara, Ganesha, Pan, Bacchus, Adonis, Lilith, Kuan Yin, Kokopelli, Adam, and others. Not only did they apparently want to be part of our work, they begged for a revised portrayal of themselves. The dogma of the world’s major religions presents us with heroes as conquerors, violent warriors, or ruling lords, and heroines as women who are long-suffering, self-sacrificing, crazy, or either saintly or evil. When we would finally stand back and look at the works, we often would find that through Venus and Her Lover, myths were being re-written in a more balanced light. The Goddess was stepping into her power once again, after having been tragically obliterated from her place in “his-story”. And the God welcomed her.
Venus and Her Lover, with its footholds in the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Western “neo” traditions of Tantra, communicates its messages with the mythic symbols of Western civilization, and two of its protagonists, Venus and Mars. With an archetypal perspective on a very personal expression, we as artists move the drama of the Lovers onto a sacred stage. As our collective imagery about the sufferings of love and the War between the Sexes dissolves, we awaken to the reality of the soul connection between Man and Woman, the passion sparked by their polarity, and the inherent complementarity of the Masculine and Feminine. Tantra opens the heart for our understanding of love as holy and sex as sacrament.
The passage that Venus and Her Lover illustrates is fundamentally that: a passage. Through it, we can embark on a crossing. We leave the shore of symbols, categories, and techniques to set our sails on the winds of spirit. On this voyage, our identification with our personalities, our ego compulsions, and even the gods and goddesses eventually become irrelevant. We experience, in their full magnificence, the masculine and feminine talents within each of us . . . our native impulses toward bliss as we conjure the Kosmos. Soaring on the truth of our souls, we need no more commentary than, “I am!”
The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover
We invite you to use this book to explore your sexual boundaries and definitions of self. Read the introductory chapters with an open mind; not only do they place Venus and Her Lover in context, they examine the cultural context into which we have all been placed. Each chapter examines Venus and Her Lover through a particular lens:
– “Transcending the Myth” (Mythology)
– “Living the Archetypes” (Psychology & Metaphysics)
– “History, Herstory, and the Spiral of Evolution” (History)
– “Beyond the Couple” (Sexuality & Sociology)
The current chapter on Tantra describes Venus and Her Lover’s philosophical and spiritual roots.
Paintings and Poetry
If you, like so many in a literate society, feel your left brain is over-exercised by all these words, then by all means, give it a rest: Gaze at any of the 64 images while listening to the poetry. Let the right brain stretch out. Get together with a friend: read the poetry to each other, and when appropriate (and with due care), dedicate your lovemaking to the theme or archetype you are considering. Allow one of you to embody the radiant Feminine and the other to demonstrate the confident Masculine – then, switch! Let the tingle of polarity rouse your passions. Revel in the love play of Venus and Mars.
The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover – Transcending the Myth also lends itself to salon-style gatherings in which people contemplate the imagery and discuss the message of the poetry. Before the publication of this book, Venus and Her Lover went on tour and was admired and debated in theaters, halls, and people’s living rooms. Mythology and sexuality are two topics that, when rubbed together, can generate some heat! You can toss the hot coals back and forth, or warm yourselves with the glow of discovery.
“Climax – Create a More Pure Love” is the 64th piece of the project and represents, well, the climax of Venus and Her Lover. It proclaims the healing of the wounded Masculine and downtrodden Feminine, as enacted by Venus/Isis, Jesus Christ/Osiris, Mary Magdalene, and Mars/Set.
To deepen your understanding of each work, the appendices provide detailed descriptions of its literary and artistic aspects, including historical implications and anecdotes from its production.
In “The Artists’ Notes”, the painter and poet tell you what was behind the strokes of the brush and pen – their personal creative processes.
Since the main vehicle for the messages of the book is the reinvented gods and goddesses, maybe you are curious about their traditional roles. “The Way They Were” presents a treatment of each of the mythological characters, re-telling their old myth, followed by modern notions of them current in archaeology, psychology, or present-day worship.
The Glossaries list particular vocabulary and symbols used in the book. Several paintings portray symbols, many of which were originally associated with the Goddess but later co-opted by patriarchal religion.
Venus and Her Lover – The Memoir
We, as poet and painter, took a leap and invoked archetypes. Take a look at what happened then! If you are curious about our personal experiences in producing Venus and Her Lover, refer to the book entitled Venus and Her Lover – The Transforming Myth, Sexuality, and Ourselves. You will not only be able to step into our shoes (or step out of our clothes . . .), but also see the process from the perspective of those who were part of the project: participants who originally modeled for the paintings, photographers in those photo shoots, and others who were touched by the work. The paintings originated as performance art; real people bared all before each other and a photographer, who captured the erotic scenes which James later painted. Accounts of some photo shoots appear in the book.
Invoking archetypes is not as difficult or mysterious as you might think. After all, we do it every day! All over the world, millions of God-fearing people invoke an angry, punitive, war-making deity or idea . . . and look where it has gotten them! (Clue: turn on CNN). So should you choose, with intent, to explore the archetypal powers within you, let go for the ride of your life!
When we consciously surrendered to archetypal forces, our lives became rather unpredictable! It is as if we stepped into a canoe traveling down a rushing river. Sure, we could see a certain distance ahead while we occupied ourselves paddling, but the truth is that the river cuts its own course, so that we found ourselves floating past magnificent cliffs, idyllic meadows, through the rapids, and sometimes over the waterfall. Hence, we were yanked out of our preconceived ideas of family home life, and produced Venus and Her Lover while living in Puerto Rico, Tuscany, Hawai’i, New Mexico, and India. It is only with hindsight that we see our mission of depicting a planetary mythology has taken us on a voyage through the five elements:
(1) Water (the Caribbean)
(2) Air (Italy)
(3) Fire (Hawai’i)
(4) Earth (the American Southwest)
(5) Ether (India)
Along the way, we were called out to do pilgrimages (to Crete, Peru, Mexico, Thailand, and Nepal). Thus the narrative of Venus and Her Lover can also be read as a travelogue.
The Pillow Book and Tantra
Whereas a coffee table book is intended to show off to friends over coffee and pie, a pillow book is a tome that resides in the bedroom, to be perused by lovers in private. In this case, the purpose is not just polite conversation, but the education and stimulation of the lovers – words and images they can share together (unlike pornography, which is often examined alone). While the most well known pillow books are from Japan – notably The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon (Shōnagon was a lady of the court in 10th century Heian Japan who jotted down her observations of royal activities) – books of erotic illustrations, poetry, and advice were also common in China, Nepal, and India, where they were treasured. The loving couple/group would keep their pillow book in a box made of sandalwood, silk brocade, jade, and other precious materials. The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover humbly joins the volumes on that venerable shelf of history.
Unlike many Oriental pillow books, however, ours is not a Tantra instruction manual. There are several excellent how-to books already published, and workshops led by tantric teachers, sexual healers, and sex therapists. To learn more about sexual Tantra, do check them out. Our books are, rather, an illustrated diary of a tantric lifestyle. It is not just about sex, but about a whole way of being. We do not have to have sex to enjoy our sexuality. Much religious dogma, in suppressing or denying our sexuality, does the same to our sensuality, our physicality, and therefore, our very beingness. We found, by living according to tantric principles, the inverse to be true: by consecrating our lovemaking, we felt more physically grounded in our bodies, more spiritually expansive, and mentally clearer. The veils through which we had peered at the world were parting. Finally . . . the veils were parting.
Archetypal truths and mythological characters that wafted in through our art cast current events in a stark light. More and more, we felt out of the loop of the daily headlines trumpeting terror, suffering, and chaos. It is as if we had discovered a new world, in which compassion, pleasure, cooperation, and peace were workable strategies for living. More accurately, we discerned ourselves to be bigger than we had been told; our awareness encompassed so much more of existence – the physical world, our bodies, our ideas, archetypal forces, the Universe, the Kosmos . . .
We met many other brave souls fleshing out the functional validity of tantric principles. By “baring witness” to their ideals, participants helped make Venus and Her Lover a collective vision of peace and joy in relationship and in the world. The Birthing of Venus and Her Lover documents not only our tantric lifestyle, but what we observed in others. They, as divine characters, appear in The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover. The two-volume Venus and Her Lover project, while a most personal expression, also addresses society as a whole. When we uphold basic ideals of equality, freedom, respect, compassion, balance, and unity, we all connect and forge a lifestyle that supports us and can be supported by the planet. In this sense: Tantra weaves a true World Wide Web!
The Pillow Book of Venus and Her Lover – Transcending the Myth and the memoir, Venus and Her Lover – Transforming Myth, Sexuality, and Ourselves, offer an invitation to reinvent ourselves. Through the companion volumes, the two of us present our evolving interpretations of Woman and Man. We do not presume to do this for anyone else. The rebirthing of the myth – the re-emergence and strengthening of divine power in our lives – can only come through each one of us. In fact, myths have always been made by us. They are our invention.
The imagery, poetry, and commentary of Venus and Her Lover are honest offerings to the grand experience of unconditional love and the principle of balance. It is our hope that you look beyond the images and words, and let the feelings seep into you. With affairs of the heart, it is best to let feelings speak.
Becca & James