Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Tantra for Westerners: A Practical Guide to the Way of Action [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by Francis King; newer edition Tantra: The Way of Action. A Practical Guide to Its Teachings and Techniques. [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library].
Francis King’s treatment of Tantric practice in this volume is more attentive to authentic source materials and ethnography than most Neo-Tantric literature of the last few decades has been. Even so, he seeks to universalize it beyond its original south Asian context. His emphasis on what defines Tantra as such is not so much “sex” (as the typical Neo-tantrist would have it) as it is a dualist metaphysic and transgressive method.
Tantra is compared to ritual magic of the Golden Dawn school throughout the book. In particular, there is a claim that the tattwa materials that circulated in the GD were rooted in the Bengali Tantric text Nature’s Finer Forces published in English by the Theosophical Society. King carefully examines the correlations between the sat chakras and the qabalistic Tree of Life made by Aleister Crowley, J.F.C. Fuller, and Dion Fortune, rendering his own verdict and recommending related practices. He also weighs in on whether Crowley should be viewed–in King’s terms–as “an authentic, if unorthodox, tantric” (76), ultimately answering in the affirmative and citing (without details) various secret instructions of O.T.O. to support the point.
In this book, King has an awful lot of opinions for someone who does not make any direct admission to being an actual practitioner. Most of them sound quite sensible, but it’s reasonable to wonder about the nature of King’s authority when encountering his authoritative tone. His historical speculations on the relationship between the Tantras of different religious traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain) fall within what I understand to be the range of current scholarly views on the topic.
A set of appendices cover such diverse issues and items as psychedelic drug use in “Western tantra” (King’s basically against it), a revision of the invocation of the “Bornless One” for goddess devotions, and a comparison of Taoist “internal alchemy” to parallel Tantric practices.