Tantric “Sluts” or Living Goddesses: Why it Matters

With all the recent media revelations about ritual sex, nude yoga and “yogasms” – sex has become a hot topic in the yoga world. Well, in honour of Women’s History Month, I’m joining the fray. Because let’s face it, nothing is more juicy or salacious than the forgotten high priestesses of sex, the ‘debauched” yoginis of Tantra.

While much conventional scholarship has designated these women as low caste sluts exploited for ritual purposes, religious scholar Miranda Shaw has unearthed a very different history. Her book Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism claims these women were no mere ‘consorts’ but powerful gurus once held “in awe, reverence and obeisance”.

Her book is a biographic treasure trove of Tantric women teachers spanning the Pala Period of India (8th -13th centuries). According to Shaw, their writings and teachings were pivotal to the “central feature of one of most brilliant flowerings of Indian civilization”. So why are their contributions so often overlooked or devalued? Could it be, despite today’s supposed sexually permissive standards, these yoginis still violate our most deeply held taboos regarding sex, spirituality and women?

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Did Women Invent Yoga?

If you don’t think yoga is a feminist issue try suggesting as author and feminist historian Vicki Noble does, that women invented the ancient practice. Noble’s assertion defies the common myth that women were not allowed to practice yoga until the past century. But as Tantric scholar Ramesh Bjonnes writes “women have been gurus, healers,…