Kali Kaula

Here’s a book I read last month which turned out to be slightly different from what I expected.

Kali Kaula (Jan Fries)

What did I expect: You know, the book isn’t half bad. I just was expecting some more…crude? Perhaps more like an “Initiation into Hermetics” of Tantra. Instead, it turned out to be more like an encyclopedia of Tantra. Educational and useful, I should say. But I wanted something a bit more practical.

The book opens with a historical overview of Hinduism, covering the Vedas, the drug Soma and other principles of Vedic culture. Then it moves onto the Upanishads, Buddhism, and some talk on Saiva, Visnu, and Shakti worship. The historical details of these movements are interesting, to understand how for example modern Buddhism is a movement that comes from a very long evolutionary line and has adapted things that came before.

Next, we start with Tantra properly. Shiva, Shakti, Kundalini, all that. An exploration into the role of women in this system, animal worship, and sacrifices. We explore a few Tantric traditions such as the Aghoras, the Kapalikas, or the Kula movements. The book also explores the Wu people from China and some principles of their systems.

Next, the book covers the topic of Gurus, what it means to be a guru, what your relationship with your Guru should be like, etc. Some female saints are here mentioned, with a brief record of their lives.

The last part of the book covers the body in Tantra, including breathing, mudras, and mantras.

Now like I said, when I started reading this book, I had a different expectation of what it was going to be. I thought the book was going to contain more specific rituals and techniques for worshiping Kali, which is not at all what the text is about. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book, because it was quite interesting, and probably before you get into Kali worship it might be beneficial to know where all of it came from and to learn about the evolution of Hinduism and Tantra.

There are some specific techniques and applications mentioned in the book, but the author doesn’t elaborate much. For example, there are a few pages towards the end which contain several mantras, but without more detail on the translation of the mantras, or what their purpose is supposed to be, or even how to pronounce them, I felt like it was actually quite useless for a practitioner to have this here. You will definitely learn what Tantra looks like, but it doesn’t strike me as a very good book for someone who already knows about these traditions and is looking for specific applications of this magic.

Would I recommend this book?

Probably, if someone asked me “Do you know of any books on the historical evolution of Tantra?” or “What is a good introductory book to Tantric magic?” then surely I would mention this book. It helped me put the different traditions into one single “plan”, that is, it helped me understand more about how ideas from the Vedas influenced the Upanishads and later Buddhist principles. I would definitely not call this “A manual of tantric magick” though.