Jessica A. Albrecht, MSc (University of Heidelberg)

Sexual Education to Heal the Race 

Until today, the notion of female and male as well as sexual energies plays a central role within concepts of vital forces and energy healing. This combination can be traced back to feminist sexual educators like British feminist Frances Swiney (1847-1922) and US-American Ida Craddock (1857-1902). Swiney and Craddock believed that the energy set free during sexual intercourse, which should be restricted to married couples only, was the force of life itself. According to them, this sexual vital force – or as Craddock called it: the “sexual magnetism” – was the source of evolution, human development and spiritual enhancement. The female energy was what made the woman the superhuman being and entitled to the rights she demanded. This paper will be the first to jointly look at Swiney and Craddock to illustrate how both created a unique esoteric feminism by combining eugenic, socialist, theosophical and other esoteric ideas, especially the notion of yoga as the tool for controlling the life force. This served as a way to heal not only marital relationships, but the degenerated races. This paper illuminates the connections between feminism, esoterism and “scientific” eugenics and the way in which “eastern” traditions, e.g. yoga, Gnosticism and Christian Science were combined in order to regenerate the race.


Léo Bernard, MA (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Unversité PSL, Paris)

Reflexotherapy and Human Energy: Between Cutting-Edge Neurology and Esoteric Currents (First Half of the Twentieth Century)

“Réflexothérapie” was first labelled as such in 1910 by Polish-Peruvian physician Hélan Jaworski (1880-1955) in order to designate “a new branch of Medical Art”. It includes every kind of techniques which purportedly allow to heal organic and functional disorders by means of peripheral nerve irritations. In France, acupuncture was then understood as reflexotherapy, along with Dr. Pierre Bonnier’s centrotherapy (nasal reflexotherapy) and Dr. Albert Abrams’s spondylotherapy (spinal reflexotherapy). Stimulating specific skin, nasal or dorsal points was believed to impact corresponding organic functions through the all-encompassing nervous system, whose study met considerable progress during the last decades. Reflexotherapy rose on the coattails of medical holism during the thirties and attracted the interest of prestigious physicians. Nonetheless, reflexotherapy’s most active French representatives were intimately connected with esoteric currents. This talk aims to study the representations of the world and the human body at stake in reflexotherapy in their relations with “esoteric” cosmologies and anthropologies developed in the wake of animal magnetism. At the time, human and cosmic radiations were the subject of profound interest which led to original medical theories still influential in contemporary holistic milieu.

Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma (Harvard Divinity School)

Kuṇḍalinī: The Phenomenon of the Serpent Domination

This paper examines the experiences of kuṇḍalinī rising and highlights the binocular rivalry that occurs in the popular narrative. Binocular rivalry is a phenomenon in which the perception of two given images alternates. Similarly, a large majority of the practitioners describing the kuṇḍalinī experience and scholars studying the kuṇḍalinī have largely leaned towards the serpent analogy rising from the mūlādhāra. But fieldwork has shown practitioners also experiencing the kuṇḍalinī rising from their heart. The serpent analogy is completely missing. The yogic body goes through a transformation similar to descriptions of kuṇḍalinī rising in the mūlādhāra and rising up. But the experience is laced in a language of love and compassion. There are no roaring serpents.   Experience of Gopi Krishna’s spontaneous rise of the kuṇḍalinī and his subsequent interpretive framework is the case study used to showcase how experiences are shaped and transformed, which in turn shapes and embeds experiences in the countercultural reception and memory of kuṇḍalinī rising.

Keith E. Cantú, MA (University of California, Santa Barbara)

‘Blessing Deetcha’: Mesmerism in the Works of Sabhapati Swami 

The Tamil yogi and author Sri Sabhapati Swami (ca. 1828-1924) is known for his lectures on Rājayoga, or “the Yoga of Kings,” which were first published in 1880 and led to a host of subsequent publications in English, Tamil, Hindustani, and even Telugu. In this paper I expand on Karl Baier’s scholarly treatment of Mesmerism in the Theosophical Society to include the complexity in Sabhapati’s translation of the Sanskrit term dīkṣā, often translated “initiation” today, as “Mesmerism,” possibly at the suggestion of his Bengali editor, the Theosophist Shrish Chandra Basu. Yoga was often the primary theme in Sabhapati’s works, but he also published related instructions in 1890 on eight kinds of “Blessing Deetcha [< dīkṣā] or Mesmerism,” along with vividly-illustrated visual diagrams that depict connections not only between physical body parts like “head to feet” but also subtle connections from “mind to mind,” “generative fluid to generative fluid,” and an accompanying filling up of the “three nerves” (iḍā, piṅgalā, suṣumṇā) of yogic physiology. Similar diagrams with descriptions and captions in the Devanagari and Tamil scripts were also later published, which I evaluate along with Sabhapati’s commentary on “western scientists” seeking to understand subtle phenomena.

Colton Ochsner, MA (University of Missouri-Columbia)



Vril, Villains, & V-2 Rockets: Albin Grau versus Nazis

This paper compares the discursive vitalism shared by two ideologically contradictory strains of early twentieth-century Germany’s occult milieu: Albin Grau’s Prana-Film Gesellschaft m.b.H. and the unlikely mystical origins of what became the Third Reich’s campaign at Peenemünde. Founded in 1921, Prana Film traded under the yin-yang logo while its namesake, a Hindu term, referred to the animative “breath” or “life force” that in occultism permeates all reality. Shortly before the release of its first feature – F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) – Prana Film announced its plans for six “occult” films, most explicitly vitalist. One was Saptaparna, named after a seven-leafed herb that in theosophic parlance symbolizes the “sevenfold man-plant” – that is, the seven principles of the human being, including the subtle bodily system. The biggest feature, Höllenträume (Dreams of Hell), was a four-part serial ending with a film titled Vril – a fictive bodily secretion promulgated in Rosicrucian Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s eponymous adventure novel. Although Nosferatu became a hit, Bram Stoker’s widow sued the company for its unauthorized adaptation of Dracula and Prana Film was dissolved. Despite its failure, definite vitalist hermeneutics in Central Europe’s occult milieu teemed in Nosferatu, Prana Film’s unrealized productions, and Grau’s final film work on Arthur Robison’s mesmeric Schatten (Warning Shadows, 1923), not to mention his leadership in Berlin’s Pansophic Orient Lodge and, later, Fraternitas Saturni. Tellingly, Grau’s interests in vril, Hanns Hörbiger’s Welteislehre (Cosmic Ice Theory), and ethereal spirits paralleled those of contemporary pioneers in V-2 rocketry. As early as the First World War, Max Valier, Hermann Oberth, and other German-speaking astrophysicists and technicians blurred vitalist tendencies with fiction writing, arcane praxis, and scientistic careers. While Grau and his fellow occultists and filmmakers left Nazi Germany, certain scientists stayed to appropriate identical vitalist ideas into other, more sinister, and altogether real-life horrors.

Philip R. Deslippe, MA (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Serpent of Fire and Snake Oil: Kundalini in Yogi Bhajan’s System of Kundalini Yoga

Yogi Bhajan (1929-2004), with the possible exception of Gopi Krishna, was the figure most responsible for popularizing the concept of kundalini in the West during the second half of the twentieth century. A former customs agent at Delhi’s Palim Airport, Yogi Bhajan arrived in Los Angeles in late-1968 and began to teach a system of yoga and meditation that he called “Kundalini Yoga” that quickly spread throughout the United States and Europe under the auspices of his Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization and became a fixture in the world of modern yoga. Drawing from decades of lectures and dozens of manuals, this paper will critically examine the term and concept of kundalini in Yogi Bhajan’s system of Kundalini Yoga, specifically how Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan was offered to American audiences in a way aligned with traditional understandings of kundalini as a practice that was powerful and transformative, while also redefining the awakening of kundalini in radically new ways that were safe and quotidian and devoid of radical and sudden experiences. I suggest that like other elements of his Kundalini Yoga such as hatha yoga and Sikhism, Yogi Bhajan radically redefined kundalini to promote himself and his brand. 

Dr. Anya P. Foxen (California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo)

Spirit Spirals, Kuṇḍalinī Coils: Competing Models of the Subtle Body in Modern Transnational Yoga

This paper examines subtle body ideas and mechanisms in the transnational synthesis that ultimately yielded modern yoga between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Specifically, it compares South Asian tantric and Western harmonial models, briefly tracing the histories of both before focusing on the early modern context. There, contemporary sources by transnational yogis and Euro-American teachers of related disciplines juxtapose the harmonial understanding of the spiritual influx via the solar plexus (inheriting this role from the heart) with the tantric idea of haṭha practice as awakening kuṇḍalinī, which by the 19th century is rather firmly understood as situated in the lower torso, though some earlier sources do place it in the heart or the navel. This contrast yields disparate models of the mechanics of the subtle body and how it interacts with the larger world, especially during practice. Though the presentation will explore several complicating factors (including Western understandings of "harmony" and "sympathy" and South Asian mechanics of prāṇa), the abiding difference is this: The Western harmonial model is fundamentally based on drawing energy in, whereas the South Asian tantric model is based on manipulating something within the body with the ultimate goal of perhaps drawing it out.

Flavio Geisshuesler (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

Fohat: Cosmic Energies and their Asian Sources in Blavatsky’s Theosophy

In this contribution, I focus my attention on the theosophical term “Fohat,” which has been a subject of controversy because of its unclear historical origin and mysterious etymology. Blavatsky not only claims that it is a Tibetan word, but also notes that Fohat is a term central in “the esoteric cosmogony,” where it designates an “animating principle electrifying every atom into life,” representing “the link between spirit and matter, subject and object.” In my brief presentation, I suggest that Blavatsky likely heard such descriptions of electric vitality from her Tibetan interlocutors as we do indeed find a similar primordial force in the cosmos in various religious traditions on the plateau. This presentation has two main goals: First, it offers an overview of the various meanings of Fohat in the work of Blavatsky, contextualizing the term within the theosophical worldview; second, it looks at a series of Tibetan and Sanskrit sources in order to offer a tentative reconstruction of the Fohat’s Asian origins and proposes a plausible etymology of the term.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff (University of Amsterdam)

Subtle Energies in Ayahuasca Healing 

Ayahuasca is a potent psychoactive brew that has long been used in ritual contexts by indigenous traditions in the Amazon region. It became known and accessible to Europeans and Americans after WWII and is now widely used in contexts of holistic healing and spirituality all over the world. As the psychologist Benny Shanon points out in his standard work on the topic, the term “energy” is “universally and spontaneously employed by drinkers of Ayahuasca to describe the special condition they experience.” In this contribution, I will explore the question of what this means exactly. Is the experience of subtle energies just a hallucination in the individual’s brain? Or could it be that Ayahuasca allows drinkers to become aware of energies that are in fact already present but normally remain below the threshold of conscious experience? Or is it possible to assume that these energies are actively created or invoked by means of the ritual ingestion of Ayahuasca in a communal setting? These questions cannot be addressed, let alone answered, without confronting very serious issues of scholarly method. If it is true that these subtle energies can only be observed by actually drinking Ayahuasca, then can we even talk about them in language that will make sense to readers who have not had the experience?

Dr. Liane Hofmann (Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health)

The Encounter of Eastern Kundalini Concepts and Western Psychology and Psychotherapy

The concept of Kundalini Shakti and the associated Kundalini Yoga traditions have their origins in the spiritual traditions of India. The lecture will start with a presentation of important historical stations and protagonists who have contributed to the dissemination of the Kundalini concept in the Western hemisphere. The focus will be on stations and representatives with relevance for Western psychology and psychotherapy. In a further step, the implications of an increasing internal transculturality of spiritually oriented Western people for their psychotherapeutic treatment in case of a spiritual crisis are discussed. Finally, a brief overview of the current state of psychological and physiological research on the subject of Kundalini will be given and arguments for a stronger scientific involvement in this field will be discussed. In this context, various factors are also reflected which so far hinder a systematic scientific investigation of Kundalini-type phenomena as well as an integration of the corresponding bodies of knowledge into health care. In particular, the tension between emic and etic approaches as well as between heterodox, alternative reality knowledge and orthodox, scientifically based reality knowledge is of importance here. The question arises as to how competing interpretational systems of this kind affect the persons concerned themselves as well as with regard to the provision of care in the case of a spiritual crisis. 

Magdalena Kraler, MA (University of Vienna)

Subtle Energies of Sound: Leser-Lasario’s Vocal Breath and ‘Mantram’-Singing 

The Austrian breath therapist and opera singer Benno Max Leser-Lasario, who was active in the 1910s, developed a form of voice and breath training that combined breath, the (imagined) singing of vowels, words, and short phrases, which he termed as ‘Vokal-Gebärden-Atmung’ (Vocal Breath). According to Leser-Lasario, the imagined and actual singing of the vowels (i-e-a-ä-o-ö-u-ü) deepens the breath, increases the volume and span of the voice, and improves overall health as well as specific ailments. The subtle vibrations of sound (‘Tonvibration’), encapsulated in the human voice and breath, unleash therapeutic and even religious potential. For Leser-Lasario, human breath is furthermore the individual expression of a cosmic vital breath and links human beings to their divine source. Leser-Lasario’s Vocal Breath likely borrows from earlier occult explorations with breath and sound, practiced parallel to the early reception of yoga within nineteenth-century Viennese occultism. His technique certainly influenced subsequent breath and voice work, both in German physical culture and occultism of the early twentieth century, i.e. breath therapists (Schlaffhorst, Andersen, and Middendorf) and occultists like Peryt Shou, who linked the practice of Vocal Breath to the recitation of ‘Mantrams’. Following these lines of reception, this paper examines subtle energies of breath and sound in German occultism and physical culture. 

Dr. Jeffrey J. Kripal (Rice University, Houston)

Something is Flying around in our Folklore: Subtle Energies, Special Effects, and Super Sexualities across Space and Time

The paper presupposes the notion that mythic narratives create people at least as much as they are created by people. On this basis, it is argued that certain tantric traditions of medieval South India and the diverse globally distributed literature of modern alien abductions, which have been most mythologized in the US, share the same origins. These two genres are not identical, of course, but they obviously contain related elements: from the almond eyes of the female abductees to the erotic-energetic effects felt in the spine and brain to the accounts of flights, whether empirical or out-of-body experiences. These similarities, the paper argues, cannot be explained by historicisation and contextualization. They are not psychological projections or illusions created by comparison, but point to a deeper source at work across centuries and cultures. 

Kurt Leland, Independent Researcher (Boston)

Will, Wisdom, Activity: Theosophical Theories of Subtle Energy

The Theosophical description of a triune godhead in terms of will, wisdom, and activity appears to have originated within the Theosophical Society (Adyar), having become ubiquitous following publication of Charles Webster Leadbeater’s Man Visible and Invisible (1902). Based on the emanationist metaphysics outlined in Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (1888), and several earlier Theosophical publications, these terms actually originated in the largely forgotten work of philosopher, Sanskritist, and Theosophist Bhagavān Dās, where they appeared, among a number of related ‘triplicities’, as icchā (will), jñāna (wisdom), and kriyā (activity). Influential theories of subtle energy were developed from these terms, with a mysterious electrical force called fohat (unclear etymology) emanating from will, prāṇa (‘vitality’) from wisdom, and kuṇḍalinī (‘serpent power’) from activity. This paper explores the origins, meanings, and applications of these terms within the Adyar tradition, in which they often appear in connection with subjects as diverse as Hinduism and Christianity (will/wisdom/activity), the laws of physics (will/fohat), health, and healing wisdom/prāṇa), and psychic and spiritual development (activity/kuṇḍalinī). 

Tova Olsson, MA (University of Gothenburg)

Awakening Shakti: Kundalini within the Nondual Tantric Teachings of Sally Kempton

This paper will examine the use of the terms kundalini and shakti within the field of contemporary lineage-based yoga and tantra. It focuses on the teachings of Sally Kempton (formerly swami Durgananda); a disciple of swami Muktananda. Kempton has over the last 10 years gained increasing influence as a missionary of the Goddess; seemingly carrying on the tradition of Shaktipat that her guru was so famous for. But Kempton´s method of transmission is performed in a non-authoritarian way, often over the internet and through conversation and meditation (rather than by being whipped on the head by perfumed peacock feathers). Nevertheless, students experience what they describe as kundalini rising or the presence of Shakti; causing their bodies to sway in meditation, waking them up with energetic rushes in the nights, and leaving her mark of liberating grace on their daily lives. A discourse analysis of Kempton´s teachings and her student´s responses, using what Hugh Urban has called “a hermeneutics of respect and a hermeneutics of suspicion” will show how, for contemporary practitioners, shakti is just as likely to highlight unwanted personality traits as deliver liberation.

Dr. Justin B. Stein (Kwantlen Polytechnic University, British Columbia, Canada)

Universalizing ‘Energy’ in Therapeutic Touch and Reiki: from Occult(ed) Roots to Medicalized Fruits

Energy healing discourse commonly posits is that there is a universal human capacity to manipulate subtle energies and that healers around the world, across cultures and throughout history, have developed these capacities. To support their premise that human health — understood in terms of body, mind, and spirit – depends on energies that can be affected by laying hands, visualization, intention, etc., energy healers equate contemporary practices with ancient ones, domestic practices with foreign ones. This concept of universalism is a master metaphor that effaces historical and cultural difference, as well as the translation work that makes discursive and somatic practices intelligible to new communities. This paper examines: 1) the early-twentieth-century roots of Therapeutic Touch (in Theosophical healing) and Reiki (in Japanese localizations of Mesmerism) to elucidate how these therapies (and the earlier practices they adapted) bear the values of the modern imperial era; and 2) how these practices underwent further adaptations in late modernity as part of their medicalization. Through genealogies of these two well-known energy therapies, it argues that ‘energy’ has been made universal in particular (but interrelated) ways that reflect particular (but interrelated) modern values, including scientism, colonialism, liberalism, neoliberalism, and ‘spirituality’.

Dr. Julian J. Strube (University of Vienna)

Subtle Energies and Blunt Politics: Occult Forces within a Global Tangle of Nationalism and Racism

In the decades around 1900, diverse concepts of subtle energies and occult forces proliferated within esoteric currents developing an increasing focus on race and nationality. An especially influential example is the fictitious notion of vril, which was linked to “Atlantean” and “Aryan” occult wisdom in Theosophical, Anthroposophical, and Ariosophical circles. This concept largely gave rise to the symbol of the “Black Sun,” which today is one of the most successful far-right identity markers worldwide. From an early point on, occultists such as Peryt Shou, and later fascist authors such as Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, or Miguel Serrano, had related these notions to South Asian concepts such as prana, shakti, or kundalini. In their writings, ideas about healing and regeneration were linked to the forming of a “heroic” élite that was supposed to spearhead a national and racial awakening. Although these ideas are well-known and saw a surge in popularity in the recent decades, serious scholarly investigations of these global networks are virtually Focusing on Peryt Shou and Miguel Serrano, this paper will examine how concepts of subtle energies resonated with those of Indian nationalists because of a complex historical tangle reaching back to the early 1800s.

Dr. Steven Sutcliffe (University of Edinburgh)

Energy as Symbolic Capital in the Life Reform Movement: A Scottish Case Study c 1920-1955

Life Reform or Lebensreform was a transnational network across European and Nordic countries in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Life reform was based around an ideal model of the healthy body constructed by correct diet and psychology. Whereas earlier historiography was dominated by the question of whether Lebensreform was anti-modern or reactionary, scholars such as Peeters (2011), Rohrkramer (2013), and Treitel (2017) examine Lebensreform as a form of ‘alternative modernity’. Taking my cure from this approach and drawing on my archival research on the Scottish activist Dugald Semple (1884-1964), I examine energy as a form of symbolic capital initially traded largely within Life Reform networks, Previously I identified three mechanisms connecting transnational Life Reform: dietary organizations, personal contacts, and popular publishing (Sutcliffe 2020). Here I focus on the popular metaphysic which underpins these material mechanisms and which is expressed in a discourse on ‘energy’ and ‘vitality’. The amplification of energy within the body – by means of correct diet, physical exercise, and immersion in nature – is the principal goal of practitioners. In an era of mass industrialisation, the accrual of ‘energy’ as a form of symbolic capital supports a reading of Life Reform as an form of ‘alternative modernity’ which qualifies the hegemony of a wholly instrumental rationality. Two surviving publications from Semple’s personal library communicate this discourse. Fruit Dishes and Raw Vegetables carries the subtitle “Sunlight (Vitamin) Food”, and was first issued by the Lebendige Kraft/’Vital Force’ clinic in Zurich, which Semple visited in person. The Salad Road to Health by the English naturopath H. Knaggs describes the human body as a telephone that works when supplied by ‘invisible electric current’: Knaggs concludes ‘in the same way Nature, or the universal life-energy feeds our bodies [and] keeps them running’ (p.2). Life Reform publications in turn link ‘vitality’ and ‘energy’ to terms with a historical family resemblance, such as “health”, “life”, “simplicity” and “nature”. I will discuss examples from Semple’s archive which show the circulation at a popular level of ideas which also attracted mainstream scientific interest. I conclude that Life Reform is a major cultural reservoir of ideas about energised and vitalised bodies which supplied a powerful symbolic capital for lower middle/middle social classes and which has reemerged for a similar constituency in the C21st ‘holistic milieu’ (Heelas and Woodhead 2005).

Marleen Thaler, MA (University of Vienna)

Gaia’s Energy Flows: The Interplay of Eco-Spirituality and Terrestrial Energy Healing

Theories on subtle energies mostly refer to the human body and its subtle physiology. However, within the holistic milieu and certain branches of eco-spirituality the belief in a terrestrial subtle physiology circulates. Narratives of the earth as a sentient being, worshipped as Mother Earth or Gaia, are then mingled with theories on terrestrial energy streams and associated earth chakras. Within this encompassing system of terrestrial subtle energies, it is particularly kundalini which plays a significant role. Analogous to somatic theories on kundalini, the terrestrial kundalini energy is imagined as a giant serpent, holding a transformational and curative force for the planet – Drunvalo Melchizedek’s theory on the “serpent of light” notably outlines this faith. Furthermore, the narrative of a hurt or even dying Mother Earth resulted in the development of specific energy healing methods. In light of environmental concerns, various eco-spiritual groups deployed terrestrial energies as a means of energy healing on a grand scale, aspiring to achieve a holistic recovery of the earth. This paper aims to expand the discussion on subtle energies beyond its anthropological limitations. Faiths in earth-chakras, energy grids, and terrestrial subtle energy flows are discussed in the context of eco-spirituality and its entanglement with the holistic milieu.

Dr. Hugh B. Urban (University of Ohio)

The Path of the Serpent: Kuṇḍalinī as Subtle Energy, from Tantra to Neo-Tantra

This paper will trace the development of the concept of kuṇḍalinī from early South Asian Tantric texts to modern European and North American contexts. Typically imagined in the form of a coiled serpent lying at the base of the spine, kuṇḍalī or kuṇḍalinī has appeared in Tantric literature since at least the eighth century, where it is a key element in the awakening and transformation of subtle energies through the techniques of Tantric yoga. At the same time, however, kuṇḍalinī has also been a key element in the transmission and transformation of South Asian practices in a modern Western context, where they have been reinterpreted through the lenses of Orientalist scholarship, post-Freudian psychoanalysis, and New Age spirituality. After briefly tracing the genealogy of kuṇḍalinī in South Asia, this paper will examine the complex re-imagining of kuṇḍalinī in the 20th and 21st centuries century. For the  sake of brevity, I will focus primarily on the work of the controversial Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (aka Osho, 1931-1990), who was one of the most important figures in the re-imagining of kuṇḍalinī and in the larger transformation of Tantra (or what he called "Neo-Tantra") in a modern global context. While more traditional forms of Tantra described kuṇḍalinī as the divine cosmic energy of the goddess (śakti) inherent within the physical body, Rajneesh defined kuṇḍalinī primarily as sexual energy (and in turn defined Tantra as a kind of "spiritual sexology"). At the same time, Rajneesh creatively combined  kuṇḍalinī with ideas drawn from post-Freudian psychology, particularly with Wilhelm Reich's notion of orgone energy and with new experimental therapies practiced at the Esalen Institute in California. In Rajneesh's creative re-interpretation, this was now primarily a matter of the awakening and transformation of sexual energy using new techniques such as "shivering kuṇḍalinī." While this did have some continuities with older South Tantric traditions, it was also clearly rearticulated for a modern Western audience and for an age of sexual liberation and counter-cultural revolution. This re-imagining of  Neo-Tantra and kuṇḍalinī as primarily a matter of sexual energy now informs almost all popular and New Age understandings of Tantra and  kuṇḍalinī yoga today.

Bastiaan B. van Rijn, MA (University of Bern)

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed... Contemporary Animal Magnetism’s Conceptualization of Healing Energies

Originally, animal magnetism as a healing method rested on the assumption of an all-pervading, subtle fluid. In the 19th century, however, its existence got increasingly doubted— practitioners preferred to focus on somnambulism and clairvoyance instead. But in the 20th century a fluid-centered approach reemerged, showing that healing systems are malleable. As times and conditions change, so do they. This paper will aim to understand why animal magnetism evolved the way it did. Scientific discoveries, the rise of holistic spirituality, and the development of competitors such as Reiki will all be considered. I will use Conceptual Metaphor Theory to analyze the underlying metaphors of animal magnetism’s healing energy, in order to get a thorough understanding of how it is conceptualized at different points in time. My corpus will consist of websites and related material of contemporary Dutch, English, French, and German practitioners. These will be compared to older magnetic theorists such as Mesmer, Kluge, and Deleuze. Understanding why the conceptualization of the animal magnetic fluid changed as it did, will provide starting points to theorize how complementary/folk medicine can weather the tests of time. For example, how much can they change their core metaphors? Apart from that, a look at contemporary animal magnetism has been long overdue.

Areshpreet Wedech, MA (University of Vienna)

The Practise of the Sikh Martial Art ‘Gatka’ with Kuṇḍalinī-Yoga in the ‘Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization’ in Austria

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, also called ‘Yogi Bhajan’ (1929–2004) founded the ‘Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere’, sometimes referred to as ‘Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization’ (3HO Foundation) in the late sixties in the USA. Concurrently, he introduced a new form of kuṇḍalinī-yoga into the Western world. Yogi Bhajan’s kuṇḍalinī-yoga is founded on the principles of Sikhism and uses quotations from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs, for their mantras. Generally, yoga practice and philosophy are considered a part of Hindu traditions, making Yogi Bhajan’s kuṇḍalinī-yoga a unique concept in Sikhism. This paper addresses this special concept of kuṇḍalinī-yoga practicing Gatka, an ancient Sikh martial art, in the Austrian Sikh Dharma- organization located in Linz. Gatka is not only considered as the dance of the sword but also as the yoga of self-empowerment. Gatka merge physical energy (śakti) with spiritual energy (bhakti), consequently becoming the Ādi śakti. This study examines how the 3HO Foundation in Austria combines kuṇḍalinī-yoga with Gatka, how and which subtle energies and other healing energies can be produced and how it affects the mind-body complex. Ultimately this paper aims to be a vital contribution to the rich religious diversity in contemporary Austria.


Dominic Zoehrer, MA (University of Vienna)

The Subtleness of Energy: ‘Classical’ Flow-Metaphors and Quantum-Analogies 

There is a widely accepted view that ‘subtle energies’ have to do with subtle physiologies, cakras, and auras. In the study of energy healing, this understanding has led to the scholarly focus on a tradition that begins with animal magnetism, is transformed through the occult reception of tantric subtle body models around 1900, and in the 20th century yields Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Barbara Brennan Healing Science, and other healing systems (cf. Albanese, Fuller, Whorton). However, various approaches of energy healing indicate that notions of the therapeutic tertium (Peter) are sometimes more subtle than the usual metaphors of an all-pervading, vitalistic force-substance, e.g., ki, prāṇa, or the biofield (Lakoff/Johnson, Stein, Ross). This paper challenges the conventional association of subtle energies with 19th century metaphors of flow by juxtaposing Pranic Healing with Matrix Energetics. It traces the origins of Pranic Healing to the orientalist speculations of Blavatsky, Vivekananda, and Atkinson, and discusses its essentially mesmeric healing agent. It then investigates the case of Matrix Energetics, which largely draws on the ideological elements of New Thought and New Age scientism (Capra, Bohm, Sheldrake, Chopra), and alludes to the principles of quantum physics as a hermeneutic framework. Finally, this paper suggests to reconsider subtle energy as an analytical category based on the criterion of epistemic strategy. Such a reassessment will contribute to a more accurate typing of the healing agents applied by energy healers.