In this talk, Ruth will map the esoteric feminine aspect of the subtle body by drawing on Haṭhayoga sources. Taking a textual, historical and anecdotal approach, she explores how the subtle body is presented in gendered terms, probes the substances or concepts that are to be influenced, and traces the metaphorical maps for manipulating the subtle body.
Haṭhayoga texts are written by men, for men, about men. They are generally both misogynist towards women and tend to dissect and objectify the female form. There are some references to female practitioners and practices for women, and the use of women in ritual contexts. Despite the scant evidence of women practitioners there is a strong theme of accessing and manipulating female energy for soteriological – spiritually transformative – ends. The subtle body is conceived as concepts or substances which are male and female such as bindu and rajas, śiva and śakti. The metaphors developed to describe and map how these constructs can be manipulated include the female serpent energy, Kuṇḍalinī.
An inquiry into the gendering of the subtle body foregrounds an ambivalence towards desire and reflects on ideals of soteriology and realities of social status in Medieval India.