Magic and Love in Buddhism


Love magic consists of methods for attaining a lover through ritual means. Buddhism, a tradition famed for its ideals of renunciation and freedom from desire, create a place for this brand of magic in the course of its historical development.

Over the centuries, Buddhist clerics adopted and adapted ritual and magical techniques from the broader cultural settings in which they moved. Perennially in evidence are rituals for healing, protection, and material abundance. Love magic was slower to enter the Buddhist repertoire. There is literary evidence that early lay Buddhists made offerings at tree shrines to attain a spouse or progeny, but rites specifically to gain a lover are not mentioned. Such rites appeared first in sources dating from around the seventh century CE and retained a permanent niche thereafter.

Love magic appears in the Buddhist context primarily in the Tantric movement, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism, which gained momentum in the seventh century and spread from India to the Himalayas and East and Southeast Asia. The Tantric tradition adopted as one of its goals the attainment of magical powers (rddhi), as well as spiritual perfection (siddhi). Consequently, magical techniques proliferated under the Tantric aegis. Another shift in the Tantric paradigm was the elevation of lay practice. Noncelibate lay practitioners, whether married or unmarried, were not compelled to adopt the celibate, monastic way of life to pursue serious yogic disciplines and magical arts. This combination of a shift away from celibacy and toward the embrace of magic created the setting in which love magic could flourish.

Many Buddhist rites of love magic are found in association with the goddess Kurukulla. Her iconography reflects this specialization, although she figures in other practices as well. She is red in color—the symbol of passion and desire in South Asian imagery. Her primary identifying attributes are the flower-decked bow-and-arrow that she displays in her central pair of hands.

The bow-and-arrow have an ancient association with the arousal of love and lust in Indic culture, appearing in the corpus of love spells described in the Atharva Veda (first millennium BCE). Kamadeva, the Hindu Cupid, wields a bow-and-arrow that he uses to incite overpowering romantic and sexual desire. Kurukulla’s possession of these implements heralds her role as the Buddhist love-goddess. She often employs a garland of red flowers and an elephant goad to accomplish her magical craft. After her arrow inflames the coveted love-object with desire, her flowery noose binds them with passion and her hook draws the captive to the waiting paramour.

The rites centering on Kurukulla encompass a range of magical procedures. The color red predominates in the ritual paraphernalia to magnify the power of enchantment and attraction. The ritualist customarily dons red garments and flowers, uses a rosary of red san-dalwood, and practices in a place with red soil or beneath a red-blossomed a’soka tree. The ceremonial vessel, preferably of copper, is to be covered with red cloth and flowers. The ritual diagram should be drawn with red vermilion powder or the practitioner’s own blood on red cloth or fabric dyed with menstrual blood. Talismans are to be tied with red thread spun by a woman.

A crucial element is the invocation of Ku-rukulla by the recitation of mantras (incantations). The magus then identifies the object of desire by name or simply in thought and envisions Kurukulla acting to awaken the target’s ardor and affection. A common method is to imagine the goddess unleashing her arrow into the heart of a desired paramour and then drawing him or her to the practitioner in an impassioned, enamored state. In more intricate visualizations, she deploys swarms of fierce black bees to further intoxicate the object of passion and render him or her helpless against seduction.

The application of the rites is left to the practitioner. They might be used to procure a lover, reconcile with an estranged spouse, or obtain a Tantric partner—imagine the intrigues that could unfold as a virtuous wife was drawn from her marital bed, or a handsome commoner was delivered into the arms of a queen. The workings of love magic have provided Indian authors with many an exciting plot, and Buddhist purveyors of seductive spells move through their literary landscape.

An interesting feature of Buddhist love magic is that it is used to gain not only a human lover: A lover may be sought among many classes of spirits and celestial and divine beings. This reflects a broader Indic belief that nonhuman beings may have concourse and intercourse with mortals. One type of supernatural being that figures prominently in Buddhist love magic is the yaksini, which is the Sanskrit word for a genre of female nature spirit that resides in trees, ponds, and wells on earth and inhabits wondrous realms in the heavens. Some yaksini are dangerous and predatory, but those of more benevolent disposition are prized as lovers and invoked to serve in this role by a form of Tantric ritual known as yaksini-sadhana.

This category of love-magic uses mantras, offerings, and elaborate ritual procedures conducted in secrecy and under veil of night to conjure a yaksini. Once invoked, the female spirit will appear before the practitioner in bodily form and become his consort, or “wife.” A yaksini wife will be enticingly beautiful and adopt any form the practitioner desires. She commands magical powers and can grant his every wish. Endowed with the power of flight, she will carry him on her back or in an aerial chariot, and together they will soar through the night, traversing the earth or starry sky.

A yaksini may visit her mortal spouse on earth, arriving every night and leaving in the morning, or transport him to her celestial home, where he can sup on the nectar of immortality and live with her for thousands of years. Erotic pleasure is guaranteed. The supernatural damsels are fond of lovemaking and can engage in sexual union for days and even years on end, bestowing unimaginable bliss with their divine touch.

Having a yaksini as a lover allows a Tantric practitioner to live outside the bounds of conventional society and remain free from the responsibilities of a human wife but nonetheless to have a companion, a spirit-wife who can bestow the magical powers and supernal enjoyments he seeks.

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