The Many Names for Female Practitioners of Ritual Sexuality
Tantric literature, both Hindu and Buddhist, abounds with names and coded language for female adepts, initiates, disciples and other women who more or less "secret" practitioners of more or less "secret" sexual rituals. The variety is great and includes names of goddesses, some terms usually associated with ritual prostitution, yet also some terms that do not usually have female or sexual connotations.
In order to aid the interested reader and student, here an alphabetical listing with references to the particular term's origin.
When reading scripture or commentary, be aware of the terminology employed, and beware of translators who only use "companion", "consort", or "partner". Although the latter is the least afflicted; all of these terms subtly imply that whatever is happening is mainly centered on or around the male. In essence, such usage is not only disrespectful and wrong in general, it is also not "tantric" at all. As many references in these research pages do show, it is woman rather than man who is the major initiatory agent and should be recognized as such.
- Dakini and/or Khadroma, Khandro
A term most often used to refer to either Goddesses/Female Buddhas (in Tibet) or female demons (in India); but also for female initiates in general and for practitioners of ritual sexuality in particular.
Name of a Nepalese goddess and also used to indicate an initiating woman.
A multifacetted term used as a name for female practitioners of ritual sexuality. For details see here.
See also Ganachakra
In Hindu Tantra, a term referring to nine types of women who are "un-married" or "free", and thus allowed to engage in ritual sexuality.
Meaning both profound cognition as well as "wisdom", most Tantric scriptures point out that these are specifically female qualities. No surprise then, that women practicing the Union of Skillful Means and Profound Cognition are also given this name.
This is the name of the Great Goddess of Shakta and Tantra. Within Hindu Tantra, where the female practitioner is regarded to be a manifestation of that goddess, it has thus become a term for female practitioners of ritual sexuality.
Two special cases of this usage are known as Divya Shakti and Vira Shakti. These titles are given to ritual prostitutes, i.e. veshya, when they participate in either Divya Chakra or Vira Chakra.
- Sangyum (Tib., gsang-yum)
In general usage, this name - Secret Mother - is used for a female practitioner engaging in certain secret (i.e. sexual) initiations, thus aiding a given male in his development. This is rather different from the way June Campbell prefers to see the term, which she explains - for personal reasons - as a 'secret female partner of "outwardly celibate" adepts'.
- Yogini and/or Naljorma
A term most often used to refer to a variety of goddesses, but also for women/initiates who practitice ritual sexuality.
A term usually translating as both "intrinsic awareness" and "knowledge". Similar to prajna, this is regarded as a female quality. As all terms in this list, it is frequently used for female practioners of sacred sexuality; with the added significance that there are associated terms and meanings such as as these:
sri vidya: "Knowledge of the Goddess", a branch of Tantric science concerned with the study of human secretions generated by erotic/sexual activity (such as semen, menstrual fluid and female love-juices)
vidya: "Knowledge Woman" (Tib., rig-ma) and/or "Immediate Presence" (Tib., rig-pa)
vidya devi: "Wisdom Goddess"
vidyadhari: sometimes translated as "female wizard", the Tibetan term for it (rig-'dzin) indicates someone who has realized the primordeal state.
See also Types of Men and Initiates