Tantric practice refers to a body of spiritual practice which existed on the Indian subcontinent at the time the Aryan people were migrating into the area that is now Northern India, approximately 5000-1500BC. By 1500 BC, the Aryan people were the dominant force in what became known as the Vedic culture - a syncretised (merged) spiritual culture containing elements of the Aryan sky-based spiritual practices, together with elements of the indigenous shamanic spiritual practices.
While there have been countless Tantric traditions in the millennia since that time, and there is wide variation over time and between locations, there are some generally recognised common elements of the Tantric tradition.
There is a strong shamanic theme to Tantric practice, in which aspects of the material world are revered as Divine. For example, Tantrics work with the elements - earth, water, fire, air and space - the sun and the moon, the sky, the ocean and the earth, and with animals.
To make abstract aspects of the Universe more accessible, Tantrics create anthropomorphic representations of these aspects. For example, Kali represents time, including the changes which come with the passage of time, even to Death itself. Tantrics do not believe that Kali is a deity like the Christian God or the Islamic Allah. Kali is literally time itself, represented in the form of a woman. Every aspect of Kali's appearance carries information about the nature of time, and our relationship with time.
Using this process, the entire Universe can be represented by ten goddesses, known as the Mahavidyas.
Tantra recognises many correspondences, most importantly, the correspondences between the structure of the Universe (the macrocosm) and an individual human being (the microcosm). Within the human body, Tantra recognises nested correspondences, such as the mapping of trigger points on the hands, feet, or ears to the organs of the body. The entire Universe is represented in the reproductive organs (male or female), and the integration of opposites is represented by sexual intercourse.
Metals, animals, crystals, colours, and sounds all correspond to particular aspects of material reality, and can be mapped to stars and planets, times of the day or year, and part of the human body.
To a Tantric, the Universe is a gigantic fractal representation of itself at every possible scale.
Priority of the Feminine
Tantra recognises the feminine as the supreme power of the Universe. The female body has the power of creation, bringing new souls into the world. Correspondingly, women are revered for their closeness to the power of creation.
For this reason, Tantric practices are very different from the practices of ascetic religions and philosophies, which either disregard the power to create new life as mundane and profane, or attribute that power to the man who "plants the seed".
Tantric practices revolve around the female body, female power, and the worship of the Divine Feminine.
The Divine Masculine is also worshipped, as the abiding, motionless witness to the unfolding of feminine power (Shakti). The feminine is receptive, so the witnessing masculine can influence the shape of the unfolding feminine, simply by holding an intention. Thus, the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine are in a constant dance, or sacred sexual union.
Traditional Tantra makes extensive use of rituals. A ritual is a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed in a prescribed order. Tantric rituals often include yantras, visual representations of aspects of the Universe, and mantras, auditory representations of aspects of the Universe. The frequency of yantras and mantras in Tantric practice has led to the expression "Mantra, yantra, Tantra."
Tantric rituals often include shamanic elements, physical objects which correlate with the aspects of the Universe to be invoked in the ritual, and personifications of aspects of the Universe. Rituals usually start with ceremonial cleansing of participants and the ritual space, and end with some form of meditation or gratitude practice.
Tantrics consider cycles of time to correspond with different aspects of the Universe, so Tantric rituals are often conducted at specific times. The hours of the day correspond with parts of the body and aspects of the Universe, as do the phases of the moon, months of the year, and astrological cycles. Tantric astrologers use this body of knowledge to deptermine the most auspicious time for any given Tantric ritual.