“Unite the spirit and the flesh. Honor the spirit in all things, and reclaim your birthright, your authentic being.”
with Penny Slinger
Like her artwork, Penny Slinger is a juxtaposition of many things. Photographic collage, poetry, painting, drawing, and video production are some of the mediums that she uses and combines to express her erotic and mystical, poly-cultural visions. Penny is also an expert in the art of Tantra, and her work on the subject is known world-wide.
Penny illustrated and co-authored several extremely popular books about sacred sexuality with her previous partner Nik Douglas– Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy, The Pillow Book, and The Path of the Mystic Lover. Penny and Nik did several other projects together as well, including Mountain Ecstasy, an extraordinary collection of luscious erotic psychedelic collages, and The Secret Dakini Oracle, a set of archetypal divination cards.
Penny also did 50%-The Visible Woman and An Exorcism, two collections of powerful, haunting, surreal collages, and she wrote, produced, and directed a mesmerizing Mystic Fire video on the Caribbean’s lost native culture– Visions of the Arawaks. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries all over the world, and has appeared on numerous record album covers.
I met Penny at Kutira Decosterd and Raphael’s (who are also interviewed in this volume) tantric wedding in Maui several years prior to doing this interview. Penny is a very charming and elegant woman, with a sensuous aristocratic presence. She can be quite dramatic, laughs a lot, and still speaks with the British accent that she acquired in her homeland. This interview occurred on July 21, 1996 in Boulder Creek, California, at Christopher Hills’ beautiful mountain estate in the redwoods.
David: What were you like as a child?
Penny: Oh, I think I was quite a handful. (laughter) My parents said I was very bossy, and that I wanted to have things my way. I was also very small and delicate, so I guess I got quite pampered and spoiled because they were worried about me.
David: Did you have brothers or sisters?
Penny: I have two brothers, but the eldest of the two is ten years younger than me. He was actually conceived because of what happened when I was in the hospital when they thought I had TB of the skin. Actually it wasn’t anything serious, just some streptococci that I picked up in a bog from going in without my boots. But when I went into the hospital the nurses brought my parents in and said, this child is very precocious. She’s very spolied, and she’s also, quite frail, so we really recommend that you have another child to look after all this. Of course, when my brother came in, I wasn’t very fond of him because he was there to mess up my scene. Poor thing. He’s a very nice person. I’msurprised he hasn’t got a complex about women. (laughter)
David: What was your religious upbringing like?
Penny: I was brought up with the Church of England, and I used to go to services. But I found church to be rather boring. In my early teens I’d often be there with girlfriends, and we’d just sit telling each other stories. However, I did have a strong mystic inclination. At one one point I saw a friend of mine go into a convent school, and I became very enthralled by the idea of this– that it was this sisterhood, and they were all in this higher state. In fact, I got so convinced that that was where I wanted to go that I refused to go to school. I would make myself sick, and I would get off the bus at the stop following the one that my father put me on. (laughter)
I’d see him outside the bus in a panic. “No, don’t get off,” he would shout. I got myself so trained at simulating sickness that I actually would end up creating a temperature, and I wound up in the hospital with this mystery disease. I was very upset because I hated being in the hospital so much. I thought that it was much worse than school. (laughter) Of course I wanted to get out, but I had this temperature that I had created, so I used to have to take the thermometer out and hide it in order to cool it down. Eventually my parents got very concerned about this, and decided that I needed a psychiatrist. I liked the psychiatrist they found for me. She let me play around all the time with paints, and said to my parents, you haven’t let her get dirty enough. She’s very artistic, and you must let her do what she wants to do.
David: How did you get started as an artist?
Penny: I guess my original inclination was in that direction. I remember the first picture that I did of my parents. I drew both of them naked and fully endowed. It was a terrible dilemma for them, and I think a dilemma they probably faced the rest of their lives with my work. They were so proud of it, because it was such an incredible drawing, and(laughter) they wanted to show people, but they were afraid of other people’s reactions to the nudity.
David: They could have put little fig leafs over their privates. (laughter) How old were you?
Penny: I think about three or four. So the psychiatrist said that I should do what I wanted to do. Because she said that, my parents allowed me to go to the convent. When I went I was like nine or ten I guess, but even at that age I had this longing for a mystic world. I would go in the chapel on my own at lunch-time and light candles. I would spend time looking at the beautiful virgin, smelling all the incense, and getting into this elevated state.
However, at the same time I was also beginning to be interested in growing up into a woman. Although I was only around ten, there were other girls in my class who were a little older than me, and they had started growing breasts. I didn’t really have much of that yet, but me and the other girls were very fascinated, so we’d keep looking down eachother’s clothes. I stayed with one of the girls at her house one time, and her brother was looking through these glass walls that they had in their bathroom, and he was watching us while we had our bath. Later he and I were kissing, and we had a little romance.
While all this was going on I could see that there seemed to be some kind of conflict between the spirit and the flesh, and it was difficult for me to reconcile this at that time. This conflict ended up in a total catharsis, I guess you could say. It was a situation that actually happened, which I was so ashamed about for years afterwards, that I wouldn’t tell anyone about it, because of the heavy kind of trip that got laid upon me.
I remember we used to go to this swimming pool every week, and in the swimming pool ladies room there was a machine where you could purchase women’s sanitary napkins. None of us girls knew what they were for, but I was dared to get one. So, of course, being inquisitive I took on the challenge. Inquisitiveness was one of the other strong qualities that I had as a child. My mother couldn’t take me into shops without me going and touching everything.
So I bought the sanitary napkin, got the thing out, and I still didn’t know what it was. It was just this white pad, and I thought, this is pretty boring. What’s all the fuss about? Why were we told we’re not allowed to touch this? But whatever it really was, for me it was the trophy that I’d been dared to get. So while I was in the bus on the way back I waved it out of the window. Well, the nun in charge looked around and saw me, and– oh my God– this was the most terrible sin, and I didn’t even know what it meant to be sinful.
I was taken to the head mistress, and they had this punishment where they’d lock you in a room if you were bad to repent. If there was one thing I didn’t like, that was anyone imposing their will on me. Although at times I used to enjoy going to my room. In fact, my parents said they used to get so annoyed with me, because they could never punish me. If they’d send me to my room I’d come down later and say, oh I’m so pleased that you sent me to my room. Otherwise I would have never found out about, whatever I found out about, or done whatever I did in that time.
But in this case I really didn’t like the way that this was being imposed on me, and this thing with the room had happened to me before. I was not relaxed in this room, and I would go out on the roof and climb around. So when the Mother Superior said we’re going to put you in the room, and we’re going to call your parents, and they treated me likethis was really a bad thing, I became very angry. I bit and I kicked the Mother Superior, and I was dragged to the room, where I then got out onto the roof. So after that they said it was really better that I didn’t come back.
David: You didn’t use the time contemplate your sins?
Penny: No, because, for a start, I really didn’t know what it meant to be sinful. It was like this terrible thing, and I didn’t even know what I was supposed to have done. But it was obviously so bad that even later when I knew what these pads were for I still didn’t talk about it for some time. Part of my book An Exorcism is a kind of an allegory of myexperience with the withered and bitter nuns.
David: Where else did you get your inspiration from for your photographic collages?
Penny: I did three books of collages. My first– 50%-The Visible Woman– was inspired by my investigation of surrealism, wanting to approach it from a woman’s point-of-view, attempting to bring to light the half that has long remained hidden. This series of photographic collages, and overlaid poetry, presents the muse as her own subject (as opposed to object), and the pieces are paradoxical, enigmatic, and disquieting.
An Exorcism, as I was just saying, is an autobiographical allegory examining the skeletons in the cupboard of the psyche. At the beginning of the book one opens a door to a brick wall. This is one of the most frightening images imaginable to one dedicated to transformation, to the opening of doors! Why is it blocked? We embark on a detective story, told in collages as a photo romance, to discover what is going on. I found myself dealing with some pretty heavy stuff in this process of self-analysis through art, and in setting signposts for others in their own journeying through darkness. We need to disentangle ourselves from the projections of others, social conditioning, and shadows of the past. Our heroine emerges complete in herself at the end, a reborn child of the Universe, but she went through some pretty harrowing experiences.
With Mountain Ecstasy it was– free at last! In this series I got out of the dark chambers of the psyche– which I explored in An Exorcism, due to my Western upbringing– and into the wild and wonderful domain of Tantric erotic mysticism. Black and white drama became the full-on Technicolor dream. This book is really a celebration– a celebration of my ‘coming home’ to Tantra. A celebration of finding someone I could play with in the realm of exotic surrealism. It is a free form interpretation of the awe, the wonder, the sheer delight of letting the creative spirit dance in the light. It was about discovering the holistic ontology of eastern mysticism, and a sexuality that was in partnership with spirituality. This is what I had been looking for.
David: The divinational deck of cards that you did was also a collage series.
Penny: Yes, they’re collage as well. In fact, Mountain Ecstasy and The Secret Dakini Oracle were done at the same time. There’s sixty-four pieces in both Mountain Ecstasy and the Dakini Oracle. With the Dakini Oracle– because U.S. Games thought that the cards might go into Disneyworld and places like that– we had to take out a few images that were a little more sexual. Mountain Ecstasy was the one that we didn’t think we had to worry about. In fact, we didn’t even do it with the idea of the collection being made into a book.
Dragon’s Dream in Holland, who published Mountain Ecstasy, had wanted to do a book with me. We were originally going to do another version of An Exorcism, with a whole new text that I’d done, which was like a film script in a way, leading you through all the images. But then when our publisher saw we were working on these collages, whichcame together as Mountain Ecstasy, they said, oh let’s do this one. And we said, well, are you sure? I mean, (laughter) this is pretty strong. And they said yes, yes it’s fine. Let’s do it. It’s great. However, British customs did seize and burn tens of thousands of the books– so I guess they underestimated the puritanical backlash.
David: What other artists have influenced you?
Penny: Well, when I was young at art school I looked at the whole range of Western modern art. I didn’t really get taught much about oriental art. There were about two classes that covered the Far East– India, China, and Japan. So in my art school we were dealing with primarily Western art.
When I was trying to think of what I wanted to write my thesis on, somehow it boiled down to wanting to write about the human image in art, because to me the human image is the closest thing to what we are. This is our manifestation, and so it’s representation in art is a way that you can connect very directly with it. But at the same time I’m notinterested in a purely representational approach. I’m interested in it when it’s used in a more symbolic sense. When I looked through the history of art, and then I suddenly came to surrealism– Max Ernst in particular– I became very interested.
At first I didn’t even know that Max Ernst’s work was collage, but I was deeply inspired when I discovered this. In fact, my first book came out of looking at his collages and thinking, I want to do something along these lines as a woman, with the new media available for graphic collage. Collage wasn’t really much known in England at that point, and I thought his work represented a very interesting kind of crossroads for all those influences that I’d seen in western art. But most importantly, he was going into subconscious realms with his work, drawing out dream images, and then putting together surreal images of bird-headed women and things like that.
I did a study of his collage books, and actually made a little movie about his work as well– where I made my own visual, as well as verbal, interpretation. So Max Ernst was quite a big influence. I also liked people like Giacometti, who was a French artist. He became ill for a long time, and eventually died of cancer, but was still alive when I was younger. In fact, after I had been admiring his work, I saw him once in the London Gallery. He was speaking French, so I didn’t really understand what he was saying, but before I even knew who he was, I just saw this man who had this huge presence about him. He just had a really strong aura, and I said who is this man? It was Giacometti.
David: He was a surrealist as well?
Penny: No, he did these very elongated figures in his sculpture.
David: Like Goya?
Penny: Yeah, but he was a little closer to the surrealists’ time in France. There was so much intensity in his drawings. He built these things up over time. He’d work for months and months on a portrait of someone, and in the end he’d have something like a grey mass, out of which this person sort of emerged. But you could feel the depths of all these strokes that somehow had gone into making this very minimal thing in the end. You see, I never really liked abstract art that much, because I often could not see where it really came from.
Then, of course, when we were taught ancient art at school my first love was Egypt. When we can to Egypt, it was like– wow! I really connected with it. Then later, after I left art school, there were contemporaries who inspired me– people like Alan Jones, and various artists who were in the avant garde of the contemporary art scene in England at that time, and were teaching part time at Chelsea Art School, where I was. I socialized with, and learned quite a lot from these people, in trying to find out where they were at. And that was interesting.
But when I left art school I felt like what I saw going on in the modern art scene was a little bit bleak. I didn’t really feel particularly aligned with anything. I had a nostalgia for surrealism because I saw that with this there was a group of people coming together, and there was this energy. They were delving into unconscious realms, and bringing things up. Yet where had it gone from there? I didn’t really see anything that was developing from that. Then in the early seventies I went to a exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, which was the first major exhibition on Tantra. I’d seen one or two things in books before, but this was the first time I got to see a body of work together.
David: Is this how you first became interested in sexual mysticism?
Penny: Yes, well, in Tantra specially. Prior to this I didn’t really know a spiritual form which the kind of inclinations that I had fitted into. I had always been very attracted to the Orient when I was a child. I had a Godmother who was living in the East, and everything she would send me– like Chinese dolls– became my favorite things. And there wasnothing in my upbringing in this life to warrant that, but I always felt the most connected to Oriental things.
So when I went to this exhibition on Tantra for the first time I understood abstraction. There I saw a piece of abstract art, and, hey, there was Kali with her triangle and the dot, and I said, yes, I get it. This Tantra or abstraction is based upon on this whole wealth and richness. It boils down to the essence of something, which when you see the simple form, resonates with a vastness. But I didn’t find any of the modern Western artists capturing this in their abstractions. When I’d question them they didn’t really seem to be coming from anywhere.
So when I saw this I said, ah, this is what abstraction is. But not only did I see the abstraction, I saw the abundant array. All the surrealism was there, and I suddenly realized that this was the evolution of surrealism. Because surrealism dealt with the subconscious levels, and this was dealing with the super-conscious levels. So you’re not getting stuck in this boring old conscious reality. You’re going into the depths, and then taking it up to the height. Tantra had the same animal or bird-headed beings, but these also had this whole resonance of divinity and idealized energy embodied in them. Here encompassed in Tantra was art, science, spirituality and sexuality.
So I said, hey, this where I feel at home. I felt like I recognized the language, and these beautiful Goddesses full of their whole beingness– not like the Holier Than Thou Virgin Mary, but rich and juicy. (laughter) So then I thought I’ve got to find out about this. Now who’s going to know about it? I started to go to lectures. Every time I’d go to a lecture, and they’d get to the end, I’d try to cross-question the lecturer to find out if he had any real first-hand experience, or whether this was all just book knowledge. I wanted to find someone who really knew it from the inside, who had a guru, and was connected. I got disappointed because when I actually went to the lectures of the various people who claimed to be authorities I knew they weren’t. (laughter)
Then there was this man that I’d heard about through a woman I was working with named Jane Arden, who had a woman’s theater group, which I was a part of for a couple of years. We did theater production, and a all-women movie, so that was a very interesting time. But Jane told me that she had met this person who was the most liberated man she’d ever met. Of course I was very interested, because this woman was someone who considered herself to be a liberated woman. So I heard about him for awhile, and was curious. But I wasn’t feeling well when he was staying at her house. She kept saying she was going to bring him around, but because I was ill they didn’t come.
David: Who was this liberated man?
Penny: Well, this turned out to be Nik Douglas. Eventually he came, and when we met it was a very magical thing for me. Suddenly I had a frame of reference for all the things that I’d been experiencing intuitively. He was someone who had spent ten years studying in India. He knew Sanskrit and Tibetan, had studied with a Yogi teacher, and also with the Karmapa. He was totally involved with the art of Tantra, and knew what all the symbols meant. So this was great.
But at first I didn’t really see him as any potential love interest. I saw him as the Mr. Tantra I was looking for. When I talked to him during our first meeting it was so wonderful. I described to him the time I’d seen Karmapa do the “Black Hat Ceremony” a few years previously. It was the first time Karmapa came to New York, and at that point I was there. I was in a very strange head-space, and it was a very confusing sort of time. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night, and I was taken to this thing (laughter) by a mutual friend, who turned out actually to be a patron of Nik’s Yogi teacher. He told me stories about this Yogi, and took me to the “Black Hat Ceremony”. At that time I didn’t know anything about Tibetan Lamas. I didn’t know what the “Black Hat Ceremony” was. He didn’t tell me anything. He just said come and see this.
So I went and this man did the ceremony. It was in the morning time, and I was completely straight. He put this hat on his head, and when he did this, it was like I was on this incredible acid trip. I saw his face transforming, and I saw all these different faces. At one point he was an old man with this long grey beard, and then suddenly his face would change again. Then I felt as if there was only him and me in the whole room, and there were all these lights surrounding us. When I came to my eyes were just streaming with tears.
All I knew afterwards is that it had felt like a real gift to me, something which touched me deeply in those times of uncertainty that I was in then, like meeting my guardian angel. When I described this experience to Nik he immediately said, he knew what I had been seeing, and he reeled off the names of the different Karmapas. The one with the grey beard was such and such, and he went down the line. Then he said at the end, you know if you have that experience, that’s meant to guarantee liberation in this lifetime. So I said great.
David: Really? I never knew there were guarantees for liberation.
Penny: Yeah, right, I wish. (laughter) Nicholas used to tease me about how when we first got together, he said I always wanted a pill for enlightenment, and another for immortality. (laughter)
David: What connection do you see between sexuality and spirituality?
Penny: Well, I don’t really make any separation between one’s physical and one’s spiritual being. We’ve created a huge problem by separating the spirit from the flesh. But if we embrace the spirit in everything that we are and do, then we can manifest the divine in the physical world. Of course there are a lot of veils in people that prevent them from seeing this, and there is work that we need to do to get us closer to this. But because I’ve always felt this way, for me there was never anything that wasn’t sacred about sexuality.
Of course, everything is how you view it, and where your consciousness is. I was happy and lucky when I found Tantra, because it gave me a context for these intuitions and experiences that I’d been having. Sexual activity brought me a sense of ecstasy and oneness, and this is a very spiritual kind of experience. Tantra provided a frame of reference for it. When I’d talked to Nik about experiences that I had had, or thoughts or feelings that I had about these things, he would direct me to the appropriate aspect of Tantra that I was talking about. This is why we ended up putting together Sexual Secrets.
So that was like a miracle. Here was a tradition where the things that I intuited had their place, and there wasn’t this guilt or separation. Sexual activity is on the temples as the food of the gods, and this is a creative wonderful sacred thing. How can it be anything but sacred really? So it was a great liberating thing for me to find out about Tantra, and that’s what Mountain Ecstasy came out of– the joy of being able to come out into the richness of all this, and feeling free to express it.
David: How did your personal relationship with Nik Douglas effect the projects that you’ve worked on together?
Penny: Well, at first I was just thrilled to bits because I’d found someone that I felt was totally open and liberated. I also felt that he was beyond ego problems, so I jumped into what I’d always wanted, which was a creative partnership. The creative process is so wonderful, but it was something that I used to always feel that I need not do alone.Sometimes you need to have parts of it alone, but it’s so wonderful when you can share it.
When I was working in the women’s theater group, and we were doing the film, at some points there was just these magic creative moments. We were all living together as a community, and there were a couple of really high moments where we were together in this vision that was bigger than any of us individually, so we gave ourselves over to it.There’s such beauty when people can just surrender themselves to something bigger. Then there’s a flow that happens, a magic, an energy, and being in that state is like– wow! Why do we live any other way? This has to be the way to live. So I’m still striving to get completely there. I haven’t gotten there all the way yet, but I haven’t given up hope.
David: Do you use some type of sex magick in your life?
Penny: I know sex magick is a term that’s going around a lot these days, but I’m not really sure what people mean by it.
David: They mean they’re using some type of sexual visualization technique to help manifest things in their lives. Annie Sprinkle used to talk about how if you focus on something that you want at the moment of orgasm, you can help to manifest it, and make it happen.
Penny: Right, like you need another hundred bucks. (laughter) Of course, you can use the energy for anything. I think that when sex is magical, it’s magical, (laughter) and with that magical energy anything’s possible. I don’t know that I deliberately go about saying, I think I’ll try and achieve this on this occasion, but I like to see what comes, and I’m open to all the bounty. You see, I don’t really separate things. I tend to think that what we need is to have magical lives, so that that magic is happening in everything. Then those things will manifest as they’re meant to once you’re in resonance with the greater whole.
David: In some of your collages you’ve juxtaposed erotic images with the macabre. Do you see a relationship between sex and death?
Penny: Well, people often talk of sex being like a little death, but seeing as I don’t remember my last death at this point, I can’t really say for sure. It is said that the initiation your mother gives you through her yoni is one that confers forgetfulness of your past deaths, and this opens the world for you for your new incarnation. So I don’t know if the experience is exactly similar. Other people have also said that psychedelics are again like a little death. So sex and drugs may have some connection to death, in the sense that they can create a portal into the world which is full of energy and magic, the intangible and the unknown. The biggest taboos in our society are around these things because people tend to fear the unknown.
David: What advice would you give to a long-term couple who have grown bored with thier sexual relationship?
Penny: Well, of course, I would suggest that they read Sexual Secrets, and books like that. But one of the main things is that I don’t think that sex can ever be boring if the two people making love invite divine energy to come play with them.
David: For a little menage a’ trois.
Penny: Absolutely. (laughter) There’s an expression that I always liked– Love isn’t two people standing looking into each other’s eyes. Love is two people standing side by side looking at the altar. That’s a good symbol for that energy that you’re inviting in. I like to call it the Goddess energy, because it’s that wonderful, juicy, luscious, (laughter) everything-goes kind of energy. My partner, Christopher Hills, and I came into our current relationship with an agreement of no limits. I think that that’s a very good agreement to have if you’re prepared to meet it. (laughter)
You have to really look into yourself to see if you’re prepared to take that on. But if you are, I think it’s the only game in town. Then every time you and your lover are together invite that energy in. You say, please Goddess, come and play through me. Come be here, enjoy this, fill it with your bliss, and take this offering. When you make your union an offering in that way I don’t think you can go wrong. Now it may not be that you get all the extra bells and whistles that you want, so there are other things that you need to bring in that would help.
I think this differs so much for different people, depending on the nature of the relationship, and what the knots are that need to be untied. If boredom or something is coming in it means that there is a restriction, and there isn’t a sense of freedom. Where there’s freedom I don’t think there can ever be boredom, because the energy is endless and there are infinite manifestations. So if you’re blocked on that, then there’s something that’s got to get unraveled or untied. That could be knots in your own chakras, and maybe you need to do some work releasing energy there.
Knots in the nature of the relationship can be karmic tangles that have evolved in a habitual pattern, and you may need to just drop some acid on them to dissolve them. (laughter) I mean this metaphorically, but you can take me literally too. (laughter) If you dissolve the center of the pattern, then sometimes everything else will just naturally fall into place, or it may be that you really need to work on something. You may even have to go back and look at past lives for it. There are different things involved, so it’s hard to say casually what the solution would be for any particular person.
But I definitely think that offering your union to a higher source would really help a lot. Then you’ll want to emulate the qualities of what you believe that divinity to be in yourself, and through your actions you’ll bring them out in your partner as well. When you have that as your goal, then I think you find that the limitations of the self can fall away, and you can let this other energy start to play through you. That’s actually what I would advise for everybody in their lives in general.
For a certain amount of time Christopher and I didn’t actually physically make love, but we were totally together. We would lie in each other’s arms and just be. In that time we explored this whole range of subtle and exquisite energies, which most people don’t usually experience, because they’re so focused on their genitals. We’d just come together, hold each other, and go off into the most amazing bliss. This is what more people could start to cultivate. But you can’t do this if you’ve got anything in the way, so this is where all the work comes in to dissolve the karmic knots. I think if a couple establishes this sacred ground between them, and leaves all their other psychological stuff outside, then there will be room for something totally new to grow.
David: What sort of techniques would you recommend to a couple who wanted to learn how to raise their consciousness through some form of sexual yoga?
Penny: Again, it depends on your inclination and what works best for you, but certainly visualization is really good place to start. Imagine seeing the form of the god and goddess, and give your energy to this radiant being. Then draw down that radiant being to you, and give it all your beauty, all the loveliness of the moment. How you bring yourconsciousness to bear is so important. If you can make the decision in your mind to remove the limits from a relationship, and you’re determined to do it, then you’ll be able to.
You might not be able to do it completely in that moment, but just having that motive, and surrounding yourself with that energy will eventually bring you there. I think it all has to do with surrender really. But you’re not surrendering to another person; you’re surrendering to a bigger force– one which you can just adore and honor. If you bring that energy in, and try to be that energy, you can adore yourself more, and put out all those adorable energies. Then if you try to see that in another, you can bring out their adorability as well.
There are also many other techniques which can be successfully employed to help channel the energies of the body and mind and bring them into harmony. The conscious control of the breath is probably one of the greatest of these tools. But, you know, at this point I’m a little down on anything that smacks of ‘control’– we’ve all suffered from too much control on the freedom of our spirit. I tend now to follow and flow with what comes naturally. And, believe me. when you truly perceive yourself as limitless you’ll be amazed what naturally flows! But to get to that place where you can really trust that energy, you often need to build to that with some conscious techniques along the way, to create the arena in which the miraculous can safely manifest and play.
David: Tell me about your experience living in the Caribbean, and working on the video about the Arawaks.
Penny: Living in the Caribbean gave me the wonderful gift of fully knowing how to be alone without being lonely, how to commune with nature, and practice patience! The video brought together a series of paintings of the Arawak Indians that I’d done over a decade living on the Caribbean islands.
When Sexual Secrets came out our publisher really wanted us to go on the lecture circuit and to be visible, but Nik didn’t want to do that. Since I had surrendered to the Shiva-Shakti-ness of our relationship, I said that if he feels that way, that’s fine by me, and we’ll just go to the islands. I would have been happy either way. I was ready to go and be out there, if that were the thing, but if he felt like he didn’t want to, that was equally fine. I saw him as my contact with this whole lineage, so I respected his decision.
So we went to the islands. But after I got there I was like– what the hell am I going do with the artwork I’m creating here? I couldn’t show the art that I was creating where I was, nor could I really show it in England or America, because even Americans weren’t ready for it. How could I possibly show people who were strict Christians my erotic art in a church atmosphere where they wouldn’t understand? It wouldn’t have been fair to expose them to things in a way which would have troubled them. I’ve learned this as I’ve matured.
At first I was out to hit people over the head with my art, and just shock them into reality. But later I realized that you have to temper things somewhat. Although I’m still quite a rebel, now I have a non-hurt philosophy. When you’re young you don’t really think of that so much. So I have a philosophy of being both committed to showing my truth, and also of trying to prevent hurting another when possible. Sometimes you have to truly see the Big Picture, because what may seem hurtful at the time, may just be a seed which will bear fruit later. Although it may seem painful now, later it will be for the greater good. It’s hard to always see things in that perspective, because sometimes you don’t quite know all of the things that make up a person’s personality, which could tip someone either way. You don’t really want to cause the person to be in conflict.
In the Caribbean I didn’t want to impose something on the people there, or jeopardize my position, because I was a guest in their country. So I thought, I can’t show it. What do I do? Do I create this kind of art that I’ve been doing, and then send it for shows in Europe or America? I’d already said that I didn’t think Americans were as ready as I’d hoped. In the early eighties I had the exhibition with Mountain Ecstasy, and a lot of work went into that. Unfortunately the main response I got, was that the majority of those who approached me were men who were interested from the perspective that I went along with the art!
They said things like, oh, this is really great, but I could only put it in my bathroom. So I thought it may be they’re not ready either. I couldn’t show that kind of art where I was, so what then could I do there in the islands? I thought about trying to build a bridge between myself and the people that I was living with through my work, so I decided at first to do a series of portraits of local personages, in my style of trying to show something, in the way I presented the portrait, of what they were like on the inside, as well as the outside.
In the mean-time, since Nicholas had always being interested in archeology, we were discovering all these Arawak Indian sites on the island. The island is low-lying, and we took advantage of what we call erosion archeology. This means that when you have a rain, more stuff shows up, because there’s no bush to cover it up. There had hardly beenany development there then. You could walk over sites, and it was as if the indians had just left. Their bits of pottery, tools, and artifacts were all over the ground. So we spent many years going around, and doing ‘motorbike archeology’ on these sites. We catalogued thirty-two new sites that had never been recorded before on the island, because theydidn’t even think that the indians had lived there. They said that there never were any indians there.
Then I started doing some historical murals for the airport to try and show them that there had been natives there, that the indians had been there first. I think that picures speak louder than words. I went to an exhibition opening in Dominica, and some of the Carib people were there. The Caribs had also been on the islands with the Arawaks. But there are no pure blood Arawaks left in the islands. They were all wiped out.
But because the Caribs were a lot more war-like a few of them survived, and there were a couple of islands, like Dominica, where they still are. So the Carib chief and his wife came to this exhibition opening where I had some of my pieces, and they came up to me afterwards and said, we’re relying on people like you to help remind us who we areagain, because we’ve forgotten our history. It was an incredibly moving moment, and I thought, I hope there are a lot more people like me.
The Arawak series of paintings, pastels, and collages– about a hundred in total– manifested over a ten year period. They evolved as a compliment to the painstaking and fastidious work I had undertaken to provide hundreds of detailed drawings of Arawak art and artifacts for a book on their culture Nik intended to write. As we visited the sites,and I studied the objects, visions of these people started coming to my mind. I ‘fleshed out’ these visions by drawing on any source I could– scattered accounts of the period, photographs of their South American relatives– anything I could get my hands on of their nearly forgotten history and being. As the paintings took form, they were the invitedguests, my friends with whom I shared my island home. My heart went out to these people who didn’t even have a word for war or thief, who lived close to nature, and included female chiefs and shamanesses in their culture.
With the Arawak film I’m not sure if it has done the work that it was meant to do, just because of the way it’s being distributed right now. It’s with Mystic Fire, which is great, but I really wanted it to get translated into Spanish, and to get out in South America. I wanted it to reach the larger Antilian islands where they speak Spanish, where there are populations living with indigenous people now. There are a lot of indians still in these places. Also I wanted for the indians to again embrace something of who they really are with pride. I hoped that the people who live with them could perhaps see them in another light, sense something of their heart vibration, and realize that these people should be treated with respect.
Can you imagine how history would read if only our past explorers who went and discovered new worlds didn’t crush the cultures they found? If they came to an island, and there was no one living, then, fine, go up and plant your flag, and say I claim this island. But if you go to these places, and people are living there who don’t even speak yourlanguage, then show some respect. Dont just stick that damn flag in, and still say, I claim this island, in a language they don’t understand. I mean, how dare they? What is this in human nature?
I think that there’s another way. If only when the cultures had met, they’d said how interesting. We have differences, and yet we’re both human beings. We can share what we have. We will learn from you, and you will learn from us. Instead of one group thinking that their superior to the other. What a wonderful culture we’d have now, because we’d have the best of the new technology, with that bond between nature and man, which we’ve so badly broken, and just betrayed the trust. We need to re-establish that sacred bond.
David: Tell me about your experience working with the Baul culture, and translating their sacred songs into English poetry.
Penny: I didn’t have any direct experience with the Baul culture. The person that we wrote that book The Path of the Mystic Lover with– Bhaskar Bhattacharyya– did. Nik and I gave him some money, and he went over from London and spent time living with the Bauls, and doing research on this. Some of the songs that he got from them are old, and some are new. I helped in the translation of the songs, and to just generally bring the thing together. I also did all the drawings.
Now the reason I wanted to do this was because of an experience that I had when I was around twenty-five or so in London. I was over at a friend’s house, and he said, sniff this and you’ll get a quick rush. I was sitting there with a girlfriend and him, and I was trying to do some drawings, and so I said, okay, fine, I’ll try it. It was in that time ofchecking out what was interesting. At one point I felt that my problem is that I’m too ambitious. When I was young and at art school I was extremely ambitious. I’m too sane, I thought, and I’m too focused on what I want. I should just hang out for awhile, and see what happens. So in that phase I was trying a lot of different things. So in any case, itwasn’t long after I sniffed this stuff that I suddenly started finding myself getting rather angry, because I couldn’t control my pencil at all.
David: What was this stuff that you sniffed?
Penny: I didn’t know. I still don’t know what it was exactly, but it was kind of grey. It smelled a little like talcum powder, and it was certainly pretty active on my psyche. It lasted for a long time– a good twenty-four fours, I think. But I did have some very major experiences in that, and the one that relates to the Bauls was this one. I started getting very impatient, partly because I felt as though I had been pushed into this without knowing that I was going to have such a big experience.
Under the circumstances I felt the right to be a little more demanding than maybe I normally would have been. There was some music playing on the stereo. I think it was Hawkwind, who I quite liked at that time, but when I heard their music in this altered state, it really impinged on my psyche, and I didn’t like it. It was overbearing, so I said, please take off this music, I can’t stand it, put on something else. This guy was a young hip journalist who he had a big record collection, and I think over the next few hours we went through just about all of his collection. Every time he’d put something on, I’d go– no! (laughter), take it off.
But what happened was in the end he put on this record, and this record was the most beautiful experience with music I’d ever had. It is difficult to put into words. The music seemed to go through me, with all these different combinations of Eastern and Western instruments. It went through all the different sentiments. I went on this journey, and I feltall these different emotions well up inside until I got to the last act, and finally it was just about being totally in awe before the Goddess. Every sound filled me. It was an incredibly beautiful experience. Afterwards I said to him, I’ve got to get this. What is this music? He told me Bauls of Bengal.
The Bauls do mystic folk music, and sing songs about enlightenment. It’s so wonderful because they put so much devotion into their music. When I actually found the album later it didn’t sound like what I’d heard, but it was the devotion in the music that opened the door for me to step through, so to speak, in my experience. Because of that when theopportunity came up to do something with the Baul book, I felt that because of that gift received, I really wanted to contribute something of my art as a homage to what they had given me. So that was why I did the drawings. At first they were to be full color collages, but the publisher didn’t want the expense, so I reinterpreted them as black and white drawings.
David: What inspired you to do “The Secret Dakini Oracle”?
Penny: When Nik and I came together there was this whole umph of creative energy, and during this time we went to India and Nepal together. While we were there I gathered quite a bit of visual material that I later used when we did the collage books. I had been buillding up a blood bank of collage material, and I had a large stockpile of images that I had been collecting over time. We worked on the Dakini Oracle and Mountain Ecstasy at the same time. Nik and I had been interested in Tarot for quite awhile, but I’d always felt that there were certain things about the Tarot that I wasn’t very keen on.
One of the things was this rather churchy kind of overlay that was in them, which tends to give a bit of a sense of doom sometimes. I had seen people get readings and reverse readings where they went off feeling like there was this shadow hanging over them. I thought there must be another way. It felt like a really good divination tool, and I thought there must be a way of getting to the purer energies in this. Then when I started talking to Nik about it, he said that the original systems came from the sixty-four Yoginis. The sixty-four Yoginis or Dakinis are a cycle of energies which go around a central zero or Shiva-point, and they represent the psychological energies. Dakinis are also like helpers.
Nik said the original systems came from the gypsies, who brought it over from India to the West. I thought it was interesting that the system was based on a cycle of sixty-four, as is The I-Ching. I also didn’t like the hierarchy and the suits in traditional tarot. So we decided that we’ll do a cycle of sixty-four instead of seventy-eight, and make the Minor Arcana just ten of each of the elements– we used water, air, earth, and fire, as the Minor Arcana. There’s no hierarchy, although the first ones are perhaps a little higher frequency than the ones at the end of the sequence. But basically they’re just energy. And we didn’t divide it into either the specific Major Arcana or anything like that. It just came through spontaneously in these images. So we started using the cards with the original collages on them, and they were working. It was amazing. It just happened like magic.
David What are some of the things that you learned from your travels, and studying different world cultures?
Penny: I think that one thing travel does is that it makes you see things afresh. When you go to a new place, your eyes and ears are wide open and receiving to glean as much as possible of the new environment. It helps us see with the eyes of a child again– full of curiosity and expectation. If one can bring that kind of ‘open looking’ to bear, even in one’s familiar environs, I think that you can see your surroundings in a fresh, new and exciting way, instead of imprisoned in the veils of mundanity and habitual glance. So, I like to keep a ‘traveling eye’ wherever I am.
I was thinking the other day, as I was bringing home my shopping from the Ben Lomond supermarket, and doing the same act repeated by millions of Americans daily– throwing away the carrier bags in the trash. These are beautiful bags, well made and at the sacrifice of living trees. And I thought, in a village in India, these bags would betreasured. So that’s another thing traveling has taught me. I think it helps in general for people to experience different ways in which others live different values. It helps to give some perspective to what we accept as the norm when we can understand that so much of our life is social conditioning, it’s what we are used to, and is not intrinsic to human behavior. It can shift people out of their ruts, and help them to stop being so complacent and close-minded.
Something else world travel has shown me is the awesome beauty and variety of the texture of this planet. Luckily today we can travel too in films and videos. I’ll never tire of Gaia’s gorgeous revelations. And what I bring back from my travels is not so much in terms of lessons, but more in terms of treasures which I keep in my storehouse ofexperience and can draw on, by design or accident. For example, if I smell a certain smell, like wood fires and incense, I’m immediately back in the timeless magic of dusk in India, Thailand, or Nepal, with their special moods and all the feelings they evoke.
David: What are some of the different attitudes toward sexuality that you’ve seen around the world?
Penny: One thing I noticed is that women in places like Thailand have much more natural Dakini energy and grace than women in the West. It’s in that culture, although it’s been somewhat corrupted and fitted to the needs of a modern society which tends to degrade the secret. But that energy comes naturally to them. It’s as natural for that kind of energy to just be in it’s own sexuality and sensuality– to know that grace, and the power of that loveliness– as it is for a mermaid to have a tail and be in water. They haven’t got all of that shame overlaid with it, which prevents it from just happening spontaneously in the West.
Actually this ties in with what couples can do to add more dimension to their sex life. I started writing another book while I was still living in the islands about four years ago, which would be a follow-up to Sexual Secrets, but from another point of view altogether. It primarily addresses women, although it would be, I think, fun for men to read. It is also for women to be sharing with the men in their lives. I titled it Sexual Scenarios, and it expands on the idea that you can be whatever you like, if you wish it to be. There are different sections with various exercises and visualizations that you can try.
One of them ties in with this multi-cultural approach to sexual energy. Sometimes you can just take off with your lover or spouse and go to Bali for a fresh experience, but other times that may not be possible. So I wanted to design a way to bring Bali back home. I suggested ways for the woman to become a Balinese dancer for an evening, to prepare this Balinese food, and to do this type of thing with all different cultures, like ancient Egypt. I created these whole scenarios for people to play out their own role in, but the idea was really that a woman would empower herself by being able to delve into the vastness which she truly is.
Christopher said something which I really like, which is that there’s no point in trying to repeat old cultures or past traditions– because we are now the sum total of all that. I’d like to have a clean slate, forget about the past, but at the same time be the essence of all of it. When we really tune in, we see that we’ve got all those vibrations in us. So instead of being threatened by or jealous of another kind of woman– say like a Thai woman from another culture, because she is so wonderful– try and understand what those energies are, become her, and live another life. I believe in immortality of the spirit. I don’t know if we’ve been incarnated many times, and I’ve been a princess in India, and here and there, or whether it is just the wonderful power of the spirit that it would be able to experience all those different domains. Which ever way it is, we can have that all at our fingertips.
So I thought this would be great fun, and it was a way of creating sacred time together too. You build up the energy around it with everything that you would do. As you prepared the food, you’d put all your erotic energy into it, so that all the mundane would become elevated with all this good juicy energy full of expectation. In delivering the event you would be giving your partner a wonderful new experience, and open him up to seeing a whole other aspect of you– which is not really you. It’s another being. Because, you know so many men have fantasies of harems, and why not? We want to partake in the multiplicity of experience, but you don’t necessarily have to go and be with a ton of different women. In this time of AIDS you think twice.
But you want to experience the richness of it all. So here’s a way of tapping into it. Both of you get this wonderful experience. It’s very empowering when you can just put yourself aside, and become more than yourself. I mean, it is really you– because you’re all of it– but it’s tuning into other dimensions of your big “self”. The idea was thathopefully this would help bring people into a better feeling of compatibility with others who are different from them. If we could see that we know this already, we know that we’ve been all this, and if we can “be” all this, we would have a different kind of sense of empathy and compassion for other people, rather than being threatened or frightened, which creates all this racism and ego-centeredness that we see around us.
We’re often frightened by what’s different, so this is a way of embracing it, by becoming it. Other scenarios included things like going off and making love in nature– like somewhere with waterfalls, by the sea, in a field, or a cave, or those achieved with visualization. One can turn a shower into a waterfall, and make it happen at home. By sharing that with your partner you can both be in the same fantasy. You know we all have sexual fantasies, and often people have fantasies at the time of making love, which may be nothing to do with the person they’re with. (laughter)
So wouldn’t it be nice to both get in the same fantasy together– especially if it’s a really good positive one? We need good positive fantasies to replace the ones that have been lurking around, and getting us into all kinds of muck for ages. But we need some good juicy ones to sink our teeth into, because that’s been the trouble with spirituality– it isn’t that attractive when you feel that you’re not going to get some real goods from it.
The nature scenarios help with this healing that we need so badly, the planet needs so badly, which involves remembering to honor the spirit in all things, and to resonate with the beautiful energy that’s all around us. Everything’s sexual in this world– the birds and bees, and the flowers and the trees– it all works with the same magic. And we can tune into that, and empower nature with our erotic vibrations, which is just basically our free-flowing energy. It’s this same energy, whether you call it erotic energy or just energy. It’s just one energy if you don’t separate it.
David: What’s the connection you see between sexual energy and creative energy?
Penny: Well, again, they’re not really separate either. It’s just what you’re doing with it at the time. With the sexual aspect you’re not necessarily using that energy to manifest something you can see (unless it’s a baby!), whereas with the application of creative energy you’re bringing form into manifestation. But I’ve always thought that the play of Shiva and Shakti is the great symbol for creative energy; because you have to be both active and passive. You have to surrender to receive, because you can’t give what you haven’t received. Then you need that energy of manifestation to put it out there. We’ve got this incredible wealth of different energies within own bodies and minds, but if you don’t separate the them, then you see it’s all one energy, just different notes from the same instrument.
David: What do you think are some of the dangers of sexual repression?
Penny: I think the main danger is that you start to separate body and spirit. When you separate the flesh from the sacred, all kinds of bad things happen in the wake of that– both to yourself, and in the way you treat others. Certainly, at this point, there’s been such an imbalance, because there’s been more than a repression of sexuality. The realdanger is the ethic that represses female energy, and somehow makes the female the harbinger of all this sin and disgrace. So it’s all of her energy that we’ve repressed. This is so disastrous for our whole planet, because it’s her energy that cares about everything. She is the love that goes through everything– the glue that holds it all together– andpeople have just been tearing it apart with no understanding.
David: Why do you think that is?
Penny: I don’t know. It’s hard to say what purpose it serves. It stems from the male domination that we’ve been experiencing, as part of the patriarchal trip that we’ve been on. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with men– I love men– but this oppressive male energy has gotten out of control. They won’t allow the truth about the spirit in nature to comethrough. It makes no sense to live on the planet like this, but they’ve been doing it for a long while now, and everything’s groaning under it. So it’s going get relief one way or another. The best shot we have is to try and bring in as much of that Goddess energy as we can.
David: Love that Goddess energy.
Penny: Just love it, and love everything that has that Goddess energy in it– starting with yourself.
David: What was your greatest sexual experience?
Penny: It was on that same trip that I got to hear the Baul music, at another phase in that long experience. I was just laying back on a massage table, and I just suddenly started having one incredible orgasm after another. I was just lying there, not in any way touching myself, and no one touching me. I felt as if I was the whole body of the world, and that every foot-fall on the earth gave me this ecstatic pleasure. (laughter) If we can just only remove the veils of illusion, then we see this incredible eroticism in everything that is.
David: Are there basic messages that you’re trying to get across in your work?
Penny: Well, so many things are woven together in the fabric of expression, but yes, there are certain things that I’m trying to express. Embrace the fullness of who you really are. Confront the things you fear, so that you may pass through them for the illusions that they really are. Take off the limits on your consciousness and your imagination, and allow pure creativity to express itself– in whatever form is best suited to your own uniqueness, and explore the realm of infinite possibility. Unite the spirit and the flesh. Honor the spirit in all things, and reclaim your birthright, your authentic being. Honor the Goddess (and God and all that is) with all your sacred sensual being, and don’t be afraid to put it out there. Experience the excitement of sensuous eroticism and loveliness throughout life– especially in nature and human nature. Connect with it’s divine source. Let love lead the way.