Stone Age HAA The Holy MAA

Stone Age HAA The Holy MAA

Writing - Noise - Magic

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Corissa Bragg is a musician and an EFWA certified yoga instructor specializing in yoga therapy, tantra yoga and hatha yoga. I’ve known Corissa from the music community for years and was happy to see her two years ago at a Shakti awakening ritual conducted by tantrika Psalm Isadora ( It turns out Corissa is Psalm’s student and one of the few teachers of tantra yoga in the area.
        Corissa and I have both recently had babies. Before our interview officially started, I expressed my difficulty practicing yoga and meditation with my baby near me. I experience yoga with my baby, but when it comes to sadhana, I find my ego thickens, acting as a shield over my baby, and it’s hard for me to let go and dissolve. Here are her thoughts in response, followed by our conversation:
CBCB: I know exactly what you mean when you say you are clinging to ego.  I look at it more, like, I'm clinging to my experience in this world. Which is why I have always been drawn to tantra. My interpretation of it, is letting our spiritual experience, our mediation, be the experience we are having in this life, in our bodies, and on the earth.  That's why I think tantra and paganism are so intertwined.  In tantra we worship our bodies and in paganism we worship the earth.  It is so similar.  I would say I do both.  I think having a baby requires this intense grounding experience, it's hard to just let go, it's hard to give in to an ecstatic experience.  You still have to be present.  I've found it really helpful to do all my practices without the baby for now.  I let my partner take care of him, so I can let go a little during meditation.

       ARH: Wow yes - I agree with you about tantra and paganism and being able to let go in the practices without the baby present. 
I love the similarities between tantra and paganism - they seem to both stem from the same natural urge that people return to despite millennia of authoritarian state religion. I picked up most of the books that Psalm recommends on her page, and I think the Andre Lysebeth tantra book and Starhawk's book are terrific companion pieces. I recently read ORIGINS OF MODERN WITCHCRAFT: EVOLUTION OF A WORLD RELIGION by Ann Moura that connects ancient Dravidian pre-Aryan Shiva/Shakti religion to European paganism. Some of it is a stretch, but generally the book is fascinating. 
For a long time I was involved in the OTO, which is an initiatory order that blends freemasonry, ceremonial magic and eastern practices. It was started in the 1890's. It was a great group, but I eventually left because I was more and more drawn to the earthy and ecstatic practices of paganism and yoga. Since that time, the more I learn about tantra, the more I see what I perceive to be tantric ideas and symbols embedded in the symbols and text of public OTO rituals! It's crazy to think of some freemason traveling east in the 1890's, learning tantra, starting an order, and here we are all this time later, coming full circle. 

          Would you mind discussing your background in tantra yoga, and whatever kinds of practices led you to where you are now?
         CB: When I was 19 I took one of my very good friends to a festival called 'Starwood' for her high school graduation present.  She used to go when she was little and she talked about it all the time, so I thought it'd be fun to take her.  I hadn't ever really considered myself spiritual, it just wasn't something I thought about.  I was raised in a strictly atheist household.  Any religion or spirituality was considered very unintelligent.  Little did I know this was a Pagan festival.  Mostly I just partied and drank and danced.  I didn't care about ritual or the really informative workshops they have on all sorts of spiritual practices.  I felt oddly connected to dancing around their nightly bonfires but I didn't know why.  The last night was the climax of the festival, a massive bonfire was built and everyone would dance around the fire with drumming and rituals going on.  I decided to take psychedelic mushrooms, which I had a couple times before.   This trip was different than any I’d ever experienced.  I felt so connected to the ritual, the fire, and the drumming.  I felt as if I was worshiping the earth as I danced around, and I felt the fire cleansing and transforming me.  I also saw a vision of Shakti and Shiva in the sky.  I had no idea the meaning, or that this would be the first sign of my spiritual path.  
Every year I returned to Starwood and felt that spiritual connection with the fire and the earth.  But all year that was the only spiritual experience I had.  I never looked for another form of practice, or a way to maintain the feeling I had at Starwood in my daily life.  
           Years went by and I had a lot of ups and downs.  I was at a particularly low place in my life.  I had become an exotic dancer, which is a fine career but wasn't working for me.  I was drinking too much and not feeling good about myself.  At the beginning of one of the shifts a good friend of mine brought in a copy of Journey magazine, the local new agey magazine.  On the cover was a beautiful woman doing a yoga pose.  As I waited for the shift to start I read the whole article of her transformation in life.  How low she felt, and how she changed her life with tantra and yoga.  This woman's name was Psalm Isadora.  I thought about the article a lot, I thought about tantra, and how I wasn't sure what it was but it interested me.  My shift started and one of my first customers was a reiki master.  We talked for a long time about spirituality and in the end, I had to manipulate him so I could make money off of our time together.  I mean, I was at work.  By the end of shift I felt so terrible, the lowest I had ever felt.  All at once I decided to quit everything.  I quit drinking, I quit stripping, and I just started doing yoga.  I meditated, I practiced, and I got a regular job.  I started looking for information on tantra and I only found a little bit.  The image of Shakti and Shiva embracing, that I'd seen years ago came back to me, and the year before a shaman had told me that my quest would lead me to finding a balance between light and dark.  There were so many signs.  I saw that Psalm was coming to Youngstown to do a teacher training.  I was broke and didn't have a car.  Youngstown was an hour and a half away.  I called the guy organizing the teacher training and we worked out a plan.  He would pick me up and I would just stay with him the whole weekend of the teacher training.  It was a big commitment, I worked the weekends, but I was willing to be broke and stay with a stranger just to learn from this woman.  I was pulled strongly in this direction.  A week before the training started a friend sold me her car for 200 dollars, so I was able stay in my own home throughout the training.  
That was the beginning!  Sorry to be so long winded, there's just a lot to say!

         ARH:  One empowering thing I love about Tantra and Paganism is that they are based on direct ecstatic experience rather than dogma, and so, in addition to not lending themselves to corruption and manipulation, they also aren't necessarily in opposition to a materialist point of view. Would you mind discussing how that works for you? I'm wondering in particular how you've reconciled your atheist upbringing with your experiences?

Would you discuss your music and how that relates to your practice? Do you find performance to be a ritual?

 Performance for me is an ecstatic practice, and being raised in an agnostic home, I've had to dig deep into my own direct experiences to remember the possibility of gnosis. So, I was wondering about your take on those things.
        CB:  Whoa, these are hard questions.  I battle with the materialist thing.  I am not a materialist, but I know many great tantra teachers who are.  Osho had several Rolls Royce vehicles, and right now Psalm is teaching workshops on how to take these practices and make money off of them.  I find myself getting angry about this stuff, I think, 'that's not what this should be about.'  But then I think, are there lessons and learning within that?  Survival is important, that's all root chakra, money and security.  But it's also about balance.  I'm still working on that.  
As far as my atheist upbringing, I think in some ways it was OK.  It was a good place to start from, and I think it helped me pick a spiritual path that is true to who I am.  It taught me to be skeptical, and think logically when it came to any religion or spiritual practice, so when I had energetic experiences, I was like, Ok, this is really happening.  I think because I was brought up atheist I needed that physical proof to start a practice.  I had to battle against doubt a lot, and I found myself always making fun of my own spiritual practice when talking about it with other people.  Almost saying, I know this is ridiculous and stupid but this is what I do...

        I lose myself when I sing, a lot of times.  Not every time.  But I guess that goes back to meditation and tantric practices in general.  Not every practice is going to give you an ecstatic experience, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.  If I am practicing tantra regularly, my voice is noticeably more open, and I can feel my creative energy as this strong force inside myself. This usually leads to more songwriting, more practicing, more energy and motivation.  
I have never looked at my performance as a ritual.  I'm not sure why, I guess I've just never thought about it that way.  The closest thing I have done on my own that I consider ritualistic is dancing.  I feel like letting go of all your inhibitions and dancing can be very cleansing and spiritual.  In India I was present for many rituals and the amount of preparation and energy that went in to them was amazing.  Usually it was a whole day of preparation.  I can't say I put that much energy into anything.  I'm just happy if I do my tantric practice and music practice every day!  Maybe I'll get to that point eventually, where I have the focus to create my own ritual. 


        ARH: Would you mind defining tantra Yoga by giving a rough explanation of its theory, practice and cosmology for readers who may not know?
            Also, what projects are you working on these days, and what are you excited about in the future?

Tantra is always so difficult to explain.  When I was visiting Sri Amritananda's ashram in India I realized that it was a very involved practice for a lot of people.  Many people practiced rituals that were hours long and knew all the names of all the goddesses and all the mythology.  I'm not much of a scholar when it comes to things like that.  I have learned tantra from Psalm, and my understanding of it might be much different then the devoted tantric that has every book memorized.  My favorite explanation was from Psalm's guru, Sri Amritananda, he would say, 'It's love, it's all just love.'
My tantric practice is finding liberation through my experience in this life. Every physical and energetic practice is my mediation.  The more I become aware of my body and the energy that resides inside it, the more aware I become that everything is love and that we are all connected.  Not just with other humans but with EVERYTHING.  Tantrics worship the human body, not just sexuality, but every part, we are the gods and goddesses embodied.  I think that's one of the most beautiful parts of this practice, we worship the bodies of each other because we are all part of the divine.  There is no hierarchy, our beings are just as important as any divine entity.  I find it so empowering.  
So there are many ways to achieve this empowerment, even within the tantric practice there are so many different paths.  The big separation would be the left hand path, which breaks many social and spiritual taboos, and the right hand path, which stays within the confines of what is socially acceptable.  Even within this separation there are different levels of how far right or left you can go.  
My path includes a focus on opening the first three chakras in order to find that power within myself.  Everyday I work on opening and strengthening these areas.  
My plan for right now and the next couple months is to maintain a daily practice.  I want to spend 40 minutes a day on my tantra practice so I can be strong enough to start helping others awaken their inner goddess.  My life has changed so much because of these practices.  I have faith in myself, I have so much power in myself, which wasn't always the case.  I really want to share that with other men and women.  I want to hold a really strong space for people to open up and grow.  I've slowly started taking on yoga therapy clients, and I hope by the beginning of next year to be fully recovered from my pregnancy and to be teaching classes and workshops. 

        ARH: Thanks so much, Corissa. I greatly appreciate your ideas. And I got so much out of the yoga therapy session and the tantra yoga class I attended. I'd love to do a follow-up interview in the future!

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