"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
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
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'm surprised 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 each other'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
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
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 like this 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 my
experience 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
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'
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
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, which came 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
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 not interested 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
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
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
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
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
was nothing 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 your
consciousness 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 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
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 been any 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 they didn't even think that the indians
had lived there. They said that there never were any indians
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 are again, 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 invited guests, 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
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
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 your language, 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
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 of checking 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, it wasn'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
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 felt all 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 the opportunity 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
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
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 be treasured. 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
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 of experience 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
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
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 that hopefully
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
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 real
danger 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-- and
people 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 come
through. 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.