Mantras and Mandalas in Occult Practices

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012
Both mandalas and mantras are frequently used in occult meditation and visualization practice. For example, “Continuous repetition of mantras is practiced as a form of meditation in many Buddhist schools

Meditation and Visualization

Both mandalas and mantras are frequently used in occult meditation and visualization practice. For example, “Continuous repetition of mantras is practiced as a form of meditation in many Buddhist schools.”[1] A standard definition of the mandala is “a symbolic diagram used in the performance of sacred rites and as an instrument of meditation.”[2] Because the mandala is a visual symbol of the macrocosm, the one who meditates on a mandala can visualize himself absorbing cosmic knowledge and power through meditation. Mandalas are thus often used to assist the meditative process through visualization upon its symbolic pictorial representation.

Just as visualization is a key component in the use of mandalas, so it is for mantras. In many religious traditions, “Recitation of mantras is always done in connection with detailed visualizations and certain bodily postures,” e.g., mudras.[3]

Magic, Occult Practice, Psychic Powers

Mandalas and mantras are also related to or incorporated as part of magic ritual and occult theory and power:

The mantra functions as a magical incantation, conjuration, invocation, evocation, and all the varieties of spells that comprise the armory of words of power. It is said before, during and after all important ceremonies. It is used as a curse, a blessing, a prayer, a way of remembrance. There is hardly an activity for which there is not a mantra.[4]

The word “spell” is perhaps the nearest approach to the Sanskrit word mantra. It is a form of words or sounds which are believed to have a magical effect when uttered with intent…. A sound is a vibration, and when we consider that the family of vibrations include not only the things we hear but all material objects seen (which may be said to be patterns of vibrations), we can appreciate why the magician has always laid great emphasis on words of power. Sound is the foundation of all magic, and an armory of mantras forms part of the equipment of the magician in all countries.

Mantras can create, sustain and destroy. The ancients believed that miracles could be performed by means of magical formulas, and they made extravagant claims for the powers of such formulas…. The real power of the mantra resides in its effect on the invisible world. A mantra repeated often enough can penetrate the dense barrier of the material sphere and draw power from the occult planes.[5]

The power of the mantra also functions to facilitate altered states of consciousness: “Humming mantras… lead to a kind of intoxication which results in trance. Such mantras are ideal for magical purposes.”[6] Consider the following description of witchcraft and other neopagan practices in Margo Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon:

Chants, spells, dancing around a fire, burning candles, the smoke and smell of incense, are all means to awaken the “deep mind”… and facilitate entry into an altered state…. “Mandalas,” “sigils,” “pentacles,” and “yantras” are all pictures to stimulate the sense of sight; “mudras” or “gestures” stimulate the kinetic sense; “mantras” or “incantations” stimulate the sense of hearing.[7]

Thus, proper use of the mantra is believed to internalize the power of the gods for attaining altered consciousness, and for securing occult goals such as the development of psychic powers. Mantras are therefore mental tools “for manifesting particular ‘divinities’ within the reciter, i.e., for transforming his or her consciousness into specific forms of psychic power leading to the attainment of various worldly or transcendent ends.”[8]

In Magic: An Occult Primer, occult magician David Conway soberly describes how the use of a mantra evokes the ritual “madness” leading to the sought-after spirit possession and the successful completion of the ritual intention:

The aim of such unreason will be to receive the deity that is being invoked. The method adopted to induce this frenzy will be the one which the adept’s experience has shown him to be the best…. Some magicians cultivate the sweet madness by reciting one word over and over again. The adept begins by heaping incense on the charcoal and then, kneeling before the altar, he starts his verbal repetition or mantra. Any word will do for this purpose; it may be one of the words of power, an euphonious word of the adept’s own invention or even a keyword associated with his ritual motive, a crude example being the word “money” in a ritual intended to procure wealth. While engaged in this, the adept imagines that the god-form… is materializing behind his back…. Slowly, as the altar candles flicker, he will sense with a sureness which precludes all doubt that the visualized form is in fact towering inside the circle behind him…. At last—and he will certainly know when—the god-form will take control of him…. As this happens, and while the power is surging into him, he forces himself to visualize the thing he wants his magic to accomplish, and wills its success.[9]

Like mantras, mandalas are also used for magical purposes:

Properly drawn and duly consecrated it becomes a focus of occult energy, drawing down hidden powers and itself sending forth magical emanations like a talisman…. Within the boundaries of the mandala various other geometrical shapes are drawn, lesser squares, circles and triangles, dividing the whole into a series of zones which are treated as sacred areas, each reserved for the spirit entities who will be called down to occupy the places allotted to them. Some mandalas are rich and complex works of art, whose pictures, colours, patterns and orientation all have a correspondence with the occult planes…. The mandala is regarded as a cosmogram, a map of the universe, with the regions marked out for the spiritual guardians of the cosmos. The patterns are traditional and many are said to have been captured in the past by adepts meditating on the planes. Special rites go into the drawing of a mandala, special invocations call the deities down, and in the sacred area a high-powered operation is believed to take place in a confrontation with the self. Meditation on a mandala calls forth not only the beneficent deities, but also the terrifying apparitions, bloodthirsty demons and images of putrefaction and death…. In Western occultism its analogue is the magic circle whose exact demarcations are given in medieval grimoires. The difference between the two is that after the magic circle is drawn the Western magician steps inside its protective boundary so that the spirits he summons cannot invade his territory to molest him, whereas the Eastern practitioner remains outside the mandala while the spirit powers remain within.[10]

Clearly, mandalas and mantras are integrally related to occult practice and philosophy. It is not surprising, therefore, that these methods are also involved in the development of spirit contact or psychic abilities. Because mantras and mandalas can result in identification with the divine power or deity they represent, the inculcation of the power of that spirit and the production of psychic powers (siddhis) or mystical illumination will occur.[11]

Occult Enlightenment

We have seen that mantras are allegedly capable of mystically or psychically transmitting or “infusing” the contents of an entire teaching or comprehensive religious scripture. This is one purpose of the mantra—to transmit occult knowledge intuitively rather than cognitively. And the mantra or mandala can as easily invoke the presence, assistance, and union with its relevant god or spirit. Thus, psychic transmission of knowledge involves the participant in some form of spiritistic illumination or inspiration.

Such occult knowledge and power are merely a precursor to the ultimate purpose of these methods, which is occult enlightenment. For example, after proper meditation and use of the mantra, “one awakens to his divinity and realizes his identity with Absolute Brahman of Hinduism or the Void of Buddhism.”[12] In Hinduism, “The mantra, which is held to be one with God, contains the essence of the guru’s teaching…. Regular repetition of the mantra … clarifies thought and with steady practice will ultimately lead to God-realization….”[13] Furthermore:

The sounds of mantras constituted a secret, initiatory language, to be uttered according to particular rules if their esoteric meaning and power were to be assimilated and the initiate fully “awakened” [enlightened]…. In particular circumstances bija-mantra is repeated 100 or even 1,000 times… or inscribed in the center of a mandala as a focal point in meditation…. As a type of prayer they are linked with sraddha (faith) bhakti (devotion) and together constitute the means by which the devout Hindu achieves moksa (liberation) and union with Brahman.[14]

Because the deity “indwells” the mantra, “A true mantra has its own life,”[15] and it can be used for the same purposes that spirit guides are used for. The following description reveals that the functions of the mantra and its indwelling spirit can be virtually one and the same. In other words, distinguishing between the mantra and the spirit guide is difficult at best. The mantra is an occult vehicle whose vibrations are first concentrated and then projected, either inward into oneself, or outward in the form of invocations, commands, blessings or curses, to function as protective instruments, healing potencies, defensive or destructive missiles.

The mantras directed internally are aimed at a particular part of the body such as the head, between the eyebrows, the solar plexus or the sex organs, and at these points they set up vibrations that create specific energies. Thus those directed to the cranium set up resonances in the chambers of the head, resulting in a kind of mystic illumination. Sometimes a mantra is sent on a journey in a circuit round the body and its reverberations cause the old bodily tissues to fall off and make place for new. They may be directed to a part of the body that needs strengthening or healing. It is believed that there exists a mantra for every condition and every illness.[16]

The mantra also appeals to the occultist’s quest for power, whether such power is to be used for good or evil:

It penetrates the supernatural realms and in a way coerces the gods into granting one’s requests…. If a person repeats a given mantra 100,000 times, men and women will obey him implicitly; if he repeats it 200,000 times, he will be able to control all natural phenomena; if a million and a half times, he will be able to travel over the universe. Special rosaries are used to keep a tally of the number of repetitions made. They usually consist of dried seeds on a string, but when sinister powers are sought the smaller bones of men and animals take the place of seeds.[17]

Now, in the case of mandalas, mandalas are highly complex symbolic and pictorial designations that must be “read” or “penetrated.” The goal is to use the mandala to influence the mind in order to establish altered states of consciousness, psychic development, mystical experiences, and so on, by “opening” the alleged chakras, or psychic centers. “The adept penetrates the mandala by certain yoga techniques which reactivate the chakras (circles or planes), regarded as points of intersection of the cosmic and the mental life.”[18]

Some mandalas have various “levels,” each one representing different states of consciousness, with the final level signifying enlightenment:

But after spiritual progress, one transcends these penultimate interpenetrations and identifies the five principle emanations with types of wisdom. Thus the larger [mandala] figure is associated with enlightened consciousness and the remaining four with subsidiary states of consciousness. Repetitions of the quintuplet pattern signify the interpenetration of all things and lead one away from dualistic thinking.[19]

Thus, “Hindu and Buddhist mandalas are basically alike in that both are inspired by the quest to recapture primeval consciousness, that integrity of being which only rapport with the One [e.g., Brahman, Nirvana] can restore.”[20]


  1. See Stephen Schuhmacher, Gert Woerner, eds., The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1989), p. 220.
  2. q.v. “mandala,” “mantra,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, Volume 6, Micropaedia, p. 555.
  3. Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, p. 220.
  4. Richard Cavendish, ed., Encyclopedia of the Unexplained: Magic, Occultism and Parapsychology (NY: McGraw Hill, 1976), p. 139.
  5. Richard Cavendish, Man, Myth and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 13 (NY: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1970), pp. 1727-28.
  6. Ibid., p. 1728.
  7. Margo Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today (NY: Viking, 1979), p. 154.
  8. Keith Crim, gen. ed., Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1981), p. 458.
  9. David Conway, Magic: An Occult Primer (NY: Bantam, 1973), pp. 130-31.
  10. Encyclopedia of the Unexplained, p. 137.
  11. Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, p. 458; Cavendish, Man, Myth and Magic, p. 1727.
  12. Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, p. 456.
  13. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, p. 220.
  14. Margaret and James Stutley, Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, Philosophy, Literature and History (NY: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 180-81.
  15. Encyclopedia of the Unexplained: Magic, Occultism and Parapsychology, p. 139.
  16. Ibid., pp. 137-38.
  17. Ibid., pp. 137-39.
  18. Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, Philosophy, Literature and History, p. 178.
  19. Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, pp. 455-56.
  20. Ibid., p. 456.

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