Most Westerners understand somewhat how to use mantras... often it is a repeated affirmation, word of encouragement, or prayer. Whilst this is a powerful tool of empowerment and self transformation, Mantras can actually change the world too. In Eastern traditions, mantras are often in Sanskrit or Pali as a simple word (sometimes referred to as a 'bija' or a seed syllable), a series of adorations, or sounds of intonement (such as 'Om'). The very sound of a mantra vibrates throughout the cosmic web of the multiverse, sending out energy with purpose. It is a very simple devotional act, one which benefits not only the chanter but any Be-ings within listening distance of the mantra said. Usually mantras are repeated 108 times (traditionally), counted on a beaded necklace with one extra seed called the bija or seed bead... Christians brought these wonderful spiritual tools back with them from the first Crusades. Catholics all over the world still use these 'rosaries', which only contain 54 beads to count the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” repetitions prescribed by a priest as an act of contrition. Although I never really was repenting, I did LOVE saying the prayers, learning them in my catechism classes and repeating over and over at night when I couldn't sleep. I loved listening to the little old ladies who, with their heads covered, lit candles at the feet of the blessed virgin Mary and mumbled these prayers for hours. No other Christian denomination can pray as quickly as a Catholic... dare to compare.
The most powerful tool I have in my witchy bag of tricks is my voice. I don't have some amazing singing voice, nor is it necessarily unusually pleasant sounding. Since I was a kid, it has been a bit 'rough' sounding... raspy, deep, and very, very LOUD. It carries even with a simple whisper. So when a meditation teacher introduced to me the concept of Mantras, I was immediately interested. The repetition made for an easy transition to altered states of consciousness... I could go into a trance brought on by the sound of my voice, like a beating drum, the slow steady breaths between, and the clinking of beads as they shifted through my fingers. Although there are healthy benefits to repeating mantras in the vernacular language of English, I choose to use foreign or dead languages ideally because it gives my body something to do... allowing the sounds to vibrate my whole Be-ing without thinking about the words. I EXPERIENCE the mantra instead of intellectualizing it. For example, try the most widely known mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM. It's translation into English is best described by the Dali Lama:“the six syllables, OM MANI PADME HUM, mean that in dependence on the practice which is in indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. It is said that you should not seek for Buddhahood outside of yourself; the substances for the achievement of Buddhahood are within" (From a lecture given by His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet at the Kalmuck Mongolian Buddhist Center, New Jersey).
Many spiritual concepts are difficult to make tangible through spoken or written language. But going beyond form, beyond meaning lies the heart of mantra practice which for me anyway, is the experiential gnosis of divinity. I reconnect with what is already within me through a physical means, expressing and satisfying the longing my soul has. Seeking out union is not enough... transformation and evolution through building up these spiritual muscles, honing and perfecting my natural talents are the benefits. The results are infinite and I am a spiritual beefcake.