Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies Michael Slouber spent about one year in Nepal pouring over ancient Sanskrit manuscripts written on palm leaves for his new book, “Early Tantric Medicine: Snakebite, Mantras, and Healing the Garuda Tantras,” just published by Oxford University Press.
Slouber researched these ancient manuscripts to learn about the herbal and spiritual techniques used to cure snakebites over 800 years ago in India. Slouber began his research for this book 10 years ago as a doctoral dissertation project.
“There are two main types of treatment for snakebites that I found in the ancient texts I was reading, herbs and mantras, which are magical words and spells to cause the poison to leave the body. These two types are what I focus on the most in my book,” Slouber said.
Currently, antivenom is most commonly used to treat snakebites in India, but some people prefer to be formally treated with herbs by traditional practitioners. For his research, Slouber visited different traditional practitioners in Kerala, India.
“No one will admit that they use mantras currently, but they say that in the fairly recent past, they did,” Slouber said.
Slouber, a religious studies scholar, was interested in the types of mantras they used and what kind of rituals they practiced. The main deity that is invoked in these mantras is Garuda, a divine eagle; the tantric doctor would chant internally and silently to invoke Garuda to come into the victim’s body and mystically remove the poison.
This area of study was largely untouched by other western scholars.
“These are living traditions that are loosely based on the belief in mantras in Southern India, but scholars are not aware that these traditions were based on these old texts and manuscripts that have survived,” Slouber said.
The part of the book that took the most time is the Appendix written in Skanskrit, that he made from palm leaf manuscripts that date back to the 12th century. Slouber also used a variety of different sources from Nepal at an archive in Kathmandu. Slouber edited them down to reconstruct the text to make sense for his readers.
Slouber's book is available through its publisher, Oxford University Press, at https://global.oup.com.
Slouber received his doctorate in South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkley, and has taught at Western for three and a half years. For more information about “Early Tantric Medicine: Snakebite, Mantras, and Healing in the Garuda Tantras,” contact Michael Slouber at (360)-650-7649 or Michael.Slouber@wwu.edu.