“Yoni” is the Sanskrit word for the vagina. Also meaning “source” or “origin,” the warm syllables carry with them an overtone of reverence.
In English, by contrast, all the words we have for female genitalia are either derogatory or coldly clinical. It’s hard to even speak about our own intimate parts without shame, feeling like we are talking about something dirty or obscene.
Most religions instill a deep shame around s*xuality, especially female s*xuality. Just look at the “cautionary tale” of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, lured out of paradise by the temptation of a snake and forbidden fruit!
Western society has lived with this paradigm for a long time, but we lose something very precious when we give up our reverence for the yoni.
Rejecting sexuality is rejecting life. Losing touch with our innate power, we become confined to the narrow limits of what we can control and grasp with the rational mind.
Fortunately, authentic spirituality doesn’t have to stay within these confines. The tantric path – a world-embracing, life-affirming path – also embraces and honors the yoni as the center of femininity and creative power, a physical manifestation of the Goddess within the female body.
Traditional tantra is replete with images and symbols of the yoni – often in union with its counterpart, the lingam.
One of the most famous symbols in mainstream Hinduism as well as tantra, the two elements of the Shiva lingam clearly represent the lingam and yoni: the union of feminine and masculine principles. The base (yoni) is round, the shape of perfection and completion, with an opening to pour out grace. The pillar (lingam) rises out of the center, like pure consciousness rising out of the manifestation and yet at the same time abiding as its essence.
Every aspect of the Goddess has a yantra, a geometrical expression of Her form. These yantras always contain at least one downward-pointing triangle, representing the yoni. (The famous Sri Yantra, for example, includes four upward triangles for the Masculine and five downward triangles for the Feminine, together embracing the entirety of existence.) This abstract image of the yoni becomes a source of tremendous power.
The Sanskrit alphabet
The alphabet with its 16 vowels and 33 consonants, is not just beautiful but sacred. In classical tantra, it was a spiritual practice simply to chant the sequence of phonemes, each one considered a mantra. The 16 vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet were referred to as “bija” (“seed”), while the consonants were called “yoni-s.” The vowels in language are like consciousness in the universe: the breath of life, yet formless and meaningless without the 33 consonants that allow that bija to take shape and manifest its presence within time and space.
In every Tibetan puja, the lama performing the ritual holds two powerful sacred objects: a dorje (stylized representation of a diamond or thunderbolt) and a bell. The dorje is a symbol of the lingam, while the bell, with its empty inner space and clear vibrations, represents the cosmic yoni.
For tantrikas, the yoni does not only give birth to babies. When its sacred dimension is recognized, through the yoni we can give birth to enlightened consciousness. It is a portal through which we can access the heart of the world, and a gateway to bring the highest sacred reality into the mundane.
As women on the spiritual path, the first step is to release the shame around our yonis. No matter how supportive and liberal our upbringing was, most of us are carrying this shame subconsciously on some level, simply from exposure to a collective cultural consciousness that is still afraid of feminine power.
We can learn to relate to our yonis in a whole new way. We can learn to see its incredible beauty, to marvel at its complexity, intelligence and mystery. With this openness and sense of wonder, we begin to give space for the Goddess to speak to us through our own bodies.