In this inspiring and captivating talk with Thea, she shares with us her story of her discovery and initiation of Mantra singing, her love of ancient Vedic philosophy and her passion of sharing it with the world through her beautiful music and teachings. At the end of the article you will also find a short Mantra practice to do at home.
Mandali: I’d love to hear about how you started your journey into music and performing at a such a young age. You began as a Jazz vocalist, having studied professionally at the conservatory, before you started singing Mantras?
Thea: I did indeed! I attended the music conservatory in Italy and won a few scholarships, both to attend the conservatory in Amsterdam for a full year. Following a big musical project in Italy for my thesis, and my graduation, I won another scholarship for the conservatory of Java, India.
It was during my time in Java that had the opportunity to meet and study with some of the great spiritual masters of the island, which has a musical tradition that is very connected to shamanism, animism, Buddhism and others that are rare to get in touch with! I had the opportunity with these masters to learn to use my voice to transmit spirituality.
How did this transition feel for you? Was this the first exposure for you to the world of Eastern spirituality? It must have been the beginning of a whole new chapter for you.
I have always been a spiritual baby since I was a kid, I’ve been spiritual in nature since I can remember with lots of questions and insights. We had a difficult family situation growing up, and while my parents were great, there was a lot of absence. My curiosity about something greater was a kind of a salvation, helping me deal with having to mature so quickly and the trauma of my short childhood.
Shortly before going to Amsterdam, I was officially introduced to spirituality by a master and spiritual writer in Italy. Through his guidance and insights, my life completely changed, I was inspired, energetic, with a whole new vision of life. This opened the door to curiosity about Eastern traditions and by the time I was studying in Java, our friendship had developed and it prompted me to seek out spirituality in a different way, merging it with my passion for music, eventually discovering Mantra singing there.
What was your first experience with singing Mantras?
One day while in Java, I was sitting experimenting with a beautiful local instrument called the Gender (see picture), and suddenly I spontaneously began to chant Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya, and fell into a deep connection with it, without really knowing why, just being called to sing, it came out of me.
Around the same time I was getting to know many spiritual people through the conservatory, and got to know some inspiring meditation teachers, authentic shamans and spiritualists in the community.
Later on during that same day as I chanted my first mantra, coincidentally, I was invited by a Shaman to attend the festival of Shiva! His name was Bhima, and he said, ‘You are one of us, you have to come to this Shivaratri festival, there will be thousands of people, we had to ask permission to have you come with us, you are one of us, you must join.’
I went to the temple of Shiva, joined by a few other prominent people during the festival, and we were invited to a ceremony involving a psychic who was singing mantras, meditating, and other rituals, all very new and exciting to me. At one point she turned to me, looked me in the eyes, and I saw her eyes change, becoming big, almost cat-like, like a puma. She told me, ‘YOU have to do the ceremony, in the centre, here, sit and meditate. I feel you very close to Shiva’s energy right now.’ So this was my first initiation into this world, the day I chanted Om Namah Shivaya, and attended this ceremony, also in honour of Shiva.
You also went to India and studied Vedic philosophy and to deepen your knowledge on Mantras, how was that experience for you?
I spent quite some time in India. While in Varanasi, I spent time studying and diving myself deep into the Indian culture, history, and philosophy, which became very dear to me. I had a lot of beautiful experiences with different mystics and Sadhus there.
I attended many ceremonies and rituals, and made some beautiful friendships. Everywhere I went, I felt I was accepted by the Sadhus, and invited to be a part of their activities.
One day that remains really special to me, is a day I went to the other side of the river Ganga, where there is just sand, no city, which is the place some Sadhus go to do ceremonies, meditations and spiritual practices as it is very connected to Shiva. I met a group of them there who recognized my spiritual energy without knowing me, and I was so touched by their reception – they saw me as one of them.
For the whole day they explained to me their practices as healers, shared their knowledge and insights, and introduced me to their guru. In the end, it was just myself, the group of Sadhus and their Guru, a young man my age (I was 28 at the time), and he asked me to sing Mantras for them. At first I was so nervous, as this guru also happened to be an expert in Mantras. They all took a meditative position and closed their eyes waiting for me to sing! I was so emotional and nervous, and I began to sing in a traditional way, and then something opened inside me and I just let it flow. I let the Mantras come out spontaneously, I wanted to sing as I do. I connected with something very deep right then.
In the end they gave me their blessings, which was a huge deal – they were all strong, powerful men, and they hugged me and told me I had the Divine Mother in me! This kind of thing happened regularly while I was in India, and really put me on the path to share Mantras with the world.
You can hear the Mantra I sang to them in this video:
I am imagining you there, in your 20s, a European young woman in the midst of Sadhus, healers, mystics in India, as peers and equals, what a journey! Was it then it became your mission to transmit this wisdom to make it relatable to the Western world, and did you feel a responsibility to keep it pure, or original?
Yes, I have always been encouraged by the spiritual masters whom I practised with to pronounce the mantras correctly, which was easy in a way because the right pronunciation comes naturally and intuitively to me. For the musical style itself I was always told I can be more creative and choose, which you can see in my songs. Because I toured with different serious spiritual teachers from various traditions, and they all confirmed the same thing to me, so I keep many traditional melodies but also create more contemporary sounds.
Many of the traditional melodies were passed down orally from generation to generation, and they stay very similar even when I sing them, but the instruments, the flow of the song, can change, as you see with many different other Mantra singers.
Looking at the way you transmit Mantras right now, and with the wide public reach that you have, do you feel it is your mission to transmit this beautiful tradition to westerners, bringing the two worlds together in a way that is beneficial?
Yes definitely. My mother always told me I was a good communicator and speaker, and that I should become a politician 🙂 I love to talk about subjects I am passionate about, and to take ancient knowledge like Mantra and Vedas and transmit them here, I could talk about it all day. It comes easy to me to translate and to simplify a topic to explain to others.
So I think in a way I was structured for this to make mantras easy, but remaining respectful of the deeper meaning and knowledge that is behind them. There is also a joyful way to get in touch with that, so I want to stay with this strategy, we could call it a spiritual strategy, to help people to get in touch with this.
When you came back to Italy and first started your career after all these spiritual experiences in India and after University, how did you first start performing Mantras and get into this world?
The first time I sang Mantras in public in Italy was when a well known classical pianist asked me to do vocals with him for a concert deep in a mountain cave ( he is known for his peculiar choices in venues). He was living there in this large cavern with a grand piano and wanted me to perform with him, with just spontaneous vocals, spiritual sounds, etc, not mantras specifically. A friend of mine who is an Italian dancer I had met in Java was also there, so that made it even more special. During the performance every cell of my body was asking me to sing mantras, so they spontaneously began to emerge. And from that moment I knew I had to sing Mantras in my life.
It was in this concert that I met a spiritual teacher who was in the audience and approached me afterwards, and asked me if I wanted to perform and give a workshop on Mantras in a holistic centre he was leading and I accepted. This was the first of many workshops, performances, and spiritual events that I have been a part of. It was amazing, like all the dots connected.
Your workshops include talks, performances, how do they look like now, what do you enjoy the most?
I have many ways of doing it. I give Mantra concerts, which are very immersive, deep experiences for people. They touch on something deep within themselves receiving the music and sounds. Some attendees have told me that my face changes, like I become another person while I sing. Someone even once told me I looked like a man while I was singing, like a Mongolian monk! It is like I am channeling someone else.
I also hold talks where I put a lot of emphasis in encouraging people to understand the history and full panorama of the world of Mantras, where they came from, and how meaningful they are to Indian culture.
What is Indian culture, why does so much spirituality come from there? It is so important to me to talk about the historical roots of Indian philosophy as so much of it has been destroyed by religious conflict and colonialism, and then of course also distorted by the West. India has been attacked over and over in history, and not only has knowledge been lost, but also manipulated to its people.
So this is one of the reasons why we see such a variety of ways of looking at spirituality in India. We see Indians that are vegetarian and non-vegetarian, or we see Indians that are Christians, we see Indians that are Hindus but have a Christian approach to Hinduism. It’s all very mixed up. And so this Brahman Vedic tradition, the tradition of the masters, the traditions of pure yoga, is really a treasure and if you have good fortune and karma, you might get in touch with them. But of course it’s something that it’s not easy to find anymore and it’s easy to get confused.
So I try to help people understand the strength of this tradition, this civilization and culture, which I hold very dear to me.
Do you find it is important for people to understand the exact meaning of the Mantras, or will they still receive the benefits just by listening to, or repeating the sounds?
The meaning is important, but the effect is the real miracle. And at the end, at the very end, the most important is that with the repetition of these sounds, our consciousness, our brain, our ecosystem, our subtle body and our whole being receives the effects of the Mantras. They can create an effect that changes and improves our life and helps us to be more determined, lucid, positive and connected with some invisible energy that gives us nourishment, gives us food, in a non-material way. For it is truly a spiritual food, spiritual nectar.
Is there one mantra who you feel you always go back to if you’re going to sing to beginners? Or do you have a favourite Mantra?
It’s not easy to say because I love many Mantras! But of course Om Namah Shivaya is a big one for me because it opened my initiation, so I love to sing that. When I am starting to get closer to people for the first time, also Maha Mantra Hare Krishna, because it’s a mantra that helps our inner masculine and feminine energy to balance with each other.
Thank you for all these beautiful insights, Thea, and sharing some of your story for us. Your message is clear, pure, and positive. Is there any one tip in using mantras that you would recommend to our readers, a way to use it in practice that can benefit them in daily life?
If you have at least fifteen minutes and want to repeat Sanskrit Mantras or other positive affirmations, I recommend:
a) Find a comfortable position that can be maintained for at least 10 minutes. It is essential to maintain absolute stillness to favor a flowing energetic communication between the conscious and subconscious mind.
b) While breathing, in addition to oxygen, we also absorb Prana, the cosmic energy present throughout the universe at various levels. Prana activates the seven Chakras, the energetic vortices that make up our vital field.
Close your eyes, breathe deeply three times (referring to the first three chakras), and repeat mentally:
ENERGY IN – during inhalation.
PROBLEMS OUT – during exhalation
After these three purification breaths we continue our meditation on Prana with another four deep breaths (with reference to the four upper Chakras), repeating mentally:
ENERGY IN – during inhalation
LOVE OUT – during exhalation
c) After breathing, repeat the Mantra “Om Shanti Om”. This sacred sound vibration is the Mantra of Peace. It creates the emotion of peace in our cells, thoughts and emotions. Each word must be pronounced slowly and a pause shall be made between one word and another. This kind of pronunciation, slow and smooth, allows the reception of the message both by the left and right hemisphere of the brain.
d) In addition to the Mantra recommended here, everyone can create personalized liberating phrases, made to amplify our good qualities and life goals, the important thing is to choose simple and effective words, without ever changing their sequence. Like you would do with a song or a prayer, the phrases must be repeated regularly, so that their essence can be absorbed with serenity and awareness.