An academic friend of mine, Dr. Uebie, is writing a book on “sex magic,” beginning with early Jewish practices. Early Jewish sex practices, my editorial antenna beeped approvingly!
Could we publish an excerpt? Nobody will find it interesting, she replied.
I explained that our dutiful readers were surfeited with high minded stories on interfaith dialogue at Nazareth College and calls to help clean up the Lower Falls Park. Besides, on occasions, we have to pander to the sensation-seeking, low brow elements in our audience — myself included. Those who read Cosmo in convenience store check out lines — myself included.
She agreed. Just this once. Dumbing down her erudition to accommodate the Talker masses. So if you wonder what they write about at those high falutin ivory towers, here is a tease:
A natural history of sex magic
In the older western sources, sex magic was mostly something you accused your enemy of doing. These included orgies, ceremonial sex performances (with an audience), ritually imbibing sexual fluids and menstrual blood, and anointing objects with these same fluids. Sometimes with some infant sacrifice mixed in. Probably most groups accused of these things did not do them.
Then there’s that sex magic is based on human imitation of divine creative power. If people thought creative power was based in a sexualized relation between human and divine, any ritual performed to activate that power was sex magic. So in some of the earlier sources, it would simply be visualization of the divine body, or performing letter combinations with the understanding that god created the universe by combining sexualized letters. With the development of kabbalah, in the 12th and thirteenth centuries, things changed.
Kabbalists saw creation as the emanation of the divine substance into ten sefirot, which were gendered, and had sex with each other. When they did that, creation was completed. It was also the way that divine energy or blessings flowed into and sustained the world.
So kabbalists thought that they could draw down blessings by having sex, kind of the opposite of the ‘as above, so below’ principle. They thought if they had sanctified sex, God would do so too. Then the blessings would rain down. This was a private affair but it’s pretty well absorbed into Hasidism.
At other times, in 16th and 17th century Safed, some people used sex magic (prostrating themselves on the gravestones of saints in various attitudes) to draw down the souls of those saints. There were some developments of this too with the Sabbatian and Frankist movements (both Jewish, but antinomian and branded heretical) who allegedly performed public sex acts to bring about the redemption, and who are both reputed to have consumed some fluids.
This changed in the 19th Century Europe, with the Europeans getting all orientalist. Western esotericism was born out of that impulse: to combine western forms of mystical and magical practice with Indian and Muslim ritual. Satanism as we know it now came out of these Western Esotericist or Theospohist doctrines.
One of the most important nineteenth century theorists of was Paschal Beverly Randolph, who was not a satanist but claimed to have been initiated into Gnostic, Tantric, and Sufi rituals. For him, the experience of sexual orgasm is the critical moment in human consciousness and the key to magical power: “true Sex-power is God-power,” as he put it. The moment when new life is infused from the spiritual realm into the material is crucial moment — the soul is suddenly opened up to the spiritual energies of the cosmos. “At the instant of intense mutual orgasm the souls of the partners are opened to the powers of the cosmos and anything truly willed is accomplished.” That’s from his Eulis. This ritual was performed in private, and in the context of marriage, I believe.
Two of the early groups were the Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Order of the Golden Dawn. Aleceister Crowley filtered Randoph’s ideas through the teachings of groups but also slapped on some of those late antique heretical accusations of fluid drinking, and ritual anointing of talismans with fluids. And because Crowley lived in Victorian times, he understood well the power of taboo. So he threw in some auto-eroticism and anal elements.
And I’ll quote Hugh Urban on that:
In Crowley’s revised system, however, the O.T.O.’s nine degrees were expanded to eleven. The eighth, ninth and eleventh of these focused on more explicitly transgressive sexual rites of auto-erotic and homosexual intercourse. As Peter Koenig summarizes the upper degrees:
Crowley’s VIIIth degree unveiled… that masturbating on a sigil of a demon or meditating upon the image of a phallus would bring power or communication with a divine being. . . . The IXth degree was labeled heterosexual intercourse where the sexual secrets were sucked out of the vagina and when not consumed…put on a sigil to attract this or that demon to fulfill the pertinent wish. . . . In the XIth degree, the mostly homosexual degree, one identifies oneself with an ejaculating penis. The blood (or excrements) from anal intercourse attract the spirits/demons while the sperm keeps them alive.
In many ways, this secret of sexual magic was really the key to his entire vision of a new Aeon based on the full affirmation of the Will and the complete liberation from the repressive, oppressive religions of the past.
Indeed, Crowley takes the “repressive hypothesis” and the urge to sexual freedom to its furthest extreme: for he not only proclaims the liberation of sexuality from the prudish bonds of his Victorian childhood, but he also makes the most deviant and anti-social of sexual acts — namely, masturbation, oral consumption of sexual fluids and homosexual intercourse– the ultimate keys to magical power. In other words, he set out to usher in his own new Aeon by smashing and tearing down the entire social-moral structure of the world in which he was raised.
And so it comes full circle. Tantra combined with kabbalah and late antique accusations of heresy meant to bust up Victorian repression with the power of satan.