Magia Sexualis

Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism

HUGH B. URBAN
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 349
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppr2z
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  • Book Info
    Magia Sexualis
    Book Description:

    Sexuality and the occult arts have long been associated in the western imagination, but it was not until the nineteenth century that a large and sophisticated body of literature on sexual magic—the use of sex as a source of magical power—emerged. This book, the first history of western sexual magic as a modern spiritual tradition, places these practices in the context of the larger discourse surrounding sexuality in American and European society over the last 150 years to discover how sexual magic was transformed from a terrifying medieval nightmare of heresy and social subversion into a modern ideal of personal empowerment and social liberation. Focusing on a series of key figures including American spiritualist Paschal Beverly Randolph, Aleister Crowley, Julius Evola, Gerald Gardner, and Anton LaVey, Hugh Urban traces the emergence of sexual magic out of older western esoteric traditions including Gnosticism and Kabbalah, which were progressively fused with recently-discovered eastern traditions such as Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. His study gives remarkable new insight into sexuality in the modern era, specifically on issues such as the politics of birth control, the classification of sexual “deviance,” debates over homosexuality and feminism, and the role of sexuality in our own new world of post-modern spirituality, consumer capitalism, and the Internet.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93288-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface, Acknowledgments, and Apologies Writing about Sex Magic; or, How to Ruin Your Academic Career and Your Sex Life All in One Go
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction Sex Magic, Modernity, and the Search for Liberation
    (pp. 1-20)

    It might seem at first somewhat surprising and not a little ironic that the period of the late nineteenth century—the Victorian era, with its rather restrictive attitudes toward the human body and sexuality—gave birth to a large body of literature on the subject ofmagia sexualis.The same period that saw the proliferation of medical manuals on deviant sexuality, such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing’sPsychopathia Sexualis,¹ also saw the proliferation of a growing body of occult works on “affectional alchemy” and the mysteries of sexual intercourse as a profound source of spiritual and magical power. However, as Michel...

  6. 1 The Recurring Nightmare, the Elusive Secret Historical and Imaginary Roots of Sex Magic in the Western Tradition
    (pp. 21-54)

    Sex, magic, and secrecy have long been intimately associated in the Western imagination. Since at least the first centuries of the Christian church, sexual licentiousness was often believed to go hand in hand with experimentation in occult arts and secret rituals. Conversely, heretical religious groups were typically accused of the most perverse sexual activities. One of the most common charges leveled against the Gnostics by the early church fathers was that of hedonism and sexual abandon in the course of their obscene rites, and this accusation of sexual license and obscene ritual would recur throughout the later Middle Ages in...

  7. 2 Sex Power Is God Power Paschal Beverly Randolph and the Birth of Sex Magic in Victorian America
    (pp. 55-80)

    While the general association between sex, magic, and liberation has a long history in the Western religious imagination, the practice of sexual magic as a specific, detailed technique appears to be a relatively recent invention. Even if there are traces of erotic magic and ritual intercourse in medieval Kabbalah, Renaissance magic, or the works of Swedenborg, the more developed art ofmagia sexualisis to a large degree a product of the modern era. And it is closely related to shifting attitudes toward sex, love, and marriage in the last two hundred years.

    Arguably the most important figure in the...

  8. 3 The Yoga of Sex Tantra, Kama Sutra, and Other Exotic Imports from the Mysterious Orient
    (pp. 81-108)

    If we browse the shelves of most popular bookstores or surf the various occultist Web sites now saturating cyberspace, we find that sexual magic is very commonly associated and often wholly identified with the body of Asian religious traditions known as Tantra. Indeed, one need only run a search on “sex magic” in any good search engine to come up with several hundred Web sites such as “SACRED SEX: Karezza, Tantra, and Sex Magic,” “Tantra-Magic. com,” and “Developmental Techniques for Tantra/Sex Magic,” most of which are based on a fundamental equation of Western sexual magic with Asian Tantra. In fact,...

  9. 4 The Beast with Two Backs Aleister Crowley and Sex Magick in Late Victorian England
    (pp. 109-139)

    If there is one figure with whom the practice of sex magic is generally associated in the modern imagination, it is surely Aleister Crowley (1875–1947). Known in the popular press as “the wickedest man in the world,” and proclaiming himself the “Great Beast 666,” Crowley was the object of media scandal, moral outrage, and titillating allure throughout his life. In the years since his death, he has become better known as one of the most important influences on the modern revival of magic and witchcraft. Yet, despite his importance, Crowley has been largely ignored by scholars of religion. In...

  10. 5 The Yoga of Power Sex Magic, Tantra, and Fascism in Twentieth-Century Europe
    (pp. 140-161)

    It might seem at first surprising that the modern literature on sexual magic—so much of which centers around a powerful ideal of social and politicalliberation—should also be connected to a movement typically associated in most contemporary American minds with political oppression and lack of freedom—namely, fascism. In fact, one of the most influential twentieth-century authors on Tantra and the spiritual aspects of sexuality was Baron Julius Evola, who would also emerge as one of the most influential figures in European fascism from the 1920s to the present. Evola himself was never officially a member of the...

  11. 6 The Goddess and the Great Rite Sex Magic and Feminism in the Neo-Pagan Revival
    (pp. 162-190)

    By the middle of the twentieth century, all of the various currents of sexual magic—from the early narratives of Gnostic orgies and witches’ Sabbaths to the teachings of P. B. Randolph, Aleister Crowley, and the Western versions of Tantra—had begun to flow together and commingle in a number of powerful new ways. One of the most remarkable results of this confluence of magical traditions was the rise of modern witchcraft. Known variously as Wicca, Wicce, the Craft, or simply neo-paganism,¹ these modern magical traditions have become among the largest and most vibrant of the many new religious movements...

  12. 7 The Age of Satan Satanic Sex and the Black Mass, from Fantasy to Reality
    (pp. 191-221)

    If the 1950s witnessed a new flowering of sensual spirituality with the rise of neo-paganism, witchcraft, and Goddess worship, the late 1960s would give birth to even more radical and transgressive forms of sexual magic. As its founder, Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–97), observed, it is no accident that the modern Church of Satan was created in 1966—at the height of the countercultural revolution, amid a generation eager to transgress the boundaries of American society through drugs, music, and sexual experience.¹ And if the neo-pagans and Wiccans had “rediscovered” ancient traditions by creatively reimagining and reinventing them, so too...

  13. 8 Sexual Chaos Chaos Magic, Cybersex, and Religion for a Postmodern Age
    (pp. 222-254)

    The practice of sexual magic, as we have seen throughout this book, is intimately tied to a profound desire for liberation, transgression, and radical freedom on all levels—sexual, social, religious, and political alike. The violation of sexual codes, in other words, is a kind of master key for the violation of codes on other levels, from economics to spirituality to political revolution. It is not surprising, therefore, that the trajectory of sexual magic in our own generation has given birth to a wide range of more radical, anarchistic, and spiritually libertarian movements such as the Discordian Society, Chaos Magic,...

  14. Conclusion The Lessons of King Lamus: Religion, Sexuality, and Liberation in a “Post-Orgy” World
    (pp. 255-266)

    Here at the end of my foray into the history of modern sexual magic, I cannot help but feel a bit like Pendragon and Lou, the characters in Aleister Crowley’s infamous semiautobiographical novelThe Diary of a Drug Fiend.After retracing a two-hundred-year quest for radical freedom and liberation on every level—sexual, social, political, and psychological alike—I feel a bit of the same exhaustion they felt after their journey through cocaine use, heroin addiction, and extreme sexual license. As Pendragon and Lou careen wildly on heroin and cocaine, whirling “from pleasure to pleasure in an inexhaustible rush,” the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 267-316)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 317-330)
  17. Index
    (pp. 331-336)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 337-337)