The Art and Science of Sexual Magic
By Damon Lycourinos / New Dawn Magazine
Sex… a word with multiple meanings, manifestations and images that expresses the most fundamental instinct of the animal kingdom. For us mortals sexuality is the expression of how we experience ourselves as sexual beings biologically, physically, emotionally and so on.
The implication of this word, so popular it is the most searched for on the internet, can cover nearly all aspects of the human condition, embracing cultural, political, philosophical and spiritual issues. Regarding human sexuality, Leonardo Boccadoro and Sabina Carulli state:
However, apart from being the source of life, it can also mutate into a harbinger of demise for some. An endless tale of pleasure and obsession, evoking sublime beauty that can so easily become one's worst nightmare. Some of the greatest achievements of humankind have been inspired by this primordial urge and sensation. It has dictated the course of history, both materially and immaterially. A wonder of human existence that has yet to be fully unravelled.
For many it is the vehicle of procreation, whereas for others merely a source of pleasure. Some have been inspired by it to pursue and develop spiritual paths and exercises endeavouring to transcend themselves and to partake in the 'other'. Its power has also been used as the most dreadful weapon to destroy, humiliate and enslave. Despite these differences and many more, our relation to it is the one uniting feature of humanity that we all accept and recognise. Even the absence of it is a reaffirmation of its existence.
What is peculiar to modern societies is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploring it as the secret.
Although it is evident from recovered art and artefacts, human achievements and monuments, that sex has always been a central feature of our existence in all its dimensions, never has it occupied such a powerful, ambiguous and obsessive presence as it does in our day and age. Wherever one turns, one is confronted by it, seduced, aroused and terrorised by it. Never has it been so available but also distant, like a spectre flirting with us elusively.
It is no wonder that sexuality has become intertwined with another fascinating,
exciting and terrifying feature of human existence that has yet to be
understood and fully accepted – magic. Two labyrinths of darklight
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A Short History of Sex Magic
Sexuality and the occult arts have long been in a state of unholy and tempting matrimony in Western imagination. Since at least the days of the alleged Gnostic heretical acts of worship, the continuing persecution of the Templars and the Cathars and the witch frenzy of the Middle Ages, it is evident that illicit sexual behaviour has easily, but not always objectively, been linked to acts of magic, or what the accusers believed to be acts of magic.
Beyond the realm of ecclesiastical condemnations and mislead evocations of an ungodly pagan past, sexuality has flourished within schools of Western esotericism. From the Jewish mystical Kabala to the Renaissance magic of Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno, and the sexual mysticism of Emanuel Swedenborg during the era of the Enlightenment. All of these embraced in their own individual way the concept of the physical union of male and female sexuality as being an earthly reflection of the conjoining of the active and passive aspects of the Divine. But it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the relationship between esoteric beliefs and sexuality actually manifested into a series of practices, detailed attitudes, and a specific magical category of its own.
Hugh B. Urban, in his exceptional book Magia Sexualis – Sex, Magic and Liberation in Western Esotericism, clearly identifies the superficiality and ignorant approach contemporary Westerners have towards sexual magic:
The question remains: why did sex magic flourish in the middle to the late 19th century and continues up until this day?
Despite many attempts on behalf of 'authorities' who endeavour to present sex magic as being the purest expression of an ancient heritage of Western esotericism and a well-kept occult secret that has reached us from the dawn of ages, this magical practice – like many of those who advocate it – is not a rejection of secular modernity but rather an affirmation of many of the ideals of modernity. These ideals are reflections of ideas such as progress, the affirmation of the individual as being an ultimate force in the universe, the recognition of the multidimensional and powerful reality of sex, a scientific endeavour to unravel the secrets of the universe and the overwhelming potential of free will as a form of liberation from suppressive institutions. This also coincides with the endeavour to re-enchant a demystified and secularised modern industrial world through the occult.
I am not implying that sex magic is a product of fantastical renderings superficially relating to a glorified past of arcane knowledge and constant sacred communion with the Divine. Indeed, contemporary occultism has been effectively inspired by esoteric traditions of the past, reaffirmed, rediscovered and reinterpreted in this day and age, and has to be admired for its courage to seek out means to adapt esotericism to a disenchanted world of secular thought and scientific cynicism.
Neither am I proclaiming that sex magic is merely a mask for movements of social change, implying that all ideas and practices revolving around sexual magical applications are romantic decorations of new radical movements that aspire only to cultural liberation and social transformation.
It is my belief that for sex magicians, their sacred art and science is one fully preoccupied with a search for esoteric truths through their personal relationship with the Absolute and the magical universe they inhabit. It might be a combination of effects, both socio-cultural and supranatural, which manifested sex magic into what it is in contemporary occultism.
The second question that remains is why so much attention has been drawn towards sex magic. According to occultists, sex magic transcends the principles of hedonism and in its unveiled essence is a powerful manifestation of magic aligned with cosmic forces and correspondences. The rationale behind this is that if non-spiritual sex can create new life, the intentional ritualised form of sexual intercourse can give birth to the greatest supernatural effects and results. As Aleister Crowley stated, "the root idea is that any form of procreation other than normal is likely to produce results of a magical character."
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The most important figure in the rise of modern sexual magic was arguably the fascinating yet generally neglected figure of Paschal Beverly Randolph. Born in 1825 to a wealthy Virginian father and a slave from Madagascar, Randolph was a poor, self-educated free black raised in the poorer parts of New York. He was orphaned at a young age and ran away from his foster parents to explore a vast range of new spiritual traditions and to travel the world.
Through his journeys in Egypt and the Middle East, he claims to have been initiated by various seers and holy men, including Egyptian mages and Indian Brahmins. Upon his return to the United States he became involved with various Spiritualist movements and was involved in political movements championing the cause and future of African Americans. These ideas of liberation would become a major theme in his spiritual writings and understanding of sex magic, especially in regards to gender equality.
He also founded a new religious order, which he labelled the Brotherhood of Eulis. Although he had been influenced by European Rosicrucian orders, he claimed his order would surpass them and that the core of their spiritual teachings had a sexual magical element. Unfortunately, Randolph's life ended after a series of tragic events. An accident left him invalid, and this led him to excessive amounts of intoxication. Suspicious that his wife had betrayed him, he committed suicide in 1875.
Randolph's work on sexual magic took place during the era of Victorian America, where the tremendous power of sexuality was slowly being recognised scientifically and socially, where it was praised within the confines of marriage and condemned outside of it. It was also an era of radical social movements and the foundation of various new religious movements, especially the Spiritualist movement, all of which were concerned with the spiritual side of sexuality but not all in the same fashion.
Randolph's main contribution to Western occultism concerns sex. Apart from being an expert in the cure of sexual diseases and dysfunctions, he developed a system and practice of sexual magic that, as he claimed, could achieve all manners of marvels, both worldly and otherworldly. He saw his system of sexual magic as a path to a millennial new world.
Randolph's teachings would later on inspire and influence a host of new magical orders, such as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and the Ordo Templis Orientis, and even various forms of sex magic now available in nearly every mainstream bookstore.
Randolph's system of sexual magic has been described by Hugh B. Urban as "a system of magical eroticism, or affectional alchemy." As Randolph continuously stresses:
Randolph believed that the sexual drive is the most potent and fundamental force in the universe, due to its natural attraction between the active/positive and the passive/negative. Following Franz Anton Mesmer's pattern of thought, Randolph understood the male and female as opposite yet complimentary electromagnetic forces, with the male genitals being the positive and the female the negative. Because sexual attraction is the most potent and fundamental force in nature, the experience of orgasm is a very primordial, powerful and critical moment in human consciousness. It is the key to magical power. At the moment of climax the soul is exposed to the energies of the universe and new life pours from the spiritual into the material realm. At this point anything that is truly willed can happen.
A unique feature of his sexual techniques, apart from the employment and magical use of the orgasm as a means of acquiring otherworldly sympathies, was his emphasis on the mutuality and equality of male and female in their loving union. All forms of sexual abuse within the Victorian framework, whether through masturbation or excessive intercourse, drained the body of the vital energy required for the undertaking of a sexual magical operation.
Although he was accused by many as promoting promiscuity and sexual license under the guise of his sexual magical teachings, Randolph was indeed a very conservative character. His practice of sexual magic is anything but mere hedonistic license. Sex, for Randolph, is strictly for married couples in a state of pure love.
Although for many in 19th century Victorian America Randolph might appear to be a radical spiritual antinomian threatening the moral and spiritual foundation of society, his teachings on spiritualised love and sexual magic reflect and embody many of the basic sexual values of his day, both physically and spiritually. His system is unlike the sexual techniques developed by many magicians who were inspired by him. His teachings could be no further than the sex 'magick' of the notorious Aleister Crowley.
Sex Magick and the Great Beast
When one conjures up images and sensations of sexual magic, one generally stumbles upon Aleister Crowley before anyone else. Known in the press of his day as "the wickedest man in the world" and self-proclaimed "Great Beast 666," Crowley was the object of much scandal and moral outrage. Rejecting the prudence of Victorian society, Crowley saw sex magic as a supreme source of magical power. Unlike Randolph, Crowley did not advocate sexual magic as being confined to a state of holy matrimony, and instead made use of 'outraging' sexual acts, such as masturbation and homosexual intercourse, which shocked and horrified British society.
However, despite being the sexual hedonistic deviant and the spawn of Satan as presented by the popular press of the early 20th century, Crowley's importance and influence on Western occultism should not be overlooked. His rejection of Victorian morality and his identification of sex as being the supreme magical source introduced new dimensions to the study and practice of the occult. His study of Buddhism and Hinduism transmitted new ideas and techniques that affected the Western Esoteric Tradition in a tremendous way. These and many more have made him one of the most influential figures in the revival of magical traditions.
Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875, he was the son of a highly zealous and prudent father who was very well-established in the excessively puritanical Plymouth Brethren. He was raised in a strict Christian home in late Victorian England. Crowley, apart from turning to the occult and sexual excess, was also a prolific poet and an avid mountain climber.
Despite all excesses and taking delight in the accusations hurled at him, he was according to one of his biographers, Lawrence Sutin, an enigmatic, gifted and misunderstood character, and "one of the rare human beings… to dare to prophesy a distinctive new creed and to devote himself… to the promulgation of that creed." He studied at the University of Cambridge and inherited a lot of money, which he spent travelling the world, publishing his works and wasting on excess.
He was first initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but his relationship with the Order and one of its founding members, MacGregor Mathers, ended in turmoil and controversy. From 1899 onwards, he began travelling to places such as India and Ceylon where he studied Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga, and was exposed to Tantra. Although he only approached it from the naive and highly ethnocentric angle of the Orientalists of his day and age, it fuelled an interest in combining his version of magic, which he labelled magick, with sexual techniques.
In 1904 Crowley received a revelation from an entity called Aiwass, which Crowley claimed was his guardian angel. Aiwass appeared and dictated to him the Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law), which claimed that Crowley was to be the herald of the third aeon of humankind – the Aeon of Horus. The infamy of him being a black magician and "the wickedest man in the world" was spawned in the period of the 1920s when he founded the Abbey of Thelema at a farmhouse in Cefalu, Sicily. The rule of this community was 'do what thou wilt' and in Urban's words,
By the 1940s Crowley had exhausted all his money, which he had largely spent by 1915, and his will to power. Although he continued to believe The Book of the Law might have a decisive role to play in the era to come, he spent his last years in a small guest house in London increasingly addicted to heroin until his death in 1947.
In his autobiographical account, Confessions, he wrote:
Crowley continued the tradition of sex magic as set out by Randolph, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and the Ordo Templis Orientis, although he adapted to his own magical system. In 1910 Crowley became involved with the OTO and soon was declared the Sovereign Grand Master General of Ireland, Ioana and all the Britains.
Although the OTO were practicing sex magic before Crowley's reception into the order, he had already revealed the secret of sexual magic in his Book of Lies. According to Crowley, the secret of sex magic is so tremendously powerful that "if this secret which is a scientific secret were perfectly understood… there would be nothing which the human imagination can conceive that not be realised in practice… If it were desired to have an element of atomic weight six times that of uranium that element could be produced."9
Crowley's own diary, Rex de Arte Regia, listed a series of 309 sexual magical acts for purposes both worldly and otherworldly. Also, Crowley wrote a series of rites for the OTO, with the highly dramatic ceremony of the Gnostic Mass being the most popular and central to his mystical system of Thelema within the OTO. He also revised the OTO's initiatory degrees with the eighth degree consisting of an autoerotic sex rite, the ninth a heterosexual one and the eleventh, which he introduced, a homosexual sex rite. Peter Koenig summarises this:
It is now recognised that Crowley did have some very good knowledge of Indian Yoga and was aware of some of the key features and practices of Indian Tantra. Unlike most Orientalist scholars, he did not denounce Tantra, but instead described it as a valid form of religion and the most advanced form of Hinduism. In his works he frequently used the terms lingam and yoni, the male and female sexual organs, and he compared the IXth degree rite of the OTO with the Tantric view of semen and the rite of maithuna. However, as N. N. Bhattacharyya has argued, most Western authors and magicians, Crowley included, misinterpret and misrepresent Tantra as they only approach it in terms of its sexual elements. The difference lies in the fact that Western magical systems have placed emphasis on the act of sex from the beginning whereas in traditional Hindu Tantra sexual union is a minor part of the spiritual practices, and when it does take place it is merely only one method of awakening Shakti. Even one of Crowley's most devoted students, Kenneth Grant, admitted that Crowley's actual knowledge of Tantra was limited.
Crowley conceived the rational mind as an act of departing and an irregularity of the true human self. He believed he discovered with his system of sex magick a way of destroying the rational mind at the point of orgasm inducing a sense of natural trance and spiritual clarity not confined by the burden of the mundane and the rational. At this climaxing point the divine is allowed to enter into the magical consciousness of the magician. This can be compared, according to Crowley, to the transubstantiation of the elements of the Mass:
In The Book of Lies Crowley states:
Beyond the use of sex magic to acquire worldly things, Crowley believed that the purpose of sex magic was destined for achieving supreme spiritual power and the power to conceive a divine child and godlike being. Within this magical operation though, unlike Randolph, the woman, who Crowley regarded as being inferior and limited, was merely a passive vehicle for the male magician to use in his sexual magical rites.
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Modern sex magic has been associated with some very enigmatic, remarkable and sometimes radical personalities. Randolph and Crowley have been the ones most associated with the current of sexual magic and have influenced generations of magicians with their pioneering visions. What Randolph and Crowley came to represent in the popular imagination is an outcry for liberation from the suffocating pressures of the Victorians. This is evident from Randolph's system of sex magic as being a path to the dawn of a new era where the inequalities of Victorian America will not exist and the innermost secrets of human life will surface. Although at first glance Crowley's vision appears to not share some of these desires and hopes, upon further scrutiny it is apparent that Crowley too was a remarkable reflection of his era, and he was indeed struggling against what he conceived as being hypocritical and fallacious. According to John Symonds:
These two sex magicians have come to stand as explorers of the ambivalence of the tension between romantic and sexual love, the place of non-reproductive sexual acts, the experimentation and importation of exotic sexual techniques from the 'Orient' and so on. They have come to reflect many of the themes and paradoxes of modernity, such as striving for individualism, a utopian future, the exploration of the meaning of sexuality and the essence of ourselves.
I have already stated in my introduction why Aleister Crowley conceived the art and science of sex magic to be one of the most powerful occult systems. Many esotericists have expressed the view that the human mind is the gateway of magic through which the magician gains access to the astral plane and through which the magical universe works. The basic structure of the psyche for some magicians consists of the conscious mind, also known as the waking consciousness, and the subconscious, also known as the unconscious, the realm of our being experienced in dreams and altered states of consciousness. There is also a kind of 'censor' that separates these two parts of the psyche and acts as a filter ensuring the selective gathering of empirical perception, and also the protection of the conscious mind from an uncontrolled flooding from the subconscious. Magic makes use of both the 'rational' and the 'irrational' parts of the psyche.
The key element in every magical operation is introducing this understanding of the psyche to the magical formula of combining will and imagination, which in turn affects the psyche. The aim of every magical rite is to temporarily 'shut down' this censor so the unconscious mind might gain immediate access to the conscious, sending forth its raw power and in turn this raw power being directed and assigned to various magical tasks. The key result is what can be referred to as a 'magical trance', the very peak of a ritual ecstasy where the cosmic forces are invoked and manifested. For sex magicians the best way to achieve this altered state of consciousness, this magical trance, this death-like feeling of emptiness where the magician becomes the vessel for magical forces, is the orgasm.
Beyond the social analysis, the psychological enquiry
and the historical investigation, the true inspiration for these two
magicians and others to come was the search for an ultimate magical system
based on occult correspondences and a deeper understanding of the mechanisms
of the Self. A way of communing with the magical universe and the pure
whirling forces that inhabit it. Their efforts were more than just an
outcry for liberation. More than just a struggle against oppressive taboos.
For them it was a magical attempt to enchant a disenchanted world. A
path that could lead them into a state of union with the divine. A method
for them to acquire supreme spiritual powers that could affect both the
natural and the supranatural. It was an expression of their Will and
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