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

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

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

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


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.


If this secret [of sexual magic], which is a scientific secret, were perfectly
understood, as it is not by me after more than twelve years’ almost constant
study and experiment, there would be nothing which the human imagination
can conceive that could not be realized in practice.

Aleister crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley

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 exploiting it as the secret.

Michel foucault, The History of Sexuality, volume 1

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 of magia sexualis. the same period that saw the proliferation of medical manuals on deviant sexuality, such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, 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 Foucault has argued, the Victorian era was by no means simply an era of prudish repression and denial of sexuality; on the contrary, the nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented explosion of discourse about sex, which was now categorized, classified, debated, and discussed in endless titillating detail. a key part of this discourse on sexuality, I would suggest, was the new literature on sexual magic, which spread throughout the United States, England, and Western Europe from the mid-nineteenth century onward.

Sexuality and the occult arts had, of course, long been associated in the Western imagination. Since at least the time of the Gnostic heresies, and continuing with the persecution of the Templars and the Cathars and the witch hunts of the late Middle Ages, illicit sexuality was often believed to go hand in hand with secret ritual and the black arts. and in various schools of Western esotericism, from Jewish Kabbalah to the Renaissance magic of Marsilio Ficino and the Enlightenment mysticism of Emanuel Swedenborg . . .

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