Witchcraft and Sex Magic

Witchcraft for Tomorrow - Doreen Valiente 1993

Witchcraft and Sex Magic

Witchcraft does not need to apologize for involving sex magic. It is other religions which need to apologize for the miseries of puritanical repression they have inflicted on humanity.

We are today in the commencement of a sexual revolution. People are at last beginning to wake up to the fact that they have a right to sexual satisfaction in this life; that they have no need to feel guilty about being human beings. I believe that one of the most important tasks of the Old Religion in our day is to help to nail the Great Lie which humanity has been told for so long: namely, that sex is something which was ’ordained’ solely as a means of procreation within ’holy wedlock’ and nothing else.

If all that was required was the continuation of the species, then the elaborate complex of sexuality, both physical and psychological, would not have been necessary on the part of nature. There are many organisms in this world, from the amoeba upwards, which procreate by means of simple fission or by virgin birth; but they are all on the lower rungs of the ladder of evolution. The joys and pangs of sexual love are something we have risen towards, not fallen into.

I think, too, that there is a profound truth in the slogan (originated, I believe, by the Young Liberals in this country), ’Make love, not war’. Is it really a coincidence that the hideous events of killing and maiming which have taken place in Northern Ireland within recent years have come to pass in a community which is ruled in a religious sense by anti-sex repression, both Catholic and Protestant? Let us look, too, at other countries where horror and bloodshed abound. How often do we see this accompanied by a sexual ethic which advocates repression?

It is often said today that we live in a violent society. (We always have done, but people are beginning to notice it). What is the root cause of mindless violence? One of the causes, at any rate, is the sheer pressure of natural desire denied its natural satisfaction, especially among the young. In spite of the so-called permissive society, the majority of people of all ages today are not free in a sexual sense. Even when social customs, divorce laws and so on have been relaxed, even when contraception is more freely available than it was before, people are still imprisoned behind the bars of their own minds. They are still in bondage to the false teaching and illusory concepts which they have unquestioningly accepted in their formative years. Moreover, this bondage is often something the people themselves are not conscious of; it applies even to many who regard themselves as enlightened and progressive.

Sheer promiscuity, however, is not the answer to the real sexual needs of anyone. It is quality, not quantity of experience which brings sexual harmony into a person’s life. If it were not so, then the happiest and most well-balanced people would be prostitutes and playboys; when, as a matter of fact, they are usually insecure and neurotic.

There is an indefinable magical element about sex, which people have been conscious of ever since the beginning of time. This is why it has always been hedged about with so many rules and regulations by those who have sought rulership over their fellow humans. In particular, the subjugation of woman, the dangerous temptress, has been built into most of the world religions of our day. Yet anthropology and the study of comparative religion and folklore have revealed that long ago the position was reversed. Once upon a time matriarchy, not patriarchy, was the ruling custom of society; descent was traced, not through the father, but through the mother. Religious authority was held not by a high priest, but a high priestess.

Not long ago, admission of women into the priesthood was discouraged by the Church of England on the grounds that priestesses were associated with the orgiastic types of religion. In the Old Religion of witchcraft, however, the priestess still retains her ancient dignity; though I personally consider that neither half of a polarity should be dominant over the other, otherwise the situation is bound to become unbalanced. Working in true polarity is a potent magical operation, because each stimulates and brings out the best in the other. Dion Fortune has written extensively about this question of polarity, on both the physical and the more subtle planes of existence. Most of her work was written back in the 1930s; but while I emphatically disagree with some of her more dogmatic statements, nevertheless her books are still very well worth reading. She could not express herself too frankly, as she had to compromise with the social attitudes of her day; but she clearly recognizes the antiquity of the relationship between sex, religion and magic.

Social attitudes in our own day are sufficiently relaxed for a most significant exhibition to have been held in recent years at the Hayward Gallery in London; an exhibition which in Dion Fortune’s time would have resulted in instant prosecution and closure, but in our own was sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain. I refer to the exhibition of art associated with the eastern cult of Tantra, held in the autumn of 1971, which has served to awaken a lively interest in Tantric ideas among occultists and other seekers for truth in the western world.

Like witchcraft, Tantra has in the past been associated with ’unspeakable rites’, ’nameless orgies’ and so on. In fact, one of the earliest writers about Tantra who addressed himself to readers in Britain, W. Ward, whose book A View of the History, Literature and Mythology of the Hindus was published in 1822, literally could not bring himself to describe what actually happened at a Vamacharin Tantric circle! He hinted that a naked woman was the object of worship, but added that ’Here things too abominable to enter the ears of man, and impossible to be revealed to a Christian public’ were contained in the Tantra Shastras.

It was left to an extraordinary adventurer named Edward Sellon, who was famous for his contribution to the rich field of Victorian pornography, to bring a full description of the material side of Tantric ritual to the west. His book Annotations Upon the Sacred Writing of the Hindus appeared, privately printed, in London in 1865. Although materialistic and inadequate, Sellon’s presentation of Tantra had considerable influence, notably upon the author and student of Rosicrucian matters, Hargrave Jennings and through him upon the American occultist, Paschal Beverly Randolph, who regarded Jennings as ’one of the master Rosicrucians of England’.

The spiritual side of Tantra was first described in books having any wide degree of publication among English-speaking people by Sir John Woodroffe, who wrote at first under the pen-name of ’Arthur Avalon’. His book Shakti and Shakta set out to defend the Tantras from their detractors, both British and Hindu. In it he describes the worship of the pre-Aryan Great Mother Goddess of the ancient East, in terms which are often strongly reminiscent of the practices of European witchcraft, though he shows no signs of being aware of this.

However, in Shakti and Shakta we read of the secret circle, often held at midnight, in which men and women worshippers were seated alternately. It was under the direction of a leader, and the object of adoration was a beautiful naked priestess who was regarded as the incarnation of the goddess. A ritual meal was partaken of, which was followed by sexual intercourse as an act of worship to the divinities invoked. This ritual was called the Panchatattva, meaning the Five Elements, because the constituents of it symbolized earth, fire, air, water and spirit or Akasha. It was also called the Panchamakara, or ’Five M’s’, because each of these constituents according to its name in Sanskrit began with the letter M: wine (madya), meat (mangsa), fish (matsya), grain (mudra), and sexual union (maithuna). The wine corresponds to the element of fire, the meat to that of air, the fish to water, the grain to earth, and sexual union to spirit.

The word Tantra simply means a treatise, something spread abroad, from the root tan, meaning ’to spread’. There are both Buddhist and Hindu Tantras, the earliest surving complete texts being Buddhist, and dating to about A.D. 600. Scholars differ among themselves as to whether the ideas of the Tantras were originally Buddhist or Hindu; but the truth may well be that they are older than either religion and that both Buddhism and Hinduism have adapted them to their own purposes. The great stronghold of Tantric practice in India is Bengal, while Tantric Buddhism was widely practised in Tibet and is still to be found in the countries which border upon that land.

It is the Tantras which contain the descriptions of the subtle bodies of man and woman, which surround and interpenetrate the physical body. These subtle bodies are a complex network of energies, which contain power centres or chakras. The latter are likened to wheels or to flowers, hence they are sometimes called lotuses. The diagrams of the subtle body bear an obvious resemblance to the western mystical diagram of the Tree of Life as depicted in the books of the Cabbala.

The Tantras also contain intricate mystical diagrams called yantras, which are used as objects upon which to concentrate in meditation. The most revered of these is Sri Yantra, an intricate arrangement of interlaced triangles. Both the pentagram and the hexagram, widely used by medieval magicians of Europe, appear among the Tantric yantras.

All these mystical diagrams have for centuries been drawn and painted in bright, glowing colours by Tantric devotees, and many beautiful examples of them were on show in the exhibition mentioned above. Exhibited also were many remarkable sculptures showing gods and goddesses united in sexual embrace, as one of the Tantric doctrines is that the universe is the manifestation of the Lila or love-play of the god Shiva and the goddess Shakti. As the material symbols of these two great cosmic principles on the physical plane, the Tantrics revere sculptured representations of the Lingam and Yoni, the male and female genitals.

A similar idea is represented in a less obvious form in Tantric Buddhism by the two symbols of the vajra or ’thunderbolt’ and a little bell of similar size hanging among the beads of the Buddhist rosary.

These basic ideas of the great cosmic sacred marriage and its reflection at the human level, of the use of the sexual act as a sacrament and an act of worship, taken in conjunction with the antiquity of Tantric teaching and practice, seem to indicate that what became Tantra in the east became witchcraft in the west. Certainly, the Tantric chakrapuja, or circle of worship, bears resemblance to the practices of the witches’ Sabbat, both of today and yesterday.

An even more striking reminiscence of the witches’ Sabbat is to be found in the stories of the Hindu god Krishna and his moonlight revels with the cow-girls of Brindaban. Among the exhibits at the previously-described exhibition of Tantric art was a painting of the Rasa Mandala, or ecstatic round-dance of Krishna and the cow-girls by the light of the full moon in the forest glade. By his magical power, Krishna had provided a male dancing partner for each girl who was the semblance of himself, while his partner was Radha, his favourite beloved. The resemblance to the joyful moonlight revels of witches needs no stressing.

Moreover, Krishna himself bears a remarkable resemblance to the Greek god Pan, as previously mentioned in Chapter 1. Both are manifestations of the Universal Form as described in the famous passage of the Bhagavad Gita and often depicted in Indian art. Both are associated with round dances at the full moon and with fertility ceremonies, Pan with the Lupercalia and Krishna with the spring-time Holi festival. Both are musicians, Pan playing the mysterious music of his seven-reeded pipes in the depths of the forest, while Krishna, in the same way, plays upon his flute and enchants all who hear its sound. Both are associated with orgiastic revelry, Pan with the nymphs and Krishna with the Gopis or cow-girls. Both were probably ancient fertility gods, who were adopted into later and more sophisticated pantheons.

The erotic love between Radha and Krishna is a favourite theme of Indian painting and poetry. All of which, it seems to me, makes it very strange that present-day followers of Krishna decry sexual love and devote themselves to celibacy. However, the same puritanism and anti-feminism seem to have swept over the east as they did over the west, giving the whole bent of eastern religion (officially, at any rate) a repressive, anti-sex bias, so that some modern Hindus have actually been ashamed of the erotic glories of their ancient art and the subjugation of women has been elevated to a virtue. The ancient cult of Tantra in its Vamacharin or ’left-hand’ form has become more or less secret, its followers having gone underground like the witches did. ’Left-hand’ in this sense simply means those circles who celebrate their worship with actual sexual intercourse, and are so called because the woman who represents the goddess sits upon the left hand side of the male worshipper.

Moreover, the actual texts of the Tantras as we have them today have been edited and interpolated by Brahmin and Buddhist copiers, while their English translations, where these are available, have sometimes been what Philip Rawson, the distinguished authority on Tantra, has called ’bowdlerized’. In his informative introduction to the catalogue of the Hayward Gallery exhibition, Philip Rawson has confirmed the antiquity of Tantric ideas which had been previously noted by Sir John Woodroffe. He states that some of the archaic elements of Tantra are as ancient as the palaeolithic caves of Europe, the depicted emblems of which they closely resemble. As we have seen, the witch cult of western Europe can claim to be derived from the same level of antiquity, upon the same evidence.*

Even the artificial phallus, allegedly used by medieval witches and indignantly denounced by churchmen in various early books of penances, makes its appearance in the cult of Tantra. Another of the exhibits at the Hayward Gallery was a lingam or sacred phallus carved out of rock crystal and engraved with a representation of the Sri Yantra. We are told that it was probably used as an initiation instrument for female followers of the cult. One remembers the accounts recorded from the confessions of European witches of the ice-cold phallus of the Devil, which Margaret Murray speculated could have been an artificial penis used as part of a ritual.

Those Westerners who have derived their ideas of Eastern religion and mysticism from the writings of Madame Blavatsky and other Theosophist authors may well be surprised and even shocked to encounter the beliefs and practices of Tantra. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a truly remarkable woman, whose achievement in arousing the interest of Europeans in the ancient wisdom of the East cannot be denied; but her attitude to sexuality was contemptuously puritanical. Hence the Tantric philosophy could only be dismissed by her as ’phallicism’ and ’black magic’. The Tantras are indeed much concerned with magic; but magic is black or white according to the intention of the operator and the way in which its forces are used. The sexual content of the Hebrew Cabbala aroused Madame Blavatsky’s dislike, for the same reason.

Moreover, even many Indians came to regard Tantric mysticism with revulsion, when the influence of European education was brought to bear upon them. When Sir John Woodroffe, who was a Justice of the High Court of India at Calcutta in the late nineteenth century, wrote about Tantra, he was in the position of having to defend the ancient Tantric lore and practices against the combined attacks of European missionaries and high-caste Hindus, who were trying to get the cult banned. Hence his books tend to excuse the sexual content of Tantric ritual, while emhasizing the lofty spiritual philosophy behind it.

In our own day, it may well be felt that much less of such excuse is needed. We can see for ourselves the rightness of the claim in the Mahanirvana Tantra that the Tantric path is the path of attainment for the men and women of the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age, in which we live. We may appreciate the statement made in the Tantras that ’by that by which men fall, by that they rise’. Modern psychology has unmasked the puritan and the prude. It remains for us to find the way of true harmony and happiness in natural things.

It must not be forgotten, however, that not all people are capable of rightly performing Tantric rites, just as not all people are capable of rightly appreciating the rites of witchcraft. There will always be some who, because of their own lack of spiritual evolution, will pervert witchcraft into black magic and crude sensuality, or turn it into a means of exploiting others, just as they would anything else they took up in their unevolved state. They will have to suffer the karma they make for themselves and learn by it.

As we have already noted in Chapter 2, the Tantrics recognize this fact of human nature very clearly. They divide humanity into three dispositions or bhavas. There is Pashu-bhava, or animal disposition, corresponding to Tamas-guna, the qualities of grossness and darkness; Vira-bhava, or heroic disposition, corresponding to Rajas-guna, the qualities of activity, force, fieriness; and Divya-bhava., or divine disposition, corresponding to Sattva-guna, the qualities of balance, harmony, perfection. The three types of qualities or gunas have some analogy with the salt, sulphur and mercury of the alchemists.

The fact that Tantric worship is not ’merely an excuse for sex orgies’, any more than genuine witchcraft is, although the enemies of both accuse them of being so, is shown by the fact that the Tantrics regard the men and women of Vira-bhava and Divya-bhava alone as being competent to take part in the Panchatattva. One of the Tantras, quoted by Sir John Woodroffe in Shakti and Shakta, defines Vira-bhava thus: ’He is a Hero who has controlled his senses, and is a speaker of truth; who is ever engaged in worship and has sacrificed lust and all other passions.’

The Pashu, on the other hand, is the person who is bound, as the word comes from the root pash, meaning to bind. There are various descriptions of the bonds, but they are generally enumerated as pity (that is, in a contemptuous, belittling sense, not true compassion), ignorance, shame, family, custom and caste, as well as the cruder forms of greed and dishonesty. It is an interesting footnote to the legend of Krishna already referred to, that when Krishna is said to have stolen the clothes of the bathing Gopi girls and made them approach him naked, he was really removing the bonds of ignorance and all the artificial coverings which are imposed on men and women in this manifested world, which is called in the East sangsara, the world of appearance. This incident gives a further meaning to the custom of ritual nudity, which is found in the east as well as the west.

It was not only in the East that the ideas which have come to be called Tantric have been found. Europe, too, had its secret sexual cults in medieval times, other than the obvious one of witchcraft. Omar Garrison, in his book Tantra: The Yoga of Sex has noted the occurrence of Tantric ideas among the troubadours of Southern France. These were the singers and poets of courtly love and chivalry, who flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In Northern France they were called trouvères, both words meaning ’finders’, as they were supposed to find old songs and legends and present them in their music and poetry. They were often in bad odour with the Church and were accused of heresy. Ultimately the Pope launched the notorious Albigensian Crusade against the heretical cults of Southern France, extirpating them in circumstances of horrific cruelty. This led to the decline of the troubadours, but not before they had made their mark upon European culture, notably in their exaltation of womanhood and romantic love.

Omar Garrison notes that the troubadours had a special name for their relationship with a beloved and adored woman. They called it donnoi. Examination of troubadour literature makes it clear that donnoi was something more than what we generally regard as romantic love. The troubadour literally adored his lady, especially naked, in a way reminiscent of the Tantric adoration of the naked Yogini (female practitioner of Yoga). She was his inspiration, from whom he drew his power to sing, play and compose poetry and music, just as the Yogini is the Shakti or power-giver and incarnation of the goddess to the Tantric, or as the naked priestess is the incarnation of the goddess in the circle of the witches. Nor did the troubadour necessarily desire to consummate his adoration by sexual intercourse. He regarded his lady as the other pole of a working polarity, from whom flowed subtle rejuvenating magnetism—an idea reminiscent of those contained in the writings of Dion Fortune, already referred to.

The source of this undercurrent of ideas of sexual magic is a mysterious one; but the connecting link may be the Sufis. Although contained today within the sphere of Islam, the Sufi mystics maintain that their cult preceded the Islamic faith and goes back to unknown ages. It is, in fact, they say, the secret essence of all religions. Southern France would have been open to the influence of Sufi mysticism through its proximity to Spain, in the days when that country was largely under the rule of the Moors. There was a cult in the Arab world called the Beni Udhra, which taught a peculiar form of sexual magic very similar to that of some Buddhist Tantrics.

These, unlike many of the Tantrics of India, teach a form of magical sexual union wherein the man and woman are united but the man retains control over ejaculation and the flow of semen. Thus, instead of striving for a climax, the couple remain blissfully united, prolonging the act almost indefinitely until the man’s erection subsides. A similar practice in the Western world has come to be known as karezza, a word borrowed from the Persian language. Among the Beni Udhra, the technique of prolonging the sexual act by the control of emission was known as imsak. Among all the practitioners of this form of sex magic, both Eastern and Western, remarkable claims are made for its supposed benefits, both physical and by enabling both partners to attain higher states of consciousness; though it should be said that some sexologists regard karezza as harmful.

The techniques by which control is maintained are regarded as among the most important secrets of sexual magic. Briefly, however, judging from the accounts of such things to be found among the sexual literature of the East, they centre around the simultaneous restraint of breathing, thought and semen. Breathing and movement are both slowed down as a climax seems to be imminent, until the crisis is passed. One account says that to distract the mind by fixing it upon mental pictures of peaceful landscapes, lakes and mountains, will restrain it from striving for a climax as in ordinary sexual intercourse. Instead, the minds of both partners will pass into a gentle borderline state, in which psychic and spiritual perception will become possible. Physically, this kind of intercourse is believed to bring about prolonged youthfulness.

Magical sexual intercourse of this kind was believed in and practised from very ancient times, throughout the Eastern world. In China, it became associated with the doctrines of the Yin, the Yang and the Tao, or the cosmic feminine, the cosmic masculine and the perfect balance of the two great principles, the interplay of which is described in the I Ching, which is probably the oldest surviving system of divination to be still in actual use. A fascinating novel about China in olden times, based upon the system of sex magic described above, has appeared in recent years; namely, The Pearly Essence, by Jonathan Quayne.

To return to the question of the Sufi mystics and their possible connection with the secret sex cults of medieval Europe, it is interesting to note that the supposed centre from which all this curious esoteric lore was diffused, according to the Eastern accounts, is Shambala, the legendary hidden city of Asia where dwell the great adepts in whose hands lie the keys of magic and mysticism. According to one version, Shambala is somewhere near what is now Afghanistan; and Afghanistan is one of the great strongholds of Sufism.

Now, the great culture-hero of Tibet, Padma Sambhava, who brought Tantric Buddhism to that country, is supposed to have arrived there from Shambala in the eighth century A.D., together with his two wives and other followers. In some ways, Padma Sambhava is a Sufi-like figure, with his deliberate defiance of accepted customs and morals, for which some modern writers about him have been impelled almost to apologize. He is a much more colourful character than most saints, either of East or West. His magical powers, his almost shamanistic practices, his wide travels, his relations with women, are all described in detail in surviving stories of him. Moreover, the Buddhism of Tibet makes great use of music and ritual dancing, which the Sufis are famous for also. Considering all these matters, one is compelled to ask whether there may be after all some truth in the legend of one great and ancient centre, perhaps the relic of forgotten prehistoric civilizations, from which the magical and mystical traditions of Europe and Asia have been diffused over a long period of time, by wandering unknown masters like the Sufis and whoever was the real-life original of the Padma Sambhava stories.

Among the most famous, or notorious, practitioners of sex magic in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were the Knights Templars. This closed brotherhood of knights, who were extirpated by the powers of Church and State for alleged heresy and sexual immorality, came into contact with Sufis, among the Moslems at the time of the Crusades. The Templars’ vast wealth, power and arrogance may well have moved the king of France to proceed against them; but there are some unexplained matters in the history of the Knights Templars, notably a donation of 3,000 gold pieces paid to the Templars by the Syrian branch of the Assassins, or Hashishin as their Arabic name was. The Templars were repeatedly accused of secret collaboration with the Saracens, as well as of such strange matters as worshipping an idol called Baphomet, which they were alleged to regard as being the giver of wealth to the order and of fertility to the earth. In the old church of Saint-Merri in Paris is a sculpture representing a horned and winged demon displaying both male and female characteristics. According to oral tradition this statue depicts the Knights Templars’ ’idol’, Baphomet.

It seems possible that this old carving was the original inspiration of the well-known engraving of Baphomet by the French occultist, Eliphas Levi. It is really a version of the old concept of the horned god, a fact which recalls the statement made in the charges against the Templars that they regarded Baphomet as being the giver of wealth and fertility. They were also accused of being secretly permitted to indulge in what their opponents regarded as ’all kinds of licentiousness’: or as Aleister Crowley put it in much later years: ’Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’.

It is certain that the Knights Templars were a law unto themselves; that their rituals were held in secret; and that they had friendly contacts with the Saracens, to the extent of being influenced by Islamic culture. Even after their suppression in 1307, the Templars were still feared. The story goes that their last Grand Master, Jacques De Molay, just before he was burned at the stake, solemnly cursed both the Pope and the King of France, who had combined to suppress the order, summoning them to appear with him before the tribunal of God before another year had passed; and that within the space of the succeeding year both Pope and King were dead. The curse of the Templars was said to remain throughout the centuries upon the French royal house, a theme which was recently dramatized in a series of historical plays for television called ’The Accursed Kings’.

This mixture of historical mystery, secrecy and magic was a natural inspiration to Aleister Crowley, who took ’Baphomet’ as one of his magical names when he became the head of the English branch of the Order of Oriental Templars, or to give it its Latin title, Ordo Templi Orientis, abbreviated to O.T.O.

The O.T.O. had been formed in Germany in 1902 by a wealthy German business man named Karl Kellner, in association with three fellow occultists, Theodor Reuss, Franz Hartmann and Heinrich Klein. Kellner professed to have received the secret teachings of sexual magic upon which the order was founded from three oriental adepts, one of whom was an Arab while the other two were Hindu. He claimed that the order was derived from the tradition of the old Knights Templars, who had also used and guarded these secrets. Because the founders of the O.T.O. were all high-ranking Freemasons, the Order had a ritual resembling that of Freemasonry, though with its own interpretation of it. An official manifesto declared that the teaching of sexual magic explained all the symbolism of Freemasonry and of all systems of religion.

When Crowley rose to a position of influence in the O.T.O., he rewrote all the rituals for the English-speaking branch of it in accordance with his own views and the message of his inspired manuscript, Liber Legis, the Book of the Law. It is noteworthy that instead of commemorating the murder of Hiram Abiff, as the third degree of orthodox Freemasonry does, the third degree of the O.T.O. commemorates the death of the Sufi martyr, Mansur El-Hallaj, who was executed as a heretic from Islam in A.D. 922.*

The sex magic secrets of the O.T.O. were incorporated not into ritual but into certain teaching papers which were given to initiates upon their admission to the higher degrees. In addition to these Crowley wrote a treatise, De Arte Magica, in 1914, with the sub-title Epistola anno belli universalis ne perdat arcanum scripta (Written in the year of universal war, that the secret might not be lost). The teaching papers referred to above are to be found within the book edited by Francis King. The secrets, in theory at any rate, are therefore secrets no longer. The question remains, does sex magic of this kind really work?

One writer, at any rate, fervently maintains that it does. This is Louis T. Culling, a follower of the Crowleyan tradition, who is the author of A Manual of Sex Magick. Mr Culling also maintains that many alchemical writings are really a disguised form of sex magic instruction, coded so that only initiates would realize their true import, while others imagined them to be concerned with the transmutation of metals, the search for the elixir of life and so on. It will be remembered in this connection that alchemical symbolism also greatly interested the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, who felt that something more was involved in the complex and often beautifully executed drawings and paintings which illustrated alchemical manuscripts than the search for gold which was allegedly the alchemists’ quest.

Crowley and his followers also made use of alchemical terms to describe the operations of sexual magic. The male organ was called the athanor and the female the cucurbite, both names of alchemical vessels. The word ’athanor’ is derived from the Arabic at-tannur, meaning ’the furnace’, with its obvious association with the purest male element, fire. ’Cucurbite’ is from the Latin cucurbita, meaning ’a gourd’, after the original alchemist’s vessel used in distilling, which was shaped like a gourd; that is, a containing vessel in which an alchemical transmutation could take place. The semen was called ’the blood of the red lion’, from Leo, the fixed sign of fire; while the female secretion which lubricates the vagina at the time of sexual excitement was called ’the gluten of the white eagle’, the eagle being the esoteric symbol of Scorpio, the fixed sign of water, the purest feminine element.

The semen was also called ’the serpent’ or ’the lion-serpent’, the latter being an old Gnostic symbol. It is indeed rather curious that the Gnostics had an emblem of an egg encircled by a serpent as a symbol of universal life, long before modern medicine and microscopy revealed the secrets of the ovum and the spermatozoon.

The mingling of the male and female fluids during sexual intercourse produced what was called ’the first matter’, which was believed to be transmuted by ritual and by the concentrated mind-power of the participants into ’the elixir’, which was then partaken of and consumed by both as a sacrament. (’Elixir’ is again from the Arabic, the words al-iksir meaning the Philosopher’s Stone, by means of which base metals were turned to gold and wonders accomplished.)

It is this to which Aleister Crowley refers in the cryptic phrases of that chapter in his book Magick in Theory and Practice, which is entitled: ’Of the Eucharist and of the Art of Alchemy’:

The highest form of the Eucharist is that in which the Element consecrated is One.

It is one substance and not two, not living and not dead, neither liquid nor solid, neither hot nor cold, neither male nor female.…

The highest sacrament, that of One element, is universal in its operation; according to the declared purpose of the work so will the result be. It is a universal Key of all Magick.

This practice is also mentioned in the oldest Buddhist Tantra, the Hevajra, which describes how the master administers this sacrament: ’Then with thumb and fourth finger he drops the bindu (semen) in the pupil’s mouth.’ The Tantra called the Karpuradistotram also advocates the partaking of the mingled sexual fluids by the male partner in the ritual from the vagina of the female, which is precisely the Ninth Degree Instruction of the O.T.O.* However repugnant sexually inhibited people may feel this practice to be, it is undoubtedly of great antiquity in the realm of magic.

The Ninth Degree O.T.O., probably so enumerated to correspond with the Ninth Sephira, Yesod, ’Foundation’, which is associated with the genital organs of Adam Kadmon, the universal man of the Cabbalistic system, and with the sphere of the Moon, which rules the sexual fluids, was the essential instruction and central rite of the whole system. But the instruction of the Eighth Degree also contained information about the use of autosexual acts in magic; while Crowley himself, in accordance with his own proclivities, added an Eleventh Degree which was concerned with homosexuality and coitus per ano, or as he put it, per vas nefandum, ’by the forbidden vessel’. (The Tenth Degree was merely honorary, conferring status upon the Head of the Order.)

By the time Crowley contacted Gerald Gardner, the O.T.O. as a functioning order had practically ceased to exist, except upon paper. Initiation into it consisted of being given the rituals and other papers to read. These were passed on to Gerald Gardner by Crowley while Crowley was resident at Hastings during the last period of his life. Hence, when Gerald Gardner’s novel, High Magic’s Aid, was published in 1949, the author proclaimed himself on the title page to be a member of the O.T.O.; but the only actual O.T.O. sex magic that I ever encountered in the witchcraft rituals as perpetuated by Gerald Gardner was that of the Ninth Degree, and then without the sacramental consumption of the elixir. He regarded the mental concentration and visualization of the participants, directed upon the object of the rite and reaching its climax during orgasm, to be sufficient.

I have myself, when younger, taken part in rituals of this kind, though performed privately and not in the presence of the rest of the coven; and the end for which they were performed was attained. As always, of course, much depends upon the conditions and the mood of the participants; when these are right, the magic works.

With regard to the morality or otherwise of taking part in such rituals, the witches have a saying: ’The circle of the coven is between the worlds; and what takes place between the worlds is no concern of either world’ (or as some versions give it, ’no concern of this world’).

As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, Gerald Gardner gave me his original Book of Shadows. At that time, these matters of which I have written in this chapter were kept very secret, as the discussion of such things was much more obscured by prejudice than it is today. Nor were the secret instructions of the O.T.O. available in print, as they are now. I feel that times and circumstances have changed sufficiently for me to be justified in quoting here directly from old Gerald’s Book of Shadows, certain passages which were written in code:

It is important to work naked from the start, so it becometh as second nature, and no thought ’I have no clothes’ shall ever intrude and take your attention from the work. Also, your skin being so accustomed to unconfinement, when power is given off the flow is more easy and regular. Also, when dancing you are free and unconfined.…

And the greatest of all, the touch of the body of your beloved thrills your inmost soul, and so your body gives out its utmost power; and then it is most important of all that there is not the slightest thing to divert the attention, for then the mind must seize and mould the power generated, and redirect it to the desired end with all the force and frenzy of the imagination.

It has been said that no real knowledge may be gained our way, that our practices are such that they can only lead to lust; but this is not really so. Our aim is to gain the inner sight, and we do it the most natural and easy way. Our opponents’ aim is ever to prevent man and woman loving, thinking everything that helps or even permits them to love is wicked and vile. To us it is natural, and if it aids the Great Work it is good.

’Tis true that a couple burning with a frenzy for knowledge may go straight to their goal, but the average couple have not this fire. We show them the way, our system of props and aids [i.e., magic ritual]. A couple working with nothing but lust will never attain in any case; but a couple who love each other dearly should already be sleeping together, and the first frenzy of love will have passed, and their souls will already be in sympathy. If the first time or two they do stay a while to worship Aphrodite, ’tis only a day or two lost, and the intense pleasure they obtain only leads them again to the mysteries of Hermes, their souls more attuned to the great search. Once they have pierced the veil they will not look back.

This rite may be used as the greatest of magics if it be done both partners firmly fixing their minds on their object and not thinking of sex at all. That is, you must so firmly fix your mind on your object that sex and all else are naught. You inflame your will to such an extent that you may create a strain on the astral that events happen.…

Today, under the influence of such writers as Alan Watts, whose philosophy has had considerable effect, especially upon the younger generation—for instance, his book Nature, Man and Woman—a new outlook upon sex is gradually developing, very different from that which prevailed when the above words of Gerald Gardner’s were written. Yet in those words we can see the commencement of it. The idea of sensuality has ceased to be opprobrious, except among very ’uptight’ people. Instead, its true meaning is being restored: the capacity to respond to the senses, especially the sense of touch; the feel of another person’s naked body, the colour of a flower, the music of a waterfall, the flow of air, the earth under one’s feet, the slow rhythm of movement, the scent of sandalwood and musk. People can pleasure each other by stroking and caressing, instead of ’the sex act’ being something which had to be got over as quickly as possible by striving for a climax. All the universe is a sex act; to take part in sex is to partake of the nature of the universe in its deeper sense, beyond time and form. This is the old philosophy of the Tantras, which is being rediscovered.

Not only witchcraft groups, but many other groups, including those devoted simply to the attainment of better human understanding, are adopting practices incorporating this philosophy. They are exploring the possibilities of ’cool sex’, as opposed to ’hot sex’ which is genitally centred and organized upon the basis of being something which a man does to a woman and to which she submits. ’Cool sex’, on the other hand, involves all of the senses; sexuality is generalized, instead of being urgently concentrated in the genitals and striving for relief. To be relieved of something is to wish to be rid of it and to obtain that wish—the other side of the coin of Puritanism. ’Cool sex’ enjoy sex for its own sake and wishes to prolong its enjoyment.

Among such groups, the Sanskrit word maithuna has come to be synonymous with ’cool sex’, though it actually means simply sexual intercourse. Maithuna neither strives for nor seeks to prevent orgasm, on the part of either the man or the woman. In these days of the Pill, it has no need to; nor does present-day sexology give much support to the old-fashioned theories current among Puritans of East and West about the alleged debilitating effects of the outflowing of semen. Moreover, many sexologists believe that the absorption of the male semen by the woman is actively beneficial to her, quite apart from it fecundating properties; a benefit of which, until the coming of the Pill, women were often deprived.

A favourite attitude for maithuna is that which is described among western Tantrics as the Yab-Yum position, while among witches it is known as the Pyramid position. It is particularly adapted for use in a magic circle, where conditions of space sometimes make lying at full length inconvenient; though some witches bring a small couch or mattress into the circle for sexual rites and lay it across the circle from east to west, in front of the altar which is placed in the north and facing south.

The Pyramid position is very similar to that in which the Tibetan Tantric deities are often depicted in statues, hence its alternative name of Yab-Yum. The man takes his place in the circle, either cross-legged or kneeling, whichever he prefers (in the actual Yab-Yum statues, the male is in the so-called lotus posture of yoga, but few Westerners can manage this). Then the woman sits astride him so that his erect penis penetrates her vagina. She twines her legs around him and the couple embrace.

The woman will be the more genitally active partner; but both will caress each other and gaze into each other’s eyes until they seem to have become one being. If the man’s erection wanes, the woman’s body will still contain him. They will experience the true meaning of ’intercourse’—a flowing between. Their interchange of vital energies will create a new aura around them, more potent than either of them individually. Sometimes they will actively embrace, sometimes rest with hands hanging over each other’s shoulders, listening to the music of each other’s silence, like a tree rooted in the earth while the wind flows through its leaves. There is little need here to give instruction in this kind of intercourse, because instinct will do that better. Nor will there be any need to judge whether success has been attained, because the participants will know by their own feelings the trembling of the veil.

Some general indication, however, of the value of this state may be taken from the fact that one set of participants regard about two hours as the minimum time of communion. In that time, the illusion of duality has been transcended by unity. The Two become One. The One becomes Nought—No-thing and All-things.

Apart from the insight behind the veil of matter afforded by this kind of sexual magic, the practice of maithuna is said to confer mental and physical benefit upon both partners, and to arouse the latent psychic powers which dwell naturally in us all. It stimulates the responses of all planes of being: spiritual, psychic, mental and physical.

It will be seen from the foregoing how naturally it has followed, in accordance with the evolving trends of the Aquarian Age, that modem witches should adapt the Tantric sexual magic for use in their own private magical circles, instead of the mass seasonal orgies of ancient times. Everything in this world is flowing, as the old Greek philosopher said. Nothing stands still, nor does time go back upon itself; but it proceeds in a spiral, ascending upon itself. The spiral has gone round again, to its ancient place, but higher. What appears to be borrowing from another tradition is really the reuniting of many things which have proceeded from a common source.

What actually is the common source of the magical tradition we do not know; perhaps the legendary city of Shambala is really situated in the universal unconscious of humanity. Perhaps so too is the sunken water city of Atlantis. On the other hand, I have endeavoured in this book to trace some, at least, of the shadowy outlines of the magical path, travelling as it does through the realms of witchcraft, ritual magic, alchemy and mysticism, back to our earliest beginnings in the cave sanctuaries of the Stone Age. Yet I feel that we still have a great deal to learn about our own history and the past of the human race. The witches have a tradition that their craft came from the East; but who knows? If you travel far enough east, you will find yourself back on your own doorstep. ’What is here is elsewhere. What is not here is nowhere.’


* Many pictures of objects from this exhibition, together with an excellent summary of the basic ideas of Tantra, will be found in Tantra: The Indian Cult of Ecstasy by Philip Rawson (Thames & Hudson, London, 1973).

* See The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O., edited and introduced by Francis King (C. W. Daniel Co., London, 1973).

* See the books on Tantra by Omar Garrison and Philip Rawson already referred to.