Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sex and Occultism, Part One: Mrs. Grundy and the Great God Pan

I noted in a post earlier this year that although I greatly enjoy the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, I don’t find it spooky at all. I find his tentacled Elder Gods endearing rather than terrifying, and the vision of reality central to his fiction—the philosophy that Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi has helpfully labeled “cosmic indifferentism,” the recogition that the universe is under no obligation to pay the least attention to humanity’s embarrassingly overinflated sense of self-importance—strikes me as simple common sense, deserving a sigh of relief rather than a shudder of existential dread.

This somewhat idiosyncratic response to the Cthulhu mythos, the fictive pantheon of eldritch terrors concocted by Lovecraft and several of his friends and fellow Weird Tales authors, will be on display in an unexpected context next year. As noted over in the other blog, I’ve just finished a novel I didn’t plan to write, in rather less time than I’ve ever written anything of that size; the working title is Moon Path to Innsmouth; it’s almost certainly the first of a series, length as yet undetermined; and while I’ll refrain from spoilers, the basic concept is that the Elder Gods aren’t the villains they’ve been made out to be—quite the contrary.  All those lurid claims of blood sacrifice, sexual depravities, conspiracies to destroy the world?  Christians in the Middle Ages used to tell all those same stories about Jews and witches, you know, so the worshippers of Cthulhu are in good company.

I’ll want to devote a post one of these days to the reasons why people in the Western world fixate on those specific bits of hate speech whenever they want to denounce religious minorities they don’t like. Still, this month’s post is going to head down a different path. The process of writing Moon Path to Innsmouth sent me back to the stories of Lovecraft and his peers in search of local color, and one of the bypaths that I followed in that quest led me to “The White People,” one of the more renowned horror stories of Welsh fantasy author Arthur Machen, which originally appeared in 1899.

I’ve called “The White People” a horror story, and most people apparently read it that way. I suppose it will come as no surprise to my readers that I find it no more horrifying than, say, Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” though every bit as readable. “The White People,” rather, is a brilliantly written first-person account of an unnamed young woman’s spiritual and sexual awakening—the sexual aspect isn’t quite explicit, but there are enough reveries sitting atop standing stones, journeys through narrow passages, bubbling wells of sweet water, unnamed delights in isolated groves, and the like to make the general thrust, so to speak, impossible to miss. This is framed by a prologue and an epilogue in which a couple of old men discuss the diary in which the young woman recorded her experiences as an example of the most evilly evil sort of evil evilness they can possibly imagine.

Now it’s probably worth noting that the young woman’s spiritual awakening had nothing to do with the Christian religion; it had to do, rather, with Pagan worship and magic. That’s among the reasons I don’t find the story at all spooky. Everyone I know who took up any form of magical spirituality in their teen years, as I did, went through much the same things as the nameless author of the diary. The old lore studied in secret, the solitary ceremonies, the solemn or exhilarating or frightening experiences that can’t be shared with anyone else:  if you took up occultism in your teens, you’ve been there. To me, at least, it’s interesting to reflect on why so many people apparently find such things so horrifying—is it just the frantic intolerance of dissenting ideas that pervades so many secular as well as religious subcultures in our society, or is there more to it than that?

Equally, though, there’s the sexual dimension to the tale, and a great deal of the horror of the tale seems to focus on that. The idea of a young woman awakening to her own sexual needs and desires, without reference to the brutally rigid expectations loaded on her by the social and religious ideologies of the time, seems to have been quite enough all by itself to make a conservative and devoutly Christian Welshman like Machen blanch in terror and dive under the nearest piece of furniture. It’s this latter point that I want to discuss in this month’s post, because the stark gibbering terror with which so many people regarded their own genitalia not so long ago has had a range of unhelpful consequences that still infest contemporary culture in various ways, and stray over into occultism here and there.

It’s almost impossible to overstate just how pervasive, and how bizarre, the horror of sexuality was in the Western societies of an earlier day. You can even find it in certain ends of occult literature, though admittedly it’s rarer there than it is in the mainstream. One of my favorite examples, though, comes from Mouni Sadhu aka Dymitr Sudowski, or more precisely from his book The Tarot, much of which is copied verbatim from an earlier book on the same subject by Russian occultist Grigorii Mebes. I haven’t read Mebes’ book, so don’t know whether this passage is from his pen or Sadhu’s, but either way it’s a fine piece of unintentional comedy. 

The subject is that standard target for some of the most hysterical diatribes of that age, the nightmare consequences of—gasp!—masturbation. Apparently Sadhu (or Mebes) hadn’t encountered the claim that little boys who masturbate are doomed to go blind and have hair sprout on their palms, for the young man at the center of this little morality play becomes a dangerous raving maniac instead. He shows up at the author’s apartment, hallucinates on cue, and says: “Don’t you see them? Look how nice they are, these naked girls round us! Don’t you also want...?” Notes the author: “I cannot quote his next words because of their horrible depravity.”

I suspect most of my readers could quote those next words, out loud or in print, without any particular feeling of horrible depravity. Depending on the exact phrasing used, they might not even be noticeably crude. A healthy young man of heterosexual inclinations who happened to find himself in the presence, real or hallucinated, of a group of attractive women who weren’t wearing any clothes might reasonably be expected to have such thoughts, and even to mention the thoughts to a sympathetic friend, whether or not it was appropriate for him to do anything about them—but that’s today’s attitude. It was not the attitude in common circulation when Sadhu (or Mebes) wrote.

In the same way, in the Arthur Machen story mentioned earlier, one of the two men whose conversation frames the story notes with evident satisfaction that the young woman who wrote the diary poisoned herself “in time”—presumably before she did something far more ghastly, such as embarrassing her father or making the neighbors talk. Myself, if I ran across an account from 1899 of a young woman who committed suicide after the sort of awakening described in “The White People,” my first guess would be that she considered the normal and healthy sexual and spiritual needs she’d recognized in herself, assessed her chances of satisfying them given the asphyxiating narrowness of the life available to her as a middle-class Englishwoman of her time, and poisoned herself in sheer despair.

Fortunately, by the time Machen wrote “The White People,” middle-class Englishwomen with sexual and spiritual needs their society couldn’t handle had options that didn’t involve bottles of poison. One of the most interesting of them has had a remarkable if almost entirely unnoticed impact on occultism—not to mention on horror fiction of the sort Lovecraft wrote. I refer to one of the most innovative and misunderstood institutions of late 19th and early 20th century Anglo-American culture, the sex cult.

Middle-class English and American women of that age who wanted to have sex outside of marriage ran a serious risk that isn’t always remembered today. If their activities became public knowledge, they and their entire family faced drastic social consequences, and this made them easy targets for blackmail, with their erstwhile partners the most likely perpetrators of that crime. The sex cult was a brilliant response to that problem. A middle-class English or American man who had sex out of marriage faced no such social penalties, but being a known member of a deviant religious organization was quite another matter; the mere rumor of such a thing could put an end to a man’s chances for advancement in his career, and having documentary proof plopped on the desk of his employer would likely land him on the street with no chance of finding another job.

That’s what made sex cults so successful. If you joined a sex cult and broke its rules—and the rule never to divulge the identity of another member was always the most sacrosanct of all—you faced not merely social disaster but personal humiliation, no matter what your gender happened to be. That equalizing factor allowed men and women alike to enjoy themselves and one another in a state of perfect love and perfect trust, sheltered by the common threat of mutually assured social destruction.

None of this was particularly hard to discover. Back in the 1970s, when those of us who purchased occult books generally had to get them via mail order from companies with names like Ty-Rad and Mar-Lar, you could get any of several cheaply published books on starting your own occult circle, by which was meant your own magic-themed sex cult. I recall one by the transparently pseudonymous Yaj Nomolos (try reading each name backwards) that covered in detail how to set things up so that nobody could blackmail anyone else, by having each prospective member sign a paper acknowledging that he or she was joining a group that practiced occult rituals and black magic, or some similar verbiage. Dion Fortune, whom we’ll be discussing a bit later, also talks about sex cults at length in a number of her essays, and doesn’t treat them as anything out of the ordinary. Nor were they, in her time or later.

Until the aftermath of the 1960s rendered their business model obsolete, in fact, you could find sex cults in most British and American cities of any size. One of them still clung to existence in Seattle when I was first getting into the occult scene.  It had a storefront temple in the city and a big and well-secluded property out in the rural fringes of town; it defined itself as a church, and that doesn’t seem to have been purely a matter of the tax advantages. At least some of the members believed devoutly in the organization’s teachings, which focused on the spiritual benefits of sexual freedom, and got something—well, other than the obvious—out of membership, participation in ceremonies, and so on.

That sort of blending seems to have been extremely common in the sex-cult scene, for a reason familiar to those who know their way around the history of rejected knowledge in the western world. Far more often than not, people who embrace one thing rejected by their society—such as sexual promiscuity—tend to embrace other things that have the same status—such as alternative spirituality. The same logic of the fusion of the excluded that led countless occultists in the early 20th century to insist that Atlantis had to be a real place and Francis Bacon wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare encouraged even more people who liked casual sex to dabble in magic, Asian religions, and the like as well. This then helped guide the growth and development of the sex cult industry.

The Tantrik Society of America, founded in 1900 by Oom the Omnipotent aka Pierre Bernard, is a case in point. Bernard ran a chain of sex-cult franchises that at one point spanned the continent from San Francisco to New York City; he claimed to have learned Tantric mysteries from an adept named Sylvais Hamati, whom he supposedly met in Lincoln, Nebraska, and of whom (inevitably) no trace has ever surfaced. (He probably got his considerable knowledge of Hindu philosophy and yogic practice from the library of the Lincoln branch of the Theosophical Society, but claiming to have been initiated by a conveniently untraceable adept was pretty much de rigueur in the business in those days.) The Tantrik Society’s activities thus included classes in yoga and Eastern mysticism as well as the free love that was the order’s main selling point.

After the Second World War, in turn, the Tantrik Society faced the same problem that eventually did in the Seattle sex cult mentioned above: as most Americans got over their Puritan terror of sexuality, and women who had sex outside of marriage stopped being the focus of the frantic horror and loathing that generally arises out of unadmitted desire, people who wanted to have casual sex no longer needed a sex cult to protect them from social disaster. Bernard was a clever man, and retooled the organization, turning it into America’s first successful yoga school, and launching the careers of a good many of the first generation of American yoga teachers.

Other sex cults retooled themselves in different ways. The Ordo Templi Orientis is a good example. In its original European form it was a sex cult with unusually elaborate ceremonies, and more than the usual mix of occultism; in the English-speaking countries, where it was taken over by Aleister Crowley, it became yet another vehicle for the self-aggrandizing buffoonery of the Not-So-Great Beast, and so crashed and burned as inevitably as all his other projects did. In the 1960s, though, Grady McMurtry scooped up the wreckage, assembled it into a viable system of magical training and initiation, and found a market niche for it right at the beginning of the great occult boom of the late 20th century.

Then there’s the other sex cult I suspect most of my readers have been thinking about all along, the one that was started by a retired English businessman when he returned from the East Indies, and ended up going through a cascade of reinventions that turned it into the single most influential force in the occult boom just named. Yes, it’s time to talk about Wicca.

The thing that makes Wiccan history so fascinating is precisely the way that it’s refashioned itself so comprehensively over its lifespan. In its early years, when the word was still spelled Wica, it seems to have been a sex cult of the classic kind, with a little more occultism than usual, not to mention quite a bit of flogging. Gardner, like many Englishmen of his generation, liked to be flogged by unclothed women, and so a certain amount of genteel sadomasochism found its way into the ritual—I suspect that this played a very large role in giving BDSM its present popularity in America.

That was the form in which Wicca crossed the Atlantic. I’ve been told privately by people who were involved in early covens in the US that several of them advertised themselves in local swingers’-club newsletters, and I think it’s common knowledge these days that membership in an old-fashioned Wiccan coven includes, among other things, certain obligations to have sex with any of its members who request it, combined with the right to make the same request of any members you happen to fancy. (Some such rule was fairly common in sex cults, to keep interpersonal jealousies from becoming too much of an issue.) At the same time, there were always people whose interest in Wicca focused on the occult dimension rather than the sexual one, and that subset of the membership gradually became the majority as the late 20th century occult boom began to gather steam.

The 1970s saw the drawing together of a nexus of forces that would transform American Wicca from top to bottom. First and foremost was the ongoing implosion of Puritan sexual mores in most of America, which rendered the sexual aspect of Wicca far less of a draw than it had been in Gardner’s time. Then there was the rise and cultural impact of second wave feminism, with its radical redefinition of women’s roles and self-image, and the emergence of Goddess spirituality as a mythological and religious expression of the same broad shift. Finally there was the Pagan Way movement, which is almost forgotten these days, but played a major role in exploring the possibility of a Wicca-derived Pagan spirituality for the masses without reference to the sex-club aspect of the tradition.

Here in the US, those trends hit critical mass on a single day: October 31, 1979. That’s when Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was published in Boston and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was published in San Francisco. Both books proclaimed a wholly reinvented Wicca, which they’d turned into a feminist, liberating, Goddess-centered mass movement—and that’s what Wicca, and the broadly Wiccacentric Neopagan movement, promptly became. It was an inspired reworking in some ways, and it certainly turned what had been a phenomenon way out on the fringes into the kind of significant cultural presence that can support publishing houses, magazines, full-time participants, and the like. On the other hand, the jarring transition from sex cult to self-empowerment circle left most of the Neopagan movement burdened with a jumble of notions about the relationship between sex and occultism that have been a source of confusion ever since.

On the one hand, a great deal of the older magical literature from which the Neopagan movement derived its newly minted ancient traditions included ideas about sex that were considerably more old-fashioned than the new movement found comfortable. Dion Fortune, whom we’ll be discussing in quite some detail in the second half of this post, is an example. She was considerably less straitlaced than Mouni Sadhu, to be sure, but her attitude toward sex was about what you’d expect from a middle-class, churchgoing Englishwoman of the 1920s who didn’t marry until middle age, all of which she was. (Mind you, she worshipped Isis and an assortment of other Pagan deities alongside Christ, but that can of worms will be opened in a different post.)  On the other hand, another very large fraction of the older magical literature mined by the Neopagan movement came out of the sex cult industry in one way or another, and so did many of the basic ideas of the Wiccan traditions that formed the standard Neopagan template for a couple of decades after 1979.

All that history has to be kept in mind in order to ask a straightforward question: what do sex and occultism have to do with each other, and how does that compare with the various roles they’ve been made to play with regard to each other in pop culture, and what we may as well call pop occulture, in the recent past? If every magical journey begins with a passage between the two pillars of a gateway, as some traditions have it, the pillars in front of us feature Mrs. Grundy on the one side and the Great God Pan on the other. We’ll begin that journey next month.

126 comments:

Patricia Mathews said...

Oh, my! You have just thoroughly explained Robert Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, which reached amazing heights of popularity in its day, and has a very '50s vibe today, along with some appalling cutesy-poo dialog. And it becomes clear, running one's memory over every Heinlein non-juvenile novel (and shorter works) I've ever read, that he was quite familiar with and probably into, the very scene you just described above. (That he was a friend of Jack Parsons is a matter of public record.)And thank you very much for giving me the historical context I lacked up till now for that. (Not the 1890s prudery, also a matter of record. I knew about that.

You have also explained quite a bit about contemporary Wicca, which I've been in since 1990, and which in practice, locally, seems to waver between "Oh, we don't really mean THAT" and "let's keep the mundanes out of Beltane, please?"

Thanks again. Keep up the good work and blessed be.

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

Let me take a stab at one answer to the question: sex is an ethereal process but one so deeply entangled with the physical and astral planes — as evidenced in the ability for arousal to occur through either physical or imaginative stimulation — that it can serve as a channel between the three planes.

Ray Wharton said...

Funny, in middle school I had a teacher named Mrs. Grundy, who did not at all fit the image invoked in this post. She was a fire cracker, the best image I can give is that she once interrupted a three week section on classical mechanics to give a week of presentations on the topic of circumcision, because she had put together a large research project on the topic for the purpose of saving a new born relatives foreskin. I don't know the fate of that family dispute, but I remember that it was the first time that I can remember a full class, 8th graders keep in mind, having a candid and mindful discussion of genitals and the general topic of the role of sexuality in adult life. The amount of giggling was trivial, after about 10 minutes of amusement even the biggest clowns in class were far more interested in learning this most, technically speaking, occult of topics.

Interestingly I am fairly far on the sexually conservative side. Mostly being raised by parents who were, and are, happily married and both quite introverted. Basically I saw the traditional sexual norms of our culture in their best light, though of course the rather brutal ways that the traditional sexual norms are able to go off the rails into crazy town has not escaped my attention.

These two pillars you speak of, it reminds me of the general theme of tension between our instincts. Like the thermostat that needs two trigger points to maintain one range of temperature our instincts often exist in direct tension with one another. There are real and strong pulls toward the promiscuous which deserve respect very similarly to the pulls toward devotion and monogamous relationships. In practice it is a very lively tension, one which I don't perceive our culture as being rich in traditions that are satisfactorily resolving of the tension.

I must say that sexuality is a topic that has me personally very confused, all the more so because it seems that the culture generally is all kinds of confused. I might be a conservative complaining about the lack of sexual traditions in our culture and suspecting that that very lack of tradition has unfortunate side effects that out weigh the benefits of absolutely individuated freedom. Yet neither do I see what was thrown out in the 60's as being something which could or should have been maintained. Most issues on your blogs I have some generaly story or idea that gives me a sense of meaning or something worth chipping in; but with sex, I feel completely lost. Maybe that profound lostness is a driving force in our collective lived experience as much as it is in my own sparse dating life.

Hat off to you opening up a can of worms like sexuality, I hope these conversations can have the same honesty and curiosity that Mrs. Grundy's report on circumcision had.

Merle Langlois said...

This one is so interesting. It's a subject I really didn't know anything about. Granted, it's easy to sell sex, but when you add in magic, then I'm really hooked. The question at the end, what does sex really have to do with magic and the occult is one that really interests me.

I find the older I get the more unrealistic the whole idea of "free love" starts to sound. It seems to me to deny the differences between most men and most women. Back when I was in my high school days and in my early twenties I didn't really understand that women might start developing feelings for a guy against their will if they starting sleeping with him. I thought everyone could just "have fun." It seems to a degree that these sex cults were based on the same idea of sex detached from bonding and caring for one another. Or at least not caring for your temporary partner as much as you'd care for a real long term partner. It might be nice to just get off, but to keep jealousy and clinginess out of the equation must have required some serious magic, if it was even possible at all.

Before reliable contraception came about, I can even understand the whole concept of not having sex out of wedlock.

I've dabbled in magic here and their and been meditating for almost one year now, but I've never worked magic into sex before and I wouldn't even know what that could accomplish or where to start.

Steve Thomas said...

Cthulhu seems to be everywhere lately. I was struck with a desire to reread most of Lovecraft's work over the last year, and while doing so I happened upon an interview with an author named Scott Jones, who has written a book entitled "When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R'lyehian Spirituality." It seems the Old Ones are stirring...

Also on the topic of Lovecraft, I have sometimes imagined a nearish future in which the Cthulhu-cult is the basis of the Second Religiosity that Spengler talks about. One aspect of it that I think is actually-sort-of plausible-ish is that Crowley's New Aeon and the Age of Aquarius and all the other New Age millennarian prophecies turn out to be fulfilled by the "Water-Bearer" Cthulhu himself, rising (along with the sea levels themselves) from the deep.

...I just spent a couple of minutes trying to think of a response to the main body of your post so that this comment isn't too off topic but I'm afraid I can't think of much. Getting into occultism I found early on that much of the literature treats magical and sexual "energy" as basically the same thing, which I found confusing. The history is quite interesting. Having been born in 1983 the existence or the need for sex cults is pretty much otherworldly to me. On the other hand I notice the sort of embarrassment with which contemporary culture treats virginity, and I wonder if the same process may happen in reverse! I can imagine a latter-day Arthur Machen shocking certain segments of American society with his hideous tale of The Great God Chris (or the Great Virgin Mary), in which a young person is lured by strange priests and ancient rites into forgoing easy sex, despite its ready available


John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, you're welcome and thank you! For what it's worth, I find the actual historical context out of which Wicca emerged far more colorful and inspiring than those weary stories of endless marching lines of cloned third degree grannies being churned out by some granny factory in the New Forest.

James, that's one answer -- but it's only one answer, and this is a divergent question, not a convergent one. Stay tuned...

Ray, our culture is profoundly confused about sexuality, no question -- flailing back and forth between the extremes of Puritan body hatred and reflexive omnisexuality without ever paying attention to the rich diversity of options in between. I also tend to conservative tastes, but that's in terms of my own activities; I've always felt that what other people do in the privacy of their own beds is their own business, not mine. Until our culture works its way to some kind of sanity on the subject, that may be the best option available.

Merle, and then there are men who reliably fall in love with their sex partners, and women who just like to have a good time. It really is a complex situation, and one that needs much more tolerance for human diversity than anybody's dogma seems to be ready to reflect. As for the interface between sex and magic, stay tuned...

Steve, I've noticed the stirring of the Great Old Ones -- in fact this new novel of mine really wasn't something I planned on writing; it just more or less came crashing through into my imagination, and would not let go until I typed it out. No doubt a circle of chanting cultists under the personal direction of Nyarlathotep were projecting it at me. ;-) With regard to the future horror of virginity, you may well be right; the flipflop that turned the erect penis from an emblem of divine blessings to an image of mortal sin over not that many centuries in the ancient world could well flip the other way in the centuries ahead.

changeling said...

The Great Old Ones are stirring! A dark patch near the south pole of Pluto is being unofficially referred to as Cthulhu. I wonder if the 11,000-foot-high mountains of ice found there could be named Mountains of Madness? ;->

Re: Mebes - story of K. is only in Mouni Sadhu book. The explanation of (astral) insanity that precede this anecdote is copied verbatim.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
Divergent indeed: sort of reminds me of the joke circulated with a certain glee by my contemporaries, mid-teens at school – male only – in 1950s England. The one about the psychiatrist interviewing a chap, and the chap starts by telling the man that pencils remind him of sex. The joke goes on like that for a bit until the chap is able to reveal that everything reminds him of sex.

A serious point it seems to me nevertheless could be more likely the commoditisation of everything and monetisation. From the evidence it was more than a bit like that in Pompeii. Free love it seems always needed enough money. Have we heard enough of the joke about the free market and ‘free-for-all’? The story of our times; except that in the latest version it’s a smart-phone gives the illusion of free logistics and a personalised transaction.

I like your coining “pop occulture”: a kind of pop magic? Rub the hidden right place and “Hey Presto!”

best
Phil H

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - and more believable, too! I've antagonized some members of our community in the past by getting up set over the bad scholarship in our just-so tales. For a sfnal look at such a reversal, Philip Jose Farmer's novel FLESH, in which time-lagged astronauts with a very 50s outlook return to an ecotechnic sex-centered Earth, or at least America, with none the pastel niceness of some later attempts at such. Serious spaceboy freakouts ensue.

Meanwhile, back at Beltane, we filter our guests very carefully because we've had too many party crashers who saw it as a big frat party in the woods. Get drunk, get high, get laid, make noise ..."They don;'t understand that this is a sacred ritual", and "No Means No" is right up there with "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals" in our ethics (a good thing, if you ask me), and the clothing-optional areas are kept separated not only from the view of the road, but from our own children, lest their innocent little eyes be traumatized by the sight of what can be seen on the internet by anyone with the wit and the urge to look.

And a Greek vase painting of the sort seen only by mature qualified male professional scholors a hundred years ago is all over the blogosphere to illustrate what's happening to the Greek economy today.

Looking forward to the Chthulu novel - just a critter wanting his dinner, isn't he?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Very amusing. Was you usage of the term "general thrust" meant to be a pun or an unintended by blow (the silliness continues unabated!)?

I don't get the general hang ups with sex, and why certain traditions would consider it to be evil - when it seems to me to be a perfectly natural experience - is well beyond me? But then I don't fear nature.

The brutal and rigid expectations continue even today. Try being a straight white male in a long term committed relationship and have to fight off the everyday expectations of other people as to why we could possibly not want to reproduce. And then be viewed as a threat because of that difference to everyone: the males, the females and the children. The things I have been accused of because of that is grossly unfair, but it is always quite telling about the person making the accusation. Sometimes it really annoys me, but most of the time it is like water off a ducks back as I have had so many years of exposure to that general silliness.

I'll tell you a funny story about the sort of pressure I can sometimes be faced with. Years ago, I used to lie to people and say that children just didn't happen for us and it was all unfortunate and stuff and I tried to distract people with sympathy, until people genuinely started offering their individual services to assist with this matter! I can't make this stuff up, so now I simply tell them the truth and let the cards fall where they may. The truth has a certain power in it to dispel some forms of unpleasantness. And then people are all too happy to unload on me about how hard it all is. You can't win that fight.

The Sex Cult sounds to me like Fight Club: The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club. Honestly, it all sounds very much like some sort indoctrination or initiation test - or even a rule of engagement? Dunno.

Thanks for the history as it is always interesting to know where movements arose as it can tell a person much about the general attitudes in society to such movements. I didn't know any of that history. As an interesting side note, many years ago I do recall a spate of English parliamentarians found dead in difficult to explain and oddly sexual circumstances. It all seemed a bit odd to me at the time.

Casting my mind back to over two decades ago I recall that the personality of my first girl friend resembled way too closely to that of my mothers personality. My only advice to those in that situation is: Run for your life! Hehe! However, I do have a curious mind and am interested in other people and I recall from those days that the purported sexual histories of my partners consistently made for sad tales. People have such strange hang ups about things that we were born with like sex and magic. I've often felt that such hangs up are fomented in people because it causes them to suffer from pangs of guilt and they become withdrawn and inwardly focused rather than critically looking outwards and around them at the world that they do live in. Dunno.

Cheers

Chris

blackwingsblackheart said...

Nice overview, if necessarily brief. I read Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon" when it first came out, and though it was jarring at the time to let go of the myth of Wicca, the reality is indeed far more interesting, and full of wonderfully eccentric personalities. I'm surprised more people don't understand the roots of the tradition, but then, I have the research gene and can't imagine NOT studying everything I can find in print on a subject, especially something as important as religion.

Speaking as you were of sex, several months ago a BNP wrote a similar if less erudite blog post, in which he reminded us younguns that before Starhawk and social justice Wicca and ecological Wicca, the tradition was spread in the US by 1960s "hedonists" (his term). My reaction was, "Thank Goddess Wicca did evolve away from this, or I'd be a Buddhist now!" Every year, I have to sit down and try to figure out what an asexual does for Beltaine (not a lot this year, as I was having a bad allergy/asthma day, but I think next year will be celebrating the nature spirits). So, I for one will be reading further posts on sex magic with purely academic interest, but interest nonetheless.

Dammerung said...

I don't really have a dog in the sex magick fight - gods, who has the kind of spare time for that sort of thing? - but I was previously unfamiliar with The White People and I'm reading it right now with a sense of something most delicious.

That was always the trouble with those old rogues, the moralists. They called themselves sinners but could never seem to bring themselves to actually sin, and thus they became hypocrites, who are far more detestable creatures.

Oh well. The theosophists say we've only got to wait so long as death and then we can all find ourselves separated into our respective tribes, and live lives of intention rather than necessity.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Wonderful post. I'm passing it on to a Gardnerian witch of my acquaintance who is a Lovecraft fan and student of Wican history.

In your penultimate and antepenultimate paragraphs, you seem to imply that you have three hands. Although that wouldn't totally surprise me, it's distracting.

Turmarion said...

In the days of my naive youth, I always used to wonder why so much space in books of New Age thought, pagan religion, and even many presentations of Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, was devoted to ranting about the oppressiveness of "traditional" Western sexual morality, insisting how human flourishing required what we'd now call a "sex-positive" attitude, and so on and so on. I was reading to find out esoteric truths--not for The Joy of Sex! I used to say that I thought about 75% of the motives of your average dilettante alternate-religion people was that they wanted to get laid!

In a more serious vein, this is a fascinating essay, and I look forward to part two. It really points at some insights as to the connection between sex and magic/alternative spirituality. I think that Aldous Huxley--no conservative--somewhere said that sex isn't just something you do, but a deep and sometimes dark, dangerous, and terrifying force. I'm pretty standard issue--monogamous, married, with a kid--myself, and libertarian towards others--whatever floats your boat as long as everyone's an adult and it's all consensual. I do think, though, that a lot of people don't realize Huxley's insight. You can say that traditional mores have been stifling and life-denying in many cases and at the same time realize that sex is a hugely powerful force and that many taboos were there for a reason. That's why I dislike the term "sex positive". It's too fluffy bunny, pink rainbow pony for me. Like I said, whatever floats your boat; but philosophically I'd say I'm "sex-neutral". It's not evil evilness, but it's not happy clappy utopia, either.

Pantagruel7 said...

Perhaps this is too off-topic, so feel free to just delete it. This topic takes me back to my reading interests in the 70s which included Crowley, Waite, Gershom Scholen and others. I got into a lot of that stuff from reading Henry Miller and Malcolm Lowry. A book I remember looking high and low for was Machen's "The Great God Pan". I never did find a copy and then my interests/career took me off in more wordly directions. On your recommendation I've been reading "Star's Reach" and I'm over half way through. I'm enjoying it and I caught the allusions to "Dune" which I read back in the day but it was never a favorite of mine. But your book reminds me in places of the book that was my all-time Sci Fi favorite by a long shot; "Dhalgren." The sexual triangle in that book was admittedly a little too much for me, but Lanya seems a bit like Eleen among other things that I'll keep quiet about. Many if not most Sci Fi fans can't stomach it. Another highly obscure novel, obcsure for American readers at least, is Butor's "Passing Time." It gets a place of honor in my library.

Old Guy said...

Probably this is the best opportunity to comment on this subject.

Regarding the Fays "Relation to Human Reproduction" section on your Monsters book (page 97 of the second edition), commenting on breeding, compatibility may be a problem or not, something like grafting might work, who knows how those things work? But I think it's possible some fays just want, eh, to have fun.

Also from the same book, reading how vampires work, I thought martial artists practicing ki strengthening are excellent candidates for vampirism - be it accidental or intentional.

Steve Thomas said...

I wonder if the virginity cults might be closer than you think. I remember that when I was much younger I felt a great deal of shame that, though not a virgin, I perceived myself as having had fewer partners than the median among my peers...

Actually, it was during this period that I learned a fair bit about practical thaumaturgy. I discovered that if I pretended I was already a kind of Casanova-figure, people responded to me as though I were. I also discovered how to use seduction spells, all of which were written previously by figures like John Keats, Ezra Pound and Federico Lorca. I don't report any of this now with any kind of pride-- I was living the life of a psychic vampire, and have had to do a great deal of work to overcome this.

Thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if psychic vampires thrive in the sex magic scene, and I also wonder if the emphasis on chastity in the Abrahammic religions isn't a partly-conscious recognition of this fact. (I'm also remembering your speculation in Monsters that cremation as a funerary custom may have arisen as a reaction to the cult of the dead in Egypt and other civilizations of that time.) Of course, the reaction goes too far in the other direction and becomes a different form of oppression... as usual.

And on a completely random note, I was just listening to your interview on the "Liminality" podcast. You mentioned that, as a society, we're "terrified of the world inside our heads" (or something to that effect. You've mentioned in some of your writings the noophobia that goes along with our biophobia. When I first heard the term I thought of the attempts by materialist thinkers to deny or downplay as far as possible the role of consciousness. But I just realized, hearing that, that it extends far beyond that. Ordinary people regardless of their philosophical inclination these days spend a great deal of their time looking at one screen or another, the result of which is to completely silence the voice of their own minds. And then even when one gets to the the sort of people who consider themselves above materialism and consumerism, you basically find the same thing. I'm talking about the growing popularity of meditation techniques designed to teach the practitioner to ignore thought or stop it altogether.

...Actually that also weaves back into this topic. The terror of sex is a manifestation of our culture's general biophobia. And this is present even in the sexual imagery that is everywhere these days-- it's all airbrushed, hairless bodies moving together without all the smells and the squishy sounds and the other Cthulhu-qualities that real sex involves. (And doesn't this make TV/advertising sex a form of thaumaturgy, since it's not at all the real thing, but an image designed to arouse the life-force in the viewer and direct it toward a particular target?)

...And having finally circled back to Lovecraft, it is quite interesting that all this stirring in R'Lyeh is going on the year the space probe finally arrived at Yuggoth, isn't it? I know you prefer medieval and Renaissance astrology to modern archetypal stuff, but I think it's interesting to note the way that people like Richard Tarnas interpret Pluto as representing the life force at its most raw and animalistic. How different are the images Cthulhu and company from the human-animal composite figures in paleolithic cave paintings?

Odin's Raven said...

I don't know how plausible it is, but I've come across the claim that Lovecraft was parodying Blavatsky and Theosophy.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Machen reprinted "The White People" in 1922 in a volume of his short stories called _The House of Souls_. His introduction to that volume includes the following comment on his story:

"As to the decoration of the story, that is a mingling which I venture to think somewhat ingenious of odds and ends of folk lore and witch lore with pure inventions of my own. Some years later I was amused to receive a letter from a gentleman who was, if I remember, a schoolmaster somewhere in Malaya. This gentleman, an earnest student of folklore, was writing an article on some singular things he had observed amongst the Malayans, and chiefly a kind of were-wolf state into which some of them were able to conjure themselves. He had found, as he said, startling resemblances between the magic ritual of Malaya and some of the ceremonies and practices hinted at in "The White People." He presumed that all this was not fancy but fact; that is that I was describing practices actually in use among superstitious people on the Welsh border; he was going to quote from me in the article for the Journal of the Folk Lore Society, or whatever it was called, and he just wanted to let me know. I wrote in a hurry to the folklore journal to bid them beware: for the instances selected by the student were all fictions of my own brain!"

Ever since I read this, I have wondered whether Machen's correspondent in Malaya was Gerald B Gardner, or possibly one of his like-minded friends there. Machen's story may have directly inspired Gardner as he came to create Wic[c]a.

wildcucumber said...

Fascinating, Archdruid, how our perspectives differ here. The Starhawk days, in your words "a feminist, liberating, Goddess-centered mass movement .. an inspired reworking in some ways, and it certainly turned what had been a phenomenon way out on the fringes into the kind of significant cultural presence that can support publishing houses, magazines, full-time participants, and the like." I suppose all of that is true.

Yet as I remember those days, they were also a breath of fresh air for those of us who felt the feminine aspect - not feminist - in the Divine. Perhaps not only a reworking, but an evolution? Never have been an initiate of anything, I hold no particular allegiance here, still I believe Starhawk's writing deserves a place of recognition in the area of spiritual ecology. While "the movement" became an economic and political entity, many of us just got on with the business of living by the ideals we set for ourselves way back then. And it served us well.

John Michael Greer said...

Changeling, well, what do you expect when we send a space probe to Yuggoth? I wonder what will happen when New Horizons nears the Ghooric Zone. Many thanks for the tip on Sudowski and Mebes; it did kind of read like Mouni Sadhu's usual prose style.

Phil, maybe too many things remind me of pencils, but "rub the right place" seems a bit much... ;-)

Patricia, oh, granted. I wonder how many people have actually thought through the implications of the Robert Graves fantasy-matriarchies in which the best and brightest of the young men in each community was sacrificed to the Goddess every single year. I once wrote a short story about that from the perspective of an unsacrificed young man, who thinks through the ways that this process keeps men terrorized and obedient, under the absolute control of the Grandmothers; he ends up running off to join the Indo-Europeans. I never published it, knowing what kind of response it would get.

As for Cthulhu, nah, it's much more complex than that. He's dead but dreaming, as the saying goes, thus not in a position to go hunting for any kind of dinner -- and who benefits from spreading all those claims about his evilly evil evilness? Inquiring Miskatonic grad students want to know...

Cherokee, I gather that that's a British as well as an Australian thing; Sara and I have never gotten that here in the states, even from people who don't know about the one child we had and lost. It seems appalling to me -- the world has too many human beings on it already, and anyone who chooses not to add to the excess ought to be thanked, not bullied!

Blackwings, I don't celebrate Beltane at all -- the old Druid Revival festivals are the solstices and equinoxes only -- but if I did, I wouldn't be out there doing the Fair To Middling Rite. There are plenty of ways to celebrate spring that have nothing to do with human genitalia, after all. More on this as we proceed!

Dammerung, it is delicious, isn't it? One of the things I find most striking about Machen is that when he draws his distinction between sorcery and sanctity, he somehow always makes sorcery sound more appealing. Rather like Milton, really, whose Jesus is a remarkably repellent figure and whose Satan is one of the great dramatic heroes of English literature.

Unknown Deborah, nah, two hands and some spare tentacles... ;-)

Turmarion, that's very true. The effort to turn sex into casual recreation, to my mind, is as much an attempt to suppress its power and potency as the effort to stifle it completely.

Pantagruel, I've never read Dhalgren -- I should probably remedy that one of these days. Back when I was reading lots of SF, Delaney was not one of my faves.

Old Guy, oh, no doubt. Please remember that Monsters is far and away my most speculative book, and it's also got a satiric dimension that, as far as I know, nobody seems to have noticed!

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, excellent! There's a great deal to be said about all the points you bring up, though it'll be a while before we get to some of them. Yes, yes, and yes -- and particularly the intersection of biophobia and sex. I've been told that a very large fraction of young American men these days are utterly repulsed by the thought of female pubic hair -- it may just be that they're more used to partners who have to be inflated, but I suspect rather more of it is a terror of the animal reality of the human body, the smells and squishy sounds and liquids of various kinds.

Raven, it's not merely plausible, it's provable. Lovecraft mentions Blavatsky's Stanzas of Dzyan in his stories, and cites the Theosophists in the second paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu":

"Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism."

Lovecraft was a hardcore materialist atheist, and a great deal of his writing can be seen as a sly, satiric polemic against the occultism and magical spirituality of his time, taking the worldview of those movements and replacing the gods and the secret teachings of wisdom with tentacled horrors and evil cults thirsting for human blood. That's one of the things that inspired me to flip his stories around the other way. What's sauce for the shoggoth is sauce for the shantak-bird...

Robert, that's entirely plausible -- and utterly delicious.

Wildcucumber, when you say "evolution," I gather you don't mean "adaptation to changing conditions," which is after all what the word means. Did you think that I meant to condemn Wicca, or the Wiccacentric Neopaganism that followed in its wake, by describing it as a reworking of an older tradition? Not at all; it never did much for me, but I know it met the needs of a lot of people at that time, and for some decades thereafter.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thank you, as it is a form of bullying and again you have my sympathies for your loss. I feel for you mate.

I hope the next bit is not too far off topic and this may give you a chuckle too: So I was pondering the issues that you raised in the blog this morning - whilst I was cleaning out the chicken pen. It has been very busy here so perhaps that was a quiet moment for quality reflection? Who knows, insight strikes me at unusual hours! ;-)! Anyway, I've spoken with you about this issue before but my insight extended the concept just a little bit further. When I was a wee young lad, if you wanted to obtain some porn you had to visit a disreputable establishment which went under the name here of: "Adult book shop". The name says it all as it was a shop which was full of books for adults. Nuff said really. It was quite the dodgy experience for the wide eyed teenager.

Moving back into the present and at the risk of sounding like my granddad, I now find porn to be quite repulsive if only because it reflects the malaise eating away at the core of our civilisation: People have somehow grasped and are also hanging onto with a grip that is appalling to behold, a meme that relationships (as well as many other social arrangements) are viewed as: All benefits and no cost.

It is really quite disturbing for me to observe as I'm observing this meme trotted out time and time again across so many different areas of existence. That meme is now well past its due date and needs a very solid wooden stake right through the heart.

That meme not only impacts social relationships, but it also impacts magic. I am mildly in awe of just how much work and time is involved in that particular tool. Also if Beli or even the mildly depressive Hu makes the time and effort to drop by Cherokee to see how things are progressing then it would be totally remiss of me not to respect that effort on their part.

You were so correct when you wrote that there is no such thing as a free lunch – although so many people are looking forward to one. And it also sort of explains why Fatso the wombat is so grumpy too – I caught him in the not yet closed off blackberry enclosure last night. Him big!

Onto the ADR for this week.

Cheers

Chris

Patricia Mathews said...

@ JMG. Write that story! The time is ripe for it now. Note how often the villain of a movie or TV series is a powerful older woman of ruthless vanity. Or is that trend fading?

sunbindsblackstone said...

Archdruid Greer:

"If every magical journey begins with a passage between the two pillars of a gateway, as some traditions have it, the pillars in front of us feature Mrs. Grundy on the one side and the Great God Pan on the other."

I study Gurdjieff's WWI-era teachings as a so-called rogue without ties to any "sanctioned" groups. My dirty and falling-apart-tattered copy of Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous serves as my merit badge.

Anyway...

In that book (ISotM), Ouspensky quoted Gurdjieff as teaching that only sexually normal people have much of a chance in the work of earning self-knowledge and stable liberation from bad education. I find it interesting that Gurdjieff--also in In Search of the Miraculous --called both sexual excess and perversion relatively innocent abuses of sex. I of course paraphrase both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff to avoid riding the tiger of fair use rules.

While I disagree with some of Gurdjieff's published opinions about sexual norms, I do agree with his suggestion that a true abuse of sex--think sexual obsession and its compulsive expression, not simply excess or odd tastes--can really screw up one's esoteric and everyday workings in an unsettlingly vampiric way.

Do you think that some prospective students of occult or esoteric traditions can avoid dealing with inheld and/or foreign sexual vampires--literal or figurative--right from the get-go by finding grayish ways to travel through the gate terminated by the dueling sexual obsessions of Mrs. Grundy and Pan?

Could a golden mean of sex likewise serve as a remedy for some relatively advanced students' sexual bug-a-boos?

A mentor (only by media) of mine once called Mr. Crowley about as free as a death-row inmate...

Vale!

Yucca Glauca said...

Any good sources you can recommend on the history of sex cults? Especially regarding Wicca--it's been a couple years since I read Triumph of the Moon, but I don't remember it mentioning anything that sounded like a sex cult. I haven't seen that in anything else I've read either, and I'm always interested in learning more about the history of Neopaganism.

Bill Pulliam said...

Patricia -- "Get drunk, get high, get laid, make noise"... um, that's a pretty good description of some of the best and most powerful beltane ceremonies I have been priviledged to be involved in...

JMG -- If no one is noticing the satiric side to "Monsters" they must not have spent much time in the company of other "Field Guide to..." books (or real amateur paranormal investigators either). You could have included schematic diagrams with little black lines highlighting the field marks, but then the Peterson people would have hauled your hairy behind into court. I could contribiute an addendum on "How to hatch a dragon in your own farm pond" for the next edition if you like...

And speaking of hairy behinds, it is not just a terror of female pubic hair among young men. All these young men are depilitating themselves, too, from stem to stern. Even small town redneck boys shave their chests now. Next time you encountar a gaggle of shirtless dudes in a parking lot or around a boat somewhere, see if you can spot even one single chest hair. The media have convinced them that they will never get laid unless their "junk" looks like rubber balloons gone half-flat attached to the shiny torso of a department store mannikin.

And re: interchange between JMG & wildcucumber, as for reworkings of older traditions, what existing religion does not fit this description? Purt' near every aspect of society is a reworking of older traditions. Most make little sense without this context. That's why we have Archdruids, to remind us of this.

I had a friend who called himself a Welsh wizard, born in the 40s in small-town Wales and raised with a mashup of Crowley and Welsh folk traditions. When he encountered the standard Wiccan "ancient-origin" myth he always said, "Hell, *I* am older than Wicca."

Tidlösa said...

This may be off topic, but I always assumed that "Monsters" has a, shall we say, self-ironic dimension... ;-)

onething said...

PART ONE
Hmm, well, first of all, I am a bit gobsmacked about these sex cults. I had no idea they existed at all, or that it was a previous iteration of Wicca.
Now, the questions. The pillars. At first, I thought of Mrs. Grundy and The Great God Pan as perhaps opposites, as my understanding of Pan [born of a wood nymph, benevolent god of nature, musical, with a reputation for lust] comes largely from Alvin Boyd Kuhn's Shadow of the 3rd Century:

“When the cry arose that with the coming of Christianity “Great Pan is dead,” there was no voice to answer: Yes, woe is the world! Great Pan is dead and twenty centuries will rue his passing. When the Emperor Julian is reported to have said...”the Galilean has conquered,” there was no voice to shout back: Yes; too true! And now the world will reap the harvest of a mental infatuation that will blight the sanity of nations for sixteen centuries!”

...yes, great Pan, alas, was dead. He had been suffered to languish and die through the failure of human understanding and balanced wisdom. The instinctive human faith that nature administers the laws of beneficence with which it is man's duty to harmonize his life in a beautiful accord, was destroyed by the gradual recession of esoteric interest and dimming of esoteric insight, preparing the ground for the implanting of the idea of a personal savior. Pan was dead; and there died with him the priceless knowledge of the necessity of man's coordination of his life with that of nature. Pan was dead; and no longer would the Mediterranean civilization stand with its feet on solid reality. Pan was dead; and the mind of Western humanity was laid open to the sweep of every wild mystical and emotional excess that can overflood it when it defenses of critical judgment based ultimately on natural law are toppled by irrational tempests. Pan was slain; and buried with him for dreary ages lay the ancient science of nature symbolism...Gone was Pan; and gone with him the master knowledge that all perfection can be won only through the intermarriage of the two elements of man's constitution within him, the spiritual and the natural. And flown with him, too, was the knowledge that nature is the mirror of all truth...Gone with the sylvan deity was the one anchorage provided by Omniscience by which alone man can tie his life and his mind to the level of balance between the two worlds of subjectivity and objectivity, on the sharp boundary between which his evolution must proceed. ..

And gone with great Pan also was that intelligent conception of the nature and function of matter … in an intellectual poise that immeasurably sweetened the daily tasks of life for the creature man. The history of the despoliation of human sanity and happiness by the persistent vogue of the doctrine of the essentially evil nature of matter in religious conception is yet to be adequately written...Had great Pan not been dethroned and outcast, never could that plague of idiotic delusion about the sinful nature of the human body and its procreative powers, which fell like a blighting shadow...Yes, great Pan was dead; and human delight was dead with it.”

onething said...

PART TWO
However – looking up the 'horror novel' The Great God Pan, I see that we are speaking of his caricature here and that he and Mrs Grundy are a suitable pair after all. It seems it would be helpful, to pass through the pillars with good understanding, to see the contrast between the ideal version and the caricatured version of the great god, Pan. Also, it's a very interesting meditation, to trace out the overt and manifesting results of what might look like fairly obscure beliefs.

What do sex and the occult have to do with each other? Was it necessary to suppress one in order to suppress the other? I think it is correct to speak in terms of basic life force energies, like kundalini or chi. The energy is like spirit that becomes 'ensouled' as it inhabits different parts of the body-self, including the crown chakra. If there are various little imps in the jar, you gotta keep a tight lid on the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the suppression of sexuality involved a much greater suppression of women's sexuality, and oddly enough (!) they had pretty much any spiritual role removed from them at the same time. Hmm.

Interesting that Jehovah in the OT compares himself to a husband with an adulterous wife when the people worshiped other gods. I am supposing that some polytheists will draw the conclusion that monotheism goes hand in hand with sexual repression, but I don't think that is necessarily so. A monotheist God could be a divine, birth-giving creatrix of nature. Also, while the rejection of the body was worse in western Christendom, it seems to me that around the world a similar event was taking place. The roles of goddesses were being demoted, priestesses were no more and patriarchal attitudes were ascendant. It may even have affected hunter-gatherers. There are times and tides to human affairs that are a mystery.

What if the goal of the suppression of women was not primarily about sexuality but about something else? I've thought about where modern feminism has gone wrong and it seems to me that there is a deep psychic wound that was addressed by the idea that women could be just like men. And we have been told that if only not for men, women would have invented just as many things as they have, which I have slowly come to believe is not true.
Instead of revering women in the time honored way, feminism further denigrated motherhood. It seemed to make sense as motherhood had become oppressive with excess childbearing and men seemed to get all the glory. (One of the church fathers said that women ought to blush when they thought on the fact that they were women.) We were told to get a job and bottle fed our babies in daycare, that there were no home fires worth tending. Yet motherhood is still the role that most women want and cherish the most. And, once upon a time it was this basic fact that caused women to be reverenced. So, we have a man on the cross sacrificing himself in pain for the sake of the human race. Out of his side comes blood and water. Hmm. Women do those things when they give birth, sometimes unto death.

As to sexuality, the author of the Great Cosmic Mother argues, perhaps tentatively, that the female human is the most sexually evolved creature, with pleasure centers in the brain closely allied to the frontal cortex and a more integrated corpus collosum, leading to at least the possibility of great ecstatic experience that would include the whole person, body and spirit. And this would be a great awakening. Whether or not this is so any more than it is for men, I still think a case can be made that what was really going on is a usurpation of womens' natural spiritual role, awakening to themselves, both sexually and spiritually. Therefore nature and life and female sexuality were all denigrated.
(I think a more psychically sound trinity would be God the Mother, Son and Holy Spirit.)

BoysMom said...

For those not familiar with the supernatural aspects of Christian belief, many of us believe that there is a supernatural aspect to the sex act, hence the permanency and exclusivity of marriage, as while legal and physical bonds are relatively easy to break, the supernatural bond endures. Adultery (the act of creating such a bond with another person) has always been acknowledged as a way of breaking the first bond. Thus also the requirement for consummation for the marriage to be valid. This supernatural or spiritual relationship between husband and wife is akin to that between Christ and the Church (here used in the New Testament sense of all followers of Christ).

Yes, Christians are weirder than you thought. (Possibly much weirder. We just don't talk about it in company.)

(I have gotten the impression over the last several months that there are a few here who have at most the First Grade Sunday School level of awareness of what Christians believe and who might appreciate some insight into more mature beliefs. If I have overstepped, please pardon me and ignore my comment.)

SLClaire said...

This helps to explain a lot about Wicca and many of the occult groups that I read about in your New Encyclopedia of the Occult, as well as why I chose to practice Druidry rather than Wicca.

Regarding your new book, will I need to have read any Lovecraft to understand it? I've never read anything by Lovecraft, nor had I heard of this Cthulhu character before reading your blogs.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee and all, glad to hear Fatso is getting his lunches, even if they're not free. As for all benefit and no cost, oh bright gods, yes -- the bizarre sense of entitlement that convinces so many people that of course they can reasonably expect to get whatever they want, and that if their actions bring them any unwelcome consequences at all, life is so unfair, blah blah blah, whine whine whine. I'm about to the point of favoring a return to public flogging -- though I suppose these days, too many people would get off on that.

Patricia, I haven't the least idea -- I haven't watched television since the late 1970s and take in about one movie a decade. As for the story, I wrote it in the late 1980s -- not sure if I still have it, but I recall it clearly enough. The question is whether anyone would get the point, now that the Robert Graves version of the ancient matriarchal utopia has been either given a decent burial or sugarcoated into oblivion. The story was titled "The Horsemen," btw, and it was self-consciously modeled on all those 1980s fantasy novels where a young woman breaks free from an oppressively patriarchal society -- just with the gender signs reversed.

Sunbindsblackstone, I suspect it makes a lot of difference exactly what kind of esoteric work you're doing -- there are huge differences, of course, among traditions, practices, etc. I'd presume that Gurdjieff and Ouspensky knew what they were talking about when it came to the Fourth Way, but there are other practices for which celibacy is a nonnegotiable requirement, for example. Certainly any kind of major unresolved psychoemotional distortion is going to be a problem in any form of occultism, but then it's going to be just as much of a problem in any other field of life!

Yucca, other than a couple of good recent books on Oom the Omnipotent, I don't know of any. I've picked up what I know from a great many scraps and fragments of data gathered over the years.

Bill, glad to hear that somebody was paying attention! As for the depilation, ick. Maybe it's just that I grew up in the wake of the Sixties and so have a bias in favor of hair per se, but that sort of thing seems way too much like pedophilia for my tastes.

Tidlösa, glad to hear that somebody else was paying attention!

Onething, Alvin Boyd Kuhn! I'm impressed -- not a writer who gets much air time these days. As for trinities, God the Mother, God the Father, and God the Spirit seems more balanced to me, but to each their own.

BoysMom, did you get that from C.S. Lewis? You're quite correct, of course, that the business about a supernatural link formed by sexuality is part of traditional Christian teachings, but I've met very few Christians who are aware of that -- with Lewis and those who read him being among the few exceptions. Next month, we'll be talking about a related concept in occult philosophy.

SLClaire, no, you'll miss some of the jokes -- I wove a lot of references to Lovecraft stories, as well as related tales by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Howard, and Arthur Machen, among others, into the tale -- but it should be self-explanatory as it stands. If you want the fast introduction to Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and the entire genre, though, you should be able to get through The Call of Cthulhu in about fifteen minutes, or the Dr. Seuss version in less than that.

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

SLClaire,

You can read most of Lovecraft's stories for free at Wikisource: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Howard_Phillips_Lovecraft

That page collects the works that are either definitely or very probably (see the notes at the bottom of the page) in the public domain, and that includes all the really core stuff you need to understand the Cthulhu mythos. "The Call of Cthulhu" is the traditional place to get started.

Fabian said...

Dagonbytes has a complete collection of Lovecraft's published writings and lots of other classic horror as well.

Clark Ashton Smith's works, including his short stories, poetry and artwork can be found here. Most works by Robert Howard or Arthur Machen can be found at Project Gutenberg or here. I am a huge fan of classic pulp fantasy and science fiction.

John Michael Greer said...

James and Fabian, I tend to recommend Donovan Loucks' excellent H.P. Lovecraft Archive site, which includes all Lovecraft's stories as well as his poetry and essays. Fabian, The Eldritch Dark is indeed the go-to place for Clark Ashton Smith -- again, poetry and essays as well as stories, and since both men considered themselves poets first and fiction authors second, the poetry's important. I'm also a fan of the classic pulps -- they played a large and disreputable role in warping my youthful imagination, after all!

sunbindsblackstone said...

Archdruid Greer:

"Sunbindsblackstone, I suspect it makes a lot of difference exactly what kind of esoteric work you're doing -- there are huge differences, of course, among traditions, practices, etc... but there are other practices for which celibacy is a nonnegotiable requirement, for example."

I can think of several operations that call for circumstantial celibacy and some traditions that mandate general celibacy.

Do you know of any operations or/and traditions that mandate a discipline of sexual excess for purposes other than antinomianism, hedonism, or fruitful multiplication?

MP said...

JMG - The use of sex cults is certainly still alive today, but has transformed into the "tantric sex" scene in the US and Europe. Not my bag (nor my partner's) as we don't feel the need to be public about our antics in the erotic realm. That and they seem a wee bit light on understanding what they are really talking about and any sort of disciplined spiritual practice. But for others it seems to still be a lovely excuse for some people to have random semi-public sex with a bit of light flogging without belonging to a sex club.

BoysMom said...

Brother Greer, I honestly don't recollect, certainly I was no more than mid-teens when I first encountered the idea myself, but then, that was also when I started reading C.S. Lewis' adult books. I'm surprised that most Christians of your acquaintance haven't read C.S. Lewis. All the serious Christians I know over the age of twelve or so have read at least some of his work. How can anyone talk about anything without reading the historical conversation on the subject? And there's such a lot when it comes to Christianity.
The supernatural nature of sex comes up as soon as we consider the passages that talk about sex in the Bible, what do we mean by one flesh or one body? (I am an unashamed King James Version fan: the language is lovelier, and if one is familiar with the word meaning shifts, it is clearer as well, especially when it comes to second person singular and plural.) So clearly, if sex renders two people no longer two but one, yet we know that physically they can go separately about their daily tasks, something other than mere physical oneness is meant.
I will be waiting more impatiently than usual for next month, I see.

John Michael Greer said...

Sunbindsblackstone, depends on what you mean by "antinomianism" and "fruitful multiplication." Left-hand Tantrika traditions use sexual excess, as well as other modes of taboo-breaking, to jolt the awareness in the direction of samadhi; and of course there's a vast number of operations and traditions of fertility magic that use sexual excess under specific conditions not merely for human reproduction but to increase agricultural and pastoral fruitfulness as well -- and those, in at least some cases, have their own transformative spiritual dimension as well.

MP, well, there you are! Tantra was a very common excuse for sex cults back in the day -- you had all kinds of talk about kaula circles and the like -- so what we've got is in a grand tradition of sorts. ;-)

Sister BoysMom, I commend you on your circle of serious Christian friends! Most of the serious Christians I know these days are the sort that go straight to the Bible, and more or less stay there: really good people, but the history of ideas and the subtleties of philosophical theology aren't their thing. As for the KJV, no question, it's a masterpiece of English prose; I'm sure you're aware of its flaws as a translation of the original texts and can work around that.

sunbindsblackstone said...

Archdruid Greer:

For my final comment about this month's post I offer you some biographical information about Om the Omnipotent that I found in the endnotes of my copy of Julius Evola's The Yoga of Power.

If you think this extraction qualifies as fair use, then please post it at your discretion. If not, then please privately enjoy it.

"Another example of the poor quality of adaptations of Tantrism to Western standards is represented by the Tantric Order of America, which used to publish a journal in which the readers were reminded that there is no amount of money large enough to reward tantric initiation. At least in this order there was no pretensions of spiritualism, since there were many scandals and lawsuits against its members. These tantrikas, especially their Great Master, who took the modest name of Om the Omnipotent, seduced quite a few beatiful American girls: the lawsuits were brought against them, no so much because the girls complained about the initiations they underwent, but because their parents were not so thrilled about the whole thing (in those days there was not yet the beat generation)."

Vale, vir falcifer!

Rumighoul said...

Fascinating topic and comments, to which I have nothing to add yet except to throw in my modest Lovecraft synchronicity:
I had never yet gotten round to the Cthulhu stories, but earlier this week for some reason I decided to pick up my Penguin collection and started with Call of Cthulhu, Colour out of Space, then Whisperer in Darkness. On the way home from work I turned on the BBC radio just as a scientist was discussing Pluto's newly christened Cthulhu region, this just after reading about the mysterious planet beyond Neptune in the last story. Then later I tuned in here...

jeffinwa said...

"Please remember that Monsters is far and away my most speculative book, and it's also got a satiric dimension that, as far as I know, nobody seems to have noticed!"

Thank you for that; so glad to know that I was reading what I thought I was reading and that, yes indeed, he really did say that and that's what he meant.

I see your two blogs as another representation of the two pillars of our yin/yang existence; bipolar is not just a medical condition.

Looking forward to your new novel's release.

Spanish fly said...

My yoga teacher says he is expert in tantric techniques "directly imported from India" (I've never tried them because some people told me that there is not real sex in the sesions, ohhh...).
I am a bit skeptic (in a non-dogmatic mood) when he poses as mystic guru, but sometimes he would be more wise than I think about him.
For example, some time ago said: "Sex is a powerful tool for achieving spiritual growth. That's why western religions have satanized for centuries. However, if you are self-deluding yourself using seudo-spiritual sex for mere pleasure, you are wasting your time...in the best case."
What do you think of this famous scene?

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2scl9l

Was Kubrick an iniciated in occultist orgies? (under his agnostic mask, maybe...) Or was he a mere spiced-hot-stories listener?(like most of conspiracy freaks nowadays).

I'm a bit obsessed with the relation between sex and sacrality. All this comes from the first time I stayed at bed with a woman and I looked for a good time his hairy thing, it looked a very misterious cave...After copulation, when desire had evaporated for a time, it was reverence and admiration for that part of woman body. Some people (women included) think that film shoot of births are disgusting, because vagina looks ugly; but I believe that even in that stress women genitalia are beautiful and misterious: they are making possible new life.
I've never joked about women c***s or men penises; they are very serious "tools" from my perspective.

Spanish fly said...

Cherokee, I agree with you in this paragraph:
"Moving back into the present and at the risk of sounding like my granddad, I now find porn to be quite repulsive if only because it reflects the malaise eating away at the core of our civilisation: People have somehow grasped and are also hanging onto with a grip that is appalling to behold, a meme that relationships (as well as many other social arrangements) are viewed as: All benefits and no cost."

I think that porn is psychologically worse for men than prostitution. At least, "professional sex" is a kind of real relationship;: and every human relationship has a cost. OK, relationships with w****s are poisoned by money business with no emotional implications. However, prostitution always has a prize for men: money, and what's more, some risks: too ugly/fat/old women (non erotic at all), rohipnol attack, angry armed pimps, broken condoms, AIDS and so on.
So sexual intercourse with b*****s is not sane, but at least is humane, not with pictures from screens...all benefits and no cost.

John Michael Greer said...

Sunbindsblackstone, that's choice! There are, as I mentioned, a couple of good bios of Oom in print these days, but they confirm Evola's assessment. Vale!

Rumighoul, clearly the stars are right...

Jeffinwa, okay, that's reassuring. For a long time most of the people I heard from in response to Monsters were fourteen-year-olds who took it very, very seriously. I also have reason to think, to my lasting embarrassment, that I may have abetted the writing of the Twilight saga -- that I know of, mine was the only generally available book at the time that mentioned the existence of lycanthropic traditions among Northwest Coast First Nations (I got the data from century-old fieldwork in the University of Washington libraries, plus my own contacts in the Seattle occult scene).

Spanish Fly, he was a spiced-hot-stories freak. That scene's a great example of how people who know nothing about occultism imagine "occult orgies" (or rather, as they'd spell it, "occultic orgies" -- there's no such word as "occultic" but for some reason fundamentalists insist on saying that). In actual occult practice, when erotic energies enter the picture, they're intended to do something other than get the participants' rocks off. More on this shortly.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Spanish Fly,

What a fascinating and complex issue that you raise.

On an interesting side note, as I'm typing this I'm listening to the Triple J live broadcast from the Splendour in the Grass festival - which should perhaps be called Splendour in the mud? Just sayin...

Anyway, and back to the point at hand the radio station was just playing the song - during a break in the live broadcast - from the band Vampire Weekend called: Oxford Comma (beware there are some naughty words in the song). The lyrics are sheer poetry. One brief refrain goes:

"All your diction dripping with disdain
Through the pain
I always tell the truth"

So I will tell you what I see and let the cards fall where they shall.

Porn is a crutch as it is an ephemeral mirage.

However, prostitutes are also a crutch (less so than porn by a considerable margin as you pointed out, but still a crutch all the same).

Neither of those observations are a negative judgement on my part as each of us has a different road to travel in life and the journey can be both weird and bumpy.

The US actor Charlie Sheen was quoted as saying: "I don't pay them to cum, I pay them to leave" and I've often felt that he summed up accurately the relationship between the prostitute and the john in one simple quip.

The question that the actor raises unwittingly in that thought process is what are the outcomes that a person seeks from a relationship? That question provokes a different response for every person and it is worth exploring in this context and is also something for you to think about.

Cheers

Chris

latheChuck said...

If the "rule" of a sex club is that anyone must engage with anyone else in the club upon their invitation, I can see how that might not be a good thing after while. When the members are all in their 20's and 30s, feeling fine and frisky (and fertile), it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective that they'll be briskly trying to maximize their number of offspring. Twenty years later, I can't imagine that the original members would appear very enticing to 20 and 30-somethings, but maybe the current members can carry on (so to speak), going through the motions, for another decade. Age takes its toll. The founder who was "a charismatic older gentleman" at 40, looks more like a "desperate old troll" by 60. As in any small, closed social group, frictions and grudges could develop, but in a group like this all of the emotions would be amplified by the power of sexuality.

latheChuck said...

Given the number of sects, cults, and gatherings that somehow fail to survive past the departure of their founder, I recommend that people look to genuinely old traditions. I mean, if a cult hasn't been continuously practiced since, say, 1517 (just to pick a completely, absolutely, arbitrary date), how can you know that it isn't a cult of personality above all else? On the other hand, a cult that's survived 1500 years of Western "civilization" (to use the word in its non-self-congratulatory sense) just might be up to something more subtle than immediately meets the eye.

heather said...

Another relieved "Monsters" reader here. I read it soon after beginning to question my scientific materialistic perspective. I started with "A World Full of Gods", and found that plausible enough, so thought, why not try the monsters book? Glad to hear that the note of satire I perceived was intentional, and not just a holdover of my former too-cool cynicism. This helps me interpret JMG's authorial note in the book that read something like, "Well, I was between projects and needed to publish something..." I did find the book thought-provoking, as well as fun.
--Heather in CA

Bill Pulliam said...

Hmmm.. to all of you who seem to have interpreted JMGs comment about "Monsters" as meaning "It was all a joke, JK :)" I have bad news for you...

The book is satyrical in tone and structure ("Now with 100% more Zombies!"), indeed. But the actual content, especially the information on historical traditions and their global recuring-ness, is 100% real. And, just when you thought it was safe to go back into your darkened bedroom, the entities he discusses are also, indeed, 100% real. Including some of the most terrifying of them.

And now, back to sex, which is in many ways not a lot less terrifying...

Bill Pulliam said...

On porn... equating all sexually-explicit imagery with the nasty type of commercial hetero thinly-if-at-all-disguised rape fantasy crap that occupies half of internet traffic at the present time is like equating all of human sexuality with frat house drunken gang rapes. The problem is not pornography (which I believe just means "images of sex") per se, but the attitudes that are expressed and conveyed by the images case-by-case. And these attitudes are a reflection of the culture that produces them. For a time in the 70s and 80s, when society was actually taking feminist issues seriously, their was some large budget commercial porn produced with the intention of appealing to women's fantasies as well. When we decided that we were "post feminist" in the 90s, it all then devolved into biker gangster rape imagery, just as the rest of mass culture did.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Bill - yes. I found a message in my spam box headed "Want to see a woman crawl?" Most disgusting message I have ever had in that sot of spam.

SLClaire said...

Bill, re your comment on porn that took feminism seriously, I came of age just in time to see much of it, and it was quite successful, at least for me. Your point is well made.

I thought of another place where sex and (debased) magic are mixed, and mixed up: advertising. Often the way advertisers attempt to convince us to buy something is through suggesting that we'll have whoever we want hanging all over us if and only if we buy whatever they are trying to sell. JMG, you have already discussed at ADR how advertisers borrow techniques from thaumaturgic magic, whether they realize it or not, in order to slip past our defenses and get us to buy what they are selling. It seems to me that must have some kind of an effect, and not a good one, on both sex and magic to have sex perverted into the service of crass commercialism and to the magical techniques mixed up into that mess. Will this be part of next month's post or a future post?

Myriad said...

I can confirm that what BoysMom said about the supernatural qualities of sex and marriage was being taught in liberal Christian sermons (Presbyterian or Methodist) around the late 60s through the 70s. I wasn't reading Lewis myself at that time (though the preachers giving the sermons might have been!), so I know it wasn't coming just from there. With a lighter treatment, it's also been a popular topic for homilies during wedding ceremonies.

The way I see the context here, only for the past couple of hundred years have we had much material knowledge of how reproduction happens. Of course the role and results of sexual intercourse were well known, but how the baby subsequently comes out all baby shaped with baby features and baby limbs and everything was a mystery or a miracle (not just for humans, of course, but for all living species). Given the risks and uncertainties in the process, it's understandable that a lot of concern about not doing anything improper with the vital parts that might put the indispensable miracle at risk could arise. As would ideas of tapping into the powers driving the process for other purposes. I suspect that Mrs. Grundy and Pan have therefore been at odds for a very long time, and their dispute doesn't align with any division between material and supernatural, but cuts right across it.

Mrs. Grundy on one side, Pan on the other... and where, pray tell, stands the Grim Reaper? No doubt somewhere nearby, because there never seems to be much conceptual distance between sex and death, whether in biological science, various mythical and religious narratives, or popular fiction.

Different question: I've noticed, across various essays over the years, that when describing people in the utmost extreme state of dishabille, you tend to avoid the words "naked" and "nude." Is that out of concern for the search engines, a simple stylistic preference, or is there a deeper reason?

John Michael Greer said...

LatheChuck, well, it seems to have been a standard rule in the sex cult industry, so it must have worked. As for old vs. new traditions, it's my experience that people don't generally sit back and select the spirituality they're going to follow out of a list -- it's rather more like falling in love. Also, of course, older traditions also have their pathologies!

Heather, just keep in mind that the satiric note in the book does not mean that everything in the book is a joke -- quite the contrary. Occultists in the Renaissance had a term -- lusus serius, "a serious game" -- for playful discourses about subjects that matter. I find it a very useful concept.

Bill, thank you. As for porn, no argument there -- "pornography" literally means "writing about harlots" in Greek, so the word has shifted meaning quite a bit over the centuries. There are plenty of ways to portray people having sex, and you're quite right, of course, that current fads along those lines are no guide to the broader subject.

SLClaire, a post on the necromancy of advertising and appropriate counterspells is indeed on the agenda.

Myriad, I was wondering if anyone happened to notice that! Purely a stylistic preference -- I like to say things in slightly unexpected ways, and talking about people who don't happen to be wearing any clothes is an example thereof.

latheChuck said...

On the "sex on request" rule for sex cult members: I didn't mean to imply that it wouldn't work... for a time. For maybe a decade or two, it could be a real selling point for membership. "See THAT one, over there? Ya just have to ask her, and she's gotta do it. She might even ask you first, if ya play yer cards right."

But what I'm getting at is that, mathematically, either 1> members "age out" of the club (so the club needs a process for boring old leadership succession), 2> young people decline to join (so the whole club ages together into extinction), or 3> the club membership spans a wide range of ages. Perhaps there enough explicit rules (I wouldn't know) to preclude age-inappropriate pairings. When I say "age-inappropriate", I don't mean to impose my particular values on other members of the scheme, but I think I know enough about the animal tastes of my gender to say that they wouldn't find women a generation older to be objects of desire, and I can observe that many men of middle age occupy animals that haven't been properly fed and exercised to maintain a degree of health that would be attractive to any woman.

Even in a conventionally chaste church congregation or civic organization, the tensions between generations will play out in something of the same way.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG - I don't think you necessarily have to take the fall for Twilight. Tony Hillerman's 1986 novel "Skinwalkers" was very popular and adapted for TV in 2002, it features Navaho lycanthropic ledgends. And the 1992 film "Thunderheart" was also very popular; it contains a purportedly shapeshifting Lakota character who seems to take the form of a mid-sized yellow dog and ride shotgun in the pickup of the Fed who is supposed to be tracking him down. These are not set in the PNW, but the idea of native american shapeshifting and lycanthropy was out there in the mass culture.

As a pure aside, I find that a small dose of berzerking can be quite helpful in the gym...

RPC said...

"Most of the serious Christians I know these days are the sort that go straight to the Bible, and more or less stay there." Formally, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian dogma relies not only on the Bible, but also on tradition and the magisterium (the authority of the church to teach). Hence a joke among those churches relating to Protestants: "Yes, you can sit on a one-legged stool, but it's a lot harder staying balanced!"

Bill Pulliam said...

The digression into shapeshifting leads my thoughts back to the topic at hand...

My first encounter with real-life shapeshifting occured in a sexual context. I had been prepared for the possibility so I did not freak out, just held on tight and tried not to get bitten or broken, much like dealing with any powerful animal in close quarters. But many years earlier, the shapeshifter in question had revealed the beast to the wrong person, who then went on a satan-eradicating spree of violence, resulting in one succesful axe murder, another unsuccessful murder attempt, and a sensational trial full of talk of devil worship. So yeah, "Monsters" readers, this stuff is definitely real.

Regardless of the outcome when it leaked into the wider world, this shapeshifter learned the craft via sexual magic, under careful guidance, in safe spaces. The murderous destruction was wrought by a deeply disturbed member of the "macroculture" who became a prison pen-pal with Charles Manson after being incarcerated, not by the magical practitioners themselves. The shapeshifter's life was probably in fact saved by the magical training; otherwise it would have likely lead to suicide or institutionalization.

The point is, sex can be one of the most accessible and powerful portals out of the rational mind into a sphere of pure non-rationality. A lot of "sex magic" indeed winds up looking a lot like a swinger's club (not that I have any personal objection to swinger's clubs; to each her own). But the sexual portal is a deep one, and you can fall very far into it. It's a two-way portal, so things from very deep places can also come out of it.

But one thing I encounter a lot in modern-day sex cults, whether they be swingers clubs, BDSM communities, or gay bathhouses, is the focus on physical fetishes. The question is "what are you in to?" like ordering off a menu. The internetization of sexuality has amplified this even further. Polymorphous Perversity has been boiled down to a shopping list, a collection of color-coded hankies in your back pocket, a series of check boxes on your profile on the hook-up ap. I'm not sure this is really the best way to open the magical portal (if that is your goal), but I'm not sure a generation raised with this approach to sexuality knows of another way.

I REALLY can't picture Pan walking up and saying "So, what are you in to?" And I am quite sure he does not have a profile on Tindr or Grindr (though he may occasionally lurk on Scruff...)

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@latheChuck--Groups of any kind that aren't related by blood or marriage usually do not survive past the second generational change of leadership, unless they systematize their authority structure and the methods by which they pass on the shared culture. Though a cult of the founder may be fostered by the successor leadership, it will mutate from what it was when the founder or founders were actually present. Early Christianity once all the people who knew people who had known Jesus were dead was a different family of cults from Jesus's actual disciples and entourage.

Religions, sects, schools of spiritual practice etc. derive a different benefit from continuous operation over centuries or millennia. The longer the group carries on, the more likely it is that the members and teachers will have to deal with political and economic changes. Seven lean years follow seven fat years; they are persecuted, they are popular, they have the ruler's patronage, they are old hat; the mother tongue of the founders becomes a dead language; the sacred sites are occupied and destroyed by an enemy. To survive changed circumstances requires that the group's teachings become adaptable to the needs of different sorts of people. Temporary cultural fads fade away. Either adversity or prosperity may breed teachers who think deeply about the core teachings and apply them in ways the founding generation did not imagine.

horse with no name said...

On the issue of pubic hair (or, more to the point, the late lack thereof): my read on it is that follows from a certain kind of person's grasping for any kind of control (or willingness to cater to that kind of person), but I've been wrong before.

Ray Wharton said...

This post has given me some serious fodder for meditation, it has been like cleaning out the back shelves of a many years neglected refrigerator, and I have no guessed about the full depth of those shelves. The only clue I have which I can articulate at this moment is that I have had a creative zap much like the one Lovecraft's God's seem to have given you. A couple of days ago drinking coffee I was hit by a sultry and strange short story, combining material from a bunch of half attempted Space Bat stories past into a sexual encounter centered story that gushed forth into my notebook in about an hour and a half leaving me with an exhausted cramped hand, and alot of drafting work to do. I might try to turn it into a Space Bats entry, I don't think there is any this too... anatomically graphic about it, but the emotional content that it follows is frankly far beyond my strangest experiences. I think I should trust the muse, worst case scenario its cheap therapy, best cast it could provide some raw material for some crazy 'Weird Tales' style cover art!

averagejoe said...

I’ve been following your new blog since its inception, and find it fascinating, very illuminating, and very useful. I have even recently bought your book, Druid Magic Handbook, and am working my way through it. One thing I haven’t found any information on to date is what role, if any, Druids consider dreams and dreaming has in the occult philospophy. I only ask, as I had a dream recently where my mother, who died some 14 years ago, spoke to me. I wasn’t what she said that was so moving, but what happened as she said it. I was left with the distinct impression that she was trying to ‘reach through’ the divide. When I woke I found it spiritually uplifting. Do you have any thoughts to offer of this experience, and what it means.

heather said...

JMG and Bill-
No, I didn’t think “Monsters” was all a joke, which made interpreting the satire that much more complex for me at that particular moment in my development. Remember, I was recovering from thinking _anything_ occult was a joke, and broadening the scope of things I was willing to entertain as possible by a lot, but trying not to become a credulous idiot at the same time. Reading an author I trusted on a frequently abused subject, and thinking there was some winking going on in places, thus required some careful attention. Well played, Mr. Author! (And jeez, Bill, you must be one cool customer to avoid freaking during the experience you described!)

I had a beloved teacher in high school with a wicked sense of humor. She relished everything from groaner puns to deadpan irony. No one ever skipped her class, and we accomplished some pretty complex and nuanced learning in there. But some of the less sophisticated students were frequently enough confused by what was going on that we developed a class rule- Mrs. L had to raise her left hand when she was making a joke. (This, of course, became the crux of many jokes in itself.) Reading “Monsters” while transitioning from thinking that I knew everything (or at least that everything was known by some human, if not me), realizing I didn’t know what was real and who actually knew what, left me needing the raised hand to help me figure out the role of the humor. I think I’m better now, thanks.

Reaching for the connection to this month’s topic: sex and humor are both potentially deep sources of power and understanding that are treated carelessly in our culture. Thanks for calling attention to their proper reconnection to the depths.
-Heather in CA

Fabian said...

Ah, sex and shape-shifters.

Here’s a great video to go along with that theme. Or maybe this one

Kate said...

JMG: This is a general question, as I am new to all of this. I have read your book The Druidry Handbook and am digesting The Druid Magic Handbook. Both are excellent introductions and benefit from your wide knowledge of the basis for modern Druidry, which is mostly based on a Celtic origin. This is especially true of the names of the gods/goddesses and the names of principles and forces. As a person of strong Germanic heritage and much more familiarity with old German/Nordic gods/goddesses and names for principles and forces. (Though some of this is, indeed, translated from Theosophical names) I am interested in whether a translation from the Celtic to the Germanic could be done and would retain important meanings.

I wonder if you know of a good source/book/website, or two, for translating from the Celtic-based to the Germanic-based names. I'd also be interested in the Germanic-based names of the stations of the Wheel of the Year. I'm not aware of anything that has been so nicely consolidated and compiled as your two books, but perhaps there are a few sources that, in combination, could suffice. Or, in your opinion, is Druidry just too far removed from whatever the ancient Germanic/Nordic peoples practiced, or that the modern Asatur and Vanatru teach. Thanks, as always, for your helpful guidance in these studies and practices.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I came to understand magic through research into the worlds of advertising and politics, so when you wrote about it many years ago, I went: yeah that makes sense and goes on all of the time. People don't understand just how much effort goes into manipulating people into believing emotions and stories that aren't necessarily in our best interests.

Advertising is a form of black magic and I would really appreciate reading your thoughts on that subject. The funny thing though is that you can tell people what is going on in language that permits no ambiguity, and then most often people can't lift themselves out of that dark murk.

Hi everyone,

The whole no pubic hair thing is sad because it is a fad driven by porn. Nuff said! But to put it more bluntly:

You are being manipulated

Cheers

Chris

Tidlösa said...

For the record, I know that "Monsters" has a serious side, of course. What I liked about the book was precisely its "grey zone" character somewhere in between serious and jocular, especially since the author really believes in magic and, I suppose, monsters. This is what makes the book sound self-ironic.

At the time of reading it, I was still very much a skeptic (still am concerning mermaids!) and I think the self-irony might have opened up a few channels of communication, so to speak. A super-serious book complaining about CSICOP debunkers or dark atheist conspiracies wouldn´t have worked that well...

John Michael Greer said...

LatheChuck, no, I understood what you're suggesting. The history of sex cults suggests that you're wrong, though. For that matter, I've known elderly hippies of both genders who seemed to have zero problem keeping themselves supplied with as much twenty-something tail as they wanted, so a case can be made that the age difference isn't as much of a problem to others as it might be, say, to you.

Bill, thank you. That's some relief. As for the berserkergang, a very small dose, possibly! I know a guy who thinks he's worked out the technique for the Irish equivalent of it -- the sort of shapeshifting homicidal frenzy that Cuchulainn et al. used to be able to do at the drop of a gae bolga -- but he's never tried it; he's quite sure that there would be corpses if he did. Some techniques are not well suited to current social standards.

RPC, granted, but here in the north central Appalachians, the serious Christians I know are either Protestants or the sort of American Catholics who might as well be Protestants.

Bill, agreed on both points. I suspect the stereotyping of sexual responses into long lists of paraphilias is a way of avoiding the deep places of sex while still trying to pretend to be sexually free.

Horse, I could see that, but in that case it suggests that a frantic craving for control has gotten pandemic in modern American culture -- which I suppose makes sense, too.

Ray, delighted to hear it! By all means submit it to the current Space Bats contest -- you've got just over a month to go. I'm good with Weird Tales weirdness.

Averagejoe, as with most aspects of Druidry, ask three Druids, expect five answers. Dream encounters with the dead are extremely common, and well documented in pretty much all the world's cultures, so you're in good company.

Heather, okay, good. Not everyone gets subtle humor, alas.

Fabian, funny. It occurs to me that "Sex and the Shapeshifters" would make a decent name for a rock band.

Kate, that kind of search-and-replace approach is generally not a good idea, because different cultural and religious traditions have their own deep structures, which can't be mapped onto one another without major distortion. Much of the material in The Druid Magic Handbook could be adapted for Germanic or Norse symbolism -- it's a relatively flexible magical system -- but Druidry in general, no. There are no authentic Norse or Germanic equivalents for the eightfold year-wheel, by the way, because that was invented by Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner in a London pub in 1952, and nobody anywhere celebrated those eight festivals as their ceremonial calendar before then.

Cherokee, I'll certainly consider a post on the necromancy of advertising!

Tidlösa, the thing that delights me about mermaids is that there's precisely no way they can exist, and yet people keep on seeing them. Well, that's one thing; the truly zany explanations used to try to explain away mermaid sightings are if anything funnier than the phenomenon itself.

Bill Pulliam said...

Fabian - my experiences are devoid of heavy metal music and death-n-satan-themed imagery

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG Re: the Berzerkergang.. oh just the teeniest little drop of a 100X dilution of the potion, of course! But when you want to move something heavy, well, ya know, bears are *really* strong...

As for current social standards, well yes and no. In a moment of life-or-death desparation, I might be tempted to try to dive all the way through that door rather than just appreciating the view from the threshhold. It's an art that might warrant resurecting in coming centuries. Wolves and bears are fiercely protective of those whom they hold dear.

Merfolk... I have not spent enough time around stormy rocky coasts since I gave in to reality and gave up on atheism. I'll need to check those white horses more carefully next time I find myself in a gale and see if I can spot any riders astride them.

Doug Manners said...

Actually there are at least two non-stupid reasons for getting rid of pubic hair. One is that, for a person with several sexual partners, it reduces or even eliminates the risk of acquiring and transmitting pubic lice and similar nasties. The second is that some people just don't like getting hair in their mouths when dining. My guess is that the fashion for pubic depilation is related to the rise to normality of oral sex and not just to the rise of pornography.

I am not saying that these reasons should be decisive or that the reasons other people have proposed aren't valid - I suspect they are - just that not all the arguments go the same way.

anioush said...

Dear Mr. Greer, thanks a lot for your writing that makes the whole of magic and other topics so accessible. I've read several of your books on the subject and wanted to know if you could help me make a choice between the paths laid out there. On the one hand, Green Wizardry and the Earth Path seem very important to me and the concept of reconciling solar and telluric current feels like information I've always been looking for, as well as your explanations on polytheism. On the other hand, the Celtic language and Pantheon seems strange to this Central/Eastern European. I've practiced the Tarot and feel attracted to the rich imagery of Cabala but I'm not really getting the Archangel/Names of God concept yet and the solar-only path gave me an feeling like "beware, evil could creep in" (maybe the shadow side that's excluded from those teachings) that just dissolved wounderfully on reading your "Druid Magic Handbook". So, I'm trying to find a path on which I could combine thorough studies like in your "Learning Ritual Magic" with the possibility of solar-telluric/circular integration. It makes sense that you should study one method before taking in elements of others, but do your writings count as one or two (GD versus druidic) methods? Or is it possible to do a personal fusion like apparently you did in "The Celtic GD"? Thank you for making it clearer! a.

Spanish fly said...

Hello, JMG. OK, so you think that Kubrick was another (pseudo)intelectual playing with occultist rags...It's what I suspected. I am waiting anxoiously the second part of your text about sexy occultism.


Oh, Cherokee, what a definition:

"I don't pay them to cum, I pay them to leave". No comments. This is the john's motto!

Mark Hedden said...

While I know full well you weren't attacking the old gentleman from Providence, per se, nevertheless I'd like to defend him. It's long seemed to me that his inner psychological motives have long been misunderstood. Consider: what did he love best in the world? He loved the New England of old-time Yankeedom, the New England of its Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary Golden Age. And he believed - correctly, I might add - that this American ancien régime was either dying or already dead all around him. In the face of such a realization, what could be more natural than to create an art in which the fate of all humankind, to say nothing of his beloved little Rhode Island, would seem as insignificant as a cod flopping on the shores of Narragansett Bay seemed to him? I think he must have derived a great and secret comfort from the image of dread Cthulhu rising up from his watery bed to blot out the stars and bring an end to the age of man.

As for the subject of sex, I have little enough to say, other than that as a member of a slightly older generation you might not realizing how terrifying the whole subject seems to the young *men* of the 21st century. A young man with any degree of empathy and sensitivity is caught between the media's endless fantasies of sexual domination and subjugation, and the cries of the less considerate variety of feminist (which seems, alas, to be the variety that gets the most column inches) that all male sexuality is intrinsically predatory and immoral. In the face of such a one-two punch, many of us develop some rather profound sexual neuroses. I speak not merely from personal experience, but also from rather extensive conversations with other members of my generational cohort. Many turn bitter about the whole thing, their views on sex, gender, women, and even other men becoming quite rancid; others become ascetic - I've conversed with one who considered chemically castrating himself to ensure that he would never become a sexual threat; others simply despair. Frankly, the luckiest of us are the conservative ones. They at least have a pattern, a script, some kind of sexual mores that can be held to more-or-less consistently. True that it's not the best such pattern in the world, tending, as you note, to the straitjacket approach towards human sexuality. Still, it's at least not *completely* insane and creates rather more manageable neuroses - or, at least, such are my observations.

I'm sorry. It seems I lied, and had rather a lot to say about sex.

Bill Pulliam said...

Um... some of y'all seem to have strangely inaccurate ideas about the recent past...

Mr. Manners, you really think that oral sex was not a mainstream practice back in the 70s? I sure don't know where you are getting that idea from! There was a whole generation that grew up eagerly gobbling tubesteak and fuzzy shellfish in the decades that passed between the normalization of going down and the craze for the Brazilian. There were plenty of crabs around then, too, and all those 70s beards provided an excellent conduit by which they could travel from bush to bush. Yet most people never even considered stripping themselves of what they considered to be the proud hirsute symbols of their sexual maturity and virility, on the face or in the crotch. This is about biophobia and pedophilia, not pragmatism.

Mark Hedden -- again, you somehow think the situation was different for that young man coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Second Wave of Feminism was at its zenith, and so was the hairy-chested playboy who used women willy nilly for his personal gratifications? Believe me, mainstream sex and gender culture was not one bit less bewildering then than it is now. And those of minority sexual orientations could still be beaten and left for dead in the ditch with near-impunity, not infrequently by law enforcement itself. I know that practice still continues, but at least now most people consider it to be a bad thing.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, oh, granted. In a deindustrial future, or any context where the rule of law is not an issue, the berserkergang is a great thing to have in your skill set.

Doug, er, oral sex became normal in the 1960s; by the time I became sexually active, in the following decade, it was something that a young man was pretty much expected to do, and to be good at. As for hair, maybe it's just a generational thing, but I never heard anyone complain -- nor, for that matter, did anyone complain about kissing a bearded man, which runs the same risks, you know.

Anioush, I've done books now on three different methods of magic -- classical Hermetic Golden Dawn, the version of Druidry covered in The Druid Magic Handbook and related books, and the Golden Dawn/Druid hybrid system of The Celtic Golden Dawn and its forthcoming sequels, which is a thing of its own. I recommend that anyone who wants to learn magic start out by choosing one system and practicing it exactly as given, without tinkering with it at all, until you've mastered it; if it has elements you don't like, all the better, since this will help you train and develop the magical will. Once you've got an established system under your belt, you can experiment with innovations -- without that background, though, you really don't know what you're doing.

Spanish Fly, so noted! That sort of thing is de rigueur in Hollywood -- basically, if it's in a movie, it's not real occultism.

Mark, as I noted in my post, I'm very fond of Lovecraft's fictions, and yes, I'm aware of his feelings about modernity and all. The point I wanted to make is that I simply don't find his eldritch horrors in the least frightening; it's one of the more interesting features of his work, to me, that what he considered blood-freezing horror -- even if he got a definite satisfaction out of imagining it devouring the modernity he hated -- is the everyday reality of the operative mage.

As for sex, back when I was young and frisky, we had equally dysfunctional pressures -- the omnipriapic Playboy Man on the one hand, and on the other, the far end of second wave feminism, which insisted that all heterosexual sex was rape by definition. In the wake of the Sixties, though, there was a certain playfulness to the thing I don't see so much of nowadays. I wonder if the immense pressure to perform and conform, to measure success by how much of your own individuality you replace with some media stereotype or other, is a major factor in the neurotic climate you've described.

Doug Manners said...

@Bill, @JMG

You don't seem to realise that you are supporting my argument. I am well aware that oral sex became normal in the 1960s. After all, I was born in 1940. And as Bill said, "There were plenty of crabs around then, too, and all those 70s beards provided an excellent conduit by which they could travel from bush to bush." I am suggesting that it is precisely that experience that helped to drive the gradual rise of pubic nudity in later decades. Long-term fashions take time to develop. Bill's observation even suggests it may be a factor in the decline of beards!

Then JMG states, regarding getting hair in your mouth, "Maybe it's just a generational thing, but I never heard anyone complain." I have had precisely such a complaint directed at me personally, although admittedly by a lady younger than me. And frankly, I don't care for it myself, though I am older than either of you.

Above all, you both seem to have missed my final point. I am not suggesting that the avoidance of lice and the inconvenience of getting hair in your mouth are the only reasons for the rise of pubic nudity. On the contrary, I stated that I thought that the other reasons advanced were also valid - it is multifactorial. Bill, on the other hand, seems to be more dogmatic when he states, "This is about biophobia and pedophilia, not pragmatism." I am merely suggesting that there is also a pragmatic element.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Kate, although it's only indirectly related to the questions you asked JMG, there is a scholarly but readable book containing detailed information about all the seasonal holidays that have been celebrated anywhere in the British Isles in historical times. It's called Stations of the Sun, by Ronald Hutton, 1996, available in paperback.

The book has too much detail to read straight through (for example, a map showing the towns where a particular holiday was celebrated with begging door to door, and the words of the different songs beggars sang in each town when they knocked on the door). Fortunately, the information is organized by calendar dates of the holidays. So for example you can look up all the traditional holidays that fall in the winter solstice/Christmas/New Year time, and you can read about what people did in different regions in various eras, and when new customs were introduced or old customs banned. Some of these holidays have associated practices that go back to pre-Christian times; others do not, at least as far as Dr. Hutton's research turned up. He lists his sources, so you can follow up if you want to learn more.

Doug Manners said...

Further to my previous post:

Some people seem to think there is only one cause for pubic nudity. The idea that anything has only one cause is one of the illusions of our civilisation. I suggest it is linked to the "scientific" approach to everything

In fact in most of the sciences great pains are taken to ensure that only one cause is possible for any event. (That is an essential part of the experimental method.) The fact that we have to take pains should have told us that in the normal course of things there are no "single causes". In practice it has done the reverse. When we approach any situation we assume that there is only one cause.

An example: I knew a woman back in the 1970s who shaved her pubic regions. The reason she gave was precisely to avoid pubic lice. (She had had them.) The fact that this procedure has now become ubiquitous within the Western world has no doubt been driven partly by the example of pornography and partly by biophobia (I am more doubtful about the importance of paedophilia), but that does not mean that everybody who does it is driven entirely, or indeed at all, by those motives. We don't have single reasons for doing things.

Bill Pulliam said...

Doug -- "pragmatism" is a social construct as well, not an objective outside value. 30 years ago people got crabs and they joked about it. The shrinking bush started with the "bikini wax" in the 80s (also dubbed "Mohawk Bush"), and gradually grew to the full Brazilian popular today. Notice it was called the "bikini" wax, not the "sanitary" wax. These trends are cosmetic, not hygenic. Sure there are some people who make any particular choice for any imaginable reason. But when talking about social trends, you talk about the predominant forces affecting the larger number of people. If you don't generalize, you will never be able to identify any meaningful pattern in a society of hundreds of millions.

As for beards, the problem with that hypothesis is that the beard has enjoyed a major resurgence recently at the same time as the bush has vanished. Take a walk through the trendy urban distriuct of any major U.S. city and you will see an enormous amount of facial hair. Some of these beards are huge. Again, this is a trend and/or a statement of membership in a perceived social movement, not a hygenic choice, on the whole, in general, for the bulk of the young men involved.

Fabian said...

"It occurs to me that "Sex and the Shapeshifters" would make a decent name for a rock band."

As it is, I have an 18 year old nephew who is an aspiring heavy metal guitarist and loves Gothic imagery (He's also a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Michael Moorcock and J.R.R. Tolkien). He and some of his mates are trying to organize a band. I've listened to some of my nephew's recordings of his band practicing; they're actually quite good. I'll mention your idea to him and his fellow band members. If nothing else, "Sex and the Shapeshifters" ought to be good for some publicity and shock value ;-)

Shawn Aune said...

Very interesting subject.

What you revealed should have been obvious to me but was not. Not at all.

In my experience the bedroom works as an amazing laboratory when investigating the role of imagination on consciousness.

When some say to, "Get imaginative in the bedroom," they usually mean to visit a sex shop, become open to new experiences or dump rose petals all over everything.

What I mean is to do what you normally do but use your imagination to supplement the experience. I've found that this is the easiest way to witness your own imagination having a rather profound effect on another's consciousness.

By way of example...

Assume for a moment that neither you nor your parter are biophobes and that both of you think pain can be enjoyable.

If, during happy-fun-time, you imagine that the participating penis is rather large, sharp and causing serious damage, you can change the experience quite a bit.

See the Dance Scene from the movie Jacob's Ladder for more inspiration.

Things I've noticed...

Build the image/intention and then release it. Do this repeatedly.

Once you add an imaginal aspect to the act it can make it so that sex is unenjoyable without it. Stopping brings withdrawal symptoms*.

*I've noticed similar withdrawal symptoms occur when one stops performing a daily ritual for a number of days. When I began performing my own Sphere of Protection type ritual on a daily basis I noticed the number of periods of time that the universe, seemed, "aligned against me," dropped to become almost unnoticeable. That was, until I neglected the practice for half a week. Then it seemed that every red light was a curse, each thing I had to remember was one more thing I'd forget and every tenth crack in the sidewalk would send me sprawling. That was, until I resumed my daily ritual.

Shawn Aune said...

@anioush

Of the paths/books mentioned by JMG my personal favorite is the Celtic Golden Dawn.

I bring it with me everywhere.

John Michael Greer said...

Doug, thanks for clarifying -- it wasn't at all clear to me that you were suggesting additional factors, rather than alternative ones. I tend to be rather suspicious of claims that changes in fashion have wholly pragmatic causes -- I think of all the middle-class Americans who will trot out all sorts of allegedly pragmatic reasons for why they have to drive an SUV, etc. "Pubic nudity," by the way, is an odd phrase -- your pubes are nude if they don't have any clothes covering them, last I checked. I doubt you could get away with walking down Main Street with your clothes off by claiming "But officer, my crotch is covered -- with hair!"

Fabian, fantasy fiction and heavy metal -- why does that combination remind me of something? ;-) I'm delighted to hear it. If your nephew likes Sex and the Shapeshifters, he's welcome to use it. (Ironic note -- if so, it wouldn't be the first band I've helped name. Back when Seattle grunge was big, my wife and I were asked by a friend to help name a French band that wanted an authentic Seattle name for their band. I have no idea whether Fish Ladder ever got out of the garage-band circuit, though.)

Shawn, well, yes -- the brain is the most important sex organ, after all. Also the most important magical working tool...

Kutamun said...

The overriding theme of most porn is Death ( that intimate companion of sex ) and Shame . ie " he died of shame " Leon Wurmser in his excellent "masks of shame " explains the phenomenon of "Scopophilia " ( watching other people fornicate ) as a sort of fascination that has its roots in Shame and more broadly , narcissism . Medusa Like , "To be turned into stone " by something means to be fascinated by it ; " and since looking implies identification , to be turned into stone means also to be punished for seeking to become that which one has seen ....he who looks at that which has been castrated , the head of Medusa , himself undergoes castration . He who looks at the dead is himself struck dead .
So if as many of us her at the well suspect , that industrial society is a kind of biophobic self immolating , hyper rational death cult which is busy killing the planet , then porn would be a natural bedfellow for such widespread machine like narcissism . Seems it may be a feature of our collective Shame , or as we would say in Australia , " we have become a bunch of wankers !"
" we had fed the heart on fantasy , the hearts grown brutal from the fare " -Yeats

latheChuck said...

JMG - I will cheerfully accept correction by those with more experience than myself, in any field, but I suppose monogamy (albeit in two marriages) is itself a unique sort of experience.

John Michael Greer said...

Kutamun, good. Modern necromancy, by and large, has less to do with dead bodies than with dead images. More on this as we proceed.

LatheChuck, monogamy's certainly a form of experience worth learning from, too -- but the lessons it teaches (and I say this from some experience, having been happily married to the same woman for the last thirty-one years) are very different from the lessons you learn from extended promiscuity.

Kutamun said...

A lot of the documentaries and attempts to explore the nuts and bolts of porn in our society inevitably focus upon the performers , as though they are somehow the root cause of the phenomenon , and any negative aspects or impacts are attributed to these people . I havent seen one yet that focuses on the machine brained white anglo saxon machine like Scopophiiliac sitting glued to the screen , with both hands for himself and none for the ship ! .. The performers seem a mixed bunch with infinitely various reasons for being in the industry including but not limited to ; too much religion force fed to them during youth , drug addiction , economics , lack of self esteem , family friendly working hours , culture jamming , rebellion , etc etc etc ....Here at the Well we are more interested in the voyeur , and Chris Hedges makes a solid start in his "Empire of Illusion "
"“The porn films are not about sex. Sex is airbrushed and digitally washed out of the films. There is no acting because none of the women are permitted to have what amounts to a personality. The one emotion they are allowed to display is an unquenchable desire to satisfy men, especially if that desire involves the women’s physical and emotional degradation. The lightning in the films is harsh and clinical. Pubic hair is shaved off to give the women the look of young girls or rubber dolls. Porn, which advertises itself as sex, is a bizarre, bleached pantomime of sex. The acts onscreen are beyond human endurance. The scenarios are absurd. The manicured and groomed bodies, the huge artificial breasts, the pouting oversized lips, the erections that never go down, and the sculpted bodies are unreal. Makeup and production mask blemishes. There are no beads of sweat, no wrinkle lines, no human imperfections. Sex is reduced to a narrow spectrum of sterilized dimensions. It does not include the dank smell of human bodies, the thump of a pulse, taste, breath—or tenderness. Those in films are puppets, packaged female commodities. They have no honest emotion, are devoid of authentic human beauty, and resemble plastic. Pornography does not promote sex, if one defines sex as a shared act between two partners. It promotes masturbation. It promotes the solitary auto-arousal that precludes intimacy and love. Pornography is about getting yourself off at someone else’s expense.”

Bill Pulliam said...

Interesting that "porn" here is being generally used to mean "heterosexual commercial porn." True this is what dominates culture, the internet, etc. But just as there is more to human sexuality than one man, one woman, there is more to erotica than that, too. A gay erotic photographer friend of mine, by the way, once told me the rule of thumb is flaccid = art, erect = erotica, hand on dick = porn.

There's an interesting thing about gay porn at present. Much of it, even the commercial stuff, is remeniscent of that brief interlude in the straight porn world in the 80s when they thought they might put actual romance in the scenes and appeal to women too. Sure there is a lot of gay porn that mirrors straight porn in the dom/sub roleplaying. But there is also a lot of it that is actually just two (or three, or four, or...) guys making love and pleasing each other, albeit with fully-explicit photography and a lot of dirty talk. There is a fundamental difference in the same-sex world, in that if someone is in a submissive, or even demeaning/degrading role, it is by personal choice, not because of biological determinism. The dude who might be getting treated exactly like the woman is in the straight rape fantasy crap, he is in that position because he wanted to be, and odds are good he is honestly enjoying it, not just faking it for the camera.

I can't say a lot about f/f porn made by and for women, since that seems to still be a very very rare beast.

Both in porn and in the real world this is a huge and fundamental difference between same-sex and m/f sexual dynamics. Those who have not experienced it in both arrangements have a hard time really comprehending how profound this difference in power structure is.

And of course, linking back to the earlier discussion, there is also a gay subculture that celebrates hirsuteness, the furrier the better. A style, by the way, that is now being userped by the latest evolution of "hipster" into "lumbersexual." To quote a gay cultural commentator, “First, straights came for the smooth, pretty gay look recustomized as 'the metrosexual,' and now you have come for our hairier brethren!"

As is always the case, NO cultural trend starts among the straight white middle class. Everything comes from the sexual, economic, ethnic, and racial outcasts, then gets expropriated by the straight white middle who get rich from it...

Does any of this have any relevence to the discussion on this blog? I dunno, it depends on where our host goes next!

Brian Weber said...

Amidst all the discussion of personal liberation (and a nice story about a woman written by a man), two things were not discussed whatsoever: pregnancy/children, and the relationship between sex clubs and prostitution. And why no talk of costs other than social costs? Were there none? Prior to effective birth control or safe abortions, how much of this liberation was for men, and how much for women?

Whole systems.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Brian Weber--Prior to the Sexual Revolution, upper class married women in Britain (and to some extent, America) could have affairs if they were discreet. Men of means who wanted sexual variety could keep mistresses, and men of all classes had access to prostitutes.

Middle class women in Anglo-Saxon countries did not have any of these outlets. Because of the premium on female virginity in the first-marriage market, the extreme stigma on pregnancy outside of wedlock, and that unmarried women who were not in the sex trade had virtually no access to birth control, many married women had little premarital sexual experience. After marriage, adultery would jeopardize their marriages, social status and finances. For a married woman who was not entirely satisfied with her husband's lovemaking, a sex club might have certain attractions.

Reliable condoms were available for purchase by men throughout this period. Female barrier contraception (diaphragms and pessaries) was available by prescription to some married women, depending on local laws. Given that during most of the first half of the twentieth century, it was against the law to send information about birth control through the U.S. Mail, a sex club was likely to be one of the better places for a woman who was not a prostitute to get accurate information abut birth control and prophylaxis, and a referral to a reliable doctor who would perform an illegal abortion if she needed one. Compared to the alternatives, a sex club was a relatively egalitarian arrangement and safer for a woman than having affairs.

latheChuck said...

Re: the lessons learned through monogamy vs. promiscuity... rarely is the "opportunity cost" of knowledge so clearly delineated. Monogamy is different from serial-monogamy which is different from (de-facto) polygamy (that is, with or without state-sanctioned marriage), and each of us will choose one or the other. It may be that there are lots of other less extreme examples: perform on piano, or guitar? Composing: music, or text? Trying to split the difference in these fields seems likely to lead to mediocrity, but to betray a trust relationship (if that's where you're starting from) is not merely "mediocre monogamy"; it's much less (and potentially very dangerous!).

I'm not sure what one would end up with after half-hearted magical practice. Mediocre magic, or something more dangerous?

Greg Belvedere said...

I'm enjoying this series on sex magic and the history of sex cults. When you mentioned sex magic in a previous post I wondered if you had in mind sex in a ritual context or sexual practices associated with tantra and taoism. Well you have now covered the first, but in regards to the magical powers of abstaining I guess you might come around to talking about these taoist and tantric practices as well. While I don't know anything about claims to immortality, I know that these traditions say that a man expends energy when he ejaculates and that this should be avoided.

On what might seem a somewhat tangential note, I feel that the pendulum has swung very far towards the tolerant end of the spectrum. For the most part I welcome this. I like that sex is seen in a more positive light and that marginalized groups in many places have greater rights and acceptance. I'm glad everyone in the US can marry who they choose and I'm glad transgender and transexual folks are even making gains. At the same time I find some of the discussion about trans people troublesome. When Caitlin Jenner said she was "for all intents and purposes a woman" it bugged me that nobody in the mainstream dared call this out as being completely disconnected from reality.

People can switch their gender or play around with it and I'm all for that. Many of societies confines are too rigid. But nobody can completely change their sex. Gender deals mostly with cultural constructs and sex deals with physiology. Someone can change their gender by changing the way they dress and act and I will address them with the name and pronouns they wish. Someone can even change some secondary sexual characteristics via hormones and surgery. But nobody can switch one set of genitals for anything but the simulacrum of another set. It actually comes close to a real life enactment of what you describe in "the prosthetic imagination" where people amputate their genitals for a set of imitation ones. Not to mention that these hormones and surgery have only been available for a short time and will become less accessible as things collapse.

Some cultures have a third gender and I think it makes sense to explore this idea more. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of trans people in Star's Reach. It would certainly be interesting if we saw more intersexed people in the future as a result of environmental conditions.

Bruce The Druid said...

@Bill Pulliam

Thunderheart is one of my favorite movies, and I feel I must clarify one of your earlier points. It was never demonstrated that the character Jimmy Looks Twice was a shapeshifter, only implied by mischievous Maggie Eagle Bear. FBI agent Levoi later joked that the three legged dog he adopted was in fact the shapeshifting Jimmy.

Bruce The Druid said...

I thank you for this discussion, for I have been feeling quite the disconnect with path I have been pursuing, and the pagan groups I have attempted to reach out to, but for a variety of reasons (most involving Cosmic Influence) have failed to "connect". It wasn't until the subject of polyamory comes up, and through some dint of research, I realized that many of the guys/gals who showed up at various pagan events were simply looking for the hookup. Now currently with my background in Tai Chi, I realize that what is being discussed is the nature of polarities, but for many men in the West, it really is all about getting their rocks off, only in a slightly more "kinky" setting i.e. in a pagan/goth/satanic setting. Oh the novelty of it all!

The phrase "in perfect love, in perfect trust" to me at least, goes much deeper than the swinger's sexual ideals. I think of the aboriginal "love feasts", which seem to be common enough, the source of the missionaries disgust for aboriginal and peasant cultures. Finding the documentation, on the other hand, is a real chore.

John Michael Greer said...

I'm going to draw a line under the discussions of pornography and pubic hair at this point. While I think they raised some worthwhile points, I've fielded a flurry of attempted comments on both that went on at multiscreen length -- and neither one is really that relevant to the post, or to this blog. 'Nuf said.

Brian, this was a post, not a book. A full-length book on sex cults would of course want to reference all of those things. I'd point out very briefly, though, that sex cults were by and large an alternative to prostitution; that one of the standard attractions of sex cults was the ability to participate in alternative sexual activities that didn't result in pregnancy, and were by and large unthinkable in the cultural mainstream; that condoms date back to the 17th century, and several other forms of birth control were illegal but available by the heyday of the sex cult -- and that, as Unknown Deborah has commented, sex cults by their nature were a good place to get access to contraception, abortion services, and much more accurate information about human sexuality than you'd get outside them.

LatheChuck, oh, granted. I've long appreciated the old Stoic attitude toward adultery; they thought it was utterly unacceptable, not because it involved sex -- sex was morally neutral in Stoic thought -- but because it involves breaking a formal promise, which they considered a monstrous wrong. The thing is, not everyone is cut out for monogamy, and for those that aren't, other arrangements apply.

As for your question about magic, it depends very much on what's being done half-heartedly. Most of the time, you get dress-up games and make-believe, but if the wrong things get added to the mix, the results can be very ugly indeed. I'll plan on a post about this down the road.

Greg, I suspect it'll be a long time before people can think about sex (the biological category) and gender (the psychosocial category) as two different and, in many cases, unrelated things. I suspect we're headed that way in the long run, and it might be entertaining to imagine a society in which two different sets of words are used for these different categories -- but it's going to be a long and complicated journey.

Bruce, no argument there. I don't call myself a Pagan these days, precisely because I have very little in common with the mores and social habits of the Neopagan scene, and the witchy-flavored hookup culture and mandatory polyhumpery is a good part of the reason why.

Fabian said...

“Mandatory polyhumpery”

That’s a keeper!

BTW, my nephew loves the name “Sex and the Shapeshifters”. It will be interesting if his band ever makes it beyond the garage band circuit. Of course, there are probably a thousand bands out there for everyone that makes to the big time, so the odds are against it. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try, especially given the lack of other opportunities that so many young people face these days.

I listen to a wide variety of different kinds of music, from classical and jazz to heavy metal and hip hop. One thing I have noticed is that fantasy fiction has been a major source of inspiration for many metal bands and from the earliest days. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath had a number of songs that were influenced by Tolkien’s Middle Earth stories.

I had seen that clip of Hawkwind and it was a good one. In fact, that video clip came from a concept album Hawkwind produced about the Elric saga. Here is a recording of the complete concert if anyone is interested. A lot of their music was inspired by Moorcock’s fiction and Hawkwind has been a perennial favorite of mine. Incidentally, my nephew's stepfather is from the UK and he is also a big Hawkwind fan. Blue Oyster Cult also had some songs inspired by Moorcock’s Elric series, including Black Blade and Veteran of the Psychic Wars.

Patricia Mathews said...

OT for this month, but too good to pass up: Scott Adams defines thaumaturgy very
succinctly.

http://dilbert.com/strip/2015-08-07

Daniel Cowan said...

Very interesting post. I wonder if the Hellfire Clubs of the 1700s were something along these lines, I remember reading something about thos in relation to Benjamin Franklin's attendance.

@Spanish Fly - "Was Kubrick an iniciated in occultist orgies? (under his agnostic mask, maybe...) Or was he a mere spiced-hot-stories listener?(like most of conspiracy freaks nowadays)."

I've watched that movie (Eyes Wide Shut), along with most of Kubrick's other films, many times, and I'm still not sure what he was expressing with that scene, but I don't think he was trying depict an actual occult orgy in that scene.

The film was based on a novella by the early 20th c. Viennese author Arthur Schnitzler. Interestingly, Schnitzler was a contemporary & eventually a correspondent of Freud, who wrote that he was afraid to meet Schnitzler, it would be too much like meeting his own double.

I've never been able to get my hands on an english copy of that story, but I understand it had a similar masked orgy scene in it, Kubrick didn't invent the scene but rather adapted it. The novella's title translates as "Dream Story", and I think this scene, among others, is in part an unacknowledged dream sequence. I think it was partly intended to be a ridiculous pantomime, as it is Tom Cruise's own characters ideas about sex and power that are on display in that scene.

Really hard to say though, that scene, along with others like the "stargate" sequence in 2001, or the "Room 237" scene in The Shining, are so strange and ambiguous, and Kubrick has hidden his hand so closely in his film-making, I'm not sure I'll ever be satisfied by interpretations of them, they always seem to be missing something, to me anyways.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

I'm trying to get my head around this issue as clearly sex is a continuum, but in our society it has been framed as an ideal or an abstraction. Now that always surprises me and over the past few years there has been much talk down here in the media about "the sacred institution of marriage" and not much talk in that same media about how half of all marriages end in divorce. As a disclaimer I've been married for over 20 years.

However the statistics indicate for me that many people find that ideal to be a stifling arrangement. And yet at the same time it is held up as an abstract ideal. Clearly there is some benefit in setting a goodly proportion of the population up for failure - perhaps guilt and a sense of failure? Dunno but it seems to me that it is a harsh god that demands results that half the population seem to struggle with. Dunno, maybe I'm over simplifying the issue? My take on the issue is that a large percentage of the population appears at face value to be serially monogamous.

Cheers

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Just thought that I should add that I'm not saying that people get divorced purely for reasons relating to sex. Sex is merely part of the wider problems. I reckon people get divorced because the costs of the couple remaining together - whether they are married or otherwise - exceed the benefits gained. And don't we see that meme turning up all over the place.

Cheers

Chris

Ray Wharton said...

@Cherokee

Once an institution is getting press for being sacred you can guess it's timer is ticking. Marriage isn't one thing or ideal, the term covers many different specific traditions. I doubt that marriage in general is going anywhere of course, but I suspect the particular flavor of it from the western tradition is in the midst of a deep crisis.

My experience in this matter is only that of having seen the tradition enacted in two different, but both decidedly western, settings.

I grew up in a little mountain valley cow town in wester Colorado, and just 15 years ago many older ranch families were still held together around a married couple that got together some where around the depression. Several couples come to mind, generally they married young, fresh out of high school if waiting that long, and they stayed married until death got one, and then always the other very shortly later. The prime case I can think of were my great aunt and uncle. I grew up listening to uncle Harvey's tall tails and helping Merrel tend the chickens. They were very ornery with each other, but caring. There was a functional dependency that allowed both to thrive at what they focused on, secure in knowing that their partner had the other matters covered. There were consistent partner rolls, but vague gender rolls, sure Merrel did all the cooking for Harvey, but Edward did all the cooking for Pamela. I remember being very charmed by these folks, and the generations between them and myself, well lets just say no one bothered for them to try hosting a branding crew; the marriages of the younger generations were sometimes happy and sometimes not, but rarely did they have the full on connection of the ones forged before the war.

Contrasting that I went to college in the front range, and by way of visiting friends and girl friends at their suburban homes I learned more than enough about what marriage means in those places! Granting that there are happy marriages in such settings too, they seem rare and of a very different character. If some of those households I came to know in those years were the archetype for marriage in my imagination then I would want nothing to do with it.

Among my age mates, mostly hippie like folk considering I socialize mostly with farm volunteers, I hear alot of bad feelings about any kind of commitment, a terror of being like that one parent. Bad history doesn't help, I hear much of marriage as being oppressing of women, which I grant is a possibility which can and has manifest tragically often, but it is only a possibility among many, even very traditional marriages need not be oppressive, and to the degree that oppression makes its way into the marriage it can lay on the shoulders on either partner just as easily.

The take home from this remembering for me is that there is a break down of mimesis, for most folks they never saw enough examples of the old ways to get how it could work, but they have seen the mutant variants enough to fear or reflect its pathologies. At this point I think that marriage is very hard for most people, I hate to say this but truly it is dangerous even. That being said there are happy marriages still, and friends who get married who seem wise to it; this takes something very special, in character or values.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Hmm, sex magic. I predict this will become one of the most widely read parts of the Galabes series! :-) Along those lines, I occasionally read things about certain religious people that abstain from sex as a way to increase their psy/occult/spiritual power. One sect (possibly in Tibet?) even practices techniques to avoid wet dreams.
Closer to home, I once went on tour of the old Shaker village outside Lexington KY, and was struck by descriptions of spiritual practices, including dance, that they used to deal with their sexualities. A renaissance artist (Michelangelo?) was known to not have sex, and was thought to have redirected his sexual energies into his work. There are also people who are unable to have sex in any fashion, possibly due to medical tragedies of one sort or another--I wonder how that would affect psy/occult/spiritual experience or power.
I'd be interested to hear what you think about sex abstention in this part of the discussion, as well as sex ritual. Very interesting series, and fascinating comments from all--I am learning so much--Keep up the good work!

MP said...

@Bill - thank you for such a thoughtful discussion on sexuality.

@Ray - what a wonderfully nuanced understanding of marriage. As with those married folks you knew who got together in the Depression, having a marriage forged in difficulty can lead to very strong foundations. Just knowing people with long-lived and strong marriages can help as an example, but as you point out, it takes a certain character and values to wind one's way through the rocky parts of marriage in today's world. I had people tell me to divorce my partner when we were going through a rough patch. And sometimes that's the right response. But what if you know your life is richer and more creative because of that partnership. We both had to do a lot of soul-searching. I have seen myself more clearly now than I ever could have without my partner. Our difficulties led me to take up Druidry and I haven't felt more alive and at peace with myself and others. There is something to be said about magic and relationships.

@JMG - I thought you'd like this article. http://io9.com/new-anthology-has-women-fighting-lovecrafts-horrors-it-1723055713 There seems to be an uptick in takes on Lovecraft in the air!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ray,

Thank you for the - as usual - thoughtful reply.

Thanks especially for your story as that was fascinating. Of course there is an economic component to marriage, but in remote locations, gender roles aren't nearly as clearly divided as they are in more artificial - urban - locations. Fascinating. And perhaps the division of those roles is an abstract artifact? Dunno, but there must be some history to it?

I never understood that fear, but it is real in the population. You've raised some truly fascinating issues.

Yes, character and values is under rated in our society. Sad but true. Thanks for pointing that out.

Cheers

Chris

Ray Wharton said...

I am fortunate that my folks had and still have a happy marriage that doesn't have any big pathologies I notice, a touch of grump, but mild by all but the most strict standards; nothing serious enough to leave me with a scar. They both grew up in the mountain valley my values were modeled off of, but did not meet and marry until well into adulthood, both tried other marriages, which by what accounts I have gleaned were not so good. Like the wise salmon they returned to their home valley soon after marrying to raise me, once I left the nest they moved to another community to live more cheaply.

The power of abstract rolls in a relationship is big. Each person, so each couple, is unique in those intimate factors that are central to a relationship, so it seems to me that the rolls in a relationship need to be flexible to the unique blend of people in the relationship. The pressure to be in a relationship according to a third parties idea of how it should go seems like one of the great dangers to a good relationship. I might draw an analogy from Spangles idea of pseudo morphisms if you would forgive the stretch. For example overly rigid ideas from cultural values. Worst if the external values have leverage on a conflict in the relationship. But those cultural values don't mean a thing unless they come through the social pressure of significant persons.

The most significant hardship I have faced in romance was a relationship which started just over three years ago and lasted almost a year. It might be the most unpleasant experience I have known. Me and the partner I had at the time got on pretty well on our own terms, but some people who were extremely important in her life had deeply different values than what the budding relationship was forming around. Coercion and some frankly cruel behavior from those third parties started a pattern of disruption which eventually became a part of the relationship. I grant some of the values I was committed to at the time had practically issues related to them, had I been more wary I might have given up on the relationship earlier in the process because of incompatible values. But when faced with people acting cruelly toward a person I was, ahem, fond of I responded by digging in my feet and starting a battle which couldn't be won. I have been told that you know you are dealing with a crazy person if they make you feel like you are crazy; by the time that we finally broke up everyone involved was acting in ways that don't make a bit of sense in the light of hindsight; it hurt me alot, and even today noticing certain reminders of that era in someone is almost an instant interest killer for me, but I don't mind risking heart break to reach out for a human connection, vulnerability is part of courage, what I am still overly worried about is risking a situation where someone else could be hurt like she was. Been doing alot of processing on this since this blog post came out.

Sorry for being vague, but I want to convey the pattern I think is relevant, with out airing dirty laundry that isn't entirely my own to air. So my most personal experience is of this pseudo morphism in a relationship, and I think that is also something I notice in many unhealthy relationships. The rural folk were protected from changing eras by isolation, and had formed patterns by the time TV started teaching otherwise. The relationships I think of which are most successful fall into two categories in my (no doubt selective) memory, those who both follow a shared idea of relationship, and those whose relationships are protected from pseudo morphism by character or circumstance.

Humbug, this is all speculation, but the by product of the searching I have been doing since this post made me look inside at why I have been so out of sync with my peer groups mating habits; these matters are all fundamentally mysterious to the reason, and those who are in healthful relationships are blessed.

cloudrider said...

@JMG As a longtime reader I'd like to start my first comment with a thankyou for the education you've been so generously providing over the years.

I'd also like to recommend a book I've just read which for me makes an interesting contribution to finding a sane approach to the subject of sexuality. It's called "Cupid's Poisoned Arrow" by Marnia Robinson. She describes studies that show that orgasm causes changes in the brain's reward circuitry that take two weeks to return to baseline, during which the neurochemicals associated with contentment, affection and even the body's ability to self heal fluctuate erratically. She then describes an approach she calls Karezza, which uses relaxed, bonding based intercourse without orgasm to heal and nuture. The science looks sound and if people are aware of how their behaviours affect their physiology, they can make better decisions.
I think taboos as a social technology often end up causing more misery than the thing they try to prevent.

BoysMom said...

Not hardly related, but I just started reading Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, and in the first chapter of the first book the main character, a wizard, makes an observation that science is a religion. It is a fantasy series, of course, but that line alone was certainly worth it, and I am enjoying myself thoroughly. (Some of you may be aware of the Hugo award kerfuffle in Science Fiction fandom: this was the motivating factor for me to pick up the author.) The book has been out for some years, of course, and being NYT bestsellers, I suspect has worked a fair bit of magic of it's own.
So I have to wonder, first, is Mr. Butcher an Archdruid reader, and second, how exactly do these sorts of ideas promulgate? This is not the first idea I've seen show up in unexpected places--where as far as I can see there is no immediate connection between the various people promoting the idea--in fact, I can see more possibility of connection here than with many of the others.

Stacey Armstrong said...

Many years ago now I took a class called "sinister wisdom" in which I got to know a number of Wiccans who were also into BDSM. The relationship between those two things wasn't as obvious to me as it after reading your post; at the time I had a vague sense that the two were related by a fondness for gear! While your post gestures towards personal freedom, what the women in my class were very clear about, is that Wicca and BDSM both brought the larger questions/difficulties surrounding consent right to the front of the spiritual and sexual facets of their lives. While neither Wicca nor BDSM make up a living part of my life, the idea that you can systematically, experientially and experimentally work out your own relationship to common parts of being human is still a disruption to conventional thinking. The idea that people experience their libido differently from each other and direct that "energy" differently was also revelatory for the twenty year old version of me. The simple yet dizzying complexity of the idea of consent has resurfaced in my life as my daughter is growing up; a common phrase around here lately is "let's stop for a second....use your words, not your body." I am already wondering how I will be able to continually reframe the idea of consent as she grows older.

After finally making it to the end of the comments I was reminded of a passage from Rilke where he talks about wandering in the twilight of Christianity and he asks "Why have they made our sex homeless, instead of making it the place for the festival of our competency?" If you have to chart a course with Mrs. Grundy on one side and Pan on the other it might help to have Rilke as a travelling companion.

This blog continues to remind me of a strange mixture of Green Eggs and Ham and an Occult version of the Canterbury Tales. Stacey

Bill Pulliam said...

As for "mandatory polyhumpery":

While this has been the explicit practice *within* some closed groups I have known of (but not joined), I have never encountered a larger neopagan community where this was "mandatory" in any sense of the word. What I have encountered is monogamous couples who complain about actually having to explain what their relationship situation is, rather than having it presumed. I have never had any sympathy for this complaint, as it is only a tiny taste iof what sexual minorities have to go through every day of our lives in every corner of the macroculture.

And "polyhumpery" is, by the way, a dismissive and demeaning term.

10-7

Patricia Mathews said...

To Stacey Armstrong - ironically, the long-running magazine of the Church of All Worlds has always been called GREEN EGG. It's no longer available in print, but I think it is online.

At the other end of the spectrum is a blog called WILD HUNT, which keeps crusading for not only freedom to be pagan, but acceptance as respectable - and often sounds like a bad case of what JMG has called "Methodist Envy".

John Michael Greer said...

Fabian, oh, granted -- I used to listen to a fair amount of rock back in the day, and treasured the songs that referenced fantasy fiction. One of those things...

Patricia, funny.

Daniel, the Hell Fire Club aka Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe was something of an ancestor of the 19th and 20th century sex cult, but it seems to have mostly hired sex workers for a male clientele rather than, as the sex cults did, recruiting members of both sexes.

Cherokee, that's a hugely complex issue. Marriages break down for a dizzying range of reasons; sometimes the reasons are pretty obviously valid, sometimes they're not. The notion that lifelong monogamy ought to be the default option for everyone is certainly part of the problem; that works well for some people and poorly for others, like any other kind of general rule.

Emmanuel, why, yes, we'll be getting to that way of using sexual energy in magic in due time!

MP, I noticed that! The anthology looks pretty good, too.

Ray, thanks for these reflections.

Cloudrider, now there's a blast from the past. I was wondering when somebody was going to blow the dust off karezza and get the concept into circulation again. Not my cup of tea, but if it works for you, by all means.

BoysMom, if Jim Butcher turns out to be a reader of mine, I'd be very pleased indeed.

Stacey, I've met several people whose interest in BDSM began with the ritual flogging that takes place in traditional Wiccan initiations, so the connection may go beyond gear. As for your description of this blog, that sets my head spinning.

Bill, I didn't invent the term, though I did tone it down a bit; a more robust version of it has been standard, in Pagan scenes with which I've interacted, for more than a decade now. As for "mandatory," please extend my compliments to the Pagan communities with which you interact; if that's the worst treatment they dish out to the monogamous, they're considerably nicer people than some others I can all too clearly recall.

Vicky K said...

Late in the cycle of this post, but comment I must. Bill's discussion of the style differences in porn between hetero and homosexual is exactly what Kinsey discovered in his studies of sexuality. Homosexual lovemaking was generally more sensuous and longer lasting than hetero-normative sex.

My take on sex magic is that many of the sexual practices that include restraining orgasm [primarily ejaculation in males-traditions are mixed regarding female orgasm]are doing that in order to increase the level of arousal. Without going into the various sorts of techniques and belief systems that lead to certain outcomes that are the point of the practices, I will claim that beyond a certain point of arousal the nervous system shifts into the state desired. This also accounts for the attractions of BDSM or other paraphilias that increase arousal.

I am not convinced that the 'save your life force' school of practices have any merit whatsoever beyond the ability to allow for high arousal. Parenthetically, Mantak Chia, a famous practitioner of this 'circulate the sexual energy within' left his wife of many years and ran off with a teen age girl.

I am rather sure there is also a form of sex magic that is meant to add energy to a magical working that is separate from the state of being I discussed above. I hope that JMG gets to that kind of sex magic too, for the sake of rounding out my education. As to shape-shifting, there are other methodologies than sex that I am aware of for assuming some of the characteristics of the animal spirit desired. From Bill's description of his encounter I don't have much desire to mix the two.

Phil Harris said...

@ Ray Wharton
Thanks for your thoughts; I have found them productive for my own reflections.

'Bonding' is a key, sometimes overwhelming experience and goes far wider than a sexual union, let alone some mischance of a sexual encounter. 'Bonds' as I understand them have physiological correlates and stem from 'recognition' - often, apparently, by mutual gaze, and have long term staying power. I read recently, for example, that human and domestic dog mutual bonding has been studied and I can vouchsafe personally that this form can be for a lifetime. I have also witnessed close-up the necessary human bond between mother and infant in its reinforcement.

Returning to between-adult human bonds, including romance, marriage and all, the absurdities of misrecognition are a commonplace for humour, as in Shakespeare's well known examples. But we also have tragedy. In my reading recently of a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, I have come across good discussion of the rational position of, for example Aristotle on the unity of virtues, contrasted with the tragic dramas of Sophocles and others, where what might in their own right be virtues ('goods') become in certain circumstances allegiances to incompatible 'goods'.

I remember from observation many years ago a marriage apparently headed for tears. A post-doc scientist African Methodist - from a society where his family were solid cultivators - had married into his local aristocracy against the wishes of both families. Apparently it is not that unusual for agrarian societies of cultivators to be dominated by warrior pastoralists who have imposed an aristocracy. The family values he brought with him and the thrift by which he was ensuring his sisters at home received education against the tradition of his paternal dominant grandfather, contrasted in some essentials with those of his wife. His shrewd business sense had paid for him to reach high academe. It made me think again of Shakespeare. Her world was of honour and status, of gesture and appearance and ornament, of jealousy and betrayal, winning and losing. The appeal of the opportunities in modern North America early 1970s was rather different for both of them.

sincere best wishes

Phil H

Ray Wharton said...

Thanks for the well wishes Phil.

Your story of the African couple strikes a chord with me.

Since I read this post has been a very painful month for me. I think that I am in one of the lowest function depressions I have yet been it. External influence from fear inspired by current events and exhaustion imposed by my poverty certainly contributing to that funk alongside these inner delvings; though I think the inner delvings are the largest factors, I have long ago hardened to lean livelihood and a future of deep uncertainty; but what irrational forces guard the gates of interpersonal intimacy, those dogs haven't been awoken for some time.

I have felt more deeply painfully alone than I have felt for a long time. It is crippling, and I have even had days when old addictions, web surfing mostly, have consumed most day lit hours. Work has been a relief, even when uncompensated, so long as it isn't alone.

I am almost done with a presentable draft of the weird future fiction story that I was inspired by when the post was first read. I hope that getting that project to completeness will bring a new phase. Checking this blog is kinda a break from editing the middle act of that piece, editing is tiring work, especially when it involves choosing what images to share on topics I am not in the habit of speaking about openly.

Speaking of openness, I will say that being up front with folks talking about sexuality, bonding, and all the confusions tied up with it has been amazingly well received by all people I have broached the topic with, like many folk are working on the same issues and eager for perspective outside of the pop cultural narratives. Much healing has come from opening up with friends and sharing my history and formerly secret vulnerabilities and fear. I am finding that I feel a deep fear of being loved, of the vulnerability of another, the ease of hurting someone. Accepting the reality of the power that comes unbidden with another's love, and both the responsibility of it, and the impossibility of taking on to myself certain responsibilities.

It deserves mention that once a person has reached the point of speaking their feelings about the uses and abuses of our sexy bits other topics, like magic or peak oil, seem relatively tame. People I had never talked with on those topics have shared with me quite candidly on their opinions of such things.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG - perhaps the mandatory aspect is more a feature of oxymoronic "dogmatically open-mined" enclaves on the Left Coast? My experiences have been in the Great Middle, where there is perhaps more of a hump-and-let-hump approach. Follow your arrow...

Bill Pulliam said...

Vicky K - full-on shapeshifting is of course accomplished by many means. However, it is a large step beyond the sort of animal spirit invocation that is common in neoshamanic and newage practices these days. You are not calling upon the strength of the bear, you are turning over control of your body and most of your mind to the bear. What consciousness of yours that remains has only limited influence over what happens during the transformation, or how long it will last. It's a possesion, not an invocation. Whatever method one might use, it is not for the risk-averse. Regular practitioners (of which there are very very very few) learn how to work with the wild thing more safely and effectively, if they don't wind up dead, in jail, or in the looney bin first.

John Michael Greer said...

Vicky, most of the magical dimension of sexuality I'll be talking about has nothing to do with heightening arousal and everything to do with redirecting energies into various kinds of magical action. This month's topic, for example, will focus on methods that are best done with your clothes on, and sitting on opposite sides of an altar from your partner. Stay tuned!

Bill, very likely that's true! I've never been sure if the behavior of some left coast pagans is oxymoronic or the more usual unoxygenated variety, but either way, it does get annoying. As for "hump and let hump," that's a keeper.

Brother Guthlac said...

“RPC, granted, but here in the north central Appalachians, the serious Christians I know are either Protestants or the sort of American Catholics who might as well be Protestants.”
Such is life.
North central Appalachia or anywhere else. But then, each adjusted to the particular ecological niche, the same probably applies to Harry Potter wizards and social/business-network Free Masons and Da Vinci coders. Most of us focus on the form of the rind and seldom bite through to the sweet delight.
“Yes, Christians are weirder than you thought. (Possibly much weirder. We just don't talk about it in company.)”
Indeed, And then there is that text of “Wisdom Literature” slipped in after Ecclesiastes in most English bibles.

Chas Clifton said...

You are right about one thing: the overlap between Wicca, nudism/natureism, and "swinging" has never been sufficiently explored. It was certainly true up through the 1970s, in my experience.

Patricia Mathews said...

Before this post closes down on Friday, I had a thought which has nothing to do with either Mrs. Grundy or Pan, but a lot to do with magic, deadly sins, and goodness however defined.

In a blog post way long ago, JMG defined the Luciferian Pride of 19th century Boston (and Yankees in general)and of today's Left Coast, centered in San Francisco, versus the roaring sins-of-the-flesh corruption of New York then and Los Angeles now. By his theory of triangulation, there should be some middle ground where goodness prevails, ruled by St. Michael. He was looking, I believe, for something spectacular and geographically halfway in between, and not finding it. I think I have.

It began when I actually identified the equivalent of St. Michael in 20th century American mythology, a true, archetypical Guardian type to the bone. That it comes from commercialized pop culture merely means it is 20th Century American. (2 brownie points and a free comic book to whoever immediately shouts out the name.)

That done, it was easy to identify the birthplace, in an area long regarded in American mythology as the epicenter of, not spectacular flaming-sword goodness, but of simple down-home decency and 'aw,shucks, ma'am., 'twarn't nuthin'" modesty. That is, the heartland. Which is geographically and culturally between the two coastal locations in a way no coastal location could ever be. And not a city; a small town in the agricultural hinterlands, and a family farm within easy driving distance of that town.

And the sort of Midwestern values stated outright that our hero fights for, and the modesty to have a mild-mannered civilian identity.

That's right. We're looking at Smallville, Iowa. (Just look for the statue of Cyrus P. Small in the town square. OK. I made that up. But it stands to reason.) And while you're at it, call on our hero's foster parents. Jonathon and Martha Kent.

SLClaire said...

Hi Patricia,

You mean Chester, Illinois or places like it as the middle ground? It's about a two hour drive from me. Haven't been there but I see the billboards for it when we are traveling to the southeast.

Patricia Mathews said...

That's right. And I lived in Indianapolis for 4-5 years as a child, during a period when it wasn't the reasonably nice, well-cleaned-up city it is now. And I once had cousins all over western Pennsylvania, though the decades have scattered them far and wide.

But yes. In our culture, there is a strong cultural division between "the coast" (either one)and what "the coast" dismisses as "flyover country." And it's just as strong as the one between the self-appointed paragons of the period's virtue and the Sin Cities on the same coast.

The finer divisions recorded in books like "THE NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA" and its successors are actually subsets of the one just argued here.

And of course, you recognize the Guardian/Warrior crusader for "Truth, Justice, and The American Way of Life." (As it used to be defined, anyway, back when we were citizens before we were consumers.)

john john said...

Is it all of humanity who carries an, "embarrassingly overinflated sense of self-importance" or is it a cultural phenomenon? Are tribal animist societies burdened with the same hubris?