Tag Archives: sex magick

#TheSexRadicals, Part 6: Vladimir Solovyov and the Virtue of Lust

26 Aug
Vladimir Solovyov

Vladimir Solovyov

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week was a how-to on fighting shame with sex worker Amber Hollibuagh, and Edward Carpenter, progenitor of the queer movement.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com.

Lust Is the Teacher: Vladimir Solovyov’s Sexual Love

“There is only one power which can from within undermine egoism at the root, and really does undermine it, namely love, and chiefly sexual love…”

– Vladimir Solovyov (1853 – 1900)

First, I’ll tell you about a sweaty teenage summer by the beach. Eventually, this trip will lead me, and us, improbable as it sounds, to Russian mystic Vladimir Solovyov and his deep understanding of the body, of relationship, and of love. 

Stay with me in summer; we’ll get there.

I was thirteen or fourteen the first time I looked at a man, really looked at a man**. This was in Ocean City, Maryland. I’d like to tell you who I was then, but I have this strange feeling that I was not anybody.  I remember that I wore black t-shirts and listened to angry music. I remember that I’d been inspired to let my hair get a little longer in the front, and to write stories. The stories were violent, everything was violent. I liked to fight with my stepfather and my mom. They were taking my sister and I, along with my older stepbrother and his friend David, on a vacation.

I wanted to be independent, so I’d walk to the beach and on the boardwalk by myself. That summer, I watched girls and their boyfriends buy clumsy, oversized t-shirts and make out and play volleyball. I felt an envy for those girls, but didn’t understand.

I’d had brief and purely curious sexual experiences with other boys and girls my age at this point – but there was no understanding of the other person’s role. It could have been anyone or even object involved.  The person didn’t matter, as every morning I’d push myself into my mattress and consider the strange, warm feeling.

Waves up my chest and in my spine, a chill when I’d cum, a peaceful feeling afterward.

These were pieces of a great, weighty understanding. But they were awaiting some sort of permission to come together.

I walked from the apartment my sister, mother, stepfather and I were staying in over to my stepbrother’s and David’s place.

They were always welcoming and they seemed to me to be eternally happy, but they were probably drunk. The refrigerator hadshowerglassblog beer in it, there was beer on the kitchen counter, there were empty beer bottles in the garbage can, on the couch. It was one in the afternoon.  My stepbrother was in the bedroom. David was in his bathing suit, and announced that he was going to take a shower. His pecs were thick and quietly covered in sun-lightened hairs. He was tall and had a handsome smile, though I hadn’t yet really noticed all of that. No one was gay or straight because those ideas could not yet exist for me.

Before you think: They fucked me – They didn’t. Nobody touched anyone.

I sat on the couch, and after a moment, David called to me from the bathroom.

He said, “get me a towel.”

I picked up a towel, which was still wet from the beach. It was heavy in my hand, opposing with the slowness of its weight, my racing heart, which felt as if it were sparking, starting some sort of light.

When I opened the bathroom door, there must have been the sound of the shower and he must have said thank you and I must have put the towel somewhere like on the sink or over the side of the shower door but I can’t remember any of that. All I know is that I saw, through the frosted shower door glass, his form. I looked right at him. He wasn’t distinctly visible, the occluding glass stopped him from appearing, but he was there entirely. I looked at him. I saw his form, the color of his skin, his legs, what must have been his arms, his ass. There were no clear lines, there were shapes and color. I looked at him, and saw what was there. I felt inside of me something entirely new, the coalition of light and sound and this…feeling.

No time had lapsed, but it had seemed to me there wasn’t much to my life before that moment. I walked out and more than I had wanted a brother, more than I had wanted anything, I wanted to be pressed against that frosted glass from the other side and feel his form and weight behind me, under the hot water, and then I’d be kissing him or on my knees sucking his dick.

I have no idea about the rest of the trip.

After that moment, I began to think when I masturbated, and to imagine.  Instead of just the physical motion of jerking off, images began to appear in my head. My body had seized that minute in the bathroom, on the other side of glass, and imprinted it on me, changing me. There was new meaning to everything: suddenly, the world was full of men, and I’d look at them when I closed my eyes.  I’d look at them and remember them and they all became brothers, they all loved me. I’d imagine them touching me and make up stories for why. Before then, I’d only had this body which would sometimes evince a different sensation if I touched it in a certain way. But after that moment with David and the frosted shower door glass, the world became different: a world where the memories of men I looked at are seen by the way my body feels.

This is how we know the mind and body are in love. One creates a story, the other feels it.

Decades later, I encountered the work of Russian mystic, philosopher, and poet, Vladimir Solovyov.  His view of desire and what he called “sexual love” expressed this awakening in me, in words set down over a century and a half earlier.

Solovyov was born in Moscow in 1853, the direct and also distant descendant of intellectuals.  When he was just nine years old, he writes, he encountered the Holy Spirit (or Sophia, as Solovyov and Western Esotericists refer to Her).  Touched by this vision in church, where the walls fell away and only a single, glowing figure stood before him, radiating benevolence, Solovyov felt a flush of total love.

Instantly, golden azure filled the room,

And she shone before me once again —

But just Her face — Her face.

At that instant lasting bliss was born in me!

Once more my soul went blind to mundane matters.

A flush of radiant love, surging forth and then pulling away like an ending dream, or water turning back on itself at the shore: this is the image of Solovyov’s entire philosophy.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Vladimir Solvyov was a precocious student, and quickly grew to be a respected philosopher.  He took his work seriously, but not himself, casting self-deprecating humor over even his most profound experiences.  His intelligence and good nature caught on with the public.  By the time he was in his early twenties, he was publishing work, giving well-attended lectures, and was friends with Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Among his theorizing about the nature of knowledge and matter is a short and stunning book, The Meaning of Love.  Here, Solovyov writes about the primacy of love, and in particular, sexual love.

When the few people who write about Solovyov’s write about Solvyov, they tend to go to lengths to separate what he “really” meant by sexual love from what we’d think of as sexual love today.  Basically, they say, Solvyov doesn’t mean fucking; not the act of sex.  Instead, they tell us, he means the powerful attraction between two people of opposite sex. Well, okay, they’re the scholars; but it’s an odd gesture, since Solovyov’s work is so deeply suggestive of the sex act, of arousal, or attraction, desire, lust, that it seems irrelevant that he didn’t expressly state this.

The world, he wrote, is constantly fragmenting.  We experience separation, and this separation is real.  But the world is also a unity.

“Parts of the material world,” he writes, “do not exclude one another, but, on the contrary, aspire mutually to include one another and to mingle with each other” 

The world wants to find itself and merge with itself. That is longing and desire. That is why people seek to be inside one another.  It’s even why gravity draws us to the earth. But instead of understanding this longing as something useful or beautiful, we prefer to ignore it in favor of a totally sealed and cut-off version of ourselves. The solution to this dissonance? Sexual love.

“There is only one power,” he wrote, “which can from within undermine egoism at the root, and really does undermine it, namely love, and chiefly sexual love. The falsehood and evil of egoism consists in the exclusive acknowledgement of absolute significance for oneself and in the denial of it for others.”

Sexual love “forces us, with all our being, to acknowledge for another the same absolute central significance which, because of the power of our egoism, we are conscious of only in our own selves. Love is important not as one of our feelings, but as the transfer of all our interest in life from ourselves to another, as the shifting of the very centre of our personal life. This is characteristic of every kind of love, but predominantly of sexual love; it is distinguished from other kinds of love by greater intensity, by a more engrossing character, and by the possibility of a more complete overall reciprocity.”

In plainer language:  Love shows us that other people are real, significant, and important.  And the version of love that is desiring, attracting, drawn to an other, is the most powerful of all.  This love is not a state we can stay in, but a powerful teacher that arrives and departs quickly.  It shows us what is possible, and then disappears, leaving us to seek it again.

Unfortunately, our attitude to this teacher is flippant.  We describe it in unflattering terms: “just infatuation,” “only lust,” “shallow.”  We say, “I want something more.”  Neuroscientists wave it away with a magic wand: it’s merely chemical change.  Nothing special about that first glance, those first three months, maybe nothing special about that love stuff at all, just matter and motion.  And if someone acts on this initial attraction?  We might refer to her or him as a “slut” or “desperate.”  A contradiction, then: We love the initial feeling that seeing a new and beautiful person brings, but we don’t hold it in high regard.  It’s not the “real” thing.

When I saw my stepbrother’s friend, my body was wiser than the rest of me, it knew things that I didn’t.  Sexual love rose up as a feeling of wanting to go past the cloudy barrier and be with him.  I recognized, in my separateness, the unity of things, and in my subsequent fantasies, I brought us together, imaginatively.  These fantasies revealed to me that I was attracted to men, and opened up the possibility to recognize the unity I had with others.

This dance between unity and separateness is enacted whenever sexual love overtakes us.  The feeling of unity that lust brings isn’t shallow, it is the real thing.  Furthermore, when we’re attracted to someone initially, we will either overlook or ignore what might normally annoy us or scare us away.  The draw is so strong that we experience, in the other, an idealized human being.  This draw can be sustained and often is.  When we see someone we’re attracted to for a second or third time, when we first start dating or after we have sex, the draw stays there.  Anything that is annoying to us normally becomes endearing while this draw is sustained.  The body’s will, sexual love, makes us extremely kind.

What Solovyov (and our experience) teaches us is that, far from being shallow, lust is what teaches us the highest form of love.

RS

Rudolf Steiner

What if we took lust and desire seriously as a form of wisdom and meaning, not just chemical response?  What if, instead of measuring it up to other experiences, we reversed our ethic and held this infatuation stage up as the standard?  We would see then that it’s not that these initial feelings are false or fake, it’s that we don’t feel them enough.  In other words, we aren’t normally as forgiving, adoring, or drawn to other people as we are in the initial stages of attraction. What if we were?  When we stay with someone, we always seek to find our way back to that attraction.  The work of fulfilling our longing, of re-achieving our lust, is the work of love.  In this work, we wonder, what if we were as loving and forgiving in our lives as we were while we were initially infatuated? 

What if lust is a sort of faithfulness?  What if lust is the ideal of love and not the other way around?

This is a good place to stop. Lingering more in theory would be the antithesis of Solovyov’s lesson.  The lesson comes not to
stay, but to rush in, teach us, recede.

It is in the longing that we learn.

So instead of delving into Solovyov’s work more deeply, I end here with the words of philosopher, scientist, and occultist Rudolf Steiner (who was influenced by Solovyov).  It’s a meditation on seeing another human being.  Reflecting on it, Vladimir Solovyov’s work can come to life in us.  If we want it badly enough.

Create for yourself a new indomitable perception of faithfulness.

What is usually called faithfulness passes so quickly.

Let this be your faithfulness: You will experience moments, fleeting moments, with the other person.

The human being will appear to you then as if filled, irradiated, with the archetype of his/her spirit.

And then there may be, indeed will be, other moments, long periods of time when human beings are darkened.

At such times, you will learn to say to yourself, “The spirit makes me strong. I remember the archetype. I saw it once. No illusion, no deception shall rob me of it.”

Always struggle for the image that you saw.

This struggle is faithfulness.

Striving thus for faithfulness you shall be close to one another as if endowed with the protective powers of angels.

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Next up: The Perplexing Web of Psychoanalytic Sex

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Sources

Allen, Paul M.  Vladimir Soloviev: Russian Mystic.  Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2008.

Solovyov, Vladimir.  The Meaning of Love. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 1985.

Steiner, Rudolf.  Reverse Ritual : Spiritual Knowledge Is True CommunionGreat Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press, 2001.

Talbott, Steve. “Vladimir Solovyov on Sexual Love and Evolution.”  Web.

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**NOTE: Parts of this entry appeared previously on my blog, in a different form, here.

#TheSexRadicals, Part 3: Wilhelm Reich’s Free Sex

4 Aug

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week was the man who fought slavery with sex, Paschal Beverly Randolph.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich

Stripping Off Our Armor: The Accumulating, Paradoxical Power of Wilhelm Reich

Civilization has not yet begun.”

– Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957)

To view Wilhelm Reich, sexologist and psychoanalyst, as our culture views him, move through his life backwards.  When he’s remembered today, he’s summed up and dismissed by his sad ending.  He’s thought of mostly as a madman, dying alone in prison, a fraud, discredited by the government. 

To view his life as one of his supporters, move through it from the beginning of his career to end; he was a protégé who worked tirelessly to help others, and was eventually driven mad by the mad world he lived in.

To really understand Reich, the narrative shouldn’t be backwards, forwards/  We should look instead at his ideas —whether they are true or false — the possibilities they create for us. Instead of taking a linear approach, we can take a sexual one.  Pain and pleasure, intertwined.  Thought and action.  Tension and release.  View Wilhelm Reich as a paradox:  A man who revealed a new, loving world to us in an angry language we still can’t understand.  A man whose work was officially dismissed as ludicrous but also taken seriously enough to merit governmental seizure and destruction when all his journals, books, and papers were burned by the FDA.

Here’s a lengthy quote from Reich’s book, The Murder of Christ: The Emotional Plague of Mankind, which, complete with shouting capital letters, shows him in all his glory: A profoundly clear thinker, ranting in a crazy tone, shocking us with truth and confusion all at once.

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“It IS possible to get out of a trap. However, in order to break out of a prison, one first must confess to being in a prison. The trap is man’s emotional structure, his character structure. There is little use in devising systems of thought about the nature of the trap if the only thing to do in order to get out of the trap is to know the trap and to find the exit. Everything else is utterly useless…

The first thing to do is to find the exit out of the trap.

The nature of the trap has no interest whatsoever beyond this one crucial point: WHERE IS THE EXIT OUT OF THE TRAP?

One can decorate a trap to make life more comfortable in it.

This is done by the Michelangelos and the Shakespeares and the Goethes. One can invent makeshift contraptions to secure longer life in the trap. This is done by the great scientists and physicians, the Meyers and the Pasteurs and the Flemings. One can devise great art in healing broken bones when one falls into the trap.

The crucial point still is and remains: to find the exit out of the trap…

The exit remains hidden. It is the greatest riddle of all. The most ridiculous as well as tragic thing is this:

THE EXIT IS CLEARLY VISIBLE TO ALL TRAPPED IN THE HOLE. YET NOBODY SEEMS TO SEE IT. EVERYBODY KNOWS WHERE THE EXIT IS. YET NOBODY SEEMS TO MAKE A MOVE TOWARD IT. MORE: WHOEVER MOVES TOWARD THE EXIT, OR WHOEVER POINTS TOWARD IT IS DECLARED CRAZY OR A CRIMINAL OR A SINNER TO BURN IN HELL.

It turns out that the trouble is not with the trap or even with finding the exit. The trouble is WITHIN THE TRAPPED ONES.

All this is, seen from outside the trap, incomprehensible to a simple mind. It is even somehow insane. Why don’t they see and move toward the clearly visible exit? As soon as they get close to the exit they start screaming and run away from it. As soon as anyone among them tries to get out, they kill him. Only a very few slip out of the trap in the dark night when everybody is asleep.”

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MOCReich was an Austrian-born student of Sigmund Freud’s; he was a promising figure in psychoanalysis who eventually departed from the circles that praised him.  Contrary to the common condemnation of psychoanalysis for its preoccupation with sex, Reich’s idea was that it didn’t focus on sex enough.

For Reich sex was it.

He allowed the mysteries of sexuality and sexual drives to lead him to a deep and frantic understanding of our culture.  It’s an understanding that shakes you away as you follow, and I can’t claim to understand it fully.  To read Reich is to allow yourself to live in inspiration rather than total clarity.  So here are four of his basic concepts, which intertwine and grow out of one another:

Character analysis, character armor, orgastic potency, and orgone energy.

With Reich’s concept of character analysis he worked to examine what people’s resistances to health and happiness were.  Why were they avoiding wholeness and integration? How did they excuse themselves into surviving — knowingly or unknowingly — in suffering?  Unlike the analysts before him, Reich sought to be more precise and less moralizing. What are the moments of your life, he wanted to know, that have led to your characteristic defensive behaviors? We have a torrent of emotions within us, awaiting expression, shamed into silence by our families, our cultures, our partners. The chilling effect of these outside forces turns our emotions into “frozen history.”

If this aspect of character analysis seems common, Reich’s theory of character armor and the corresponding concept of orgastic potency are still waiting to be embraced. Character armor was premised on the idea that the body is a sort of material reflection of the emotional state.  Or to use Simone de Beauvoir’s words, ”The body isn’t a thing, it’s a situation; it’s our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project.” Whenever someone has a defensive emotional gesture, it becomes bound up in our situations, our projects, our bodies, stuck like a choke. For instance, people with anxiety issues often have shallow breathing patterns or tense jaws. These knots in the body stop energetic flow and cause all sorts of health and mood problems that might seem unrelated to the initial characteristic defense.

If you’re flinching at the word “energetic,” you’ll want to know that Reich tried to flesh out what that meant.  As per much of his work, he both succeeded and failed.  His concept of “energy” was sexual energy, a refined version of the psychoanalytic idea of “libido.”  He believed sexual excitation underlies many of our motivations, but also that it is a continuation of the creation of life itself.  The same exuberant force that leads to life is what makes us happy and healthy.  Sex creates us, and our lives and motivations are living praise of that creative act.  Or our painful behavior is a contracted, angry refusal to acknowledge our sexual being-ness.

Reich understood culture as a giant sexual expression gagging on tangles of repression. The stored up sexual energy and frustration of a culture becomes oppressive.  The Nazis, for example (whom Reich later fled), opposed birth control, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality.  They were totally sexually repressed.  One of Reich’s revolutionary stances was to support sexual freedom, even if he was against a particular sexual practice.  It was a typically Reichian paradox.  For instance, he wasn’t thoughtful enough to allow homosexuality to be “healthy,” but he did fight against anti-gay stigmatization and legislation.

The taboo, he knew, was always more dangerous than the act. 

Modern day Reichians have carried on his work to explain how cultures co-create our character armor.  Sometimes they woefully misfire, like when they interpret Islamic cultures through the lens of naive American exceptionalism.  Other times they get it right, like when they note how class and gender inequality, as well as adverse environmental conditions create a positive feedback loop.  Sexual repression occurs as a result of poverty, which creates armored behavior, which creates more repression, and so on.   And certain environmental factors echo familial ones.  “…the emotional responses of a child to famine and starvation are similar to those stemming from maternal rejection or isolation-rearing factors which are known to have powerful disturbing effects upon later adult behavior,” writes neo-Reichian researcher James Dameo.

Reich was invested in individual responsibility, but was also a true pioneer in pointing out: It’s not you that’s fucked up, it’s culture.

Individuals are not merely selves – they are conglomerates of cultural pulses and counterpulses.  Or, as biologist and symbiosis expert Lynn Margulis once put it, “Identity is not an object; it is a process with addresses for all the different directions and dimensions in which it moves…”

How to dissolve the character armor?  Sex. 

To free up sexual excitation and dissolve character armor, one must be able to immerse him/herself in sex, and to have a liberating orgasm.  The orgasm was of primary importance to Reich, and “orgastic potency” was how fully you experienced it.  The orgasm was the event of release; all the stored of excitation left the body, resulting in total relaxation and harmony.  In essence, orgastic potency measures a person’s ability to surrender, relax, and release neuroses and psychoses.

Before we start shooting our celebratory confetti into the air, Reich was specific about the sorts of orgasm you could have.  Not all orgasms were equal.  You had to be thoughtful about your total immersion.  People who weren’t, as well as people who were merely intelligent about sex without really engaging in deep thought or practice of it, were, for Wilhelm Reich, merely sexually sophisticated, rather than sexually liberated. It’s a dichotomy that should haunt every sex-positive person to the core until they come to terms with it. That doesn’t mean accepting Reich’s terms for who is sophisticated versus liberated; take those or leave them. But it’s true that standard cultural sex education and good feelings about sex aren’t what separate the sex radicals from the openly horny.  Sexual liberation of ourselves and culture is a deep and unending work.

Reich developed a few methods to release stuck energy and increase orgastic potency.  Most prominent was vegetotherapy.  A patient lies on a table and breathes deeply and rhythmically to build up excitation and heighten emotion. The Reichian therapist sits close by, speaking gently.  Relax, relax, release your muscles. Often, a scream or a flood of tears erupt from the patient.

Many popular forms of alternative medicine, such as the Alexander Technique, bioenergetics, and Rolfing are new versions of vegetotherapy, seeking to thaw frozen histories. But if these techniques are known, their ties to Reich are often secret, severed, or ignored.

Then Reich discovered cosmic energy.  And that’s when the feds came.

paul laffolyReich’s idea of libidinous sexual energy began to morph, through the lens of his theories and studies, into a stranger principle of “orgone” energy.  Orgone energy was, “A subtle biophysical energy which permeates all living things.”  For Reich, orgone was the truth behind what people called God, a scientific principle to explain away mysticism. It was free-flowing and, because it was free, it could be used to help people undo character armor.  To this end, he created orgone “accumulators,” which would gather the energy and allow people who sat inside the boxes to absorb the benefits.  He also turned his accumulator inside out into a “cloudbuster,” a sort of rainmaking device which helped disperse atmospheric orgone energy knots.

People were sick.  Culture was sick. Even the sky was sick.  At the center, Wilhelm Reich was trying to heal everyone.  In the process, he absorbed their illnesses.

Most of Reich’s later work revolved around orgone energy, and much of it yielded provocative data.  But Reich’s  theories were too intangible and unintelligible.  Orgone energy was never clearly defined enough to communicate his research to many others, and unfortunately, Reich would publicly vent the frustration of being misunderstood again and again, isolating potential allies. When Albert Einstein visited Reich, for example, and stood in an accumulator, he noted that there was a temperature change in the box, but believed it could have been just a run-of-the-mill temperature gradient.  Many others had experienced this temperature change (including in boxes other than the ones Reich made and ones manufactured today), and Reich created controls against such normal gradients. But rather than absorb Einstein’s report as data, he repeatedly wrote to Einstein pressuring him to reassess his position. When Einstein didn’t respond, Reich called it a conspiracy and published a book about it. 

Reich wanted to help free us from a history of repressions, and by helping us, finally begin civilization. But what gets frozen in a man that tries to unfreeze history, and fails?

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Kate Bush as Peter Reich.  Donald Sutherland as Wilhelm Reich. In the video for Bush’s song about him, “Cloudbusting.”man that tries to unfreeze history, and fails?man that tries to unfreeze history, and fails?

We can still take up his lesson: Sex runs through culture like a hidden line of power, and where we don’t release it, where we don’t help each other come to our senses, we hurt ourselves and everyone else.

However we look at the paradoxical figure of Wilhelm Reich, we’re unsettled. 

Maybe Reich was so crazy that he created an entire theoretical world out of himself, a world now available to us for to think about, mull over, fear, delight in.  Or maybe he was so sane that he showed us we’re all crazy.

Kate Bush’s song, “Cloudbusting,” calls up Reich’s final days, from the viewpoint of his son.

On top of the world

Looking over the edge

You could see them coming

You looked too small

In their big black car

To be a threat to the men in power

Reich was a powerless threat to everyone in power. He’s still a threat.  The more we forget him, the more potent discovering him again becomes.

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Next week:  The Man Who Saw The World As An Orgy

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Sources

Boadella, David.  Wilhelm Reich: The Evolution of His Work.  London. Arkana. 1985.

DeMeo, James.  Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, In the Deserts      of the Old World.  Ashland, OR: Natural Energy Works, 2011.

Reich, Wilhelm.  The Mass Psychology of Fascism.  New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.

Reich, Wilhelm.  The Murder of Christ: The Emotional Plague of Mankind.  New York.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1953.

Wilson, Colin.  The Quest for Wilhelm Reich.  New York, Anchor, 1981.

#TheSexRadicals, Part 2: Paschal Beverly Randolph’s Anti-Slavery Sex Magick

28 Jul

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week was sexual freedom fighter and mystic, Ida Craddock.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.50.01 PM

Paschal Beverly Randolph

Sex Is Liberation:  Paschal Beverley Randolph’s Divine Sexual Freedom

“…sex power is God power.”  

– Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825 – 1875)

If you want to understand why sexual freedom is so threatening to people and institutions in power, masturbation is a good place to start.

I’ll stick with the masturbation I’ve got decades of experience with: jerking off.  When a man masturbates, he closes his eyes and imagines sexual images.  Or he looks at representations of sex in porn, and alternates between seeing the porn and imagining himself as part of it, somehow.  While he’s interacting with what he’s imagining or watching, he also performs a single repetitive gesture: he moves his hand up and down his penis. The act of touching your own penis can be pleasurable in and of itself, but combine the physical and the imaginary for just a few moments and something more intense and mysterious happens. The images feel real, they feel present. They are real.  The body starts to do all sorts of things.  The brain releases endorphins.  A flush of pleasure rushes up and down the body.  After a just a few minutes, half the substance that creates life comes out.

The same is true for sex, but the imagination and action seeks out different contours: One body touches another body.  Here you feel your partner’s ankle touching yours, you feel yourself enveloping your partner, you close your eyes and feel a breath on your ear.  Your attention and awareness moves from spot to spot.  And the thoughts focus on affection, attention, the image of yourself and your partner as if you were floating above and watching.MIAPC

Sex isn’t ever merely physical and it’s certainly not a primal, instinctual mess; it’s a thinking-feeling-movement-activity.  It’s a waking dream, or a state of hyper-awake-ness.

This is why so many sex radicals are also occultists; sex is about consciousness, and however you might think of the occult, it’s undeniable that sex — from the first flush of arousal to the reeling afterimage of entanglement — is an altered state.  Crusaders for the legalization of drugs often call the government’s war on drugs a “war on consciousness.”  If we want to alter our own consciousness, they say, then we should have the right to. Let’s take a tip from this insightful rhetoric and go a little further when it comes to sex:

The war on sex is the oldest and most oppressive war on consciousness.

Sex and sexuality are intimately, totally, linked to our freedom of thought and expression.

That’s why so many repressive regimes are sex negative, jail sex workers and sexual minorities (especially homosexuals), and monitor sexual behavior.  It’s also why, if we want to change the world in a radical way, it’s important to look to sex for some answers. 

There’s radical about the notion that sex is a singular activity, special and dangerous.  That’s an ideal used by anti-sex activists and puritans who say that sex will corrupt the innocent, erode society, dement the clear and thoughtful. 

Paschal Beverly Randolph’s (1825-1875), powerful contribution was to redeem this notion and elevate it. Sex is, indeed, powerful.  But that’s precisely why it’s good for us to have it, experience it, and radiate our being out of it.  Sex accompanies us through life.  It’s not going away.  It awaits our understanding.

Randolph was charismatic, and from the one photo I’ve seen of him, he’s handsome; not a bad fellow to want to experience the power of sex with.  His parents were a wealthy Virginian and a slave from Madagascar.  He was friends with Abraham Lincoln and is rumored to be the only man of mixed race in Lincoln’s funeral procession (the records are inconclusive).  He taught slaves how to read and was a famed anti-slavery activist in his time.  He was also a prolific author, and helped people work through their perceived sexual dysfunctions. 

When he was in his twenties, the world was awash with spiritualism and religious reform.  Not long before Ida Craddock was defending the belly dancers and women’s right to bodily autonomy, Randolph claimed to channel echoes of mystics from the past:  Zoroaster, Pascal, and more.  His spiritual radicalism fueled his ideals.  As he became a prominent figure in the abolitionist movement, he was guided by knowledge he said had been handed to him by Egyptian miracle workers and Indian Brahmins.  Social change would take tremendous power — real magick — and figuring prominently, in his over a dozen books on the subject, was sex.

Whereas for Craddock, sex was a path to liberation, Randolph’s major contribution was this:

Sex is liberation.

Eulis! The History of Love: Its Wondrous Magic ,Chemistry, Rules, Laws, Modes, Moods and Rationale by Paschal Beverly Randolph

Eulis! The History of Love: Its Wondrous Magic ,Chemistry, Rules, Laws, Modes, Moods and Rationale
by Paschal Beverly Randolph

The power of sex, he wrote, is the deepest and truest power, above politics and brute physical force.  It’s a bolt of occult strength, a branch of God.  Randolph theorized human beings to have a sort of electric-energetic power, putting two human beings together properly would create a complete circuit, which could unleash all sorts of positive effects.  The moment of orgasm, an altered state of consciousness for both partners, was a moment of rising into the Divine, and then returning with extraordinary results.  Sex could be tapped into to rejuvenate your skin, become a kinder person, sway your spouse, resist disease, become smarter, make money appear, and more. It could counteract and destroy oppressive circumstances, be they from marital, political, or actual enslavement.

Having sex was a prayer that could be answered with power, and it was a power that everyone had access to.

Well, not everyone, exactly.  And he didn’t mean just any sex.  It had to be sex between a man and an equal or “superior woman”, coupled with a ritualistic prayer at the moment of orgasm.  It had to be a “double crisis” that shook up the reality around both (heterosexual) participants.

Randolph was limited in his scope, but there was a shockwave within those limits.

This  investigation into and respect for sexual power utterly changed him and his many devotees.  Because sex was to be used to understand and improve the self, Randolph was an early defender of birth control, women’s rights, and one of the first people to champion the virtues of intense sexual lust.

“Sex power is god power,”  Randolph wrote.  Or, to put it in the words of sociologist Murray Davis, “Sex…is a reality-generating activity.”

Whatever you may think of God or the occult, Randolph’s message is still important and radical.  He told us that everyone had a right to pleasure and happiness and that our bodies’ ability to create pleasure out of themselves was proof of this.  Furthermore, we don’t need the State or corporations to provide us with pleasure or to sell the world of happiness to us. That is inherent in our bodies and our interactions with each other.  And to see this necessitates more bodily freedom for ourselves and others.

When we move beyond the garden variety notion that sex is powerful, to the much more radical understanding that sex is power available to everyone, we see the world differently.  Instead of slaves and masters, Randolph showed us a regenerated reality, where we are all living, breathing power centers, waiting to discover ourselves.

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Next up:  The Man Who Destroyed Clouds with Sex

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Sources:

Deveney, John P.  Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth-Century Black American  Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex    MagicianAlbany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Urban, Hugh. Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western EsotericismBerkeley: University of California     Press, 2006.