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Magia Sexualis

Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism

Hugh Urban

Publication Year: 2006

Sexuality and the occult arts have long been associated in the western imagination, but it was not until the nineteenth century that a large and sophisticated body of literature on sexual magic—the use of sex as a source of magical power—emerged. This book, the first history of western sexual magic as a modern spiritual tradition, places these practices in the context of the larger discourse surrounding sexuality in American and European society over the last 150 years to discover how sexual magic was transformed from a terrifying medieval nightmare of heresy and social subversion into a modern ideal of personal empowerment and social liberation. Focusing on a series of key figures including American spiritualist Paschal Beverly Randolph, Aleister Crowley, Julius Evola, Gerald Gardner, and Anton LaVey, Hugh Urban traces the emergence of sexual magic out of older western esoteric traditions including Gnosticism and Kabbalah, which were progressively fused with recently-discovered eastern traditions such as Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. His study gives remarkable new insight into sexuality in the modern era, specifically on issues such as the politics of birth control, the classification of sexual "deviance," debates over homosexuality and feminism, and the role of sexuality in our own new world of post-modern spirituality, consumer capitalism, and the Internet.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface, Acknowledgments, and Apologies

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pp. ix-xii

When I first conceived the idea of writing a book on magia sexualis, or the tradition of sexual magic in the modern Western esotericism, I immediately encountered two very strong but completely opposite reactions. On one side, many friends and colleagues were naturally intrigued by the possibility of a book that could manage to take seriously a subject ...

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Introduction: Sex Magic, Modernity, and the Search for Liberation

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pp. 1-20

It might seem at first somewhat surprising and not a little ironic that the period of the late nineteenth century—the Victorian era, with its rather restrictive attitudes toward the human body and sexuality—gave birth to a large body of literature on the subject of magia sexualis. ...

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1. The Recurring Nightmare, the Elusive Secret: Historical and Imaginary Roots of Sex Magic in the Western Tradition

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pp. 21-54

Sex, magic, and secrecy have long been intimately associated in the Western imagination. Since at least the first centuries of the Christian church, sexual licentiousness was often believed to go hand in hand with experimentation in occult arts and secret rituals. Conversely, heretical religious groups were typically accused of the most perverse sexual activities. ...

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2. Sex Power Is God Power: Paschal Beverly Randolph and the Birth of Sex Magic in Victorian America

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pp. 55-80

While the general association between sex, magic, and liberation has a long history in the Western religious imagination, the practice of sexual magic as a specific, detailed technique appears to be a relatively recent invention. Even if there are traces of erotic magic and ritual intercourse in medieval Kabbalah, Renaissance magic, ...

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3. The Yoga of Sex: Tantra, Kama Sutra, and Other Exotic Imports from the Mysterious Orient

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pp. 81-108

If we browse the shelves of most popular bookstores or surf the various occultist Web sites now saturating cyberspace, we find that sexual magic is very commonly associated and often wholly identified with the body of Asian religious traditions known as Tantra. Indeed, one need only run a search on “sex magic” in any good search engine ...

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4. The Beast with Two Backs: Aleister Crowley and Sex Magick in Late Victorian England

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pp. 109-139

If there is one figure with whom the practice of sex magic is generally associated in the modern imagination, it is surely Aleister Crowley (1875– 1947). Known in the popular press as “the wickedest man in the world,” and proclaiming himself the “Great Beast 666,” Crowley was the object of media scandal, moral outrage, and titillating allure throughout his life. ...

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5. The Yoga of Power: Sex Magic, Tantra, and Fascism in Twentieth-Century Europe

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pp. 140-161

It might seem at first surprising that the modern literature on sexual magic—so much of which centers around a powerful ideal of social and political liberation—should also be connected to a movement typically associated in most contemporary American minds with political oppression and lack of freedom—namely, fascism. ...

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6. The Goddess and the Great Rite: Sex Magic and Feminism in the Neo-Pagan Revival

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pp. 162-190

By the middle of the twentieth century, all of the various currents of sexual magic—from the early narratives of Gnostic orgies and witches’ Sabbaths to the teachings of P.B. Randolph, Aleister Crowley, and the Western versions of Tantra—had begun to flow together and commingle in a number of powerful new ways. ...

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7. The Age of Satan: Satanic Sex and the Black Mass, from Fantasy to Reality

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pp. 191-221

If the 1950s witnessed a new flowering of sensual spirituality with the rise of neo-paganism, witchcraft, and Goddess worship, the late 1960s would give birth to even more radical and transgressive forms of sexual magic. As its founder, Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–97), observed, it is no accident that the modern Church of Satan was created in 1966— ...

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8. Sexual Chaos: Chaos Magic, Cybersex, and Religion for a Postmodern Age

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pp. 222-254

The practice of sexual magic, as we have seen throughout this book, is intimately tied to a profound desire for liberation, transgression, and radical freedom on all levels—sexual, social, religious, and political alike. The violation of sexual codes, in other words, is a kind of master key for the violation of codes on other levels, ...

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Conclusion: The Lessons of King Lamus: Religion, Sexuality, and Liberation in a “Post-Orgy” World

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pp. 255-266

Here at the end of my foray into the history of modern sexual magic, I cannot help but feel a bit like Pendragon and Lou, the characters in Aleister Crowley’s infamous semiautobiographical novel The Diary of a Drug Fiend. After retracing a two-hundred-year quest for radical freedom and liberation on every level—sexual, social, political, ...


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pp. 267-316

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 317-330


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pp. 331-336

Production Notes

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p. 350-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780520932883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520247765

Page Count: 349
Publication Year: 2006