You can’t really have any contact with modern Paganism and avoid the selective religious blessing given to the body and physical existence. That there is any perceived blessing of the body is a good thing. We’ve had so much condemnation of the body and the flesh from religious sources over many, many years, that it’s high time the blessing was brought back.
Yet we seem to hang on to old sentiments and old prejudices when it comes to the flesh. How long did it take us to rush to worship at the altar of procreation? No time at all, for it was right there in the anthropological and psychological fixations on “fertility cults”. Back then it looked like the good wannabe noble savage was gonna have to get down to baby making, or at least going through the motions with spiritual intent. And what was the one form of sexuality traditionally endorsed by the Church? The one leading to childbirth. Admittedly with other controls and binds and dogmas attached. But if you are coming down to sexual nuts and bolts, what the Church approved of was heterosexual vaginal sex with a reproductive outcome. Which kinda makes them a fertility cult as well really.
I don’t think that Pagan revivalists meant it, or saw it quite that way though. They just inherited a sensibility, and poured their counterculture into it. But the fact is it’s there. And they were trying for a kind of liberation, and hopefully found what they were looking for. We don’t get most places in just one leap, after all. But neopaganism as a whole has I think got stuck with the inheritance of sacralizing procreative sex above all others. We want people to have choices, but we still put it there at the middle. We justify this by linking it to birth and life and saying well, isn’t that what Paganism is about? We ameliorate it by cultivating tolerance. But really I don’t think it washes well enough.
I think we need to push this a little further, because we will never understand or experience sexuality fully and freely unless we decouple it from procreation, and it does not help us if we iconize sexuality as the procreative process. I think babies are awesome, wild things – it’s like looking in the eyes of an astronaut that just went through the most gut wrenching re-entry, but that’s about them, not about sex and sexuality.
The “what we need to look at” sexually is I believe everything that isn’t the procreative process. That will include all such sexuality (including the majority of instances of heterosexual sex), but will also put it in the “condemned” category in old Church teachings, and the “class B” of neopagan iconography. Where such sexual expression is intentional, you could sum it up in the traditional term “sodomy“, in the broader meaning of the word. In fact sodomy is a word with a fantastic, almost piratical ring to it. I suggest we reabsorb some of its positive and life affirming content.
At various times the term sodomy has meant a range of religiously or legally prohibited sexual acts and behaviours, that separate sexual intention from procreation (in addition to other “vices”)*. I’d say that it is exactly the intention to separate sexuality from procreation that we actually need. Sex is no reason to have kids. Procreation is not what makes sex sacred. It’s time we broke the equation, especially given how appallingly overpopulated the world is. We don’t need to add alternative sexuality around the edges of “sacred procreativity”. We need to accord the non-procreative its own place of supreme sexual honour. I say supreme, because we then don’t confuse sexuality and reproduction. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with …….. sacred sodomy!
Of course, when most people hear the word sodomy they think “anal intercourse”. Now penetrative sex of any kind is not everybody’s thing, but the anus is indeed an interesting door to our relationship with sex and the body. There are few parts of the body quite as despised, yet also commonly desired, and like it or not, it is a sex organ (and guys, whether you know it or not, you do have a g spot up there). In itself it is neither male nor female by nature, which is to say it is common to all sexes and genders. Not only is it a sex organ, but you’d also die without it (surgical stoma formation apart). Put simply, if the penis and the vagina may be accorded iconic religious status (and they historically are), then so can the anus. If we talk about the sacred lingam and yoni, then we should talk about the sacred anus too.
In fact where we tend to find it more is in demonological and apocalyptic illustrations, where its taboo and despised qualities are maximized and given a nightmare edge. It does turn up in the kama sutra, but that tends to be glossed over in public reputation. And then there is the “obscene kiss” of the Witches’ Sabbat, where the participant must kiss the Devil’s behind. It betrays a potent power over the cultural psyche, but it is not exactly roses and light. I would argue though that a rose is still a rose, and the hidden light can be the most enlightening.
illustration of the “obscene kiss” – image in public domain
Interestingly anal intercourse as a magical formula was attached to the XI degree OTO by Aleister Crowley, while the heterosexual (and non-reproductively intentioned) practice of intercourse during menstruation was associated with this degree by Kenneth Grant. As some people have noted here, 11 is the number of magick and the “passionate union of opposites”. It is not the number of reproduction in the ordinary sense. To some traditions the number is viewed as “evil” because it goes beyond the “perfection” of 10, tipping it into the unbalanced and “demonic” (and here we see the features of some traditional anti-gay arguments reanimated and twitching to life). In actual fact, balance does not come from abstractions and maintenance of taboo – rather the opposite. 11 is also viewed as a “master number” in numerology. It is as well the number of the sign of Aquarius, and the Age we are meant to be heading towards. Its component parts are equal, and it indicates a union between two levels of being (seen either as 5 + 6 or 1 +10). There is in its form a reflectiveness, a symmetry and a balance, yet also a presence that is more than the sum of its parts. But it is a departure, into one’s own direct experience. Katon Shual gives a nice reflection on some of these matters in his book “Sexual Magick“, and a good deal else besides.
Of course, sacred sexuality and sexual magick need have nothing to do with the anus or penetration, and there is much else besides, and much to be explored and discovered with an open mind and a clear heart. We have so much to unlearn, and so much to explore, with love. But I would like to give the anus its place of honour, as a representative of so much that could be, need not be, and could be otherwise. In Nature’s sacred vocabulary, it needs no introduction.
Here’s to the ass, and the many colours and tastes of love without conception.
* from what I can gather the accusation of “sodomy” has been used primarily against men, but the quality of deviance (or creative inspiration) that it traditionally embodies can be taken to include women in its moral sweep, especially when it comes to include non-procreative, unsanctioned sexual behaviour.