We’ve had wild dances and drunken reveling so it’s only fitting we look at rampant orgies next. Anyone would think that being a Witch or Pagan simply meant we got invited to all the best parties and our detractors were simply jealous.
Sex and Marriage in Pre-Christian Societies
Marriage, or at least the contractual relationship between two individuals has taken many forms over the millennia. The format of one man and one woman is most definitely a western Christian concept which has been exported and mapped over many cultures and has set a filter on how we view the past. Other variations of unions include arrangements such as harems and concubines where wealth and status was displayed through the keeping multiple wives and same sex relationships in addition to opposite sex unions intended to bring about heirs. The understanding around the permenancy of these unions has also shifted with the influence of Christianity. The Early Christian Fathers would often decry how marriages were initiated and annulled because it was was at odds with the control they sought to extend into the every day life of their converts. The idea of ’till death do us part’ was a direct response to the ability of marriages to end should either participant (particularly the woman, because how dare we) pick up and move out of the marital home regardless of the declarations made.
Then there is the concept of monogamous relationships. True monogamy is not a concept unique to Christianity; any society which had a preoccupation with the purity of bloodlines wanted at least the women to remain faithful to their spouse regardless of how many others wives they may share him with. The same wasn’t assumed of the men. Mistresses and concubines were in some cultures an expectation and Christianity is an exception in they disproved of the men, or at attempted to. Given that a wife was expected to be faithful and accept her husbands infidelities gracefully ( think Catherine of Aragon vs Anne Bolyn) and punished religiously and socially for transgressions whilst a man may get congratulated on his virility and a token punishment. The social status of the couple would influence the response of the church but even today this cognitive dissonance between how women and men are treated echoes strongly.
So Christianity plays it’s part in the perception of society towards sex in general. We’re expected to be faithful and monogamous and keep such activities behind closed doors, particularly those things that don’t fit in with this rigid definition. But we pagans prefer to kick at the traces and our awareness of our cultural roots means that some, but not all, are more open minded than our Christian counterparts.
Sex in Paganism
Sex is a fact of life. It is the means by which the human race is able to renew itself each generation but it is also an act of pleasure which can be undertaken for its own sake. It can be a method of creating bonds or it can be a means to an end without too greater emphasis placed on the interaction between participants. There are two sides sex and whilst Christianity focuses on one Pagans are often able both sides equally.
Given that many streams of modern paganism are focused on a cycle of Life, Death and Rebirth, which inherently includes a stage of sex and procreation, in conjunction with the narrow societal view of both Witchcraft and sex as an act it is unsurprising that assumptions are made. Throughout the various Witchcraft persecutions sex and lewd behaviour featured in the accusations, though this reflects more on a misogynistic fear of woman (and effeminate men) and and attempt to create a caricature of the ‘model woman’ in order to be more sucessful in persecutions. Some of this rationale remains with us even today and the Pagan reaction to it varies. Some respond by embracing the image whilst others fit on within societies norms around the subject because they feel more comfortable doing so. The latter group sometimes come up against a troubling dissonance in that sex, in actuality and symbology, does appear in Paganism.
The most prominent example of sex within modern Paganism is the Heiros Gamos or Holy Marriage. The Heiros Gamos ritual has featured in many cultures throughout history and is ritual marriage and sexual union of a God and Goddess either symbology or in actuality. In modern Paganism, particularly Wicca, this takes the form of the Great Rite.
The Great Rite is most commonly performed in the symbolic sense where the anthame (representing the phallic God) is plunged within the fluid filled chalice (representing the receptive Goddess). The act is one of blessing and balancing of male and female energies and whilst it can be performed at any time it is particularly associated with the festival of Beltane. The Great Rite is also used in actuality in relation to initiation in some Wiccan Covens, particularly at the higher degrees of initiation. This is usually a private act where only the initiator and participate are present and is only undertaken with full consent. That bring said sex in actuality doesn’t have to be the only vehicle of initiation, in fact insistence that it is would be a bit of a red flag for me. There are other ways around this, such as the use of the Great Rite in symbolism, which could be explored if the participant is not keen on full blown coitus with their initiator.
The other way sex features in modern paganism is in the form of Sex Magic The inclusion of sex in witchcraft is usually as a form of either raising energy in order to manifest a desire in reality or charge a symbol or object. The participants focus on a particular symbol (or sigil) or mutually desired outcome and through joint visualisation throughout the act raise energy which is then focused and sent out to work on the participants behalf as part of the final release. This technique relies heavily on the participants ability to visualise and maintain a high level of focus throughout an albeit … erm potentially distracting process. A similar process can be used to generate and offer energy to deities or even invoke them, particularly those associated with sex and fornication. This process does not necessarily require two or more participants and masturbation is another way to raise and utilise sexual energy in Witchcraft.
Consensual Ritual Sex and Ritual Abuse
Although I have hinted that sex is not the only option I want to be explicit. If you do not want to have sex with a HP/S for whatever reason you are under no obligation to do so. Any coven that says ‘in order to join first time you must have sex with the HP/S” listen to those alarm bells. If you are uncomfortable with the idea at any level walk away and seek out a legitimate group who will not make such demands at the outset. It would be nice to think that such predators are few and far between but sadly they are not but unfortunately it can be very difficult to deal with such people for a variety of reasons. One is the reactionary closing of ranks and even enabling of the predator but more importantly is the issue of implied consent.
I’ll give an example, albeit a very transparent one but one that I am aware of actually happening. In an open social media group an American man posted a request for Women, particularly those local to him, to post in reply (or privately message him) pictures of their “Lady Garden” so he could perform a “reading” to assess how “suitable for the Craft” they were.
Feeling creeped out yet? Well to make matters worse some women were aceeding to the request and apparently willing to meet the guy in person.
Back to implied consent which is where your actions and behaviours may create a degree to belief in your willingness to participate in certain activities. Going back to the example above, sending a sexually explicit picture of your private parts and then agreeing to meet them for a ‘private reading’ could be taken as establishing reasonable belief in consent something that is taken into consideration when prosecuting rape and sexual abuse allegations.
Now I not trying to engage in victim blaming here. This shouldn’t be happening. Period.
When talking about sex in a Pagan context I feel there is a necessity (for me as a blogger) to stress the necessity of approaching the subject in an informed and considered way. Be aware of what you are being asked to talk about (and this includes texts, emails, messenger services etc) by people who you don’t know all that well or have only met once or twice. If you’re internal alarm bells are ringing don’t shrug your shoulders and say “ah well, they’re pagans, I’m sure they’re a good person”. If your intuition is saying no then back the hell up. Not everyone is as blatant or as tactless as the example I gave, you are more likely to be led up to it over time. If you decide that actually you are okay having sex with someone and you are totally in possession of all the facts then it is your free will to make that choice and one I would support you in. If you decide to do the act in spite of niggling doubts and at a later date felt that you had been coerced or tricked into participating it may be difficult to take action. If you have doubts express them. The reaction and response of the other party will either reassure you or create a greater dissonance on which you can make a decision on.
Just as I would empower to undertake the Great Rite in actuality I would want to empower people to make take the symbolic route and other alternatives. There should be choice.
(My) Modern Pagan View on Sex
I’ve mentioned briefly about the general perception of sex in modern paganism but if it appeared shallow and evasive that’s because it was. This is another one of those subjects where opinion varies from person to person and group to group. This makes it hard to speak generally so I will reveal a little more about my own views on sex in Paganism.
I am no prude, and I enjoy sex and fine photography as much as anyone. What two, or more, consenting adults do in their own time is their own business, be that in the bedroom or ritual room. We live in a land of laws and so long as you live within them it is neither my concern or business. Nakedness and acceptance of self without the need to respond to the pressures of societies expectations that goes with it are powerful things. Understanding and accepting ourselves as we are for who we are is part of what makes us a Witch. Sex is also a powerful tool, both as a process of initiation and as a method of raising energy and shouldn’tbe discounted.
But! And it is a big But.
We live in a society constrained by its religious past and that religions views past and present. Equally we live in a society which has a bipolar attitude towards the human form and ideals of beauty as well as sex and it’s function in marriage and procreation. Focusing on my own gender; beautiful women are idolised and an unrealistic standard of beauty given as the ideal for all women to attract men to them, whilst at the same time they are objectified and vilified for overt sexuality.
The same is true of men in a different sense. Hyper virility and masculinity is the must. Be buff and it won’t matter if your nerdy, rugged or well groomed women will throw themselves at you. You won’t get called on sleeping around too much but any acknowledgement of emotions is rejected and ridiculed.
Mixed messages much?
Although the there is little we can do in in redefining the interpretation that wider society has created for itself and they way this affects how it views the inclusion of ritual nudity and sex, actual or symbolic, we can help the situation by not sinking to the level of joining in the objectification of our God’s, Goddesses or ourselves. Creating a caricature of the female Witch by giving her balloons for breast and legs that start at her armpits doesn’t empower us as women or Witches, it plays straight in to societies hands by a) us engaging in their game and b) making ourselves look silly at the same time. We should celebrate the human body, in all its forms, and take a realising interpretation of our deities. Yes, many of the God’s we recognise were and should be depicted as ‘perfect’ in their form but that doesn’t not give us total license to be completky vulgar. Nor does it take into account that the Gods were often flawed in other ways or that some were commonly depicted as ‘less than perfect’. Taking Pan as an example; he was no cut young thing with artfully towsled hair and trim beard. He was a rugged warts and all beast of a God with maybe a bit of a belly and personally I think I prefer him that way. I certainly feel there is no reason to air brush out the so called ‘imperfections’ of the mortal model in search of the divine within, especially when it brings so much character to the image.
Images are short on the ground this week due to holiday madness however the image used is from Sarah Anne Lawless blog on the same subject which is one of the blogs I read in preperation for this week’s post.