The sexualization of spirituality has a long tradition in most
non-Western religious traditions and is especially prominent in
Hindu tantric yoga, which strongly influenced Tibetan Buddhism.
Sex was utilized as a means to unite with the goddess,
in one of her several guises. It also emerged in Chinese Taoist
traditions, where it was integrated into speculations of longevity
In the West, sexual activity was to a large extent denigrated
and identified with original sin. Thus the idea of positively integrating
sexuality and religion was considered somewhat scandalous.
With the emergence of alternative forms of spirituality,
however, new attention was given to sexuality.
Within Spiritualism a new attention to sexuality began quite
early as the basis of the concept that would become known as
soul mates. Early speculation would be passed on to Pascal
Beverly Randolph, an eclectic physician who specialized in
marital problems. Randolph developed a teaching of occult
sexuality centered upon a hypothesized energy transfer between
couples during intercourse. His ideas led directly to a
full-blown sex magick as embodied in the OTO (Ordo Templi
Orientis), a German magic order founded in the 1890s.
Through the nineteenth century the basic problem in ceremonial
magic was the building of energy for the accomplishment
both of mundane goals and the great work of union with
the ultimate. A variety of different methods, from chanting to
using mind-altering drugs, was used. The Ordo Templi Orientis
proposed that sex was the best means of raising such energy.
The order developed a degree system that taught basic magic
practice and then introduced sexual techniques at the eighth
(autoerotic) and ninth (heterosexual intercourse) degree levels.
Through the early decades of the twentieth century, sex magic
was the great secret of the OTO.
Independently of the OTO, Aleister Crowley (18751947),
a former member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
who had formed his own small group, pursued his development
of magic through attempts to repeat some of the operations
described in older texts. In 1909 he was in Egypt attempting
to understand works of magic originally described by
Elizabethan magicians John Dee and Edward Kelly. Assisting
Crowley was Victor Neuburg. In the midst of these studies
Crowley was inspired to conduct his first act of sex magic, with
Neuburg as his partner. Crowleys work led to the publication
The Book of Lies, which contains, in allegorical phrasing, some
of the insights on sex and magic he had acquired.
Following the publication of The Book of Lies, Theodor
Reuss, the outer head of the order of the OTO, contacted
Crowley and complained that he had published the secret of
the OTO. The result of their encounter was Crowleys induction
into the OTO and his quick rise to a position of power as
head of the British section. He then succeeded Reuss as outer
head of the order. Crowley rewrote the ritual material for the
order and added an eleventh, homoerotic, degree. Crowley
also experimented with sex magic at an intense level over the
next decade and kept detailed journals of his endeavors.
Through the decades after World War I several other sex
magic groups were born, most founded by former members of
the OTO. They included the Fraternal Saturni (Germany) and
the Choronzon Club, also known as the Great Brotherhood of
God (United States).
The OTO itself was never a large organization and few knew
about and practiced its sex magic techniques. Crowley was succeeded
by Carl Germer, whose administrative leadership was
almost nonexistent. Through the 1950s the secret materials
were dispensed to a variety of people internationally. Germer
died in the early 1960s without designating a successor, and the
order fell into chaos. In the meantime a set of Crowleys papers
were deposited at the Warburg Institute in London and became
known to various British magicians (especially Kenneth Grant).
Then in 1969 Louis Culling, a former member of the OTO
who had left to join an American offshoot, published the Complete
Magick Curriculum of the Secret Order of the G.B.G., and
shortly thereafter a commentary on it, A Manual of Sex Magick.
Beginning with the publication in 1972 of an edited edition of
Crowleys Magical Diaries, which contained the account of some
of his sexual experiments, within a decade all of Crowleys writings
on sex magic and all of the secret materials of the OTO
were published. These books provided the basis for the spread
of sex magic throughout the Western world. At the same time,
through the Bihar School of Yoga in Bengal, the sexual teachings
of Indian tantra were for the first time spread to the West
in such detail that tantric practice could be institutionalized.
From the 1980s to the present a host of different sex magic
groups drawing upon the CrowleyOTO tradition have arisen.
At the same time a number of tantric groups (and a few Taoist
groups) have also appeared. While each tradition seems to be
aware of the other and has some superficial similarity in its use
of sexual intercourse for religious and magical ends, they have
remained separate. The Western and Eastern teachings on sexuality
are quite different. While the same basic practices are
present in both Eastern and Western forms of occult sexuality,
the ideas under which they were organized do not easily mix.
Crowley, Aleister. De Arte Magica. San Francisco Level
. Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley. Edited by John Symonds
and Kenneth Grant. Montreal Next Step Publications,
. The Magical Record of the Beast 666. Edited by John
Symonds and Kenneth Grant. Montreal Next Step Publications,
Culling, Louis, ed. A Manual of Sex Magick. St. Paul Llewellyn
King, Francis, ed. The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O. New York
Samuel Weiser, 1973.
. Sexuality, Magic, and Perversion. Secaucus, N.J. Citadel