But some of Clement’s objections to other Gnostic groups are very revealing.
Clement contrasts the Valentinians with the Carpocrations, who he thinks participated in licentious sexual acts because they believed that by doing so they were imitating the primordial powers who had intercourse with one another in order to create the universe.159
This is as good a brief explanation of Tantra as any.
Instead, as Gnostic scholar April D. DeConick tells us, Clement was interested in a specific form of human sexual expression that would result in divine offspring:
Human marriage was procreative, but one form of it produced more perfect offspring than the other. The higher form of marriage
included some sort of consciousness-raising during sexual relations to insure that the children would resemble God. Physical intercourse was not driven by lust, but was a matter of the will or intention.160
In other words, the Crowleyan imperative “love under will.” To make this point more precisely, Clement writes that Christians should:
… do nothing from lust (epithumia). Our will is to be directed towards that which is necessary. For we are children not of lust but of will (thelematos).161
Thus, Clement of Alexandria insists that Christians are children of Thelema!
According to Clement, human sexual intercourse that was not directed towards the divine—sexual relations that were the result of the lustful feelings of the partners—produced “defective” offspring.162 Lovecraft would take this idea much further, for he raises the possibility of sexual relations between humans and non-human creatures that result in “defective” offspring, to say the least. Lovecraft also identifies what he sees as defective races, ethnicities and bloodlines representing genetic groups that are more prone to worship or summon the dark forces from beyond the stars. This is obvious in such stories as “The Horror At Red Hook,” and “The Dunwich Horror,” and certainly is implied in “The Call of Cthulhu.”
But the Valentinian Gnostics—according to Clement and amplified by DeConick—believed in spiritual intercourse:
Through contemplative sexual practices, the Valentinians hoped to conceive children whose souls would contain an elect or morally- inclined “seed” of the Spirit. Sacred marriage was essential for giving birth to such children, who in turn would bring about the redemption of the fallen Sophia and the psyche.163
This belief is quite similar to that of the Kabbalists of the Middle Ages who held that it was the duty of pious Jews to engage in sexual intercourse on the Sabbath in order to help the “shards”—the broken pieces of the sephirot, the result of an oddly-failed attempt at the Creation—reunite and redeem themselves and by extension the whole world so that the Shekinah herself can reunite with her Bridegroom. These shards are known as the
qlippot, and Crowley devoted one rather strange document to their study, Liber 231. It attracted the attention of Kenneth Grant in the Typhonian Trilogies because it seemed to offer a kind of blueprint to the Tunnels of Set: the darkside of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the pathways that connect its various power zones, a subject to which we will return in the next chapter.
While sacred marriage is a staple of alchemical literature and appears in the theological adumbrations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), it is not as emphasized in traditional ceremonial magic. The iconic figure of the ceremonial magician is of a man who either works alone, or with several (male) assistants. This is evidenced by the grimoires themselves, which contain formulas for evoking the right spirits or demons to make a woman fall in love, or to seduce a woman, etc.—thus leading one to speculate that the average ceremonial magician was probably the medieval version of a geek: lacking in social graces and silently lusting after the girl next door. Probably the best example of this meme is that of Goethe’s Faust the magician who similarly lusts after a woman, the beloved Gretchen, and who uses the Devil’s powers to obtain her.
This was not Crowley’s problem, obviously. By the time Crowley had appeared on the scene the field of ceremonial magic had undergone quite an overhaul. Beginning with the romantic notions of Eliphas Levi and extending to the Golden Dawn, magic was being redefined as a spiritual practice equivalent to a Western version of yoga and Tantra, with a complex and internally-consistent worldview. Crowley extended this impulse to make of magic an all-encompassing spiritual movement, fueled by the revelations contained in the Book of the Law.
In addition, such intellectual luminaries as Carl G. Jung would elevate the study of alchemy to a serious field of psychological importance, and Gershom Scholem would bring Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism into the mainstream of academic research and analysis. Mircea Eliade introduced the world to shamanism, and his brilliant student Ioan Couliano would focus his knowledge of many languages both ancient and modern on medieval spiritual texts and ascent literature. The influence of these academic writers on the field of magic cannot be over-emphasized, even as they criticized occult authors such as A. E. Waite and Aleister Crowley by name.164
The theory and practice of magic was undergoing a sea-change, buffeted by forces both within and without, a process that continues to this day (especially with the outstanding work on Western esotericism coming out of the Amsterdam school led by Wouter Hanegraaf, and that of the late and much-lamented Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke of England). But the aspect of modern magic that received the most attention—and the most confusion— was the constant references to sex as an element of the process. This began with Crowley, as far as can be determined.
While the African-American mystic Paschal Beverly Randolph was undoubtedly a major influence where the sexual aspect of occultism and spirituality was concerned, through his writings and his connections to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light and eventually to the Ordo Templi Orientis, sacred sexuality was still very much a dark little secret among the Western occultists until Crowley began publicizing it rather openly. The Golden Dawn had its rituals based on the Rosicrucian allegories, and used both male and female participants in its ceremonies (unusual for a secret society at the time), but Crowley took the whole thing much further. As we have noted previously, the Golden Dawn provided much of the theoretical and ritual framework for Crowley’s system and, indeed, his A A is a refinement of the Golden Dawn degree structure with the additional three degrees at the top of the Tree of Life. Thus it would seem that a mystique of sexuality had no real place in a system that was so perfectly symmetrical to begin with but the OTO changed all of that for Crowley.
There is no doubt that the Book of the Law contains many passionate verses and lusty exhortations, written long before Crowley made the acquaintance of the OTO. This rather startling text might have made Crowley more receptive to the later instructions on sexual magic received from that German order. However Crowley’s approach was not informed by a specific program of theory and practice; instead, he tried to incorporate sexual techniques within the context of the Golden Dawn system of magic he inherited and this was not always fruitful. He used various forms of sexual experimentation for every kind of purpose, from charging talismans to attract money or knowledge to using sexual intercourse to attain altered states of consciousness. He was aware that sexual fluids were important, but had to invent ways to use them.
By the time he met David Curwen, who had considerably more knowledge in this area than he, Crowley was already quite old and only a
few years from death. Kenneth Grant, however, did not let the opportunity pass to learn from someone more knowledgeable in Tantra and began to understand the realm of possibilities that this new data represented. It is the combination of ceremonial magic, Crowley’s own Thelemic denomination, Tantra, Afro-Caribbean magic, the art of Austin Osman Spare and the Surrealists, and the over-arching worldview of H. P. Lovecraft that informs the entire Typhonian Tradition. These quanta seem unrelated and arbitrarily chosen, but in Grant’s hands they become indispensable elements of a symphony of occult praxis. The deeper one looks into any of these disparate traditions the more one finds important commonalities.
The Valentinian Gnostics believed that they could create divine offspring through some process of “consciousness-raising” as DeConick puts it. Obviously the reverse would also be true: by a different form of “consciousness-raising” one could create demon children. By fine-tuning the process, one could also create “offspring” that would have whatever characteristics were specified by the ritual. This means that the act of sexual intercourse would take place within a magical context. Clement of Alexandria believed that sex acts that resulted from pure lust would produce children that were somehow “defective”; how much more so children that were produced from acts of sexual intercourse that were specifically designed to attract demonic or otherworldly forces.
The Gnostic marriage was undoubtedly a spiritual one, the act of intercourse elevated to a higher plane; but it was nevertheless a ritual act. It was not motivated by pure lust or emotional or sexual attraction between partners. Oddly, this is the same approach that needs to be taken regardless of whether or not the purpose is to create divine offspring or demonic ones: the concentration of the sexual partners must be focused on the spiritual or magical goal and not on the satisfaction of sexual desire. This is a requirement that effectively eliminates most dilettantes who become involved in the practice of magic because they seek excitement or arcane thrills.
The sexual rituals described by Grant in his Typhonian Trilogies are never explained in full, but there is enough detail to enable the educated or dedicated reader to fill in the blanks. The Gnostic Marriage example of a High Priest or King mating with a High Priestess or Queen becomes the template onto which a series of variations is mapped. In order to deconstruct the Tantric rituals employed by Grant and by the members of
his Nu-Isis Lodge it becomes necessary to deconstruct the sex act itself, to reduce it to its various psycho-biological components. The grosser physical aspects of the sex act—the bodily fluids especially—are understood to be place-holders for their more ethereal counterparts.
None of this is helpful, however, if the individual participants are not themselves completely prepared for the ritual. This means that the operators must be demonstrably well-trained in various yogic-type exercises, from pranayama and asana and the basic forms of yogic meditation up to and including the ability to raise Kundalini. While it is not necessary for the participants to be adepts at Kundalini yoga, it is required that they have some basic ability in this regard otherwise the rituals are empty gestures with no force behind them. The ability to meld mental concentration with physical, psycho-sexual response is the key towards successful completion of this type of ritual. It is a balancing act between the body’s normal processes and reactions and the exertion of mental control over the same processes, made more difficult because the same requirement is demanded of the partner. In the case of a male and female operator both must be capable of at least the basic level of mental and physical control; it is not useful that only one member of the couple have this ability unless the goal of the ritual is to “vampirize” the power of the less-advanced partner.
As mentioned earlier, one of the essential aspects of the type of training required for Tantric-type operations is the ability to take conscious control of the autonomic nervous system, represented by the reptilian or serpent brain. In Tantric terms, however, this is considered raising the serpent from the base of the spine—the Goddess Kundalini—until it reaches the brain where it meets the Lord Shiva and the alchemical wedding or Gnostic marriage takes place. There are inherent dangers in this type of practice, whether you use Western or Asian terminology to describe it, and the image of the serpent—one of the most venomous creatures on earth but also the one that sheds its skin and becomes a symbol of transformation— is instructive in this regard. It was the serpent who told Eve to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, to become “as gods.” Yet it was the Gnostics who believed that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was actually the True God, and that the Creator of the world was a demi-urge, a lesser being who intended to enslave Adam and Eve for his own purposes. In this
complicated mixture of images and myths we can discern the outlines of sublime truths.
Human sexuality has always been the touchstone for a whole host of tabus in virtually every culture. Society—whether as secular or sacred government or both—has arrogated to itself control over the sexual impulses of its members. Certain types of sexual activity are approved, others are condemned. This is as true in preliterate societies as in literate and so-called “advanced” civilizations. As in all things, the magician takes back this control—albeit usually secretly—and denies himself or herself nothing in the pursuit of knowledge and personal perfection. In other words, in this scenario, society becomes the demi-urge and the magician is Eve listening to the Serpent. If it is ever discovered that the magicians have listened to the Serpent, society would banish them from its borders: arrested, imprisoned, burned at the stake or hanged. Traffic with the Devil
—the Serpent, the Dark Lord—includes not only rituals and beliefs that are contrary to that of the Church or State, but which also involves sexual activity that has been proscribed. This is as true in medieval India with the rise of Tantric sects (in particular the Kaula circles and the practices of Vama Marg Tantra) as it was in the Europe of the Middle Ages.
Control of the human body and its products—especially its offspring— has been a focus of modern societies. Sexuality that does not result in the conception of children often has been banned, such as homosexuality, masturbation, sodomy, etc. Further, the children must be conceived within a legally-acceptable environment, i.e., the parents of the children in question must be legally bound in the eyes of the State so that the children are legal inheritors of any property. Bloodlines and real estate are inextricably linked in this way, and marriage is just a means of providing the right documentation to ensure a smooth transition from one property owner (the parent) to the next (the child).
In the degree structure of the OTO, however, sexual practices are given spiritual analogues. It has been popularly—and somewhat erroneously— understood that the VIIIth degree of the OTO concerns auto-erotic practices (what the cynics refer to as “magical masturbation”), the IXth degree refers to heterosexual intercourse, and the Xlth degree concerns homosexual intercourse. Thus the VIIIth degree and the XIth degree would automatically be considered tabu by the established Church and State for the reasons mentioned above. They represent the intentions of the