One of the things that always seems to be mentioned whenever Paganism is spoken of in the media is the… well, let’s say the ‘free love’ practises. The skyclad Wiccans, the Crowley-style orgiastic gatherings, the Dennis Wheatley bloody sacrifices… yes, it soon enters the realms of lurid fiction. Ignorant readers are titillated, genuine Pagans are frustrated.
I will say at this point, if you’re under 18, please feel free to read on. Because you will anyway, and I’m not going to be talking about anything particularly shocking (sorry, adult subscribers). Plus, censorship simply makes people look more keenly for whatever it is they’re being told not to look at – and frankly, there’s nothing here that shouldn’t be talked about. Quite the reverse.
Sex is important to pagans – in the same way that it’s important to humanity as a species. Family is at the root of community and connection, our ancestral lines would not exist without it, and an act that creates so much joy (if undertaken correctly) should be lauded, not stifled.
Aspects of Deity that are frequently incorporated into our lives and practices are the Great Mother, her Consort and her Son, amongst other archetypes. The fecundity of the land is represented well in the rampant enthusiasm of the priapic Pan and the engorged Sheela Na Gig; even the language is sensual, thick and intriguing, dripping with intention.
So it’s remarkable that when discussing sexuality in pagan life, there’s remarkably little information. Especially when we consider that according to the ‘Mind, Body & Spirit’ shelves in your local chain bookstore, the most popular spell that anyone could ever want is the Love Spell. That’s an industry in itself and not an entirely ethical one.
If love spells were used to the extent that they’re written about, the issue of ‘controlling’ others for the purpose of relationship can both be compared to – and result in – rape. The sheer invasiveness is precisely what modern Pagan practice is not about. If you’re playing with the lives and emotions of others in such ways, you need an entirely different kind of help.
If undertaken with clear intention between two informed and consenting partners, love magic can be a powerful thing. From setting the scene for a night of passion as an expression of love for your partner, to invoking the spirits of fertility with the goal of conceiving a child, these are fundamentally human experiences. By making the occasion sacred, almost ritualised, not only will you have a memorable time (I won’t say night, as this could happen at any hour), but you’ll both experience connection at a much deeper level.
The power of sex is an almost tangible energy – and not just the act itself. Sexuality as a practice is a much more familiar concept, in its way. We’re constantly being bombarded with images of it, and are tacitly aware of it in everything we do. Clothing and adornments are chosen to increase personal attractiveness, make-up exists in almost infinite variety to create human peacocks showing off on Friday nights in town centres. Without the subtle language of sex, many advertisements would be dramatically different. So how are we using that ourselves (and do we even realize)?
However, perhaps it’s our essential ‘British reserve’ or a holdover from the rules of the larger faiths, but it seems to me that the reality of sexual relationship is still rather taboo within Paganism. We’re all aware of the increased importance of woman (particularly in Dianic practice, for example), but the inclusive and comparatively open nature of the (wide range of) Pagan paths means that there are those from the entire sexual spectrum out there on Beltane. Heterosexual, homosexual or transsexual, we all understand (to a greater or lesser degree) as a crucial part of our spirituality that our actions represent both our personal power and that of our gods… as we participate in what is, at heart, possibly the most natural of all acts.
And of course, this isn’t just the missionary position. A multitude of human experience can be brought to bear in the coital ritual, from the simple (!) expression of love to joining through a mixture of pleasure and pain or control games. Again done correctly, BDSM is not simply a dressing-up party, and it would be insulting to consider it so.
There are more ways of life, spirituality and relationship than I could possibly name here. Some Pagans are polygamous. Others abstain as a personal act of sacrifice. Many realize that gender itself is fluid, playing with the boundaries of clothing, identity and public image. The key word, again, is consenting. We should endeavour to understand, not judge.
As I’ve said before, when we act honourably in our lives on this path, we act with clear intention, knowledge and responsibility. If we surrender ourselves, that is a true gift to our lover. A candle-lit dinner is an act of worship.
And then, of course, there is the Great Rite… but that’s another topic for another day.
Suffice to say, we are almost duty-bound as practising Pagans to welcome the act of love, to explore it and revel in it, as our gods do. If you’re not enjoying it, why not? What can you do differently? Be curious, investigating together with your partner. The focus and goal is relationship, the joining of forces, merging and separating in natural rhythm, like waves on the beach (both forceful and gentle).
This includes, of course, self-love. From confidence and presentation to personal, private pleasures – such lone rituals are likewise to be made memorable and enjoyable. You should hold no secrets from yourself, after all. If you are God/Goddess, take time to worship!
Not to forget, finally, that ultimate Pagan sexual experience. If you’re brave enough… get outside into the world! Wild nature is itself a sensual experience, from the feeling of sunlight on bare skin or wind through hair, to dancing in a torrential rainstorm or merging with the tickle of sand on a beach. Alone or with others, take time to open yourself and experience that fundamental relationship as you remember that whether wild or controlled, you are still an animal.
Live with awareness, live with joy, live with love. Especially on these long winter nights…
‘Love Spell, an Erotic Memoir of Spiritual Awakening’ by Phyllis Currott
‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler
‘Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe’ by Christopher Penczak