I promised a review of Hugh Urban’s book Magia Sexualis, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.
As Urban states in his introduction, this should not be seen as a sex magic practitioner’s manual, and anyone who picks it up seeking that will be disappointed. It is also not really a history of sex magic in the strict sense, which is what I was hoping it would be (so I know little more about Maria de Naglowska than I did before). Instead, it is a scholarly exploration of various individuals and groups within Western esotericism and how their attitudes toward sexual magic reflected or foreshadowed the mores of the broader culture. Throughout, he charts the tension between sexuality as being seen as a pathway to freedom, and the tendencies in our culture to turn it into a marketable commodity. His conclusion is that sexuality can be a route to freedom, but only if one is committed to liberation via action in other spheres of life as well.
For those who might be interested, Urban includes chapters on the following topics: the use of the erotic in Christian polemic against heresy and witchcraft, Paschal Beverly Randolph, Tantra’s importation to the West, Neo-Paganism/Paganism/paganism/whatever you want to call it, LaVey’s Church of Satan, and Austin Osman Spare and chaos magic. There are a few bumps – I think I recall some questionable statements in the OTO chapter, and Urban hasn’t quite sorted out which of LaVey’s stories have been debunked – but overall each chapter is a quality addition to the literature on its topic, many of which have received minimal scholarly scrutiny.
As usual, you should know after reading that whether you want to pick it up or not. I enjoyed it, and I hope to read more from Urban in the future.