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Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism [Hardcover]

by Hugh B. Urban
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 4, 2006 0520247760 978-0520247765 1
Sexuality and the occult arts have long been associated in the western imagination, but it was not until the nineteenth century that a large and sophisticated body of literature on sexual magic—the use of sex as a source of magical power—emerged. This book, the first history of western sexual magic as a modern spiritual tradition, places these practices in the context of the larger discourse surrounding sexuality in American and European society over the last 150 years to discover how sexual magic was transformed from a terrifying medieval nightmare of heresy and social subversion into a modern ideal of personal empowerment and social liberation. Focusing on a series of key figures including American spiritualist Paschal Beverly Randolph, Aleister Crowley, Julius Evola, Gerald Gardner, and Anton LaVey, Hugh Urban traces the emergence of sexual magic out of older western esoteric traditions including Gnosticism and Kabbalah, which were progressively fused with recently-discovered eastern traditions such as Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. His study gives remarkable new insight into sexuality in the modern era, specifically on issues such as the politics of birth control, the classification of sexual “deviance,” debates over homosexuality and feminism, and the role of sexuality in our own new world of post-modern spirituality, consumer capitalism, and the Internet.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This book offers a fascinating account of the development of Western sexual magic through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Urban focuses on an extraordinary set of historical figures, and his rich analysis illuminates the sexual - and supernatural - undercurrents that have shaped modernity." - Randall Styers, author of Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World"

From the Inside Flap

"This book offers a fascinating account of the development of Western sexual magic through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Urban focuses on an extraordinary set of historical figures, and his rich analysis illuminates the sexual—and supernatural—undercurrents that have shaped modernity."—Randall Styers, author of Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 349 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (October 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520247760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520247765
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,307,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What is the connection between an early 19th century African American spiritualist, Paschal Beverly Randolph, and the workings of later individuals/groups such as Brotherhood of Luxor, A. Crowley, and the O.T.O.?

How have the ancient tantric teachings of south east asia morphed into the distinctly western practice of expensive weekend workshops discussing "neo-tantra"? What does this say about our collective views of sex, love, and spirituality in this culture?

This is a scholar's book, but the style is accessable, and sometimes witty. This book belongs on the shelf of anyone who is willing to think outside of the box and willing to look at this important topic.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine History, Predictable Conclusions May 16, 2009
Format:Hardcover
In many respects I would have to consider this one of the better studies of the topic. Hugh Urban does a fine job in giving us an overview of the concepts and persons involved throughout the history of sex magick, and demonstrates clearly the timeless link between religion, social politics, and sex. Most certainly a worthy addition to the bookshelf for any with even a passing interest in the subject.

My only complaints would be the heavy handed manner in which the book is used to vindicate exclusively left wing radical politics, and the relative lack of objectivity in leveling a fair critique of liberal impacts and failures. It seems obvious that the portraits painted are begging for such criticism, but instead we are treated to endorsement of some fairly questionable views.

But perhaps I protest too much. If the reader bears in mind that as an academic Professor Urban is predisposed to conclude the fashionably obvious (read: politically correct) rather than the critically sound, then the whole of this read is less frustrating and entirely worthwhile.

For the historical expose I give 4.5 stars. For the shoddy conclusions, I give 1 star. Overall, because of its fearless treatment of such an obscure topic, I give the book 3.5 stars.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No sex please, we're penguins May 8, 2008
By Casca
Format:Hardcover
This book looks at sex attitudes and practices in Western esoteric traditions, yoga, and aspects of tantra. Urban highlights and intermingles the issues of sex magic, liberation and transgression. The concept of sex magic he uses involves making a magical wish at the moment of climax in order to effect change in the external reality. Urban traces modern sex magic from Paschal Randolph (1825-1875) through Aleister Crowley, various occult groups, to neo-pagans and chaos magic. He notes that a number of practitioners were decidedly misogynist: Crowley, Theodor Reuss, Julius Evola and satanist Anton LaVey. Despite Randolph's high claims for sex magic, it did not help him. He had a severe accident, became alcoholic and suspicious that his wife was unfaithful, and at the age of 49 shot himself or was murdered. Urban concludes that late capitalism has made a fetish of sex, endowing it with mystical or magical qualities. He refers to Herbert Marcuse's concept of "repressive desublimation," whereby, under the promise of liberation of eros, people are enslaved to the consumer culture. Urban hopes that "a more equal, fair and free society" will restore a "magical" quality to sex. Sex magic is based on the idea that the moment of climax has great power. This key issue is not discussed by Urban. Especially for the male, the climax means a loss of vital energy, disorientation and powerlessness. It is called la petite mort for a reason. There is no hard evidence in the book that sex magic actually works. Life is not that simple.
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