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The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism: Sacred Practices and Spiritual Marriage Paperback – March 25, 2008
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" . . . an insightful history of the role of human sexuality in the shaping of ideas and cultures." (Chard Currie, New Dawn, Sep/Oct 2008)
"In this scholarly paperback, [Versluis] traces the twisting and turning path of Western sexual mysticism." (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice, Oct 2008)
"This book addresses a topic that is often overlooked (or else looked at as an embarrassing part of the mystical tradition) here in the Western world. This book looks at both the Pagan and Christian mystic traditions in many of their manifestations, with an emphasis of the Christian side. . . . There is no titillation in this book, merely accurate historical reporting." (Michael Gleason, Witchgrove.com, Apr 2008)
"Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticsim offers up a unique set of cross-connections essential to connecting spirituality with religious history. New Age collections, in particular, will find it an exciting survey packed with history and religious examination." (Midwest Book Review, July 2008)
"Like his other works, this book is essential reading for those who desire to understand some of the more hidden and truly esoteric streams of thought and practice that have been instrumental in the various traditions of Western esotericism." (Institute of Hermetic Studies, Aug 2008)
"At rare occasions sober and traditional presentations of commercialized magical activity appears as a counterweight to the occult sentimentalism that often finds its way to publication. Vesluis's masterful presentation of sexual mysticism is one of those rare books that cannot be recommended enough. . . . the landscape he opens is going straight to the nerve of this rich field of enlightenment. Highly recommended." (O Caldeirao, Issue 16, May 2008)
From the Back Cover
SEXUALITY / SPIRITUALITY
Beginning with the ancient Greek Mystery traditions, Gnosticism, and the practices in early Christianity, Arthur Versluis uncovers the secret line of Western sexual mysticism that, like the Tantra of the East, seeks transcendence or union with God through sexually charged practices. Throughout antiquity, and right into the present day, sexuality has played an important, if largely hidden, role in religious traditions and practices. This includes not only Christian but also kabbalistic, hermetic, and alchemical currents of sexual mysticism, many discussed together here for the first time.
In the Mystery tradition of hieros gamos (sacred marriage) and the Gnostic tradition of spiritual marriage, we see the possibility of divine union in which sexual union is the principal sign or symbol. Key to these practices is the inner or archetypal union of above and below, the intermingling of the revelatory divine world with the mundane earthly one. Versluis shows that these secret currents of sexual mysticism helped fuel the rise of the troubadours and their erotic doctrine, the esoteric tradition of Jacob Böhme in the early 17th century, the 19th-century utopian communities of John Humphrey Noyes and Thomas Lake Harris, the free love movement of the 20th century, and the modern writings of Denis de Rougemont and Alan Watts.
ARTHUR VERSLUIS is the editor-in-chief of Esoterica and the founding president of the Association for the Study of Esotericism. He is the author of numerous books, including Sacred Earth, Magic and Mysticism, Restoring Paradise, and The New Inquisitions. He lives in Michigan where he is a professor of interdisciplinary humanities at Michigan State University.
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"The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism" is a general introduction to various esoteric groups in Europe and the United States which used sex to induce spiritual experiences (sex magic isn't included).
The author makes a broad sweep, from the Dionysiac orgies of ancient Greece to the writings of Alan Watts during the U.S. hippie era. Many of the sexually oriented mystics turn out to be "Christian" heretics, including the Messalians, the Carpocratians and the Cathars.
The author has a somewhat annoying tendency to depict the heresies as the real thing, yet he is forced to concede that Paul wasn't a sexual mystic... One chapter deals with 19th century American cults, including the Oneida community. Somewhat surprisingly, Versluis says nothing about the pseudo-sexual mysticism within "official" Christianity such as Bernhard of Clairvaux. Why not, I wonder?
The book ends with what amounts to a programmatic declaration from the author. He interprets sexual mysticism as a way of connecting with Nature, believes that men and women were equal in the sex-mystical groups, and that their goal was a special kind of gnosis and transcendence. In effect, the traditions described by Versluis are a kind of Western Tantrism. There, the book ends and the readers are left wondering what will come next...
As the author of a book [...] that also incorporates bits of sacred sex history (not just from the West), I was very pleased to see Dr. Alice Bunker Stockham's contribution acknowledged. Her inspiring text "Karezza: Ethics of Marriage" can be found here:[...]
One hopes this book signals a changing tide from accelerating emphasis on empty sexual stimulation toward a desire for deeper understanding of the hidden potential in our intimate relationships. As Versluis points out, the best way to heal the destructive extremes of fundamentalism and reckless, risky sex is with a new (or very ancient) understanding--one that puts the mystery back in erotic as we relearn how sex can pleasurably serve a higher end than either procreation or recreation.
Destiny Books, Rochester, VT
Professor Versluis presents in this small tome a remarkable treatment of a subject seldom mentioned in the mainstream media. Within its 167 pages you are taken on a journey beginning with the ancient Greek Mystery traditions, slips into the Gnostic practices, strangely and thankfully not introducing the Essenes into the picture, but dwelling more on the aspect of gnosis itself, the direct spiritual knowledge. A side venture into early Christianity and we find ourselves fully immersed into the secret roots of Western sexual mysticism in such a way that provokes thought and conversation without resorting to the tawdry when one discusses the divine unions that are inherent in the ancient sexual practices discussed within this wonderful little book.
What I enjoyed immensely with this book is that Professor Versluis shows us in precise and deliberate pathways the patterns that criss-cross the essential spirituality of the ancients with a distinct religious history. I especially liked the fact that he brings the reader far into the near-present age of American Sexual Mysticism with introspective thoughts on Thomas Harris, Alice Stockholm, the poet H.D. and into the recent past with Denis de Rougemont, and his seminal work of 1938, Love in the Western World. And into one of my favorites - Alan Watts
What do we find after reading this book? We come to realize that sexual mysticism has incredibly deep roots that go back for thousands of years. And because of and in spite of...it is made clear to us that Christianity introduced a particular dynamic of antimysticism and antisexuality...or at least has tried to.
One of the more valuable insights I have gathered from this reading is that our perceptions of Western Sexual Mysticism are consistently oriented towards the transcendence of the self. I can no longer accept the standard path of others that sexual mysticism is not the rejection of this world as it is seen from the religious and societal fundamentalists but rather a true and pure affirmation of other worlds to us as seen through the beauty of sexual mysticism. I can now see the intertwining of the mysteries of human creativity with the mystery of self-transcendence.
I count this as one of the books to be kept in a prominent spot on my shelf of books read and valued and eventually passed on to the next seeker.
J.E. `Track' McCreary