This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Bear with me: you can cast spells through masturbating – at least, according to those who believe that you can cast spells through masturbating.
It's called sex magic, and it harnesses the chronically suppressed power of female sexual energy to "manifest" an intention. It's a kind of modern witchcraft, but there are no pointy hats, layers of black lace or broomsticks involved.
Far from being a witch, I'd probably say I'm an atheist. That said, at the sex magic ritual I went to in early March – before the coronavirus lockdown – what I wished for came true. My "intention" was to make more time for myself and feel less guilty about just being at home, and that's exactly what I've spent the past month doing. Granted, there's a global pandemic on, meaning we're literally not allowed to leave our homes. But hear me out.
"You can think of your intention like a spell, and your body as the cauldron," said Amy White, founder of London's "Temple of the Feminine". That night, she was going to help eight women, myself included, combine our "yonic" powers (our vagina powers) to bring about cosmic change. We were gathered in an east London yoga studio decked out in Scandinavian furniture and soap that smelled like it could double as a herbal remedy. The exact kind of soap you'd expect to find in a venue that hosts sex magic rituals.
But what brings an atheist to a spiritual circle jerk?
Employed, housed and emotionally supported by friends and family, I'd be lying if I said my life was in great need of improvement. But that doesn't make the daily strain of London existence any easier. I often feel overwhelmed by sadness and loneliness, and struggle a great deal to keep my mental health in check. I don't regularly make time for myself, know when to say no or hide my insecurities. I feel guilty if I'm not doing something or seeing someone. In short, I could probably do with some help from my inner cauldron.
Like many millennials, I also find myself increasingly drawn towards pop non-denominational spiritual enlightenment. I've downloaded Co-Star and become obsessed with my Leo sun/Pisces moon identity crisis. I've started wearing a cheap aquamarine stone pendant. I say "namaste" and touch my third eye at the end of yoga class. I'm the worst! The question is: could a vulvar stuck in a depressing cycle of chronic thrush and vulvar dermatitis actually move the universe? Become its own personal therapist? Could I believe?
There was only one way to find out.
Outside the red-bathed ritual room, in a narrow corridor, I saw a pair of women huddled over a handful of powder. "I'm going to do this again with more intention," said one, followed by a deep inhale. I later learned the powder to be nothing more exciting than rapé, a (legal) shamanic snuff used to clear the mind.
Inside the ritual room was a circle of mats and blankets surrounding the "altar", decorated with pink roses, candles, crystals and ganesha statuettes. Sex magic rituals – judging from Amy's, at least – are a jumbled western hybrid of Hinduism, South American shamanism and Wicca. They also look very pretty.
We took our places on the mats around the circle, setting at our sides a bottle of water and lube (as instructed in our briefing email). Then we added small trinkets to the altar to take home "charged with the energy of the evening". Next to a large, ridged, glass dildo I added a small Leo charm I picked up at the same place as my aquamarine pendant.
It soon became clear that actually touching yourself and casting spells would be a very small section of the night's proceedings. First we offered up our intentions, which ranged from resolving trauma around feeling unloved, to buying a house.
I'm not someone usually lost for words, but trying to think of something I genuinely wanted – and would be willing to share with strangers under the heady glow of a hundred candles – triggered so much anxiety that I said my intention was to clear my anxiety and take time for myself. "And maybe stop coronavirus," I added, because why not have a go.
Far from laughing at this ludicrous fantasy, the other witches simply smiled sagely, as one added, "Yes, this is possible."
Little did I know that this (and the advice of hundreds of scientists) would be the cosmic force that forced Boris Johnson to abandon the herd immunity strategy.
We then began a round of Kundalini and cleansing breathing exercises. Amy told us to use the breath to clear any trapped tension in our "root", meaning womb and vaginal area, and I suddenly couldn't stop thinking of queefing. Luckily nothing came out, as it would have absolutely killed the vibe. Suitably cleared, we were instructed to imagine a pipe carrying energy from our vaginal opening right up through our head, and to shoot our breath through this straight line. All the sharp intake of oxygen gave me a natural head rush, and I could feel blood rushing somewhere else too.
Cleansed, we lay back on our mats and entered a period of tantric touch – caressing our skin with fingertips "as water", and scratching and grabbing "as fire". We were told to touch ourselves as would our ideal lover, and to visualise our intention. We said "hello" to our yonis by cupping them, simultaneously placing our intention in the mind's eye. It was unclear when we were supposed to start rubbing ourselves, so I threw a furtive glance at my neighbour to check if I was doing it right. The collective moaning became increasingly ecstatic around the room, and I imagined I was on the right track. Much like home wanking, our session ended with a closed-eyed corpse pose meditation.
In the week that followed my ritual, I assessed my intention and ability to manifest. My spell to stop coronavirus, one could argue, failed catastrophically. But my other intentions, not through any conscious connection, started to come through in unexpected ways.
If anything, my anxiety worsened in the weeks that followed as the COVID-19 crisis escalated. But the weekend after my witching session, I did contact my local mental health support services to admit I needed proper help and counselling. Whether or not this was connected to my cosmic yoni powers is unclear, but it was a positive outcome with an undeniable link to my intention. They contacted me a few days later, the same day the VICE UK office was emptied and we were instructed to work from home. At first this sent me into a catastrophic downwards spiral, and still, if I allow my mind to go there, that tornado sucks me in. But after four weeks of social distancing, I now see myself settling in, and my mental health unexpectedly improving.
Now that we're all social distancing, I feel myself doing all the things I committed myself to doing in the ritual. Taking care of my body, committing to (indoor) routines that are self-indulgent, going out for a (once daily) walk alone for the sake of it. Calling a friend just to talk about their day. Facetiming someone while watching Mean Girls for the billionth time. Not everything has to have a purpose. Also, it's actually OK to not reply to an email straight away, because who's going to come over to your desk and complain?
It's often considered a shitty thing to call yourself a "giving person", because complimenting yourself on being good is seen to somehow negate the good trait. But I think this is unfair. Recognising the way you answer other people's needs, and the toll that can take, will make you more mindful of your own needs. And there's nothing wrong with realising you need to be kinder to yourself.
The atheist in me knows that lighting a candle, doing some breathing exercises and wanking in a yoga studio probably didn't cause the world as we know it to come to a grinding halt. But my newly awakened womb cauldron knows the power of using this shitty situation to focus on the stuff that's usually abandoned, even if it's playing the Sims 4 for five hours straight because that's what you feel like doing.