This article originally appeared on VICE US.
When people ask Kristen Korvette how she landed her first book deal, she normally responds with a predictable platitude: She achieved her dream through a combination of hard work and luck. In private, however, she attributes her success to masturbating under the full moon.
Korvette, the editrix of Slutist and a professor of the New School's class "The Legacy of the Witch," is a practitioner of sex magic, using sexual energy (often orgasm) for manifestation."It happened to be a full moon on the evening I submitted my proposal, so I engaged in my usual practice"— which consists of "listening to my favorite erotically-charged music (which is always glam metal: Motley Crue mostly), lighting a candle that has been carved to symbolize my goal, and unsheathing my crystal dildo to consummate the spell"—"and exactly one month later, on the full moon, I received word that I was in," she says.
Given the preponderance of love spells and evil-yet-seductive witches in pop culture, it's understandable that sex magic is so often misunderstood. But according to those who practice the erotic craft, it's just another form of magical manifestation. "You have an intention, and you're using orgasms or sex as a tool to achieve that particular intention," explains Cat Cabral, a Wiccan priestess who managed the East Village occult shop Enchantments for more than a decade. Bri Luna, owner of The Hood Witch, agrees with this characterization. "We're not talking about how to be sexy or have an enhanced libido. We're getting down to manifesting, talking about harnessing sexual energy to make very real results," she says. "Sexual energy is just energy. It's neutral."
Neutral, maybe, but extremely powerful nonetheless. "With sex magick, all you need is to reach orgasm and you can change your world," writes Damon Brand in Adventures in Sex Magick.
With sex magick, all you need is to reach orgasm and you can change your world.
The history of sex magic as a whole is as expansive as it is elusive, and it's often difficult to obtain records about it. According to Sex and the Supernatural by Benjamin Walker, sex magic and erotic mysticism were practiced earliest in Central Asia. The citizens of one area in particular, known as Urgyan, a "semi-mythical kingdom that fought for the rights of the Tibetan people," and are said to have used rites involving tantra, the build-up (and avoidance to increase power) of sexual energy and orgasm. "[It] was a place of some notoriety, according to the Hundi Chronicles, where intercourse was regarded as not only pro-creative...but for the acquisition of magical power," writes Walker.
Sex magic through tantra dates back to the middle of the first millennium. Though the diversity of tantric practices has made it difficult to pinpoint the precise origin, the first record of tantra is likely the Śaiva Mantramārga tradition during the fifth century. Today tantra has often taken on associations with new age sex workshops and Sting, but it's also about harnessing power—and even achieving enlightenment—according to Essence of Vajrayana: The Highest Yoga Tantra Practice of Heruka Body Mandala By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Unfortunately, many early tantric texts were destroyed by crusaders. The Gnostics, a collection of ancient religions and sects, found in a range of regions from the Middle East to China, also performed sex magic rituals, such as blood rituals and mantras to invoke sexual energy.
The most notorious sex magic practitioner in recent history is Aleister Crowley, a famous 19th century British occultist who viewed sex as "the supreme magical power." A high-ranking member of the secret society Ordo Templi Orientis, which uses sex rituals heavily in its initiation ceremonies, he went onto write several books on the use of erotic magic. His views were extreme, as was his desire to experiment with new forms of sex magic. In Sex and the Supernatural, Walker writes: "In seeking to enlarge his tantrik-oriented experiences, Crowley advertised for females of all kinds, deformed women, dwarfs, hunchbacks, and as he put it in his characteristically unfeeling way, 'freaks of all sorts.'"
Contemporary witches dismiss much of his work. "It veered on the more racist and sexist and just really weird," says Luna. "I feel that a lot of his work, for what it was, was very self-serving and low vibrational, very demonic in a sense where you're working with things that if you have no idea what the hell you're doing, you could fuck yourself up. I've never felt compelled to go any further with studying him."
Modern sex magic users have a myriad of historical, cultural practices to draw inspiration from, and many of them emphasize the importance of finding what works best for you. In ways, sex magic is similar to any other form of energy work, which harnesses energy, with the practitioner often tapping into their own spiritual energy to heal. the only difference is that the energy being harnessed in this case is the release of orgasm. "The first step is to have a clear goal and an intention of what you want," says Luna. "I find for me that sex magic works best when your intention has to do with sex, love, confidence, power, strength."
"Not, I need a new car, I'm gonna masturbate—that's just so silly," says Cabral.
Other techniques involve repeating mantras during orgasm, focusing on sigils (a magical symbol) to help focus your energy, and invoking certain deities. Hathor, Isis, and Aphrodite are common goddess to invoke, but you can use whatever deity appeals most to you since sex magic is so personalized and intuitional. "I think everybody needs to find deities or mythology or archetypes that relate to them. So for some people that's staying within their own heritage or culture," says Cabral. "Personally, I love working with Venus or Aphrodite." Intuition, she adds, is "the most important thing."
Indeed, most witches will say that sex magic is one of the most intuitive practices. "I came to sex magic pretty intuitively," recalls Korvett. "As a young girl, my mother taught me the power of manifestation, but in a G-rated way, of course. Somehow I made the connection between that and all the self-pleasure I was engaging in, and realized it could be used in a more powerful and productive way."
"Blood is life, especially menstrual blood; it nourishes life, you grow humans."
Another, perhaps less intuitive, component of sex magic involves the use of bodily fluids. An early example of this is Abbe Guibourg, a French Roman Catholic occultist known as a "renegade priest," who in 1683 performed a Black Mass, a corruption of the traditional Catholic ceremony. Such ceremonies involve the nun figure urinating into a chalice, often as a demonstration of opposition to strict Catholic beliefs. Period blood is another useful liquid in sex magic, and according to Luna, there is a long folkloric history of women putting period blood into coffee or tea or red pasta sauce (because it is easy to hide!) often for binding spells, to cause sexual attraction, as in the Hoodoo tradition. Some practitioners also do spells with a concoction of semen mixed with period blood, which is considered very powerful. The mixture typically obtained and placed in a chalice, or swapped through kissing after oral sex, in a ritual believed to "seal" the magic performed, or create whatever manifestation the practitioner desires (again, sex magic goals don't have to be about sex), according to Brand.
"Blood is life, especially menstrual blood; it nourishes life, you grow humans," says Luna, adding that you can use bodily fluids to dress candles and talismans, meaning coating a candle, often carved with a sigil, with a substance whose properties are believed to help one achieve their goal.. (If you are going to work with bodily fluids, please be aware of the health risks. Feeding and eating bodily fluids carries the same danger as oral sex, so get tested, discuss it with partners beforehand, and become educated on dangers. "You're playing with someone's will and health. You can transmit diseases and all kinds of icky things," cautions Luna.)
In general, when practicing with a partner, communication is very important. Luna says that you should either work together completely or keep your partner entirely in the dark about the fact that you're manifesting magic during intercourse. "Either they know what it is that you're doing, or they shouldn't know at all. Because any person who kind of knows and isn't really into it they can fuck up the whole flow of energy," she explains. "So either keep them ignorant altogether, or they know and they are going to focus on that energy as well, so it makes it that much more powerful if you are going to come together."
Even those uninterested or skeptical of practices such as magic can attest to the intimacy and intensity of coming at the same time. "With a partner, it becomes really cool and exciting when you can trust someone, and the both of you can work together. You know, staring at each other in the eyes, maybe slowing down an orgasm, breathing together," says Cabral.
For many practitioners, though, the fact that sex magic can be practiced alone is one of its main draws. "Although I've experimented with partnered sex magic, I find the solo spells have worked better for me thus far," says Korvette. In a world that's traditionally punished women for freely enjoying both sex and magic, combining the two can feel revolutionary—and taking matters into one's own hands only heightens that sense.
"Witchcraft in and of itself if very empowering for women... you know that all of your power is just innately within yourself," says Luna. "One of the most powerful aspects any women can have is owning her sexuality, and not being afraid of that power, and not being afraid to use that power."