An Erotic Religion/Sexuality

"The Great Rite" by Dennis Mahlmeister

“The Great Rite” by Dennis Mahlmeister

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

— Doreen Valiente, “The Charge of the Goddess”

Neo-Pagans see the human body and sexuality as sacred. They embrace the physical. Rather than seeking to dominate their bod­ies and their sexual desires through an exercise of will, Neo-Pagans seek to express their natural, physical desires in healthy, joyful, sacred ways. Neo-Pagans believe that there is wisdom in our embodiment. This does not mean indiscriminate indulgence or abandonment to every impulse. It means listening to our bod­ies, rather than ignoring, repressing, or trying to escape them.

For Neo-Pagans, sexuality is both an expression of and a meta­phor for the will to life. In Return of the Goddess (1982), Jungian psychoanalyst, Edward Whitmont, expounds on this:

“Sexuality is more than just nature’s way of assuring repro­duction of the species. It is also more than just pleas­ure and recreation. Sexuality, as Freud correctly intu­ited … is a fundamental expression of psychic en­ergy. It is an undifferentiated channel of basic force, of cos­mic fire. It pulses into rapturous identification with the life force itself, with its flood and ebb tides. It moves us through ele­mentary upheavals. It is a channel of power, of self-realization, of ecstatic transcendence, surren­der of self, and renewal. The [ancient] pagan sex­ual rites, then, were not merely agricultural or gynecologi­cal fertility procedures. They were also celebra­tions of death and renewal, mysteries to experi­ence the Great Goddess and her son, the master of death and rebirth.”

This energy of life is called “eros.” The erotic is more than sex­ual. It is far more than the “sex in the head” that our culture com­mercializes, “as far from pornography as from prudery.” The erotic is about connection that is intimate, embodied, and sensual, but may or may not have a sexual component. A quintes­sential example of non-sexual eroticism offered by Chris­tine Hoff-Kraemer is a mother breastfeeding her child.

In fact, in order to realize the full meaning of the erotic, it is important to de-sexualize ordinary touch. Because touch of any kind (especially between two oppositely-gendered people) is regularly sexualized in our culture, we live in a “touch-starved” state. We long for non-sexual physical connection so much that some people seek out unhealthy sex out of desperation to make physical contact with another person. But any experience of physi­cal connection or intimacy—whether with another person, with our own bodies, or with the physical world—may satisfy this longing.

Christine Hoff Kraemer describes the erotic as “a force that urges us toward intimacy, wholeness, and connection.” In this sense, the erotic encompasses not only lovemaking with a trusted partner, but also the embrace between long-separated friends, the cradling of a baby by a parent, or even the intake of air into one’s lungs, the touch of the Sun on one’s skin, or the feel­ing of the grass under one’s toes. Neo-Pagans see all of these as sacraments and as manifestations of divine presence. Neo-Pa­gans seek to cultivate this vital sense of connection in all aspects of their lives. This can be done through ritual or any spiritual practice that restores our sensual connection to our own bodies, to each other, or to the natural world.

Sexual pleasure is a particularly potent form of erotic experi­ence. Sex can reconnect us with our sensual and emotional being and ground us in the immediacy of the present moment. It even has the potential to heal the rift between our psyche and nature and help us transcend our narrow definitions of self. However, our sexuality can also be misused. Neo-Pagans condemn sexual acts that are coercive or exploitative. Some Neo-Pagans practice sacramental sex, in which sexual acts are ritualized. However, such rituals are always performed between consenting adults.

Updated 2019

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