Considering the darker topics that I tend to cover while putting paw to keyboard I was surprised when the following article became my most controversial so far. That is not an exaggeration, as when this went live in the Lammas 2020 issue of Pagan Dawn Magazine the backlash among a broad segment of the UK Neopagan community was quite ridiculous, making me a hot topic within certain social media groups for a good few weeks. It seems that the modern take on ancient religion has become sanitised, especially with regards to the concept of sex, and this form of revisionist history is something that I just cannot let stand when the original sources state otherwise.
A Human History Of Sex With Spirits
By Gavin Fox
The idea of sexual relations with non-physical entities, commonly known as spectrophilia, is usually dismissed as some form of psychological aberration by Western society. Many in the Pagan community maintain a similar distance, preferring to consign intimate commerce between gods and man to the mythology of old. Indeed folklore is filled to the brim with such stories of passion and excess, while tales of the offspring from those moonlight interactions form the backbone of many a famous myth cycle. Yet this is not to say that the denizens of the unseen world have abandoned their conquest of those who they find pleasing to the eye, nor should they be expected to do so in light of modern taboos.
Almost anyone with an interest in occultism will have heard of the incubi and succubi. This dual gendered creature was born out the need for the Catholic Church to construct a suitable pseudo-demonic scapegoat to explain the numerous outbreaks of sexual hysteria that spread like a deeply primal calling among its followers. Finding power in the repression of their natural urges, this entity would slink through the residential cells of convents, monasteries and the parish priest’s private residence after hours, bringing piously holy men and women back down to earth with a pleasurable squelch.
Soon mythology linked the dark goddess Lilith to these lascivious entities via tentative connections to her potential offspring, the Lilin. This association further empowered those who believed that both the orgasm and ejaculation were evil, and masturbation doubly so. Most magickians tend to grasp pretty early on just how empowering the storage and release of sexual energy can be towards a given goal. Masturbatory gnosis, kundalini tantra, indeed many disciplines have grown from this realisation. Modern witchcraft has a sexual aspect to it too, though one that honours the flesh of the individual practitioner as an aspect of the divine as opposed to indulging in the wanton orgies once attributed to their folkloric ancestors.
Digging a little deeper into the myths and legends of the world it is easy to see just how ingrained in the human consciousness such traffic with the unseen has become. There is a definite psycho-sexual aspect to the earliest reports of vampirism for example. These victims suffered a prolonged series of nocturnal attacks involving the feeling of being crushed, and in some cases actively sexually assaulted, by a heavy yet mostly incorporeal creature whose sole purpose seemed to be the theft of their life-force. This was not always drained through the blood as later reports would have us believe, nor was a deceased family member always witnessed at the scene of the crime either.
The authorities of the day were generally unaware of the existence of diseases such as tuberculosis, virulent contagions that would spread through small rural communities like the plague bringing arrows of Artemis. They tended to fall back upon the idea that persons recently buried, usually of the laxest religious morals whilst alive, were responsible for the attacks. This sociologically acceptable argument served to bolster the grip of the church over its subjects while adding to the penitent torment of the vampire’s victims. How many innocent corpses were disinterred, beheaded and burnt to ashes at the behest of the local priest when the real cause lay elsewhere we will never know. Such vagaries are nowhere near as important as the actual experiences of the afflicted.
All we can be said for certain is that something was definitely happening to the people involved. Indeed, many would pass away shortly after their ersatz diagnosis but before the relevant culprit could be found, medical or otherwise. This, of course, would hamper any reasoned analysis of the phenomena. The viewpoint championed by the modern skeptical movement, involving rabies induced frenzy and sleep paralysis instigated hallucination fails to explain the sexualized nature of the vampiric entity itself. These nocturnal visitors have always boasted an anomalistic magnetism all of their own, even in the days before antebellum mansions and southern charm when they tended to look more like rotting corpses than Tom Cruise.
In fact mankind has a long history of being plagued with the double-edged affections of otherworldly beings. The earliest Greek legends tell of the wanton, and in some cases incestuous, sexual habits of their proudly virile gods and goddesses. Bored with limitless power and enduring immortality, they would frequently engage in intercourse with mortal men and women, siring many renowned heroes as well as a few notable monsters as well. The punishments dealt out with cruel precision by jealous deities on those unfortunate few who were unable to resist the embrace of their celestial husbands or wives is legendary, adding a cautionary backbone to tales of sexual deviance often bordering on outright bestiality and supernatural rape.
Hera’s hatred of Heracles stems from one such encounter between Zeus and the hero’s mother Alcmene, as does her enmity and eventual cursing of Lamia, the queen of Libya. Driven mad by the murder of her own children at the hands of the goddess’s servants, Lamia would go on to become a monstrous night demon in her own right. Intriguingly, she was also known for disguising herself as a beautiful maiden and having sex with sleeping men, subsisting upon the semen collected in such a way even though the queen of the gods had left her barren and therefore unable to conceive. The correlations with Lilith are obvious, and one has to wonder which stream of folklore birthed the other.
Even Greek gods who lacked Zeus’s personal charm and all encompassing power had little problem finding a way into the hearts of mortals. Tales speak of Pan having orgiastic, if fully consensual intercourse with the Maenad’s. These were the mortal female followers of Dionysus, the god of wine and madness, and rare beauties to be sure. Pan even numbered the moon goddess Selene among his many mortal and ethereal conquests, despite boasting the kind of goatish and generally unattractive appearance that would have put most monsters to shame. Worshipped for his unceasing sexual appetite, as well as skill with the pipes that now bare his name, he is also somewhat jokingly credited with teaching shepherds the art of masturbation after learning it from his father, Hermes.
From Pan we move to the goat headed devil unreliably mentioned in the testimonies given by those poor unfortunate souls implicated during the height of the witch trials in early modern Europe. This entity actively engaged in intercourse with those assembled, his member conversely described as flaming hot or cold as ice, and always unpleasant due to its great size and unyielding rigidity. While we could dismiss such stories as the collective sexual fantasies of the inquisitors themselves the surviving accounts may well point to these copulations being between women and some form of inanimate object clothed as a deity, phallic statues being used in a similar manner throughout history elsewhere around the globe.
Such are but a few examples of the many and varied instances of mortal intercourse with non-physical entities that run seemingly ignored through the rich body of worldwide folklore. It is safe to say that most mythological dynasties have such human branches somewhere in their otherwise divine family tree. Moving away from the gods we find many monsters just as willing to share their affections with people on the material plane, if not more so. In the Islamic world much discussion has been had on the possibility of relationships between mortals and jinn, the original precursor to the much more benign westernised genie and one of Allah’s earliest creations. Such a union is not only generally accepted but marriage between the two species is allowed in certain cases, if not directly sanctioned under the main body of Shari’ah law.
Tribal societies seem to attract such commerce between spirits and mortals, and the African belief in the wereleopard is one such example. Far from being slaughter crazed siblings to the Western werewolf, these anthropomorphic hybrids were instead thought to be minor deities that had taken physical form to seduce young men and women of the tribe. The offspring would be capable of changing shape between that of a human and a leopard, though not always at will, and are assumed to be marked for greatness. Bizarrely enough, Merlin, Plato and Martin Luther were popularly considered to have been sired by non-physical entities in such a way. In their case the culprit was seen as a regular, run of the mill incubus and not a deity in animal form, however.
Sex can be a deeply transformative experience, even if the object of your desire is anything but physical. Humans are animals like any other, albeit ones gifted with the spark of imagination. The desire for both pleasure and procreation are deeply ingrained in the subconscious of every living person, and as such sexual liberation should be the first port of call for any Pagan looking to understand their place in the universe. If that involves working with spirits or gods on an intimate level, there should be no stigma attached to doing so. The weight of both history and folklore is on the aspiring spetrophiliac’s side, so if they choose to foster a personal relationship with the unseen world then so mote it be.