Magia Sexualis: Sexual Practices for Magical Power. Paschal Beverly Randolph and Maria de Naglowska. Donald Traxler, translator. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions 2012. 174 pages. $16.95.
review by J.S. Kupperman
Paschal Beverly Randolph’s Magia Sexualis is something of a classic on sexual magic. The Inner Tradition edition of Magia Sexualis is the first complete and well-translated edition, compiled by Maria de Naglowska from both printed and hand-written manuscripts and including her own editing. This editing has managed to enhance the value the book rather than detract from it as such editing often does.
Magia Sexualis was originally written for the members of one of Randolph’s occult orders, the Eluis Brotherhood. To the reader familiar with the gender and polarity teachings of Theosophy, Dion Fortune or Aleister Crowley, there will be little by way of sexual theory new here. And there is little by way of actual sex magic in the book, though there is, in fact, sex magic. What is most different about Magia is the general clarity of the writing and, especially, the instructions for occult exercises. While Crowley may have been more explicit in his instructions, the Theosophists especially, who were Randolph’s contemporaries and, if you would, “enemies,” had a tendency to describe the riches of the esoteric world and then say, sorry, this isn’t for you. Despite the amount of theory in Magia Sexualis, it is an entirely practical book. Of course, it was also not necessarily meant for the general public, but for the E.B.’s initiates.
For history buffs, the introduction and preface by Donald Traxler, the books’ translator, should not be skipped. They give insight into both Randolph and de Naglowska as well as a history of the development of the book and other useful information about Randolph’s occult past. They are not necessarily to engage in the practices and theories of the book, but are very useful for overall context.
The rest of Magia Sexualis is divided into four sections: The Introductory Notes, The Principles, Magic, Magic Mirrors. Part one contains occult theories of sex and gender that were fairly standard for the time. It also includes the beliefs of the E.B. and the usual put downs of people who disagree with them. The second part, despite its title, is largely practical. It discusses “Volentia,” Decretism,” “Posism” and “Tirauclairism,” all of which are terms Randolph invented, but are connected to practices already extent at that time. Volentia is the power to control one’s own mental life and what Randolph calls the “elementary force.” Decretism is the ability to send irresistible mental commands and desires. This is only possible once Volentia has been developed. Posism is the use of certain postures or expression to project desired results and commands into the world, and may be seen as an extension of Volentia. Tirauclairism is a form of invocation. For each of these Randolph/de Naglowska present relatively clear instructions for developing each of these powers, as well as what to look out for in order to know if you have been successful or not.
Part three moves beyond the mental practices of part one to what is recognizably magic. It includes instructions on making astrologically based perfumes, colors, and sounds, though anyone familiar with traditional astrology will find Randolph’s instructions somewhat novel. These are then used for the practices described in the rest of the section. This includes sex magic via heterosexual intercourse, the creation and use of fluid condensers to power talismans and magic mirrors and what Randolph calls “Volts,” or solid fluid condensers. Volts are used for an assortment of practices, including the creation of animated statues, magical rings, and something like planetary talismans.
The final section is a discussion of magic mirrors. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, of which Randolph was a member, made great use of magic mirrors, and it may be from there Randolph continued the practice. Some of the theory here is unfortunately lost in Randolph’s Theosophical-esque technical language. However, the chapter does an overall good job at describing a theory of magic mirrors, why certain models work better than others, how they should be made and charged and how they can be used.
Magia Sexualis is an excellent example of the theories and practices Victorian-era occultism outside the realm of ceremonial magic dominated by groups such as the Order of the Golden Dawn. The Inner Traditions edition is clear and easy to read and well footnoted. It also has a two-page bibliography for further reading. While for the average practitioner of modern occultism, this book is important for the history of the development of occult practice and is an important piece of modern occult history. For those working in a Theosophical-related mode, the works of Dion Fortune, or the sex magic traditions of Crowley, who borrowed from some of Randolph’s published books, this book is even more important. With clear instructions and well explained, even if sometimes explained using made-up words, Magia Sexualis is an important book and belongs on your shelf.