Shaping the Witch’s body

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons. Wikimedia.
Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons. Wikimedia.

Sex magick has gotten me everything I ever wanted. When I escaped my parental home it helped me work through the impact of an abusive childhood. As life went on it brought me friends, lovers, and life partners. It helped me vault from the destitute class to supporting myself and others. As I age it helps me navigate the gradual decay of the body and the emotional arc of loss.

That’s a great narrative but it isn’t the whole picture. To claim all my accomplishments as magickal elides the impact of advantage. I’m two steps back from the front of the line: I’m a woman and I was raised dirt poor. On the other hand I could be considerably farther back in line. I am white, heterosexual, born in America, able bodied, intelligent. When I list my advantages I count myself lucky. It’s on me to call this out and to help others, to try to flatten the line to bring us all up front.

It’s one of the hard lessons of life that your own effort does not guarantee success. You can be the best qualified person for a job and still lose it. You can eat organic food religiously and still get cancer. You can love with all your heart, unrequited. Magick can increase the odds, helping us steer toward the life we want and avoid the rocks along the way, but magick will not prevent every misfortune. All of us suffer, all of us age, all of us die.

What I look for in people who advise us how to live a magickal life is awareness of the impact of advantage and a recognition of the limitations of individual effort. One of our lessons as embodied beings is how interdependent we are on each other. All the great spiritual philosophers say it – look to love to complete the journey. Grasp the hand in front of you pulling you up, hold out your hand to those who come behind you.

Scarlet Magdalene has called out Peter Grey for proposing a Witchcraft centered on sexuality and BDSM without also adequately countering the possibilities for abuse. That’s only one of many possible critiques of his methodology for forging the body of the Witch. Overt ageism is no more attractive than overt racism; valorizing youth works for the young, but all of us age out of that position eventually. Unacknowledged advantage (class, sexuality, race) mars the utility of an idea.

The most disappointing thing about Grey’s thought is its conservatism. A young person announcing a new methodology should have, well, new ideas. Grey’s ideas land smack dab in the middle of the most reactionary Western sex magick tradition, from Pascal Beverly Randolph to Louis Culling to the worst of Aleister Crowley, centering magickal development on sex and the ability to endure an ordeal. As a sex magickian who has endured plenty of ordeals, planned and otherwise, I am here to attest that this is not a particularly radical notion.

Frankly, I don’t look to young white men to have ideas that push the boundaries of magick – they’ve been right at the front of the line for more than a century. Magick has been shaped on the able white male body. Right now the people with new ideas are those whose bodies have been ignored, used, othered: women, people of color/people of culture, LGB, trans and intersex. They, we, are challenging constructions of gender, color (seriously? “black brother”?), ability. We are reshaping magick to fit our bodies, othered bodies, every body.

What is radical is an imaginative leap occupying, not just your own body, but the othered body. Judgement isolates, empathy connects. Centering your magick on your own advantages has a limited range. Centering your magick on forging ties with others not like you, on opening the heart – that’s the magick that changes the world.

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