Say the word "magic" and most people immediately think of Houdini or Penn & Teller. The other image that comes to most people's minds is that of the contemporary consumer occultist, waving an edged weapon or a stick in the air above a pot of burning herbs while chanting nonsense syllables by candlelight in a deluded effort to compel some hobgoblin to deliver that winning Lotto ticket, that hot babe or the head of an enemy on a silver plate. "Magical thinking" is repeatedly cited in the DSM IV-R as a symptom of mental illness. In that context, there is an inherent flaw in the perception of cause and effect not unlike the defective reasoning that leads primitive people to religious faith. The idea of magic as a tool of radical self-transformation doesn't occur to very many people.
Utter the phrase "sex magic" and the response of most will be a titillated smirk and a vision of wild orgies. A few who have managed to plow through any of the handful of obscurantist texts on the subject might get a visual of some joyless ascetic sweating bullets as he strives to avoid having an orgasm. Until this year, the only truly lucid book on the subject was Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger's Sexual Secrets, first published in 1979 and rereleased with additional color plates in a 20th-anniversary edition. That book has sold more than a million copies and it's a fine introduction to the subject, but it's also hopelessly vanilla, mired as it is in a white-light Weltanschauung.
Now two authentic enfants terribles of the Satan Circuit have published the definitive guide to sexual alchemy, Demons of the Flesh: The Complete Guide to Left Hand Path Sex Magic (Creation Books, 398 pages, $19.95). Authors Nikolas and Zeena Schreck have been major players on the Dark Side of the Street for decades. Zeena was born into it: as the daughter of misanthropic con artist Anton LaVey, she was the first child baptized into his cash-cow Church of Satan. She parted company with her father and his enterprise (which she now refers to as the "Crutch of Satan") sometime before her mother, Diane Hegarty, finally got sick of the bitter old coot's abuses and sued for divorce, driving the Church of Satan into bankruptcy.
Nikolas wandered onto the scene freely and of his own will, as the saying goes. I first met the couple in Oakland, CA, in the early 80s, at a party hosted by an officer of Aleister Crowley's OTO. I had my doubts about them then, owing to their association with Boyd Rice, the Nazi performance artist. Nikolas and Boyd worked together with the band Death in June and then had a fairly nasty falling-out on the heels of a performance event staged in San Francisco in 1988. Besides his Nazi leanings, Boyd was toadying up to Anton in the old man's dotage in a blatant (and ultimately futile) attempt to capture the brand name. Recently he's become a monarchist and seems to be attempting to claim the throne of France.
Nik and Zeena went their own way. Disinclined toward adjusting to other people's paradigms, they founded their own occult school, the Werewolf Order, an interesting musical endeavor called Radio Werewolf, and opened a terrific shop specializing in morbid curios and books on Hollywood Blvd. called Hellhouse of Hollywood, replete with a wax museum depicting various infamous characters with narration by their friend Christopher Lee. They also produced a marvelous CD of Mr. Lee singing songs associated with darkness and villainy.
Nik has authored a fine book on Satan and Satanism in the movies and edited a nifty collection of Satanic essays, poems and stories and a great collection of the wit and wisdom of Charles Manson. He also directed a documentary film, Charles Manson Superstar (currently available on DVD), which contains the best interview with Charlie I've ever seen. It's unique in the fact that Nikolas knows enough about his subject to ask the right questions.
Most recently, the couple parted company with the Temple of Set just six weeks after Zeena was appointed the organization's High Priestess. It seems to have been a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. They currently reside in Berlin.
Demons of the Flesh is a complete and thorough presentation of the history and techniques of radical self-transformation and enhancement through the practice of sacramental sex. The book is divided into three main sections covering the better known Eastern Tantric practices, the hermetic Western methods and a tutorial on the practical application of the methods described. The nature of magic is clearly stated by the authors in the very first chapter, as they introduce the reader to the Vama Marga Tantra of India:
"It is a keystone of our understanding of magic's underlying identity with maya that magic is not a comfortable niche to be settled into forever. Instead, it is a transitional vehicle, a means to an end. Magic can be the awakening agent that frees its practitioner from certain illusions, allowing the flash of insight that transcends all philosophical inquiry. Through magic, the mind can learn that there is not one indisputable reality. There is an endless multiplicity of realities... The direct confrontation with maya that sorcery allows might be said to be magic's primary objective. It is this confrontation that permits the sorcerer to viscerally understand how deeply his or her shifting subjective overlays influence that which he or she perceives?an understanding that may hasten the transformation of human sentience to divine consciousness."
They also emphasize the need for "hands-on" instruction, so to speak. Book learning can only take one so far in these matters:
"The left-hand path is a physical discipline that must be personally taught by a male or female guru from a lineage of teachers competent to instruct the initiate. The aspiring student of the left-hand path often spends many years in the quest for the teacher most suited to initiate him into the lineage of adepts. Indeed, Tantra is adamant that initiation can never be learned from books, and that second hand knowledge can never lead to direct realization of the self. The Tantric left-hand path mistrust of book learning, or pustake likita, goes so far as to warn that the goddess Shakti, the informing divine power presiding over the practice, curses all who try to take a short cut to initiation through the written medium... The left-hand path is defined by its manifestation in worldly deeds, and as such is better understood as a way of life rather than a faith or an abstract system."
The Schrecks have been around the block a few times, and have more than a few pithy things to say about the Western tendency to exploit this phenomenon for petty personal gain. They offer an excellent critique of Aleister Crowley and the various museum-piece fraternities dedicated to preserving his legacy. Crowley is probably the best-known Western practitioner of sex magic, but his various personal pathologies and his inability to control them did a great disservice to the technology. There are numerous admonitions and warnings scattered throughout Demons of the Flesh, especially as regards the kind of parasitic exploitation that was Crowley's specialty.
This is the Schrecks' most refined and accomplished work. Meticulous research, extensive citations of original source documents and a witty, modern approach including the latest clinical research on the physiological effects of these practices enliven this book and place it at the top of the reading list for anyone interested in the subject. It presents not merely history and technique, but a worldview and a way of life, a path to personal liberation much needed in a world that increasingly resembles the "Black Iron Prison" of Philip K. Dick's less pleasant revelations. Extreme conditions require extreme responses.