The Erotic Landscape
"Divided for Love’s Sake—for the Chance of Union"
I was first introduced to the connection between eroticism and the sacred landscape many years ago during the course of a short but intense relationship with a well-known visionary artist, who, for the sake of this article, I will call Dakini Devi. My first attempt to record some of these experiences formed the basis of the chapter ‘The Erotic Landscape’ that appeared in my book Sexual Magick. This chapter discussed the way in which certain magical trance states help the magician develop a connection between their inner world and the physical landscape that surrounds them. Through sexuality the magician develops a special gaze in which he or she is able to see places of power in the landscape.
As my senses became more tuned in and I could see the remains of sacred landscapes and even create new ones—I remember Dakini saying to me one day that I was beginning to develop the gaze. It’s almost as if you begin to see the sensual flesh of the land—as for example at the ‘manger’ below Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire. The technique in itself is stupidly simple: merely go to a sacred site, stay there for a while, get to know it, mellow out there, sleep there, etc. etc. This way the landscape becomes embedded in your brain; it begins to live there. At peak moments, such as during lovemaking, the landscape may choose to come to life, either in your head, your partner’s head, or sometimes both at once.
Together we went to the ancient stone-age ritual complex at Avebury in Wiltshire. Dakini, who knew almost everything there was to know about this place, initiated me into its mysteries. It is a place that has been close to my heart ever since. Dakini taught me how to connect with the nameless divine beings of the site; these forces would later erupt into our consciousness, as we made love within the sacred space of our temple room. Intuitively it seemed that the Avebury ritual site had an erotic component, and this seemed yet another example of the mindset found also in Tantrism and in even in the more earthy, shamanic byways of Egyptian magick. These ideas took root, and as I moved towards the task of creating my own magical system or synthesis, these experiences formed part of the process. This system I call Tankhem—which traces the tantrik doctrines of the Hindu intellectual tradition back to their Egyptian origins and forms a bridge to the nameless or primeval beings of the predynastic and neolithic times.
I’m often asked, why this obsession with ancient philosophy? I suppose the attraction of ancient thought is that by some strange twist of fate, ancient ideas often become modern ones. As we as a species develop and grow, we are able again to understand how our ancestors thought. This is a fairly familiar idea in academic philosophy, as the following example might help to illustrate. The pagan philosopher Plato continues to dominate the modern mind. Plato developed the techniques of Greek drama into a powerful way of exteriorising ideas through the use of dialogue. He wrote dialogues in which import-ant mystical themes were played out. However, some of these dialogues have only really been fully understood within the last one hundred years, when our own minds have begun to move in a similar direction. There are long passages in Plato dealing with the nature of the body and what makes it sick or healthy, which have been largely ignored until in recent years we, as a culture, have begun looking for alternatives to the modern clinical model. Our understanding of the ancient mind is something that can only come about when our own minds begin to tread the same pathways, to speak the same dialogues.
Egyptian magick attracted me because it is so old yet so subtle. Since the closure of all pagan temples by the Christian despot Theodosius, its secrets became really secret—even the language of the writing was forgotten, and its magical landscapes and temples buried beneath the surface of the desert. As the lights on the sanctuary were extinguished, the doctrine of the magi survived outside of the Christian sphere of influence in practices such as Tantrism. Even the driest academic book acknowledges this fact, and I give several examples of this in my own book. Tantrism is one of the most liberating of ancient ideas. If ancient thought were all like tantrism then we would have to say that the ancients definitely knew something that we moderns do not, and that they knew things that we desperately need to re-learn. Primarily, the sacred and mystical nature of our own bodies and the wonderful capacity of the sexual act to change the structures of our brain as it did for our ancient ancestors—the first tantriks.
When it comes to understanding the magick of ‘preliterate’ times before the coming of the dynasties, the task seems hopeless; the gods of places such as Avebury seem destined to remain forever veiled. Some might say that we can never really know how the ancient magicians thought or did things—but I do not share this pessimism. Magick and ritual has its own archaeology; if there is space in a stone circle or temple to move around and dance, it may well be that it was used in such a way by our ancestors. The site ‘teaches’ us how it can or could be used; we try out these techniques and learn even more about the site. Eventually we are perhaps acting as the ancient masters did, and there is a saying, if you repeat the actions of the master, then you become the master. Perhaps as we use the ancient techniques of the magi, we can become them, and they will begin to speak to us over the long intervening silence.
Over the last few years I began researching further into the nature of the temple. A magical temple can, in itself, be viewed as an idealised sacred landscape. Temples are also stylised representation of the human body (see Sexual Magick). I feel that the idea of the temple is so familiar that we are in danger of overlooking its mystery, the creation of sacred space. In the texts that have survived from ancient Egypt, it is possible to perceive the archaeology of gnosis—the texts contain many layers of meaning—nothing seems to be wasted. In other words, you have to mentally move around and use the temple using visioning techniques, in order to really learn what the landscape is trying to teach you. Even though these insights, for what they are worth, are inspired by my magical work with the Tankhem system, I know that some might find it easier to accept if they had some independent corroboration. Intuitively I felt that the position of a sacred text in the temple, whether it be in the outer court or in the inner sanctuary, would somehow be relevant to its meaning. And I discovered that a similar theory had indeed been advanced by the German archaeologist Siegfried Schott in the 1950s.
The earliest temples and sacred landscapes have hardly survived. The Pyramid Texts, so called because they were carved on the walls of the pyramids of the 5th and 6th dynasty Kings (c. 2500 BCE) record spells such as "The bricks are removed for thee from the great tomb".1 This text is carved on a stone building but talks of brick—the scribe is quoting from an even older text, when sacred architecture was made of brick. It is quoting from ‘books’ even older than the time of the Pyramids! The earlier sacred buildings were of brick and before that they were of natural organic materials such as wood and reed, with perhaps the occasional use of megalithic stones, as the following article in a recent edition of Nature indicates:
Megaliths and Neolithic astronomy in southern Egypt
The Sahara west of the Nile in southern Egypt was hyperarid and unoccupied during most of the Late Pleistocene epoch. About 11,000 years ago the summer monsoons of central Africa moved into Egypt, and temporary lakes or playas were formed. The Nabta Playa depression, which is one of the largest in southern Egypt, is a kidney-shaped basin of roughly 10km by 7km in area. The authors report the discovery of megalithic alignments and stone circles next to locations of Middle and Late Neolithic communities at Nabta, which suggest the early development of a complex society. The southward shift of the monsoons in the Late Neolithic age rendered the area once again hyperarid and uninhabitable some 4,800 radiocarbon years before the present (years BP). This well-determined date establishes that the ceremonial complex of Nabta, which has alignments to cardinal and solstitial directions, was a very early megalithic expression of ideology and astronomy. Five megalithic alignments within the playa deposits radiate outwards from megalithic structures, which may have been funerary structures. The organization of the megaliths suggests a symbolic geometry that integrated death, water, and the Sun. An exodus from the Nubian Desert at 4,800 years BP may have stimulated social differentiation and cultural complexity in predynastic Upper Egypt.
J.M. Malville, F. Wendorf, A.A. Mazar & R. Schild, ‘Megaliths and Neolithic astronomy in southern Egypt’ (Letters to Nature) in Nature 392, 488 (1998)
Other texts describe these very first sacred landscapes, describing buildings that, even for the ancient Egyptian, were a fading and distant memory. They did not even know the names of the gods that roamed during those days of yore, but referred to them cryptically in books such as the ‘Book of the Primeval Old Ones’ as the nameless gods.
The non-magician tends to focus overly on the surface exterior form of ceremony and ritual, for the non-initiate has very little understanding of the inner states implied by these techniques. I like to interpret them using a psychological model.
‘The Book of the Primeval Old Ones’ (a pukka book, not a Grantian creation) tells us that in the primeval times the surface of the planet was covered with water. Below the surface of the water lay the remains of one or perhaps more than one previous creations. The divine entities were without form but not without power. The ancient sages or shamans call out to these beings, using words of power that they had but recently learned. There are said to be seven sages or shamans, and this is a motif that seems to crop up all over the place. I have found references to them in Egyptian, Hindu and even Chinese mythology, where they are connected with the constellation the Plough or Great Bear. Apart from an astrological significance, they seem to me to be real personality types, perhaps members of the tribe whose trance awareness is slightly more advanced than the others, and are thus able to say, "That is a special place, we should build a temple here."
At the word of the seven shamans, the power quickened and the first cosmic island rose from the waters. On this island, those shamans or seers built the first sacred temple. Perhaps it was these visionaries whose consciousness first emerged randomly from the past. (Interestingly, it was another visionary, Imhotep, who was later to be credited with the creation of the first temple hewn from stone, and subsequently deified for his efforts.)
These are very suggestive images—I feel they have something to do with the moment in which our early predator mentality emerged from its instinctual fog and became self-aware. The divine forces take on form where previously they had none—they are still nameless but now they are represented in two of the most ancient hieroglyphs: the hand and the yoni or phallus (see Lascaux). These ‘hieroglyphs’ are very ancient indeed, perhaps even the oldest representations of the divine. These same pictograms can be seen in the cave paintings of the palaeolithic—for example at Pech Merle, Lot, France (c. 24,000 BCE), where the scribe has left the imprint of his or her own hand on the sacred ‘pictographic’ text.
The cave paintings are revealed, not as pictures in the sense of art history, but as sacred texts—whose true meaning is only now emerging. My editor reminds me that magick is full of dream and trance meditations using the human hand as a focus (see Jan Fries’ Seidways, Mandrake of Oxford, 1997, for an interesting exploration of some of these wyrd byways of magick).
What do these two pictograms mean—the hand and the phallus? Psychologically I feel they are pointing to the catalyst that enabled our consciousness to mutate and become self-aware. Is it not obvious that what most distinguishes us from other beasts of creation is our sexuality—what other animal has a sexuality quite like ours? We look at other animals and try to recognise a rudimentary sexuality, e.g. love-play in dolphins and non-reproductive homosexuality in various other animals. Perhaps some animals are closer to our end of the sexual spectrum than others, but I still feel that strictly speaking, animals reproduce, they do not have sex.
The ancient Egyptians seem to be telling us that it was in the sexual act itself that the ancients first found the way to become human. It was sexuality that generated the power necessary to raise the primal mound from the waters, where it had subsided after some primeval battle. Why should this have been a once and for all time process? Could not the same catalyst work over and over again? Two principles become divided from each other in order to become self-aware and then experience the real transforming joy of union.
The two gods—hand and genitals—are later assimilated into the predynastic cult of the phallic god Min2 and his ‘cousin’ Amon-Ra—whose rites in dynastic times included some form of sexual magick—in which the phallus of the god was stimulated and a magical, transformative elixir sprang forth. The mythology of dynastic times fully explores all the mysteries of sacred sexuality, starting with masturbation. A mythology that gives such a central role to an act of masturbation is a very mysterious one. Perhaps they knew something we do not or have forgotten. They seem to be saying that masturbation is good for the body, good for the land and good for the whole topocosm. It is also one of the first mysteries of life, when we first reach out and touch ourselves.
On the face of it touching ourselves seems unnecessary, for we are already touching ‘inside’. Somehow the system, by some accident of physiology, finds this one of the first magical arts—perhaps this is why the later religions sought to suppress and demonise the process? We most of us have residual conditioning concerning masturbation—but the ancients knew, as we now know, that masturbation is a natural part of the healthy functioning of mind, body, spirit—the works.
Paradoxically, the way you learn and practice masturbation affects your ability to really experience sacred sex with another person. Look at how many of the current problems of dysfunctional sex stem from ineffective masturbation. For example, for men the problem can be an addiction to furtive and rapid relief, whilst for women it is an ignorance due to lack of exploration and experimentation with self-love.
Beginning with masturbation, or self-love, and embracing the whole range of joyous sexuality, the magician can reprogram his or her whole biosystem so that it becomes fully in tune with the erotic landscape. It is said that we contain the whole of our evolution in our genes—that when a human develops from embryo to adult, they go through all the phases of millions of years of evolution, from fish to reptile to mammal. If this be true for the physical, may it not also be true for consciousness itself? Gyrus says that this reprogramming involves retracing the development of consciousness, union to division to union etc., and back again, and I agree with that. For men and women, the first step might be work on developing your orgasm, so that it become a total body experience that literally ‘fucks your brains out’, a useful condition to be in when exploring some of the better trance states.
I am particularly fond of Margot Anand’s book Art of Sexual Magick,3 were she gives graded exercises for exploring your orgasmic response. This can be done alone or with a trusted partner. Even if your sexual partner is present, the ideal is still to explore your individual sexual response first, the partner helping to stimulate and explore the secret workings of your body at your pleasure.
The idea is to enter your ritual space without any particular goal in mind, just enjoy the full bodily sensations as he or she caresses and strokes your body. Being pleasured by your partner in this way is, in many ways, more intimate that actual intercourse. Don’t worry about coming, just become very pacific and let the sensations stream around your body. Your partner will naturally vary the rhythm, making the approach to climax slower and more erratic.
If you feel yourself approaching the point of ‘no return’, maybe ask your partner to pause, and make any adjustments necessary to prevent ejaculation or climax (for a man, pressing on the prostate or muladhara chakra can often help this). As the urge for ejaculation or release subsides, you may feel the warm sexual glow spreading throughout your whole pelvic region, opening out other energy centres sometimes called chakras. When you’re ready your partner begins again, exploring all your erogenous zones, or places of power, until you reach another peak.
The first time you try this exercise, you might be happier coming off now, but if you are more experienced, you might want to go for another and another pre-orgasmic peak. A strange thing happens: you become like an erotic landscape, a sea of sensation. Try to regard the time you have spent in this ‘build up’ to ejaculation as part of the orgasm. Viewed this way, perhaps you can see that an orgasm, for both men and women, is actually a lot more intense than those few moments of ejaculation or climax.
Perhaps you are happy to just stop when you’ve had enough, although you might find that when you do come in the conventional sense, the orgasm is ultra-physical and polymorphous. In other words, it forms a field all over your body. There are at least two distinct sexual trance states here, one ‘pre-orgasmic’ the other ‘post-orgasmic’. Both can be moments in which ancestral memories, dreams, meditations and archaic god forms can break through into your sensitized body. That is sexual magick.
Locked away in our brains are the first moments during which we emerged as humans from the cosmic waters, becoming self-aware and preserving that moment in the form of sacred landscapes—temples, reed enclosures and circles. Perhaps you will remember that first moment when, as an ancient hunter-gatherer, you made love or stimulated your partner, and something in the way you thought about the world around you changed utterly. Maybe you were that naked man in a cave at Lascaux, staring at the bison and rhinoceros—and as you look down you see your erection. Later you paint your experience on the walls of the cave.
The Tankhem magical system works like this—combining a primeval sexuality with a re-membering of the first temple—that we can live again as our ancestors did—in other words—we can turn our brains back on. One hint as to the accomplishment of this task lies in the understanding and reclaiming of our sexuality and the connections it has always had to the external and erotic landscape.
- Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson (Crown Trade Paperbacks, NY 1996).
- Readers interested in male pleasuring are referred to More Joy: An Advanced Guide to Solo Sex by Dr. Harold Litten (Factor Press, 1996), ISBN 0962653187, and Joseph Kramer’s Erotic Massage instructional videos. Also, The Multi Orgasmic Man by Mantak Chia & Douglas Abrams Avara (HarperCollins, 2002).
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