Sex and Magic and Sexual Human Rights

This blog is a follow-up to to the April 19th Love’s Outer Limits podcast, with its topic of “Sex and Magic.” Here I want to expand more on the idea of incorporating international statements on Sexual Human Rights into attempts to deal with issues of sexual harrassment and predation in neopagan circles and organizations.

Witches going to their Sabbath, by Luis Ricardo Falero
Witches going to their Sabbath (The departure of the witches) *oil on canvas *145.5 x 118.2 cm *signed b.r.: LFalero *date b.l.: 1878

History of Sex and Magic

Very briefly put: sexual energy and behaviors have been and are incorporated into many esoteric traditions, often as part of inner mysteries or circles and initiatory rites or as a vehicle for spiritual transformation. A very few examples include: some practices in the Eastern traditions of tantra and Taoism; Western traditions of old-fashioned witchcraft (e.g. reports of witches sabbats with the devil); modern Wicca and related groups of magical practitioners (e.g. “the Great Rite”); Thelema/OTO; alchemy; modern Satanism; and other Western sex magic practices.

Many practices are symbolic, not explicitly or physically sexual. These symbols are often dualistic (e.g. a dagger dipped into a chalice) and binary-gendered (e.g. rituals calling in a  “Lord and Lady” or named male and female deities in partnership).

Many people are reworking or creating rituals and traditions that are not focused on binary-genders and are more inclusive of other genders. (See Outside the Charmed Circle by Misha Magdalene.)

Sex also may appear in accounts of encounters with deities, spirits, angels, demons, etc. Depending on who you talk to, this might be known as spectrosexuality or spectrophilia (psychology term). Such encounters may be part of a sex magic ritual, or not. They may consist of a single occurance or form part of a long-term relationship.

Some people also have sex with “the deity within” other humans, or as deities together.

This is creepy: I also believe that the tortures inflicted on suspected witches (usually female) during the European witch hunts may have been a turn-on for some of those inflicting, ordering, or witnesses the tortures.

What is Sex Magic?

Simply put, sex magic is any form of magical ritual that uses sexual energy and/or explicit sexual behavior, including orgasm, to add power to the spell or ritual. The sexual aspect may be partnered or solo. Partners may be human or spirit beings.

Sexual fluids may also be used in ritual context, as containing special powers. Some spiritual beings like these as offerings, others don’t. (Best check ahead of time.)

Sex magic is not designed to draw a partner to you for romantic or erotic purposes–that would usually be called love magic.

Magicians and Witches Behaving Badly

It’s not just magicians and witches: incidents of sexual harrassment, abuse, and rape may be found in the neo-pagan community at large, and in many other spiritual and religious communities including yogic ashrams and the Catholic church. These things occur in pretty much any cluster of humans: families, government agencies, prisons, businesses, you name it. By noting the pervasiveness, I am NOT writing this off as “human nature” or excusing spiritual, religious, and magical communities by saying, “well, all small groups reflect what happens in the larger society.” No.

I just want readers to think about this, and about how such traumas happening in a spiritual, religious, or magical community may well compound traumas that have happened to an individual elsewhere. And to notice the cruelty in how even a last refuge may become a place of danger.

And notice how people in communities that use practices already charged with sexual energies and behaviors might be even more vulnerable to such incidents. Notice how predators within such communities (including leaders) might be even more emphatic about pressuring other people to engage in behaviors “for the magic” or for “initiation” or for “advancement” but really just for their own gratification.

In preparing for the April 19th podcast, which I knew would be a mere dip into the  sprawling topic of sex and magic–one which spans history, religion, spirituality, witchcraft, human sexual behavior, and so on–I knew I would include at least some discussion of sexual predation and abuse in neopagan/witchy circles.

Many people who trace the abuses found in neopagan groups point to the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960’s-70’s as something which made things easier for sexual predators, and which made it less likely that their creepy behavior would be questioned or understood as abuse.

I was twelve in 1967. Love-ins happened in the park across the street from my house. So I remember the 1960s-1970s Sexual Revolution very well. It was a time when “chicks” were just naturally expected to put out or risk being labeled as “uptight” and uncool. As a teenage girl, just discovering my own sexuality, I had a good time–mostly–but I also encountered predators, some of whom harmed me, or attempted to harm me. I eventually developed a fairly reliable radar for creepy older men. Back then, I also had relatives who up and joined a renegade (abusive) Thelemic commune in San Diego County. It took them many years to emerge from it. They never shared their experiences with the rest of my family. Now, as a sexologist, I also use that lens to understand the mixed impact the Sexual Revolution had on many people and communities, including neopagan and witchy ones.

Calls for Community Ethics

In the references you will find several excellent blogs and articles written by people in the neopagan/magic communities. These particular blogs and articles span 2015-2019 and encompass the “me too” movement. These are just a few of many written! Many of these blogs and articles recognize the need for sexual ethics and policies against harrassment and abuse, which would be enforced in their various communities. There’s a sense of frustration too, that such changes are often stalled or dismissed by an organization’s leadership as not generally necessary, since only a “rare” case might show up now and then.

Most people, including people in neopagan organizations, are not aware that the Sexual Revolution included discussions about sexual human rights. Early on, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco issued a statement of sexual human rights. Other organizations have done the some, either before or since. The discussion is international. Much work has been done to define sexual health and sexual human rights. The most powerful statement comes from the World Health Organization (WHO).

All a neopagan organization, coven, conference, what-have-you, needs to do is adopt this stance and this language, and perhaps add a sentence about spiritual and magical practice. Voila! You’ve got an ethics statement and policy based on the best contemporary thinking, created by a massive number of international experts.

Among other things, you can think of the WHO language as a popular element of spellwork that has the power to access the energy and intention of all who created it and use it! This reminds me a bit of  Declaration 127 against racism and discrimination, a declaration adopted by many Heathen and pagan groups, including The Troth, that worship Norse deities and who wish to practice Norse spirituality and culture free of the taint of white supremacy.

So Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Align With the World Health Organization’s Statements on Sexual Health and Sexual Human Rights as the Basis for Your Policies

Here is language from the above document:

According to the current working definition, sexual health is:

“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2006a)

And here’s a screen shot of the sexual rights language from the same WHO document:


WHO Sexual Rights


I hope people will bring this idea to their leadership. I hope this helps.

References

Sarah Ann Lawless, September 2018: “So Long and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community,” and two other pieces which have since been taken down, due to intense harrassment and trolling. I remember reading them when they were still online. (Please consider visiting her herbal apothecary store, Bane Folk.)

Emma Kathryn, November 9, 2018: https://godsandradicals.org/2018/11/09/abuse-within-paganism-a-taboo-topic/


Sister Georgia, January 30, 2018: https://thelemicunion.com/i-have-been-wronged-sex-power-oto/

Sister Georgia, March 11, 2018: https://thelemicunion.com/a-response-to-respectthenoinoto/

Sister Georgia, April 6, 2018: https://thelemicunion.com/theosexuality-sex-and-magic/


Mark Green, January 10, 2018: https://atheopaganism.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/killing-the-sixties-abuse-consent-metoo-and-the-pagan-community/

“The takeaway for our particular community, however, is clear to me.

First of all, we need to root this shit out. It is simply unacceptable to have sexually predatorial behavior in our community. And that means clear policies at events and gatherings about affirmative consent, and firm consequences for anyone—ANYONE, no matter how revered or well known—who violates them.”

Mark Green, February 12, 2019: https://atheopaganism.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/abuse-the-pagan-community-and-our-commitments/

“To my mind, we need a community statement of sexual ethics which can serve as a sort of “seal of approval” for organizations and groups which sign onto it. People will then know where the safe environments are and where they aren’t, and can choose where they attend events accordingly. I know that one attempt was made a few years ago to develop such a statement, and it ran aground when resisted by advocates of sexual initiation.”


Misha Magdalene, January 13, 2018: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/mishamagdalene/2018/01/long-cold-look-mirror/


Shauna Knight, June 1, 2015: https://paganactivist.com/2015/06/01/harrassment-bigotry-safety-policies-and-changing-culture/#more-1677


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Day 28: A Lokean for Mauna Kea

1920px-Ljapunow-Diagramm_05
Artist to come. Public domain.

It’s the 28th day of my Thirty Days of Devotion and the topic is “something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t currently.”

Well…these larger subtle-bodied beings we refer to as deities, are essentially mysterious to us. That might have more to do with our limitations rather than their desire to be opaque and so this question makes me realize I don’t even know what it is that I don’t know that I wish I knew. 

But if I have any question at all about the roles that these various beings have or have had in my life, it’s “why them (in particular) and why me (in particular)?” In other words, I don’t just have this question about my patron, the Norse Loki Laufeyjarson, I have this question about others I’ve worked with, or who have approached me.

An Unexpected Knock on the Door

For example, a few days before July 14th, when the Kia’i (Protectors) were on Mauna Kea to do ceremony at Pu’uhonua o Pu’u Huluhulu and establish their encampment in their sacred place of refuge, the Celtic goddess known as The Morrigan was tapping at my psyche (not for the first time). She is a battle goddess known as the “Great Queen” in Ireland. So I spent a couple of days with a book I have, and some websites, just to see if I should follow up with her. The Morrigan is known for having a fierce interest in social justice issues and I can feel drawn to her on that account. But part of me still felt hesitant. For one thing, I already have a deep, fairly time-consuming commitment to a super-intense being: Loki Laufeyjarson. When I checked in with Loki about The Morrigan, the sense I got was, “I’m not opposed, but just take your time so you know what you’d be getting into.” When I did a pendulum divination with The Morrigan and told her that I was oathed Loki, she drew back a little–odd how I could feel that–and then there was this kind of sense of “oh, well, maybe a limited contract then.” However, I have no idea what that contract might have entailed. 

But then I heard what was happening on the Mauna. I have a long history of (mostly long-distance) allyship with the fight against telescope desecration, and I felt an immediate urge to do what I could to help, even from afar (signal-boosting, blogging, etc.). It was obvious this was not the right time to “get to know” The Morrigan, as her ways of handling conflict are so very different from Kapu Aloha. I could not bring her energy with me if I engaged with this matter. And so I drew back from connecting more with The Morrigan.

But Loki, intense as he is, was fine with my sudden deep plunge into service, once again, with the deities of Hawai’i. I was “standing with Poliahu” and though she hadn’t called me directly, it was important to have that sense of “standing with” her in order to stand with her people. I know this can sound a little mad, but it’s just how it is. And then, after several days of active focus on Mauna Kea, Loki reeled me back, not to prevent any more activity on behalf of Mauna Kea, but to now have me “stand with” him, or to stand with this issue from within standing with him, in solidarity with Mauna Kea, its people and its deities, as a Lokean. Again, it is hard to explain these nuances and I am feeling my way into them.

Loki, who stands for family as well as justice, seems to resonate with this issue of protecting Mauna Kea (personal gnosis). At the very least, he encourages my engagement with it (not that he could actually stop me–he knows I’ve got a prior commitment here).

Practical Considerations

In practical terms, what does this mean to my practice and my activism? Let me see if I can break it down.

Writing: It was important to identify myself as a “polytheist oathed to Loki” in my Wild Hunt article (July 24). 

I’ll continue to write on this topic, as needed.

Devotions: Since July 15th or so there’s been a candle on my altar to represent Poliahu and Mauna Kea. And it feels pono (correct, appropriate) to once again chant E Homai as an offering to Hawai’i, to the Mauna, and to honor the work of the Kia’i. My first kumu hula (hula teacher) told me it was always appropriate to offer ka leo, the voice in a prayer or chant. E Homai is my prayer. That chant, and E Laka E, have always had a strong place in my heart.

Decolonizing Paganism: I sense that it’s important to decolonize neopaganism in order to stand appropriately in solidarity, via an inter-faith perspective as well as a human justice one. I’ve been looking at these issues already in witchery and neopaganism, but I cannot congratulate myself on being very advanced. There’s a lot of layers to this deeply planted onion. Loki, as a deity who habitually punctures hypocrisy, seems to require this kind of inner and outer work.

Back to the Lore: I also feel moved to examine the Norse lore again, for stories about Loki which speak to me of challenges to injustice and hypocrisy. Loki bound on the mountain with the entrails of one of his children, while his wife Sigyn holds the bowl to capture snake venom, resonates with me here. Perhaps the hypocrisy and cruelty of the Aesir, when confronted by Loki’s truth-telling, leads me to compare them with the pro-TMT guys. But I think there are deeper meanings than that.

Complementary Values: A general task might be to compare Hawaiian values and those held by neopagan Heathens and others in the “big tent” of modern paganism. Neopagans might find commonality in areas of animism, earth-centered spirituality, polytheism, traditions of hospitality and frith, working with ancestors, keeping oaths and acting in an honorable manner, making offerings to nurture relationships with deities and spirits, and so on.

Things to Avoid: What would be totally inappropriate (IMHO) is anything like sorcery curses on TMT, or the kind of gleeful political trolling that I so adore from The Satanic Temple when directed at U.S. government officials.

No–the imperative for this issue is to be in Kapu Aloha, out of respect for the Kia’i, who absolutely know better than anybody what is needed and what is appropriate. Those of us who are not part of the Lahui (Kanaka Maoli community) MUST take their lead and directions and respect their wishes to the utmost, in spite of any clever ideas we might have to the contrary. It’s not Berkeley over there. And it took me longer than I like to admit to figure that out.

Restraint and Curiosity: Loki, the King of Clever, who got himself into trouble one too many times by mouthing off, is actually quite good at counseling restraint in this case. However, he seems to encourage my curiousity for uncovering some of the hidden machinations surrounding the approval and promotion of the Thirty Meter Telescope. This kind of factual investigation, aimed at the foreign authorities and capitalists who want to control Hawai’i’s resources, is perfectly appropriate as long as it is done with restraint and professionalism.

For me, activism has always been part of my spiritual path and vice versa. The questions I have for and about Loki–and other deities–are tied to my wyrd. That I should have such strong ties to Hawai’i, including mystical experiences, has always been a mystery. That I am one of Loki’s “children” is another. But I am not likely to have the answers until I pass from this world. All I can do is roll with what I’m given to do, here in Midgard.

Hail Loki! And Ku Kia’i Mauna!

VI. Spectrosexuality Survey: Spirit Beings

“Invisible friends” with unexpected benefits? Judging by the results of this very limited group of respondents, it looks like spectrosexual experiences and relationships heal and enrich human lives far more often than they disturb. Fifty-four people added details to the “Other” comments section of Question 7. Most of the comments were positive.

As a sexologist well acquainted with the impact of trauma and abuse, I was particularly intrigued by this comment:

“A couple of years ago I invited a god to my bed mostly to make an offering but was unexpectedly horsed to help heal some toxic patterns related to profound trauma. Sexual relationship continued. It’s mostly felt like a kind of trauma therapy, but lately is becoming more about love, connection, and sharing.”


 

Data_Q6_190318


Desirable And Consensual

More good news: most of the reported encounters were consensual and responses to intimate spirit contact were overwhelmingly in the “happy/thrilled” and “okay/comfortable” categories. But because this was a group of respondents engaged in magical practices I expected a high degree of consensuality and comfort level. (A survey of the general public would most likely yield different results.)

“I’ve had an on and off sexual relationship with Odin for about 11 years.”

“My primary relationship is with a being I would consider my fetch and my secondary relationship is with a deity.”

“My divine spouse is Brigid. Has been for eleven years now. I have also had sexual encounters and/or intimate brief relationships with Aine, Frigga, Freyja, Thor, Hel, and two fairy cat/s Cat Sidhe/Sith.”

Often a human being may begin to cultivate a non-intimate relationship with a spirit or deity and then the relationship becomes emotionally and/or sexually intimate:

“Loki – to start with there was disbelief then I was pretty ecstatic about it.”

“Spirits I had become close to before sexual relations developed. This only happened with a very select few.”

“I am a spouse of Thor. At first, I couldn’t…properly understand the concept of god consort or god spousing so I was a little afraid of it to begin with. His persistence and his affection kept on for years until I finally “tied the knot” in Yule 2018.”

Spirits and deities can act as spectrosex initiators:

I went through a slut phase after Hela taught me how to do this.

Undesirable And Nonconsensual

But some magic practitioners find themselves in situations that are uncomfortable:

“I once messed up during ritual and left a spiritual “door” unprotected, and had a terrible encounter being nonconsensually fed on by a demon-type entity in a loop of sexual nightmares that night, but a goddess intervened and I was able to banish the entity the next day. This was my only nonconsensual spirit experience to my knowledge. Otherwise I have engaged in loving, friendly, consensual encounters with several spirits: a few (kind, consensual) incubus/succubus demons, some thoughtforms, and some specific gods. I am married to Loki.”

 

“There was one instance when a spirit I couldn’t really identify wanted to ‘join in’, that freaked me out.”

“I had a sexual relationship with a Goddess, Sigyn, that started out consensual, but She entered a gray area that combined with other factors to result in other Deities stepping in to stop our dynamic.”

You’ll notice that in two of the above quotes, the human being was rescued through intervention from a third spirit or deity. This might be a good reason to cultivate relationships (not necessarily sexual) with a number of spirits or to cultivate a relationship with a spirit who will serve as a patron and protector.

Ambiguity and “Ups and Downs”

Some respondents reported mixed feelings and also mixed experiences. Just because your partner is a god/dess doesn’t mean it’s 24/7 bliss.

“Many interactions with Loki – at first, I had many mixed feelings about interactions, even tho surface aspects of interaction seemed consensual. Over time, began to feel joy/pleasure rather than worry. Possibly Odin – several interactions – esp. during two intense sexual ones – felt mixed feelings because there were aspects of non-consensuality to to interaction.”

“Feelings are like a normal relationship, go up and down.”

Spirit Categories

Categories of dieities, demons, angels, etc. are subjective, depending on one’s traditions and practices. One respondent reminded me that one religion’s god may be another religion’s demon:

“One thing that strikes me as I look over the checkbox above is that spirits who are Gods and Goddesses may also be considered demons or nature spirits, etc., depending on who’s asking.”

Even so, some people favor some kinds of spirits over others:

“I disagree with spirit relationships that are not of God deity level as I have seen them do a lot of unintended physical damage.”

Astral damage might also be a risk. One person reported two instances of “parts of their soul” being “bitten off” or eaten by animal spirits, yet did not seem particularly disturbed by this.

Offerings

People in many traditions use sexual energy and fluids as offerings to spirits, but not all offerings are invitations for spectrosexual relations. Those that are may or may not be reciprocated:

“…sexual energy or contact is a tactic I use to communicate in some instances. I use sexual responses as an offerering both to God/desses and Spirits & the Fae, but have only had reciprocal responses from Spirits & the Fae.”

In The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery, Jason Miller reminds us that offerings “not only honor and in some cases feed the spirit, but act as a foothold into the physical world and are yet another way of. bridging that divide between the spiritual and the material” (p. 82). However, in his book, Sex, Sorcery, and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic, Miller reminds us that “in many cultures and religions, sperm, menses and any sexual fluids are considered unclean” (p. 153). According to Miller, deities of the Greek Pantheon and of  “Vodou, Santeria, and other African Traditional Religions” would consider such offerings offensive, however Buddhist tantric beings would enjoy them (pp. 153-154).

In other words, non-response to a sexual offering (energetic or fluid-based) could indicate “they’re just not that into you” or it might be that the offering was offensive or otherwise problematic. Miller recommends researching traditions to discover what is acceptable.

Miller also reminds us that offerings of sexual fluids are extremely personal, “a wide gateway to your deepest parts” (Sex, Sorcery and Spirit, p. 154). He says that predatory or vampiric entities can easily take advantage of a person who has naively made this kind of offering (p. 154). He recommends sexual acts in honor of a spirit, rather than actual fluids (p. 154).

One or Many?

There was variation in the number of partners, though most people had more than one spectrosexual encounter and/or spirit partner.

“Loki is my first and only spirit partner/lover.”

“Almost always Odin, but I’ve had a few others. He’s not monogamous; there’s not a reason in the worlds I should be!”

Others mentioned between two and sixteen names.

People who identified as god spouses mentioned Loki, Thor, Fenrir, and Brigid as their partners.

Who Are the Spirit Partners?

Even though most of the respondents came from Lokean social media groups, it was clear that not everyone stayed with a single pantheon of deities and spirits.

A few people did not want to name their spirit encounters and partners:

“I do not feel comfortable giving names.”

“He is a reclusive god and has asked that I never share his name except with those he specifies.”

Others were willing to name their spirit encounters and partners:

“Hermes Cernunnos Odin Poseidon Manannan Mac Lir Apollo Thor Loki Papa Legba.”

“Dionysus, Apollo, Hermes, Shiva, Satyrs, and two others who like Their privacy.”

“Samael, Michael, Odin, Loki, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Eisheth Zenumin, Lilith, Freya, Freyr, Hela, Lucifer, Jesus, Zadkiel, Ariel, fairy lover named Lawrence son of Manannan, various hookups with Greek Pantheon on occasion.”

“Lilith, Babalon, Hades.”

“Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna. Plus my connection to the Elven world is immense, and far too much to just start naming names.”

Should We Be Skeptical?

Certainly skepticism should have played a role in judging the cases of mass demonic possession in the 17th century, such as Aix-en-Provence (1611), Loudon (1634), and the Louviers Convent (1647). These cases included many sensational accounts of sexual relations between nuns and “the Devil” and other infernal spirits. The modern historical view of Loudon, for example, is that most of these accounts were of “pretended possession” and were part of a public spectacle, one that unfortunately included extreme torture and brutal executions.

These days, skeptics both within and without neopaganism enjoy dissing Lokean god spouses as a “fan-girl” phenomena (though not all god spouses are cis female). Such skepticism ignores the widespread, multi-cultural history of magical and religious practices that include some kind of sexual encounter with a god, demon, or other kind of spirit. From the Virgin Mary’s divine conception of Jesus to the tradition of the witch’s sabbat, from ancient tantric practices to Zeus’s golden shower, and to modern “sex magic” and beyond, spectrosexuality has been a part of human sexual (and spiritual) behavior for thousands of years.

From the sexological perspective, it is also worth considering these survey results as mostly legitimate reports of lived experience. That these encounters and relationships take place largely in what magic folk call “non-ordinary reality” (Wachter, Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic, pp. 27-28) or during non-ordinary states of mind (trance, meditation, ritual, and dreams) does not negate their validity. Just as researchers have demonstrated the physical effects of “hands free” orgasms (aka “mind gasms” or “thinking off”), we could probably find similar physical evidence in someone having a spectrosexual experience.

Wachter says that “non-ordinary reality is still reality” (p. 27). It is worth remembering this when discussing spectrosexual experiences and god spousery.

Stay tuned for Question 7.

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Animism, Plastics, and the Unwise Alchemies

Animism is the belief and/or experience of all forms of matter as being somewhat conscious and “alive,” potentially able (but not always willing) to respond to an invitation to “connect.” This may not be a complete definition of animism, but it’s good enough to include in my personal working (and witchy) hypothesis of how the cosmos works. The other part of my working hypothesis is “not everything that is conscious is visible to my eyes.” That naturally includes itty bitty things like microbes (which we do recognize as “alive”) as well as what we call spirits and deities, attached to humanly detectable matter or not.

Univers_Fractal_J.H.Search the words “is matter conscious” and you’ll find many intriguing results, including the scientific term “panpsychism,” defined in this article as “the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness.” Rather than using what’s implied by the word “inhabit” I’ve come to view the entire cosmos as being informed by consciousness, feeling that consciousness is an intrinsic property of matter, though it may be organized in many different ways. It just seems like common sense. Otherwise how could it exist at all, in us or in anything else?


This idea of consciousness as an intrinsic property of matter is addressed in “Is Matter Conscious? Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics,” Hedda Hassel Morch, April 6, 2017. Here’s a quote from the article:

“Philosophers and neuroscientists often assume that consciousness is like software, whereas the brain is like hardware. This suggestion turns this completely around. When we look at what physics tells us about the brain, we actually just find software—purely a set of relations—all the way down. And consciousness is in fact more like hardware, because of its distinctly qualitative, non-structural properties. For this reason, conscious experiences are just the kind of things that physical structure could be the structure of.

Given this solution to the hard problem of matter, the hard problem of consciousness all but dissolves. There is no longer any question of how consciousness arises from non-conscious matter, because all matter is intrinsically conscious. There is no longer a question of how consciousness depends on matter, because it is matter that depends on consciousness—as relations depend on relata, structure depends on realizer, or software on hardware.”


This is a frankly speculative blog. However, let’s agree (just for the moment) that matter is intrinsically conscious. We can also assume that the consciousness of various material substances may be organized in ways which may be “invisible” or undetectable for us in ordinary circumstances, with our ordinary senses. This is going to be true of the consciousness of most or all non-biological substances, including those organized into objects.

What are the ways that we could detect or experience a non-biological consciousness? Well, someone could invent a “consciousness detection device” (which would expand our sense perceptions). Someone might use a mathematical formula or perform scientific experiments (like those performed by quantum physicists). Or there may be intuitive, spiritual, or magical actions capable of creating such perception.

And here I’d like to point out that there are forms of synesthesia that allow the perception of consciousness and personalities in objects, numbers, days of the week, and months of the year. People with such synesthesia may have emotional responses to these personalities. (See this case study: When ‘‘3’’ is a Jerk and ‘‘E’’ is a King: Personifying Inanimate Objects in Synesthesia.) I’ve even explored the romantic, affectionate, and erotic aspect of human/object relations in Love Among the Objectum Sexuals, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality (2010).

Plastics and the Unwise Alchemies

Just for fun, let’s assume that we have a way to perceive the consciousness experienced by artificial substances, such as plastics. Plastics are created from petrochemicals which are refined from crude oil (petroleum). To quote Wikipedia, “A fossil fuel, petroleum is formed when large quantities of dead organisms, mostly zooplankton and algae, are buried underneath sedimentary rock and subjected to both intense heat and pressure.”

So, transformed fossil remains may be found in food containers, cell phones, cars (and what fuels them), toothbrushes, clothing, medical instruments, etc.–not to mention in human and animal bodies and in our oceans and landfills. The crazy thing is, many of these plastic materials are biologically active. They contain endocrine disruptors which affect human and animal reproduction and sexual health.


Here’s some material concerning the impact of endocrine disruptors in plastics:

Not Too Pretty, The Environmental Working Group. PDF of report. 2002.

Chemicals in personal care and household products linked to earlier puberty in girls. Press release from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, Dec. 3, 2018.

You’re not the man your father was. Neal Howe, Forbes, Oct. 2, 2017.

Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. From Levine et. al. Human Reproduction Update, July 25, 2017.

(Thanks to my friend John Kamp, MD, for alerting me to the last three study references.)


And for those fond of cheery reading, you might enjoy learning about microplastics in human feces, plastics in the ocean, and microplastics in fish (which then become microplastics in humans) which brings us back to feces again… Unholy shit!

Okay, perhaps the above explains my use of the term “unwise alchemies” to describe pretty much everything done by the petrochemical and chemistry industries since World War I. Just for irony’s sake, watch this scene from The Graduate.

However, perhaps the term “unwise necromancy” is more to the point. As Aidan Wachter points out in a 2015 blog, we’re all dealing with dead stuff all the time, including “the petrochemical plastics in your shoes…derived from way old dead things.” My impression is, instead of an inexperienced “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” spawning an army of animate brooms carrying buckets and causing floods (remember the Mickey Mouse segment in the 1940 movie, Fantasia?) we’ve got the humungous flood of plastics in every corner–and presumably every creature–of the globe caused by an industry chock full of inexperienced necromancers (uh, aka “scientists”). These feckless neophytes, oathed to the gods of capitalism and armed with a little knowledge but no sense of balance or consequence, summon the remains of ancient beings, subject them to unnatural forces and alchemies, degrade them by shoving them into “bodies” shaped like toilet brushes and Barbies, thereby causing misery for all sentient beings (and for animists, “all sentient beings” includes purty much everything).

Many years ago, when I was in my Anthroposophical phase, I had a conversation with a man who was involved in the founding of a Northern California Waldorf School and who also served as a Christian Community (Steiner spin-off church) priest. We were talking about environmental illness and he asked me to consider the state of health of the “beings” who had such a toxic impact on me. The impression he left me with was one of beings formed outside of “lawful” creation (lacking a “protocol” for their existence?), who were tortured, unwelcome and/or disoriented. All they could do was cause sickness and distress because that was their experience, how they came into being. I’ve never forgotten that conversation and it took me a long time to wrap my mind around it. It was also the first conversation I ever had where I “saw” a person with a spirit eye. Very strange indeed.

Further along in Aidan Wachter’s blog post, I find this key paragraph:


“All manifestations in the field of experienceable existence come about by fluctuations of energy. This energy for the most part changes continuously. However, ‘strong’ events & disturbances cause ‘energy swirls’ that I perceived like a storm going cyclonic (like a tornado), they keep themselves together for awhile and have notable effects. If this ‘swirl’ lasts for awhile, it in essence becomes its own continuous cause. If it persists for a longish time (say moving from moments to hours to days and into weeks or months or years) it becomes a ‘persistent presence’. All persistent presences behave ‘as if’ sentient. For whatever fucked up reason (it’s quite unfair, really!) the Bad Nasties tend to persist more than the good shit. I expect this is because being hurt really horribly produces an inward turning motion where the cyclonic action is a tightening spiral, which, like twisting fibers together to make cord, gets stronger and more durable as it gets more tightly wound. Happiness and joy tend to be expansive and so tend to dissipate fairly quickly.”


So I am reading this and thinking on the one hand of the swirling currents of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and other oceanic plastic patches and also of the chemistries used to force the ancestral remains into all the consumer products we’re addicted to today. Do these chemistries “hurt” these ancestors “really horribly,” causing them to spiral inward, as Wachter says? And are we humans “charmed” by the machinations of marketing and consumerism to continue to inflict such hurt for our own immediate notions of convenience and to the detriment of all life on this planet?

It’s both an intriguing and a tragic train of thought…deeply, mind-numbingly tragic. Is there any hope at all of reversing this situation, even as we deal with other massive challenges such as climate change and the die-off of millions of species?

What Would Witches Do?

As a person with almost thirty years of multiple chemical sensitivity behind me (almost half my life now), I shudder at the next, logical step. I’m going way off the deep end here, because I believe that aside from doing all the right environmental activist things, such as advocating for the precautionary principle in public policy and and weaning ourselves of plastics…there’s something we can do on esoteric and spiritual levels.

Capitalist science has failed us. I am not anti-science, but I am anti-thoughtless, consumer-driven, money-hungering science divorced from common sense. And it’s not just science. Cultures and counter-cultures have failed us. Politics and politicians have failed us. Our knowledge and clever technologies fail us. Even as neo-pagans, we have failed us. That’s because we haven’t thought our situation through. What follows is not yet a part of neopagan thinking.

We the witches, magicians, sorcerers, shamans, and all mystic ritualists who work with spirits, deities, thoughtforms, wights, and ancestors, have an interesting skill set which might be useful here.

We could attempt to correct this situation. We could create the new animist or panpsychic protocols for encountering artificial substances, even those that are most toxic and problematic. If we are truly living our animism, we must welcome, bless, and ritually engage with these beings which are also conscious, though artificially and painfully so. We must offer healing, love, acceptance (wow, “unconditional positive regard” to a designer fragrance!) and ask what we can do to help ease this situation for them. It would be a kindness.

It seems to be one of the few acts of grace and generosity we haven’t tried yet, we witches. Instead of casting out these substances, we could acknowledge the hurt of these far distant ancestors of ours and ask how we can comfort them instead. I find it interesting that even as we make more of “them,” they have the capacity to prevent us from making more of “us” (via endocrine disruption of our reproductive systems). Is that their only way of managing this situation? Could we collaborate in some other way?

Let’s get to work on some rituals and magic actions, some “rules of engagement.” Anyone got any ideas about this? Welcoming all suggestions here.

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