This is the first in an ongoing series of conversations between writers.
Kathleen: Skye, you and I have known each other for quite a few years now and, though what we write about is very different,
we deal with a lot of the same themes. I recently read your book Sex Magic for Beginners and, even though I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the subject, I was struck by the way you link the power of sexuality with the spiritual. I don't mind telling you I've gotten a lot of criticism over the strong sexual and spiritual themes in my novel Each Angel Burns. There are a lot of people who find strong sexual and spiritual themes incompatible.
Skye: Over the centuries, sex-negative religious forces have tried to separate body and spirit. In the process sex was robbed of its sanctity. But this wasn’t always the accepted view. Tantra, which began in India some 6,000 years ago, is the mystical path of ecstasy and its rituals glorify sex as the union of the Hindu deities Shiva and Shakti. The ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Celts, and many other cultures also incorporated sex into their spiritual practices.
Sex magic, as I discuss in my new book, merges mind, body, and spirit. Although people perform sex magic for a variety of purposes, one reason is to assist spiritual enlightenment. It’s my opinion that our sense of isolation and our longing to reunite with Spirit is the root of human pain and suffering. During sex, we reconnect for a short time with the cosmic pulse of life. We glimpse our divine nature and our union with all that exists in the universe.
Kathleen: I think those are beautiful ideas but I often wonder how many people are in the kind of relationship that can support that. I know you have a section in your book on solo sex but for people already in a relationship, how do they deal with this if their partner isn't interested? In my experience the biggest problem where sex is concerned is the all-too-human desir
e for emotional connection with the partner and an on-going relationship. In my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale one of the characters, an older woman, tells a younger woman, “Never give your body to anyone who doesn't love you with all his heart. It kills the soul and robs you of your beauty and your dreams.” I think that is especially important to consider now in the era of “hooking up” and “casual sex.”
Is it possible to “glimpse our divine nature,” as you put it, when sex is so loaded with emotion and fraught with worries?
Skye: I agree with your character in The Old Mermaid’s Tale, which BTW I think is a terrific book and one I hope we can discuss in future conversations. In my opinion, the difference between casual sex and sacred sex is like the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and a chateaubriand. I’ve never eaten a fast-food burger and I’ve never had a one-nighter. Unfortunately, most people opt for quick-and-easy rather than quality, and settle for far less than they could have. Our contemporary, blasé attitude toward sex renders meaningless the most potentially powerful and magical experience human beings can know. Casual sex is just as destructive as the Victorian era’s restrictiveness. Both squeeze spirit out of the picture, and prevent the possibility of genuine intimacy, joy, and transcendence.
From a magical perspective, the drawbacks are even worse. Keep in mind that sex is inherently a creative force. Sex magicians believe that with each orgasm you create a “magical child” in the etheric world, whether or not a flesh-and-blood baby results. The thoughts and emotions you hold at the moment of orgasm plant a “seed” in the cosmic womb, and that seed materializes based on your thoughts and feelings at the time. What were you thinking/feeling the last time you had sex? What kind of “child” would result from that?
There is a scene toward the end of Each Angel Burns where the two lovers, both of whom are in their fifties, have a highly intimate encounter, that brought down the wrath of quite a few reviewers! I got a scathing review on Amazon over it and one popular Christian reviewer said it was appalling that I spoke of sex “in sacramental terms.” I wonder how you view non-explicit love scenes that are infused with the sacred and how they compare or contrast to most popular erotica.Kathleen, you’re right that many of us aren’t in relationships that support the sacred nature sex––our partners may not even realize such a thing exists. We’ve been taught that love, intimacy, and vulnerability equate with weakness and we’ve learned to hide our feelings. Many men, especially, have also been trained to see sex as conquest, a mark of their prowess, but that sense of one-upsmanship prevents the balance that’s inherent in union. Opening ourselves to true intimacy––not only with our partners, but with ourselves and with the Divine––is essential to fulfillment.
Even if you’re in a relationship that doesn’t recognize the spiritual dimensions of sexuality, you can personally approach sex as a sacred, ecstatic, transcendent, loving, and joyful experience for yourself. Or, you can find another partner who shares your perspective. Solo sex can generate magical results, just as any sex act can, but it won’t keep you warm at night. Sometimes you can encourage or entice a lover to follow your direction, but be aware that fear of letting go, of trusting the unknown, and of being vulnerable may intrude and block your efforts. The choice is really up to each individual.
Kathleen: Sex is such a loaded issue for most people. Even people who profess not to follow a particular religion or spiritual path have a lot of trouble dealing with it. I know that you write erotica, I've read parts of your Tarotica book, and, as you know, I've tried writing erotica but I just have no gift for it. I think it is because I do regard sex as a sacred and powerful force that I find most erotica to be counterproductive to that. I struggle with it because I love writing sexy, romantic scenes––I've had people tell me the scene between Clair and Pio in the backseat of the Thunderbird (in The Old Mermaid's Tale) is one of the hottest scenes they've ever read. But it's not explicit. It's more about what the two people are experiencing than putting Tab A in Slot B, so to speak.
Skye: I think one of the reasons sex is such a loaded issue for most people is that it touches on what’s real and profound and, yes, sacred in all of us. It brings us into dimensions beyond what we normally confront. It connects us with our vulnerability and our power––two sides of the same coin––and that can scare us silly. Sex, if you let it, takes you out of the mundane world and catapults you into the mystical realm––and that can be unnerving for many people. Sacred sex brings you up close and personal with the real deal, and it truly does rock your world.
Kathleen, I love that scene in your book Each Angel Burns, for several reasons. First, it shows that sex and passion don’t end in middle age––in fact, they can become more joyful, genuine, and intense later in life. I’ve always admired your ability to express these sentiments through your characters. Second, I think it’s more erotic if the writer doesn’t tell all and instead allows the reader to project his/her own emotions and fantasies into a situation. Holding back can heighten the experience. Remember that beautiful erotic scene in The Age of Innocence where Newland Archer kisses the wrist of the Countess Olenska? Within the strict confines of their Victorian culture, this daring foray is far more sensual than any X-rated film today.
I don’t know if I can speak intelligently about popular erotica today––it’s such a broad topic, and in the publishing world it has a multiplicity of subsets. I don’t agree that you have no talent for erotica––quite the contrary. I’ve read some of your erotic literature, including “Gone Fishing” which was published in Ravenous Romance’s Green Love Anthology––a highly underrated collection of erotic fiction––and found the story sensitive, sexy, and real. Our ideas about erotica are highly personal, and they keep evolving. Today’s erotica is yesterday’s hard-core porn. An old question asks what’s the difference between erotica and pornography? Answer: Erotica is something you find sexually enticing. Pornography is something another person finds sexually enticing, but you find disgusting. It’s all personal perspective.
But to answer your question, I think most popular erotic literature lacks the sacred dimension, and for me, that leaves it flat and mechanical. Sex is inherently magical. Sex is a sacrament, perhaps the holiest of all acts. Without it, none of us would exist. Maybe it’s no surprise that your reviewer missed this, but our ancestors were very aware of the sacred power of sex and they honored it in multiple ways. We can still do this today. I hope we will.
To be continued...