Sex as Ritual
I’m very excited to be on a panel about Sexuality and Spirituality with Victoria Blisse at Eroticon this year. Those of you who follow my blog and read my books know that I’m fascinated by the connection between sex and spirituality. I’m not a mystic. I’m a bit of a skeptic these days, but I’d be the first to say that there’s definitely something spiritual, something magical about sex, and not the least of it is the ritual involved.
I think about the ritual of sex a lot lately as I revisit the Elemental Coven from the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy in my serialisation of Demon Interrupted on my blog. I’ve always loved ritual. I made rituals up when I was a child. Later, I was involved in everything from conservative Christianity to practicing in a Wiccan coven — drawn in by the ritual. I spent three years training to be a spiritual director. I did it for the ritual. Contemplative prayer, meditating upon passages of scripture, the use of movement, dance, chant, are all tools of ritual. During my time spent in the Wiccan coven, the year itself was lived out in ritual — full moon, new moon, the changing of the seasons, the celebration of spring and harvest. During that time my husband and I even underwent the ritual of hand fasting in the stone circle at Avebury.
Ritual is a set of actions performed mainly for their symbolic value. But that’s only the beginning. The real power of ritual is that it’s the gateway to something beyond itself, it’s the gateway to a deeper understanding of what it represents.
That ritual infuses my erotica is not surprising. Sex is steeped in ritual, and often the rituals we practice before sex are strikingly similar to religious rituals. We often wear special clothing for the occasion, just as priests and acolytes do. We may share a romantic dinner together before hand, with special foods, just as the priest serves the Eucharist. Flowers and gifts may be offered. And all this we do in hopes of experiencing and celebrating le petit mort, the sexual version of death and resurrection.
When life was a lot more tenuous than it is now, fucking the world into existence was an act of high magic, sympathetic magic. One hoped that by having sex in a field or a cave or possibly a stone circle, the birds and the bees would see what was happening, and take a hint. Pollination would take place in the plant kingdom, plants would grow. Procreation would take place in the animal kingdom, animals would give birth. There would be food to eat, and the next generation would be guaranteed. Our ancestors got it — that there was something in the act, something in the lust driving the mating rituals of all living creatures that brought about new life. New life was in itself magic.
Today sex is more about recreation than procreation. The urgency is no longer there, nor is the belief that our efforts will encourage the cattle in farmer Jones’s field to breed. The urgency may be gone, but the ritual is still there. Strangely and wonderfully, so is the magic, albeit a different kind of magic.
The beauty of sex as ritual is that we don’t have to be members of a religious group; we don’t have to undergo years of training to practice the rituals of sex. Whether it’s BDSM, kink, vanilla or masturbation, sex contains the built-in default rituals of all humanity, just like it does for our animal cousins. Yes, I get that it’s biology. But when cranes dance and grebes do synchronised swimming and apes groom each other, it certainly seems like more is happening than just the old in and out.
Giving and receiving pleasure is the ultimate ritual of human connection, even if it’s just some much-needed connecting with ourselves. There are as many versions of the ritual as there are people to practice it. No organised religion can offer a ritual that is more personal nor more universally compelling. Perhaps that’s why so much effort has been made through the centuries to regulate it, to control it, to limit it.
Back in the dawn of humanity when sex was both ritual and religion, our ancestors got it right. Though the science wasn’t yet available to back up that intuitive connection, that visceral urgency of fucking the world into existence, even back then, our ancestors already knew that the ultimate ritual, the ultimate magic takes place in the arms another.
If you’re in the Bristol area next Saturday the 7th, I hope you’ll get your ticket and come join us at Eroticon.