Last month, when I realized there would be five Wednesdays and I didn’t have anything on the list for the fifth of those, I dusted off an old habit and asked my readers what they wanted to hear about. That gave rise to some extremely lively discussions. The largest number who expressed a preference wanted an update on the Long Descent—the unraveling of industrial civilization, which began in earnest in the early 1970s and will continue until long after everyone reading this blog is dead—and so that was the theme of last week’s post. Several other subjects had a lot of interest, though, and so I’ve decided to scale back my posts on the magical history of America to one per month, and use the slot thus freed up to cover some of the other requested topics.
One of those topics was what occult philosophy has to say about masturbation and pornography. That didn’t surprise me at all. These days most people in America have grown up in a media environment saturated with explicit sexual imagery, and with an elite culture that celebrates every form of sexuality involving consenting adults except male heterosexuality, which it stigmatizes. Young straight guys who are unable or unwilling to work their way through the increasingly byzantine double-binds they face if they pursue relationships with women often turn to masturbation with pornography instead. A significant number of them are uncomfortable about that habit, and so I’ve had a steady stream of young men show up on my Magic Monday ask-me-anything sessions, wanting to know what an old-fashioned occultist might say about the topic.
As it happens, old-fashioned occultism has quite a bit to say about such things. To make sense of the metaphysics of sex, though, it’s going to be necessary to cover some of the basic ideas of occult philosophy, and the best way to start that is by paying attention to what we as human beings actually experience, and how we experience it.
Let’s start with the least controversial category, the things we experience with our five senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell—and with instruments designed to extend the reach of one or more of these senses. In a sense, that’s the universe of matter and energy that scientists study. I say “in a sense” because philosophers have pointed out that it’s not that simple; whatever we experience is, as an experience, an image in consciousness, and its connection to the reality “out there” is anything but straightforward. For present purposes, though, we can set these issues aside and think of the things we experience with our five senses as material things.
That’s not the only kind of thing we experience, of course. Another category consists of things that resemble sensory experiences but don’t come through the senses. Memory and imagination are good examples here. Take a moment to remember someone you know well. You may “see” images of that person’s face, “hear” the person’s voice, “feel” the distinctive quality of a hug or a handshake, even “smell” a familiar perfume or aftershave. Equally, you can imagine a character in a novel, and if the writer’s any good, you’ll have some of the same quasisensory experiences relating to that character. Pay close attention to your thoughts, and you’ll discover that most or all of your thinking consists of this kind of experience: pictures, words, or what have you, that resemble sensory experiences but don’t involve the senses.
Those are the two categories of experience that most of us are willing to think about. There are two other categories of human experience, though, and we need to include them in the picture as well. The first is a set of experiences that our culture has tabooed, even though everyone has them: experiences of the life force. Everyone knows what it’s like to sense the “vibe” of a person or a place, to feel vitalized by some places, people, and things, and devitalized by others. This is normal, and most cultures around the world and throughout history have had straightforward ways of talking about it. It’s only in the cultures of the modern industrial West that they’ve been stigmatized as things that do not, cannot, and must not exist.
The fourth category is subtler still. Have you ever had the experience of learning an unfamiliar word by sound or spelling, and then later on finding out what it means? If you don’t know German, for example, the word Backpfeifengesicht won’t communicate anything to you, but you can learn how to pronounced it and spell it, and even commit it to memory. If I then explain to you that it means “a face that just begs to be slapped,” something else enters the picture. You can doubtless think of people with faces like that—I certainly can—and what had been a mere sound becomes a form that unites many experiences in a common pattern of meaning.
To the modern materialist, the first category I’ve described—the material world—is the real world, and the other three are lumped together as “mental” and thus not quite real. To the occultist, by contrast, each of these categories belongs to its own kind of reality. The usual term these days is “plane.” The world of matter and energy that scientists study is the material plane. The world of the life force, of vibes and hunches and a good many other experiences we’re taught not to talk about, is a part of the etheric plane. The world of quasisensory images that don’t come through the senses, such as thoughts and dreams and imaginations, is a part of the astral plane. (It’s called that because it’s the plane through which the forces tracked by astrology function.) The world of meanings, of forms that unite separate experiences into patterns, is a first dim perception of the mental plane.
Are there other planes? You bet, but these are the four that human beings are able to experience directly at this stage of our evolution. The planes further up are sometimes lumped together as the spiritual plane, sometimes discussed individually—the taxonomy I use these days, for example, identifies three planes above the mental plane, and calls them the spiritual plane, the causal plane, and the divine plane. (Causal, by the way, is not the same word as casual! The causal plane is the plane of causes.) Those higher planes aren’t relevant to our current subject, though, so we can leave them alone for now.
So we have four planes that human beings currently perceive. We also have a body on each of these planes. Your material body is the familiar structure of meat, bone, and assorted fluids through which you interact with the material world. Your etheric body is your body of life force—it’s almost identical in shape to your material body but extends an inch or so further outward in all directions, and it permeates your material body and keeps it alive. Your astral body is an egg-shaped region interpenetrating your material and etheric bodies and extending three feet or so in all directions beyond them. Your mental body—technically, your mental sheath, because we’re still in the process of evolving mental bodies—is a vague uncertain presence inside the astral body, varying in size and complexity from person to person.
Here’s where we start getting within reach of sex, because each of those bodies has its own gender. One reason that occultists tend to roll their eyes at the recent hoopla over transgender issues is that nearly everyone involved in said hoopla seems to think that each person has just one gender. Not so. The gender of your material body can be determined by looking into your shorts. The genders of your etheric body, astral body, and mental sheath are not so obvious. Normally your astral body is the same gender as your physical body, and your etheric body and mental sheath are the opposite gender—but “normally” is a label that allows for a great deal of individual variation; there are people whose subtle bodies are gendered in different patterns.
Let’s talk a little about what “gender” means in this sense. It can be understood quite simply as the direction of creative energy. On the material plane, this is easy enough to see: the male creates on this plane, i.e., procreates, by the outward movement of ejaculation; the female on this same plane procreates by a movement inward, accepting the sperm, combining it with her own ovum, and nurturing the resulting child to term. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, on the other planes.
Let’s take a man with the usual arrangement of bodies as an example. On the purely material plane, the plane of biology, he is masculine. On the etheric plane he is feminine and needs to receive life energy, to draw it into himself—thus the sense of abundant well-being that many men feel after lovemaking, because they receive etheric force in the course of the act from their partners. On the astral plane, again, he is masculine, and so puts images and words out there, hoping that they will be received. (Depending on the astral gender of the other person or people involved, this may be welcome, or it may be labeled “mansplaining.”) On the mental plane, finally, he is feminine, and needs to receive. Many male writers and artists need inspiration from a woman in order to create—so much so that this is practically a cliché. It’s much less common for a female writer or artist to need a comparable male source of inspiration.
A woman with the usual arrangement of bodies is just the opposite. She is feminine on the material plane, as already explained. She is masculine on the etheric plane—if she’s in good physical and mental health, she is an overflowing fountain of life force, which can be directed in various creative ways or (more usually in our society) bottled up until it goes stagnant. She is feminine on the astral plane—her thoughts and feelings are easily influenced by her surroundings, whence comes women’s reputation for sensitivity. On the mental plane, finally, she is masculine, and more likely to inspire than to need inspiration. Again, though, there are countless variations. These complexities have to be kept in mind as we turn to the occult dimensions of masturbation.
Let’s start with male masturbation, since gender differences matter here and nearly all the people who’ve asked about this subject have been young men. The sexual organs we inherit from our animal ancestors evolved with heterosexual intercourse in mind, and this is as true of the etheric and astral organs as of the physical ones. That doesn’t mean that other modes of sexuality are unnatural—it’s a common feature of evolution that organs that evolved for one purpose turn out to be preadapted to another purpose. (Your hands evolved into their present shape to help your distant ancestors climb trees, for example, not to make and use tools.) When a man with the usual arrangement of subtle bodies engages in any kind of sexual activity, those bodies are going to expect something like the stimuli they would get when making love with a woman with a corresponding arrangement of subtle bodies. To the extent that they don’t get those, potential problems emerge. Those problems aren’t insuperable, but it’s helpful to be aware of them so that you can counteract them.
On the etheric plane, the first difficulty faced by a straight young man when he masturbates is that his etheric body is expecting a jolt of life force from a partner’s etheric body, and doesn’t get it. That’s the source of the weakness and depression that many men feel after masturbating. Over the long term, this can lead to health problems, and it also produces that distinctive vibe that many of us have learned to associate with words like “wanker.”
Fortunately there are other sources of etheric energy, and one way to deal with this problem is to rely on those instead. Vigorous breathing is one of the ways the body charges itself with etheric force, for example, and so strenuous exercise that makes you breathe deeply is a good substitute. Fresh air and sunlight also help your body charge itself with etheric force. A workout at a boxing gym followed by a couple of miles of walking or running outdoors? That’ll do the trick.
Cold water also has much to offer. Water absorbs and holds etheric substance more effectively than any other commonly available substance—that’s why living things are mostly made of water—but the etheric capacity of a given volume of water varies with temperature, reaching its peak at 39°F. Step into a cold shower and you’re literally bathing in etheric substance as well as in water, so your etheric body can recharge. (Washing with a washcloth wrung out in cold water is nearly as effective and less of a shock to your system.) Since the water retains its capacity to absorb etheric substance, it also picks up and carries away etheric crud from the surface of your etheric body—yes, the inner planes can be just as grubby as the material plane, especially in a society like ours that doesn’t even have the concept of etheric and astral hygiene.
And if your etheric body has the opposite polarity, as it does in most women and some men? Your etheric body expects to release a great deal of force into your partner’s etheric body, but if there’s no partner involved, this can’t happen. The result will generally be a state of etheric congestion. There are various ways to deal with this but the most reliable is creative activity. Anything from music and writing to cooking and housework will do, so long as it involves the material and etheric bodies directly in the creative process. If you have this kind of etheric body, creative work is a useful outlet for you even if you don’t masturbate, as your body gathers more etheric force than it needs, and creativity gives it somewhere to go.
So much for the etheric plane. On the astral plane there are additional complexities. A man with the usual arrangement of bodies is masculine on the astral plane, and that has a very distinctive effect when it comes to sexuality. A man who’s sexually aroused projects an astral image of desirability onto potential partners. This is like the well-known phenomenon of “beer goggles.” Even without alcohol, most men have had the experience of finding some woman utterly desirable the evening before and decidedly homely the morning after; that’s because her apparent desirability was projected onto her by his own astral body.
This is where pornography becomes an issue. For the male masturbator, pornography replaces an actual partner as a target for that act of projection. There’s a feedback loop, though, because until you reach a certain level of inner development, the images that stock your astral body with raw material will mostly be taken from things you experience with your senses. The images used in pornography have the sexual dimension artificially enhanced through every trick known to actresses, photographers, image editors, plastic surgeons, and the list goes on, so they have very little relationship to anything in the world we actually inhabit. If you spend a lot of time looking at pornography, those images will be what your astral body has on hand, and over time you risk becoming less and less able to project desirability onto anything else. That makes relationships with, say, actual women even more difficult than they would otherwise be. The moral to this story is simple: if you masturbate, use your own imagination as a source of imagery, instead of pornography.
And the other polarity of astral body, the sort found in most women and some men? If you have this polarity, you don’t project desirability onto others, you want to be desired. That’s the secret of romance fiction. Think of the basic plot of your standard tacky romance novel The male lead is strong, handsome, dominant, powerful, and yet so overwhelmed by desire for the heroine that he makes her the center of his life. That is to say, it has no more to do with real relationships than pornography has to do with real sex, and it distorts the emotional responses of people with feminine astral bodies in the same way that pornography distorts the sexual responses of people with masculine astral bodies—in both cases, irrespective of their material-plane gender. In either case, doing without the artificial stimulation, whether we’re discussing physical or emotional masturbation, is a good idea.
So we have the etheric consequences of masturbation, and the astral consequences. There is another set of potential difficulties, though, which unfold from the fact that the inner planes are populated, and not just by human beings. To understand this we’re going to have to touch on some of the occult teaching about spirits—because that’s what we are talking about, of course: living, conscious beings that don’t happen to have material bodies. Two of the many classes of spirits can get involved in the matters we’re discussing.
The first of these are called larvae. (That word was used for spirits long before the biologists borrowed it.) Larvae are low-grade etheric entities, almost mindless, who fill the same niche on the etheric plane that scavengers fill on the material plane: they eat the cast-off etheric bodies of the dead. Under normal circumstances they’re harmless, but in a society that doesn’t even have the concept of etheric and astral hygiene, they can be a problem.
The difficulty is simply that, being almost mindless, if they find something that resembles a cast-off etheric body, they latch onto it and try to feed. This can include, for example, the devitalized and unclean etheric body of a chronic male masturbator who lives and works in an etherically filthy environment. Parasitism by a larva typically involves a slow, steady loss of vitality with no medical cause. Fortunately it’s easy to treat once recognized: cleaning up your etheric body and surroundings is usually adequate. In serious cases, take an iron blade with an insulated hilt, and make little jabbing motions with the point, aiming them toward the patient’s body from two or three feet away. Larvae can be quite small, about the size of a human palm, and so unless you have clairvoyant abilities and can see the larva, you need to do this all around the patient’s body from head to foot, spacing each jab only a few inches from the others.
So much for larvae. The other kind of spirit functions on the astral plane; we can use one traditional term for them, and call them demons, but there are many different kinds and classes and varieties of malign astral being. For reasons of their own, some of these beings seek to draw human beings into various unbalanced and self-destructive patterns of thought and action. They have no real power over us, except to the extent that we give power to them, but they can whisper thoughts into the minds of humans in vulnerable conditions, and if those thoughts are welcomed, more will follow. Each class of demon has its characteristic imbalance, and distorted sexuality is the focus of one such class. Yes, chronic masturbators obsessively watching pornography are in a vulnerable condition to such entities.
The hallmarks of demonic involvement are easy to recognize. First, there is something weirdly mechanical about these entities; people they influence do and say the same things over and over again in rigidly stereotyped patterns, and lose the ability to reflect on their words and actions and notice how bizarrely repetitive they’ve become. Second, there’s an emotional tone to demonic activity that, once recognized, is never forgotten: hot, inflamed, confused, excited, murky. Finally, the actions they inspire in human beings are always self-defeating and self-destructive.
How do you get rid of such beings? Again, they have no real power over us unless we give it to them, and there are plenty of ways to make use of that fact. Religion is one of the two classic options—old-fashioned sacramental religious denominations of every tradition have robust methods of chasing these beings away, though the more watered-down modernist versions of the same traditions are typically as helpless as they are clueless about such things. Magic is the other classic option: daily performance of a banishing ritual such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram or the Sphere of Protection, or the use of other methods of protection and blessing, will typically do the job in short order. Of course you can combine the two.
One caution needs to be made before we finish. One of the great mistakes of the religions of the Piscean Age, the 2160-year era whose vestiges are fading out around us just now, was the habit of setting out an arbitrary notion of what human beings should be like, and insisting that it’s the fault of evil spirits that we don’t live up to that notion. This has been especially common and counterproductive when applied to human sexuality. To insist dogmatically that human beings are naturally chaste, heterosexual, and monogamous, and only veer from this ideal because demons mess with them, is a great way to guarantee that your congregations will be riddled with guilt and neurosis, but that’s all it is.
Human sexual desire is complex, varied, and robust, and it doesn’t fit into any simple arbitrary dogma of the sort that religious authoritarians like to brandish. If your desires don’t happen to conform to some such dogma, that doesn’t mean a demon is doing something to you; it may just be that you’re one of the many people for whom the dogma simply doesn’t work. The opposite of one bad idea, as I’ve observed more than once in these essays, is normally another bad idea, and compulsive solitary celibacy is no healthier than compulsive solitary vice. From an occult perspective, every human soul is unique, with needs and possibilities at least slightly different from those of every other soul, and our task as human beings is to find balanced, healthy ways to meet those needs and express those possibilities without interfering with the rights and needs of others: in a sexual context, and in the rest of life.