Witchcraft has long been associated with sex. From Aleister Crowley's use of sex magic to the obviously phallic broomstick imagery, the occult has long "occupie[d] a vital place within the history of sexuality," according to the study Witchcraft and Sexual Knowledge in Early Modern England.
In the 17th century, for instance, the Puritan image of a witch was that of a seductress. "The Puritans believed women at heart were wonton sexual beings who could lead men astray," Sean Purdy, the author of a study of the Salem Witch Trials, wrote. "Because the devil encouraged such sexuality, the devil could use this weakness to gain control over women and thereby men." Women accused of witchcraft were also often unlicensed doctors and healers, serving as midwives or secretly mixing medicines to aid in birth control and abortions.
But even though both the occult and open expression of female sexuality have historically been considered taboo, we can learn a lot from witches about sex. Divorced from the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviors set by the government or the church, witches have been forced to establish their own set of sexual norms, making them some of the most sexually open-minded and adventurous people around.
Today, there's a thriving community of modern-day witches, who still embrace these ideas of bodily autonomy and acceptance — ideas that we would all do well to embrace, regardless of whether we practice witchcraft or not. So in honor of Halloween, Mic spoke to witches to find out how we can bring a little bit of black magic into our sex lives.
Discover your practice. Today's witchcraft is not one of bubbling cauldrons and black cats or even one of any specific doctrine. Instead, it's mostly about channeling one's energy and intentions toward a specific outcome, the modern-day equivalent of a "spell." (Note: Some witches consider themselves "pagans" or "Wiccans" and use the terms interchangeably, but some consider witchcraft a separate practice.)
Modern witches draw their practices from different traditions: Some believe in a divine God or Goddess, or multiple deities, while others find spirituality in nature and the changing seasons. But above all else, modern-day witchcraft is about empowerment. Lady of the Abyss, a witch and founder of the modern witchcraft site Witches of the Craft, said that the core belief of any witch is that "there is no other power in this universe greater than her own."
How witches incorporate sex into their practices varies widely (and #notallwitches use sexuality in their craft at all). But it's not about bacchanals and pagan forest rituals. "Everyone thinks we go out in the woods, strip off naked and have sex," Lady of the Abyss told Mic. "That could be the furthest thing from the truth." Instead, sex is just one way of focusing intention or channeling energy, and it's a practice that's highly personal.
Get some sexual healing. "Sex can be a powerful form of magic or witchcraft because [sex] changes our consciousness, amplifying our energy and intention," Britta*, a 28-year-old practicing witch who studies the healing potential of sex, told Mic.
Britta first became aware of the potential spiritual aspects of sex through her experiences as a sex worker. "From the very beginning, it was apparent that there was a kind of healing that took place when I was holding space for clients, meeting them without judgment, with complete acceptance and presence," she said. She also began experimenting with erotic trance and psychedelic plants in her sex life, which led her to her practice.
Britta is currently writing a thesis on the connection between healing, sex, psychedelics and magic. She said that when used responsibly, drugs like ayahuasca and mushrooms can be powerful tools for facilitating things like erotic trance. Indeed, there's some historical precedent for this belief: psychedelic drugs have been used in spiritual rituals across many cultures, with many claiming that they facilitate mystical experiences. (In fact, some believe that the supernatural phenomena reported by witnesses in the Salem Witch Trials were actually sparked by encounters with psychedelic plants.)
But if you're not interested in dosing yourself with powerful hallucinogenics to improve your sex life — which, given their potentially harrowing side effects, you very well might not be — Britta said her witchcraft practice has helped her embrace the healing powers of sex and intimacy. She connects sex with her practice because "they're both powerful tools for shifting consciousness and require the ego to let go, to surrender to something greater," she told Mic.
Find the sacred (and sexual) in your body. Chelsea*, 37, a witch who works at a sexual health clinic, said she doesn't use psychedelics in her practice, but she incorporates her witchcraft into her sex life in other ways. She initially discovered witchcraft the same way most kids discover sex: by flipping through the pages of a magazine (specifically, the riot grrl-era mag Sassy) on the back of the school bus.
Learning about these traditions eventually led Chelsea to a practice focused on what she describes as the "divine feminine and a deep love of the Earth," though she is not tied to a particular tradition. "I find something very powerful in knowing that a face of the divine, the Goddess, has a body like mine," she said. However, she noted that many traditional gods have intersex forms, so people of any gender can connect to them.
Embracing witchcraft and embracing her inner Goddess has helped Chelsea become both more body- and sex-positive. "My spirituality has allowed me to largely shed any shame associated with sexuality," she said. "After all, if we share our forms with those of the divine, how can they be shameful?"
Forget love spells. Even though we typically associate witchcraft with love potions and spells, most witches warn against dabbling in these arts. If you are going to explore sex and love through witchcraft, there's one core rule: "harm none."
"The most important moral tenet of magic and spell work is that you do not deny anyone else their freedom. So 'love spells' as many may think of them are a pretty big no-no," Chelsea said. That's not to say you can't cast romantic or sexual intentions or spells, just that the target has to be you, not someone else.
Chelsea said she uses "simple candle magic" — to put it crudely, a grown-up version of making a wish before you blow out your birthday candles — to cast spells relating to what she wants out of her love and sex life. She lights candles before sex while thinking of a specific goal in mind — having multiple orgasms, for instance, or spiritually connecting with a partner. (Candle magic aside, it also doubles as a good way to set the mood.)
Chelsea said she also uses witchcraft to harness her own orgasms into fulfilling her personal goals."One of my other favorite things to do is to set an intention, and then at the moment of orgasm direct that energy out to power its fulfillment," she said. There's a whole lot of bodily energy and feeling happening during an orgasm, and the idea is that you can channel that energy into something you want to happen, be it a career goal or sending well wishes to an ailing loved one: "You just have to keep your wits about you enough to remember to do it," she said.
Get naked. The practices of witchcraft are as varied as the people who practice them, but one common theme is an openness and shamelessness about sex.
"One of the most powerful lines from the Charge of the Goddess [a text cited in many witch and Wiccan rituals] is 'All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.' Add that together with 'harm none,' then as long as you are being kind to everyone involved, nothing you do is shameful," Chelsea said.
In fact, part of witchcraft is accepting the body as a beautiful, natural form. Witches call going naked going "skyclad." "When we go skyclad it is to stand before our Goddess in the form in which she made us," Lady of the Abyss said. "It shows we humbly come before her in our natural state of being." Though it's not explicitly tied to sexuality, it does facilitate a comfort and respect for the human body.
A lot of witchcraft focuses on getting in touch with oneself. Through focusing on personal intention and consciousness, the idea is you can find power in yourself rather than in what other people think. It's a difficult task for anyone, but especially difficult during sex when you want your partner to think you look sexy.
"Deprogramming our normal social ideas around sex, getting rid of the performative aspects" is the most important thing we can learn from witches, Britta said. When that happens, we can discover how spiritual sex can truly be: "It's the most intimate, connected and vulnerable you can be with another person, whether it's for a night or for a lifetime. The more you're surrendering into the experience, the more often states of erotic trance and transcendent sex take place."
You do you: The biggest lesson witchcraft can teach us is that everyone's path is different. The witches Mic spoke to all incorporate their practice into sex in their own way. Some use psychedelics, some use it to meditate and some don't incorporate witchcraft at all. The point is to become more in touch with yourself and tap into what works for you.
"So often I think people get stuck in the 'right' or 'wrong' way of doing magic," Britta said. "It's not that kind of thing. I was doing things intuitively that I didn't even realize were magic until I had that language to describe it. You probably are too."
*Only first names have been used to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.