[Guest journalist Zora Burden returns to her discussion with artist, author and hypnotherapist Iona Miller. In Part One, Burden began her conversation with Miller on the subject of sacred sexuality and the reclaiming of the body and sexual self – a topic that is rarely addressed publicly within a positive framework. Today, we present part two of that interview.]ZB: In regards to the practice of sacred sex, what would be the best way for a beginner to approach it?
IM: Approach it with love. The key to love is selflessness, and the fulfillment it brings. The soul’s selflessness is as great as the body’s selfishness. Love is the language of the soul that allows us to unleash its unlimited capacity. It is a poetic and aesthetic act, a celebratory rite, and a marriage of matter and spirit as an experience of wholeness. We don’t need to support that phenomenon with any theory, jargon or interpretation. Sacred sex is an inherently healing practice and attitude that promotes well-being. It’s about rapport, reverie, and rebirth.
When you can fully imagine your lover as God/Goddess, their transcendent embodiment of the essence of male/femaleness, you’re there. “Knowing” in the “biblical” sense is direct, undeniable experience — a gnosis. It is ravishment beyond rapture – complete transport to the sacred world which is beyond time, beyond decay. It conveys a sense of the eternal – the fated. It fascinates us because transformation is our biological imperative.
Ultimately, it’s all about love – in or out of bed. You must approach the world as your lover, with naked awareness. That does not mean to be socially naïve or idealistic, nor to overemphasize the mysteries of semen retention, or ‘vaginal weightlifting,’ for example. Did you feel some cosmic merger, some divine infusion? Transcendence? Most will not go through all the initiations and empowerments, but essentially anyone can enjoy the practice of imagining the indwelling divinity of their sexual partner, in or out of an intimate relationship.
The mind is the primary sex organ. The psychological issues remain the same: projection, sex addiction, folie a deux, co-dependence/interdependence, fantasy, rapport, trust, intimacy, and commitment. All libido is sexual energy to some extent, the natural urges of life at any given moment. It is a self-regulating intentionality that knows where it ought to go for the overall health of the psyche. It is the urge to create, an energy arising from “life” drive — physiological or psychic energy associated with sexual urges.
ZB: Could you describe a typical tantric experience for a person to know what to expect and how it differs from standard sex?
IM: Most ‘sacred sex’ is no more than sex with an added psychic dimension, whether that is individual or shared with the partner. That may include visualizations, imagination, adoration of the archetypal aspects of the partner, and as much or little external ritual as one wants or can produce at the time. It does not have to affect spontaneity.
ZB: What is the best way for one partner to introduce tantra into their relationship? How does a committed partner compare to engaging in tantric practice with a stranger?
IM: If you know the person, you can talk about exploring your spiritual and sexual interaction more deeply. It is much like disclosing an interest in any sexual fantasy, and may be less challenging than some exploratory behavior. You find your way along together, moving in mutually satisfactory directions. I cannot comment to the ‘stranger’ issue, but one should avoid romanticizing a sex and love addiction, where there is compulsion at work. If stranger sex is a default or personal choice, then one can probably figure out how they can work out their sexual and spiritual agenda in that context. It cannot be imposed or judged externally, unless there is toxic behavior or reactions of participants. There can be unforeseen consequences.ZB: If a person wishes to find an instructor, how do you advise they find a teacher right for them?
IM: Traditionally, the teacher finds you. One you have a good rapport with is probably better than one you cannot relate to or communicate with effectively, even if they have more knowledge. Pick one that harmonizes with your developmental interests.
ZB: How would one know they are ready to engage in ritual practice as a form of sexual awakening?
IM: There is no harm in trying if it is kept simple. Awakening to deeper levels of sexual experience is open to all who care to do so. It is an experiment you make with yourself. Some people speak of being ‘called’ toward such practice by their unconscious and fantasies.
Libido fuels all appetites. It is a drive, identical with fantasy-images, that motivates us spiritually, intellectually, and creatively. If you think you can have a life-affirming experience in this manner you probably will experiment with it.
ZB: Will you explain how one knows if they’ve activated kundalini and what this means for those who are not familiar?
IM: In some sense any sexual arousal activates kundalini or libido. Senses become more heightened, you may feel heat, vibrations, or pressure, and hear different sounds or pitches. Each chakra has its characteristic effects. The energy flow in the subtle body may range from a trickle to a strong flow. Like sex, it requires surrender. Such broad questions cannot be reduced to quick formulas; each person is different.
ZB: What are the precautions or preparations one should keep in mind for kundalini arousal?
IM: Such precautions for Kundalini yoga and other spiritual practices are covered in Michael Murphy’s book: The Future of the Body. Gopi Krishna describes Kundalini simply as the normally latent psycho-sexual power that, when awakened ascends through the central channel of the subtle body. The root word “kunda” means a pool or reservoir of energy, likened to a coiled snake, ready to strike at any moment. Correctly directed, it leads to cosmic consciousness and liberation.
ZB: What is the best way to practice tantric sex when so many people are busy with work and the stress of daily life?
IM: Just taking the time to make it special, from relaxing and bathing to a full spa-experience helps prepare both body and mind. But the attitude toward the partner and the sacred dimension remains the main thing, even without any preparation time. Nothing prevents the adoration of the archetype or inner divinity at any given moment. Perhaps it begins with just the interlocking gaze of ‘soft eyes.’
ZB: Do you feel there is any aesthetic that should be included in a ritual of sacred sex?
IM: I don’t think there is ever any rule. Perhaps sometimes you feel very dramatic, other times earthy. It’s nice to have an atmospheric spot, certainly conducive music, and perhaps the right incense for the operation. Aesthetic response is an essential emotional aspect that lends flow and harmony to the process of balance, rhythm and synthesis of immediate perception.
Aesthetics is an artistic philosophy. Imagery evokes a perceptual response — an aesthetic response, a participatory way of knowing, remembering, and reconnecting body with soul and identity. Looks -The nature of beauty is an immediate revelation of things as they are: unity, line, rhythm, tension, elegance. This communion of the soul with the mysteries of inner and outer world is naked awareness of divine self-revelation. The felt-sense of form and beauty is instinctual. There is beauty in the rhythms of nature and our nature. This flow is lyrical, epic and dramatic. Aesthetic signification is one thing, but the deep emotional impact of aesthetic arrest — being suspended for a thrilling radiant moment in the eternal — stops us in our tracks in a moment of realization.
ZB: How can one ideally incorporate working with the gods or goddesses in their sacred sex?
IM: Authenticity – bringing one’s whole self to encounter. If you are sensual, be sensual; whatever your style is, express yourself freely. Let intuition guide you to elicit just what is evocative from the psyche. “She” will let you know, as personal anima and Anima Mundi, soul of the World, the sacred Feminine.
ZB: Regarding those who wish to work with Dakinis, will you give a brief introduction to this practice?
IM: Choosing a Vajrayana dakini, an iconic superhuman form, is a practice path. Traditionally you receive empowerment in order to practice the deity. The practice is always a mix of mantra and visualization based on the principals of the bodhisattva path. Each empowerment is four empowerments, and each dakini practice is mahayoga, based on loving-kindness.
Various blisses may be experienced in the practice. Classical Buddhist practice, in which all the various deity yoga practices are essentially the same. We develop wisdom in solitary practice as emptiness and compassion. Through the years, after various empowerments, one finds practice allegiance to one or two. The only choice involved is to abide in one of the great Vajrayana lineages where such empowerments happen.
ZB: How does one work with the elements during tantric trance states?
IM: The Physical Plane is represented by Earth, and includes the physical trappings, body and instantaneous rapport; the Emotional Plane is Water with its qualities of flow, empathy and inter-being through the subtle body or energy body. The Mental Plane is Airy – conceptual, metaphorical, and mental body; the alchemy of Being. The Spiritual Plane is Fiery, symbolized by co-conscious mindbody melding in Sacred Sex – the essence or Quintessence of Sex Magick.
ZB: What are some aphrodisiacs you recommend? What scents, colors, food, music, environmental factors are important in tantric work or within sacred sexuality?
IM: In any mind-expanding experience, set and setting or atmosphere is important, though that will mean vastly different ‘turn ons’ to different people. Personally, I like heavy oriental fragrances, except in summer. Some perfumers compose scents from your chart. My favorite fabric palettes are rich, shimmery jewel tones that really pop. For example, essential oils or flowers with their scents can represent maidenhood or fecundity. But psychologically they represent the flowering of differentiation that gives rise to creativity in inner and outer life. In perfume alchemy, each scent elicits a psycho-sensual response.
How often do we claim to be bewitched or enchanted or under someone’s spell? It all boils down to rapport. I wrote about enhancing sex with trance in Hyp-Know-Sex. Remember the corny line, “you fill up my senses”? That pretty much says it. There are 64 tantric arts that play into intensification of the experience, building anticipation. But maybe your lover doesn’t care about the flower arrangement on the buffet or feng shui, or whatever.
[Aleister] Crowley said, “Be strong, then can you bear more joy.” Love is the best aphrodisiac, of course. The Lover wants to be with The Beloved. The arousal of desire begins in the mind. Incorporating a mythic or spiritual dimension adds depth, even if that nuance is a strictly personal or interior experience. Prescriptions are reliable, but I say use whatever works for you. The mind is the biggest sexual organ. Great sex is like taking psychedelics – it is a psychedelic, releasing DMT, endorphins and oxytocin. The longer you stick with it, the more chemistry you pump out.
ZB: In your book, The Magic and Ritual Use of Perfume, you explain the importance of scent in sacred sex and as a form of alchemical transcendence. Will you talk about this?
IM: It has been said that it is only with scent and silk and artifices that we raise love from an instinct to a passion. Perfume alchemy differs from other magical perfumery in that we rely strictly on the quality of the scent, not any other attributions. The doctrine of signatures attributes botanicals to astrological signs, colors, and a host of other linked symbols, but perfume alchemy is concerned with the scent first and magickal or qabalistic attributions secondly. No matter how much we clean ourselves, we all emit a unique odor that is individual. We all affect one another with chemical codes or pheromones.
We communicate through a silent, invisible, virtually subliminal smell language whether at work, in the dining room, or in the bedroom. This exposed portion of the brain (”nose brain”) samples the external world, and deals with the regulation of motor activities and the primary drives of sex, hunger, and thirst. Olfactory stimulation also shoots electrical signals to the limbic system and amygdale. This emotional part of the brain is concerned with visceral, sensory and behavioral mechanisms. This is why odors produce such strong emotional reactions and bring up memories. From time immemorial perfumes and sweet-smelling herbs have played an important part in both religion and sex magic.
Exotic scents have evoked ardor, charming and luring both men and women. Perfumes are actually love potions. A truly “magical” scent works on the subconscious mind, as well as the conscious, to elicit a specific predetermined response. Scents can also be used to stimulate the sexual centers directly, and to help us “anchor” positive feelings, thoughts, and states. Then by smelling the scent alone, we can re-evoke the gestalt of those peak experiences. To excite is to set in motion. Specific formulae not only to enhance desirability and call forth predictable responses, they can also condition our consciousness through association. They can be stimulating, soothing, activate our psychic qualities, or be healing. They stimulate us at all levels — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
Tapping this potential, we can use scents as a language for communicating with and evoking our sub- and super-conscious energies, and creativity.
ZB: Which scents specifically can you recommend for tantric practices or as sexual enhancements?
IM: Keep your partner’s preferences and allergies in mind. Some like florals, or fruity notes, others languid orientals or animal scents. If your practice is qabalistic, keep the scent correspondences in mind, but realize many are not based on scent but on color, visual or medical analogs. It is important to remember in psycho-sexual alchemy the fragrance of the plant and the sensory response the scent elicits are primary. An alchemical essence is formulated for a specific “psycho-sensory, subliminal response”. This sensory response dictates the formulation of an incense or perfume.
The Doctrine of Signatures where herbs, plants, and flowers were assigned either to planetary rulership, or to parts of the human anatomy was based on the color and shape of the plant; so a kidney shaped leaf ‘healed’ kidney ailments and a red flower ‘cured’ blood diseases. Color associations, linked to astrology, are even more simplistic. For example, all red flowers belong to Mars; all yellow plants are ruled by the Sun, etc. This system of attributions, however, has no valid application in perfumery since it did not have anything to do with scent. Medicinal attributions are based on the organic principle of the plant and its ingestion as a tonic or tea, but not on the psycho-sensory fragrance.
ZB: How does one practice solitary tantra as compared to with a partner? Is there a difference in the outcome?
IM: Foremost is respect for the forces of creation, sex, and the divine, however you might conceive it. In this case, sex becomes a driver for inducing an altered state of consciousness. Or, such experience may arise in dreams and may or may not include bizarre metaphors.
The essence of tantra is action. Most tantra is not done with a physical partner and is not overtly sexual. The 4 empowerments of traditional Nyingma teachings describe the context. Tantra means: “thread of continuity”, like lineage. Yes, there are “sexual-yoga” practices for practitioner couples but it is called union practice and is essentially a practice to understand the nature of reality. A lama friend called doing union practice alone, “New Age aggressive innocence.” Religious practitioners of Tantra may be intolerant of the self-styled practices of ‘amateurs.’ Their work is a committed lifestyle which involves lifelong discipline.
ZB: How can a person utilize the internet (cyber-sex) as a form of tantra or sexual magick? Can a person experience sacred sex when using such a forum?
IM: Mostly such libido is used as a generator to create a charge around an operation and desired outcome. You can generate it almost any way you like. Soon people will have virtual and ‘designer’ bodies, so it will get very complicated, including the ethics of such encounters, in and out of relationships.
ZB: Can you give advice for women who experience pain or discomfort during long durational sex in practicing tantra?
IM: Any extended or frequent intercourse can cause “honeymoonitis” or urinary tract infection (UTI), which requires medical remedies. Otherwise, choose positions conducive to your fitness level if you plan to sustain activity in one position for a period of time. Pain is not a part of the process, so if it is excessive maybe this isn’t the right path for that person.
During sex, E.coli bacteria which tend to live on the skin around your anus can be transferred to your urethra by fingers or penis. Honeymoon cystitis is more common among young women in their twenties, although single women in their 50s are increasingly reporting that they suffer from the problem. There is more risk if you start having sex again after abstaining for a long period of time. See a Doctor if pain persists.
ZB: In regards to Westerners who’ve been raised with a damaging and shameful view of sexuality and their bodies, how do you see a person overcoming these feelings so they may begin to embrace their sexuality without this shame?
IM: Tantric notions of innate divinity are a good counterpoint to shame-based thinking. The essence of tantra is that the human being is the deity. We have divine qualities within us. Through tantra you can touch and recognize the powerful deity in yourself and partner. Identifying ourselves as victims damages our humanity. Core shame may be a symptom of codependency and is the root of addiction. If a person had severe attachment traumas some basic personality therapy can clear those layers before one takes on the archetypal worlds. Personality work and self-help create a firm foundation for any kind of spirituality. Unless the blocked emotions are released there will still be inhibitions.
Body shaming is a widespread cultural disorder we are left to deal with as individuals. Each person will have a different reaction, so there are also many solutions – many ways through. The therapies include transactional analysis, hypnotherapy, integrative techniques, and gestalt. They deal with the personal unconscious and embedded memories, not the transpersonal dimension of spiritual practice. If feelings, needs and drives are tied to shame, you are shamed to the core. Internalized shame makes us feel inherently flawed, inferior and defective. That pain leads to denial and defense, and sometimes violence, criminality, war and all forms of addiction. We need more self-compassion, not self-loathing. Toxic shame is demonic in its effects.
ZB: How does our orgasm and instant gratification obsessed society begin to understand the importance of abstaining from climax to find the pleasures of the sexual union itself without the goal of ‘completion’? How can one learn to retrain their bodies to experience sexuality through tantra?
IM: Sex with totally awakened consciousness of the “now” can be enjoyed as an end in itself. Semen retention technique can be used to prolong sex before orgasm. Since the partner who is first to reach orgasm provides the other with an abundance of life force, sex may be seen as a mock battle in which the “opponents” compete to see who can induce the other to climax. Rather than approaching this as a matter of survival, we could view it as refreshing recreational sex play. Even though it is an arbitrary attitude, in the West orgasm is considered the supreme goal and reward of sex. Aside from certain magical practices, failure to experience sexual release is considered harmful and neurotic. But this attitude contains a cultural bias.
We have become obsessed with “achieving” orgasms, the more the better. We may have lost something by paying little attention to the quality of the experience. An evening of “Taoist lovemaking” might restore some specialness to your relationship. It incorporates some subtle nuances by maximizing body contact with your partner while minimizing leaking of vital fluids. If the partners attempt to complement and harmonize with one another, both will be nourished. When the desire for orgasm is so strong it cannot be resisted, we may submit, and then revive ourselves by sipping some ginseng tea!
ZB: What is the practice of hyp-know-sex that you have written extensively about? How does this create healthy sexuality?
IM: Hypnosis, used consciously or unconsciously is always a process of induction, deepening, and emerging. Eye fixation is one of the simplest mutual inductions for lovers. Deepening enhances relaxation, absorption, and visualization, while amplifying the focus of attention and experience. The key is being hypnotic, rather than doing hypnosis. Suggestions create atmosphere and enhance the pleasure of sexual experience and spirituality. Natural trance can be used to facilitate transcendence.
The consciousness altering heightened excitement, herbal refreshments, luxurious baths, oils, sensuous massage, sparkling drinks, flickering candle-light, incense and languid atmosphere of the boudoir setting are all conducive to self-suggestion for greater relaxation, sensual enjoyment, and fantasy experience. By changing your imagery, you can even evoke a more spiritual atmosphere viewing the act as a sexual sacrament. Mutual hypnosis for use with yourself and your lover is easily learned. The deliberate and charismatic use of hypnotic charms in sex has a long history, and created hysterias in past centuries. It is possible to use self-hypnosis or mutual induction to enhance desire, sex and performance. Self-hypnosis is a natural process.
Most of us spend our lives in automatically programmed trance states, such as driving on auto-pilot, anger trances, love trances, fear trances, trances induced by memories of places, phobia trances, archetypal trances, subpersonality trances, social roles, etc. Reactions are spontaneous trance states when they happen to us. Consciously using hypnosis for changing old programming and for self-enhancement can open new realms of experience and psychic depth. Self-hypnosis, even outside the bedroom, helps us become more aware of the body, more tuned in to it and our feelings, sensual and otherwise. Self-hypnosis and hypnosis among lovers is a permissive process, rather than authoritarian like the old model of the controlling hypnotist. You simply give yourself and your partner “permission” to enjoy altered states of consciousness, other ways of being.
You can change your body image for the positive, and change any outworn attitudes about sex. Problems created by the mind can be solved by the mind, leaving you freer and more passionate about love and life, in general. Self-imposed limitations and constricting boundaries can be dissolved, even eradicated from your belief system. Sexual trance-formation can be applied to awakening or re-awakening the sensual self, overcoming dysfunctions, fears and anxieties, increasing desire and relaxation, building rapport with your partner.
ZB: What are some of the best books on sacred sexuality and tantric work?
IM: My personal favorite is Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger (1999). Montauk Chia is very nuanced in his tantric teachings. Anodea Judith has written extensively on chakras.
ZB: Will you give an example of what we can learn from studying the origins of mythology regarding sexuality and erotica and how this will help us understand it better?
IM: In the myth, Psyche is originally bound to Eros in a paradise of uroboric unconsciousness, and when she sees Eros in the light, this original unconscious tie is dissolved. This change represents a shift from the principle of fascinating attraction and the fertility of the species to a genuine love principle of personal development and encounter. Love as encounter is one of the central psychological insights of the myth. Kama, Eros, Cupid, Adonis are all active and aimed male principles. But Eros transcends erotic passion with ‘divine fire,’ necessary to the Great Work of self-discovery. Such love is fated, an inescapable destiny in which we lose ourselves in a kind of death that transcends our ego’s interests.
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[Guest journalist Zora Burden is a regular guest writer at The Wild Hunt, sharing her extensive interviews with interesting occult and Pagan personalities. Burden is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. She also has five books of poetry on the themes of esoterica and surrealism available exclusively at City Lights Bookstore. In all her work, Burden focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]