Miller serves on several Advisory Boards for science journals and established CAM medical programs. She is published in Pagan and pop magazines, like Green Egg, Nexus, and Paranoia. She has worked in intelligence, parapsychology, and media ecology with many experts, bridging the cultural gap between the arts and life-sciences. Her books include: The Modern Alchemist: A Guide To Personal Transformation (1994), The Magical and Ritual Use of Perfume (1990), Shamanism, Ancestors and Transgenerational Integration (2016). She currently enjoys retirement in Southern Oregon on the Rogue River. http://ionamiller.weebly.com
ZB: How would you best describe ‘healthy sex’?
Iona Miller: The symbolic meaning of sex changes over time. Our models of sexuality are in flux. For example, the sexual revolution is now viewed critically in retrospect, having failed to produce the freedom, happiness, and ecstasy it once promised. Instead it made other issues more conscious, including new forms of inhibition, sexual abuse and violence, gender differences, and disease potential.
Conflicts are associated with power and control, subordination, desire, arousal, and love. Everyone has their own love style. We are fundamentally psychophysical beings, and the mind is the biggest sexual organ. Sacred sex is just part of a more integral worldview and a joyous expression of nature in the language of gesture, action, and communication. It is the feeling of eros, the relational function, and the harmony of drama. Eros is the passionate joy not only for another or a sexual lover, but even for things and animals. The essential archetype of woman and her autonomy remains intact, in a self-contained, multi-faceted femininity, despite our patriarchal culture. Orgasm is both practical and eternal, earthy and divine.
ZB: How do we readdress the stereotyped and distorted concepts of sexuality in the Western world?
IM: Language is a lens and we can increase our sexual vocabulary and repertoire to include the symbolic language of the unconscious, which Jung linked to the “royal marriage,” — a union of opposites. Such polarity in sex is not a gender issue, because we all have male and female elements in our psychophysical being. Some methods require both parties to share the psychophysical process while others can be done quietly on the inner planes. We need to be in rapport and resonance with ourselves, the known or unknown partner, and the cosmos. Each method has its own symbolism, practices, and goals. We can awaken and free the potential genius for love that lies within us all.
We should bear in mind that no sex is really “casual.” Science has shown that the cells of others can colonize our bodies, eggs, and mind, permanently injecting us with the genetic material of both random and relationally intimate partners. Babies of current partners have been found with the germ plasm from former partners. Male children ‘colonize’ our minds with their DNA during gestation and never ‘move out.’ That can be so even if the baby doesn’t come to term. Cells also migrate to the mother’s muscle, thyroid, liver, heart, kidney and skin. The theosophists used to talk of the effects of ‘sharing auras,’ but acquiring such cells is more permanent than etheric connection, as long as 40 years.
ZB: What is your opinion of those who seek healing through professional sex workers?
IM: Healing is good to find wherever one can get it. Sometimes even partnered individuals seek a sex therapist to work through psychosexual issues. They help retrain the mindbody to feel safe and employ new self-regulation techniques. ‘The Holy Whore’ or sacred prostitute notion was popularized late last century in transpersonal psychologies. It spread into pop culture. But now the idea is being revisioned again in psychology. The whole labeling thing is probably a hangover from more religious times that we have failed to shake off. We are a culture in transition. It is just one image among many in which to find one’s ‘power,’ –an animating principle.
ZB: How can we reclaim our bodies from abuse, objectification, or dissociation using spiritual or esoteric techniques?
IM: Techniques for reclaiming the body include sacred sex, hypnosis, embedded tissue memory work, and kinesthetic arts. Sex can also be enhanced by a variety of aesthetic and therapeutic means, including the 64 sexual arts, described in ancient literature. As ever, sex can be a double-edged sword, hurting, healing, or initiating, and that choice remains ours. It remains a challenge throughout our life-span. Such issues, including inequality and aggression, have become a greater concern than sex as a metaphor for happiness. The key dynamics are dissociation and association. New cultural forms are emerging. Fear of transgression is widespread.
As a therapist, I would suggest that the interaction is much clearer in practice if a person has done their own personal work on the related issues, rather than playing them out unconsciously in relationships. Naturally, to a greater or lesser extent we continue to project and let others ‘carry’ parts of our own potential. Desire is programmed, and the ‘object’ is merely a (changing) means to an end, and sometimes self-deception. Sex has a shadow that goes by many names including sex and relationship addictions. There is no shortage of ‘intimacy coaches’ or workshop instruction in the erotic and relational arts. Like all rites of passage, it is a matter of crossing the threshold from one state of consciousness to another by encountering the life force and unconscious. Like the French ‘petit mort,’ it involves the death of the old self and symbolic birth or rebirth of the new self-possessed identity. From robbing rituals to disrobing, we are preceded by eons of human sexual practice of presentation, and gifting or offering.
We should also not lose sight of the fact that a big part of our sexuality takes place in our dreams, from which we can draw inspiration and self-knowledge otherwise hidden. We may even dream of ourselves as ‘prey’ when we are not victims in life. There are many facets of femininity but we don’t have to act them all out. Psychological space is the edge of freedom. We can reclaim the divinity of our bodies that may have been lost in a profane world that criticizes, abuses, represses, or thwarts our sexual expression. We can heal any shame-based attitudes, romantic assumptions, obsolete programming, and dissociations, or the wounds and trauma inflicted on us by the toxic behaviors of others. We can banish sexual ‘ghosts’ and learn to bring our whole selves into the sexual experience. Wounding opens us to compassion.ZB: With the suppression of Goddess religions throughout history, how can women reclaim their divinity through their sexuality?
IM: Actually, in ancient Sumer, the Dragon Queen outranked her male partner, so who is serving whom? The holy female as primordial image has always been with us. The Feminine is always available for identification and exploration as one of many roles we engage. If those opposites are ’at war’ in your own subconscious you may suffer. Gaining awareness of this split goes a long way toward changing attitudes and behavior, even against an archaic cultural undertow of sexism.
Various religions, including Gnosticism, were judged heretical by the Church. This exile of the free feminine led to degradation, dividing nature and humanity. It’s hard to say how “divinely” women were treated in practical terms, even in the era of the Goddess. Every marriage goes through a phase of power-struggle that either makes or breaks it. Society has been stuck in this struggle for some time, much of it the result of political and socio-economic pressures. Of course, it served the agenda of the early church. There is one glaring problem in modern Catholicism, since the assumption of the Virgin, which is that if Mary is elevated to Goddess status, Jesus cannot be the Son of Man – rather of a God and Goddess.
In ancient times, a ‘Virgin’ meant a woman who was complete in herself – psychologically, rather than biologically intact. She has a lived relationship with her Spirit; she carries it for herself, rather than projecting that strength outward for some man to carry for her. So, the battle of patriarchy and sexual paradox is one of Spirit and Soul, which is what the alchemist sought to reunite with the body. If you leave the body out of the equation, nothing will change fundamentally.
However, moving forward, rather than looking back, there are some new models of gender reunion. Many have been consciously getting in touch with our inner opposites – anima for men and animus for women. Symbolically, this expresses a cultural yearning for a deep sense of “completion,” fulfillment, at the species level. It is part of our nostalgia for Spirit, for union with self, nature, and others. It is not a desire to revert to matriarchy, if it ever existed in any global sense, but to discover new ways of being and relating.
ZB: How can women learn to embrace their bodies and feel sexual despite society telling us that our beauty defines our sexual experience? That you must look a certain way, be a specific age to be sexy and sexual. How can magick or ritual address this?
IM: Female archetypes of earth and sky symbolize the Great Mother. She is conscious protector, spiritual guide, and nurturer, while at the same time the unconscious forces of birth and death, life and destruction. The unconscious anima wields her supernatural power to drive our lives either towards mystical knowledge, consciousness and individuation, or towards oblivion in sensual urges. The sky mothers and animas can transcend the body and ego, but in so many myths, they crave balance through the experience of the underworld, the unconscious drives of the instincts and the non-rational, expressing a balanced whole through this unity.
ZB: Will you talk about sacred sexuality? How do we introduce this into the concepts of sex amid the conservative and oppressive sexual nature of the Western world?
IM: Sacred sex is about freely expressing your emotional core. Like any myth or worldview, it has cosmological, metaphysical, sociological, and psychological aspects. If your approach to life is infused with spirit and meaning, it will be likewise in sex, with or without esoteric props and protocols. This is not just about sacred sex, but a sacred rather than profane body. So sex is an energetic merging of subtle bodies. It’s an augmented reality using spiritual technology that heightens sensual experience. It opens the couple to Cosmos, to the psychic reservoir of humanity.
If you have a spiritual approach to your sex life, then it will be so physically and psychically, here and now. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It is unlikely anyone is actually authentically recreating any traditional practices of the past. We have to be satisfied with a middle road that satisfies our own inclinations for best practice. Even so, some sexual experience may be more mundane than exalted. Some will be celebratory, rather than goal-oriented. Most are unlikely to follow any social or ritual script or prescription.
ZB: What are some of the various forms of magical, tantric or sacred sexual practices?
IM: The power of Magic is rooted in Eros. When the connection between the erotic and the occult is unconscious, repressed or hidden, the mystery of uniting the esoteric and the erotic becomes the ultimate arcane secret. It penetrates into the depths where all life is one, all boundaries broken down, body and mind fused in one. A deep and abiding awareness of the intimate interrelationship unites the opposites through the realization of imaginal workings. We embody the myth. As in tantra, occult ritual involves the transgression of social mores, locating and enacting cultural taboos in order to transcend constrictive boundaries. The erotic and the sexual then become a tool to experience the breaking of mundane bonds and something ‘other.’
Among the sexual arts are traditional Hindu and Buddhist tantra, contemporary ‘fusion’ tantric practice, goal-oriented sex magick or “success magick”, sexual alchemy of Frater and Soror Mystica for transformation, idealized Courtly Love, Kabbalistic practice within marriage, Taoist alchemy for longevity, neo-Gnostic approaches for wisdom and worship of The Feminine, as well as personal eclectic practices of auto-erotic and partnered ‘spiritual sex.’
This is the realm of Blood Mysteries, transformation mysteries, and women’s initiation rites, including offerings, ordeals, and sacrifice. There are several varieties of traditional tantra. Hindu or Buddhist, and if the latter, which school? Or are we talking about some form of self-styled practice and initiation, or that of a particular guru? Taoist alchemy has another approach with a goal of longevity, if not ‘immortality.”ZB: For those who may confuse the two as similar, what is the difference between sex magick and tantric sexuality?
IM: There are so many eclectic practices, appropriations, and idiosyncratic forms of belief that we need to be more specific. The main difference between tantra and Sex Magick is that tantra is a form of religion in Sanskrit circles. The key difference between traditional forms of tantra and Crowley’s system lies not in the details of sexual union, but rather in the emphasis that is placed on sex in the first place. Crowley’s knowledge of actual tantric practice was very limited and based on a transgressive approach, so the two bear little resemblance, except in the broadest sense.
‘Tantra’ has become a pop buzzword for any new agey exotic sexual experience – a generic adjective, rather than codified practice. It is merging and emerging. We can experience a rebirth or rejuvenation using a sacred sex approach during which the couple becomes an altar of worship. But is it Tantra? Some of these practices are the opposite of traditional practices. The sexual element of tantra has been over-emphasized and equated to “spiritual sex,” with the goal of heightened orgasm and optimal physical pleasure, not spiritual development or spiritual evolutionary process. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s a misnomer for a variety of practices of the arts of love, usually practiced a la carte outside of the religious context in which it arose. Some might consider it cultural appropriation.
Tantra massage is a fad based on mutual masturbation. Usually, some practitioner has found a way to commodify the needs and desires of paying customers. It’s just frottage – a fetish, like in Zentai: the act of rubbing against the body of another person, as in a crowd, to attain sexual gratification. “Zentai” is an abbreviation of “zenshintaitsu”, which means “full body suit” who say they are seeking liberation by effacing the physical self with anonymous sex. Both practices seek depth and transcendence.
Sex magick often has some practical goal, whereas tantra is more about experiencing Gnostic ecstasy – an augmentation of personal experience – an “inner trip.” Both practices are concerned with the fusion in unity of archetypal Male and Female energies to transcend the opposites, irrespective of the genders of participants. Both weave together physical, psychological and magical dimensions. Passion and a merger of minds as well as bodies are more important than protocols. Ultimately, you are generating this narrative and imagery within yourself for connecting and transcending. In magick, “Sex” is stored in the body for spiritual or magical power.
Many know about sex magick in the O.T.O. and how Crowley rewrote his contemporary rituals. Eclectic sex mysticism may or may not be considered tantra or sex magick, per se. Sexual mysticism doesn’t heighten spirit at the expense of matter, but instinctively includes it. You don’t need to be a sorcerer or mystic to imagine your partner as a God or Goddess leading toward rapture and union with the divine. So, mostly this is an idiosyncratic practice, an eclectic mix someone makes up for themselves, not ‘tantra’. The value of magickal work is only as strong as the goal you are pursuing – short and long term. Whether it enhances your path is a very personal choice on which your inner guide will comment from time to time.
ZB: Will you talk about the history of tantra and what the practice is?
IM: Tantric teachings evolved in India and eventually spread to Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia. As an abstract religious and sexual science, tantra has no clear, static definition. It systematically explores the mystery and phenomenon of love and relationships on earth by combining sexual energy, visualizations, and prayer. Understanding yourself and another is healing, completing, harmonizing, and liberating. Tantra unravels the mysteries of love and relationship, weaving together spirit and sex with all aspects of existence in a spiritual philosophy and evolutionary practice.
Tantras are texts which outline specific practices. These practices are meditational systems that aim at the experience of bliss in physical and spiritual relations by cultivating erotic potential. Tantras teach that earthly delights stem from the union of opposites and are achieved with an ideal partner. Such a union exemplifies harmony, perfection, and the centrality of love to existence. Kama, or desire, is a creative principle that aims at the perfection of life on earth. Mantras are aids to meditation. Sacred sounds may be visualized as yantras, and mandalas, symbols of psychic wholeness.
It is the weaving of spirit and sex. It is not, as it commonly labeled in the West, as being solely about sex. It is used in the West as a general term that relates to sexual practice as a spiritual evolutionary practice. Tantra is basically a philosophy of spiritual practice and does not have a negative connotation. It is the key to a life of fulfillment and prosperity. It is about feeling connected to and awed by the spiritual essence of the universe. It is emerging, and one can experience a re-birth when having “sex” with another using tantra techniques. Tantra is a spiritual method or yoga that takes into account both “inner” and “outer” realities. It is alchemical in nature, being based on the union of opposites. Derived from the root words to expand, weave, or extend consciousness, tantra implies a continuity beyond the physical plane.
ZB: Will you describe the act of tantra – physically, mentally, and spiritually within ritual?
IM: The body is your temple. We can embody that Divine archetypal Spirit in male, female, or androgynous form. We ‘see’ one another as divine male and female, Shiva and Shakti. We serve them consciously and they serve us. Both Magick and yoga help the soul on its initiatory journey. Magick begins with concentration and visualization, basic knowledge of the archetypes or god-forms, powers, functions, and attributes of each sphere. The deities become autonomous. Invocation means calling-in that form into the magickal circle and identifying with it. The astral form permeates our Body of Light and we are rejuvenated A banishing returns us to ordinary awareness.
A sympathetic resonance ignites kundalini to blaze up through the chakras, until this stream of flame reaches the crown center. In tantric circle worship, men and women alternate in the circle with one couple in the center. A ceremonial meal of wine, meat, fish, and bread is followed by sexual intercourse. The wine symbolizes fire and the immortality that the tantric must learn to distill and drink. The meat symbolizes air and bodily functions that must be brought under control. Fish represents water and the techniques of sexual occultism. Bread is the earth, or the natural environment, which must be understood and controlled. The sex act is the uniting quintessence. Sex is a sacred symbol that helps us apprehend the ultimate unity and expanded consciousness.
Ritual is the celebration of a myth. Myth functions as a paradigm, or model. Ritual can be seen as the enactment of this myth, as the myth would be represented as the source of all action. Myth is actually a dynamic expression of the motivational power of the archetype at its core. Ritual is for the soul – an aesthetic imitation of a numinous element (or godform) in our personal life. It is an epiphany or grace — a metaphorical expression of creative imagination.
Using a circle clears a working area. Light exercises focus and amplify our energy. Invocation, or the “calling in,” of the desired godform is an attempt at self-transformation. Charging and consuming a eucharist is an epiphany with the god. Meditation is consolidating and reflective. Banishing returns us to “normal” consciousness. We can include divination, dance, dramatic scenarios, or sacred sex acts.
ZB: Will you talk about how Alchemical Eros is a form of sacred sex?
IM: Alchemy approaches the spiritual value of sex by making the Soror Mystica essential to the Great Work. The sacred marriage, or coniunctio, creates a bond by which opposites are united in an image which transcends both original potentials. The whole art of alchemy is symbolized by the conception of a magical or divine child – a spiritual androgyne heralding psychological and spiritual wholeness. The queen is the body, the king stands for the spirit, and the soul unites the two in the royal marriage. The mother is the unconscious; the son is the conscious. It is a return to the womb of the mother. Penetration of the female is the same as the penetration of the water or the unconscious. Ordinarily, spirit, soul and body are separated from each other, even while in dynamic interaction. But when the Great Work is complete, the divine spirit is brought ‘down’ to shine through the soul and body and unifies itself with them, so they all form one and the same ‘body.’ Pulsating life is the substrate of our existence. I wrote on sexual transcendence in Emotional Alchemy in Tantra.
ZB: What is the physiological or energetic reason behind experiencing bliss through the tantric practice of simple breathing or meditation exercises together?
IM: Bliss is often associated with heart chakra activation, and probably dopamine release and oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. So any method that amplifies the heart center moves us in that direction, separately and together.
ZB: Can practicing sacred sex help heal those who have sexual trauma, fear of intimacy and trust issues?
IM: It would be up to an individual to determine if such “tantric babysteps” help their overall recovery plan. Knowing they will not be physically touched may help, if that is their issue. The sex therapist or practice partner would need to have a certain amount of emotional availability and compassion.
ZB: Does one gender find it more difficult to practice tantra than another?
IM: I cannot imagine why that would be so. However, we should be careful of thinking in such polarities. The Jewish Mishna and Talmud also recognized intersex alternatives: the androgynous, the person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured, one who identified as “female” at birth but who was infertile and developed “male” characteristics at puberty, and one identified as “male” at birth who developed “female” characteristics at puberty and/or is lacking a penis. This likely originated by observing infants over aeons before modern neo-natal medical interventions for sex assignment. Such individuals may have their own issues, especially when transitioning.
ZB: Will you talk about the Kama Sutra and other sacred sexual texts people might study?
IM: There is a Japanese Pillow Book, observations and musings of a courtesan. The Kama Sutra, the classical Indian treatise on the Art of Love, describes ‘Sixty-four Arts’ which reminds us of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. These arts add to one’s graciousness, charm, and desirability. They include singing, music, dancing, writing, drawing, painting, sewing, reading, recitation, poetry, sculpture, gymnastics, games, flower arranging, cooking, decoration, perfumery, gardening, mimicry, mental exercises, languages, etiquette, carpentry, magic, chemistry, mineralogy, herbology, healing, gambling, architecture, logic, charm-making, religious rites, household management, disguise, physical sports, and martial arts plus many contemporary activities. May we learn to enjoy them all.
Next week, in part two of this series, ZB will talk with Miller more specifically about various practices and the directions to take to begin healing the body and healing the sacred sexual self. Stay tuned…
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[Guest journalist ZB is a regular guest writer at The Wild Hunt, sharing her extensive interviews with interesting occult and Pagan personalities. ZB 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, ZB focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]