Clinic essay-header

Careful What You Wish For

Donald Tyson's "Sexual Alchemy" (Llewellyn) reviewed

by Jay Kinney

Spiritual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits by Donald Tyson. (Llewellyn Publications), 2000, pb, $19.95, pp 408, ISBN: 1-56718-741-2. Rating: 3 aliens, “Kids, don’t try this at home!”

It is tempting, to append the warning “caveat emptor” to Donald Tyson’s new book, Sexual Alchemy. Tyson’s premise is that 1) spiritual beings, including angels, elementals, faeries, and incubi and succubi not only exist but are capable of having sexual relations with humans, and 2) sex with such beings is not only desirable but can be beneficial for all concerned. To that end, Tyson provides ritual techniques for contacting these elusive beings and copious advice on how to make love with them.

Tyson claims to have been engaging in such activities on a daily basis for the last ten years, and to his credit, he is quite good at describing the subjective states that his experiences have caused. If Tyson is far gone in the depths of a delusional system, he has nevertheless succeeded in writing a well-organized and coherent book that gives every indication of balanced sanity.

But sanity does not equal good judgment. All of the world’s great religions speak of other orders of beings, invisible to the eye, which co-exist within our universe, and students of magick and the occult have long contended that it is possible to contact them through ritual and heightened awareness. I’ll not take issue with that.

I do question the wisdom of seeking out such contacts — particularly for amorous purposes. My misgivings largely stem from the practical difficulty of differentiating between an autonomous “spiritual entity” and one’s imagination. This difficulty is compounded by the ambiguous context in which such contacts occur. Referred to as the “imaginal realm” in certain esoteric traditions such as Sufism, the strata for perceiving beings that are invisible to the eye relies on the mind’s capacity to visualize intuitions via the imagination. This doesn’t mean that all imaginal images are necessarily “figments of the imagination,” but it does mean that the boundary between genuine spiritual perceptions and wishful thinking is extremely porous.

Anyone who has ever fallen in love with another person can testify that one’s initial enthusiastic perception of one’s lover is as much a product of one’s projections as it is of the actual person involved. Reality inevitably intervenes to temper one’s enthusiasm. The end of the crush is the realization that the other person is merely human, after all, with his or her full share of faults and weaknesses. A lasting love is one that can accept such flaws and still treasure the other’s being.

An imaginal relationship with an elemental or angel or minor deity is something else again. Such a being may be separate from us, but it is not at all certain that they play by the rules with which human interactions are governed. For instance, Tyson alludes to the likelihood that many of these beings feed off the sexual and emotional energy that they stimulate in their human lovers. Tyson considers this to be only fair since the human is receiving great pleasure and, sometimes, secret knowledge in return. Maybe, maybe not. But the resemblance to a “parasite and host” relationship at least deserves mention.

And that’s just assuming that one is contacting separate beings. The other possibility is that, like the sculptor who fell in love with his own statue or Narcissus who became entranced by his own reflection, the magician who conjures up a spirit partner is auto-hypnotically fulfilling his own desires in a sexual relationship with . . . himself.

To his credit, Tyson doesn’t entirely avoid referring to the dangers associated with trafficking with demons . . . er, I mean, emotional and sexual involvement with spiritual beings. Sexual Alchemy includes references to folk tales about a sexual vampire who was “fabled to literally suck out the life energies of her entranced lover while performing fellatio;” an Indian tree spirit whose sexual appetites were “so great . . . she rendered her exhausted lovers impotent;” and a “Slavic undine, or water spirit, . . . [who] lured lustful men into the water to drown them.”

However, Tyson largely sidesteps dealing with the implications of such cautionary lore. Someone less intent than Tyson on justifying relationships with spirits might conclude that the spirit realms contain the same proportion of stalkers, sociopaths, and users, as human society, which is a rather sobering thought.

Still, given the tenor of the times, perhaps I’m being too harsh on poor Donald Tyson. Having just lived through several years of endless books on how to contact angels and faeries, most of which sentimentalize and domesticate such spiritual beings into virtual pocket pals, Tyson’s approach seems, at worst, like the next logical step. After all, if you can work with faeries “to find insight, wisdom, and joy,” as one recent Faerie tome promises, why not persuade them to get down with your bad self while they’re at it?

© 2000 by Jay Kinney

This review originally appeared in Fortean Times.

Reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author. Contact Jay Kinney.