The Dichotomy Between Sex and Faith

Soror Samekh Rosae

From time immemorial, certain members of countless tribes/cultures have denied themselves "pleasures of the flesh" in order to pursue a "higher purpose". Seldom did those whom these seekers served question the action. Where the faith system was an integral part of daily life, the reasons were understood.

Even in the early days of Christianity, setting oneself apart was seen as a positive way to achieve contact with deity, and thus pass the wisdom received onto those in one's spiritual care. Historical accounts are smattered with stories of hermits, monks, nuns, who found in their celibacy the Truth of existence. Instead of challenging this behavior, the people of the time sought out these holy men and women for guidance, comfort, a taste of the spiritual they could not find in their own mundane lives. Even when the Roman Catholic Church mandated that ordained priests, and those who took religious vows, were to refrain from sexual activities, no one raised an eyebrow. The ideal that a deeper spirituality could be achieved if an individual's energies were not distracted by physical pleasures made a lot of sense.

The situation has changed dramatically over the past hundred years or so. Much of the civilized world has supplanted the goal of religious enlightenment with the pursuit of tangible assets. Sex is seen as a natural expression of humanity, which it is. It colors how people live their youth, their middle age, their waning years. Some societies dictate that, to be without sex - to be unmarried or deliberately celibate - is actually a violation of their religious tenets.

Within the Catholic Church, there is a loud outcry against imposed priestly celibacy. Not that celibacy has been properly observed throughout this body's history. Many of the very Popes who upheld the decree had mistresses, illegitimate children, and so forth. All the way along the hierarchy, the vow has not been observed as required. Even today, all too frequent are the admissions that a priest has "broken his vows". And, it is widely thought, if priests and religious were allowed to marry (or, at least, engage freely in sexual pursuits), the temptation would be removed, and they could better serve those in their charge, free of distraction.

Is the concept of celibacy in pursuit of faith a dead issue, then? Not at all. Just because society rarely values those who achieve spiritual enlightenment in the present age, does not mean this enlightenment is not worth pursuing. And it doesn't mean one has to give up sex for an entire lifetime. There may be periods, however, when shifting focus from the "mundane" to the spiritual has innumerable benefits.

And that what is entailed: a shift in focus. While, under ideal circumstances, a human being functions in harmony within himself - spiritual, physical, mental - with energies flowing readily throughout, there are times when the energies needs to be concentrated in one area more than others. An instance might be if an infection occurs in the body. The energies will naturally draw away slightly from the other aspects to handle the problem. If there is stress in a person's life, the resulting shift in energies is unmistakable in the physical exhaustion, feeling of being spiritually "drained" - all because the energies are concentrated on the mental.

It has also been proven that fasting - depriving the body of regular food intake on a temporary basis - improves spiritual focus. Because the body is not concerned with digesting food (an ongoing process), the energies can be used elsewhere, most effectively. The same holds true with foregoing sleep, or sex.

Human beings are fully accustomed to eating on a regular basis. It becomes "second nature" to partake of sustenance in the morning, at noon, in the evening (and, often, in between). Sexual activities have also become second nature, in many ways. Most men, upon seeing a woman, fantasize to some degree about a romantic relationship. The same holds true when a woman encounters a man. Assessments of that individual's potential seem to always include sexual elements, integrated with intellectual, creative and other qualities. It happens so instantaneously, the habit is not even questioned.

To consciously rid oneself of this tendency is a challenge. Not so difficult a one as would seem, though. Should a person decide that he or she wishes to focus on other matters for a time - a spiritual renewal, for instance - a change in outlook is necessary and willingly undertaken. To seek the deeper meaning of life means leaving the "surface" opinions, the shallowness of daily existence, behind.

This concept is reflected in the chakras, which rise from the "root" - the raw, almost animal energies - to be refined into the transcendent. The Tree of Life mirrors this, in many ways, taking the energies grounded in Malkuth upward to the All of Kether. Other cultures employ similar systems of spiritual enlightenment, as well, transforming basic energies, like dross into gold.

When this happens, sex itself becomes magickal. No longer is it purely for physical satisfaction. The energies involved in the union of two (or other methodologies) is not wasted, but focused and put to use.

Only when one steps back from the normal attitudes toward sex, however, can this take place. Much of the problem mainstream society has with Pagan sexual mores involves the supposed "casual" view of sex. That there are as many, if not more, practitioners of mainstream religions who have been instilled with twisted teachings regarding sex, and display dysfunctional approaches to it cannot be denied. Such as these cannot grasp the concept of sex as sacred, no matter the time or place.

Pagans, on the other hand, see sex as a celebration of life, for the most part. It is easier, in most cases, to have that attitude and build upon it to grow spiritually, especially when one has not the burden of bizarre psychological conditioning. Absence of this burden also allows the individual to see how important fulfillment of spiritual endeavors is to a wholistic life, to the flow of energies within. If the mental sphere is clear, and the spiritual thriving, in conjunction with the health of the physical self (or, at least, the understanding of any physical difficulties), all will be well.

Thus the celebration of life in one aspect - sex - can be conducive to the celebration of the spiritual life. By foregoing sex to lend those energies to deepening one's faith, the result is a deeper meaning for everything in one's life. Buddhist monks have experienced this over many centuries. While there are men and women who enter Buddhist monasteries for life, others are welcomed to live there for a period of months or years, before returning to the secular world. On a temporary basis, they give up sex, much of the comfort of daily life, and meditate to become attuned with themselves. The change is often dramatic, profound and life-altering.

So it is, in almost every religious system - even native cultures in this 21st Century - the benefits of what is often called "spiritual asceticism" are acknowledged. For Pagans, it is no different, though the many traditions may see it in as many different ways, and may observe the practice in yet again as many different ways.

The point is that the practice, the pursuit of the spiritual, is followed, that no person is a slave to one or another aspect of the self, but balance, whole, fully alive. To achieve this necessitates a "give and take" of energies - sexual, most notably - but once the goal is reached...

Contact info: Soror Samekh

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