There is a view that Gerald Gardner created his version of Wicca in part to provide him with an ‘excuse’ to be whipped by attractive, naked young women.
This opinion is similar to the belief that Crowley’s magick was really an elaborate trick for getting lots of sex and drugs. Such beliefs are understandable. We often talk about our magick as ‘Work’ and that word suggests something difficult, something requiring tenacity and self-discipline in the face of our natural human indolence. There is the suggestion that work is a necessary evil, a duty, and that anything that doesn’t feel like toil, drudgery, travail – just isn’t proper work. Unsurprisingly in post-Protestant cultures we may assume that pleasure and delight are the antithesis of work. And therefore magickal ‘work’ which also happens to be something that you really enjoy or, worse, gets your rocks off, isn’t proper magickal work…
Another way to think about work (in the magickal sense) is to think about the work an artist does. Certainly perspiration and practice are important to most artists, but so too is the sense that their art happens through them. The artist does their art, in part, because their muse or mental health (or as an occultist might say, their True Will) demands it. The Work of the magician is much like this, it demands to be done, and while the process may be difficult at times for both artist and magician, it may also look like play, even pleasure.
Like art, magick is about inspiration; and we are inspired by those things that stimulate us. This may be reading a brilliant novel through to exploring ourselves through sex, drugs, ritual drama and more. It’s true that the character of haughty femdom Goddess Babalon grows, in part, from Crowley’s proclivities for a certain type of female lover. In this way Crowley is discovering his underlying unconscious, occult processes and projecting these outward into the world as symbols. Once the world contains the projection of his desires (for example in the form of magickal partners willing to adopt the title ‘Scarlet Woman’) he is able to explore his fantasy (and arguably create a space for others to realise their fantasies too). This playing out of fantasy creates a tremendous release of magickal power, sufficient, in the case of both Gardner and Crowley, to engender new religions.
The manifestation of desire in embodied terms may be as a symbolic substitution (one might channel libidinal energy into works of mathematics or painterly art – Delius for example turned his shag-monster sex life into brilliant musical composition) or may manifest in quite direct ways (as the Bacchanalian orgy). We may stylise our desires, filter them (if we are to enact them) through the mores of culture so that we ensure that individual limits are respected and meaningful consent may be given. We may dress up as Medieval Knights and re-create battles without actually killing each other, or perhaps enjoy other forms of role play such as this.
But whatever the details of their appearance in the world occultists know the score. That which turns us on, tunes us in and lets us break out from our old selves into something bigger, deeper and, quite often, more mysterious. And of course what turns us on need not be hardcore BDSM or other ‘extreme’ practices; there’s plenty of wisdom and playful delight to be found digging the garden or caring for injured animals. What matters is that we realise that, while magick may be ‘work’, this work is often best accomplished when, as mythographer Joseph Campbell advises, we ‘follow our bliss’.