Marla SegolDec 12, 2022
Kabbalah and Sex Magic
A Mythical-Ritual Genealogy
Pennsylvania State University Press 2022
In Kabbalah and Sex Magic: A Mythical-Ritual Genealogy (Penn State University Press, 2021) a provocative book, Marla Segol explores the development of the kabbalistic cosmology underlying Western sex magic. Drawing extensively on Jewish myth and ritual, Segol tells the powerful story of the relationship between the divine and the human body in late antique Jewish esotericism, in medieval kabbalah, and in New Age ritual practice. Kabbalah and Sex Magic traces the evolution of a Hebrew microcosm that models the powerful interaction of human and divine bodies at the heart of both kabbalah and some forms of Western sex magic.
Focusing on Jewish esoteric and medical sources from the fifth to the twelfth century from Byzantium, Persia, Iberia, and southern France, Segol argues that in its fully developed medieval form, kabbalah operated by ritualizing a mythos of divine creation by means of sexual reproduction. She situates in cultural and historical context the emergence of Jewish cosmological models for conceptualizing both human and divine bodies and the interactions between them, arguing that all these sources position the body and its senses as the locus of culture and the means of reproducing it. Segol explores the rituals acting on these models, attending especially to their inherent erotic power, and ties these to contemporary Western sex magic, showing that such rituals have a continuing life. Asking questions about its cosmology, myths, and rituals, Segol poses even larger questions about the history of kabbalah, the changing conceptions of the human relation to the divine, and even the nature of religious innovation itself. This groundbreaking book will appeal to students and scholars of Jewish studies, religion, sexuality, and magic.
Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.