Review of Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic coverSexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: the Essential Ida Craddock
Vere Chappell, Foreword by Mary K. Greer
ISBN: 9781578634767
Book (Paperback)
Weiser Books
$21.95
6 x 9
288 pages
December 1, 2010
Review by Freeman Presson, copyright 2010, all rights reserved.

“[H]ow the very essence of tyranny thrives under the forms of democracy.” — Theodore Schroeder

Ida C. Craddock came close to being forgotten. She was a cause celèbre for several years surrounding her suicide in 1902. Her memory survived specifically in occult circles largely because Aleister Crowley reviewed one of her books (The Heavenly Bridegroom) in The Equinox (vol. III no. 1), and generally due to the efforts of free-speech radical Theodore Schroeder.

The present volume contains all of her major writings in a deeply annotated edition. The notes are full of interesting and suggestive miscellany (such as a probable influence upon Craddock of the work of Paschal Beverley Randolph, via members of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor). Relatively brief narratives connect the writings to provide biographical and historical context. For this reader,the contrast between the intense and impassioned prose of Craddock’s pieces, and Chappell’s clean and intelligent narrative, was like that between skiiing and sitting by a fire with a brandy. Crowley’s review of Heaven’s Bridegroom is given, with commentary, in an Appendix. The finely-written Foreword by Mary K. Greer, author of Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses establishes needed perspective.

This book has something to offer a wide range of readers: people with interests in the occult, Spiritualism, mysticism, and their histories; those who study the history of feminism or the development of sexual mores; people interested in the history of censorship, obscenity laws, and the like; or those with an interest in odd bits of history in general.

This story is indeed something out of the ordinary. Miss Craddock was a self-taught scholar, a mystic, a Freethinker, a crusader for women’s rights and marriage reform, and according to many in the Establishment, a prime candidate for prison or an asylum. Between 1893 and 1902, she was locked in combat with Anthony Comstock, the anti-smut crusader. Comstock is better-remembered today than Craddock, but they were fatefully linked together almost in the manner of Arthur and Mordred. Many people have noted that “Ida C. Craddock” sounds like “idiosyncratic”; one might also note that Comstock and Craddock, names of the same length, differ by half their letters and have in common C, O, C, K (I will commence appropriate penances tout de suite, but they may only consist of further dabbling with the gematria of the names). While Comstock succeeded in the short term, driving Craddock to martyrdom by the gaspipe, he expended too much of his political capital in the process and never fully regained his influence.

These political battles look eerily similar to the conflicts we see today with the “Religious Right” in the USA, which threaten to undo many of the gains of the last few decades. For the modern reader, a glimpse into 1890’s-style censorship is chilling and will, it is to be hoped, give rise to a determination never to revisit such tyranny again. Like the polarized view of the opposing sides in the culture wars, then and now, the life and writings of Ida Craddock have created a mirror in which people see wildly different images.

What do you think about sexual encounters and even marriages with spiritual beings? Your answer to that question will certainly color your reactions to this book. Vere Chappell writes from a sympathetic place, being a researcher of sexual and occult matters, and an officer of the Ordo Templi Orientis; but he is still logical and objective, as befits the son of a scholar of philosophy. Other writers and readers may, naturally, take different stances; at any rate, it is very important to have Craddock’s writings set forth in this manner. Taking her at her word relieves the writer and his audience from a burden of potentially endless explication. Having the work analyzed and annotated by a scholar who actually understands it takes away some of the potential to dismiss it as “intelligible only to an occultist.” 1

Indeed, Craddock’s writings have many points of interest to the modern student of Magic or Tantra. Her system contains three grades, related to body, mind, and spirit (which should sound familiar): 1st, complete continence except for procreation; 2nd, intercourse characterized by energetic exchange and the reservation of male ejaculation and female orgasm; and 3rd, similar intercourse in which the Divine is explicitly a participant. “Heavenly Bridegrooms” begins with an amazing catalog of instances of love between spiritual beings and humans, which serves in context to normalize Craddock’s experience, but is noteworthy on its own merits.

Craddock had a number of conceptions about sexual physiology and values that seem quaint today. She advocated sex for procreation immediately after the wife’s menses, claiming that receptivity is highest then as well (thus missing the most favorable time for conception by about two weeks); very firmly against any form of masturbation, she advised that the man should not touch the woman’s vulva with anything but the penis, and should almost completely avoid clitoral stimulation (her idea of clitoral vs. vaginal orgasm sounds precisely like Freud’s). She even admitted an occasional necessity for female circumcision to deal with a “hooded clitoris.” Such was the state of opinion and knowledge in her time.

Craddock’s time in the limelight has finally returned, 108 years post-mortem. This book, as well as a more straightforwardly biographical work from Basic Books (which will be reviewed here next), should serve to restore her memory to its rightful place. It will not put an end to the controversy; the heat death of the Cosmos may or may not do so.


1. BBC h2g2 as cited above.

[Complimentary review copy from Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions are my own, your mileage may vary, not valid in altered states, etc.]

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About freemanpresson

Celto-Cherokee Pagan, Priest, Frater of the Church of the Hermetic Sciences, sometime writer, astrologer.
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4 Responses to Review of Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic

  1. Pingback: Confirming Craddock – Contemporary Anomaly Research & Victorian Spiritualism | ?!

  2. Pingback: Review of Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr and Madwoman | Freeman's Reviews

  3. One thing I have not gotten clear yet about Craddock’s sexual recommendations is exactly when in the process, and how, a young man should learn sexual continence if he is never to masturbate and he starts his marriage by having sex once a month at most so as to avoid non-procreative sex acts. It may be addressed somewhere in her writings; there was apparently a lot more than even this book displays.

  4. Pingback: Review of _The Best of the Equinox III: Sex Magick_ | Freeman's Reviews

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