Demons of The Flesh BOOK review [Zeena and Nicholas Shreck]

Book Reviews
Demons of The Flesh BOOK review [Zeena and Nicholas Shreck]
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Oct 15, 2002, 23:31

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DEMONS OF THE FLESH: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO LEFT HAND PATH SEX by Zeena Shreck and Nicholas Shreck; Creation Books, 2002

Demons Of The Flesh is an unquestionably engrossing, provocative and highly informative volume. The scholarship demonstrated by the authors Nicholas Shreck and Zeena Shreck (nee LaVey) is, overall, highly impressive. By and large, they present the reader with abundant historical references and factual data with undisguised enthusiasm and saucy attitude.  To their credit, the Shrecks' approach their subject soberly and in depth without being dry or overly academic. That notwithstanding, there is a not-so-subtle bias at work throughout, some strange conceptual detours and a few instances of outright self-contradiction, even so, Demons Of The Flesh is most definitely a lively and worthwhile read for the open-minded layperson, as well as for committed students of occult disciplines.

One of their important agendas is clearing up misconceptions, exaggerations of fact and forthright falsehoods, by providing precise definitions of key terminology and doctrine—except in those cases where they have their own axes to grind.  “Book One: The Sinister Current In The East” starts off addressing the phrase “Left-Hand Path,” and their handling of it is a good example of their methodology throughout.  They explain that the English is a mistranslation of the Sanskrit phrase “Vama Marga” which is most accurately read as “Woman's Way,” vama meaning “woman” or “left” depending on usage.  Indeed women are the primary transmitters of the gnosis and spiritual energies involved.  The Shrecks then examine the circumstances by which this error became established in popular use: it started with orthodox Hindus' negative view of Vama Marga, a bias which they passed along to European occupation forces who in turn already had a cultural prejudice against left-handedness. These blended together to produce the mistranslation familiar to us.  Then, the Shrecks bring up aspects of Vama Marga that are in fact connected with “leftwardness” and conclude that “left” is not wrong per se, but incomplete and misleading since the essence of the path is its feminine nature.  This is typical of the meticulous setting-the-record-straight on sound factual basis one finds throughout Demons Of The Flesh.

“Book One” proceeds to outline the history, theology and ritual techniques of Tantric Hinduism, focusing on the more radical aspects of it.  The authors describe the Panchamakara ceremony at length, this being a key ritual and conceptual foundation that many more extreme practices developed from.  This consists of systematically breaking five Hindu taboos, the first four of diet and the last of illicit sex.  In addition to giving a detailed scenario of the rite, they take care to explain the esoteric symbolism and processes involved. Subsequently the Shrecks catalogue various Tantric sub-sects, and the dogma and ceremonial techniques by which they define themselves: intentional defiance of social standards and civil law across the board, an immersion in the contemplation of death, decay, filth, etc. and so on.  Again, the authors illuminate the religious basis for all these extreme disciplines and render them, if not immediately appealing, at least comprehensible.

They also make an effort to link radical Tantra with other religious and magical canons—the Assyrian cult of Astarte, or Classical Greek Mystery Schools for instance—throughout history and the world over, making some intriguing if not always convincing arguments about influence of one tradition on another and the degree to which they do substantially agree.  Most of these appear mainly as attempts to establish Vama Marga as the central universal wellspring of most worthwhile spiritual/magic truth, but without giving the reader a clear idea of what those other beliefs were/are, in fact.  The one exception is Taoist sexual alchemy, which is dealt with in depth and gusto. “Book One” by and large is a triumph of diligent scholarship, insightful analysis and lucid explication of some very complex issues.

“Book Two: The Sinister Current In The West” primarily addresses latter day European occultism and its respective embrace of sexual energy and symbolism.  The focus is largely on particular individuals rather than sects, though most of these folks in fact founded or led magical Orders and movements.  Once again, precisely detailed definitions of crucial vocabulary are provided and popular misperceptions cleared up, promising more diligent, responsible scholarship.Â

But first, they launch into a lengthy argument that Jesus of Nazareth was himself a Sinister Current Mage and Mary Magdalene as his Sacred Whore.  Whew!

This starts as well-reasoned textual analysis and then proceeds to marvelously fanciful speculations that they ultimately claim as “fact” without ever providing any meaningful supporting evidence from Biblical or other contemporary textual sources, and contradicting themselves on several occasions when making their case. This sort of bias colors a significant portion of “Book Two” as they compare certain figures.  For instance they lionize Jack Parsons, whose devotion to the Feminine Divine as Babylon, accords with Vama Marga values. However, they ridicule at length Aleister Crowley, who was essentially patriarchal and phallo-centric in his theory and practice, but on whose theories Parsons based his.  Moreover, they base their case on the mundane lives of these men.  Thus, Crowley's work is accounted worthless on the basis of his many, well-documented personal problems; the problem with this type of analysis is that material affluence is not a meaningful test of spiritual attainment, as the former is simply not the goal—a pretty basic philosophic principle. Stranger still is that after they have established this criteria, they utterly disregard it when evaluating Parsons… whose misadventures in love and finance are as legendary as Crowley's. Thus, the authors contradict themselves here.Â

That aside, there is a large portion of “Book Two” that's devoted to thought-provoking exploration and illumination of the lives and doctrines of a number of occult figures who are too often given short shrift or ignored altogether.  They take long overdue looks at the Anglo/American Church of the Process (so beloved of George Clinton who paraphrased their tracts for liner notes on early Funkadelic albums and employed their rants for onstage patter), and Fraternitas Saturnii, among others.  These are all well researched accounts showing solid, meticulous scholarship and steering clear of the sort of troublesome value judgments applied elsewhere (no personal axes to grind?).Â

The most fascinating among these is Marie de Naglowska and her La Fleche d'Or group, active in Paris in the 1930's.  Typically her name is mentioned only in passing in connection with discussions of the Afro-American mage Pascal Randolph as de Naglowska published and perhaps rewrote his Magia Sexualis.  La Fleche d'Or rejected Christianity's vision of antagonism between spirit and body and believed that the forces personified by Satan were actually essential parts of God's creation that needed to be acknowledged and dealt with as part of the process of transcendental self-transformation.  La Fleche d'Or employed ritual copulation in a number of their initiations and practical workings and de Naglowska was quite open about her methodologies, publishing various books and pamphlets on the subject that were received quite warmly by the French despite their controversial nature.

To many, one of the most controversial and intriguing propositions put forward will be that L. Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology are, in fact, consciously an extension of Crowley's religion of Thelema and his magickal technologies—the sexual rites in particular.  While it's common knowledge that Hubbard was an intimate of Jack Parsons' and acquainted with Crowley's teachings, it's seldom spelled out how this manifested in the principles of Scientology.  Drawing on L. Ron, Jr.'s exposés of his father's work, the authors depict the senior Hubbard as nothing less than the self-designated heir to the “Throne of the Great Beast.”  Ya gotta wonder if Tom Cruise has heard about this and what Nicole Kidman thought!

In “Book Three: The Sinister Current In Action” the Shrecks conscientiously get down to the business of providing practical suggestions regarding the actual performance of sex- magical ritual.  For starters, they outline solitary work for learning how to encounter, recognize and do some basic manipulation of sex/magic energies.  They then quickly leap into extensive discussions of the concepts underlying group sex-work, then the issues involved in organizing and maintaining such groups.  Next comes an equally lengthy examination of the principles behind magical S&M workings, explaining the philosophy and magical mechanics utilized.  But throughout they curiously avoid giving many specifics as to sexual positions, costume, appliances, or furnishings of ritual chambers—or lack thereof.  At one point in the section on S&M they flatly say that the individual student must make the effort to seek out and master the standard techniques of such practice before undertaking to apply them to magical work.  And perhaps that's a valid stance.Â

More importantly, they also withhold information regarding the meditations, mantras and visualizations that should be essential components of activating these activities as magical work per se as opposed to mere kinky sex.  That of course renders Demons Of The Flesh an entertaining read, and a good overview of the history and some of the principles of sex magic, but not a “Complete Guide” per se—you'd need to actually join the Temple of Set, to which they both belong, to get the full story.

It should be pointed out that while the Shrecks portray this work as traditional Vama Marga doctrine, other Tantrikas dispute this position wholeheartedly and claim that theirs is purely a projection of Temple Of Set agendas.  Which doesn't invalidate them per se, but perhaps puts these teachings in a more accurate light.Â

Ultimately Demons Of The Flesh is a great book, jam-packed with useful, fascinating information and ideas, many seldom encountered elsewhere.  And while there are flaws in their reasoning and a definite streak of prejudice present these are not insurmountable problems.

-Howard W.

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