By Mike Gleason
The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism: Sacred Practices and Spiritual Marriage, by Arthur Versluis
Destiny Books, 9781594772122, 167 pp., 2008
This book addresses a topic which is often overlooked (or else looked at as an embarrassing part of the mystical tradition) here in the Western world. This book looks at both the Pagan and Christian mystic traditions in many of their manifestations, with an emphasis of the Christian side. There is a tendency, fortunately avoided by Professor Versluis, to perceive movements such as “Paganism” and “Christianity” as monolithic movements having only one face. That was not, and is not, the case. There have always existed multiple approaches to the mystical experience.
This book concentrates on the sexual mysticism in the Christian tradition, which is probably less understood than its associated Pagan counterparts. Western, or Latin, Christianity has had a consistently perceived bias against sexuality for any purpose beyond procreation.
In order to understand the genesis and evolution of sexual mysticism (as differentiated from sexual magic) Professor Versluis lays the foundation through an overview of the Greco-Roman mystery schools. As he points out, however, we do not, and cannot know, what experiences those initiates underwent due to a scarcity of unbiased information, as well as a major difference in the perceptions of the world.
The author warns against the all-too-common literalist interpretation of mystery symbolism. Symbols are just that and are not intended to be interpreted on a single level.
It is my opinion that this book will appeal to a very narrow segment of the reading public (besides the students in Professor Versuluis’ classes). Despite the suggestiveness of the title this is dominantly a historical discussion of the suppression of non-mainstream attitudes towards mysticism with a sexual component. At times it borders of being dry (although it never approaches the level of uninteresting). There is no titillation in this book, merely accurate historical reporting.