Recently, friend and scholar Douglas Ezzy sent me a copy of his new book Sex, Death, and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival. I have only begun reading it, though I have skimmed through the whole of it, and have anticipated it for some time as I knew he was working on this scholarship. Ezzy, who is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania, has been a longstanding researcher on contemporary Pagans, and one of the more incisive voices in the field. While maintaining his critical training, he has taken seriously the substantiality of the experiences of people engaging in magical spirituality. Several years ago, he released a vital study on Teenage Witches, c0-authored with Helen Berger, based on interviews with teenagers in the United States, Britain, and Australia who practiced witchcraft.
Although Sex, Death, and Witchcraft does not specifically focus on the Thelemic community, it is of particular interest to Thelemites for a number of reasons. The festival that is the focus of his study culminates in a Baphomet Rite, and a substantial portion of Ezzy’s book is concerned with the experience of participating in this rite. Additionally, he explores with candor and depth the sexual dimension of the spirituality of the festival participants. Ezzy doesn’t just report on the festival and discuss the social dynamics, but closes with an ethical analysis of the rite, exploring the way a rite based around transgressing sexual inhibition, like the Baphomet rite, allows participants to enact and develop acceptance of desire and vulnerability within their sexual selves.
I look forward to sharing a more in-depth discussion once I have finished fully reading the book.