So often we attach our sexuality and self love to external sources (partner[s], social media feedback, etc), and we forget that our sexuality, as our life in general, begins and ends with ourselves. While having a sexual relationship with a partner can be beautiful, ecstatic and fulfilling, it can also be detrimental and dependent if we rely on an external source(s) for our sexual expression and joy.
We now lie in the midst of the Sun and Mercury retrograde both in sensuous, venomous Scorpio. This death and rebirth season is ripe with opportunity to explore and renew our sexual relationships with ourselves; both the light and the shadow.
In the Dark (or Waning) Year, which begins at Litha* but feels more prominent after Samhain**, the Earth invites us to go inward and explore our real, raw selves. In correspondence with the death and darkness that the Earth experiences, we are called to examine and embrace the Death processes occurring in our own lives. These can include physical deaths, but also breakups, career changes, therapy and shadow work, and any type of transformation or loss that we have no choice but to surrender to.
While we are honoring the archetype of Death at this time of the year, it’s equally important to invest in our creative, sexual selves. Sex and death are inextricably linked in astrology, herbalism, tarot, and nature. Life inevitably elicits death, and death always begets the promise of new life.
We can channel the balance of sexuality and death through work with the sexual shadow self, sex magic to manifest healing through death processes, and returning to our sexuality as a relationship with ourselves. These practices fortify and balance our tender hearts during this often-difficult season, and ultimately aid us in recognizing ourselves as our primary lover, supporter, and healer.
Working with goddesses and herbal allies that symbolize sexuality and shadow work can help focus and support one’s practices. There are almost-infinite possibilities of archetypes and energies that support these intentions; I’ve outlined a few that have been meaningful to me, and that can serve as a starting point for one’s own exploration.
Freya is a Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, sex, death, and seiðr, an Old Norse divination magic predominantly practiced by women. While deities can vastly differ in each individual’s experience of them, Freya is a goddess of self-confidence, self-love and self-worth for me. My most powerful experiences and rituals with her were in times when I needed to be reminded of, and grounded in, my worth and my boundaries.
Magical correspondences for Freya: amber, gold, rose quartz, fresh flowers (especially roses), strawberries, raspberries, sweet wines, cat imagery.
Lilith is an ancient Sumerian figure, later depicted as the first wife of Adam and subsequently as a demon and succubus in Jewish mythology and folklore. Lilith is the archetypal independent woman; she refused to lie subservient to Adam, and she disobeyed the Abrahamic god in her pursuit of knowledge, magic and equality. Due to her fierce sovereignty and self-empowerment, many feminist spirituality traditions elevate her to a goddess figure.
Lilith has guided me through overcoming an abusive relationship, navigating situations of social exile, and embodying my power and confidence, especially in times of stress and uncertainty.
Due to Lilith’s power and intensity, I would not recommend direct work with her unless you are an experienced devotee or dedicant. However, folks less experienced with Lilith can still honor her and invite her energy into their lives.
A shrine with her images and symbols is an excellent way to establish a physical and spiritual space for her in your life, and provides a space for meditation, offerings and magical workings. Acts of service dedicated to her are a wonderful way to earn her favor. Mine was an undergraduate thesis, but writing a behemoth of a text isn’t by any means required; anything that involves empowering women, honoring sexuality, and pursuing justice is excellent devotional work to Lilith.
Magical correspondences for Lilith: tarragon, the color red, red and black crystals, red wine, menstrual blood, serpent imagery.
Additional goddesses: Venus/Aphrodite, Kuan Yin, Persephone, Bloddeuwedd, Hathor, Bastet, Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, The Morrígan, Hera, Circe.
The additional goddesses I’ve listed are deities that may represent one or multiple aspects of sexuality, self-love, death, and magic. I’ve worked with some of these goddesses in different capacities, and some I do not have experience with. I wanted to provide more possibilities for deities that may call to readers, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. I highly recommend researching a deity and their cultural context before developing a relationship with them.
As the Earth exists in cycles of life and death, herbs that correspond with vivacious properties of sexuality are often also herbs of grieving and death. These herbal allies draw in one’s own sexual power, as well as the ability to understand and surrender to the cycles of life and death. As herbs of love, they aid in developing one’s sense of self love, and recognizing the aspects of the shadow selves that must heal in order for one to better love oneself. There is a plethora of herbs associated with love, sexuality and death; I’ve included a few here that strongly connect with both energies, and that have served many practitioners well.
Damiana increases arousal, psychic abilities, and the intensity of sexual magic. It can be taken internally as a tea, or macerated in an oil to make a sacred lubricant. As an arousing and empowering herb, Damiana is ideal for establishing and deepening one’s sexual relationship with oneself. As an herb corresponding to Pluto, Damiana can also be used to empower one’s Underworld journey, confronting their own shadows, fears and insecurities, and navigating the Shadow realm in a loving and healing way.
Marshmallow embodies the dichotomy of love and death as an aphrodisiac and a funereal herb. Ancient Greeks planted the flowers upon the graves of loved ones, and Marshmallow is the flower of Althea, a Greek fertility goddess who hangs herself after learning of her brothers’ deaths. Corresponding to Venus, marshmallow root may be burned, kept in a sachet, or used to dress a candle to increase the power of sex magic. As it is high in vegetable gum, marshmallow root has also been used to prepare a sacred lubricant. As with anything to be used internally, I’d recommend exercising caution and allergy-testing it on the wrist first.
Mandrake is one of the most powerful and potently fabled herbs in folklore and magic. It is linked with death, as it can be fatal when taken internally, and is used to honor the crone archetype and deities that preside over the realm of the dead. Complementing its associations with death, mandrake is also considered an aphrodisiac that increases sexual power and magic. As a visionary herb, it empowers one’s psychic awareness and the ability to manifest one’s intentions. Sometimes used for exorcisms, mandrake can aid in banishing negative energies (emotions, people, etc) from one’s sexual and emotional self. Corresponding with the Fool card and the World card, mandrake aids in honoring the cycles of beginnings and endings, life and death, risk and potential reward. Mandrake is ideal for use at the full moon, to reflect one one’s accomplishments and embrace one’s full power. For safety, I would recommend only using mandrake in a sachet or on the altar, and drawing energetically from its presence during one’s magical workings.
There are endless ways to practice sex magic and shadow work, from physical movement to quiet contemplation. I hope the suggestions I’ve outlined here can help you begin or continue on your own journey of self-love, sexual sovereignty and death work.
I’ll be opening a Q&A on my Instagram (@hhexennachtt) on Thursday, November 14 to answer questions about this post: more information about any of the deities or herbs I’ve mentioned, ways to expand or individualize one’s practice, or any other questions y’all may have about sex magic, shadow work, or anything related to the post.
*Litha is the pagan sabbat celebrating the Summer Solstice. Also called Midsummer in Germanic and Norse traditions, it is celebrated when the sun enters Cancer, usually on the 21st of June.
**Samhain is the pagan sabbat of the third and final harvest. It is celebrated as the witch’s new year, and focuses on honoring ancestors and the dead, as well as divination and spirit contact. Lunar Samhain is celebrated on the New Moon in Scorpio, and Solar Samhain is celebrated on October 31st.
The Poetic Edda, Snorri Sturluson
The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson
Liber Qayin, Lorelei & Natalie Black
A Compendium of Herbal Magic, Paul Beyerl