Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock

Overview

Persecuted by Anthony Comstock and his Society for the Suppression of Vice, Ida Craddock was a turn-of-the-century sex educator and spiritualist. Born in Philadelphia in 1857, she became an occult scholar around the age of thirty, taking classes at the Theosophical Society and studying various occult subjects. She also taught correspondence courses to women and newlyweds on the importance of viewing sex as a sacred act, and much of her knowledge of the marriage bed came to her from her nightly visits with her ...

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Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock

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Overview

Persecuted by Anthony Comstock and his Society for the Suppression of Vice, Ida Craddock was a turn-of-the-century sex educator and spiritualist. Born in Philadelphia in 1857, she became an occult scholar around the age of thirty, taking classes at the Theosophical Society and studying various occult subjects. She also taught correspondence courses to women and newlyweds on the importance of viewing sex as a sacred act, and much of her knowledge of the marriage bed came to her from her nightly visits with her angelic husband Soph. She wrote the essay Heavenly Bridegrooms on this topic, later reviewed by Aleister Crowley in The Equinox. "No Magick library is complete without it!" he wrote.

In 1902 Craddock was arrested under New York's anti-obscenity laws. She committed suicide rather than face life in an asylum. Now for the first time, scholar Vere Chappell has compiled the most extensive collection of Craddock's works, including original essays, diary excerpts, and suicide letters.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578634767
  • Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
  • Publication date: 12/1/2010
  • Pages: 1
  • Sales rank: 1,430,943
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Vere Chappell is a writer, photographer, and researcher specializing in spirituality and sexuality. He has a bachelor's degree in Cognitive Science, a Master of Business Administration, and a doctoral degree in Human Sexuality. He has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, including research trips to Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Thailand, and Nepal. He has lectured extensively on sexuality and the occult, and written numerous papers and articles on the subject. Author website: www.erotology.net

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Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic

The Essential Ida Craddock


By Vere Chappell

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2010 Vere Chappell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-296-0



CHAPTER 1

Belly Dancing in Chicago


Chicago was abuzz with excitement in 1893. Three years earlier, the city had narrowly beaten New York to be chosen as the site of the World's Columbian Exposition, popularly known as the World's Fair. After twenty-six months of feverishly paced construction, at a cost of over $18 million (an astronomical sum at that time, equivalent to about $17 billion today), the fair finally opened to the public on May 1, 1893. In sheer size and grandeur, it was without precedent, and it would not be surpassed for years to come. Covering over 600 acres of mostly reclaimed land on the shore of Lake Michigan south of the city, it encompassed 200 purposebuilt structures—pavilions for the exhibits and concessions—set among meticulously landscaped gardens, artificial lakes, canals, and islands. In the short six months of its operation, the fair drew in more than 27 million visitors, equal to about half the U.S. population at the time. It was a monumental achievement.

Among the many attractions of the fair, the promenade extending west from its entrance, called the Midway Plaisance, was undoubtedly the most colorful and exciting. This area was leased to private concession operators for carnival rides, sideshows, food stands, and other amusements. "The Midway," as it came to be known, was home to the first Ferris wheel, built on a colossal scale—at over 260 feet high, it had thirty-six Pullmansized carriages that could carry sixty people each. Other popular venues included Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show and the nation's first commercial movie theater.

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic In keeping with the international character of the fair, many of the Midway attractions were modeled after exotic locales. There were Chinese, Javanese, Aztec, and Turkish villages; a Moorish palace, an Indian bazaar, and a Persian theater; and scale models of the Eiffel Tower and St. Peter's Basilica. Occupying a prominent spot in the shadow of the Ferris wheel (near the intersection of what is 59th Street and University Avenue today), the "Street in Cairo" entertained visitors with a chaotic mix of astrologers, conjurers, snake charmers, and trained monkeys. But its most famous—and most controversial—attraction was a show called the "Danse du Ventre" (French, literally "dance of the abdomen.") This was America's introduction to the art of Middle Eastern dance, destined to become known simply as "belly dancing."

By today's standards, the show was downright tame. No bare midriff or flash of thigh could be seen; the dancers wore ankle-length skirts with muslin trousers underneath, and ample chemises that fully covered their torsos, arms, and shoulders. But it wasn't what they displayed, it was how they displayed it that caused such a sensation in 1890s America. The provocative undulations of the performers' waists and hips, and the deliberate sensuousness of their movements, fascinated even as it scandalized the public. The Danse du Ventre quickly became one of the fair's most popular draws.

The performance also drew the attention of Anthony Comstock (1844–1914), self-appointed guardian of American public decency. In 1873, Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), a private moral enforcement squad that was spun off from the YMCA and funded by a cadre of wealthy conservative businessmen, including J. Pierpont Morgan and Samuel Colgate. After intense lobbying by Comstock, Congress passed a law aimed at the suppression of "obscene literature and articles of immoral use," which became known as the Comstock Law after its chief proponent and enforcer. This law made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" materials through the U.S. mail, including contraceptive devices and any information concerning sex, birth control, or abortion. Many states followed suit by passing their own versions of the Comstock Law.

Although he was not a government employee, through his influence in Congress Comstock was able to obtain an appointment as a volunteer postal inspector that allowed him to conduct investigations, order arrests, and seize and destroy materials he found objectionable. Since the postal service fell under federal jurisdiction, this gave Comstock broad powers to intercept, examine, and proscribe virtually anything sent through the mail, even personal correspondence. Along with a gang of private "detectives" in his employ, he often used undercover sting operations and other subterfuges to gather his evidence and secure legal convictions against those who dared to offend his sensibilities. Comstock boasted that he was responsible for 4,000 arrests and fifteen suicides over the course of his career. Among his earliest targets was the famous women's suffragist and free-love advocate, Victoria Woodhull.

After viewing the Danse du Ventre for himself, Comstock deemed it "distinctly and disgustingly obscene" and attempted to have it shut down. He appealed to the Board of Lady Managers, an advisory group constituted to represent women's interests at the fair. Although the Board was not unanimously opposed to the performance (one member insisted that it was "very fascinating"), they nevertheless lodged a formal complaint with the fair's director-general, George R. Davis. Davis immediately authorized an investigation. No doubt mindful of the show's popularity, however, and the fact that the fair was still running in the red, he ultimately took no action against it. Meanwhile, Comstock took his campaign to the public, threatening to have the fair's commissioners indicted for "keeping a disorderly house," a charge usually reserved for those who managed houses of prostitution.

The press had a field day with Comstock's absurd prudery. The August 5, 1893 edition of the New York World quoted him fuming: "It's got to stop. The whole World's Fair must be razed to the ground or these [belly dancing] shows must stop. It is an assault upon the pure dignity of womanhood." The paper went on to describe how Comstock, "a pretty stout man," attempted to imitate the dance and nearly fell on his sofa instead. In an editorial on August 11th, the World sarcastically noted that the "tears and virtuous indignation" of the Lady Managers arose only after Comstock's arrival, when the fair was already half over. And on the 13th, the World dedicated almost an entire page to letters it had received in response to the controversy. Seven of these were from clergymen, most of whom supported Comstock's efforts, even though they had not seen the performance themselves. The remaining two letters were from women, and the longest letter of all, spanning almost two full columns, was from Ida Craddock. Comstock had provided just the opening she needed to introduce her ideas to the broader public.

Ida defended the Danse du Ventre as "a religious memorial of a worship which existed thousands of years ago all over the world, and which taught self-control and purity of life as they have never been taught since." She went on to describe the movements and attire of the dancers in detail, noting that even such elements as the number of tassels hanging from the dancers' costumes had symbolic meaning. Those who understood that meaning, she contended, would not misinterpret the belly dance as immoral. She concluded with a direct challenge to Comstock:

To suppress this dance, as Anthony Comstock and others propose to do, strikes a blow at social purity and at the diffusion of scientific truth. It is our American men and women, and not the Oriental women, who are responsible for the atmosphere of indecent suggestions surrounding the very mention of the Danse du Ventre in the Midway Plaisance at the World's Fair.... Let the real significance of this dance as a religious memorial of purity and self-control be broadcast, so that Anthony Comstock and his helpers may be enlightened on the subject and may refrain from their attacks on the Danse du Ventre in the Cairo Theatre of the Midway Plaisance—attacks which, if successful, will certainly blacken the cause of social purity for many a long year to come.


Ida's challenge would not go unanswered. Anthony Comstock was apparently not enlightened on the subject. Although his attempts to suppress the dance itself had been fruitless, he now had a new target. When an expanded version of Ida's letter was published in the medical journal Chicago Clinic, Comstock used his powers as a volunteer postal inspector to declare the issue obscene, making it a crime to send it through the U.S. mail.

Ida responded by typing up copies of the essay and offering them for sale herself, at fifty cents each. The notoriety generated by her public defiance of Comstock led to her making contact with like-minded supporters, among whom she found ready customers for her work. In November 1893, she was invited to give a lecture to the Ladies' Liberal League in New York, one of several organizations in the burgeoning Freethought movement that opposed religious meddling in affairs of state. The lecture was entitled "Survivals of Sex Worship in Christianity and Paganism: What Christianity Has Done for the Marital Relation." She gave the same lecture again a few months later at the Manhattan Liberal Club, which also drew press coverage; the World's headline read "A Very Shocking Time" and said that the lecture was unprintable, albeit very well attended. A new phase of Ida's life had begun, one dedicated to public activism.

The essay presented here is reproduced from one of Ida's self-published copies. It was expanded significantly beyond the edited letter that appeared in the World, and quoted other letters in support of the dance that appeared in the same issue of the paper. In this version, Ida elaborates on the symbolism of the six tassels on the dancer's costume as representing the five days of a woman's menstrual cycle, plus a sixth day for the resumption of sexual intercourse. She also discusses at some length the practice of "male continence" (ejaculatory control) as taught by John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community in upstate New York. In the methods of the Danse du Ventre, Ida found what she believed to be the female counterpart of male continence, a method by which women could effect their own sexual self-control. These principles became the bedrock upon which all her future works (and personal practice) were based. Her essay, "The Danse du Ventre," is especially significant as her first articulation of these principles in printed form. It is also Ida's first published admission of her marriage to a spirit husband, a bombshell that she casually drops in the very last paragraph.


The Danse du Ventre (Dance of the Abdomen) as performed in the Cairo Street Theatre, Midway Plaisance, Chicago: Its Value as an Educator in Marital Duties (1893)

The Danse du Ventre in the Cairo Street Theatre of the Midway Plaisance, at the World's Fair, Chicago, has been so little understood by the crowds that have flocked to see it, that it is usually spoken of as demoralizing. On the contrary, it is a strictly moral dance in its significance. It is a religious memorial of a worship that existed thousands of years ago, all over the world, and which taught self-control and purity of life as they have never been taught since. We have travelled fast and far since those old uplifting days of Phallic or Sex Worship. That worship, the vehicle of moral and social teaching to all humanity, at length became corrupt, through causes which it is unnecessary to mention here, and was gradually displaced by Sun Worship; this, in turn, yielding to Christianity in some portions of the world. We have gained much by this religious evolution; but we have also lost something; and that something is (1) the clean-minded consideration of the human form divine, and (2) the recognition of sex as the chief educator of the human race in things material and things spiritual. We have still something to learn from heathen nations in these matters; and I, for one, rejoice that this Danse du Ventre should have been one of the appointed means of grace.

But—but—but—why do people all say it is so demoralizing, and so disgusting, and ...

All people do not call it these things, my friend. Archbishop Corrigan, in reply, apparently, to a question asked of him by the New York World, gave his opinion on the Danse du Ventre in the edition of Sunday, August 13th, as follows: "I presume that the dances in the Midway Plaisance which Mr. Comstock objected to were national dances, and, as such, gave one an idea of the manners and customs of the peoples. No doubt the poor creatures meant no harm by it and thought no wrong of it. They would hardly come so far to exhibit a performance they were ashamed of. It is all in the way one looks at it. I should have gone to see it and would not have been scandalized, I believe. Perhaps Mr. Comstock was too sensitive in the matter, he and the good old ladies who were so shocked. They might have seen worse dances of a Saturday night in New York, dances where real evil is meant. It will not do to criticize semisavages on the same basis as our high-toned American ladies and gentlemen."

In the same issue of the World, Miss Loie Fuller, the serpentine dancer, spoke in high terms of the artistic grace of this dance, which she had seen performed, not in Chicago, but in Paris (where, if anywhere, one might look for refined immorality). She thought that to those who wish it suppressed, the Venus of Milo would probably seem an equally fit subject for suppression. She adds: "I am well aware that dancing may be immoral and graceful and artistic at the same time; but the dancer whom I saw, who was said to be a very good and experienced one, impressed me only with her art. She really expressed thoughts and ideas in her graceful pantomime ... those zealots who are looking for suggestiveness would doubtless find it, but then people of that sort would doubtless find something suggestive in the dainty raising of skirts in the stately minuet."

I talked this summer with a commercial traveler who had been told by a friend: "Now, you can look at that dance which you are going to see, in one of two ways. You can view it as a vulgar show, or you can view it as a presentation of their religion." This gentleman, while watching the dance, overheard another gentleman explaining to his wife that the dance was a religious memorial of ethical teaching.

The above were but a few of the numerous instances within my knowledge where the Danse du Ventre has been looked on as the reverse of impure.

The Danse du Ventre (Dance of the Abdomen) is not a dance at all, as we understand the term. It consists mainly of swaying, undulating movements of the hips and contortions of the abdomen; and at first sight, one is lost in wonderment as to what it all means. But it is not long before most spectators realize that it sets forth the movements of a passionate woman, elaborated, conventionalized into a series of rhythmic actions, and performed with deliberation, in harmony with musical beats of time. The dance was usually performed by one woman at a time, and consisted almost entirely in a slight swaying of the body from the pelvis as a fulcrum, with powerful contortions of the abdomen and undulations of the hips. That these contortions might be clearly visible to the spectators, the skirt band dipped in front to about the navel. The entire trunk and the arms were clothed in a netted silk undervest—no doubt in deference to the prejudices of an American audience—and the girl was adorned with numerous bangles and neck chains looped over her bosom, and waist chains looped over her abdomen. Ugly black stockings, high heeled slippers and wide white muslin drawers reaching to the knee and visible under the short peasant skirt only at such rare times as the dancer whirled about quickly, completed the costume. The lower limbs were distinctly uninteresting and unattractive, both in costume and attitude, thus differing from our ballet-dancers, whose limbs, as we know, are always clothed so as to enhance the charm of graceful posturing.

A universal adornment of those who danced (though sometime absent from the skirts of those who remained sitting cross-legged on the divan at the rear of the stage) was a number of tassels, hung each on a streamer that usually extended from the waist to the bottom of the skirt. In one or two instances, the side tassels lacked a streamer, and were suspended directly from the waist; but these tassels, whether with or without streamers, were always on the dancer's skirt, and played their part in accentuating her pelvic contortions and quiverings. These tassels (except in certain cases referred to farther on) were invariably six in number. Now, to a student of Phallic antiquities, these six tassels are conclusive evidence of a memorial which, in all heathen lands, recognizes a prohibition laid upon the man not to approach the woman during her tapu time of five days monthly, and the rejoicing consequent upon the removal of that prohibition upon the sixth day, when Nature ensures that the woman shall be most affectionate. This memorial, which, in one form or another, is universal in heathen countries, and which also exists among the Jews, emphasizes a teaching sadly needed in Christian countries to save amiable wives from the incessant demands of those husbands who respect no physical condition and no night in the month—as every physician knows.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic by Vere Chappell. Copyright © 2010 Vere Chappell. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Foreword xi

Editorial Conventions xv

Abbreviations xv

Introduction xvii

Chapter 1 Belly Dancing in Chicago 1

The Danse Du Ventre (1893) 7

Chapter 2 Spiritual Union 21

Heavenly Bridegrooms (1894) 45

Postscript: From Ida's Diary (1895) 138

Chapter 3 Sexual Mysticism 141

Psychic Wedlock (1895) 149

Spiritual Joys (Excerpt From "The Marriage Relation," 1900) 167

Chapter 4 Social Reform 173

Right Marital Living (1899) 178

The Wedding Night (1900) 204

Chapter 5 Sacrifice 217

Letter from Prison (1902) 230

Ida's Last Letter to Her Mother (1902) 232

Ida's Last Letter to the Public (1902) 235

Epilogue 243

Appendix 245

Aleister Crowley's Review of Heavenly Bridegrooms 246

References 249

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