Ida Craddock: Sexual Mystic and Martyr for Freedom
by Vere Chappell
Grand Treasurer General
U.S. Grand Lodge O.T.O.
Originally presented at the Second National O.T.O. Conference
August 7, 1999 e.v.
In Volume III Number 1 of the Equinox (published in 1919), Aleister Crowley reviewed a paper called "Heavenly Bridegrooms". In this work, a woman identified only as "Ida C-----" claimed to be the wife of an angel. A scholar named Theodore Schroeder edited the manuscript and published it in a psychological journal, where it apparently attracted the attention of Crowley. In the review, Crowley states that Heavenly Bridegrooms "is one of the most remarkable human documents ever produced." He goes on to say:
"I am very far from agreeing with all that this most talented woman sets forth in her paper, but she certainly obtained initiated knowledge of extraordinary depth. She seems to have had access to certain most concealed sanctuaries.... She has put down statements in plain English which are positively staggering. This book is of incalculable value to every student of occult matters. No Magick library is complete without it."
This is quite an endorsement from Crowley, and perhaps even more significant in that he signed the review "Baphomet," using his magical name as Tenth Degree of O.T.O.
Roughly fifty years later, in his unauthorized Volume V of the Equinox, Marcelo Motta published Heavenly Bridegrooms along with another work by "Ida C-----" called Psychic Wedlock. This latter paper outlines a three-degree system of mystical initiation through sexual techniques. It was written around 1895, shortly before the founding of the O.T.O. based on a similar model involving three degrees of initiation into sexual mysteries. Motta also included a brief biography of the author, in which we learn that her full name is Ida Craddock. But except for these references by Motta and Crowley, not much more about Ms. Craddock and her work has appeared in print, especially in Thelemic circles where it certainly seems to have a great deal of relevance.
Inspired by these references, Brother Erik Freeman of LVX Lodge and I set out to find out more about Ida Craddock. Was she just insane and delusional about having sex with angels, as Schroeder contends, or did she have some kind of connection with the same sources of initiated wisdom which had influenced the founders of our Order? Our researches took us to Special Collections at the University of Southern Illinois, which had become the repository for the collected papers of Theodore Schroeder after his death. There we discovered a treasure trove of diaries, manuscripts, pamphlets, letters, and other material which gave us a wealth of insight into this fascinating and remarkable woman.
Ida Craddock was born in Philadelphia on August 1, 1857. Her father died when she was four months old. Her mother had been very interested in spiritualism and the occult, but following the death of Ida's father she became a fundamentalist Christian and raised Ida with an extremely puritanical discipline. Ida received intense religious training, and learned to read the Bible from a very early age. The result, of course, was that this repressed young woman grew up to be intensely interested in the very subjects which were most forbidden to her in childhood: namely, sexuality, occultism, and freedom in general.
But even before she began actively pursuing these forbidden subjects, Ida was ahead of her time. She was very intelligent and ambitious, not exactly qualities that were admired in women of the late 19th century. She campaigned to allow women to be admitted to the University of Pennsylvania, and would have been its first female graduate if the decision hadn't been eventually reversed. She went on to teach stenography to women at Giraud College in Philadelphia, and wrote a standard textbook on the subject which was published when she was just 18. By teaching this marketable skill to other young women, she was giving them a chance to become employed for themselves, thereby affording them greater opportunities for independence and self-sufficiency. This, in itself, was a radical idea for America in the 1880's.
Ida became involved in occultism beginning around 1887, about the time she turned 30 years old. At this time the Theosophical Society (founded in 1875) was the pre-eminent promoter of occult teachings, and Ida started attending classes in Theosophy at a local Unitarian church. She also began reading and studying a tremendous amount of material on occult subjects, judging from the sheer breadth and depth of the knowledge exhibited in her own writings. She cites everything from biblical and ecclesiastical sources to Hindu and Greek philosophers to contemporary academics and occultists. The recently translated Raja Yoga by Vivekananda was also drawn upon in many of Ida's works, and at one point she listed herself as "Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga", a theosophical offshoot.
According to Schroeder, between 1889 and 1891 Ida had ongoing "illicit" sexual relations with two different men (that is, she had sex with men to whom she was not married). The first man was younger than she, and apparently not a very satisfying lover. The second man, never named by Schroeder but described as an ex-clergyman and "heretical mystic" (probably introduced to Ida through Theosophical circles), was somewhat older than Ida, and was reportedly well-versed in the technique of Karezza, or the ability to withhold ejaculation. His lovemaking prowess brought Ida to hitherto-undiscovered heights of sexual ecstasy, in contrast to her other lover who made love in the "normal", conventional way.
To overly repressed Ida, this discovery was nothing less than a divine revelation. She began studying esoteric sexuality, combining her extensive knowledge of folklore and mythology with various sources from the occult world including P. B. Randolph and Alice Bunker Stockham. During this period there was a growing trend of increased sexual awareness and open discourse of sexuality in society. Burton had brought back translations of the Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga from India, and Havelock Ellis had begun applying scientific principles to the study of sexuality. This was the first sexual revolution, long before the 1960's, as the western world emerged from its Victorian prudery to start openly and objectively examining sex for the first time.
In her massive study of religious sexuality entitled "Lunar & Sex Worship", Ida argued that "the moon was a more ancient deity than the sun, and that she was therefore recognized as the superior of the sun-god, who, as being the exponent of a later religion, could triumph only after receiving her sanction." This theory resembles remarkably Crowley's description of the Aeons of Isis and Osiris. Her development of the argument cites a tremendous range of sources, including Assyrian, Babylonian, Hindu, Irish, Greek, Norse, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Chinese, Egyptian, African, but to name a few. It goes on and on, for over 100 typewritten legal-size pages.
In another work entitled "Sex Worship (Continued)", Ida contends that the symbol of the cross, not only that featured so prominently in Christianity but those found everywhere throughout the cultures and religions of the world, is fundamentally a symbol of sexual union, and its ubiquitous worship reflects a universal worship of the sex instinct as the underlying quintessence of all religion.
Ida's second lover was coincidentally the head of the National Liberal League, an organization prominently associated with the Free Thought movement around the turn of the century. Ida got a job as the League's secretary, and subsequently took up the cause, promoting social reform through freedom from oppressive moral codes and strictures. In particular, she sought to address the plight of America's married women, whom, as her own experience had taught her, were most likely not achieving their full potential of wedded bliss; or, worse yet, were suffering at the hands of their husbands who cared not in the least about the feelings or needs of their wives when it came to sex. Ida cited the following story as told to her by a nurse attending a young wife who had just had her first baby:
The patient had been greatly lacerated in delivery. On the second day after delivery, while the nurse was attending to the baby, the husband entered, and requested the nurse to leave the room. "For God's sake, nurse, don't leave me!" exclaimed the sick woman. But a look from the husband caused the nurse to obey him, nevertheless. Shortly after, she heard her patient scream, "Oh, he'll murder me!" Whereupon the nurse rushed in and found the husband in the act of committing a rape upon his wife. The nurse seized his arm, and endeavored to pull him away; but he did not yield until he was ready, when he allowed himself, sullenly, to be led from the room, covered with blood. The wife meanwhile had fainted. When she recovered, she cried, "Oh God, would that my baby girl and I would die! That man promised on our wedding-day to honor, love and protect me; but every night since then he has used my poor body!"
Ida was convinced that ignorance of basic sexual facts was to blame for much of the ills of society. (I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with her. I also believe that this is as true today as it ever has been.) She traveled to Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Denver, and New York, giving lectures with titles such as "Survivals of Sex Worship in Christianity and in Paganism" and "What Christianity has done for the Marital Relation." She also provided sexual counseling in a small office on Dearborn Street in Chicago. Those who were too modest to come to her personally could enroll in her courses sent through the mail.
She then wrote a series of pamphlets which were essentially marriage manuals, with titles like "The Wedding Night", "The Marriage Relation", and "Right Marital Living". In these manuals, she emphasized sexual self-control, and asserted that to force intercourse on one's wife without her desiring it amounts to rape--quite a radical notion for the time. (Unfortunately, even in these modern "enlightened" times this concept is still by no means universally accepted.) Ida recommended that intercourse should last at least 1/2 to 1 hour in order to allow enough time for the female orgasm; undoubtedly this was pretty alarming to the majority of husbands to which her pamphlets were targeted! Quoting from "The Wedding Night", here is her advice to the newly-wed couple on their honeymoon:
The very first thing for you to bear in mind is that, inasmuch as Nature has so arranged sex that the man is always ready (as a rule) for intercourse, whereas the woman is not, it is most unwise for the man to precipitate matters by exhibiting desire for genital contact when the woman is not yet aroused. You should remember that that organ of which you are, justly, so proud, is not possessed by a woman, and that she is utterly ignorant of its functions, practically, until she has experienced sexual contact; and that it is, to her who is not desirous of such contact, something of a monstrosity. Even when a woman has already had pleasurable experience of genital contact, she requires each time to be aroused amorously, before that organ, in its state of activity, can become attractive. For a man to exhibit, to even an experienced wife, his organ ready for action when she herself is not amorously aroused, is, as a rule, not sexually attractive to her; on the contrary, it is often sexually repulsive, and at times out and out disgusting to her. Every woman of experience knows that, when she is ready, she can cause the man to become sexually active fast enough.
If this be so with the wife who has had pleasurable experience in genital contact, how much more must the sight or touch of that apparent monstrosity in a man shock and terrify the inexperienced young bride!
Yet, if you are patient and loverlike and gentlemanly and considerate and do not seek to unduly precipitate matters, you will find that Nature will herself arrange the affair for you most delicately and beautifully. If you will first thoroughly satisfy the primal passion of the woman, which is affectional and maternal (for the typical woman mothers the man she loves), and if you will kiss and caress her in a gentle, delicate and reverent way, especially at the throat and bosom, you will find that, little by little (perhaps not the first night nor the second night, but eventually, as she grows accustomed to the strangeness of the intimacy), you will, by reflex action from the bosom to the genitals, successfully arouse within her a vague desire for the entwining of the lower limbs, with ever closer and closer contact, until you melt into one another's embrace at the genitals in a perfectly natural and wholesome fashion; and you will then find her genitals so well lubricated with an emission from her glands of Bartholin, and, possibly, also from her vagina, that your gradual entrance can be effected not only without pain to her, but with a rapture so exquisite to her, that she will be more ready to invite your entrance upon a future occasion.
Obviously, this approach was squarely opposed to the prevailing culture of male-dominated attitudes concerning the marital "rights" of husbands and the marital "duties" of wives. Furthermore, Ida's direct and open discussion of sexual matters was offensive to the moralists who sought to control the proliferation of vice by suppressing any frank treatment of sexual subjects. Nevertheless, orders for her pamphlets poured in from grateful wives, progressive couples, and many doctors who reported marked improvements in their married patients' psychological well-being.
There was a further problem as well: how could Ida teach and write so knowledgeably about sexual subjects, when she herself was not married? After all, if she was to be regarded by society as a respectable woman whose opinion was worthy of consideration, never having been married must mean that she had never had sex. Ida dealt with this question directly in Heavenly Bridegrooms, written in 1894. In this work she admits that she is sexually experienced, but insists that she is married--just not to any living person. Her husband is an angel named "Soph" who visits her at night to have sex, and to teach her enlightenment through a divinely-inspired system of sexual initiation as detailed in her subsequent paper entitled "Psychic Wedlock". Most of the paper is devoted to justifying this arrangement as perfectly plausible and morally acceptable; after all, wasn't the Virgin Mary herself impregnated by a "heavenly bridegroom"?
The paper entitled "Psychic Wedlock" is of particular interest to us in the O.T.O., as it describes a three-degree system of initiation by sexual means. The first degree, which Ida dubs "Alphaism", calls for the development of self control. In particular, "sex union is forbidden, except for the express purpose of creating a child." In the second degree, called "Dianism", "sex union is enjoined in absolute self-control and aspiration to the highest". This is accomplished in two phases: first, by learning to delay ejaculation and prolong the union indefinitely; and second, after mastering the first phase, acquiring the ability to go through the ecstasy of orgasm without ejaculation. She describes similar practices of self-control on the part of the female as well. Finally, the third degree inculcates "communion with Deity as the third partner in marital union." This degree also has two phases: the first is to fulfill the duty to aspire to communion with the "Great Thinker" during sexual ecstasy; and the second is to attain the state of joy which accrues to both the "Great Thinker" and to the partners through such communion. To me this is reminiscent of the lines "I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy." from the Book of the Law.
Some of you may recognize these terms from Louis Culling's book "Sex Magick". Culling does mention Craddock in his introduction, although he doesn't appear to give her the credit that she deserves for essentially providing him with the entire system!
Ida's conflicts with our puritanical society began in 1893, when she attended a performance at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The show was called "Danse du Ventre" ("Belly Dance" in French) and was the introduction of this art into America. Naturally, it became wildly popular, and attracted the attention of a man named Anthony Comstock, founder of a self-ordained moral police squad called "The Society for the Suppression of Vice." Comstock demanded that the show be shut down. Curious to see what the fuss was about, Craddock attended the show and decided that the belly dancer's "indecent undulations" were actually an expression of sexual self-control, and as such ought to be taught and encouraged to married women to enhance their sex lives. (Craddock would later report in her diary that she used various "Danse du Ventre" techniques in her lovemaking with her angelic husband Soph). Ida wrote an article defending the show along these lines, and published it in the journal "the World". Comstock immediately pounced on Craddock's article, declaring it obscene and banning its dissemination through the U.S. Mail.
In 1894 Ida's mother conspired to attempt to have Ida committed in an insane asylum. She promised that if she was successful, she would have all of Ida's diaries and manuscripts burned. This prompted Ida, in 1895, to send her papers to an editor of a journal in England named W.T. Stead. (This is fortunate for us, because this is how Theodore Schroeder managed to recover them in 1914 when he became interested in Ida Craddock's case, and this is how they eventually ended up in Special Collections at the University of Southern Illinois). At one point in 1898 her foes did manage to have Ida admitted to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, but she was released after 3 months without ever being judged to be legally insane by the court.
Meanwhile, after failing to shut down the Danse du Ventre (it was way too popular) and embarrassed that he had been ultimately ineffective against Ida's efforts to defend it, Comstock began to pursue a vendetta against Craddock and set out to have her prosecuted for distributing obscenity. His first attempt came in 1899, when Ida was arrested and charged with sending copies of her "Right Marital Living" pamphlet through the mail. She managed to stay out of jail only because the famed criminal lawyer and free-speech advocate Clarence Darrow posted her bond. (Darrow is best known for serving as defense counsel in the Scopes Monkey Trial which outlawed the teaching of Darwinism in public schools).
Soon after this, Ida moved to Comstock's home turf of New York City, and continued to provide her services and mail her pamphlets to her clients. She seems to have wanted to deliberately challenge Comstock, as she wrote: "I have an inward feeling that I am really divinely led here to New York to face this wicked and depraved man Comstock in open court." On March 5, 1902, Ida was arrested under New York's anti-obscenity law for sending copies of The Wedding Night through the mail. The judge refused to allow the jury to even see the offending document, calling it "indescribably obscene." The jury took his word for it and found Craddock guilty, as it was reported, "without leaving their seats." She was sentenced to three months in the city workhouse, in which she endured inhumane conditions and harsh treatment. All the while, support was pouring in from free-speech advocates, publishers, doctors, and clients, but to no avail. Upon her release from prison, she was immediately re-arrested under the federal Comstock law. She refused an offer to escape a prison sentence by pleading insane. On the morning she was to be sentenced, she committed suicide by slashing her wrists and inhaling natural gas.
Ida left a letter to the public which read, in part: "I am taking my life because a judge, at the instigation of Anthony Comstock, has declared me guilty of a crime I did not commit--the circulation of obscene literature. Perhaps it may be that in my death, more than in my life, the American people may be shocked into investigating the dreadful state of affairs which permits that unctuous sexual hypocrite Anthony Comstock to wax fat and arrogant and to trample upon the liberties of the people, invading, in my own case, both my right to freedom of religion and to freedom of the press." In a long note to her mother, she wrote: "I maintain my right to die as I have lived, a free woman, not cowed into silence by any other human being."
In the end, the negative publicity generated by Comstock's hounding of Ida to her death marked the beginning of the end of the influence of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. The newspapers condemned Comstock, and contributions to the society fell off sharply. One by one the Society's founders died off, and Comstock's influence from then on became less and less significant.
Enter Theodore Schroeder, a free-speech lawyer from New York with an amateur interest in psychology. He became interested in Ida Craddock's case approximately 10 years after her death. He began researching her life, and managed to locate and collect a large amount of her letters, diaries, manuscripts, and other printed materials. Aleister Crowley was introduced via correspondence to Schroeder through a mutual friend. In 1914, one of the very first things Crowley did after reaching America was to dash off a letter to Schroeder which read: "Dear Sir: I am here. Would you like to see me? Yours very truly, Aleister Crowley". At one point Crowley even offered to make Schroeder a VIIth degree in the O.T.O. (at only two-thirds the price!) as Schroeder was interested in obtaining some "secret documents" which Crowley could not release to him unless he had been bound to secrecy. The next issue of the Equinox carried the review of Heavenly Bridegrooms. I think it is safe to assume that Crowley would have had access to Psychic Wedlock and the other unpublished manuscripts as well.
In recognition of her commitment to the principles of Thelemic freedom, as well as her contributions to the field of study in esoteric sexuality, the Grand Master Sabazius recently inducted Ida Craddock into the Order of the Eagle, to be recognized with honor within the U.S. Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis.
Also, I have developed a website (http://www.idacraddock.com) to make available the writings of Ida Craddock, including Heavenly Bridegrooms, Psychic Wedlock, and other works. Further research, and plans for potential future publishing projects are also in the works.
Bates, Anna Louise. Weeder in the Garden of the Lord: Anthony Comstock's Life and Career. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995.
Craddock, Ida. Heavenly Bridegrooms. Ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
——. Lunar & Sex Worship. Unpublished ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
——. Psychic Wedlock. Ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
——. The Marriage Relation. Ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
——. Right Marital Living. Pamphlet, spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
——. Sex Worship (continued). Unpublished ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
——. The Wedding Night. Pamphlet, spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
Culling, Louis T. Sex Magick. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1988.
Crowley, Aleister. The Equinox, Volume III, Number 1. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1972.
Motta, Marcelo Ramos. The Equinox, Volume V, Number 4. Nashville, TN: Thelema Publishing Company, 1981.
Petersen, James R. The Century of Sex: Playboy's History of the Sexual Revolution, 1900-1999. New York: Grove Press, 1999.
Stockham, Alice B. Karezza: Ethics of Marriage. Mokelumne Hill, CA: Health Research, n.d.
Stoehr, Taylor. Free Love in America: A Documentary History. New York: AMS Press, 1979.