“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. 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. 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”?
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.”
“Psychic Wedlock” is of particular interest, 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.
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”) 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 US Mail.
In 1894 Ida’s mother conspired to have Ida committed in an
In 1894 Ida’s mother conspired 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.”
“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 the morning she was to be sentenced, she committed suicide by slashing her wrists and inhaling natural gas.
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 Vllth degree in the O.T.O. (at only 2/3rds 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.
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.
Craddock, Ida. Lunar & Sex Worship. Unpublished ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
Craddock, Ida. Psychic Wedlock. Ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
Craddock, Ida. The Marriage Relation. Ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
Craddock, Ida. Right Marital Living. Pamphlet, spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
Craddock, Ida. Sex Worship (continued). Unpublished ts., spec.coll., University of Southern Illinois.
Craddock, Ida. 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.