The dramatic history and the teachings of the movement are highlighted in the first monograph consecrated to it.
by Michele Olzi
MISA, the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute, was called a “dangerous Romanian cult” teaching “sex magic” by Italian media after the Italian special police S.A.S. (“Squadra Anti Sette,” Anti-Cult Squad), on December 6, 2012 raided the private houses of twenty-five Italian and foreign citizens associated with it. To this very day, nobody has been committed to trial in Italy after this raid. However, the founder of MISA, Gregorian Bivolaru, served time in jail in Romania after having been sentenced for an alleged sexual relationship with a minor student (which both he and the student denied ever happened) and is currently a fugitive from a Finnish arrest warrant based on additional (and rather obscure) charges of sexual abuse of Finnish female devotees.
All this and much more is discussed in Sacred Eroticism: Tantra and Eros in the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA) (Milan and Udine: Mimesis International, 2022), the latest among more than seventy books Massimo Introvigne has devoted to new religious and spiritual movements and religious pluralism.
Although the notions “eroticism” and “sexuality” have been used interchangeably (or as synonyms), “sex magic” refers to certain specific practices within the history of Western esotericism and new religious movements. In these groups sexual practices were finalized to magical or spiritual aims.
Since the beginning of his book, Introvigne does not apply the category of “sex magic” to MISA. On the one hand, argues Introvigne, there is no “clear-cut distinction” between magic and religion, on the other hand, the label “sex magic” is not always accepted by practitioners. In addition, the “sex magic” category would not in any case apply to MISA. Thus, the Italian sociologist opts for the use of “sacred eroticism.”
Introvigne warns the reader since the introductory part of the volume: “Irrespectively of how you call it, sacred eroticism is rarely popular with the media.” The immediate reaction to the inclusion of sexuality or eroticism in the theory and practice of a religious or esoteric group is hostility towards that movement, its leader, its members. We can easily expect to see the erotic components of the group associated with sexual abuses of which the leaders are accused, or with the notion of “deviance.”
Introvigne, who does not use the derogatory word “cult” and prefers to call groups such as MISA “new religious movements,” as most scholars in his field do, “fully believe[s] that sexual abuse should not be condoned under any pretext. Religious liberty is not a valid defense for rapists, and perpetrators should be prosecuted and punished,” he writes. On the other hand, he finds media reconstructions of religious movements engaged in sacred eroticism as “deviant cults” quite simplistic. Media and the public opinion may tend to perceive erotic rituals as invariably abusive and criminal. Introvigne does not discard the possibility that, in some groups, abuse may occur. However, he challenges the discursive strategy of the media that label religious or esoteric movements that include in their doctrines teachings on eroticism as necessarily “deviant,” “criminal,” or “abusive.”
To explain what “sacred eroticism” is all about, Introvigne analyzes both MISA’s background and the evolving modern notions of Eros and eroticism. The Italian sociologist proposes to replace the category of “deviance” with another one, “radical aesthetic.”
The “aestheticization” of eroticism and sexuality was radically redefined in the 1960s. According to Introvigne, three main “heretic” sources (in the sense of alternative to social mainstream) were responsible for this redefinition of the erotic sphere: Eastern spirituality (with special reference to India); Western esotericism; and modernist art. In the words of the author, “Drawing on Eastern spiritualities, Western esotericism, and modernist art, the revolution of the 1960s built a radical aesthetics, where the boundaries between art, religion, everyday life, and eroticism started to collapse.”
MISA conceives “sexuality” as “inferior,” or connected to a dimension of “violent, sharp, vulgar” pleasure. On the contrary, “eroticism” refers to a superior experience, capable in its higher expressions of “divinizing” the practitioners. Introvigne notes that this has illustrious precedents in the history of “sacred eroticism.” In MISA, a specific practice distinguishes eroticism from sexuality: erotic continence.
The underlying conception is a theory of correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm. Like other movements, MISA refers to the paraphrase of the second verse of the cryptic Hermetic text The Emerald Tablet, “as above, so below.” It also quotes Romanian historian of religions, Mircea Eliade (1907–1986), with whom Bivolaru corresponded in his formative years, who stressed that in different religious and cultural systems a correspondence exists between spirit, light, and the male semen. While, on the one hand, the use of semen for procreative purposes is connected to a microcosmic dimension, on the other hand the practice of sacred eroticism—centered on continence and orgasms without ejaculation—, which might lead to the divinization of the entire body of the practitioner, is connected to the macrocosmic dimension.
Bivolaru’s main source for his sacred eroticism are the Tantra, a series of non-systematic books written in India by Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain authors, between the 5th and 12th century CE. The Tantra conceive “almost all material realities as potential resources or means” to achieve enlightenment. According to this tradition, erotic continence is also one of the paths to enlightenment. Introvigne stresses the crucial role that British orientalist Arthur Avalon (pseud. of Sir John George Woodroffe, 1865–1936) played in the popularization of Tantra and their content in the West amidst both an academic audience and an esoteric one, and mentions the different traditions within Western esotericism that since the 19th century popularized different brands of sacred eroticism, including OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis, “Order of Oriental Templars”), which was founded by Carl Kellner (1851–1905) and Theodor Reuss (1855–1923), and whose main branch came under the control (till his death) of Aleister Crowley (1875–1947); some of the disciples of Italian hermeticist, Giuliano Kremmerz (pseud. of Ciro Formisano, 1861–1930); the Gnostic churches founded in Latin America by the Colombian master Samael Aun Weor (Víctor Manuel Gómez Rodríguez, 1917–1977); and the Czech Guru Jára Path, founded by Guru Jára (born Jaroslav Dobeš in 1971) and whose history of repression in a post-Communist country parallels MISA’s.
Introvigne, who has a special interest in how new religious movements influenced (and were influenced by) modern art, devotes several page to MISA’s notion of “objective art,” as a spiritual art not focused on the ego. As opposite to objective art, MISA believes that “vulgar” art has spiritually catastrophic effects.
Here, Introvigne introduces the controversial theme of MISA’s “conspirituality,” a word introduced by some scholars of esotericism to designate a “conspirationist” spirituality. Drawing on an early anti-Masonic tradition, Bivolaru teaches that a deviant branch of Freemasonry, the Illuminati, is at work to corrupt humanity through vulgarity, a degraded sexuality, and the persecution of those who teach higher eroticism. MISA believes that the legal problems of Bivolaru, which Introvigne reconstructs in great details, also derive from a conspiracy by the Illuminati. The latter are beyond pornography as well, while the attempts by some MISA students to enter the underworld of adult movies and shows tried to produce, rather than pornography, a representation (at times paradoxical) of esoteric eroticism (always excluding ejaculation). Introvigne also notes recent developments, and MISA’s “no-vax” position based on the idea that anti-COVID vaccines may also be promoted as part of the Illuminati’s totalitarian attempts to impose more surveillance and control, which goes together with an appreciation of Donald Trump, presented as one of the few opponents of the Illuminati among modern politicians.
That true eroticism should not be confused with sexuality remains, however, the main teaching of MISA. It teaches that God has different attributes—such as Love, Justice, Compassion, and so on. As summarized by Introvigne, “MISA teaches that Godly Attributes are not just metaphors.” Godly Attributes are “subtle energies, which present a certain frequency of vibration that never changes.” According to a “law of resonance,” it is possible to capture and accumulate the energy of the different Godly Attributes in our fields.
“Pure Eros” for MISA is a Godly Attribute. Pure Eros energy can be mobilized, accumulated, and “directed” by mean of yogic techniques and erotic paths that exclude ejaculation. Sexual excitement and energies are not suitable for the process of occult resonance. This implies that intimate relationships with a sexual rather than erotic orientation are completely forbidden in MISA (with some temporary exceptions allowed for the sole purpose of procreation).
One cannot stress enough how important for MISA is the difference between the sexual and erotic dimensions. Eroticism, in MISA’s teachings, implies much more than mere intercourse between men and women, and also teaches that continence is not an easy path. For male initiates, two years of training are required to become an “excellent continent.”
In this volume, Introvigne shows how the conception of radical aesthetic applies to MISA movement. Introvigne’s analysis operate on two levels. On the one hand, he exhaustively reconstructs the legal and media slander and persecutions of Bivolaru and MISA. He regards the accusations as false, and based on a misperception and misrepresentation of MISA’s sacred eroticism. On the other hand, the Italian scholar considers the effective role of erotic-oriented practices in the same movement.
How deeply Romanian and other authorities who persecuted Bivolaru misunderstood the whole idea of sacred eroticism is astonishing. Beyond the false accusations lies a total lack of understanding of the transcendent component of MISA’s eroticism. Nor has there been any effort by the opponents to consider how erotic elements are present in other religious traditions. However, the whole history of sacred eroticism shows how the connection between eroticism and religion and/or spirituality was often misperceived and misrepresented.
The book offers an exhaustive analysis of the MISA movement, its history, doctrine, and practices, along with crucial insights on the history of sacred eroticism, as well as on its later developments, incarnations, and problems in contemporary society. Scholars in the fields of Western esotericism studies and history of religions will find compelling passages and considerations about the connection between the dimensions of “Eros” and “Sacred.” Sociologists and others interested in new religious movements will find there an in-depth analysis of a unique, original case study.