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Authors: Betsy Prioleau

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BOOK: Seductress
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Seduction and politics are natural bedfellows. They potentiate each other and work synergistically. Because men have always known and exploited this, they’ve tried to turf women out through intimidation and slander. With classic calumny, they branded the sixth-century Theodora a “new Delilah” and a “citizen of Hell stung by the devil’s fly.” In reality, she governed Byzantium with finesse while putting “forth irresistible powers of fascination.” The
demolish the satanic boss lady stereotypes, winning men and governing with equal proficiency.
A sixth chapter takes on another deep-dyed fallacy: the Madonna-whore fiction. This old chestnut won’t go away. Biobehaviorist Richard Wright still warns darkly that the dichotomy between the domestic angel and the quick-trick Jezebel is “rooted firmly in the male mind.” Ultrafeminine, virtuous homemakers inspire love everlasting. Hellrakes who invade the male domain of high action and sexual adventure get laid, forgotten, and scorned. Nobody gets serious over a woman on the move and make. She’s the whore-hearted hussy and shark goddess, the one you don’t marry. Romantically minded women have to be crazy to leave home and hit the high seas of sex, thrills, ill-gotten gains, and fun in the wild zone.
Crazy like a fox. The most fabulous
of history—idolized and adored to the grave and beyond—were rakish adventurers and sex professionals. Descended from the first prehistoric love goddess, Inanna, the out-for-kicks wanderer and prostitute, they buccaneered through life, fortune hunting, daredeviling, and raiding male hearts. They didn’t, it’s true, win Sunday school medals, but they were neither better nor worse than other women and actually liked men and aided their fortunes.
Patriarchy stigmatized siren-adventurers as vile, unmarriageable tramps for a reason. Their escape from domestic captivity was too seditious; their sexuality, too unbounded; and their siren song of the open road, too strong. Men can’t resist them; the urge is rooted deeper than the Madonna, in the first roving, roistering sex goddess.
Seduction: The Art
Seduction, the art of enchanting and holding men, has been obfuscated just like the seductress herself by a miasma of myth. The
ars amatoria
have all but disappeared, debased into
primers, flirt guides, sorority scuttlebutt, and a Victoria’s Secret version of man-killing. Intelligent women everywhere equate lovecraft with “a second-rate skill,” the duplicitous wiles of low-rent Cosmo girls.
The secrets of fascination, however, don’t come cheap. They’re an advanced, serious discipline. “It takes a hundred times more skill,” said archtemptress Ninon de Lenclos, “to make love than to command an army.” The art of seduction is a “complex, learned system,” with a consistent set of principles, detailed in dozens of forgotten books. Its precepts go back to prehistoric goddess worship, when the core themes of sexuality were fused into the human libido, and have changed little over time, despite fluctuations in sexual tastes. They’re the real rules, the power book of love.
Deep mystical impulses infuse seduction. In love songs men pray to earth angels and find salvation and seventh heaven in their embraces. That’s because sexuality and the sacred were united for most of human history. Men seek in women what they sought twenty thousand years ago in cave shrines and yearn for the same rituals. Along with heart’s ease, they want awe, mystery, terror, and cosmic extravaganza when they fall in love. They want to be carried away, led on a magical mystery tour through the labyrinth. They want to see stars. Love means never having to say what else is new. Satiety and boredom kill the most ardent passion. After the first fireworks subside, the show must go on. And the show must follow the ancient scenario, the Seductive Way of the goddess and the
ars amatoria.
Physical Arts
Too much has been made of physical lures in seduction. Alone they can’t arrest men for eternity; psychological love spells always pack the big magic. But seductresses and their physical appeals remind us that we neglect them and drab down at our peril.
Dress, Ornament
Ornament and costume—the more dramatic the better—entered sexuality from the start. Stone Age shamans and priestesses glammed up to channel the goddess’s cosmic sex energy. For their sacred ceremonies they wore masks, skins, and hip-slung diaphanous string skirts, frayed at the hem and lavishly decorated. Intricate designs of chevrons, whorls, lozenges, dots, and dashes covered goddess figurines from head to toe.
Seductresses dressed for parade, with look-at-me excess and over-the-top opulence. Many plain sirens edged out beautiful competitors through the originality and “emotional assault” of their dress. With time, dress became more erotically sophisticated, telegraphing sexual preferences, subtle power cues, and provocative mixed messages. Madame de Maintenon, for example, intrigued and piqued men with her crossed sartorial signals—deep mourning embellished with coquettish furbelows and yards of expensive lace. When we gird up for love, we do well to heed the Spanish proverb, as good today as in prehistory: “Only God helps the badly dressed.”
Cosmetics, Hygiene
In the realm of seduction, the natural look may be inherently antierotic, an innate turnoff. “He who is not painted,” say the Caduveo tribesmen, “is stupid.” Just as cavewomen ritually bedizened their bodies with complicated divine motifs in honor of the goddess, priestesses seven thousand years ago coated their nipples with gold, stained their nails, and painted their faces with ocher, blue-black lipstick, vermilion rouge, kohl eyeliner, and green eye shadow made from crushed beetles. In classical times
constituted a respected art form. Grecian toilet boxes contained razors, scissors, tweezers, eye pencils, ceruse, curling tongs, and hair dyes, and the hetaerae made themselves up as elaborately as geishas. Cleopatra, Lola Montez, and Elizabeth I all went heavy on maquillage and wrote books on the cosmetic arts.
Natural body odors, notwithstanding the libidinal kick of pheromones, have never fared well in the history of seduction. Even in eras when bathing was verboten, seductresses kept scrupulously clean. Scent bypasses the thalamus and strikes directly at the oldest stratum of the brain, the rhinecephalon, source of memory and emotion. The goddess’s votaries steeped themselves in costly spices, gums, and aromatic woods and burned incense to their deity. Cleanliness, scents, and unguents have been routine with sirens for millennia, a tribute to the earliest incense offerings to the sex deity.
Sacred space is one of the keystones of religion, the place of divine revelation, and the cave shrine, the archetypic seductive setting. Approached via twisted, tortuous labyrinthine paths over a mile long, these cavernous rooms were spectacular stage sets. Glowing tapers lit the mystic womb chambers, which were filled with dramatic drawings, statues, and cornucopias of food offerings—fruits, vegetables, and specially prepared cakes.
“Every woman,” say the erotic experts, “should know how to arrange her own setting.” Seductresses arranged theirs according to the primordial blueprint, to awe, delight, and fascinate. Cueing into the food-sex connection, they also laid excellent tables and served the choicest, most aphrodisiacal cuisine.
The sex goddess was the patron of animals, incarnations of the life force. Seductresses picked up on that too and accessorized their surroundings with menageries of pets—gazelles, monkeys, squadrons of cats, and, in one case, a grizzly bear. The house of love has its “poetics of space,” which the
grandes amoureuses
mastered like design swamis, clairvoyantly replicating the most erotic and earliest sanctum sanctorums.
Music, Dance, Body Language
According to archaeologists, the first religious services looked like rave clubs full of Ecstasy trippers. Cave dwellers beat out rhythms on crude instruments as worshipers holy-rolled, stamping and miming sex in ecstatic circle dances. Music and dance lie at the heart of sexuality.
Music is depth charge weaponry; it goes straight for the pleasure center, the primeval inner cortex of the brain and source of the strongest emotions and urges. After Ivan Turgenev heard Pauline Viardot sing in a voice like “amber flowing over velvet,” he deserted Russia and followed her around in a ménage à trois for forty years. Music’s power to soothe the savage beast is only half the story; it also awakens the savage, the earliest sex worshiper in orgiastic communion with his deity.
At those prehistoric rites celebrants danced themselves into delirium. They rocked their pelvises in copulatory rhythms and gyrated in dervish circles to summon the goddess’s cosmic energy and lose themselves in lust. The female form in motion plugs smack into the male libido, reigniting the old sacred sex dances. Women in the business of fascination learn how to hold the floor, to move with grace, style, rhythm, and slam dunk sensuality. From the
Kama Sutra
on down, seduction bibles extol the mystical properties of dance and women’s mesmerizing powers when they swing their hips and “gracefully sway in time.” Some seductresses, such as Josephine Baker and La Belle Otero, were professionals, and most burned up the ballroom.
As eros evolved through history, body language gathered an aphrodisiacal power of its own. Sirens were prima donnas of gesture, but not of the kid glove, touchy-feely persuasion. They fogged windows with their entrances; they made sheet lightning with their “devilish eyes”; and they addled minds with contradictory cues—submissive shrugs and aggressive self-caresses. “’Twas surely the devil,” warned church fathers, “that taught women to dance.” Or they might have added, to work such diablerie with their bodies. The teacher, however, wasn’t the devil but a she-devil, the heretical creatrix herself.
Before the advent of higher civilization, female orgasms weren’t problematic. Given women’s naturally souped-up sexual anatomy, how could they have been? We’re endowed like Mazeratis, built for multiple orgasms, powerful spasms, incessant excitement, and numerous partners. Among the other goddess qualities they revered, men in prehistory worshiped this sexual prepotency. As study after study proves, they still do; deep in their loins they want a pleasure claimer, a wild thang, and the caterwauls of double-digit orgasms.
The love queens of history were raunchy sexperts. Hot, randy, and wanton, they were accomplished bedmates, skilled in getting a full return on their hypersexuality and playing every note and half note in the sexual score. The Sumerian sex goddess Inanna summoned Dumuzi to the royal bed with a lusty “Plow my vulva, man of my heart!,” then treated him to a smorgasbord of gourmet delights, including “tongue-playing,” phallus-kissing, and “holy churn[ing].” One nineteenth-century enchantress mastered the esoterica of Arabian eroticism:
(a system of hip movements),
(vaginal muscle control), and twenty-five coital positions.
Feminists used to say that the discovery of the female orgasm in the 1960s was “the biggest single nail in the coffin of male dominance.” But female orgasms go back much farther, to the Stone Age, when they didn’t need to be discovered; they came and came and inspired a culture of sexual technique that made men sit up and beg, and raise hosannas to the deity.
Psychological Arts
Physical beguilements alone, however, carried to whatever heights of refinement and proficiency, can’t cut the mustard in seduction. To entrance a man for life, a woman has to use her head. Love, even the most soul-bonded and heaven-scaling, won’t, alas, remain frozen in amber. It’s a dynamis, emotion in motion, just as the goddess and her universe constantly flux, cycle, and dance the dance of the cosmos. It’s a “continuous courtship with a continuous progression,” a constant interplay of the deity’s multiaspects: solace and fear, quiescence and rapture, intimacy and mystery, pleasure and pain.
In this ongoing enravishment, psychological appeals are the A-weapons, the heavy artillery of love. Sex originates in the mind. Archaeologist Timothy Taylor attributes human brain size to the “sexual fix” of mental charms and cultural attainments 150,000 years ago. Cerebral lures consequently permeated the cult of the sex goddess and shaped the erotic impulse, a thing “of imagination all compact.” Philosopher Jean Baudrillard takes the extreme view that “the real has never interested anyone” in eros and blames the current impasse in women’s sex lives to an atrophy of mind spells. Seductresses suffered no such atrophy. They plied psychological charms for all they were worth, idiosyncratically and unsystematically, at full concert pitch.
Obstruction, Difficulty, Anxiety
Everyone loves the fantasy of love in the tranquil zone, a hot tub bath of mutuality, reciprocity, and blissed-out togetherness. But desire, perversely enough, doesn’t work that way. Love goes brackish in still waters. It needs to be stirred up with obstruction and difficulty and spiked with surprise.
The great goddess was not easy of access. Pilgrims reached her shrine through a long, dark, circuitous, labyrinthine passage, a sacred journey commemorated in the meander and spiral designs on their relics. With the labyrinth as the paradigm of seduction, seductresses made themselves difficult. They led men a dance, provoking, teasing, thwarting, and disappearing around the next bend.
Programmed to this arduous archaic Seductive Way, humanity puts no value in erotic prizes easily won. Love philosophers belabor the point: “What’s granted is not wanted”; “Dearness gives value to the meat”; “We scorn too easy a victory in love”; “We still consider that one fairer and more worthy in which more obstacle and risk is [
] offered.”
The first sex goddesses, after all, were “austere and merciless” taskmistresses and required blood sacrifices at their rites. Anxiety is the “food of love”; pain, its spice. Desire and aggression share the same neurocircuitry; a pinch in the soft place heightens love on a now-and-then, mild-to-moderate basis.
BOOK: Seductress
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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