Magico-spiritual power, female sexuality and ritual sex in Muslim Java: Unveiling the kesekten of magical women

Bianca J. Smith, Mark Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article argues that in practice, concepts of magico-spiritual power (Javanese: kesekten; Indonesian: kesaktian) are linked with sexuality, particularly female sexuality, in some segments of contemporary Central and East Javanese Muslim society. Few scholars have turned attention to the interconnectedness of these seemingly contradictory topics. Feminist studies tend to focus on the ways in which women locate themselves within and critique Sharia-based discursive and social orders, without considering the roles that magico-spiritual power and associated practices play in these Islamic systems or in Islam in a more general sense. Similarly, male scholarship that considers the cultural relevance of Islam and magic rarely refers to gendered and sexual dimensions as praxis from a feminist perspective. By drawing on examples of ‘magical women’ including the Javanese spirit queen of the southern ocean Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Kidul, the historical Hindu figure Ken Dedes, and contemporary ritual sex practices at a Muslim saint's grave, we show how women, female spiritual beings and female sexuality, and sexuality in general, can be considered sources of magico-spiritual power in Muslim Java. Our arguments conclude that in Javanese Islam, transgression of Sharia sexual norms can be both a sign and a source of magico-spiritual power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-332
Number of pages16
JournalThe Australian Journal of Anthropology
Volume27
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Keywords

  • female sexuality
  • Islam
  • Java
  • spiritual power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology

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