Energy play is the voluntary exchange of subtle energy between two or more people. It is usually—but not always—accomplished through physical contact. Energy play is quite common within magickal groups. I personally began actively seeking out partners for energy play sometimes in my mid-20s, and have had many interesting conversations on the topic. (The best bits of which, dear reader, I am eager to share with you.)
Most people in metaphysical communities are familiar with some variety of subtle energy technique or modality. Reiki and yoga have helped to mainstream the concepts of energy exchange, chi, the chakra system, good vibes, bad vibes, etc. There’s also quite a bit of discussion about certain aspects of energy work that aren’t strictly voluntary: Psychic vampirism and psychic empathy. These concepts are related, for sure, but they’re not the same thing as fully conscious (and consensual) energy exchange.
Yet there is not a lot of discussion online or in books about what I call “recreational” energy play. Doing energy transfers because they feel good—or let’s be honest, because we’re curious or skeptical about psychic energy.
Yes, I know—there are all kinds of other good reasons to practice energy transfers. For healing, for psychic development, for spellwork, just to name a few. But let’s focus for a while on the least-known form of energy work—the “just because” kind. (We’ll also keep it simple by talking about one-on-one energy transfers, though energy play can also be a group activity.)
Isn’t anybody talking about energy play? In fact, yes. This discussion of subtle energy owes a huge debt to the online BDSM community, particularly folks involved in vampire roleplaying. Their early online forums were among the first to hash out the mechanics of (usually one-sided) energy transfers in a specific way. The terminology (not to mention ethics) of BDSM play are relevant to energy users—whether you’re kinky or not.
I’ve also seen energy play listed as a check box fetish dating sites (such as FetLife). However, if you’re a witch or occultist, the prevailing views on psychic energy among the mundane kinksters may leave you cold. Just check out this definition from the BDSM Wiki:
Yikes. It’s clear that some of the few people who are writing about energy play think it’s all just a clever mindfuck, and that’s fine. But I don’t think that its correct to view energy play either as a merely a psychological delusion or a sexual fetish. Those of us who know, know better.
I've decided to respond to the information void by contributing a few facts and opinions about energy play from a magickal perspective:
1. You don’t have to know anything, join anything, or be anything to participate.
Energy work (and play) are fundamentally about channeling universal life force energy. That sounds rather lofty, but it’s just another way of saying this: You already have everything you need.
Everyone can give and receive energy. We’ve all been doing it since we were in the womb (or before that.) The only real differences come in our ability to notice and control what we’re doing, and to articulate it in a way that other people can relate to.
Energy work is not a religion. It does not require membership, initiation, activation, equipment—or even, really, belief. Other people can teach you skills. But no one can give you access to your own energy.
2. A really skilled partner will knock your socks off.
I know what at least some of you are thinking: All of this sounds a little woo-woo to me. Where are the meters to measure this so-called energy? Where is the proof?
All I can say is, if you persist in exploring and seeking out energy experiences, you will eventually meet someone who knows what the hell they are doing. This person will blow your mind, scramble your chakras, curl your toes and leave no doubt—at least in the current moment—that what you’re experiencing is as real as can be.
Most of the time, subtle energy is quite…subtle. You mostly notice it when you’re paying attention, and sometimes, you can’t be absolutely certain it’s there at all. There are outliers, though. And they are intense, unsettling, and delightful.
3. There is an unspoken etiquette to energy play.
One of the things I’ve noticed from years of doing energy transfers with different people is that most encounters follow the same basic script. This is very interesting to me. (Especially since I know there’s not much literature on the subject.) It seems like magickal people have independently arrived at a broad consensus about how energy play should happen.
Some examples: Most energy transfers start with a sort of “energy handshake”—a light touch of the palms or wrists to sample the other person’s energy. If everything is agreeable, then the exchange can proceed from there. Energy transfers are usually centered in the hands, arms, and heart. For casual play, most will block off their lower energy centers (below the heart or solar plexus).
The unspoken rules may seem esoteric, but fortunately, it’s not that hard to learn. Energy etiquette is basic stuff centered around consent and courtesy. Don’t be a jerk, don’t have too many expectations, don’t drain or dump on people. Grounding before and afterward is good energy hygiene and good manners, too.
4. Some people like to give, some people like to receive. (Neither is bad.)
If you’re doing energy with someone for the first time, you can usually assume that the exchange will be reciprocal. You will take turns giving and receiving, or mingle both participants energy in a sort of pool or loop.
However, don’t be surprised if the person tells you, “I’m better at receiving,” or “I’d just like to send if that’s okay.” Most people do seem to be better at one or the other. It’s more fun and less frustrating to work with a complementary partner. (You can find a match on pure psychic sensation—but using words helps, too.)
Unfortunately, some energetic types inevitably get stigmatized. This is crap. If all the participants are happy with what’s going on, there’s no more or less value in being a giver or a recipient of energy. It is a wonderful service to offer energy to others as a gift. But the skillful acceptance and transmutation of excess energy is another act of service.
A little while ago I mentioned psychic vampirism. Psychic vampires are the bogeyman of the energy-aware community—people who thrive by leeching energy off others without giving anything in return. Some psychic vampirism is consensual, some is accomplished through manipulation and subterfuge. But the phrase has unfairly become a pejorative for anyone with an appetite for receiving subtle energy.
5. Energy play is not sex.
But it’s also not completely different.
This can sometimes be problematic, but it doesn’t have to be. It comes back around to communication and consent.
The flow of psychic energy can feel a lot like sexual arousal. It runs through some of the same pipes. It can lead to sexual gratification (and sexual attachment). And it is essentially the same thing as sex: The ecstatic, creative life force in motion.
However, none of that is an excuse to be creepy during regular (i.e., non-sexualized) energy play. Don’t assume that an energy partner wants to be your sex partner. Don’t direct sexual/genital energies at someone unless they have indicated that they want that. And if you get too hot and bothered during energy play, take a minute to slow the flow, ground yourself, adjust your pants—whatever needs to happen to maintain composure and courtesy.
Lots of people think “energy” is a code word for some sexual fetish. It’s why non-witchy friends and family squirm and look uncomfortable every time I talk about it. Thanks to a bunch of salacious popular tantric books and whatnot, this is probably the single biggest misconception about energy play.
Personally? Yeah, I have used energy play to audition potential sexual partners. It makes sense to do so, because I don’t like to have sex with anyone who isn’t very sensitive to energy. But I also regularly do energy with people without any sexual attraction or intentions. I tend to think of sex as a subset of energy play—not the same thing.
6. It feels amazing because it is amazing.
Human beings live and thrive on sharing. Research shows over and over that forming meaningful connections with others is the most emotionally satisfying thing we can do. To give and receive is to feel truly alive.
At its best, energy play is more intimate than sex, more profound than prayer, more pleasurable than any vice human beings have yet come up with.
People are trying to exchange energy all the time…with food, with physical contact, with money, with conversation. Energy play strips all of that away to get at the most primal transaction possible between human beings. Whether you call it chi, prana, spirit, pneuma, or something else, it doesn’t matter. What we are talking about is nothing less than sacred—star stuff, stolen fire, the very breath of the Universe. It cannot be bought as a commodity or service (and I would certainly be broke all the time if it could be).
I’ve shared just a few observations about energy play, but there’s much more to discover on this fascinating topic. Please check back for more about working and playing with subtle energy.
Read more articles in the archive!