Goddess Worship, Sacred Sexuality, and the Divine Feminine

Lucretia_by_Artemisia_Gentileschi

Lucrezia.  Artemesia Gentilleschi.

1.  Sacred Marriage

2.  Myth and Sacred Prostitution

3.  Fertility Magic and Ritual

4.  Sex Magic and Neo-Tantra

5.  Wicca and the Goddess Revival

6.  The Sacred Feminine

References and Sources Consulted

1.  Sacred Marriage

Sacred marriage age or Holy Marriage is known as hierogamy or Hieros gamos, is a sexual ritual that acts out or simulates a marriage between a goddess and a god,especially when enacted in a symbolic rite where human participants assume the identity of the deities. The ritual symbolises the concordance of the female and male in the ceremony. The notion of Hieros gamos does not assume an actual performance in ritual because it can also be enacted in a purely imitative or mythological context. For example, in Hinduism the devadasi tradition is a religious ritual in which girls are ‘married’ and dedicated to a deity known as a deva or devi. In the ancient Near East sacred prostitution, which is most likely a misnomer, was common as a form of sacred marriage. The ‘marriage’ took place between the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of the goddess Inanna. This Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and warfare. There were many temples and shrines, all along the course of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which were dedicated to worship of the goddesses. The temple of Eanna or ‘house of heaven’ was one of the greatest in the city of Uruk, the biblical Erech, and now modern Warka. This temple was the earthly abode of Naditu the priestess of the goddess. During the ritual of the sacred marriage the High Priestess would select for her nubtial couch a young man who represented Inanna’s consort, shepherd god Dumuzi.  The Hieros gamos ritual was celebrated during the annual New Year Festival of Akitu at the Spring Equinox. The simulated sexual union of Inanna and Dumuzi was the prototype of the Sumerian ‘sacred marriage’ a ritual that became widespread in other societies including Babylon and Greece (Dening, 2009), and for a long period of time the Sacred Marriage was an important fertility ritual in ancient Mesopotamia (Frayne, 1985). For millennia the sacred marriage was an ancient ritual performed by numerous cultures across the Mediterranean region. The ritual, where the king became the consort of Inanna represented a sharing of her invaluable fertility power and potency (Kramer, 1969).

If the ‘Sacred Marriage Rite’ ever involved human participants the priestess, acting as Inanna, would have engaged in ritual copulation with the king (Stuckey, 2005).  In the Sumerian version of the ‘Sacred Marriage’ the High Priestess is known as Entu and, as Inanna personal and actual is identity obscured (Safati, 1998), she would ceremonially copulate with the king or High Priest to ensure the renewal and continuance of fertility.  The successful performance of the sacred marriage would henceforth guarantee the revitalised growth of all human, animal, and plant life (Dening, 2009).  The Entu was a woman of very high social status and, whatever else she may have been, she was not a prostitute, Stuckey (2005). What imbued the sacred marriage ritual with its spiritual significance was its impersonal and informal nature (Dening, 2009), a rite where the temple priestesses would undertake the sacred marriage or ritual intercourse with any male worshipper who wanted union with the goddess. The Inanna of the ‘Sacred Marriage’ was not improperly named. The goddess was believed to possess, and use therefore, the body of a willing and devout priestess in a state of ecstasy, who was certainly not a cult prostitute. The priestess of the temple came to embody the very essence of the Goddess in sexual union with those who came to pay for the privilege. Scholarship has suffered from the inability of academics to imagine any cultic role for women in antiquity that did not involve the practice of ritualised sexual intercourse.  Even if ancient priestesses were involved in ritual sexuality, even if they received offerings for their temples they were not prostitutes, and cannot be considered as such, but devotees worshipping their goddess (Stuckey, 2005).

In the mythology of ancient Greece the wedding of Zeus and Hera was celebrated at the Heraion, or sanctuary of Hera at Samos, (Burkert, 1985). In ancient Greece most accepted meaning of the term Hieros gamos implied the extension of real or simulated sexual union to the promotion of fertility, such as the ancient union of Demeter with Iasion. Others restricted the term to mean only re-enactments. However, some claimed that the evidence from Greece was unclear and scarce when concerning the actual ‘cultus’,  and to “…what extent such a sacred marriage was not just a way of viewing nature, but an act expressed or hinted at is difficult to say.” (Burkert, 1985). The best known Hieros gamos was performed at the Anthesteria  by the wife of the Archon basileus in Athens. In this ritual Dionysos was represented by his priest or the basileus himself in the Boukoleion in the Agora (Kramer, 1969). The sacred joining of the king and the High Priestess of the temple became the primary ritual that ensured the fertility of the land and the power of the king to rule for the coming year.

 2.  Myth and Sacred Prostitution

The so-called ‘sacred prostitute’ or temple priestess was associated with the religions of the Great Mother goddess in ancient times. These temple priestesses became the representatives in physical form of the Goddess and entered into sacred sexual rituals with male worshippers, and this provides evidence of the ‘sacred feminine’ then and now. Sacred or temple ‘prostitution’ was supposedly performed in ancient temples as a fertility ritual that involved the practice of sacred sexual intercourse as part of the religious worship of the Goddess. However, with regard to temple prostitution the sequence is at best doubtful because the “…term ‘sacred prostitution’ for any and all sexual practices connected with temple service keeps us from understanding the meaning of such practices for contemporaries. (Lerner, 1986).

It becomes a necessity to distinguish between ‘cultic sexual service’ and commercial prostitution. Cultic sexual service by men and women may date back to the Neolithic age, to various cults of the Mother Goddess, or the so-called Great Goddess in her many manifestations (Gimbutas, 1982). Unfortunately many scholars do not attempt to differentiate between ritual sex as a form of worship, and the use of sexual favours for pay (Henshaw, 1994). Ritual sex would not have been prostitution, even if the act produced an offering to the temple, because it was regarded and performed as a mutually accepted act of worship. Many ritual practices in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean focussed on promoting the fecundity of the land. In early Mesopotamia the  ‘Sacred Marriage’ of Hieros gamos, with its focus on fertility, could have possibly involved a ‘sacred prostitute whereby “…cultic prostitution is a practice involving the female and at times the male devotees of fertility deities, who presumably dedicated their earnings to their deity.” (Yamuchi, 1973). Furthermore, the motives of the ‘Sacred Marriage’ rite in Mesopotamia were where the king had sexual congress with a ‘temple prostitute’ who performed, using a form of role play, as an earthly receptacle for the goddess.

Mesopotamian titles for these priestesses or ‘sacred prostitutes’ have been translated and include naditu, qadishtu, and entu (Odens, 2000). However, in general, naditu priestesses were of high status and were expected to be chaste (Henshaw, 1994), and there appears to be no actual evidence that the duties of a naditu included having ritual or cultic sexual intercourse. The title of qadishtu meant “…holy, consecrated, or set apart woman” (Odens, 2000), and derives from the same root as the Hebrew deshah, which implies  the qadishtu was not indeed a cultic prostitute. Translation of ‘sacred or cultic prostitute’ as deshah or deshut , which is feminine single and plural, with qadesh and deshim the masculine singular and plural. This translation was imposed by ancient  Hebrew priests to deliberately associate deshah the sacred or consecrated woman with zonah or common prostitute. Most Mesopotamian priestesses were expected to be chaste with the one exception being the entu whom the Sumerians called Lady Deity or Lady Who is Goddess (Frayne, 1985; Henshaw, 1994). Sumerian and Akkadian entu were highly regarded and socially superior priestesses who were distinguished with special ceremonial attire, who owned property, and initiated the Hieros gamos ceremony with priests and kings (Dening, 1996).  The naditu served as priestesses in the temples of Inanna in the ancient city of Erech or Uruk. Recruited from high ranking families they were expected to remain childless. The Sumerian word Nin, Eres in Akkadian, means Lady, the Sumerian word Nin-Dingur means Divine Lady. In Sumerian epic texts such as Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, the Nu-Gig  were priestesses in temples dedicated to Inanna. The qadishtu served in the temples of the Sumerian goddess Qetesh, and the ishtaritsu specialised in dancing, music and singing in the temples of Ishtar.

Babylon has often been, somewhat inaccurately and emotionally, equated with and denigrated as the home of sacred prostitution. Nonetheless, often associated with the Sumerian goddess Inanna is the great goddess of Babylon called Ishtar. Ishtar who possessed two main functions or attributes. Firstly she was the goddess of love and sexuality, and secondly she was a fierce war goddess who was sometimes shown riding on a lion. Two of her epithets were Mother of Harlots and the Great Whore of Babylon. The Mesopotamian city of Erech or Uruk was known as, and referred to as, the town of sacred courtesans. Temples to Ishtar were inhabited supposedly by sacred prostitutes and priestesses, called ishtartu or Joy-maidens, dedicated to the service of the goddess. Their sexuality was seen as belonging to Ishtar and used only in sacred rites undertaken in her worship. These women were not common prostitutes which were known in ancient Babylon as harimtu. Ishtar did not differentiate in bestowing her sexual favours and honoured the sexual act howsoever and with whomsoever it was performed. From The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi we find Inanna exclaiming “who will plough my vulva?” and “Who will water the Holy lap?”.  These are obvious in their agricultural connotations. In an interesting side note the word fuck is at one with, and comes from, the medieval fork (of Indo-European origin) or plough (Taylor, 1996). In other words to fuck is to plough or furrow. The image of the female earth mound being entered and sown by the male ploughing penis would have been a vivid image for ancient goddess centred Neolithic farming communities.

Ancient Greek prostitutes were divided into several categories. The pornai  were found at the lower echelons of the social scale. In Classical Greece the pornai had been captured slaves of barbarian origin, even though sacred prostitution was not known on the same scale as the ancient Near East. In ancient Greece and Anatolia the term hierodule meant ‘temple’ or ‘female slave’. The temple slave in the service of a specific deity has often been misinterpreted as implying religious prostitution, which was excused on the basis that the sexual service provided was in honour of the deity. Heterae were courtesans who were educated and sophisticated companions. Most engaged in sexual relations with their patrons  who did not function simply as prostitutes. Heterae should not be confused with the pornai of the time, who sold sex by the act for recompense and who worked on the streets or out of brothels (Hamel, 2003).  Heterae therefore must not be conflated with pornai or prostitutes, or with mistresses known as the pallakide, nor with actual wives who were termed gynaekes.  Ancient Greek heterae are similar to the Babylonian naditu. As sex and sexuality in Greek culture evolved these courtesans became inclined to maintain a fashionable appearance and eventually and keep up with business. Cultured socially elite Athenian women eventually infused the styles of the hetarae into popular Greek life and culture. Athenian women learned to imitate and refine the styles of the prostitute, including removal of pubic hair, the stylised application and adoption of the manner of dress of the hetarae (Garrison, 2000). The original meaning of the word ‘prostitute’ was to stand on behalf of, that is to represent the power of the goddess.  This is why the ishtartu were forbidden to marry in the connubial sense and instead were dedicated to the Rite of Sacred Marriage. Sacred sexual intercourse, if and when it occurred, it occurred took place in the temples of Inanna and Ishtar and was an important and common form of sacred sexuality practised in ancient Mesopotamia.  The rite was believed to invigorate the land with divine fertile energy. For this reason the temple priestess took the title of Hierodule of Heaven or Servant of the Holy (Marvelly, 2005)..Among some neo-pagans a hierodule may be a priestess who has sexual intercourse in the role of whichever Goddess she serves in the divine Hieros gamos.        

3.  Fertility Magic and Ritual

Fertility rituals are religious rites that re-enact or recapitulate in reality, actuality or symbolically, sexual acts and/or reproductive processes. The achievement of sexual intoxication by the participants is the aim and intention of fertility rituals. Such rituals are for various functional goddesses or gods. Some fertility rituals may alternatively involve the sacrifice of an animal, which must be sacrificed in the cause of fertility or creation. For example, with the prehistoric worship of the Mother it is thought that fertility rites “…may occur in calendric cycles, as rites of passage within the life cycle, or as ad hoc rituals…Commonly fertility rituals are embedded within larger-order religions or other social institutions.” (Barfield, 1997). Prehistoric cave paintings allegedly portray animals mating and served as such in magical fertility rites. In other words they functioned as a form of sympathetic magic, with such “…ceremonies intended to assure the fecundity of the earth or of a group of women…” which may “…involve some form of phallic worship.” (Bohn, 1991). In ancient Mesopotamia the Sumerians had scant regard for, and little modesty concerning ritual sexuality.  In the myth of the supreme goddess Inanna there is unashamed delight in the sexual encounter. Inanna is not solely Mother Goddess but is often shown with her foot on a lion. Lions, when associated with female deities, represent the undomesticated, fierce, and aggressive aspect of the female goddess. In Sumeria both sexual intercourse and sacred, or temple prostitution, were believed to form part of the divine, which governed the universe and known to them as me. In the fertility rituals of Inanna the man could achieve an erection simply by stimulating his penis, or in the actual temple ceremony his reaction could be enhanced by a priestess applying a special mixture of puru-oil. Anal intercourse was not frowned upon or considered taboo. As a practice it was permitted, and perhaps encouraged or suggested, by Entu-priestesses during sexual rituals as a practical means of avoiding pregnancy. In ancient Babylon, during the temple sexual ritual, it was believed sexual union released divine energy which has a modern counterpart in neo-tantric belief. In other words this energy was directed through masculine phallic power being received by the concupiscent female embrace. (Dening, 2009).  Again, this reflects the ritual and mythic interpretation of the female mons veneris representing the sacred earth mound of the goddess of vegetation and fecundity of the land.

In Phoenicia fertility rituals involved a special seasonal harvest sacrifice which was aimed at restoring the spirit of the vine. This was the Winter Fertility Rite which was to restore the spirit of the vine. In ancient India there was a rich and widespread tradition of religious worship connected to divine sexuality. Hindu belief embraced an erotic and naturalistic attitude towards the behaviour of its goddesses and gods. In the sacred texts of the Upanishads the worship of the linga, or phallus, and the yoni or vagina was derived from the sacred fertility rituals similar to those found in many ancient cultures.  In Hindu temples sacred prostitutes called devadasis or ‘god’s servants’ were attached to the service of deities (Parrinder, 1988). In ancient Greece central to fertility rites was Demeter  “… goddess of fertility…Her rites celebrated the procession of the seasons, the mystery of the plants and fruits in their annual cycle of coming to be and passing away.” (Finley, 1967). Sacred sexuality was once considered therefore as honouring of, and a libation to, the goddess as an act that mirrored the fecundity of nature. Indeed it is considered that in ancient times most “…women’s festivals…related in some way to woman’s power function as a fertile being (which allowed her to promote the fertility of crops as well) by sympathy. (Boardman,  1991). The rise and establishment of the patriarchal masculine principle saw the demise of the Mother Earth based religions and made the sexual act something profane and disempowering to women.

4.  Sex Magic and Neo-Tantra

                Sex magic implies the practice of various types  of sexual activity in magical, ritualistic, or otherwise religious and spiritual pursuits (Anand, 1996). The earliest known practical teachings of sex magic in the western world come from the 19th century American occultist Paschal Beverley Randolph who wrote The Mysteries of Eulis.  In the latter half of the 19th century the sexual reformer Ida Craddock published several  works dealing with sacred sexuality, including Heavenly Bridegrooms and Psychic Wedlock. Sexual magic techniques from Psychic Wedlock were later reproduced in Sex Magick by Ordo Templi Orientis  initiate  Louis T. Culling (1988). O.T.O was founded by Carl Kellner.

Neo-Tantra or tantric sex is a modern and western variation of tantra and incorporates both New Age and modern western interpretations of the traditional Indian and Buddhist tantra. (Odier,2004;  Singh, 1991).  Tantra evolved out of yogic practices of the Hindus and Buddhists. Tantra is concerned with elevating sexual energy within the body as a means of communion with the divine. In Tantra the most powerful energy is sexual. In Tantra the sex organs symbolise cosmic powers within the linga and yoni. Trantrists believe that the serpent Kundalini sits at the base of the spine. The sexual union of male and female is regarded as the union of god and the soul and, as such, is another form of the sacred marriage (Smoley, 1999). In tantric Buddhism the maithua is the Sanskrit term for sexual union in a ritual context. The maithua is the most important of the five makara and constitutes the main part of the Grand Ritual of Tantra, known as  Panchamakara, Panchatatta, and Tatta Chakra.

The roles of sexuality in Tantra and Neo-Tantra, while related, are actually quite different, because they reflect substantial differences in their cultural origins and historical contexts. In Neo-Tantra the most important features of sexual practice revolve around the experience of subtle energies within one’s own sensual existence. Tantric sexuality often cultivates ecstatic consciousness as well as increased spiritual awareness of the erotic consciousness. Tantric sexual methods may be practised solo, in partnership, or in the sacred rituals of a group. The sexual and erotic aspects of Tantra cannot be authentically engaged in without adequate preparation, dedication and discipline. (Douglas, 1997; Sarita, 2001). Tantric massage awakens the Kundalini and contains erotic elements, as well as orgasm for the man or woman being massaged. Teachers of this form of Tantra believe sex and sexual experiences are a sacred act that is capable of raising its participants to a higher spiritual plane (Stubbs, 1992). In addition this raising of the kundalini energy is a means of worshipping the divine feminine (Saraswati, 1987), for the participants sexual intercourse becomes an unselfish act where one is worshipped and worshipping at the same time.

 5.  Wicca and the Goddess Revival

With regard to the origins of Goddess worship the belief in prehistoric times was that people experienced their surroundings and were at one with them. They saw their heavens and tier earth and all forms of life extant as the manifestation of the Great Primordial Mother Goddess. Their crops were grown in a cycle as part of the changing seasons, and they were aware of the importance of the phases of the moon. Statuettes and figurines of fertility goddesses indicate the worship of the feminine mother principle across a great many cultures, down the millennia , from the Indus valley to Old Europe. The Willendorf Venus from the Neolithic period may mean the Great Mother Goddess was being worshipped as far back as 22,000 years ago. The worship of the Sumerian goddess Inanna has been traced to before the 4th millennium before the current era. The worship of this Mother Goddess arose and was widespread in the ancient cradle lands of Sumeria, Assyria, and Babylon. Inanna was also the goddess of the moon and known as Ishtar to the Babylonians, as well as one of the Great female deities of the Bronze Age.

Neo-paganism is an all embracing term that signifies and identifies a wide variety of modern religious movements and practices, particularly those influenced by pre-Christian ‘pagan’ beliefs. (Lewis, 2004). By far the most numerous of these movements are the neo-pagan Wiccans. Mythological sources of neo-paganism include the Celtic, Greek, Norse, Sumerian, Roman, and Egyptian. Some sects resort to only one cultural tradition whereas others may incorporate several. The word ‘pagan’ comes from the Latin ‘paganus’ which means ‘rural’, ‘rustic’ or ‘from the country’. The term neo-pagan is used to distinguish between historical pagan populations  of ancient cultures and the adherents of modern and contemporary movements.

From an anthropological and historical perspective witchcraft is a form of sorcery where magical powers are used to affect change and, as such “…witchcraft exits universally and probably has been used since humankind first banded together in groups.” (Guiley, 1992). Primitive magic was the performance of a ritual in order to make contact with supernatural, practised so that ordinary people could ensure a successful hunt. Wiccans call witchcraft the Craft or Old Religion and it “…combines magic with pagan religions and mythologies.” (Guiley, 1992). As a religion witchcraft appeared as a post-war phenomenon. It grew and developed and drew strength from a popular interest in the occult and mythology. The new witchcraft was a bipolar religion with a goddess and god but where the goddess had the emphasis (Adler, 1986). Women therefore had the ultimate authority, were organised in covens of witches led by a partnership of High Priestess and High Priest.

The structural background of the modern witchcraft and its popularisation were credited to the British witch Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) whose romantic and vague views were published in two books in 1954 and 1959. Gardner was influenced by the ‘witch cult’ theories of Margaret Murray (1921), who insisted that witchcraft had been persecuted by the medieval church, scholasticism and the reformation. The theories of Murray were later discredited even though for her the new pagan religion consisted of a fusion of the Cult of Diana with surviving Palaeolithic religion. In practice, however, modern witchcraft is divided into numerous traditions. While the Supreme Being is the goddess the religion is nonetheless bipolar. It is the feminine emphasis that has its roots in feminism. The rituals and outlook of modern witchcraft are partly derived from the occult philosophies and ritual magical ceremonies of Freemasonry and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. These beliefs themselves are based on an eclectic of the Graeco-Roman Mysteries, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Western Kaballah which is a magical philosophy based upon the Jewish Kaballah , and the Tree of Life. Another original influence is the Key of Solomon which is a grimoire or text book of magical incantations attributed to King Solomon.

Snake goddess from the Palace of Knossos, Crete. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Triple Goddess is one of the two essential deities found in the neo-pagan Wiccan religion and comprises the unity of three separate goddess figures described as the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Each member of this trinity symbolises a separate stage in the female life cycle. The concept of the Triple Goddess, which is the only goddess worshipped in Dianic Wicca, actually predates Wicca and originates in the work of the poet Robert Graves (1948). Historically a number of pagan goddesses have appeared in the triadic arrangement but none were classified as maiden, mother, or crone. The maiden, mother and crone description was the contribution of Graves to modern pagan witchcraft and the contemporary triple goddess concept (Hutton, 1999). The Maiden represents enchantment, inception, expansion, and the promise of new beginnings of birth, youth, and the waxing moon. The Mother represents ripeness, fertility, sexuality, fulfilment, stability, the power of life, and is encapsulated by the full moon. The Crone represents wisdom, repose, death and the terminal as indicated by the waning moon.

 

Snake goddess from the Palace of Knossos, Crete.

 

Some neo-pagan feminists self-identify as witches by adhering to the hypotheses and postulations of the witch-cult. This cult states that the Triple Goddess dates back to pre-Christian Europe and possibly to the Palaeolithic. In other words their religion is the surviving remnant of an ancient goddess centred religion. The Triple Goddess is therefore an archetypal figure that appears through various cultures over time (Rountree, 2004). The Triple Goddess was written about by Graves as an archetypal goddess triad and referenced to several European mythologies and his theories are popular with many neo-pagans (Wood, 1999). The concept of the goddess trinity can also be found in the works of Jane Ellen Harrison (1903; 1912; 1922), whose books later informed the origins of Wicca and the interpretations of Graves (Pearson, 2003). Robert Graves further developed his ideas about the triple Goddess in Mammon and the Black Goddess (1965). Marija Gimbutas has been described as the grandmother of the Goddess Movement and was dubbed thus in the 1990’s. Her theories on the Chalcolithic which she defined as Old Europe (6500-3500 BCE) were widely adopted by the New Age eco-feminist groups. Gimbutas postulated that in ancient Europe, the Aegean and the Near East, a great triple Goddess was worshipped that pre-dated the patriarchal religions imported by nomadic Indo-Europeans who later replaced her worship with patriarchal monotheism. Gimbutas interpreted the iconography of the Neolithic and earlier periods of European history and cited her evidence of a Triple Goddess. Her evidence comprised the stiff nude figurines, the birds of prey or poisonous snakes as meaning death; the mother-figures were seen as symbols of birth and fertility; and moths, butterflies, bees – alternative symbols included frogs, hedgehogs, bulls heads seen as uterine or foetal symbols of regeneration. The goddess based Old European religion having been overtaken by a patriarchal Indo-European religion is viewed by some as essentially correct (West, 2007).

In Wicca the Great Rite is a ritual is based on Hieros Gamos. The Great Rite is a form of sex magic that includes either ritual sexual intercourse or else ritual symbolic or simulated sexual intercourse. In traditional British Wicca most often it is performed by the High Priestess and the High priest but other participants can be elected to perform the rite. In the symbolic version of the Great Rite the High Priest plunges the athame or ritual knife (the male phallic symbol) point first, into a wine filled chalice or cup (the female vaginal symbol). The chalice is held by the High Priestess. The Great Rite means the simulation of ritual copulation between the Maiden Goddess with the Lover God, and is therefore a fertility ritual. The ritual symbolises the union of the female with the male in divine Hieros Gamos. A variety of ritual occasions call for the Great Rite to be performed. These include during the festival of Beltane on or about May 1st in the northern hemisphere (Morrison, 2001). Another central and most serious ritual in many modern Wiccan traditions is known as Drawing down the Moon or Drawing down the Goddess (Adler, 1979). During classical times the ancient witches of Thessaly were reputed to control the moon. In the ritual of Drawing down the Moon the High Priestess of a coven attempts to achieve a state of trance and request that the Goddess, or Triple Goddess symbolised by the moon, enter her body and speak through her. During the modern rite the High Priestess may recite the Charge of the Goddess. Slightly different rites are performed at different phases of the moon with the High Priestess functioning as the goddess incarnate.  In some modern traditions some solitary Wiccans also perform the ritual, usually within a circle of celebrants under the light of the moon (Adler, 1979; Guiley, 1999). A number of Wiccan ceremonies have a modern form likely to have originated in the Gardnerian Wiccan tradition. Unfortunately, in historical art terms, various interpretations of alleged witchcraft practices were inaccurately and luridly portrayed in 17th century European art.

ROSA-Salvator-Witches-at-their-Incantations

Witches at their Incantations

Salvator Rosa (1615-1673).  Oil on canvas.

Dianic Wicca, Dianism, Dianic Witchcraft, Dianic Feminist Witchraft are a traditions within the neo-pagan Wicca. Dianism is named after the Roman goddess Diana and combines elements of British traditional Wicca, Italian folk-magic as recorded and written in 1899 by Charles G. Leland in his Gospel of Aradia (River, 2004). The concepts of the divine in Dianic Wicca eschew the concept of the Earth or Mother Goddess similar to the Greek goddess Gaia. Dianic Wicca or Feminist Wicca is an eclectic goddess-worshipping movement that emphasises the divine feminine, and often creates women only covens (Adler, 1986). Dianic Wiccans worship the Goddess as the source of all living things and within her all is contained. Therefore, the Goddess is complete in herself. Like other Wiccans the Dianics attend festivals, celebrate the eight major Wiccan holidays, they may form women only covens, but do not employ manipulative spell work. Other Wiccans in particular emphasise the role of witchcraft and ritual.

6.  The Sacred feminine

What is meant by the concept of the sacred and divine feminine if it is not the goddess “…in all traditions, and has been since the beginning of time. These traditions are a mystical, magical, powerful, part of primal Mother Earth. They symbolise balance and healing, renewal and restoration.” (Amendola, 2013). The beginning of the Bronze Age, circa 3500 BCE to 1250 BCE, brought to an end the existing peaceful agricultural communities due to the invading “…migratory warriors – tribes from the steppe lands between the Dnieper and Volga rivers, north of the Black and Caspian seas, as well as Semitic tribes from the Syrio-Arabian desert – started to impose their own patriarchal customs.” (Marvelly, 2005). As a result the Goddess and the sacred feminine with all her connections with the cycles of the earth were replaced by the male principles of power, war and slavery. Erased was the power of the feminine embodied in the sexuality of all women that, during the time of the Great mother, was the power of transformation that made the earth and people grow. Concomitant with the Bronze Age invasions the Goddess was also eventually erased from the three main monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

In early Sumerian times, as with later early Egypt and Crete, women were not confined to the home and hearth, but did have a role to play in public and social life instead. Indeed, priestesses owned property and carried on trade and businesses. Around 2300 BC this scenario began to change. At this later stage it is no coincidence that, after the Bronze Age invasions, that both Inanna and other Sumerian deities had lost the high position they once possessed. Ritual, myth and sexuality were quite inseparable in ancient Mesopotamia. For the goddess Inanna her realm was that of love and procreation and was the forerunner of the Canaanite Anath, the Egyptian Isis, and Ishtar of Babylon, and sacred texts tell how when she  “…leaned back against the apple tree her vulva was wondrous to behold.” (cited by Dening, 2009). Inanna tells of making love with Dumuzi, the shepherd king and her consort, in the following terms “He shaped my loins with his fair hands. The shepherd Dumuzi filled my lap with cream and milk. He stroked my pubic hair. He watered my womb. He laid his hands on my holy vulva. He caressed me on the bed.”, and she calls him “…dear to my heart” and “…honeysweet.”  Isis was the Egyptian goddess of magic, fertility and motherhood. As a goddess she had many epithets, and is sometimes called the goddess of a thousand names. These names include Queen of the Heavens, Star of the Sea, Light-Giver of Heaven, Lady of the Green Crops, She Who Knows How to Make right use of the Heart. Moreover, the exotic and mysterious cult of the Black Madonnas and the cult of the Black Virgin, have their roots in the pre-Christian traditions of the Great Goddesses (Amendola, 2013; Begg, 1996).

The feminine principles have been succinctly and simply defined as “…ones of nurturing, of love, understanding, compassion, insight, intuition, creativity, forgiveness, healing, and wisdom.” (Amendola, 2013). The female principle is primordial and not a personified and independent deity acting wilfully upon the world (Biaggi, 2008) but which is prehistoric and imbued with potential. The Mother Goddess has been seen as the personification of reproduction, birth, death, fertility, transformation and motherhood (Biaggi, 2008). Her worship is found in numerous figurines, in the survivals of mythology and folklore, and by cultural and anthropological analogy. The sacred feminine still survives and can be found in historic and esoteric writings surviving from ancient times. The concept of the divine feminine, not just the sacred prostitute, is found in the creation myths of the majority of religions. The role of sacred sexuality is non-procreative sexual intercourse that functioned as an impersonal and informal rite of passage, a fertility ritual  performed actually in ancient times, and actually or symbolically in modern times. In this sense sacred sexuality can be seen as a shared gift or proffered libation. The temple prostitutes or priestesses by honouring the Goddess with their sexuality were in fact themselves honourable women. In no manner can profanity be attached to them whatsoever. The re-discovery of the sacred feminine and the goddess movement is important for a correct anthropological and historical re-interpretation of sacred texts and a balanced assessment of feminine sexuality, the Goddess Movement, and the Feminine Divine.

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 Adler, M.  (1979).  Drawing Down the Moon.

Amendola, G.  (2013).    www.theharmonyproject pro/feminine

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Goddess Worship, Sacred Sexuality, and the Divine Feminine

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