diana rose hartmann
Mention the Sacred Whore to most people and you'll get raised eyebrows or disgusted grimaces. Many of us believe that prostitution is all about money for street hookers, fame for Hollywood starlets, or security for suburban housewifes. Prophetic texts, rituals, and icons are called sacred, even particular mountains or rivers are considered sacred, but whores?
Sexually empowered women are called bitches, dykes, ball-busters, etc., by both sexes. Sexually independent women, once respected as sacred vessels of the Goddess, are degraded as evil temptresses, obstacles between man and a sexless heaven. One exception is the paradise of Islam, although it is a men-only club stocked full with re-virginating nymphs; Islamic women are said to be soul-less.
Jungian psychologist Nancy Qualls-Corbett describes the Holy Whore as "a woman, who, through ritual or psychological development, has come to know the spiritual side of her sexuality, her true Eroticism, and lives this out according to her individual circumstances." By this definition, a Sacred Prostitute uses sex as a means to God/dess and to enlightenment. Fundamentalist Christians believe that the door to the kingdom of heaven is opened to those re-born of fire and water. Occult traditions such as Tantra, and magickal orders which esteem the Holy Whore, persuade us to experience our divinity by immersing ourselves in the fires of sexual passion and the baptismal waters of sexual ritual. Sexuality becomes sacred when the Goddess residing in every women is honored.
The term "sacred whore" is not oxymoronic. If we explore the etymology of the words "whore" or "harlot," we find that the split between "priestess" and "prostitute" is a relatively recent one. In her book When God Was A Woman, Merlin Stone informs us that the Hebrew word zonah means both prostitute and prophetess. Barbara Walker, in her Dictionary of Woman's Myths and Secrets, points out that the Hebrew word hor means a cave, pit, or dark hole. The Spanish word for whore, puta, derives from the Latin term for a well, but the Latin term for grave, literally "a hole in the earth," is puticuli, meaning womb of rebirth. These terms for whore were not derogatory.
The Latin term had its root in the Vedic, an early Sanskrit language, wherein the word puta is defined as pure and holy. The cave, the pit, the hole, and the bottomless black lake were metaphors for the Great Goddess, She who is unnameable, that darkness primordial from which all life (light) is born. She is the Everything and The Nothing -- Hole-y, Holy, Wholly. The Sacred Whore at work was, in fact, the manifestation the Great Goddess.
Today these ideas are not completely lost. The Hebrew folk dance named the hora, a tradition at Jewish weddings, is named after the circle dances of the sacred harlots. Such holy harlots were often "brides of God" similar to modern nuns, the "brides of Christ." The holy harlots were set apart to give birth to Sons of God. In other words, these women had the job of changing human-animal into human-god.
The separation into priestess and prostitute, or sacred and profane polarities, occurred for western civilization when the early fathers of Christianity claimed power by abolishing goddess worship and other nature-based pagan religions. In actuality the bipartite woman, both whore and madonna, was a construct of the early Papal Councils around 600 AD. In the New Testament itself, there is nothing which proves that Magdalene was a repentent prostitute; other texts suggest that she was a spiritual teacher in her own right. (For more information about Mary Magdalene, check out Scandals, Intriques and Christianity.)
Vestal Virgins and Sex Magick
Ishtar, the Great Whore of Babylon, was sometimes called the Goddess Har since she was the mother of the Harlots. These Harlots were not prostitutes as we know them, but priestesses, sorceresses, prophets, and healers. Sacred Whores were known sometimes as the Holy Virgins of Goddesses such as Ishtar, Asherah, or Aphrodite. The famous Vestal Virgins were thought to have practiced secret sex magical rites in honor of the Roman Goddess Vesta, the same as the Greek goddess Hestia -- Goddess of the Hearth, or "center of the world."
"Virgin" did not mean possessing an intact hymen. A virgin was simply an unmarried woman, a woman who claimed ownership of herself. Think of Athena, the maiden goddess who jumped off a cliff rather than submit to wedlock. We see a similar story in the Hebraic tradition where Lilith, unwilling to subjugate herself to Adam in the male-dominant missionary position, exiled herself from paradise in exchange for her own sovereignty.
But Holy Whores weren't man-haters. Their function was dispensing the grace of the God/Goddess through sexual worship by sharing their bodies with worthy initiates and with each other.
The European idea of going into a womblike space -- cave, pit, hole, lake, or river -- in order to attain a new life of spirit stems from the Neolithic period (approx. 15,000 b.c.e. - 5,000 b.c.e.). During this time the common belief system deemed the main God/Goddess female. Gods were primarily consorts for the Great Goddess or her sons, such as Horus and Jesus. Reunite the polarities, put the Virgin Mary back together with Mary Magdalene and you have a Holy Whore who is the mother of a man/god, or evolved man.
In the Beginning
The Great Goddess was the All and her son represented the self-realized human, male or female. Women were thought to be able to access the power of the Goddess more easily because they could more easily identify with Her. In these early days, women were the mediators between the Goddess and the tribe. Later the masculine force became imbalanced by the male need to overcompensate and relegate women to a lower class. Such imbalance may have been caused in part by men's fear of women's magic -- particularly the ability to give birth, the blood, and her intuitive gifts.
Before science explained away the mystery, women seemed magical, almost frightening. Women bled in sync with the phases of the moon. They bled in sync with each other and, to the awe of men, did not die. Women bore the babies and from their breasts flowed milk to sustain life. While the men went out to hunt, women explored, gathered food, and gained knowledge of medicinal herbs. They were the healers who produced magical cures for snake bites. Women were privy to divine wisdom. The Delphic oracles listened to pythons, while Eve took the sage advice of a serpent. Woman's "innate" ability to tune into the Goddess was facilitated by her knowledge of herbs, including perhaps, psychoactive botanicals that produced visions.
When God was definitively female, women had the edge. It was thought necessary for a man to go through a woman in order to achieve contact with the Deity. Male devotees of the Great Goddess would offer gifts, undergo painful or humiliating preparatory rituals, wait years, fast, and give just about anything for the opportunity to be initiated by a Sacred Whore. In doing so, they attained the power of the Great Goddess, as well as the opportunity to contact what some modern mages or witches refer to as the True Will, Higher Self, or Holy Guardian Angel.
She of the Temple Tower
Priestesses devoted their lives and their bodies to the Goddess. Herodotus wrote that Babylonian brides were required by law to prostitute themselves at the temple for seven days prior to marriage in order to appease the Goddess, who disapproved of monogamy. Spending time as a holy whore blessed the maiden. The profession also became a refuge for women who wished to keep claim of themselves and their rights. In Hellenic Greece, courtesans maintained a social status legally and politically equal to men, while wives were reduced to servants.
The idea that a man needed a woman in order to attain apotheosis, or give birth to the potential God/Goddess hidden within himself, still lives between the lines of many patriarchal religious texts. Crowley had his Scarlet Woman, Simon the Mage had his whore, and Jesus, Mary Magdalene. In fact, Magdalene means "she of the the temple-tower."
The patriarchal entity is a tyrant who feeds on control, or "power over." The Holy Whore is a manifestation of "power with, power shared, and power for all." Think of the Strength card in Tarot: A woman holds the lion's mouth open. In this image, woman has identified and taken control of her sexual and creative power, symbolized by the lion.
Despite his unsavory reputation, Aleister Crowley was one of the first male occultists to embrace the goddess. Crowley switched the traditional order of Strength and Justice tarot cards and changed the name of the Strength card to Lust. Crowley wanted to give Lust (11) the same numerical value as the High Priestess (2), which some Tarot scholars interpret as the holiest card in the deck. Many other decks, including the popular feminist deck MotherPeace, have also incorporated this numerical change. In this Crowley acknowledged the power of the feminine Beauty/Beast.
The word lust is derived from the words luster or light, and originally meant "religious joy." Strength, Light, Lust, and Holiness were originally all one. Crowley's Lust card depicts a rather zaftig and sexual woman -- the much-maligned Whore of Babylon -- riding a multi-headed lion from the Bible's Book of Revelations. In the commingling of beast (indicating our animal nature) and Babylon (indicating the sexual force of the great tripartite goddess), a great power is realized.
In "Beauty and the Beast," the character Beauty can be seen as the Sacred Whore. She has gone to live with the Beast to save the life of her father. The Beast woos Beauty, painfully and pitifully. Ashamed of his ugliness and his animalistic traits, he pines away, stepping towards death. When Beauty sees beyond his mask, she sacrifices her ego and goes to him. When she gives herself to him with a kiss, he is reborn as a gorgeous prince, symbolizing the bliss of the union of Spirit and Nature. This tale is saying that it is within our power to change the state of civilization by the power of our sex. This sentiment is echoed in Deena Metzger's poem, "The Women Who Slept with Men to Take the War Out of Them." The Goddess' way is power with, not the patriarchal power over.
Sex, Death and Transformation
When fully self-realized, woman is the initiatrix into higher rites of passage. She is Mut, Great Mother of Death, and also Isis, whose love makes possible the higher birth of Horus from the inert Osirus. Astrologically speaking, this concept is reflected in the sign of Scorpio, which rules sex, death, and transformation or initiation. Sexual love can be a path to spiritual evolution. Some occultists believe that sex combined with ritual creates the most powerful magic.
Love/Sex is also linked with death. Renaissance poets called orgasm "the little death." The Goddess is more than Mother and Whore, she is also the Crone, the Destroyer, the Eater of Men. This trifold goddess is akin to Hindu Goddess Kali. Powerful Kali gives birth with one hand while squatting over her dead consort Shiva and devouring his entrails with the other. If we conquer our fear of the trifold Goddess' powers and embrace the natural sacredness of sex and death, we can truly begin to understand the cycle of life.
Life Out of Balance
Many believe that the world's chance of survival is dependent on the reclamation of the female aspect of deity and its integration in the minds of the people "en masse." We will evolve in the images of the God/Goddess that we created. The Sacred Prostitute represents energy, light, and expansive creative force. The repression of this positive force puts society in crisis. As poet/prophet William Blake writes, "Repressed energy breeds pestilence." Our world becomes a place where violence has replaced creative sexual expression. Consider that violence is accepted as common TV fare, while the sight of a women breastfeeding her infant causes vehement outcries from the rightwing christian minority.
Our society's god-of-choice is miserable, grouchy, and usually on the verge of suicide. Just watch the TV evangelists praying forArmageddon. Their god only evinces the "restrictive" saturnine intellect and represents a degeneration, a far fall from the original Father-Mother-Sister-Brother God/Goddess of Jewish paganism named YHVH. The punishing grey-beard whom Blake deemed "Nobodaddy," has been severed from feminine wisdom. His children are stillborn, waiting in the ethers for the nourishing milk of their mother.
Violence against women increases as men who feel powerless resort to rape. Millions of women deny themselves orgasmic pleasure because they are taught "good girls don't" by a society that worships a bachelor god. The new Yahweh is irritable and quick to call fun a sin. Many men are stuck playing tough guy roles, and many women learn that submission and passivity are their tickets to survival. Two hundred years ago, the poet Percy Shelley, a maverick feminist and political activist, asked, "Can man be free if woman be a slave?"
Anyone who has indulged in BDSM will tell you that both dominant and submissive roles contain joys, but to play only one and never the other brings monotony, sadness, or dangerous obsession. Without the embodiment of the Sacred Whore in every woman, society twists itself dysfunctional.
Reclaiming Female Power
Of course, women can't flock to temples and set up camp as Holy Whores in this day and age without being arrested. But a change in the way women see themselves, and in the way men see women, would be a start. Every woman can invoke the Holy Whore into her life with pleasure. The Sacred Prostitute is a woman who has reclaimed her Self and reconnected with her will. Most importantly, she is a woman who has reclaimed the sacredness of her body.
First and foremost: Pay attention to what advertisers and the media, promoters of degenerate cultural realities, are telling us. Both women and men must learn to ignore the messages that women are "sick" with post-menstrual syndrome (PMS0 or menstrual cramps two weeks out of every month, that our vaginas smell bad, that we must wax pubis, douche, or use deodorized tampons if we are to be "clean." It's hard to invoke the Goddess within if we believe our bodies are so flawed.
We need to honor the menstrual cycle. We need to change the language associated with it, call it moon time or bleeding time, instead of the vulgar "on the rag." Don't blame your partner's moodiness on PMS; have sex instead -- wonderful messy sex. Fertilize your plants with menstrual blood, an ancient magical fertilizer. Question the programming that automatically labels sexual women "sluts."
Yahweh's obviously not happy alone on the mountain. Our reclaiming of the sacred prostitute's spirit, humor, and sheer joy in the flesh could help this pitiful modern God remember his Goddess's bountiful tit and make some holy whoopie. When the Goddess residing in every woman is honored, the paradox of sacred sexuality can again manifest in our world. The Goddess is as her people act: As above, so below.
Diana Rose Hartmann MA is a freelance writer and artist. Her articles and short fiction have appeared in a variety of publications including The Sun, The Seattle Times, The Whole Life Times, Green Egg, New Falcon Publications, and bOING-bOING. She has worked on projects as varied as scripting and designing mass market computer games to teaching writing at California State University to editing and writing occult psychology for trade paperback publishers. She also paints, creates comics, and reads Tarot cards.