BACK STORY: In 1993, while in San Francisco, C.O.Y.O.T.E activist Teri Goodson shared a media kit with me, which included “Hookers History”. The anonymous author laid out a brief, yet concise walk through of “Her-History”, to utilize the Annie Sprinkle vernacular. It is the mythology of the Goddess, and it is the perfect preface to the XXX discussion on Prostitution in Religion and Philosophy, part of my 2003 BA Senior Study on Commercial Sexuality at Goddard College.

BEGIN: “Before the advent of patriarchal religions with their harsh, judgmental Gods and the suppression of sensual pleasure, there was the Goddess. Goddess worship accepted the natural cycles of sexuality, birth, death and concern for the welfare of future generations. Sexuality was incorporated into the very process of worship.

Sacred prostitution, also called religious, ritual, or temple prostitution, was known to cultures on every continent of the Earth.   Prostitute-priestesses dispensed the grace of the Goddess in her shrines.   The most famous published factual accounts tell about the cultures bordering the Mediterranean Sea, be they European, African, or Near Eastern.   But also India, Oceania, and the Americas had sacred harlots.

Aphrodite’s priestesses usually remained in her service until their death.   The money gained was used to support their house of worship.   In ancient Middle-Eastern temples, the prostitutes were sometimes called Charities or Graces; they were known for their beauty and kindness.   The sensual magic of the sacred whores was said to have mellowed the behavior of men.   Ishtar the Great Whore of Babylon, announced, “A prostitute compassionate am I.”   Mary Magdalene said of her sisters in the profession, “Not only are we compassionate of ourselves, but we are compassionate of all the race of mankind.”

The whores of antiquity often commanded high social status and were revered for their knowledge and erotic skills.   As earthly embodiments of the Queen of Heaven, in Palestine called Qadeshet, or the Great Whore, the hookers were honored like queens at centers of learning in Greece and Asia Minor. Some even became queens, like the empress Theodora, wife of Justinian and St. Helena, mother of Constantine.

Temple prostitutes were known as healers of the sick.   At that time, their very secretions were supposed to have medical virtue.   A Sufi proverb states,  “There is healing in a woman’s vagina.”   An Indian temple hymn says, “To have intercourse with a prostitute is a virtue that takes away sin.”

Whores were famous for their knowledge, compassion, healing abilities and skills in the art of pleasure.”[27

Historically, the change from matriarchal to patriarchal seems to be with the Canaanites.  Mentioned in biblical reference, the ancient Canaanites were a cult of controversy.  Due to their worship of idols, and the rites they practiced which involved temple prostitutes, the Israelite authorities ordered their extermination.  Dating from 1500 BC, the Canaanites worshiped the Hebrew Goddess, Ashera.  It was to be the end of pagan ways.   “Both the Temple and the pagan cults shared an intoxication with the feminine Goddess, symbol or Eros.”[28]

Man would go the temple and have sex with a sacred female so that his family and his crops would be blessed.  In the Torah these women are called Kadeshim, from the word Kadosh, meaning ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’.  Archeological evidence has proven that the ancient Israelites worshiped many small idols and the Goddess, but the religious leadership was strictly monotheistic, patriarchal and intolerant of alternatives to their way of thinking.

The Shechinah is known in Kabbalistic sources as the great feminine.  She is mother, daughter and lover.  She is the force that allows the human being to feel at home in the world.  The temple is the place of Eros; it is the experience of being on the inside.[29]

The biblical kingdom of Ugarit, now known as Syria,  is where the Canaanites lived according to tablets found at the tell of Ras Shama.  These tablets explain the Ugaritic pantheon of Gods: primarily with Baal (son of Ashera), and his struggle with Mot .  It is from the engraved stone that archeologists learned of the dramatic rites performed by this ancient culture, now defined as “cultic”.

Connected with the dramatic plays of Baal (god of thunderbolt and rain) and Mot (death), the Temple prostitutes enacted fertility rites for the community to show the cycles of the fields. When not involved in spiritual enactments, the Temple prostitutes would service the “general worshipers”.  Prior to patriarchal religious hierarchy’s condemnation of  idolatry and pagan worship, it is believed that many communities extending beyond the specific Canaanites visited the “sacred ones”.

 The belief in the prostitute as a sacred being changes as we place aside archeological finds of ancient tablets and enter into the Bible itself.  In Leviticus 19:29, Israelites are warned not to let their daughters get into prostitution lest they be punished with death.  Even more severe warnings are given with respect to temple or cult prostitution and idolatry.

It is relevant to note that in Kabbalistic (mystical Judaic) tradition, as in Plato, the erotic is an expression of inner passion of life and the quest for truth within, not just a sexual desire or method of gratification.  

Dr. Marc Gafni, Oxford philosopher and rabbi, states ancient Jews believed passion to be essential in daily worship and everyday life.  Eros was the component necessary to maintain a continuous state of intellectual, emotional and physical passion.      

He tells of the Ashera tree, and how it was the central symbol of the Canaanites and the worshipers in Judah, and in Israel.  The tree was a symbol of Ashera incarnate.  It is written that King Josiah attempted radical reform after reading a new book devoted to the destruction of the pagan ways.  The new book that King Josiah held in one hand, as he ordered the permanent  removal of all Ashera trees from public places, was the Book of Deuteronomy.[33]

Human sexuality as original sin has been an essential point to ponder since the beginning of recorded time, and it has been a point that has fascinated and frightened mankind.  Edward Craig, editor-in-chief of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, writes, “Plato, in Symposium, also issued a warning: what we think we are seeking is not really what we want; our Eros for bodies is really Eros for truth and beauty.  Augustine similarly thought that the search for God was hidden beneath the search for pleasure in another’s body.”[38]

Mankind has often searched for the meaning of life in the arms of another, be that a blessing or a blasphemy to the concept of God.  When the dynamics of the sexual and the spiritual are combined, it is a difficult enough debate, but when we add to that how a woman’s sex corresponds to commerce and community, the sacred  and the profane are at odds.  It is there that philosophy finds a perfect  pedestal for contemplation.


2014 Salon Reading Word Count: 1194 Time: Appx 8.30