A Thought Adventure

Sunday, November 22, 2015

22. The Role of Sexuality in the Goddess Cult

According to scholars like Neumann and Campbell, at the time before birth is linked to sexuality woman’s fertility has nothing to do with sex; it simply stands for miraculous increase and mysterious renewal. As people start linking sexuality to fecundity, they lend to it the same aura of wonder. Sexuality is a force of nature, both earthly and divine, both personal and transpersonal, and the fertility rites are a glorification of it. For the entire pre-modern world sexuality partakes in the sacred; it can pacify an angry god and avoid illness or other misfortune. Sex with more than one partner, then, is a thing of value.

The focal point of the cult is woman’s sexual activity unrelated to monogamy and family, i.e., altogether separated from her reproductive capacity. An essential aspect of the goddess’s creative power is her ‘virginity,’ or readiness to receive any man who stands in the service of fertility; only in patriarchal times is the term twisted into a symbol of chastity. All magical operations by women have a sexual character: in rain–making ceremonies, e.g., nudity is required and in India naked women push the plow around the field at night.

Sex a woman's badge of honor.
Courtesan on Greek amphora
So strong is this emphasis on female sexuality that it becomes celebrated for its own sake and incarnated by ‘prostitutes’ attached to the temples of the goddess. Honored in hymns, epics, myths, liturgies and lamentations as Ishtaritu, holy women of Ishtar, or quaditsu, the sacred ones, these women are daughters or wives of aristocratic families among peoples living around Sumer (Hittites, Luwians, Hurrians and Semitic Amorites).

In his classical work The Golden Bough, Frazer describes how the union between the goddess and her consort is joined by the real, though temporary, union of men and women at the sanctuary of the goddess. The sacred marriage ceremony is everywhere a joyous feast, preceded by lavish banquets accompanied by music, song and dance. According to Herodotus (who traveled widely in Asia Minor, the Near East and northern Africa) nearly all peoples partake in rites involving sexual license, which are meant to reinforce the fruitfulness of the ground and of man and beast.

The active sexuality of the goddess is seen as a good in itself long into the recorded era, because it humanizes men and makes them wise, guarantees the stability of the throne and the survival of the social order. The famous courtesans of Corinth originally serve a religious function, and a sacred brothel is attached to the temple of Dionysus in Sparta. Yet in the Bible sexuality freely enjoyed by both women and men becomes equated with idolatry, the worst of sins against Yahweh.

However, the operative factor in the ritual marriage ceremony is not the sexual but the transpersonal, the coming together of the two principles of female and male in holiness, beyond the individual. The particular woman, the personal incarnation of the goddess, is of no consequence; she’s totally unknown and remains anonymous.

This makes the relationship of the goddess to her lover utterly impersonal (the love motif came much later). Originally she is not concerned with the youth at all but only with his phallus, which is holy to her. All phallus cults emphasize the same thing--the anonymous power of the fertilizing agent, the phallus that stands by itself. And the real issue of her union with her consort is not the offspring, or even a bountiful harvest, but the blessings it yields for the whole community.

For the role men play in the cult and what it may indicate about their standing in this society, see next post

I welcome feedback and would love for you to leave a comment. 
You can post a comment below this article or you can click on this article's headline. 
For the full blog click originofsexism.blogspot.com

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome feedback, please leave a comment!