This is a topic that has interested me for a long time, ever since male Thelemites have attempted to define womanhood and the divine feminine for me; there are even published authors such as Peter Grey who do the exact same thing (in the book The Red Goddess, which doesn’t have any input or collaboration from women in spite of all the “love” he has for them). They are keen on promoting not myths as metaphors or even half-truths, but utter LIES based on that of the “sacred prostitute” (x) (x) held to be absolute truth and dogma, insisting on speaking over women, and it needs to be called out. For a community that supposedly prides itself on the scientific method and accuracy of information, it sure is encouraging the continued internalization of harmful norms about women that already exist in our society right here, right now, and I am sick of the romanticization of the past and of patriarchy, the imposition of “sacred” beliefs onto our material reality of the present which amounts to no more than wishful thinking and deceit.
The first excerpt here is related, in my mind there’s a connection anyway (Biting Beaver is not a Thelemite), to the theme of the Thelemite woman being one “girt with a sword” (per Liber AL) and of course the liberal male view that supports prostitution and reduces every relationship to transactional sex and all women to prostitutes. The second excerpt is from Brandy Williams, my new favorite author on feminist Thelema whose book The Woman Magician I have quoted from extensively in previous posts. Both of these writings are from women and they vastly different than what I have been told by men. They make so much more sense than any mansplaining. Listen to women, it’ll do you good.
From Archive of the Biting Beaver:
Sword of Power
It occurred to me at some point that the Power I wielded was only an illusion of Power. My Power was utterly and completely dependent on men. All those years I thought I held a large Sword of Power and suddenly, I realized that my sword was a gift, given to me by the men who wanted me to believe I had Power. The edges were dull and it could not cut, it could not wound in any real capacity and then it became clear. The Power in my sword was false and I saw the sword for what it really was, a cheap Made-in-Taiwan plastic imposter.
It slowly dawned on me that Power given from the Powerful to the weak based upon the weak’s ability to entertain the Powerful was not Power at all. In other words, the Power I thought I had was only there because I chose to submit to the people who held the Real Power. The Men. Men were the keepers of ‘Real Power’ and I had succumbed to the inherent bargain. That bargain was that I was allowed to feel Powerful if I acted in the way that they wanted me to. I was allowed to feel Powerful as long as I continued to make them feel more Powerful than me. Make no mistake about it, all my capering and dancing and wooing served to make them feel MORE Powerful than me. They had the Power of the King and I had the Power of the Court Jester, Powerful only as long as I kept the King entertained.
I looked around and realized that I had been jostling for the position of Court Jester and you know what? I got that title, I got it and I wore it, but I thought it was a different title.
As the years flew by and the men got older I had to do more and more to keep my title intact. At first, way back in those early years, I had only to wear a short skirt. Then, I had to let a boy put his hand up my shirt, then down my pants. Finally, I had to let him inside of me and even that wasn’t enough to keep The Power. Soon, I had to writhe and contort my body in an effort to keep The Power I had been given. I began to live and breathe for the pleasure of men. Delighting in the scraps of Power I was allowed to have. Later, I had to pretend that I liked anal sex, I had to pretend that the man I was with was pleasuring me greatly. I had to scream and gyrate, I had to succumb to being called names like ‘Whore’ and ‘Slut’ and pretend I enjoyed it. As the years dragged on I had to work harder to keep my plastic sword, I had to scream louder and act more sheepish, I had to dumb-myself down for I realized that few Men liked it when I was more intelligent than they.
The day I looked down and realized my sword was plastic I realized I had also been duped. That I had sold myself to be the Court Jester. I had become the Porn-star, I had become ‘Every Man’s Fantasy’ I had managed to become the ‘Object of Desire’. […]
I made a vow that day, I vowed that I would capture THEIR POWER. The Real Power. The Power of Independence, the Power of Intelligence, the Power of Success. Since then I have been labeled many things. I have been called “Frigid”, my beliefs have been teased as being “Renaissance”, I have been called and labeled a “Prude”, I’ve been accused of being a “Man Hater” of being “Rabid” and “Extreme”. Many times it feels as though I’ve landed back in the days of Middle School and that I have become the girl that seemed to bring chaos with them, the girl who was tormented ruthlessly. I think I know now what those girls did to anger the boys so much. They were Taking Power. They had, somehow, seen that the sword was plastic and they refused to play the games that the boys wanted them to play for Power. Instead, these girls had shown that they wanted the Real Power, the plastic sword wasn’t enough for them and god, how this angered the boys.
From Papers by Brandy Williams @ SpeakEasy (I am posting the whole thing, which isn’t too long):
Beyond Prostitution: The Sexual Priestess As Priestess
I worship the goddesses of love, Qadesh, Asherah, Aphrodite, Inanna, Ishtar. I worship them with my body, lying with my lovers, male lovers, more than one lover. I do not call what I do sacred prostitution. “Sexual priestess” and “prostitute” are not synonymous terms.
It was Deena Metzger, I think, who started the whole prostitute thing off. (Mind you, I did my increment to popularize the idea by choosing the Greek word hetaera, prostitute, to describe sex magicians, but fortunately the term never caught on.) (Williams, 1990). Metzgar’s romantic view of ancient history proved to be wildly popular. “Once upon a time, in Sumeria, Mesopotamia, in Egypt, and in Greece, there where no whorehouses, no brothels. In that time, in those countries, there were instead the Temples of the Sacred Prostitutes.” (Metzgar, 1985)
Let’s take a brief tour of the ancient world. In Babylonia massive temples housed living statues of various deities, male and female. Priests and priestesses attended the deities, feeding, bathing, clothing them. One class of priestesses, kadistum or qadistum, served as temple prostitutes and wet-nurses. Once a year there was a ceremony enacting the marriage of the king to the goddess Inanna, with a priestess of Inanna taking the part of the Goddess.
In Greece, any woman having intercourse with a man not her husband might be called a a high-class prostitute, “companion to men”. They owned and managed property which their children inherited, in sharp contrast to women in families, whose property was owned and managed by their husbands and male relatives. Other less fortunate prostitutes were slaves. Some were able to keep a portion of their earnings and buy back their freedom. In Hellenistic times women, especially young women, could be kidnapped into slavery. These women were sometimes sold to temples of Aphrodite, such as the one at the port of Corinth servicing incoming sailors, or one of the temples to Astarte in Syria. Then the temple owned the slave and gathered the profits she made.
In Judah and Israel women worshipped the goddesses Asherah and Astarte under trees and by baking cakes in their image. These priestesses could be called qedeshim or zonah or almah. Any holy person might be called a qedeshoth, and Qedesh, holy, is one of Asherah’s titles. A goddess Qadesh turns up in Egypt, an apparent import from the Near East. The Old Testament patriarchs condemned the qedeshim and zonah as prostitutes. Zonah could mean, again, any woman who had intercourse with someone other than her husband. The patriarchs were fond of the phrase that Israel went whoring after false gods–that is, goddesses. Scholars for decades took this to mean literally that Israel’s men visited whores under the trees. Newer scholarship leans toward the idea that the patriarchs were condemning any alternate religious and spiritual practices.
Returning to Metzgar for a moment, she says: “in the days of the Quedishtu every woman served the divine as Holy Prostitute, often for as long as a year.” This is a report the Greek historian Herodotus made about the Babylonians, and he believed any fabulous story he was told.
Metzgar asserts that temple prostitutes provided a doorway to the divine and softened the natural aggression of men. There’s a lot of male aggression around today. She concludes, “And so women must all become Holy Prostitutes again.”
My reading of the history does not reveal that prostitutes, temple or freelance, in the ancient world were all that terribly altruistic. The point wasn’t to soften men or save them from their warlike natures or reveal to them an aspect of the Divine Feminine. The point was to make money.
However, the Path of the Holy Prostitute has become quite a popular one. Pat Califia (arguably the funniest and strongest writer of and about erotica of our time) notes, “There are a goodly number of pagan women (and a handful of gay men and Third Gender souls) who identify themselves as Qadesh or sacred harlots…”
With some relish she takes a pin to the balloon of romanticism of the Servant Of the Goddess Just As In Ancient Times: “…sometimes it seems to me that a woman who embraces the status of Qadesh opens herself to at least as much abuse as she does divine energy….When a woman (priestess or no) sexually services a man, his libido and genitalia become devotional objects. There is very little hope of shifting the balance of power between the sexes or manifesting yonic divinity in that scenario.”
Califia goes on: “At any rate, economic issues, issues of payment, reciprocity, penalties, and freedom, cannot be separated from any sexual interaction or transaction.” (Califia, 1997)
It’s a great thought, but I think it’s unfinished. Or maybe we’re going to have a disagreement about the word “economic” here. Issues of payment are economic issues. Penalties and freedom are cultural issues. Reciprocity is not an economic issue, it is a magical, energic, emotional issue. Not every sexual interaction is a transaction. That’s the slope that takes you to “so we must all become sacred prostitutes”. If every sexual interaction is economic, then every woman is a prostitute. I object. Aside from the loss to English of the meaning of a perfectly useful word, this approach seems to me to buy into the patriarch’s ancient definitions.
None of these cultures, please note, was exactly egalitarian. Prostitutes in Greece and priestesses in Babylonia might hold property and exercise more physical freedom than women in family structures, but they also were frequently denied the right to make choices about their lives. The Jewish patriarchs condemned women who chose what they did with their bodies. Greek and Babylonian patriarchs weren’t any more supportive of women’s choices than the Jewish patriarchs just because they were what we now call Pagan. They were all pretty much condemning, not the sex, but women’s freedom.
In Greece a woman not married and also sexually active was by definition available to all men. Individual hetaera did choose their customers, but the point of the category was that if she didn’t belong to one man she belonged to all. The temple prostitutes belonged to the temple. There wasn’t a choice “belongs to no man.” The Jewish patriarchs were looking at women freer than their own and saying: their freedom means that they are not owned by one man, they are owned by all men.
Califia says: “In late 20th century industrial Western societies, as in many other cultures, any woman who tries to control her own sexuality and enjoy it runs the risk of being called a slut and a whore.” Calling a woman “prostitute” continues to be a successful way of exerting control over her free and threatening sexuality by redefining it, not as her own, but as the property of all men, held in common. This is why I object to levelling the distinction between types of power exchange involved in sacred sex by calling it all prostitution. This doesn’t reclaim the sacredness of sex, it perpetuates the millenia old definition of freely sexual women as available to all men. Any woman who strays too far from good girl behaviors stands in danger of being called a whore. Being called a whore means loss of status, means dirty, means lowest of the heap. Being called a whore also means fair game. You can’t rape a whore–she’s available to all men, by definition.
Defining prostitution as a religious activity is a good move in the direction of claiming back the power to define our sexuality. It’s fun how the words “sacred” and “whore” together shock. Sacred whore. The phrase starts to break up the complex of shame around prostitution, it silences name calling, it makes no sense at all to those who deny their bodies and hate pleasure. A sacred prostitute is not a woman who belongs to all men–she is a woman who belongs to the goddess.
On the other hand, isn’t this pretty much an internal experience? That is, how is the self-perception “I am sacred” getting transmitted from the whore to the customer? The trouble is that men in our culture are not trained to respect goddesses. They’re not paying to be enlightened, they’re paying to come. I suppose you could limit your clientele to Pagan men, but most of them don’t make all that much…
I want to draw attention to something fairly simple: what’s happening with the energy? Metzgar’s right about the serious aggression problem we have. The prostitute will take a hit of anger laden energy, how is she getting clean afterwards? Don’t we need to at least ask these questions before we advocate prostitution as a spiritual path?
Saying “we must all become prostitutes” perpetuates the notion that women owe men something. Their limitless sexual energy. Healing. A cure for aggression. It escapes me what we get by buying into this. A sense of being limitless resources? I have another sense–that my life is precious. My energy and body and time and love are finite and gifts owed to no one.
Every sexual act involves an exchange. Becoming conscious of the exchange allows the priestess to channel it. For the prostitute the exchange contract trades money for sexual service, but that is not the only kind of exchange that can exist; other contracts involve pleasure, energy, and emotion.
I think it’s time to take the power to define the basis on which we will engage in sexual exchanges of ANY kind, based on the radical concept that we own our bodies and our energy, and that we are owed respect as a matter of course.
Sexual Priestess Manifesto
- I choose every touch at every moment.
- I can say no. I can stop at any time.
- All parties must agree to all activities, including energy movement.
- All parties must benefit equally from the exchange.
Personally, I don’t find the ideas “male energy” or “female energy” or “sexual energy” useful at all. Men and women are shapes human bodies come in. Sex isn’t an energy, it’s a process, a way to channel energy through the body.
A sexual priestess needs the physical skills involved in making love well; understands how to move energy in her own body and her partner’s; exchanges emotional energy; fluidly induces states of consciousness in herself and her partner.
As a priestess I may play many roles with my partners, including that of prostitute, but I demand an underlying respect for myself and for the goddess to whom I am dedicating the endeavor. These days mostly Aphrodite. The word I use for myself isn’t qadistu, or hetaera, or zonah; the word I use for myself is lover.
Califia, Pat: “The Dominant Woman as Priestess and Sacred Whore”, in Bitch Goddess: The Spiritual Path of the Dominant Woman, Pat Califia and Drew Campbell, editors, Greenery Press 1997
Metzger, Deena: “Re-Vamping the World: On the Return of the Holy Prostitute,” Utne Reader, 1985
Williams, Brandy: Ecstatic Ritual: Practical Sex Magic, Prism Press, 1990copyright © 1999 Brandy Williams