The Sacred Prostitute in the Ancient World

It may be hard for the western mind to reconcile that the words sacred and prostitute may be linked, for the Judeo-Christian tradition holds sexuality to be profane, the antithesis of spirit. Yet in the times of the Great Goddess worship, sexuality was revered and held sacred. We find evidence of sacred prostitution throughout the ancient world, as early as the Gilgamesh Epic of 7000 B.C.E. Herodotus, a Greek historian from the third century B.C.E., wrote:

“… women of the land… sit in the temple of love and have intercourse with some stranger… the men pass and make their choice. It matters not what be the sum of money; the women will never refuse, for that were a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. After their intercourse she has made herself holy in the sight of the goddess… ” 1

Sacred prostitution occurred in the early civilizations of Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Rome, and is mentioned in the code of Hammurabi. It also seems to have been common in Europe and the Middle East prior to the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In fact, sacred prostitutes not only existed, they flourished and were held to be important members of society:

“… the sacred prostitutes were many in number. According to Strabo, at the temples of Aphrodite in Eryx and Corinth there were above a thousand, while at each of the two Comanas about six thousand were in residence. They were accorded social status and were educated. In some cases, they remained politically and legally equal to men.” 2

The Golden Age of goddess worship, in which sacred prostitution was widespread, was the Age of Taurus, whose polarity is Scorpio, the two signs most commonly associated with sexuality. Venus is the ruler of Taurus, and Venus as a goddess is physically beautiful and sexually appealing. She is the goddess of earthly love, sexual and sensual. The Great Goddess was the bringer of all that is alive, responsible for the fruitfulness of the earth. Through her came new life, and sexuality was one of the mysteries of creation. Sexuality was revered and worshipped in a way we find hard to fathom today. In the goddess temples, the sacred prostitutes were her priestesses. Their bodies were available to share the blessings of the goddess with strangers, hungry for love and connection. In this way, sexual love was shown to be divine, of the goddess, not separate from it. Hesiod, an eighth century B.C.E. poet, wrote:

“… the sensual magic of the sacred whores ‘mellowed the behavior of men.’… She is the bringer of sexual joy and the vessel by which the raw animal instincts are transformed into love and love-making.” 2

These women were known in ancient languages as the nu-gig, or “the undefiled,” “the pure or spotless.” 3 This seems particularly to be of the nature of Virgo, that a woman known for her beauty and sexuality would be considered pure. The priestess felt herself to be an incarnation of the holy spirit as she made love with the men who came to pay homage to the goddess. She was a teacher of the mysteries, of the healing and restorative power of sexual energy.

2) M. Esther Harding, Woman’s Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, New York, NY: Harper Colophon Books, 1971

1) Nancy Qualls-Corbett, The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books,1988

© 2010 Catherine Auman