Thursday, August 04, 2005

The sacred prostitute

In recent decades, two groups have attempted to rehabilitate the so-called "sacred prostitutes" of the ancient Mediterranean world. Part of what we think we know of these alleged customs of temple prostitutes--either women dedicated their virginity to a deity and/or possibly slaves--comes from the Greek geographer and historian Strabo, who lived about 2,000 years ago.

One group did so in the interest of improving the image and social standing of today's sex workers, as does this site:

[M]any contemporary prostitutes turn to the iconography of the “sacred prostitute,” a quasi-historical construct providing a “golden age” when the prostitute’s unique power was honored rather than reviled. Relying on mythology and animal imagery of Near Eastern goddesses, particularly Lilith and Inanna, this strain of discourse constructs a position of political and spiritual sovereignty within which prostitutes can contextualize their work and their political struggles.

Others seek to meld the commercial and sacred roles. They may seek to expand the boundaries of how we express spirituality or view prostitution as service to the Great Goddess. As part of the larger work of Goddess spirituality, the "prostitute" is redefined as "priestess."

The "holy whore" may express a form of gnostic spirituality as well.

Some followers of revived ancient Egyptian religion take a similar line:

The Egyptian sacred 'prostitute' (who was probably a highly regarded as a member of Egyptian society because of her association with different gods or goddesses (such as Bes and Hathor), rather than the street walker that the modern mind imagines) advertised herself through her clothing and make up.

However, this article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is more skeptical, at least about Egypt:

Surprisingly, the minute one sets aside the Judeo-Christian moral code and excises from the list of "harlots" those who engaged in a provocative line of work such as erotic dancing, there is no evidence, in all the historical findings from the days of the Pharaohs, that sex could be bought for money in the Land of the Nile. (Link via Paleojudaica.)

Clearly the combination of women + sex + religious worship is still a potent one, even to another writer who wants partially to debunk it.

Kama, working name of an Indian-born London prostitute who considers herself to be a devadasi, or sacred prostitute in the Hindu tradition, has a blog too, where she has mentioned that she felt looked down on by British sex-worker activists, who considered her to be a "trafficked woman."

She writes elsewhere,

Being a Devadasi allows me a world view that legitimizes my sexual behaviour so I can enjoy myself without any sense of guilt or regret, it gives me the processes that allow me to genuinely have affection for the men I meet, and a lifestyle that allows me to live independently of South Asian patriarchy while yet maintaining a South
Asian identity.

So there is the new sacred prostitute: economically on her own and framing her life in terms of identity politics.


Post a Comment

<< Home