Sacred and Profane:
The Whore in Context | By Eric Francis

Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession, so we may guess that there is a bit of confusion about its early history. But there are, at the moment, currents in our culture of something called sacred prostitution, and the fact of the sacred prostitute emerging, or reemerging. Usually a woman, she offers herself as the Way to the Goddess through erotic worship. I am Quaker. This is more fun than Sunday meeting. That is the whole issue.

She may be a tantrika (a practitioner of tantric sex, as taught -- not always by that name -- by the Taoists, the Tibetans or the Hindus, and their local successors). A tantrika sometimes does sessions with men centered entirely on conscious, mutually respectful erotic pleasure, aimed at increasing one's spiritual awareness, a concept that is uniquely outrageous to Christian theology. Tantrikas of varying degrees of skill are fairly easy to find on the Internet. She may be a massage therapist who grants what is politely called 'release' at the end of a bodywork session. She may be a nurse who, when privately bathing a paralyzed person, includes sexual gratification. She may be a sex writer who tells the truth. She may be a dominatrix, or dom, who provides a forum for what is called power exchange and allows men to be submissive in her presence. She may be a working prostitute who truly cares for and strives to heal the pain of her clients. She may be a social activist who teaches women to masturbate.

She is any woman who can surrender enough of her personal identity into an erotic experience that the Goddess may be experienced directly through her. In a society where God is purported to be a man, this is the issue.

You may recognize the sacred whore as the lover who does not put a bargaining value on her sexual favors. You may notice that she is unusually responsive to your specific needs for pleasure or comfort. You may know her as a woman who belongs to no man, but can offer herself freely to any person. The Berlin-based model, photographer and astrologer Maria Henzler, who for years has offered portraits of herself masturbating to readers of this publication, is a sacred whore (photo by Neal McDonough, above). Her photographs of men and women self-pleasuring are as stunning as her work as a model.

In summary, she is a woman who truly feels good about sexual pleasure, who understands and accepts that it is necessary, and who is not bound by the conventional rules of society. She is a woman who decides for herself when it comes to her own sexuality. Many, many women aspire to this, often secretly. Innumerable men want and need them. The derogatory stereotype of whore is often used as a cover story for men's inability to deal with their jealousy and habitual treatment of women as property. What men who play this game usually fail to notice is that they are prisoners of the same set of beliefs. But I have also seen many women balk at the possibility of their own freedom to choose. And as much as men are blamed for the sexual imprisonment of women, women do it to one another. One sexually free women among many who are using sex for its commodity value can cause a lot of trouble. Where sex has a value other than pleasure, one woman who conveys any other idea can spoil the whole game. Hence, as many or more women are as responsible for casting their sisters as whores as are men.

The ongoing emergence of the sacred whore is part of a long process of reclaiming of gender, sex and sexuality that has taken many forms in the past century, from women's suffrage (the struggle to have the vote) to the sexual revolution to gay rights. And yet we don't need to wrap pleasure in the garb of spirituality or politics to make it legitimate. Pleasure has a place unto itself. Whores know that, as do the people who associate with them. We would do well to question what the fuss about being a whore is in the first place. Do we have the privilege to sell or give away what is ours? Or does the fact that prostitution is illegal point to the deeper fact that what a woman has is not really hers?

Before we move onto the articles for this issue that were assigned, written and edited exclusively by the women contributors to Planet Waves -- I am seeing them for the first time tonight -- I think it would be a good idea to loosely define a few terms for the sake of clarity.

The word sacred, from the same root as sacrifice, means worthy of religious veneration, as opposed to profane, which means cast outside the temple. Interesting that the word venerate has as its root Venus, who is the goddess of love and the patron of courtesans. What is sacred and profane thus have a lot to do with who decides where the temple is, and who determines what's allowed in its doors. It's clear enough that the modern keepers of the mainstream temple don't have much use for women who make up their own minds about sex, except as people to beat on. This is a cause of much shame, humiliation and hypocrisy.

Sacred prostitution would be any form of allowing the ritual practice of sex to exist within the temple, that is, as part of spiritual worship or any form of healing. In the not-so-ancient temples of the Goddess, this was apparently considered normal practice. In the Greek city of Corinth, to whose people Paul wrote so many letters, there were a thousand temple priestesses working. In Greek mythology and in astrology, Hestia (Vesta in Roman myth) is their goddess; the Virgins, not virgins at all, were the keepers of the sacred flame, and served 'for a specific purpose'.

We might also consider the word whore. American Heritage features a prominent sidebar in its third edition dictionary, which says that the Indo-European root ka, to like or desire, is the source. "From the stem karo derived from this root came the prehistoric Common Germanic word horaz with the underlying meaning 'one who desires' and the effective meaning adulterer. From this word came the Old English word hore, the ancestor of Modern English whore. The same stem produced the Latin carus, 'dear', from which came Modern English caress, cherish and charity, the highest form of love." So remember that when you hear any of these words: they are all part of the same word group as whore.

"Contact with East Indian culture has added yet another pair of derivatives from this Indo-Eropean root to the English language," the editors continue. "From the stem kamo came the Sanskrit word kamah, 'love, desire', from which are derived the English borrowings Kama, 'the Hindu god of Love,' and Kamasutra, 'a Sanskrit treatise on the rules of love and marriage according to Hindu law'."

One last note. Christian teachings often confuse a number of different historical or mythological figures in the Bible with Mary Magdeline, who has become a modern patron saint of sacred whores. There is the 'sinful woman with the ointment' annointing Jesus, of Luke chapter 7, who shows up in all the gospels; we don't know what her sin was. There is no reference to link her to Mary from Magdeline in Luke chapter 8 or elsewhere, whose problem was merely having been possessed by seven devils. She becomes a disciple. Both are different than the 'adulteress caught in the very act' who appears only in John chapter 8, about whom Jesus made the famous comment about the person having no sin casting the first stone.

But sin means lack. And the sacred whore has returned to help us make up for that, to grant us an aspect of being unavailable from anyone else.

-- Bible research by Rose Michaelis

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