So, this is my first foray into blogging. Well, not strictly true, since I have written blogs for my accounts on myspace and tribe.net. It feels a little more author-writer-like, here…………..
So who am I? :) Little old me…. literally , a petite 5’0″.
I am a British dancer /student of many Middle Eastern/bellydance styles: including Egyptian (Oriental/Cabaret/ Ghawazee(Roma/”Gypsy”) Saiidi, folk, Classical 1940′s) Turkish (Oriental and Roma), Moroccan (Schikhatt and Folk) Tunisian, ATS (American Tribal Style bellydance) and Tribal Fusion, Dunyavi “Gypsy” ( Turkish, flamenco and North Indian Roma styles fused by Dalia Carella of New York). I have been studying this form of dance since 1998.
Also since 1998, I have been a student of Flamenco, another great love of mine. I have had many teachers, who have studied both in Spain and in the UK, and have been lucky to study the many palos(styles) ; solea, soleares, bulerias, tientos, tangos, huelva, malaguena, with footwork ( oh yes!) castenet ( harder still!) and body work.
I have an interest in the Zambra Mora, which, strictly speaking, is a flamenco music form, which lent itself to beautiful choreographed dances in the 1940′s (with the resurgence of an interest in Andalucia and her Moorish past). It has been touted as the oldest flamenco dance form , but research by dancers /writers such as Ana Ruiz explore this idea and come up with a more interesting dance truth. I’ve explored the Zambra Mora in my myspace and tribe .net accounts: http://www.myspace.com/qurtubiyya and http:// people.tribe.net/maureen-theresa .
More over, I have a deep and long term interest in Moorish Spain/Portugal: culture, art, artistry, poetry, literture, history, language, mores and philosophies, which I hope can feed into my dance art ( Middle Eastern and Flamenco dance) on some level.
I am currently learning kathak and ballet- both very highly disciplined dance forms. I am hoping to add a classical infrastructure to my Flamenco and Middle Eastern dance studies. The classical teaches great mastery, depth, and the push for knowing everything inside out, that stands the test of time…..
Alongside my dancing, I’m a writer, but I was a writer first. I write on many things:articles on art, arts, culture, cultures, language, languages, history, histories, anthropology, sociology, literature, socio-politics, women’s issues, gender issues, and more recently short-story writing. I want to explore short, lyrical, vivid poetry, both as descriptions and stories, capturing the sharpness and accuracy and romanticism of a Brancusi sculpture: my aims
I journal dreams, since I want to listen to my intuition ( with Saturn in Pisces in my natal (astrological) eighth house, it’s not surprising for me – for those of you who read astrology on a more psychological, subsconscious level – that Pisces is symbolical of dance, dreams, the feet, spirituality, the social conscience, and breaking down boundaries,in the eighth house of shared resources, sexuality, the hidden, the occult; Saturn is the structure- what a good way then for me to focus on writing clearly and deeply on those all themes……………. I’m sounding a little too serious , here, LOL…)
In my day to day life, I teach foreign and second language students English, at a further education college. Hey, no one knows it’s me, writing all this……
Chapter 2 Part B
“The sky, metal, wind and fire are male, the water, earth, plant and fish are female… the remaining creation consists of male and female….”
The Bundahisn ( a Zoroastrian collection of texts on Cosmology)
1.”Zoroastrianism has always depended on words, and literacy is a sacred duty for a Zoroastrian. Though very very few Zoroastrians know Avestan ( the language of the Holy Book ‘Zend Avesta ‘ ) , all of them revere the Avestan language and say their prayers in it, relying on transliterations to read it aloud, and translations for their own understanding. Zoroastrians know that Avestan, even if they do not understand it, carries more than just text and information. It has gathered a wealth of spiritual power over three and a half thousand years, an intangible but very perceptible grandeur. It simply would not be the same if all the prayers were translated into Gujarati, Persian, or English – though often, at modern ceremonies, translations are read after the ceremony is concluded. The Avesta has been preserved through millennia of hardship by the devotion of priests and people who kept it alive in memory, sacred words preserved in linguistic amber until the modern era when their code was cracked. This preservation of the original words of Zarathushtra, and the words of those who came after him, is perhaps the foremost miracle of the entire Zoroastrian tradition.”
2.”Because of the fact that the revelation of the doctrines of resurrection, angels, Satan, and the Messiah comes late (In the Old Testament) or even in the intertestamental period in early Judaism, scholars have frequently traced these ideas to Zoroastrian influence exerted upon the Jewish people after the Babylonian exile. Moulton examined these points in detail and concluded that they were “not proven.” The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has reopened the discussion, due to the presence of marked “Zoroastrian” influences in the Qumran literature. Some of the most striking parallels to Jewish-Christian eschatology can be shown to be very late developments in Zoroastrianism. On the other hand, it would not do violence to a high view of inspiration to admit that God could have used Zoroastrianism as a means of stimulating the Jewish mind to think on these subjects even as he used Hellenism to prepare the Jewish mind for the Christian revelation (witness Saul of Tarsus). The magi (“wise men”) of the birth narrative may have been Zoroastrian priests.”
1. and 2. taken from http://www.religioustolerance.org
Here follows a series of quotes which reflect on Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest organised religions in the world, which pre-date Judaism, Christianity and Islam. What does it have to say about sacred sexuality? We’ll look at basic beliefs, rituals, festivals, and then onto gender relationships and sacred sexuality.
Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in Iran, until the Arab invasion, where it was gradually replaced by Islam (www.hinduwebsite.com)
Background to Zoroastrianism
Quote 1 ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)
“The religion was founded by Zarathushtra in Persia — modern-day Iran. It may have been the world’s first monotheistic faith. It was once the religion of the Persian empire, but has since been reduced in numbers to fewer than 200,000 today. With the exception of religious conservatives, most religious historians believe the the Jewish, Christian and Muslim beliefs concerning God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, the virgin birth of the savior, the slaughter of the innocents, resurrection, the final judgment, etc. were all derived from Zoroastrianism”.
This may have been one of the first religions to move away from the Mother Goddess/Goddesses worship. Let’s look at a little more at the details:
Zoroaster/Zarathusra is said by some sources ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com, for example) to have probably lived around 12000 BC ( The Bronze Age) or even earlier, in Iran. He is said to have shifted religious practices of the pastoral communities moving around the plain lands, from ritualistic purity to ethical purity/consciousness , and from polytheistic forms to a monotheistic form, while maintianing some polytheistic elements, suggest hinduwebsite.com.
There appears to be a link between Zorosatrianism and Hinduism, because the people of these religions, shared an Indo-European heritage of language and customs, spreading from right across Europe and Asia (Caucasus, Iran , Afghansitan and finally the Indian subcontinent), as they travelled ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com). The Indo-European language family, to this day, incorporates the majority of European languages (mainland Europe, including the languages of UK and Eire, Russia, the Caucasus, Greece, Iran and a vast variety of languages and dialects in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, not forgetting the languages of the Roma “Gypsies”).
Farsi , Old Persia and Avestan are language cognates of Sanskrit. It has been said, for example, Avestan and Sanskrit were very similar in sound and grammar ( www.hinduwebsite.com) . These early worshippers of an ancient pre-Zoroastrianism-Hinduism religion were nature worshippers, and no doubt, included a Mother Goddess , in their polytheistic pantheon. Thus, Zoroastrianism in its early stages was similar to some forms of Hinduism. In the next section on Hinduism and scared sexuality, we will list the similarities, to get a context.
So in terms of world religions, Zoroastriansim is, say http://www.hinduwebsite.com, extremely important. It an actual bridge not only between Hinduism and itself, but with other religions ( such as the Abrahamic religions). With Hinduism, we later have its offshoot, Buddhism. So Zoroastrianism is a real bridge between East and West ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com).
Further more, the Holy book , the Zend Avesta, was written in Early Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism, and http://www.hinduwebsite suggests that Zoroastrianism shares similar ideas/doctrines with Hinduism.
Quote 2 ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)
‘The Zorastrian holy book is called the (Zend) Avesta. This includes the original words of their founder Zarathushtra, preserved in a series of five hymns, called the Gathas. The latter represent the basic source of the religion. The Gathas are abstract sacred poetry, directed towards the worship of the One God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice and individual choice between good and evil. The Gathas have a general and even universal vision.
At some later date (most scholars say many centuries after the death of Zarathustra), the remaining parts of the Avestas were written. These deal with laws of ritual and practice, with the traditions of the faith. The Zoroastrian community is sharply divided between those who would follow mostly (or exclusively) the teachings of the original Gathas, and those who believe that the later traditions are important and equally divinely inspired.”
As mentioned earlier, the follower of this religion has to choose between good and evil, to avoid committing sin. We can clearly see how Judaism would have or could have used some of the philosophical /spiritual concepts of Zoroastrianism: belief and worship of one God, social justice, individuals focusing on righteous morality and ethical behaviour, and not committing sin. The concept of the Devil, heaven and hell, judgement day , the resuurection of the dead ( all existent in Zoroastrianism belief system) are seen in the next quote, and may have been profound influences on three Abrahamic faiths. Note also, the story of the Virgin birth. The one difference is Zoroastriansim believes staying in heaven or hell is temporary, since one is reincarnated and re-born to start the life cycle again, and to be judged again , on Judgement Day ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com). Reincarnation is a belief of Hinduism.
Quote 3 ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)
” Zoroastrian Beliefs:
A single god Ahura Mazda who is supreme. Communication between Himself and humans is by a number of Attributes, called Amesha Spentas or Bounteous Immortals. Within the Gathas, the original Zoroastrian sacred text, these Immortals are sometimes described as concepts, and are sometimes personified.
One school of thought promotes a cosmic dualism between:
An all powerful God Ahura Mazda who is the only deity worthy of being worshipped, and
An evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, who opposes Ahura Mazda.
“The resulting cosmic conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity who is required to choose which to follow. Evil, and the Spirit of Evil, will be completely destroyed at the end of time. Dualism will come to an end and Goodness will be all in all.
Another school of thought perceives the battle between Good and Evil as an ethical dualism, set within the human consciousness.
Asha is a form of righteous, an all encompassing, natural law.
Legends, which are probably not those of Zarathushtra’s original teachings are:
After death, a person’s urvan (soul) is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged by a troika consisting of Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into Heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to Hell.
The universe will go through a total of three eras:
The present world where good and evil are mixed. People’s good works are seen as gradually transforming the world towards its heavenly ideal;
A final state after this renovation when good and evil will be separated.
Eventually, everything will be purified. Even the occupants of hell will be released.
A Saoshyant (savior) will be born of a virgin, but of the lineage of the Prophet Zoroaster who will raise the dead and judge everyone in a final judgment. This is a theme that is seen in many world religions.”
Quote 4 ( http://www.religioustolerance.org)
Their worship includes prayers and symbolic ceremonies.
Members are dedicated to a three-fold path, as shown in their motto: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”
Members can pray at home instead of going to a temple if they wish.
Zoroastrians use three calendars: Shenshai, Qadimi and Fasli. On 1992-MAR-21, the spring equinox and first day of the Zoroastrian year, all three calendars coincided. This is an event that only occurs only once every 120 years. Many Zoroastrian organizations recommended that the membership switch to the Fasli Calendar on that day. This has been reasonably successful.
As noted elsewhere:
Zoroastrians do not generally accept converts.
Many Zoroastrians actively discourage and do not recognize inter-faith marriages.
They do not proselytize”
( references for this:
Laurie Goodstein, “Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling,” New York Times, 2006-SEP-06, at: http://select.nytimes.com/
“Zoroastrian Calendar,” at: http://www3.sympatico.ca/)
Quote 5: Festivals and Fire Ceremony
“Today’s Zoroastrians (Parsis) practice an important coming of age ritual, in which all young Parsis must be initiated when they reach the age of seven (in India) or 10 (in Persia). They receive the shirt (sadre) and the girdle (kusti), which they are to wear their whole life.
There are three types of purification, in order of increasing importance:
padyab, or ablution
nahn, or bath
bareshnum, a complicated ritual performed at special places with the participation of a dog (whose left ear is touched by the candidate and whose gaze puts the evil spirits to flight) and lasting several days.
The Zoroastrian system of penance entails reciting the patet, the firm resolve not to sin again, and the confession of sins to a dastur or to an ordinary priest if a dastur is not obtainable.
The chief ceremony, the Yasna, essentially a sacrifice of haoma (the sacred liquor), is celebrated before the sacred fire with recitation of large parts of the Avesta. There also are offerings of bread and milk and, formerly, of meat or animal fat.
The sacred fire must be kept burning continually and has to be fed at least five times a day. Prayers also are recited five times a day. The founding of a new fire involves a very elaborate ceremony. There are also rites for purification and for regeneration of a fire.
Zoroastrian burial rites center on exposure of the dead. After death, a dog is brought before the corpse (preferably a “four-eyed” dog, i.e., with a spot above each eye, believed to increase the efficacy of its gaze). The rite is repeated five times a day. After the first one, fire is brought into the room where it is kept burning until three days after the removal of the corpse to the Tower of Silence. The removal must be done during the daytime.
The interior of the Tower of Silence is built in three concentric circles, one each for men, women, and children. The corpses are exposed there naked. The vultures do not take long—an hour or two at the most—to strip the flesh off the bones, and these, dried by the sun, are later swept into the central well. Formerly the bones were kept in an ossuary, the astodan, to preserve them from rain and animals. The morning of the fourth day is marked by the most solemn observance in the death ritual, for it is then that the departed soul reaches the next world and appears before the deities who are to pass judgment over it.
Festivals, in which worship is an essential part, are characteristic aspects of Zoroastrianism, a faith that enjoins on man the pleasant duty of being happy. The principal festivals in the Parsi year are the six seasonal festivals, Gahanbars, and the days in memory of the dead at year’s end. Also, each day of the month and each of the 12 months of the year is dedicated to a deity. The day named after the month is the great feast day of that particular deity.
The New Year festival, Noruz, is the most joyous and beautiful of Zoroastrian feasts, a spring festival in honour of Rapithwin, the personification of noonday and summer. The festival to Mithra, or Mehragan, was traditionally an autumn one, as honoured as the spring feast of Noruz.
Men and Women: Their roles in Zoroastrianism
Quote 5: ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com: Gender equality in Zoroastrianism, written by Jayaram V )
“Zoroastriansm… does not discriminate between men and women. Leaving aside the differences with regard to religious observances and role responsibilities, both sexes are treated equally in religious texts. Both male and female have equal importance, protecting the sanctity and divinity of the world. There is no such argument that male children are necessary to the deliverance of parents in the ancestor world (nor indication of preferential treatment of boys: my words).
“Children are advised to honor (sic) both mother and father equally”
So what does that mean regarding sex, sexuality, or even the concept of sacred sex?
Quote 5: Sacred Sex ( source taken from a Zoroastrian forum, but website name not known. It appears to have been taken down, but the quote is insightful. The question was asked, whether one should only have sex within marriage, as in Islam ):
“ In the Gathas (what Zarathushtra taught) the word SEX is not even mentioned. What is right is what is ethically correct and thus good. What is wrong is what is ethically bad. What CONSENTING ADULTS do in the privacy of their rooms is up to them. We do not demonize sex. What is evil is to lie, cheat, steal, impose oneself or use your power over some one else, brake (sic) your word, etc. And please do note that I capitalized consenting and adult above”.
So correct sexual activity is dependant on what is ethically/morally right. But again, what is morally, ethically right?
http://www.hinduwebsite compiles a list from the Zoroastrian sacred scriptures, about moral/ethical (sinless) behaviour, which in many ways is similar to the Jewish/Christian 10 commandments: No cheating, lying, bearing false witness, no coveting etc ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com)
Sexual sins are listed as: adultery, prostitution, same sex relationships, having sex with a menstruating woman, having sex with /being married to/ having children with a non- Zoroastrian ( taken from the Zoroastrian holy scriptures, Menog-i-Khard and the Denkard, http://www.hinduwebsite.com). Sounds familiar!
Some of these could be punishable by death. So the Zoroastrian has the idea that “ethical” sexual intercourse was /is only to be within marriage, between male and female. All else is not considered ethical, only sinful. So we have seen the same arguments in Part A of this chapter, with the three Abrahamic religions. So, the concept of sacred sex, between men and women is within marriage and http://www.hinduwebsite lists the requirements that a Zoroastrian husband must meet for his wife. It reminded me of some of the requirements a Jewish and Muslim husband must fulfil to do for his wife:
* Treat a wife well,
* Give her family a good bride price (this is an interesting one, indicating a belief in the value of a woman in the household- a bride price is compensation. The brideprice is perhaps a remnant of goddess-identified values)
* Maintain physical and sexual intimacy with her
* Avoid when one can, marrying a second time ( for both male and female)
(Meno-i-khard, Chapter 5, book 18 – http://www.hinduwebsite.com)
Looking at the forum quote, it focused on consensual sexual activity, although I am not sure whether it is within or outside marriage.
But at the same time, as equal expectation of male and female in spiritual matters, it appears women are still not to be trusted….
Quote 6 ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com)
“Zoroastrian scripture suggest that women are prone to temptations of evil and therefore should be kept under regular watch…. (women are expected to) cultivate the qualities of love, devotion… and perfection….”
Yes, that sounds familiar too! Zoroastrianism believes that the material world is full of danger, moral , physical and spiritual, so one must be on alert, and always be ethical ( http://www.hinduwebsite.com). Demons and evil spirits, devil worshippers are some of the threats, mentioned in Zoroastrian cosmology. It is implying though, women are more vulnerable.
The emphasis on doing the right thing for another person and in the community is very pervasive as the tenets of Zoroastrian beliefs, but then again, that is the case with most spiritual paths. However, people clearly fall very short of the ideals of embracing humanity and treating each other with justice and compassion. Already, while sacred sexuality is preferably practised within a loving marriage (male/female ) what if one is in a same sex, or expresses their sexuality in a different way? This excludes so many people.
Sacred sex therefore, can perhaps be explored and discussed with far wider parameters, and we’ll be going there :).
Let’s look at Hinduism and Sacred Sexuality, next.
http://www.hinduwebsite.com ( a comprehensive collection of articles on religions such as Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Lots of links and sources, worth reading more into)
Zoroastrian forum, apologies for not being able to locate full website address/link.
Amazing. Attention to detail. They remind me very much of Islamic/geometric designs. Beautiful. Classic. More people should know about his work
Chapter 2: Part A. Sacred Sexuality and the Three Monotheistic Religions.
Part B. Zoroastrianism’s influences, Hinduism’s Sacred Sexuality/Sacred feminine
Part C. Prostitutes.
The first chapter looked, in summary at the beginnings, philosophies and some practices connected with Sacred Sexuality. Obviously times and practices, concepts and outlooks on lives have s#changed considerably, to the point that the idea of sexuality been seen as sacred in parts of mainstream societies, across the world, seems very alien. It also has been often widely and traditionally reported that at the ouset, believers in a masculine/monotheistic god Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tried to suppress cultures, thoughts, rituals and practices associated with sacred sexuality and Mother/Female Goddess worship ( http://www.lorrainehutchins.com/newholyerotics discussed how Augustine, an African Christian theologian in the 4th century CE influenced the dichotomy between mind and body, where the physical body becomes inferior and degraded compared to the spiritual mind. Augustine may have been influenced by some of the Ancient Greek philosophies, which overemphasised the importance of the mind and intellect, rather than seeing a balance between mind and body. In turn this leads to the notion of men being the ‘rational’ norm, with women considered the opposite of this, and so on. With these opposites, we get then the notion of sexuality and sex being inferior to spirituality, thus breaking the link between spiritual and sexuality/mind and body and sacred sexuality with its reverence for the female divine impulse, disaappears. Sex and the philosophy of sex, at least, within the Christian churches becomes degraded.)
But let’s play devils’ advocate- have these three religions done this: supressed or repressed or is there actually more to it than meets the eye…..?
Hinduism, for a start, a religion, with ancients roots, appears to be the only current major world religion that has the sacred feminine/sacred sexuality practice, still existing in a very strong form, now lost to the other spiritual paths. What happened? .
There is a religion, slightly, older than Judaism, known as Zoroastrianism, a religion of the ancient Iranians, now practised in parts of India, Europe, North America, New Zealand, parts of East Africa, where many of their descendants, forming a diaspora, have settled ( many , originally coming from India arenow known as Parsis/Parsees, perhaps a corruption of the name Persia name ? ) Zoroastrianism , is said to have had a significant impact on Jewish religious thought, writing, even the alphabet, at a time, Jewish people had contacts with the Persians, at a point in ancient time. In terms of a”monotheistic” -leaning religion, Zoroastrianism is certainly one of the oldest one, of its type. We will explore that later, as well as looking at Hindusim’s sacred feminine, as a way to find pieces in the sacred sexuality jigsaw. Also, we should bear in mind that these three religions ( Judaism , Zoroastriansm and Hinduism, are significant old enough, to be traced from the very edges of pre-history to conscious history ( human history, with oral and written traditions, indicating consciousness and will have much to say about some of the earliest human societies and thought ).
We will start firstly with Judaism, which is slightly younger than Zoroastrianism; Judaism,(using its calendar ) dates back to around 3760 BCE .( National Geographic : Concise History of World Religions, An Illustrated Timeline). We are currently , at the time of writing (2011) in the Jewish year of 5772 (www.chabag,org/) .
Judaism is influential in the development of two other very closely related religions, Christianity and Islam, where adherents from all three faiths are known as “People of the Book” or” ’Ahl Al- Kitab” in Arabic, and referenced in the Qu’ran , indicating believers whose faith, were considered revealed .( In Judaic tradition, “People of the Book,” (Hebrew: “Am HaSefer ” only refers to Jewish believers and followers of the Torah) . It can also mean , here, where these three religions are classified as “Abrahamic” religions, since the source of the religions can be traced back to/revealed to Abraham /Ibrahim, whose roots and family were originally from ancient Iraqi and were nomadic -Sumer in Iraq, considered to be one of the first/oldest human establishments, in the world, c. 3200, BCE ( National Geographic ).
Monotheistic religion, at the outset, was a very revolutionary concept, since it was breaking away from the notion that the main inspiration of the Divine was a female energy, and also it focused on one deity, not several deities ,female or male, within a pantheon.
Judaism, as a monotheistic religion, actually forms a bridge between the times when the ethos of sacred sexuality was extant and that of the development of monotheistic worship. Judaism, thus, at the start was, not surprisingly, surrounded by sacred sexuality-identified cultures, of fertility rites/cults/goddesses. As a religion, she records early struggles her believers had , between those fertility cults and “monotheistic impulse, which used a patriarchal vehicle.
The very beginnings: The Story of early human sexuality and Sacred Sexuality (What happened before the Courtesan)
“….Because the ancients saw the universe and its origins as creative- they saw it all as a fusion or intercourse of forces of nature-with most ancient cultures seing male and female aspects of a powerful creative force.
“All major religion has a sect which devotes itself to mysticism which in turn tries to explore deeper concepts behind sacred sexuality and the practical integration of sprituality and sexuality…”
(Michael Mirdred , http://www.spiritualtantra.net/history-of-sacredsexuality )
The Courtesan and how she came about has a very, very early history and contexts and this is what I want to explore in this short chapter.
Sex and Spirituality: Two sides of the Coin
Many people are aware that spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin, and at the very beginnings of human history, whilst grappling with both these sides of our natures, early humanity saw connections with nature and her forces, seeing creativity there and within themselves. Often times, because so many of us live in urban areas, we fail to see this connection with nature, the constellations at night, the sea tides, alongside the cycles of natures, and the awareness of similar cycles within ourselves.
Many cultures across the world, in ancient times used this awareness, and developed them into philosophies and rituals, some of which still exist today. They looked at how sexual energy could be used, to convey greater healing, greater well being, greater fertility and greater harmony, within their environment. Sciences and arts developed to devote time and energy to honour the sexuality and spiritual of self and communities,. say Midred.
This could have included, healing rituals, or even sexual/sensual expression to mimic the cycles of nature and what the early humans saw, within the skies, supernovae, constellations and weather.
Within this, a whole host of rituals, ranged from prayer rituals, dance, herbal medicines, shamanism, temple dancers, worship of gods and goddesses (particularly Mother Goddesses) the work of ancient priestesses, spiritual paths (Tantra and Taoism- see below) and others, all evolved, purely to keep staying connected with nature and life. Sex was not only an expression of pleasure and release, but a vehicle of creativity/fertilty, the life force and general well-being. It was “conscious sex” ( my words)
Sex as Healing: Tantra, Taoism etc.
The ancient Lemurians, in Hawaii (Midred), were using vibrational healing ( an early form of Reiki, perhaps) and aromatherapy, for example, as part of their healing rituals; Tantra is indeed one of the oldest forms of preserved sexual healing and wholeness, sex incorporated into spiritual practice for a wholeness of mind and body- otherwise known as sacred sex/sexuality (Midred). There is also Taoism (Daoism) and its practices from Chinese philosophy, with its similar approaches.
Tantra, from the Hindu religion , seeks to connect all things, to find unity from the universe to within oneself, in order to find a deeper spirituality in oneself and the world. Tantra, means a tool to weave (with) “Tan” expand/weave (Sanskrit) and “Tra”(Sanskrit) tool.
Many believe Tantra came from yoga postures, which relax, strenghten and help liberate /expand mind consciousness. Mirdred says: “Many of the physically challenging positions of Tantric love -making are actually yoga postures for personal awakening.” (Mirdred). The whole point of all of this, is that postures and poses, held for long enough with correct breathing, can help to transform oneself on a profoundly deeper level- improving one’s health, one’s perception, awareness of barriers and limitations
Taoism, which developed in China, after Tantra, sees sex as one of eight spokes on the (Taoist) wheel, says Mirdred. Sexual energy can be transformed into healing, resulting into better health and “potential immortality”, encouraged by enhancing partnerships (with the emphasis on pleasing both the partner and oneself) and mastering sexual energy to develop greater sensitivity and spiritual receptivity. Both practices are serious spiritual paths, and are not for just focusing on sexual organs, but to get to the very essence of a person’s being.
Tantra and Taoism work on the principle of balance of either male and female (Tantra) or fire /male and water/female (Taoism) which complement each other when they find each other- creating a union (or yoga, Sanskrit). Tantra seeks women’s sexual and spiriutal energies as Shakti ( Sanskrit “to be able to, or empower”) which is limitless, and once awakened, the force can be channelled creatively and to heal. Shakti can be seen as an agent for change, fertility. Tantra says men have shakti too, but is in its “potential, unmanifest form”( Wikipedia, Shakti).
Legends , Folk tales about Sexuality
From these times, many legends, stories and folk tales originated concerning the nature of human sexuality, sensuality and love, across the cultures. In fact, almost every culture has a story based on these things( Metzner, Green Psychology) . Many sprung up, after monotheism became a dominant religion in particular areas(Metzner).
We have Cupid and Psyche (Ancient Greek – eroticism and spirituality equally honoured in an adult realtionship)
Diana and Actaeon ( Ancient Greek- where sexual desire destroys self, when one does not take time to honour and cherish the other , appropriately)
Shakti and Shiva ( Indian- balance between male and female, creating unity, energies found in all men and women)
Dionysious ( Roman/Ancient Greece divine ectasy, in terms of feeling abundant joy and enjoying the senses fully, as an expression of being alive,and experiencing spiritual liberation, or the shadow side of being physically addicted to things
This chapter is just a brief introduction to outline the context to early human sexuality, as there is a lot more detailed research that I’ve not been able to insert in, . I will get to the crux of sacred sexuality, which hinged very much on Goddess workship and the various rituals/practices, emanating from this and links the above with the full notion of sacred sexuality.
Goddess worship: The Black Goddesses and the Black Madonnas
Goddess worship was widespread across many ancient cultures, and although it included gods in the mix, the philosophy was about the Divine Female, as expressed with Shakti; the fertility and creativity. Earth and nature were essentially seen as femaile, due to the abundance of life, that was given forth. Goddess workship existed for thousands of centuries, well before it started to evolve in more male-orientated religion and then ultimately monontheism ) worship of one god, which preceded many patriarchical ( rule of the Fathers/male dominant) societies.
“Goddesses were worshipped along with the gods, in the context of them being allied to nature,” says Metzner,(Green Psychology)”where sacredness existed everywhere -fairies, nymphs, elves…”
In more detail, he states, that gods and goddesses could be communed with, via prayer, dance, shamanism, oracle reading, chants, feasts, plants and herbs. In all, goddesses harked back to a time of pre-patriarchal cultures of many cultures.
In areas of the Mediterranean Sea, Black goddesses worship, sprung up, arriving from Ancient Egypt and found counterparts in Phygia (the godess Cybele), Sumer (the goddess Inanna) Israel (Lilith) and further afield in India (Kali). Black was associated with deep, rich fertile soil, abundant life along the River Nile , in Egypt. Due to this,the colour white, became the colour of reverse- that is death and mourning (Metzer).
Goddess worship often involved devotees of workers and dancers, serving them , in temples and other places of worship, which I shall talk about later. All the goddesses mentioned, above, were goddesses of fertility, abundance, safe guarders of women in childbirth,( which could result in a mother’s or baby’s death). Lilith in particular was designated to female sexual automomy and protection in childbirth.
In Roman Empire times, specific goddesses were linked to specific cities. Paris had devotees of Isis (introduced by the Romans, from Egypt), Lyons was dedicated to Cybele, and Marseilles to Artemis.
Going into a little more detail , we see the devotees of these goddesses, developed their rituals and workship. In India/Pakistan, we see the development of the Devadasis, or temple women. Other civilisations had young dancing temple girls, who worked in the service of the gods and goddesses. “In the temple of Corinth, we are told, hundreds of prostitutes lived in the…. temple” (Metzner), and their main income was derived from dancing and ritual love making with worshippers.
I have used the word prostitute for the first time here- however, the context, is so very different , from what it is today, where it is far more pejorative and judgemental and so far removed from spiritual intentions. it also suggests that these women were paid and were highly professional. It also shows how far removed from the notion of sacred prostitutes, or even sex as healing and transformative. So far removed, indeed, from how sex is depicted in mainstream media and culture, across many cultures in the world, to date. Today, most societies see prostitution, as something of a necessary /unnecessary evil, driven by men, where both female and male prostitutes are seen to be exploited, or victims of associated crime/abuse/drug abuse/corruption/abuse of power and power dynamics. indeed, how far have societies come……..
At some point sex evolves from being sacred to profane.
Sacred Prositiutes in all ancient temples, were highly developed in ritualised sexual healing as explored earlier in this chapter: sex as connection/ union/spiritual healing and well being- but not in a pejorative sense. Temple prostitutes, temple dancers were often priestesses too, priestesses of sacred sex, where they were medicine women, wise women, as well as spiritual, psychic advisers. It was also certain, that these women were given a lot of respect, given the spiritual work that they did, on behalf of their community.
The ancient story of Enkiddu, a monster who terrorised the countryside, was made a civilised man, when the goddess Ishtar sent her priestesses to find him, have sex with him and civilised him, shows a legend of how sex was used as a healing, loving tool.(www.tempestdesigns.com/courtesan/htm) In fact, we can see how temple dancers, priestesses all evolved later on to become precursors of the courtesan proper, which will be looked at, in more detail.
During the course of my studies of Women’s Studies, during the 1990′s, I came across the Hite Report (Shere Hite) which spoke about a gradual shift from female centred goddess worship, to the more male centred /identified god worship, where religion became far more associated with male power and male identity.
Hite suggests that many civilisations while aware of that pregnancy led to child birth, they were not aware that male sperm was needed to fertilise the egg. Up till that point, the first families were headed by a woman, her sisters and brothers, maybe her aunts and mother- and children were looked after by this family. This was why matrilinity (lineage through the female side of the family. Patrilinity is the lineage from the father) was the main family form, and is now only existant in very few socities across the world, such as the Touareg. Their matrilineal form is gradually dying out.
Once societies realised the male contribution, the veneration of the goddesses changes somewhat. It meant too, that religion gradually became both male centred and in some places, eventually, monotheistic.
Monotheistic religions tried to eliminate the practice of goddess worship (competition)and in doing so, the goddess were linked with the shadow side and reversals of what they represented: goddesses became synonymous with child sacrifice, excessive sexuality, debauchery, sex that was immoral ( sacred sex became unholy, sacred prostitutes lost their sacred status, and were seen as immoral, in having sex outside ordained marriage, goddesses such as Artemis/Diana, were labelled witches, Lilith was a rebellious, disobedient whore, with Ishtar and Inanna labelled as whores).
Women’s sexuality, in the main, was tied to reversal of the sacredness of the goddesses, and so had to fit in with this new version of patriarchical sexuality, which in as much was tied to the property rights. Sexuality outside of that remit, was a no-no, or became embeeded into a society’s mind set, as not socially or morally acceptable. If a man knew he was the father of a male child, he could pass on property to him, and continue the system of male dominance and inheritance (Hite).
Some how, the goddess worship, could not quite die out with Christianity. Folk stories and legends about sacred sexuality ( Diana and Achaeton, Cupid and Psyche etc) still lived on, and the black goddesses evolved, across Europe, within Catholic Church worship, as Black Madonnas. The Black Madonna (read Isis of Egypt/Africa ) was the Virgin, but eventually worship of her was finally destroyed, so what was left , was, are the icons/images of the Black Madonna and Child (Metzner) that we still see today, in Europe.
The Devadasis ( Servant of God – Sanskrit) and proto Courtesan status.
I will now go back to the sacred temple dancers and workers of the ancient world, focusing on India/Pakistan, where they resided.
These were dancing girls, given to, or working in the many temples, in India/Pakistan in service to the goddesses and gods. What is interesting about the devadesis, is although they are not mentioned in the major Hindu scriptures (Vedas/Upanishads) specific temple duties are laid down in the Puranas- that is what women working in the temples should do, from day to day. The rituals laid down, and practised, included the temple servants/dancers dressing, bathing the deities’ statues and forms in the temples, also dancing for, singing to and playing musical instrument to the deities’ statues. The latter duties were the dancers’ main duties, for which they were paid for.
Smaller temples employed workers to clean temples and create garlands of flowers for the gods and goddesses’statues and images. By the 7th CE, the devadasis system was firmly established in India/Pakistan. Seven types of devadasis developed in the temple system:
1. self dedicated temple worker, who gave her self in the service of a deity,
2. a worker purchased to work for the temple,
3. servants employed for supporting a family, at the temple,
4.servants/devadasis employed to dance in the temple ,
5. women/girls that had been abandoned at the temple, and taken in to work,
6. servants appointed by the temple for specific/dedicated work,
and 7. servants donated by kings/nobles to work for their designated deity at the temple.
6 and 7 were the two absolutely dedicated to a deity, and could not marry a man (married to the deity) but had to often cater for the emotional and sexual needs of their donor/employer. Any ensuing children from these unions, became workers at the temples, often skilled musicians if sons, and skilled dancers if daughters. This last fact, is especially interesting, because those skills were in effect, being preserved, and dances such as the Bharanatyam, were being kept alive and transferred to the royal courts. These children carried on their mother’s lineage of art and spirituality, and actually became the custodians of fine arts, classics, Sanskrit and local languages.
Maybe, this indeed forms the very beginnings of what we could call Courtesan ( albeit in India/Pakistan) We can also see that proto -courtesan and sacred prostitutes most certainly shared a very common link and lineage, with the work that they did.
Sacred Dance: The role of dance in sacred sexuality, rituals and worship
“Bal-Anat is the combination of two words, a French word and also a Mesopotamian word… Anat is the benevolent Mother Goddess.. I like to think a positive …god.. she is the patron of women in childbirth. Bal (is) dance- Dance of the Mother Goddess”, said Jamila Salimpour( 1926-) a highly influential pioneer of Middle Eastern dance teaching methodology and performance in the USA.
She headed a Middle Eastern/Bellydance style troupe, called Bal Anat, during the late 1960′s, and in fact, drew a lot of her creative, innovative choreographies, from research on ancient societies, Middle Eastern cultures, 1930-40′s Egyptian dance films, Orientalist paintings. Middle Eastern dance or belly dance/Danse Orientale, is the oldest recorded dance in the world, with evidence of movements found on cave paintings, across the world (indicating a universality , all over the world, at one time, with movements that have been far afield as the South Pacific ( eg Hawaii) and in many African dances, and yet remained for centuries, with variations, in the Middle Eastern cultures, Buonaventura). It has been said that bellydance has its roots in imitating the movement of child birth, a dance ritual to aid the safe passage of a new born, and to support the mother giving birth ( Buonaventura et al).
Before I go further , I am going, to in fact, dedicate this part of the chapter, to two pioneers, Jamila Salimpour and Iris Stewart, author of” Sacred Woman , Sacred Dance”, because both have commented on the spiritual role and sacred origins of dance and reminded all of us, of this.
They , amongst others , deserve credit for this, as they touch upon the deep psychology of human beings, in that dance, as one of the ultimate methods of non verbal, unconscious communication,has been a vehicle for both spirituality, spiritual practice/ritual, celebration, as well as the every day ( folk dance sequences, social dances and so on ) and now, more recently, in some cultures, personal, individualistic expression.
“Today, we primarily think of dance as a form of entertainment or a way to exercise or socialise. There was a time when dance was considered the way to commune with the divine, a part of life’s journey,” says Stewart. Stewart’s book “Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance ” was the first book , that seriously tackled the spiritual origins of all dance, showing how women often expressed that side and were an important part of it all.
While Buonaventura’ work on belly dance “The Serpent of the Nile” , talks about the history and cultures of bellydance, Stewart exclusively focuses on pre-history/ancient history of dance and all the detailed research that shows up here.
Jamila’s own dance research, into the past, allowed her to teach and perform a mixture of fantasy and truth, as dancers to a Mother Goddess, Anat. As follows there were serpentine dances, with gently writhing, nonchalant snakes, as archived from film footage of Bal Anat (www.suhailainternational.com) ; Tunisian style folk dances, with water jars on heads and twisting hips; dances with wild spinning into back bends , before dropping onto the ground, motionless; powerful , proudly shimmying ,rebellious soloists with coins/coin belts and undulating stomachs, almost harking back to ancient Minoan/Crete dancing girls…
All these dances were infused with a sense of empowerment and stunning beauty,as well as with the Second Wave Feminist Movement, impacting across Europe and the USA, at that time . These dances evoked both the Mother Goddess and the Women’s Movement at the time: Jamila indeed captured the audience’s and future dancers’ imaginations and gave them something to think about.
Stewart’s book explores in detail how dance was dedicated to the goddesses, the divine, and how it celebrated the year’s calendar, and the rhythms of human life. “Dance is a language that re-unites the body, mind and spirit… Sacred dance was most valued in goddess worshipping cultures, where women served as priestesses and healers, dance was an integral part of religious ritual and ceremonial expression including Judaism and Christianity,” comments Stewart.
There were circle dances, birth rituals, ecstatic dances, dances for loss and grief ( either in groups or in dividually) “that allow(ed) women to integrate the movement of faith, healing and power into their daily lives”( Stewart). Dance was also a very, crucial part of the priestess’s role.
The priestess was, in addition to all the roles she performed ( as mentioned earlier in this chapter) was a healer/nurse/midwife, and used song , dance and rhythm for healing, psyshological transformation. They often wore special jewellery , costuming, amulets, as well as veils, headresses, and became the keepers of the ceremonies that took place ( Griselda Steiner and Stewart).
As time went on, the priestesses’ and women’s sacred dances were relegated to just spectacle and visual colour. It seemed to have occurred, when goddess worship moved towards the god/father centred religion ( Hite, Steiner and Stewart).
This then was the start of when sexuality split “from the natural flow of life and used as afunction of belonging to the patriarchial tribe”( Steiner). Hite echoes this, when the ancients recognised the role of father in procreation. And as seen, earlier, in this chapter, the role of the goddess and her values were reversed/demonised.
Interestingly, enough, though, dance , was part of spiritual worship, in many parts of the Christian world, including Spain, during the 15th century. An early Christian sect, the Gnosis in Greece/Turkey and ancient Rome, travelled across Europe and danced and sang about the Universe as Dancer, a metaphor for God): “….the Universe belongs to the Dancer, Amen/He who does not know the dance, does not know what happens, Amen” , taken from the Gnosis book of Acts 1, Steiner /Stewart )
Dance, to reiterate, was indeed a main form of worship expression;the Goddess, whatever name she took or was known by, was the Dancer, herself: the Creatrix of rhythm of seasons, as seen by the ancients. Sarasvasti, a Hindu Goddess is shown with a lute. Pele, the Goddess of Volcanoes (Hawaii) is seen as a patron of dance..: “In the old religions of the Middle East, India, China, Japan, Africa and Greece, the goddess may have been a dancer..” (Griselda Steiner)
Dancing, as worship, became frowned upon, when the clergy felt it was far too sensual/sexual and worldy ( Stewart), so women were banished from dancing in public. They had to dance at home. Dance’s power had to be curtailed, as the sex instinct and expression is far too powerful, and forbidding dance is one way of clamping it down.
Says the Catholic Women’s Network, in reviewing “Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance”,”Teresa of Avila, who founded 17 convents, had her nuns dance and play instruments.”
Stewart adds that as dance has changed over time from celebrating spirituality/sexuality, then folk/community dance ( evoking communality, shared values,a social calendar, and so on) , she tells us not to forget that dance still transcends, and allows us true, deep relaxation, joy, duende ( spirit) ,momentarily losing oneself from life’s worries, releasing us into our true selves, as witnessed by so many dances in the world, , such as the Zar, the Guedra, of Africa and the Middle East, trance dances, the dance of the Roma (“Gypsies) with Flamenco (Andalucia) and many of their other dance forms in other countries (Balkans, Turkey, Upper Egypt, etc). In essence, what Stewart is describing, an almost ecstatic, Dionysion state that we could obtain, when dancing- and yes, it comes from the spiritual…..
When we now look at how courtesans developed over time, the link with dance and art becomes even greater, and in many ways, the fact that dance/art have been kept alive by courtesans, is no accident. The link between sacred prostitutes and courtesan is no accident. Hopefully, this evolution has made more sense and a context to the Courtesan has been given.
So, in conclusion to this chapter, we have tried to look at the early history and development of human sexuality- the agents, who in using nature, as a model, worked on sexuality as a vehicle for transformation, healing and well being, and ultimately as community cohesion, as well as fostering inter connectedness with nature.
I have tried to show, how sacred sex manifested itself in healing rituals, dance, song, prayer , worship of goddesses and gods, and ultimately Mother goddess, and the role of sacred prostitutes, temple dancers and priestesses and how these have shaped the development of the courtesan. But not before the ideals/ideas of sacred sexuality changes are changed forever.
The next chapter will look very briefly at prostitution in early societies, monotheism and its precursor, and monotheism and sacred sexuality, to give their side to the story.
Buonaventura Wendy The Serpent of the Nile
Catholic Women’s Network ( review of Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance, www.sacreddancer.com)
Hite Shere The Hite Report
Metzner Ralph Green Psychology
Mirdred Michael http://www.spiritualtantra.net/history-of-sacredsexuality
Steiner Griselda ( Review of Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance) “It makes me want to dance” ( http://www.sacreddancer.com )
Alternative Worlds of the Past: The Stories of the Courtesan, Across Cultures and Times.
“The Courtesan was one of the most accomplished woman of her time, she was well-read, well-educated and well-mannered at a time when most women could do no more than read a psaltery and bear children….”
Introduction : An Overview- A context and background to discussing the worlds of the courtesan .
I felt compelled to write about the worlds, cultures and histories of the Courtesan, at a time, when in the developed world, many women have economic and educational freedoms which some may take for granted, now, and yet across the world, many women are not only still fighting be able to work safely , to be free from exploitation, and have to access to good quality health care, but to learn how to fundamentally, read and write, which is is the bottom line to the whole process of human social and historical change .
My question is, is there a danger of all of us being very complacent, when the right to literacy, economic freedom and social freedom/civil rights have been hard worn, more so, when extreme/absolute poverty exists for at least 3/4 of the world’s population? Or, on a more deeper level, is our education creating consumers out of us?
Even in developed countries, for example, in the UK, right now, as I write, despite having the bottom line of universal education, many young women are being influenced by consumerist ideas, and in attaining consumer status and values, that, on one level is seductive.
In the long term , this is not empowering, I think, because it forces many people, men and women to stop using their minds , to stop thinking for themselves, to stop being and doing creatively , intelligently and intuitively. The bottom line, education, as old fashioned as it sounds, should pave the way for better way of life for all- a passport to opportunities, better economic, social and hopefuly emotional health, for the whole of society. Maybe, the education system in many developing countries is preparing people to be just consumerists, as opposed to citizens in the full sense of the word.
Although, I may be digressing here, this has everything to do with why I am exploring the lives of courtesans and it is with a sense of irony , contrasting how mass industrialisation and economic development, along with educational and health access /growth has impacted humanity, and women in particular, at this very point in time.
21st century consumerism/capitalism, in developed countries as a continuation from the 1800′s, for me, seems to suggest, what you buy is what you are; buying expensive /designer labels, luxury cars, homes, more expensive holidays, even in some cases paying for a more and more hedonistic lifestyle: money brings choices of how to spend . And on another level, we have reality TV shows, where celebrity or notoriety are gained- viewers watching voraciously.
The spin-off of these reality shows include shows where one is pitted against others and voted off, after failing to complete tasks/skills, techniques successfully or expected, to learn a new skill in a matter of weeks……….. Cultures of superficiality, a bit of fun, equal opportunity for being famous for 15 minutes, as Andy Warhol predicted? Perhaps, I am looking at the more negative aspects of this, when maybe I should be recalling the positive : better health care and medication / better housing/ improved life expectancy, huge leaps in social awareness/ tolerance/ greater appreciation of human diversity (fighting against racism/sexism/ageism/ homophobia and so on) greater social/individual control of one’s life/destiny, better rights for women and so on….across the centuries. but something sits uneasily here, with me, so I need to explore it.
Whatever it is, the Courtesan existed, across cultures and across times, until fairly recently, when so much of the female population, at any one time,across the world, lived in dire, appalling poverty. My opening quote speaks volumes: that is, that was the courtesan.
Women did not have the mass education, as we do, across the developed world now, and I asked the question about complacency, in light of the female poverty that existed with constant pregnancies, death in childbirth, rearing surviving children, dying of infectious diseases and enduring the daily grind of life: the courtesan could move above all of that and stand boldly against the stark deck of cards dealt.
A courtesan’s life , with her education, good manners, etiquette, cultural/political/ literary knowledge, social skills(be they sensual, conversational) speaks of life not framed by a consumerist agenda, as we are so used to now. More often that not, the courtesan lived a very dangerous life, and had to live by her quick wits and skills, and use her talents wisely and gracefully. Indeed education, for the courtesan, paved the way for greater social possibilities and futures for her,whether it was in Ancient Athens, 16th century Venice, the Songhai Empire in Western Africa or in 9th century Korea.
Many could argue, a courtesan is no more than a glamorous prostitute ( eccentricyoruba) and no one would advocate a woman be a courtesan now. She was more often not, not accepted in “polite societies”, was considered too independant, too wayward, too wild, too intelligent to live a conventional life, in the society she happened to operate in. A courtesan while higher in status than a slave and prostitute, was still considered lower class, but a courtesan “composed poetry..sang…danced and played instruments” (eccentric yoruba)
However, I suspect that there is a lot more to the courtesan than face value and aim to show examples of very highly intelligent, powerful, independant women and the backgrounds which fostered them. I hope this provides food for the reader, and to ponder the very first question I asked about complacency, the role of education, values and etiquette, in the face of consumerism .
I aim to briefly describe and discuss the various roles of the courtesan( which have existed, almost everywhere) in different societies/cultures, such as Ancient Greece, Japan/Far East, parts of Europe, Africa, with an exploration of the slave/servant system in the Topkapi Palace (Ottoman Empire). Although the Topkapi system is not about the courtesan per se, the servants and the like, who worked in there, were all given an education and learned a range of skills, which I feel is an important factor, when many women outside the palace, probably were expected to have just the minimum of literacy skills, ( religious literacy). Again, this situation of limited education, is echoed everywhere else.
I hope to explore the qualities and difficulties of courtesan lives, and what messages they have for us today
First of all, what I would like to do, is explore the notion of sacred sexuality and the priestesses, temple dancers, et al because this is where it all starts, or has to start.
Hope you enjoy this journey of discovery………………