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Stories of the Courtesan Across Cultures and Time   Leave a comment

  Chapter 2 B

Hinduism and Tantra

“Tantra reinforces inter connectedness, not separation,. It is not a judgemental science, as experience teaches us about ourselves and others. self knowledge as with Ancient greek philosophy, is important

( Zoraida Catalina Perez-Haddad,  Tantra : A Brief  Explanation/Exploration , ( Articles ,  from  the Living out Gods and Goddesses  section)

“Tantra is a way of being  or seeing  or living, incorporating the “male’ and ‘female”  aspects of personality, respecting men and women’, being karmically aware of one’s behaviour, thoughts and attitudes to each other”

(Perez-Haddad ibid)

“(They) concluded that  Tantra  was the ‘culmination of all Indian thought; the most radical  form of  spirituality  and the archaic  heart of aboriginal India”(, The Role of Tantra in Hinduism and Buddhism , Priya Viswanathan).

A Brief Introduction

‘Tantra” simply means  weaving, stretching, expanding or extending, from the Sankrit ” tan” ” stretch   weave, extend, and the ” suffix ‘tra’, instrument, in more detail, we have the linguistic roots, “tanoti” to stretch and trayati” liberation” say (Viswananthan.)

It is probably best described as paths or philosophy which seeks to find unity in everything one does, sees or hears, learns or experiences, in order to have a far more profound understanding of life. To have freedom, I would way, from fettered  thinking and actions, Real liberation.

The weaving and expansion reference is indeed using experiences of life, to build up deep and spiritual awareness of life, One would therefore taste and savour life to the fullest and be in the moment, to be truly alive. This is what many philosophies and paths already state.

The origins of Tantra

Hinduism is considered by many scholars and researchers, to be the third largest  and influential religion in the world, after Christianity and Islam, say . It is not certain, where the origins of Tantra have come from, and therefore are lost in the midst of time. It could have evolved from a practice of initiation amongst tribal clans, or a ritual commemorating the fertility f the land, with Mother Earth and the Sun Father, as explained in the first chapters of this project ,  making sex a ritualised act,  therefore giving sex many levels: procreation, pleasure and a means of liberation ( ibid)

Another school of thought suggests tantra came out of protests against the Hindu caste system, in an effort to ask that spiritual quests be accessible to the lay person, and not just the priest ( Perez-Haddad) , Tantric practitioners , who aim for liberation ( or transformation of personality, mind and spirit)  try to go beyond ‘physical orgasm to reach higher forms of ecstasy, Here , the participating couple are spiritually ( drawn) to each other, and often  lock themselves in a long static embrace, well after the act”, says

It may have originated in the very early centuries (CE) of India, was absorbed in th e Hindu pantheon, at the end of the Gupta period. Tantra practices are found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, which we will explore briefly. Tantra has also influenced both Sikhism and Jainism 8 I want to point out what Tantra encompasses, and what it is, and what it isn’t.  There are  myths and misconceptions about it.

Within Hinduiam, Tantra, at its very heart, focuses on the worship of the Goddess Shakti, the Sacred Feminine, in the Hindu pantheon ( Hindu Tantra sees the universe as a divine stage with Shakhti and the male god Shiva play out and engage in life ( , Tantra is meant to work with the very many rituals and practices that could help yo achieve the grace and wisdom of Shakti, weave one’s way out of ignorance, achieving true liberation and transformation ( ibid). finally, the goal is immortality, say  Added to this, the tantra practitioner ( tantrik) already sees the universe as a manifestation of the creative force.

“The seeker then attempts to make himself or herself a medium to channel that energy, thus attaining liberation in human form” (

When Buddhism spread to South East and East Asia, it helped to evolve Tantra within these areas, too.

Tantra is  not a religion, but a collection of practices and rituals  which the tantrik uses to attain spiritual ( and also material) goals , using “prana” ( Sanskrit for breath or spiritual energy)

The tools that Tantra uses are yoga ( asanas and postures, breathing techniques and meditation) mantras ( chants and visualisations) mudras ( gestures to help mind and body control)

mandalas and yantras (geometric /diagrammatic shapes , representing the forces of nature, to help achieve spiritual and magical powers

So, Tantra did not come out of the Hindu  Vedic/scripture traditions. Certainly, many staunch Hindu followers  see Tantra as rather anti Vedic/traditional. Therefore. Tantra is only found comfortably in these particular Hindi traditions: The Shakta, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Sharauya and Ganapatya sects,

What Tantra is Not

“Although Tantra is better known in the West…. it is still misunderstood. Tantra has been purely seen as ( sexual) therapy, rather than something that comes from holism”(Perez-Haddad)   There are religions and paths that endorse or encourage celibacy, as one of its requirements for spiritual quests. But Tantra does not (Perez-Haddad)

Tantra. adds Perez-Haddad, is not hedonism, nor a short cut to sexual orgies. even if i has been tailored to meet Western needs. Such use of the aforementioned myths of Tantra, could lead to  emotional and psychological damage; it requires knowledge, self knowledge  and spiritual awareness, with many using, the chakra system to create emotional and psychic balance within.

Altering Consciousness and Sacred Sex

Due to its holistic perspectives, Tantra can alter consciousness for the better, and does not, says Perez-Haddad, necessarily conflict with other spiritual paths, since  ‘its message is of acceptance; love and seeing the whole picture”( ibid).  Tantra asks  that you take responsibility for one’s thoughts, actions, sexual actions, and karma. Tantr is a lifetime of study,  not a quick fix or quick journey.

With regards to sexual tantra rituals, as well , as the non- sexual rituals, we have

Tantra Vanagamarga. which may have been found in early Hindu Tantra. and was used to increase awareness. During the course of meditation, the tantrik would identify themselves with a specified goddess, and see themselves in a sexual courtship leading to sexual consummation. In fact, eve today, many male tantriks  can and do view their female partners as goddesses (

Added to this, with the sexual bliss that followed, the practice worked this out , as the basis to pursue  divine and spiritual union  and heightened awareness

Vanamarga has been developed to also awaken th e so-called serpentine/coiled energy of kundalini , from the spine to the crown ( chakra) area, to start the process of personal and spiritual transformation (

“Regular practice of kundalini awakening in the fashion, it is believed, gives rise to the Samadhi state, wherein  both the participants dissolve completely in a unity of pure cosmic consciousness”. evoking an individualised /personalised Shakhti=Shiva energy inside.

Tantra Vamachara  sees sexual intercourse as a way to access insight into the ‘functioning of the very universe” (

The influence of Woodroffe ( Sir john, 1865-1936,British  lawyer and scholar) . He is considered to be the founding father of Western tantra tradition and education, promoting it as a holistic system of practices , as well as helping destroy the old entrenched dominant ( European) view that sees was “essentially base and only related to worldy and bodily pleasures” (

Buddhist Tantra

. Buddhist Tantra will be quickly looked at.   Tantra tradition in Buddhism uses it as a vehicle to gain godhead/divinity or Buddha hood.  Vajarayana, as it is known,  used a very highly coded and symbolic text, ‘twilight language” to keep it secret.  Due to its secretive nature and select membership, it is quite a strict path, and followers must have a guru to guide them very carefully, and only, to achieve Buddha hood. Failure to have a guru with one, can make it a dangerous path, emotionally and spiritually (  Accuracy and commitment is needed, to make sure the follower is safe and protected.  Vajrayana is being preserved , while,  it is practised in Tibet.

  Conclusion :

To conclude,  because Tantra is essentially about striving fro holism and spirituality, as well as finding enlightenment, knowledge, seeing the creative force of the universe as manifestation of power and transformation, everything becomes sacred and important. Thus sex is  sacred, not just a physical act.

” Sex is sacred, since life is sacred, as is the universe. Tantra is both intimate and erotic” ( Perez-Haddad)




Course Texts

BSY Group  Tantra Course ( lesson 9)

Meridian College,   Chakra healing


Tantra references


Forster  M, Manual. J,     The Spiritual Teachings of yoga


Kuriansky , Judy. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantic Sex

Simson, Liz, Chakra healing , The Role of Tantra in Hinduism and Buddhism ( Priya Viswanathan)  ( two articles ) :

The Ecstacy of the Soul by Paula Staunton

Tantra: A brief Explanation/Exploration by Zoraida  Catalina Perez-Haddad


Posted September 1, 2016 by zoraidagitana1965 in Uncategorized

An Ear-splitting Cry: Gender, Performance, and Representations of Zaghareet in the U.S.   Leave a comment

Sounding Out!

At the opening of a recent annual “Under a Desert Moon” concert presented by Sahara Dance, a belly dance studio located in Washington, DC, one of the teachers began by telling the audience that the dancers would appreciate vocal feedback during the show. Holding a microphone with one hand and the other in front of her mouth, she demonstrated the practice known in Arabic as zaghareet, asking audience members to imitate her sound. This pedagogical interaction with an ethnically and generationally diverse audience on the campus of American University illustrates some of the complexities of translating sonic practices across cultural and economic divides. Zaghareet carries very different weight in a Palestinian wedding in the West Bank, where it is one piece of a larger formation of celebratory experience, than it does in a belly dance performance in Washington, DC, where it is used in part to generate authenticity in a tradition both geographically and culturally removed from the Middle East.

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Posted May 26, 2013 by zoraidagitana1965 in Uncategorized

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Amazing. Attention to detail. They remind me very much of Islamic/geometric designs. Beautiful. Classic. More people should know about his work

Posted January 18, 2013 by zoraidagitana1965 in Uncategorized

The Stories of the Courtesan Across Cultures and Times   Leave a comment

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 ( 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.

Posted August 4, 2012 by zoraidagitana1965 in Uncategorized

The Stories of the Courtesan Across Cultures and Times   Leave a comment

Chapter 1

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 , )

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.(  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 ( ; 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,

Hite Shere     The Hite Report

Metzner Ralph     Green Psychology

Mirdred Michael

Steiner Griselda   ( Review of Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance) “It makes me want to dance” ( )

Wikipedia     Shakti


Alternative Worlds of the Past: The Stories of the Courtesan, Across Cultures and Times   1 comment

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………………

Barefoot Flamenco with Valerie Romanin ( A Londres)   Leave a comment

Barefoot Flamenco……..

It is exactly what is says on the tin!

It is a form of flamenco danced barefoot, as it would have been, danced originally by Gitano performers. Many dancers have in modern times, danced barefoot, and barefoot flamenco speaks, too of its origins with the Gitanos, whose ancestors migrated from North West India.  Kathak,a North Western Indian dance,  is perhaps the mother of Flamenco, with its footwork, torso work and stances. I have recently taken studies in Kathak dance. It is fascinating to see what  similarities that Kathak and Flamenco share, as well as the differences they have between them.

Valerie is both a Flamenco and Bellydancer, based in London, but originally from France. She has been a life-long dancer, clearly evident in her musicality, and understanding of weight and flow of dance movement. To boot, she is an excellent, enthusiastic and encouraging teacher, someone who can break down the hardest of all moves , to the point where you wonder, how on earth you found it difficult in the first place……

Valerie has monthly classes of Barefoot Flamenco, at the Red Door, 24a Lloyd Baker St, London, about 15 minute  or less, walking distance  from Kings’ Cross station. I travel to London, to catch her workshops, whenever I can. I have been doing this, since 2010.   In addition she does weekly bellydance/oriental, and barefoot flamenco classes.

Valerie’s barefoot workshops consist of working through the fundamentals of Flamenco: palmas (clapping) torso movement, floreos (wrist movements) braceos (arm movements) expression, posture, foot rhythms and zapateado ( footwork) with the shoes. Footwork without shoes, is indeed much harder, as you have to flex your arches higher. With shoes, you are already lifted off the ground. So, barefoot flamenco is more of a challenge in that respect, but I would also add, it is much more earthed, so you are connected to the ground or your base chakra, so to speak as you dance. In effect, it reminds me, then of Kathak, although footwork in this dance, has its own technique and differences.

One of Valerie’s strengths is her well-pace use of short choreography in the class. This helps reinforce linking movements, as well as capturing the essence of barefoot flamenco( with bellydance, or kalbelyia/Indian gypsy or tango , and so on)  Often,  she uses a combination of flamenco and bellydance moves to create a strong and free spirited fusion and choreography

. She  uses rhythms such as the malfuf (4/4) and the  sama’i (10/8) , to explore flamenco movement, and the movements and  rhythms fit like gloves: it is a matter of interweaving movement and rhythm.  She also uses bellydance movement to flamenco pieces (rumba and tangos rhythms for example)  and those work well too. Valerie’s extensive dance vocabulary includes ballet and she  has cleverly used a pas de valse as a linking step, in many of her drills/short choeros, for example.

All in all, very inventive and original. I attend a conventional and excellent Flamenco class, every week, and Valerie’s barefoot flamenco adds a lot of enrichment for my flamenco dance experience. It is like “thinking outside the box”. I recommend her workshops to other flamenco dancers, as well as bellydancers , interested in pursuing flamenco, as an additional dance style. So many of her dance students  are spreading the word, since she is the UK’s best kept secret!

Valerie’s  flamenco dance education has included extensive travelling to South America and Spain . A sense of msichief/sense of humour, delight,  sensitivity ,strength and skill infuse her performance, so she is equally skilled a performer, as a teacher.

Contact Valerie on Her website is

Posted May 8, 2011 by zoraidagitana1965 in Uncategorized

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