Wednesday Whatever – The Sacred Marriage

March 31, 2010 at 9:42 am (Ancestors, Associations, Beltane, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Witch)

The Sacred Marriage
From Bonfire’s Beltane Page, link now defunct 😦

The pagan holiday of Beltane (May 1) marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere. Beltane is a celebration of the new life that has emerged from barren winter, and for modern pagans, represents the passionate union of the Lord and the Lady. Many May Day customs have their source in the Beltane rituals of pagan Britain, most of which were suppressed by the Church as it struggled to gain supremacy over the existing pagan religions of the British Isles. One of the best-known folk-customs associated with Beltane involves having sex out in the fields to ensure that the next year’s crop will be bountiful. This custom is a remnant of a much earlier religious practice – the Sacred Marriage – was prominent throughout Europe and the Near East (Mesopotamia and Egypt) from ancient times until the first century C.E.

My honey-man, my honey-man sweetens me always, My lord, the honey-man of the gods, He is the one my womb loves best, His hand is honey, his foot is honey, He sweetens me always.

– from The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi, in Inanna:
Queen of Heaven and Earth
by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

"The sacred marriage was a fertility rite in which the current king of the land would publicly copulate with the high priestess, who represented the Goddess in her Earth Mother aspect. By joining with the king, the Earth Mother, through her priestess, demonstrated that he was her consort. This guaranteed that his kingdom would possess her good favor, and that they would enjoy fertile land and an abundant harvest. The king, in turn, became infused with the wisdom of the goddess, giving him the …[understanding] he needed to rule effectively. …the purpose of the Sacred Marriage is to use the sexual union of a man and woman to align and unite human will and the physical world with divine will and the supernatural world."

– Sex, Magick and Spirit,
Bonnie L. Johnston and Peter L. Schuerman,
p. 170

The Sacred Marriage ceremony is one of the two forms of sacred sexuality which consistently appear in the ancient religions of Europe and the Near East. The earliest recorded Sacred Marriage comes from the cuneiform tablets of Sumeria, which describe the divine union of the goddess Inanna with her king and consort, Dumuzi. Kramer, the archaeologist who first uncovered the remains of the Sumerian civilization, believed that this first written version of the Sacred Marriage was actually rooted in an even older oral tradition (1). We may never know when humans first began to practice the Sacred Marriage, but two Neolithic carvings hint that Kramer was right in guessing that it was practiced even before the Sumerians began building their cities: the first carving, which depicts a man and a woman embracing, was found at Catal Huyuk (a Neolithic city in Turkey); the second was found at Cascioarele, and is thought to have been created around the end of the 5th millennium B.C.E. Both of these carvings have been interpreted by some archaeologists as depicting a sacred marriage. The earliest known depiction of a copulating couple comes from Ain Sawaki, and is dated9th millennium B.C.E. The couple in this early carving is seated in a position that is common in Tantra, an Eastern form of sacred sexuality. (2)

The Sacred Marriage ceremonies we are aware of span several thousand and a wide variety of cultures. The Sumerians required that their king undergo a sacred marriage to the goddess Inanna (through one of her priestesses) to gain her divine favor for their cities. By uniting with Inanna, the king gained her protection of their city and her blessing of their crops, guaranteeing their survival. (3) When the Akkadians conquered the Sumerians, bringing their own goddess Ishtar with them, they too carried on the tradition of the Sacred Marriage as a means of gaining the goddesses favor and justifying their kings’ divine right to rule. The Canaanites, another Mesopotamian culture, celebrated the Sacred Marriage of their goddess Anat (who is very similar to the Akkadian Ishtar) to the thunder-god Baal. And, as Jane Harrison points out, the Phrygian goddess Kybele may have involved a Sacred Marriage ceremony: the four symbols, or tokens, of initiation into her cult were 1) eating from the timbrel, 2) drinking from the cymbal, 3) carrying the kernos, and 4) going down into the bridal chamber. At Phyla, the sanctuary of the Great Mother also contains a bridal chamber. (4) The Greeks referred to this ceremony as the hieros gamos, and they celebrated it as a reenactment of the union of Zeus and Hera by a priest and a priestess. The mysterious rituals at Eleusis, where the Greeks honored Demeter for teaching them the secrets of agriculture, probably involved a Sacred Marriage ceremony between Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, and the underworld god Hades. The Greek goddess of love, in her aspect as Aphrodite Teleia, was a goddess of wedlock; she is known to have engaged in at least one Sacred Marriage with a mortal: Aeneas, the Trojan. The worship of Dionysos at Athens is also known to have involved a Sacred Marriage:

"In the Hellenic festival of the Anthesteria or Feast of Flowers, the sacrifice made by the wife of the king-archon to Dionysos in his temple …and her copulation with the god were the high points of the ritual."

(5) In another myth, Dionysos marries the Ariadne, who is thought to have been either a Cretan priestess of Aphrodite or an incarnation of Aphrodite herself. The Egyptians practiced the Sacred Marriage in the worship of Amun: Amun’s high priest would ritually unite with the Queen, reinforcing her children’s divine right to rule by ensuring that they were the offspring of Amun. The various folk rituals from around the world, in which humans have sex in the fields to ensure the fertility of their crops, are remnants of the Sacred Marriage ceremony: like their ancient ancestors, these agricultural communities seek the blessings of the Divine through sexual ritual. It is highly likely that the worship of Isis and Osiris also involved a Sacred Marriage rite of some sort, referred to in surviving mythology in the story where Isis reassembles Osiris’ body, creates an artificial penis for it (the only piece she was unable to find), and then unites with Osiris to conceive Horus, the son who will avenge Osiris’ death.

There is a fascinating body of evidence that the Hebrew tribes of the Old Testament originally worshipped Asherah, the wife of Yahweh, and celebrated the union of their Divine Father and Divine Mother until the reforms of the prophets stamped out the worship of Asherah among the Hebrews. (6) As Riane Eisler points out,

"…Goddess worship (and with this, sacral sex) continued to flourish in Canaan during the very years the Old Testament was being established as the only officially sanctioned religions text. …[the] Hebrew prophets are constantly exhorting their people against backsliding to the worship of the Queen of Heaven, railing against ‘the whore of Babylon’ and the sinful ‘daughters of Zion’ – obliquely confirming that the sacred marriage was still a popular rite." (7)

Even Christianity contains a remnant of the Sacred Marriage at the very core of its doctrine: Mary, the mother of Jesus, is united with Yahweh to conceive Jesus. It is Mary’s divine union with her God which signifies Jesus’ divine nature and his identity as the Son of God. Early Christians removed the sexual symbolism from this union, terming it an "immaculate conception", because they believed that the end of the world was near, and that therefore marriage (or any type of sexual relationship) was a waste of time that could be spent purifying oneself for the return of Jesus and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. However, the symbolism of sacred sex has not been completely eradicated: Julius Evola points out the obvious sexual nature the Easter rite of the consecration of the water.

"…celebrated in particular by the Orthodox church, [this rite] preserves visible traces of sexual symbolism: the candle, which has an obviously phallic meaning, is dipped three times in the font, symbol of the female principle of the Waters; the priest touches the water and blows on it three times, making the sign of the Greek letter pi; the consecration works pronounced at this juncture include the phrase ‘May the power of the Holy Ghost descend throughout the whole depth of this font…and fertilize all the substance of this water for regeneration’". (8)

The Sacred Marriage ceremony is so widespread that remnants of it have been found throughout the world, even in modern times. "The most evident…contemporary remnant of the sacred marriage in Eastern tradition is a Japanese rite that made world headlines in 1990, when Japan’s new emperor was crowned. At that time the press reported that there raged in Japan a heated controversy about a secret ceremony said by scholars to have its origins in prehistoric times. It was not clear from the press reports whether the new emperor actually had sex with a young woman who, according to these reports, was brought into a shrine where this ceremony was held, or whether, as the Imperial Household Agency claimed, the bed in the shrine was used as ‘a resting place for the Sun Goddess, but the emperor never touches it.’ What was clear was that a matted bed and coverlet were provided in the inner sanctum where this rite was performed so that the new emperor could commune ‘in a symbolically sexual way, with the spirit of the Sun Goddess.’ And what was also clear was that as late as 1990 in modern Japan the sacred marriage to the goddess was still, as in the hymsn of Inanna, considered necessary to legitimize a new male ruler’s power. Because in Shinto tradition, it was this union that ‘rendered the Emperor into a deity.’

Moreover, according to Japanese scholars, this was a ceremony that had its origins in ancient harvest festivals where (as in the European Paleolithic and Neolithic) the union of the female and male principles was linked with the continuing fruitfulness of the Earth." (9)


( 1 ) Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler, p. 67.
( 2) Spiritual Sex, Nik Douglas, pp. 31-32
( 3) Sex, Magick and Spirit, Bonnie L. Johnston and Peter L. Schuerman, p. 170.(4) Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Jane Harrison, p. 535.
(5) The Metaphysics of Sex, Julius Evola, p. 185
(6) The Hebrew Goddess, Raphael Patai.
(7) Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler, p. 48.
(8) The Metaphysics of Sex, Julius Evola, p. 184
(9) Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler, p. 146.

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1 Comment

  1. celestial elf said,

    Amazing Post thank you 😀
    thought you might enjoy my Beltane Blessing machinima film

    Bright Blessings
    elf ~

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