Sex or Sacred? Greek Rite Hieros Gamos Decoded
Hieros Gamos, the sex rite which was brought to light by Dan Brown in his bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code and also immortalised so wonderfully in the 2006 film by the same name, is a sacred act which celebrates the union of the celestial beings and represented in the form of human beings. Described and viewed differently in different mythologies, in today’s issue of the three-part series on this Grecian ritual, we take a look at the some of the important philosophical ideas that surround this ancient religious practice.
Although there are many misconceptions and rumours surrounding it, Hieros Gamos, Greek for ‘sacred union’ or ‘temple marriage’, is not temple prostitution or an act of debauchery. The act was not performed with just anyone as is popularly believed, but between husband and wife to consummate or revive their marriage. The ritual was viewed in ancient mythology as the divine union of ‘twin souls’ or soulmates and was treated with much sensitivity, awe and respect in those cultures. In fact, it is believed that during the act, the man and woman were charged with the male and female energies of the god and goddess and therefore their match was blessed by the divine beings themselves.
After the sacred ritual was studied further by the founder of analytical psychology Carl Gustav Jung and discussed in his book Symbols of Transformation, it became a topic of debate in subsequent literature too, such as Hieros Gamos (Sacred Union) – A Confession and of course, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Hieros gamos was described by Dan Brown in his controversial book as how “man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God”, highlighting the spiritual and religious nature of the sexual union. As per the Rosarium Philosophorum (Rosary of the Philosophers), a series of twenty woodcuts printed in 1550, Hieros Gamos is the sacred union of husband and wife, usually the king or high priest and queen, who is the high priestess, in the presence of the gods and goddesses. The king and queen are depicted with the sun and moon and share a bed, where they perform sexual acts and unite as a single entity. The union was believed to be so powerful that it was purported to be able to revive the land and bring rain, fertility and prosperity to the kingdom.
In ancient Sumer, the ritual gave more importance to the female energy in the form of the goddess of love, fertility and warfare Inanna. Conducted during the New Year festival of Akitu at the spring equinox, it was a public ritual which invoked the goddess who was believed to possess a temple priestess during the ritual. The goddess would then perform the act with the king or high priest, who would embody the goddess’ lover, the shepherd god Dumuzi. The act would thus become a sacred union and was viewed as a pathway to achieving divine bliss. The rite ended with the goddess bestowing her blessings on the land.
Although today the sex rite is not as popular and widely practised as it was in the ancient times, it is believed that there are still a few surviving cults who conduct this rite even today for connecting with their twin soul and the attainment of spiritual energies.
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