Sacred sex and temple prostitutes
from ancient myths to modern realitys

by Gaylen Moore


Dan and Dawn are co-leaders of the Path of the Qadishti – a path of sacred sexuality inspired by ancient stories of sacred prostitution. The term 'sacred prostitution' may sound like a contradiction, but for Dan and Dawn there is no contradiction between sexuality and spirituality, so for them the concept of sacred prostitution is not at all shocking.

Dawn is a Pagan Priestess, ordained and licensed in the state of Ohio. She has led a great many weddings (including "leather weddings"), collarings, rites of passage, handfastings, and other ceremonies. She also offers Sunday services. Dan hosts daily meditation and dharma studies for Buddhists and non-Buddhists.

Together, Dan and Dawn blend their insights and experiences in the realms of sacred sexuality, BDSM, energy work, and spirituality to offer a unique perspective to the audiences who attend their various workshops, training, and demonstrations. They also host Erotic Awakening - a weekly internet radio show (podcast) covering a wide range of loving, erotic and spiritual paths.

What does all of this have to do with prostitution? The Latin root of the word “prostitute” means 'to expose,’ or ‘to place up front.' According to the modern day Pagan understanding, some ancient cultures had a class of sacred prostitutes who were, in effect, "stand-ins" for Goddesses, or ritual symbols linking Her invisible divine aspects to the physical world.

One might say that by standing in for the Goddess, the temple prostitute served as a worldly manifestation of the divine, and thus exposed an aspect of Divine Love to the material world of ordinary physical beings. Here one may be vaguely reminded of the way in which Jesus – as a material incarnation of the Christian God – portrays Divine Love in the physical world. One fundamental difference between Christian and Pagan traditions, however, is the concept of Divine Sexuality. Whereas the Christian God is never sexualized, the Gods and Goddesses of the Pagan world are understood as being fully erotic. The temple prostitutes served as physical symbols of divine erotic nature. It is said that Ishtar, Inanna, Astarte and Aphrodite all had sacred prostitutes in their service. Priests (qadeshat) and priestesses (qadishti) of the ancient Goddess religions often included sexual expression in their sacred ceremonies. In this context, sex was not a source of shame, but a cause for celebration and thanks-giving.

Many scholars argue that temple prostitutes in the form imagined by modern day Pagans did not actually exist. This point was made over 20 years ago, but has most recently been discussed by Stephanie Budin in her book The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity. No doubt the historical and anthropological details can and will be debated at great length, but for the spiritual purposes of modern Pagans, this interesting but relatively minor historical debate is a detour from the important central concept of global importance, namely, the idea that erotic love is sacred and should be fully incorporated in one's spirituality, rather than divorced from it.

In the realms of poetry and myth, imagery and ideas shape our reality and give meaning to our lives. It is essential to the fate of humanity that we are able to look beyond the given facts – whatever they may be – and envision a future bright in hope and deep in meaning. From the Pagan perspective, the artificial division between the "profane physical realm of earthly desires" and the "divine nonphysical realm of heavenly bliss" has created centuries of unnecessary physical and spiritual carnage. Many argue that from the very beginning, this conceptual division was instituted and brutally enforced in order to devalue the power of women and all that was deemed feminine, in order to elevate the social, political, and military power of the male-dominated ruling classes.

From a traditional religious perspective, marriage is divinely sanctioned and the church, which has been put in charge of doing God's work in the world, controls the rites of marriage. Secular governments have taken civil authority over the institution of marriage, but the civil roots are still clearly entrenched in religion. Sex outside of a male-female, monogamous marriage is a form of sin and/or a crime against society. From a modern Pagan point of view, the suppression of sexual diversity and the control of erotic, sensual life is generally seen as a power-play serving the political interests of an elite class; it never has been, and never could be, a playful empowering of the human spirit.

This brings us back to the on-going efforts of Dan, Dawn and other sex-positive promoters of erotic diversity. Through their organized events, workshops, classes, public speaking engagements, podcasting, and other activities, they are contributing to a global grassroots effort to change the dominant spiritual theme of humanity from the oppressive power over sexual expression to the liberating empowerment of erotic diversity.

As mentioned earlier, the Qadishti movement is a sacred sexuality movement inspired by concept of temple prostitutes. “Qadishti” is plural for “qadishtu,” which is the term given to female sacred prostitutes in ancient Canaan. “I think the Qadishtu's role, in addition to having sex in a sacred manner, is also to remind people of the sacredness of sex in all situations,” says Inara de Luna, priestess and founder of the Temple of the Red Lotus in Georgia. Those involved in the Qadishti movement are here to help people realize the sacred nature of sex. "Part of that mission," according to the priestess, "encompasses teaching people about the possibilities of tapping into a universal, limitless capacity for love and compassion.” She goes on to say:

A qadishtu is known for her capacity to impart loving touch, for her ability to be a physical expression of the Divine, for her sacred approach to sexuality, and her ability to share that with countless others, all without diminishing herself or denying her own needs.

Do modern qadishti get paid for their services? Although, historically, the concept of prostitution has become firmly associated with the exchange of money, the ancient roots – according to those who follow the path of the Qadishti – are said to be anchored in the rituals of sacred touch, healing, and spiritually inspired erotic play. Services were offered out of compassion and spiritual inspiration, not merely for the sake of money. Just as churches accept gifts and donations, the modern qadishti should be able to do the same, but given the fact that accepting money for sex is illegal in many modern societies, those following the Path of the Qadishti have to be careful. Qadishti are encouraged to be familiar with the prostitution laws in their local areas, and most find ways to creatively avoid legal issues in whatever way seems best to them. Some offer sexual counseling without actually engaging in sex with clients. Most teach classes, offer massages, or offer other services for which they can legally get paid, but never accept payment for sex.

Some qadishti, like Dawn and Dan, don’t accept money for any of their services, thus completely avoiding legal complications.

Cynics will no doubt claim that qadishti are simply clever prostitutes or sex addicts who find ways to rationalize their behavior and skirt the law. What the cynics don't realize is that cynicism is a cheap and easy way to avoid the difficult work of actually digging for truth and thinking deeply. No mental or spiritual effort is required to simply pigeonhole everyone into a few common stereotypes. But reality is never so simple. Culturally, Americans have become used to thinking of sex as a dirty, shameful act driven mostly by selfish desire – except, of course, in the context of officially sanctioned marriage. Once our minds have settled into this conceptual rut, we tend to forget the true diversity of human needs and emotions regarding sex.

Sexuality can be a powerful form of compassion and an amazing source of healing. We are used to the idea that priests, doctors, and counselors of all sorts accept payment for their services. In light of this, the double-standard imposed upon the qadishti becomes starkly apparent, and because of this double-standard, the insights of the modern qadishti are often overlooked. Dawn, Dan, and many other sex-positive advocates do their best to light the way along a more diverse and spiritually empowering path.

This page last updated: 03/01/2018