Nancy Qualls-Corbett’s “The Sacred Prostitute”

I am the honored one and the scorned one/I am the whore and the holy one/I am the wife and the virgin/I am the mother and the daughter…(6) This Sumerian poem, written hundreds of years before the rise of Greek civilization, begins Qualls-Cotbett’s The Sacred Prostitute, an academic look at the ancient rites of female sexuality.

The idea of female power and of the sacred prostitution is an anathema to the sexual politics of the past three thousand years, an idea expressed succinctly by Pythagoras: “There is a good principle, which has created order, light and man; and there is a bad principle, which has created chaos, darkness and women.”  According to Qualls-Cotbett, it wasn’t always like this. Sacred rites of sexuality were a foundation to ancient civilizations: “The sacred prostitute leads the stranger to the couch prepared with white linens and aromatic myrtle leaves. She has rubbed sweet-smelling wild thyme on her thighs. The divine element of love resides in her. The stranger is transformed.” (23) Prostitution was not a heinous act conducted behind a veil of darkness and violence, but instead “nature and fertility were the core of existence. Desire and sexual response experienced as a regenerative power were recognized as a gift or a blessing of the divine. Great Mother was the goddess of all fertility.” (31) Much of modern-day attitudes toward female sexuality comes from the Bible and Koran, where the concepts are not so far from these ancient ideas: “She is the breath of the power of God, a pure effluence flowing from the glory of the Almighty.” (105) And yet, the dichotomy in today’s Calvinist/Capiltalistic world remains as strong as ever, reviling and adoring women solely on their sexuality, secreting the act of sex to one of shame, promoting pornography, defiling our scared selves.

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