Hooker Goddesses

Since the time of mankind's first written records, prostitute-priestesses have dedicated themselves to religious service in temples of worship.

Ishtar, the Compassionate Prostitute,
awaits customers at a window.
Babylonian sculpture.

Ishtar the Harlot

It really is the oldest profession. Ishtar, the famous goddess first of the earliest known civilization Sumer, then of Babylonia, was a prostitute. Her many other names over the centuries included Great Whore of Babylon, Heavenly Prostitute, and Mother of Harlots as well as Har and Hora, from which the words harlot and whore derive. She was said to call herself a "compassionate prostitute". Babylonian sculptures honoring Ishtar depict her as a sacred prostitute in a window, awaiting customers.

For thousands of years, high priestesses dutifully performed ritual sexual couplings with Sumerian kings to grant them Ishtar's power. Over 4,300 years ago, one of these prostitute-priestesses, Enheduana, wrote the oldest words by an author whose name is known today; archeologists have unearthed many clay tablets of her cuneiform poetry.

The Babylonians emulated the Sumerian custom on a larger scale: prostitutes called ishtaritu inhabited the temples of Ishtar, offering themselves to any male worshipper who paid the required contribution. In fact, every Babylonian woman was expected to go to a temple and perform the rite with a stranger at least once in her life. There was no shame in such temple prostitution; on the contrary, it was a sacred means of attaining divine union between man and goddess. Indeed, in the epic of Gilgamesh (written around 2,000 BC) a Babylonian temple prostitute civilizes a wild man of the forest by sleeping with him.

"The Birth of Venus" (1482?)
by Sandro Botticelli

Aphrodite the Courtesan

Aphrodite was not only the Greek goddess of love, but also the patron goddess of prostitutes. Dozens of temples were raised in various cities to Aphrodite the Courtesan, Aphrodite of Brothels, Aphrodite of Streetwalkers, etc., and the prostitute-priestesses within conducted worship in much the same way as the ishtaritu of Babylon. In fact, Aphrodite was based on Astarte, who was the Phoenician counterpart of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.

Even the hetairae, the famed high-class courtesans of Ancient Greece, assisted in public ceremonies devoted to the gods. At the conclusion of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Phryne would appear at the gateway of the temple and perform a slow striptease. She was also the piece de resistance at the festival of Poseidon and Aphrodite. According to historian William Sanger, Phryne "slowly disrobed herself in the presence of the crowd. She next advanced to the water-side, plunged into the waves, and offered sacrifice to [Poseidon]. Returning like a sea-nymph, drying her hair from which the water dripped over her exquisite limbs, she paused for a moment before the crowd, which shouted in a phrensy of enthusiasm as the fair priestess vanished into a cell in the temple." This performance, representing the myth of Aphrodite's birth from the sea, inspired a series of depictions by painters beginning with Phryne's own lover Appeles and culminating with Botticelli two millennia later.

Statues at Lakshmana Temple
in Khajuraho, India.

Dancing for the Gods

Thriving continuously from antiquity to the present day, Hinduism is a religion that openly embraces sexuality. Hinduism is the source of both Tantra and the Kama Sutra, and teaches that vitality, fulfillment, and enlightenment can be achieved through sexual intercourse. The ancient temples of India are adorned with statuary depicting gods such as Shiva and Shakti in a state of eternal ecstatic embrace. Only a relatively tame example of this extraordinary religious art appears here.

Shiva is also often portrayed dancing, and one of his titles is Lord of the Dance. Temple dancers called devadasis ("servants of god") have emulated him for thousands of years. In addition to dancing, these women honor the dieties and convey their divine female energy to male worshippers through ritual sexual intercourse. Traditionally, devadasis were highly respected; considered married to the gods, they were accorded special privileges (e.g., the right to an inheritance) denied other women. Some were skilled and well educated, and these entertained only wealthy sponsors. Though India repeatedly passed laws prohibiting temple dancing and temple prostitution throughout the 20th century, thousands of devadasis continue the practice today.

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