Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body--New Paths to Power and Love

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9780062502834: Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body--New Paths to Power and Love

Riane Eisler shows us how history has consistently promoted the link between sex and violence—and how we can sever this link and move to a politics of partnership rather than domination in all our relations.

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About the Author:

Riane Eisler is an internationally acclaimed scholar, futurist, and activist, and is codirector of the Center for Partnership Studies in Pacific Grove, California. She is the author of Sacred Pleasure and The Partnership Way.

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Chapter OneFrom Ritual to Romance:
Sexuality, Spirituality,
and Society

Candles, music, flowers, and wine-these we all know are the stuff of romance, of sex and of love. But candles, flowers, music, and wine are also the stuff of religious ritual, of our most sacred rites.

Why is there this striking, though seldom noted, commonality? Is it just accidental that passion is the word we use for both sexual and mystical experiences? Or is there here some long -- forgotten but still powerful connection? Could it be that the yearning of so many women and men for sex as something beautiful and magical is our long -- repressed impulse toward a more spiritual, and at the same time more intensely passionate, way of expressing sex and love?

Because we have been taught to think of sex as sinful, dirty, titillating, or prurient, the possibility that sex could be spiritual, much less sacred, may seem shocking. Even stranger in a world where female genitals are sometimes described as "cunts" (one of the most obscene swear words in the English language) is the idea that women's bodies -- and particularly women's vaginas -- could be sacred.

Yet the evidence is compelling that for many thousands of yearsmuch longer than the thirty to fifty centuries we call recorded history this was the case. In traditions that go back to the dawn of civilization, the female vulva was revered as the magical portal of life, possessed of the power of both physical regeneration and spiritual illumination and transformation.

Far from being seen as a "dirty cunt," woman's pubic triangle was the sacred manifestation of creative sexual power. And far from being of a lower, base, or carnal order, it was a primary symbol of the powerful figure known in later Western history as the Great Goddess: the divine source of life, pleasure, and love.

Ancient Sexual Symbols

In the south of France, where some of the earliest European art has been found, there are many images of the sacred vulva. Some of these, in cave sanctuaries near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne region, go back thirty thousand years. As archaeologists point out, the cave was symbolic of the Great Mother's womb. Its entrance was thus a symbol of the sacred portal or vaginal opening.

This association of the divine vulva and womb with birth, death, and regeneration is a major mythical theme in prehistoric art. It probably goes back all the way to the Paleolithic (or early Stone Age), is clearly present in the Neolithic (when agriculture began), and in various forms still survives in the Bronze Age and even later historic times.

Many sculptures of what archaeologists call Venus or Goddess figurines, as well as other ceremonial objects excavated from all over the ancient world, have highly emphasized vulvas. Since prehistoric art is primarily concerned with myths and rituals, there is little question that these vulvas are of religious significance. For example, in the Neolithic community of Lepenski Vir in the Iron Gate region of northern Yugoslavia, fifty-four red sandstone sculptures carved on oval boulders were found placed around vulva- and uterus-shaped altars in shrines that were themselves in the shape of the pubic triangle. Dating back more than eight thousand years, some of these sculptures have engravings of the face of the Goddess with V-shaped decorations pointing to the sacred vagina. Similarly, a group of Goddess figures from Moldavia in northeastern Romania dating to about seven thousand years ago have highly stylized pubic triangles decorated with V-shaped chevrons.

A six-thousand-year-old Goddess figure from Bulgaria, the throned "Lady of Pazardzik," has her arms folded over her prominently etched vulva. Her sacred triangle is ornamented by a double spiral, an ancient symbol of regeneration. Strikingly similar is a Japanese Jomon pottery Goddess from approximately the same time with double spirals on her torso and a highly stylized inverted pubic triangle.

In a Cycladic platter from about forty-five hundred years ago, a highly stylized vulva is flanked by branches under a large number of spirals in what looks like a spiral sea. In other places, the vulva is represented by symbols from nature, such as a flower bud or a cowrie shell. In fact, cowrie shells found among skeletons from more than twenty thousand years ago indicate that the practice of placing these shells in burials as symbols of the female power of regeneration goes back to remote antiquity. The ancient Egyptians often decorated their sarcophagi with cowries. And even as late as the Roman Empire, the cowrie shell was still seen as a powerful symbol of regeneration and illumination.

In ancient Indian religious tradition, the female pubic triangle was viewed as the focus of divine energy. It is to this day in Tantric yoga associated with what is called kundalini energy, which, when awakened through the pleasures of sex, rises through the body to bring about a state of ecstatic bliss. This Indian worship of the divine vulva, which in some places persists even now, is graphically illustrated by a relatively recent Indian sculpture: a twelfth-century relief carved on the walls of a Goddess temple in southern India of two holy men seated at the foot of a giant vulva, their hands raised in prayer.

There are also indications that the male phallus was in ancient times an object of veneration. Although the evidence for this is strongest from Bronze Age times, phalluses, and particularly depictions of the union of the phallus and vagina, are found as early as the Paleolithic, in imagery strongly reminiscent of the sacred lingam-yoni figures today still found in India. For example, at Le Placard in France, archaeologists found a carved object they at first called a baton de commandment (stick of command), which upon closer examination turned out to be a highly stylized elongated phallus above a vagina. One of the most interesting aspects of this ancient find is that like other Paleolithic artifacts, it has a series of notches that have now been identified as marking phases of the moon-leading Alexander Marshack to conjecture that this carving probably relates to a myth...

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