Religious Prostitution- Sacrifice to tradition - Part I

The word prostitution, is termed as the fate of the distressed or downtrodden who has to forgo his/ her body for the sexual interests of others to fulfill his/her daily needs. However, it may not be the truth all the time. History states prostitution as a part of a religious ceremony. Read an interesting insight on sex workers' role in the sacred religion during ancient times.

Religious prostitution in the west
Babylonians and Sumerians highly revered to this custom. According to the historic sources, in Babylon, every women rich and poor, had to prostitute themselves in the temples of Mylitta, Ishtar, and Astarte with a foreigner as a sign of hospitality. The money they earned was donated as wages to the goddess.

Similarly in Cyprus, all women had to prostitute themselves, before they married, to strangers in the sanctuary of Aphrodite, and Astarte. The same was true with in Phoenician temples. Women here prostituted themselves believing that their services would appease the goddess and win her favor.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] In the ancient city of Heliopolis in Syria, there was a law that stated that every maiden should prostitute herself to strangers at the temple of Astarte. In Armenia the noblest families dedicated their daughters to the service of the goddess Anaitis in her temple at Acilisena. The unmarried women acted as prostitutes for a long time before they were given in marriage. Not a single man was supposed hesitate to take one of these girls as wife when her period of service was over.

Religious prostitution was a part of the religion in Canaan too. The history states that a significant proportion of religious prostitutes were males. Another interesting fact is that male prostitutes during that time and place usually served men, not women. The sexual practice in the name of religion in Canaan, prolonged until the intervention of great prophets like Hosea and Ezekiel. A part of Ammonite tradition states that, a bride would sit at the gates of a town before the wedding, and sleep with whomever came to the city.

In Eastern Islam, where there are more males than females, the young girls who remain unmarried and offer themselves to men are looked upon as public benefactors. In Egypt, holy men or Priests walked naked in the midst of a woman crowd. Women who desire to have children knelt before them, then the priest would seize a woman and cohabit with her in the public street. No rancour was felt for the act by anybody, indeed, the victim considered it a great blessing and her companions congratulate her on having been selected by the "representative of God."

The sacred sexual practice was also found in the 1970's and the early 1980s. Religious cults like 'Children of God' or 'The Family' were discovered practicing sacred prostitution as an instrument to recruit new converts. The practice termed as 'Flirty Fishing' was later abolished due to the growing AIDS outbreak.

To end with, religious prostitution or the practice of having sexual intercourse for a religious purpose was a common factor in ancient days in many foreign countries. Although an illegal practice today, it is still followed in some parts of India, especially in Karnataka. Read more about the religious prostitution in India in the forthcoming article.

Story first published: Wednesday, May 30, 2007, 18:12 [IST]

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