By Bex vanKoot
The Hierodule: God-slaves and Sacred Service
“I am a flower of service
Opened to your hand, O Inanna.
Only with your plucking am I given differentiation,
Only with your need am I given purpose,
Only with the inhalation of your breath
To judge my quality — only by this
Am I made Ninshubur, Inanna’s woman,
And not some faceless servant in the crowd.“
– Excerpt from the poem Ninshubar by Raven Kaldera
We all serve something. Whether we spend our hours serving a lover, a family, a job, a country, an ideal or even ourselves, we all serve. It is what we serve that defines our lives. I serve love, and not just any love, but sacred, abundant, unconditional love.
It was not until very recent history that the idea of the whore was so completely cut off from sacred roots. In nearly every culture in the ancient world (and some modern ones!) there existed the idea of serving divinity as a sexual surrogate, a “stand in” (the root meaning of the word prostitute) for the gods and goddesses of love, sex and beauty. This is my calling – it is She whom I serve.
The Greeks called the sacred sexual temple servants “hierodule”, meaning “god-slave”, and modern scholars believe these women (the word is specifically feminine) were assigned the role of playing the Goddess, who varied from city to city and temple to temple. As the name suggests, these women were not often there by choice, but were sold or given to the temple by family or slave-masters, often at a young age.
In other city-states, like ancient Sumer and Babalon, no woman could wed until she had first lost her virginity in the sacred temple, where she would sit and wait until someone approached her and tossed a coin in her lap, signaling his desire to claim her virginity and allow her to leave the temple afterward, going on with her life. The stories suggest that some women stayed for a long time before being chosen, whereas others had only a short day to wait.
The history of the sacred whore has its controversy, some experts suggesting that we have no evidence to prove they existed at all. Personally, it matters not to me whether the history we know is accurate. What matters is how we act upon these ideas now.
I do consider myself to be in service to sacred sexuality, on a path that requires me to use my knowledge, understanding and skill in sexuality to share with others the beauty and joy in physical ecstasy, to allow others to meet the spiritual in sex and bring them to places they may not otherwise see. In many ways it is similar to sexual coaching or counselling, with massage and bodywork, health and nutrition, physical and emotional therapy all rolled in to one. I make use of divination, ritual, dance, music, poetry and song in addition to actual physical or sexual stimulation. I am both a priestess and prostitute, with the responsibilities of a spiritual guide and a sex-worker both, and it is through these responsibilities that I find my place. Just as Ninshubar, Goddess in her own right, but servant to great Inanna nonetheless, finds herself and her own worth in allowing her Goddess-guide to find her way and tell her story. Certainly I have my own needs and desires, and I am lucky that these things are not in conflict with my calling, but no person exists as an island. We are all in some way defined by our knowledge of the need of others, made wise by our reaction to that need. So often we feel as if we can’t know “who we are” until we understand our purpose here on earth, but the truth in my experience has show that ultimately, we become what we are only by the wisdom of why we are… so, what do you serve?