Review of The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine


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THE PLACE BEYOND OPPOSITES.

A Review of The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine

by Nancy Qualls-Corbett

and

Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine

by Eugene Monick

Toronto: Inner City Books

Review Copyright © 1989 by William A. Henkin

Originally published in Spectator

 

 

My lover used to be a stripper in her younger days and now, almost a decade after she last danced, she still dreams of stepping out onto a stage to honor the goddess in whose service she appeared. Sometimes she bemoans the way the art of burlesque has fallen to simple mammary, glutteal, and genital exhibition, not because she objects to people taking off their clothes, but because she feels the kind of temple in which she danced has been profaned, and has fallen on dark times.

As a psychotherapist and writer I notice when I go to strip shows which dancers smile and work in front of me after I've looked them in the eye, and which, instead, go dance on the other side of the stage. I find it appropriate that those who do not want to know or be known by me in that way and in that time and place should offer what they want to people who want what they wish to offer. But I still feel the absence of communion.

My lover and I talk frequently about the places where our interests intersect, amazed that with our very different histories we are both enlivened by similar associations. Where she has found in sexuality a path to spiritual power as a woman, I have found in spirituality a path to sexual power as a man. We both regard our coming together as something of a holy happening.

These two intelligent, articulate, insightful books address the same sorts of concerns my lover and I do: the ways in which sexuality and spirituality, humanity and divinity, masculinity and femininity, men and women meet, creating as they come together a new, profounder unity than either one of any pair could have done alone.

In The Sacred Prostitute, Nancy Qualls-Corbett seeks "to bring to conscious awareness aspects of feminine nature which have been misunderstood, devalued or lost to the unconscious," and to "examine the interrelatedness of sexuality and spirituality and ... how each may bring life to the other." She fulfills her mission by examining the ancient tradition of the maiden who ritually welcomes a passing stranger-man to her bower and dedicates their love-making to the goddess she worships. Because of the spiritual nature of the rite, the couple's consummation awakens the feminine aspects of both partners, and enables them to carry the power of their transformation into the world at large as spiritual and sexual beings.

In Phallos Eugene Monick explores phallic worship, not in its contemporary, genital expression as swaggering macho bravado, but as a spiritual feature of "sexuality ... [which] is at bottom a religious issue, opening a door in the psyche which permits the god-image standing behind it an entrance into ego awareness."

Both authors recognize that sexuality and spirituality have been twisted in the popular mind by centuries of misrepresentation, and that as a consequence readers may be made uncomfortable with the fact that they are linked in these books. But as Monick writes, "The union of sexuality and religion is like an electrical connection. Wrong joining leads to disaster. No joining produces no energy. Proper joining holds promise."

At several points in her study of the relationship between female sexuality and spirituality, Qualls-Corbett distinguishes between Logos, the masculine principle of rational reasoning easily represented by what is logical, and Eros, the feminine principle of relatedness represented by the erotic. As Monick also does in his study of the relationship between spirituality and male sexuality, she further separates the principles from gender. "Masculine" does not mean "man," and "feminine" does not mean "woman." Not only may women express themselves logically and men express themselves erotically, she writes; it is even necessary for each to embrace the other's strength before transformation can take place and the two principles become united, coequals in consciousness.

Both Qualls-Corbett and Monick assert that prior to the Christian era sexuality was a – or, more likely, the – primary way in which people experienced and expressed their spiritual leanings. In Sumer, Babylonia, Phoenicia, and other early civilizations the feminine principle stood for abundance, fertility, nurturance, and passion. These archetypal qualities remain where the feminine principle is still embodied today, but while they were highly valued and praised through worship of the goddess in matriarchal times, they have fallen in stature in our patriarchal ones.

In this context, Qualls-Corbett quotes William Thompson's book, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light to remind us that matriarchy does not mean women do what we now think men are supposed to do.

Where patriarchy establishes law, matriarchy establishes custom; where patriarchy establishes military power, matriarchy establishes religious authority; where patriarchy encourages the aresteia of the individual warrior, matriarchy encourages the tradition-bound cohesion of the collective.

In light of this definition, the sacred prostitute was a fixture of matriarchal times. But then or now, she is

 

that human woman who, through formal ritual or psychological development, has consciously come to know the spiritual side of her eroticism and lives this out according to her individual circumstances....

The sacred prostitute is also ... the internal feminine image that would lead a man to value aspects of himself that involve erotic spirituality. She is a dancing, radiant, exciting image of the feminine, one which he must ... become consciously aware of as an internal image, if he is to have a loving relationship with an actual woman.

 

Modern times ought not to be thought of as beneficial to men, then, merely because the feminine is degraded. Qualls-Corbett and Monick are talking about underlying principles, energies, archetypes: conditions that inform all people at all times, far below the levels of consciousness. Neither the masculine nor the feminine can be whole unless the other is whole as well.

Quoting from Mircea Eliade's book, Images and Symbols, Monick emphasizes that "except in the modern world, sexuality has everywhere and always been a hierophany [something that shows what is sacred], and the sexual act an integral action and therefore also a means to knowledge."

By "the Christian era" neither Monick nor Qualls-Corbett mean to denigrate Christ or the teachings the man left. Both authors note rather that it was the Church and particularly the disciple Peter who disavowed what have recently come to be known as the gnostic gospels, including a gospel attributed to Mary Magdelene. Monick quotes St. Paul from Galatians,

 

Walk in the Spirit

And ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit

And the Spirit against the flesh:

And these are contrary the one to the other.

 

He then observes that by this and similar teachings, as if by fiat,

 

sexuality, instead of revealing the divine, has become for St. Paul an enemy of the divine. Christianity adopted St. Paul's antipathy to the flesh. That which was sacred became profane. Masculinity, following St. Paul, should be spiritual only. Phallos, as physical organ, is devilish. Physicality and spirituality are fundamentally opposed. If one wins, the other loses, and in the case of physical phallos it is the will of God that it loses.

 

Monick and Qualls-Corbett are both Jungian analysts with doctorates from the Union Graduate School, and analytic training at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. It comes as small surprise, then, that they are in fundamental agreement about their inter-connected subjects. But beyond their obvious relationship to one another, what makes this pair of books a remarkably matched set is the extent to which each author's style encompasses her or his part of their joint subject matter.

Qualls-Corbett writes from an expressly feminine point of view, even though she hardly refers to her own life at all. Her very style is feeling, embracing, and erotic. As she says, the "pervasive Logos orientation of our culture" is one she respects "within limits," but she has "not catered to it here."

 

For instance, I could not present the image of the sacred prostitute by rigorous argumentation or scholarly discourse. My early attempts to do so seemed to take from her the very life I was trying to convey. Like a round peg in a square hole, the image would not fit such a structure.... I have given a place here to imagination and feeling. In this I was guided by my subject. I hope [I have written] a human narrative for a human audience.

 

Monick, on the other hand, despite his extensive use of personal dreams and anecdotes, is a far more cerebral writer, whose style is penetrating, intellectual, and logical. In his "Epilogue" he observes,

 

At a time of waning patriarchal values, cultural presuppositions are in great flux. It may be that humanity is moving inexorably toward unus mundus [unitary, or united world], a new union of opposites, postmatriarchal and postpatriarchal, that gives equal weight to the masculine and the feminine. If so, elements of psychological fundament long neglected must be consciously included for the evolution to be complete. My conviction is that an understanding of phallos protos or patrix, coequal with the feminine matrix, will be crucial to this new age.

 

These titles are not generally available at your local chain bookstore. First, as both authors are at pains to make clear, we live in a society that has deliberately sundered sexual from spiritual powers. Books like these, that associate our social disintegration with that division, and with the ways in which we are each divided from ourselves, won't be popular with people who for commercial or political gain equate sexuality with sin. Second, though these books can be exciting to the mind, they are not intended to titillate the flesh. Still, if you find yourself growing moist as you follow the authors' psycho-mythological journeys, thank whatever gods or goddesses you adhere to that you have not been thoroughly dried up and dried out. Next time you find yourself making love, do just that: make love with the sacred prostitute or the sacred image of the masculine. Worship the god or goddess beside you, as well as the one within.

 

Both these titles are available from Inner City Books, Box 1271, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4T 2P4.


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