One word that I’ve recently seen pop up in the Pagan Blogosphere is “God Spouse.” It means exactly what it sounds like: a person who marries a God. Is it possible to marry a God? Does the Honeymoon take place on Mount Olympus? And can you imagine an episode of “Trading Spouses” with this theme? But anyways, I digress. My quest to find more information on this phenomenon was limited, but I’ll try to cover the basics. I’m guessing that the amount of information on “God Spouses” is sparse because of how new the term is.
Yet while the term is new, the concept is as old as ancient history. In ancient primeval rites, there was the idea of enacting a sex act with a God or Goddess. There were also priests who stayed celibate and devoted their lives instead to the worship of a particular deity. This practice has continued today with the practice of Catholic priests, monks and nuns staying celibate as a devotion to God. (Does this mean that God is bi-sexual?) Well, that’s a whole other can of worms that this blog doesn’t have time to get into, but the internet is a big place – go look up that question for yourself.
ANCIENT SEX RITES: HIERO GAMOS
A sex rite between a mortal and a God is known as “Hieros Gamos,” or Hierogamy. This ritual took place in societies in every quarter of the globe: India, the Middle East, in Greece, among Tantric Buddhists and has some metaphorical relevance in The Great Rite practiced in Wicca today. One of the earliest recorded sex rites takes place in early Sumeria about 5,500 years ago. In this ritual, a high priestess acting as an avatar of a Goddess would have sex with the ruler of the society to show the Goddess’s acceptance of this man as the ruler and caretaker of his people. If the ruler was not capable of pleasing a Goddess, than he certainly was not fit to take care of a nation of thousands. (Can you imagine if the modern president was sworn into office with this technique? I bet most our current politicians wouldn’t be able to find the clitoris with a GPS.)
Here is part of the ceremony as translated from an ancient Sumerian poem. The High Priestess, acting for Inanna, is speaking to Dumuzi the new king. Text Source Here.
My vulva, the horn,
The boat of Heaven,
Is full of eagerness like the young moon.
My untilled land lies fallow.
As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?
As for me, the young woman,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will station the ox there?
Who will plow my vulva?
A further description of the ritual is at Goddess.org
One of the earliest concepts of religious marriage is that of temple prostitution: another practice that took place in several corners of the globe. Around the 5th century B.C. the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about how this custom worked in the Near East:
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.
This act is even carried out in some parts of the world today. In India, for example, “Devadasi” is a form of temple prostitution in which young girls from villages are married to a deity of a temple, and then function as spiritual guides, dancers and sex workers. Human Rights Watch also reports that young girls are sometimes forced into this practice to have sex with members of the upper caste.
HIJRAS (TRANSGENDERED FOLK) IN INDIA MARRY THE GOD ARAVAN
One particularly fascinating form of God Marriage that occurs today in India is the marriage of “Hijras” to their God Aravan. This is a festival that occurs every year. Men put on makeup, jewelry and a garland of flowers in preparation for their marriage to Aravan. See pictures of this festival here. Aravan is a brave hero who requests one night of marriage before his death. Since no other Gods were willing to marry Aravan for just one night, Krishna turned into a woman and marries the hero.
In the festival of Aravan, hundreds of Hijras gather to act out the role of Krishna, as they symbolically marry their God Aravan for one night. Sometimes even heterosexual men dress up like women and marry Aravan in order to gain his blessing, such as getting children in a sterile marriage.
THE GREAT RITE
As I mentioned above, there is an element of metaphorical Heiro Gamos in “The Great Rite,” which is a Wiccan ritual. For those who don’t know much about Wicca, the primary deities in this practice are The God and Goddess. Wiccans believe in a female and male duality that represents the whole of creation. Not all Pagans are Wiccans. Wiccans are different from other Pagans in that they believe in a primary God and Goddess, and that all other Gods are aspects of this male and female divine.
The Great Rite is a metaphorical representation of the union between the male and female divine. In this ritual, the high priest plunges the athame (a ritual knife and male symbol) into a cup or chalice (female symbol) which is filled with wine and held by the high priestess. This ritual is a fertility rite that is celebrated around Beltane. While the ritual is mostly metaphorical, there are a few situations where it is actually acted out sexually.
The history of Hiero Gamos and ritualistic sex with the divine brings me to the modern day phenomenon of God Spouses. It is a situation in which a person becomes so close to a particular God or Goddess that they actually want to have a marriage with this Deity – that they want to interact with this Deity as a spouse in their day to day life.
The most recent tale I read was a post on Witches and Pagans about a woman who felt called to marry Odin. At 35 she felt called through dreams and omens to marry Odin. In her own words, she states “This was the primary crossroads of my life: giving myself utterly to a god, and a god whose path is characterized by sudden, sweeping change, paradoxes, and the continual stalking of oneself in search of power and knowledge.”
Do I believe this union is legitimate? It is not for me to judge or decide. The skeptic inside me naturally raises an eyebrow after reading such a story. Is this a true union with the divine or simply the desire for greater intimacy with someone powerful and wise? I’ll never know the truth. Yet I do know that sexual unions with the divine have been occurring for millenia and that men in India still marry Aravan to this day.
Some see the Gods as a divine masters, others see the Gods as guides and friends and there are a few who see them as spouses. It will be interesting to see how relationships to the Gods develop throughout the years as ideas about spirituality evolve and grow.