The Shepherd Has Risen: A Story About Sacred Sexuality
Make no mistake. I am referring to the good shepherd, Jesus. In honor of this holy time of year, whether you call it Easter, Eostre or keep it simple by just lifting your face up with a smile to the sun as the snow melts away from your front lawn. I am going to relate some lineage of the story of resurrection and how it is linked to sacred sexuality and divine feminine worship.
This story extends back centuries before Jesus would rise from his own tomb and ascend into the heavens. As old as the first civilizations, possibly as early as 3500 B.C., we find the sacred sexuality rites, devoted to the Sumerian Queen of Heaven, Inanna. Ancient Greek historians referred to these holy rites as “Heiros Gamos,” which translates to the holy marriage.
According to the ancient historians, Heiros Gamos was a divine and very public sexual union between a sacred temple Priestess invoked as Goddess and the sacrificial shepherd king, Dumuzi. Later on the timeline, the act of sacrifice would only be symbolic as the High King would play the role of the shepherd, and the holy marriage became a tradition of the Goddesses endorsement of the kings’ legitimacy, an absolute necessity if one wanted to rule successfully.
This sacred rite was an act of sympathetic magic, emulating the myths and ensuring the prosperity of the king, his people and the fertility of the land. But let us back up and focus on two very important words mentioned above…sacrificial shepherd. Does that ring any Easter bells or might you be more familiar with the term bridegroom? “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” – Isaiah 62:4
The sacrifice of Inanna’s bridegroom, Dumuzi, also known in the Hebrew bible as Tamuz, is seated in the myth of Inanna’s descent into the underworld, in which she goes seeking knowledge of the great mysteries of death. Inanna boldly travels into her sister, Ereshkigal’s, realm and with her descent, there is a lean season as nothing can grow in her absence. When she attempts to ascend from the underworld, she is held back by demons as a mortal life must be compensated for her own before she can return to the living. She fixes her eye on her husband Dumuzi, who is so engaged in matters of the state, that he does not notice her absence and thus becomes her chosen replacement in the underworld. After her angry tirade of sending her husband to his death, she realizes her harshness, finds him and safeguards his resurrection for half of each year. This act ensures a yearly rebirth of the land and with her myths a great public rite, of sexual epic proportions, becomes tradition for possibly a few thousand years. This myth is not only a story of seasons and rebirth but it also ties to the story of Jesus’s resurrection.
The bible has a plethora of ties to pagan myths that predate its existence, but I find its links to Heiros Gamos and Inanna’s temples are some of the most intriguing. As a young Christian, bored to tears during a slow church sermon, I opened the bible to a random page and discovered some very saucy text. My eyes could not believe what was on the page, line after line of words so erotic I felt naughty reading them, but I couldn’t stop myself. I began to look forward to my new sermon diversions every Sunday.
While reading The Song of Songs when I was younger, I never questioned why they were in the bible, and sadly my Sunday school teacher never mentioned them either. It was not until years later when I discovered Inanna and read the translations of her bridal songs by Wolkstein & Kramer, that I gave the scriptures a more critical review. I was astounded at the similarity of language and began to speculate the great mystery of how this poetry came to be in the Christian bible. What was an even greater discovery are lines identical to the Song of Songs found in ancient liturgical poetry dedicated to Isis. The Egyptian Goddess like Astarte, Ishtar, Aphrodite and Venus, all have roots and ties to the Goddess of the evening star, Inanna. A coincidence? I think not. Exploring the story of Isis and her husband Osiris, or Astarte and Ishtar or even Aphrodite and Adonis, you find the same themes of sex, death and rebirth.
I discovered yet another prime indicator of Jesus’s link to the sacred rites of Inanna’s temple in a book by Margaret Starbird, exploring the passage Mark 14:3, “While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” This act is supposed to be seen as an ancient Israel tradition, anointing the chosen Messiah, but the mixture used by Priests was made of a blend of olive oil, cinnamon, myrrh, sweet calamus and cassia. Pure nard or “spikenard,” is a very expensive and rare perfume from India, also mentioned in the Song of Songs, and possibly used to anoint the shepherd Dumuzi during the holy marriage. Was this in reference to a Priestess anointing of the shepherd Jesus and possibly an age old tradition of a Goddess endorsement of the high king’s legitimacy?
Temples devoted to the Goddess did still exist when it is claimed Jesus would have walked the earth. As we can see here in Ezekial 8:14, “Then he brought me to the entrance of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.” Like his predecessor Dumuzi, Jesus was now ready for his role in the familiar ritual of death, burial and rebirth.
Sabrina Aset so eloquently expresses the similarities and contrasts of sacrificial rites between Judaism, Christianity and Goddess religions. “In Judaism the sins of the individual are put on some animal which is ritualistically killed by the Priest, or sent as a scapegoat into the wilderness. In Christianity, the sins are put on the dead God Jesus, whom they believe died for all men’s sins, past, present and future. In the religion of the Goddess, the Priestess takes upon herself the sins and transgressions of the man in the ritual of negation.” In the Egyptian language, the etymology of the term negation meant Semen or the essence of man. The modern definition, to make negative, shifts drastically from its origin. Sabrina suggests, “That is because in the ritual of negation, a man ejaculates, or leaves his negation, as a symbol that he is willing to give up his all in order to have his sins wiped out,” what we are left with in Christianity is just the wiping out. The biggest distinction between the sacrificial rites of Christ and those of Dumuzi or the modern interpretations of the holy marriage is in how we perceive the body and what we believe is divine union.
Heiros Gamos, the public ritual of negation, is at the very origins of sacred sex mythology and the original manifestation of divinity in the earliest of civilizations. This ancient Priestess of the Goddess healed the transgressions of man as an act of transcendence and rebirth. She purified and awakened the divine presence in her devotees and guided her Dumuzi through life, death and rebirth. Exploring these ancient rites, gives us a platform to awaken to the lost knowledge of our ancestors and explore our own expressions of sacred self by reclaiming our sexualities and our divine connection with God/dess.
The devotees gathered round the bridal bed in the temple and stood by as Inanna cried out, “My sweet love, lying by my heart, Tongue-playing, one by one, My fair Dumuzi did so fifty times. Now, my sweet love is sated.” And meanwhile, a few centuries later, the church brethren still proclaim, “He has risen!”
Starbird, Margaret. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail. Bear & Company, 1993.
Wolkstein, Diane & Kramer, Samuel Noah. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth. Harper& Row Publishers, 1983.
Mariaselvam, Abraham (1936.) The Song of Songs and Ancient Tamil Love Poems : Poetry and Symbolism. Roma : Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1988.
Aset, Sabrina. A Brief History of Religious Sex.2012. http://www.goddess.org/religious_sex.html
“The Shepherd” Artwork by Rowye