Sacred Marriage or Unholy Cover-up? by Carol P. Christ

carol-p-christ-photo-michael-bakasMany women are drawn to the image of the Sacred Marriage—perhaps especially those raised in Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions where sex is viewed as necessary for procreation but nothing more, and who learn that the naked female body as symbolized by Eve is the source of sin and evil. In this context, the positive valuing of sexuality and the female body found in symbols of the Sacred Marriage can feel and even be liberating.

Jungians have claimed that the Sacred Marriage is an archetype of the wedding between the “masculine” and the “feminine.” Many women have been attracted to this idea as well. It “softens” the radical feminist critique of patriarchy and male dominance. Rather than “castrating” the “phallocracy” as Mary Daly urged, we can think in terms of the “marriage” of qualities traditionally associated with male and female roles. Women, it is said, can use a good dose of ego and assertiveness traditionally associated with the masculine, while men need to have their dominating rational egos tempered by feminine qualities like care and compassion.

Those who support the idea of the Sacred Marriage of the masculine and the feminine may not notice that Jung identified the masculine with the rational conscious ego and the feminine with the unconscious, the body, and nature. While Jung and his followers rightly understood that the masculine needed to be complemented by the feminine, they were less clear about how much the feminine needed the masculine. They were wary of feminine power not kept in control in patriarchal marriages, and in Jungian circles women who challenged men’s ideas were judged as “animus-ridden”—in other words too masculine. Followers of Jung have been know to use the term animus-ridden to put radical feminists in their place.


Zeus and Hera, Austrian Parliament

Writing about the religion of ancient Crete in 1909, archaeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes and anthropologist Charles Henry Hawes observed:

The “Cretan Zeus” and the “Zeus of the Double Axe” are such familiar titles that it is with surprise that we learn that Minoan archaeology offers very little evidence for the existence of a god. … The truth seems to be that the Achaeans foisted Zeus upon Crete at the end of the Bronze Age.

They continue:

There is good reason to believe that in the compulsory marriage of Hera to Zeus is reflected the subjugation of a native race to Achaean invaders, whence the importance of the Ritual Marriage, ιερος γαμος, as commemorating a reconciliation of two religious systems, one having a god, the other a goddess as chief divinity.

If this is so, should we not be suspicious of the Sacred Marriage? What if the idea of the joining of two cultures in a Sacred Marriage is a cover-up of something far more sinister?

As Marija Gimbutas said, “There was no evolution. It was a clash of cultures.”


Danae raped by Zeus in a golden cloud

Despite a night of conjugal bliss, Zeus continued his career deceiving and raping nymphs and Goddesses and mortal women, while Hera was far from a contented wife.

As for the marriage of the Goddess to a King, why should we assume that any Goddess would want to marry to a King? In pre-patriarchal cultures, there were no Kings. What is a King if not a warrior who conquers other people’s lands and cultures and who claims the right to kill men and rape women? No Goddess in her right mind would want to marry such a man.

Interpreters of myths of the Sacred Marriage speak of the King marrying the land through his union with the Goddess of the land. But before Kings came into the picture, Goddesses, the land, and women were subject to no one.

Is the symbol of the Sacred Marriage as it has come down to us in myth and archetypal psychology sacred? I think not. What if the Sacred Marriage of the Goddess to the King is part of a great cover-up of a history of conquest, domination, and violation. A very Unholy Marriage indeed.*

Then what was the role of sex in Goddess cultures?

In the matriarchal culture of the Mosuo, sex is experienced as a valuable part of life. Sexual pleasure can be freely given and received, as it is not tied to marriage or providing for and caring for children. Yet sexual intercourse is not understood to create the essential bonds. Rather, the bonds between mother and child and the bonds between mothers and the land are the essential bonds. Mothers and the land are celebrated as sacred in ritual and religion.

Then what about sexuality? Is it sacred? What if the answer is yes and no? What if sexuality is no more or less sacred than many other good things in life? Not holy, not unholy? Isn’t that a far more healthy and realistic way to understand the place of sexuality in our lives?


*The Sacred Marriage symbol can also be criticized as privileging heterosexuality and coupledom.

Also see “The Sacred Feminine or Goddess Feminism?”

Carol P. Christ’s new book written with Judith Plaskow is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. They are co-editors of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess and the process feminist theology, She Who Changes.

Listen to Judith and Carol’s first interview on the book on Northern Spirit Radio and their second on WATER.

Carol P. Christ leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Join the 2017 spring and fall tours now and save $150.


Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Goddess feminism, Matriarchy, Sexuality

Tags: , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. Thank you Carol, the sacred marriage is indeed an interesting symbol that can seem to favor hetero-sexuality. As my thinking in my artwork has evolved I have come to view the image of the sacred marriage in in two different ways — first as an image that can be used to vindicate sexuality from the realms of sin, and thus aligning the sex act with the creative force and the body with the sacred. (We are, all, after all the products of a female egg and a male sperm). And of late I have come to ponder the idea of a sacred marriage of body and spirit — this came about through my explorations and re-workings of the image of Mary Magdalene whose unclad body was often used to denote sexual sin. Yet these very images surreptitiously kept alive that which church and pulpit strove the denigrate: sexuality. To my way of thinking sexuality potentially aligns all lovers to the core of creativity whatever their gender.


  2. I guess the question is how much emphasis we want to put on sexuality as the be all and end all of everything important in our lives. Our culture surely encourages us as women to believe that (sexual) love is all you need and that you definitely need it to be whole. But is it and do we? And aren’t there many other ways to love and many other ways to connect to the core of creativity? That’s what I wonder.


  3. I like to differentiate sexual energy as creative energy from the search for love we have been socialized we need to be whole. I have not had a lover for the past twenty years, and yet, in the course of time I came to recognize that creativity energy and sexual energy arise from the same physical source… and that sexual energy does not automatically lead to sexual activity but can be channeled into the realm of ideas…


    • I think I’d call that the life energy–birth, death, regeneration.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that sound good… and sacred.


      • I think Audre Lorde’s “power of the erotic” fits in here. She describes the erotic as a source of power for women that has been corrupted by patriarchy. It is our sexuality, but more than this alone. I think ultimately it is the life force, as you suggest Carol.

        In my experience writing my dissertation about Nazi propaganda about women, I realized the same thing that Majak writes about, that creativity and sexual energy arise from the same physical source, and if we repress one, we are repressing the other as well. And if that is so, then in some sense it is the be all and end all. But not the way you’re talking about it, because what you describe is one of the ways that patriarchy has deformed our (women’s) connection to our sexuality. Another, of course, is the “whore” and also the “virgin.” We can’t let patriarchy define our sexuality, but we also can’t let patriarchy repress the life force energy that our sexuality give us.


  4. Thank you Carol, for this! i have long ago stepped away from Jung’s concept of the sacred marriage as just as you said, a way to soften patriarchal power. i have never liked his ideas of animus and anima – masculine and feminine parts of ourselves. Why is it necessary to apply a dualistic way of thinking to everything? And yes, why would a Goddess wish to marry a king?


  5. Your post calls to mind a chant I learned in women’s circle: I am the goddess, I am the mother, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Eating, gardening, going for a walk, sex….

    Like many people, I was brought up in a Christianity that did not know how to acknowledge or celebrate sexuality–or even having and being in a body, especially a female body. So when I first began seeking and responding to the goddess, I was very drawn to the idea of sacred sex. It had little to do with being married, and though my longings would often focus on a particular person, the longing was for more than that person. It is hard to articulate. I must say menopause has eased the intensity and now I might love a tree just as passionately though differently.

    I think I’ll just close with a chant I wrote

    my roots go down, down to the dark of the earth
    my branches rise, rise to the light of the skies
    here in my heart, all the mysteries meet
    I am the lover and I am the beloved
    I am the lover and I am the beloved

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brava! As usual, I think you’re right on–indeed, what goddess would be interested in marrying a warrior and why would a warrior content himself with mere marriage when he can rape any (every?) woman in the land he and his army conquer? Let us just look around the world today, so-called developed and undeveloped nations show us conquerors and kings disguised as presidents. The Donald would be one of these–just like Zeus and Jupiter and the rest.


  7. As a Jungian therapist I was originally drawn to this idea of the sacred marriage – but no more. Carol, your critique is excellent. It exposes the underlying need to keep goddesses chained to men at any cost – sacred or otherwise.

    I really appreciate it when you challenge the Jungian tradition because so much of it is biased towards men. It is no accident that the “feminine” is unconscious while the masculine is associated with the light and individuation…ugh

    Liked by 2 people

  8. “…perhaps the sexes are more akin than people think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in one phenomenon: that man and woman, freed from all mistaken feelings and aversions, will seek each other not a opposites but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to bear in common, simply, earnestly, and patiently, the heavy sex that has been laid upon them.” Rainer Maria Rilke

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Absolutely – when you really think about it why would the king need to marry the Goddess except that She was the source of all and without Her blessing for His rulership the people would not have accepted him. How we love your intellect that figures these things out so well….

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “Rather, the bonds between mother and child and the bonds between mothers and the land are the essential bonds. Mothers and the land are celebrated as sacred in ritual and religion.” I think this is a very important point, Carol. Johanna Stuckey published a wonderful speculation — with evidence — about how the “sacred marriage” developed in Sumer. Her thesis is that originally the Goddess Inanna was the symbol for the land of Sumer, and that her human representative (priestess) had to be “plowed” in order for the land to become fruitful. Thus the original ritual. In the “plowing” she became the Goddess herself. But, according to Stuckey, the “plower” had to become the God at least temporarily. Perhaps she speculates, one of these early Sumerian men realized that it would be an advantage to retain this role for more than just the ritual, using this as a springboard to ultimately becoming the king. Her article is much more nuanced than my synopsis, and worth reading (@


    • I would say the idea of the supine Goddess being plowed by a male figure who by doing so causes her to become fertile is already a patriarchal idea. In earlier times women held the secrets of horticulture and the Goddess was symbolized as (all) the powers of birth, death, and regeneration. It sounds to me like some male had taken over (through war?) land that had once been held communally and by the mother clan. And I don’t think kings came to power by any other means than warfare.


  11. Thank you Carol (on this sad and shocking day)

    My two cents, as usual: abolish gender! It is, as you allude, a social construct that only serves to subjugate women (aka adults of female sex). Perhaps the sacred marriage with its stories of unification of the land with the king or animus and anima serves only to obfuscate the rape, theft and dilution of land,
    Goddess and women.


  12. When I experienced awakening, I had no idea what was happening to me. I did however observe closely and deeply, in meditation, the forces at work within. Innocently, without any inkling that this had a name, I observed that two numinous fields of energy were merging within my consciousness. On the one hand, I knew these forces were in and a part of me, while also a part of some larger universe or realm of emanation. I called these two the Woman and the Man because how they created a bliss when they merged. The only thing comparable in our world that comes close is found in our sexuality. But more; these two forces birthed a third energy or presence, which I thought of as the Child. It was this third presence, the transcendant presence, that was the liberation within.

    Curiously, when I tried to find out if anyone had experienced this before, I found this same description in early Christian texts, so-called “Gnostic” texts which spoke of a bridal chamber where the “left and the right” and the masculine and feminine forces in consciousness were merged in a “bridal chamber.” I called this the “sacred marriage” before I ever knew it was a thing.

    Later, I discovered the Chemical Marriage, that book which laid bare the process of this cosmic blending and “marrying” of these two forces within us in order to birth a new awareness of self here.

    The common thread in all of this is Jung, who saw both anumus and anima alive in the one process he saw as incredibly important for our healing and being self realized: kundalini. He also was an early supporter of the Gnostic texts which were recently discovered when he was active in his work.

    The seed of all of this lies within us, not outside, and can lead to a flowering of an awareness that all the esoteric traditions were on to….alchemy, Gnosticism, eastern esoteric study…

    Many today who are experiencing this awakening are themselves working through these twin aspects, their “marriage” to find a balance or harmony that works for them. What heals us within begins to heal and knit our outer world together. So not surprisingly I found your musings pertinent and timely this morning!


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