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