Sex and Ritual
Carl Jung saw symbols and rituals as containers for numinous power. It’s a small step from our need for ritual to the idea of sex as ritual. It infiltrates our myths, it permeates our literature, and it fills our fantasies. Many of the earliest religious rites were fertility rites involving either the sacred prostitute or the sacred couple whose sexual union insured abundant crops, cattle and children for another season. Certainly it’s not hard to see the ritualistic aspect of sex in the natural world. We’ve all watched birds or badgers or elephants going at it on nature programs. There are often complex courtship rituals before actual copulation.
Jung’s definition of ritual as a container for power intrigues me. The power contained in sex is astounding. It’s the power to pass on life. It gives us the ‘little death’ and the out of body experience. It elevates us to the level of heaven while bringing us back to our most primitive animal nature.
Sex is the ultimate mystical experience. The closest we can get to a power beyond ourselves is the power within ourselves. I chose to write The Initiation of Ms Holly as a modern day retelling of the Psyche and Eros story with that in mind. In the Greek myth, Psyche must undergo ritualistic tasks before she is allowed to be with her lover Eros. In achieving these impossible tasks, Psyche so impresses the gods that they not only allow her to be with her lover, but grant her divinity as well.
In Greek mythology sex usually involves one of the gods, most often Zeus, coming down to earth and ‘seducing’ a mortal female, who then gives birth to a child destined to do great things. Sex as the representation of the creative force permeates the Greek myths. It’s there in the Christian myth as well, the child of divinity and humanity destined to save the world. Tragically the power of sex is omitted from the Christian myth.
More than a procreative force, sex is a creative force. Its ritual act allows us contact with the power, contact we can have no other way. But who controls the ritual? We’ve all seen lories transporting heavily reinforced tankers bearing CAUTION: HAZARDOUS MATERIALS signs in big red letters. We know a breech of containment would be disastrous. The purpose of ritual is to keep the power contained so we mortals can interact with it safely. Religions have always tried to control the rituals involving sex, to dictate with whom the act may occur, how, and even when it may take place. Property and inheritance rights depend on controlling women’s sexuality. Even the Facebook practice of unilaterally deleting sex positive pages is an effort to control sexuality.’
These days the ritual containers set in place by religious superstition and prejudice are being breeched. Those vessels can no longer contain and control sexuality in all its vibrant varied guises. The ritual is being taken out of the hands of institutions and reclaimed on a more individual, more personal level. That means the creative force of our sexuality is being freed in ways we could have hardly imagined a few years ago.
Yesterday was Coming Out Day. My Facebook page was full of well wishers and messages reassuring our young people that it gets better. Now more than ever there are safe places to learn about, understand and explore all aspects of our sexuality. And we are much less likely to settle for some ‘authority figure’ telling us what is sexually acceptable. Taking back the power is never easy. The journey is a long one, and we’re not there yet, but I’m delighted to say, I see reason to hope.