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Prostituion and Goddess worship has been linked since ancient times. In much of the world sacred prostitution succumbed to the onslaught of Christianity and Islam but it survive most notably in India.
As a devotee of the Goddess I am very aware of the historical and cultural heritage of sacred prostitution. Early monotheists raged at the abominable women (and men) who sold themselves and indulged in salacious practices. The Old Testament is full of references to the men of Israel falling back into sin because of the influences of Goddess worship. Remember Jezebel the queen of Israel who was torn to pieces and thrown to the dogs after the death of her husband. Her sin was that she refused to bow to the God of Israel and stayed faithful to the Goddess, reintroducing sacred prostitution into Israel.
Once the compassionate whores of Ishtar or of Hathor from which the term harlot comes to us or of the great mother Cybele, (the names of the Goddess are many), were respected and celebrated. The Goddess provided through her sacred prostitutes a way to celebrate the spiritual that understood human sexual desire without shame or guilt or patriarchal notions of sin that has caused untold damage within society and consequently to individuals.
Today in the west more people are rediscovering the Goddess and for people like my self understanding the Goddess is important in my work as a prostitute as well as in developing my relationship to society and in my activism. For me my activism for sex workers rights, human rights is irrevocably linked with my spiritual understanding of the Goddess. For me my sex work is an act of worship and devotion.
In India sacred prostitution survives. Early European travellers tell us in their journals of the wealth and status of sacred prostitutes, perhaps evoking memories of how sacred prostitutes were once respected within society here in the west. Colonisation and centuries of Christian and Islamic influence however has negatively changed attitudes toward sexuality in India which has also affected attitudes toward sacred prostitution. The Indian government eager to appear modern and progressive now confuse prostitution with gender inequality and allow wealthy anti sex work organisations almost unfettered access. These well funded groups deliberately confuse prostitution with western notions of trafficking and sexual slavery. Indian sex workers like sex workers the world over want rights not rescue. This seems often to be a message that is ignored sadly but Indian sex workers like sex workers around the world are fighting back.
William Dalrymple in his book <a href”=”http://newmatilda.com/2010/05/28/sympathetic-listener”>“Nine Lives. devotes one chapter called “The daughters of Yellamma” to the story of Rani Bai who is a sacred prostitute. Rani Bai talks eloquently of her life as a prostitute and her story encapsulates how her once noble profession has been negated within modern India. She is caught in a twilight world where her sacred message is increasingly alienated by imported ideals that she does not understand. She is now told that her work as a prostitute is demeaning and degrading and that she is victim who has to be saved. These often naïve Christian concepts damage her self esteem and contribute toward her loss of respect within her community.
Certainly these women (and some men) are victims of a changing society that increasingly alienates them. HIV is common as is poverty and yes to western eyes there are areas of abuse. The answer however is not ill judged rescue crusades that ignore the reality of these women’s lives but instead to actually listen to what these women want. These women want respect and human rights and perhaps a new understanding of what being a sacred prostitute means both to the sex worker and to the client.
Sarah Harris a Journalist made a documentary called prostituted of God. It is an interesting documentary and worth watching. It is a documentary with an agenda however that fails to understand the culture or the pride these women take in serving their Goddess.
Some of these women have made a short video which is a must watch because it captures the anger of these women at the arrogance of both the rescue industry and of the journalist who invaded their lives and distorted their story.
VAMP takes on documentary film-maker
This brief (3.5) minute clip by the Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP, Prostitutes’ Collective Against Injustice), encapsulates a succinct response to ‘Prostitutes of God’, a sensationalized and factually flawed documentary produced by Sarah Harris for VBS TV. Countering the distorted perspective in the film, women from VAMP present their incisive views about sex work; religion and faith; livelihoods; issues of consent; ethics and cross-cultural sensitivities while making documentary films.
The women in Sangli from VAMP recorded video responses to the film. In the age of the internet, women in countries far away who used to be the objects of white people’s gaze with no right of reply now have access to the representations that are made of them, and the technological means to answer back. A naive westerner may seize the headlines, but there’s now scope for there to be a debate and to bring those who in the past would have remained voiceless victims into that debate to represent themselves.It is a great opportunity to put the record straight.
This clip has been produced by Sangli Talkies, the newly-launched video unit of SANGRAM / VAMP. Watch it on you tube!
VAMP and SANGRAM
‘Prostitutes of God’
controversial documentary produced by Sarah Harris
for VBS TV