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Recently I wrote a review of a book which I though had some relevance to sex workers, especially the many sex workers who follow a Pagan spiritual path, of which there are many. The author Jane Meridith very kindly agreed to an interview which I am pleased to now publish on Harlots.
I know that Jane would be very pleased to answer questions on Paganism, her book, and about sexuality and of course sex work in reference to Paganism. Please don’t be shy and ask her questions. Enjoy the interview, it’s short but informative, I think. Douglas.
Interview with Jane Meredith, author of “Journey to the dark Goddess”. Jane is the also the author of several other books on the use of ritual in Pagan worship. Although Jane (as far as I know) is not a sex worker, her book I thought had a great relevance to sex workers, many of whom are also Pagan. You can purchase Jane’s book “HERE” from Amazon.
Q. Jane, I would like to thank you again for agreeing to this interview.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a Pagan and do you follow any particular path within Paganism?
A. I think I was born a pagan. I always loved trees and birds and rivers and believed in magic. I’m a bit of an anarchist, so I follow my own path, which includes working with different magical systems such as the Circle of Eight and the Tree of Life as well as mythology and the Wheel of the Year. I am dedicated to the Goddess and call myself a Priestess of the Goddess.
Q I wonder if you are aware of the growing number of sex workers who identify as Pagan. Do you have any explanation for why so many sex workers, both male and female, choose to follow a Pagan spiritual path?
A. I wasn’t particularly aware of this, but I am aware of the attraction of marginalised groups to paganism, including gays, feminists and the disabled. Paganism is experientially based, not faith or authority based, so it’s appealing to those who are already used to analysing and validating their own experiences. It sidesteps authoritarian and patriarchal structures and is based in a holistic view of the world, rather than a dualistic, competitive or fragmented view.
Q. In your book “Journey to the Dark Goddess” you suggest that, death, illness, relationship breakups, suffering, can be positive. Can you briefly explain this idea for readers who are not Pagan and who perhaps have not read your book.
A. It’s not so much that they are positive, as they are unavoidable; you could say an essential part of the human condition. But when we look at the patterns, repeated in the journey of the sun and moon as well as in any human life, it is after times of darkness that light arrives; so after the dark night of the soul that insight, understanding and inspiration arrive. Without being taken to those depths, and forced to confront ourselves and ask the hard questions, we would never have reached this new stage of integration.
Q Can you tell us who the “Dark Goddess” is?
A. Sometimes I say: She is the creatrix of healing, change and renewal. She is shockingly recognizable as that part of ourselves we try to contain and deny, and she offers connection to the core of yourself.
There are many descriptors of her. And she has many names. But I think she is the mirror of our soul. Some understand her as a metaphor, some as a divinity and some as a part of themselves.
Q Ritual is very important to you, can you tell us why?
A. I think ritual is a way of creating your own world, embodying your own meanings and exploring your own spirituality. It’s creative, empowering and magical. It works on many levels, and I’ve written extensively about it – but essentially, it’s one of those things that doesn’t come alive through writing or reading about it, but by doing it! It makes the imagined, the liminal, real. It’s the point where we embody our beliefs, our wishes, our largeness and – I would say – our soul selves.
Q If, as a sex worker, I came to you for advice and asked if you could suggest a simple ritual to perform before meeting a client, a ritual that would prepare me spiritually, so that I could perhaps help that client through my work as a sex worker, also a ritual that would offer protection to me from perhaps negative energies, what would you suggest?
A. It depends what has power for you. Some people love visualisation, or mantras, for others it has to be physical actions, such as cleansing or anointing… also, any such ritual would be supported and contained best within a whole spiritual practise, rather than a little spell just whipped out for a moment here and there. That said, repeated rituals do hold a certain power, even if they don’t have much context. And I think intention is crucial, being clear on one’s intention and being guided by it.
Q Obviously sex workers sell sex but we also do so much more. Often sex seems to be the least important part of an appointment. The foreplay, the dressing up, the listening, touching, in fact the human contact is often more important. There is in fact a ritualistic performance during an appointment. I think (and I could be wrong) that Pagans have a clearer understanding that selling sex is not just about sex than the general public. Goddesses, such as Inanna, Ishtar, Aphrodite, the list is long, were associated with sacred prostitution, yet many people, including some Pagans find prostitution and spirituality incompatible. Why do you think this is and how would you explain sacred prostitution to a society where an orthodox, monotheism, that is mistrustful of human sexuality, remains prevalent.
A. I think I have tried to answer this elsewhere.
Q Some pagans you may have noticed, also share an almost Judeo/Christian squeamishness about certain sexual aspects within Paganism, which, considering that paganism in essence is a worship/spirituality that reflects the rites of fertility and of nature seems strange.
Why do you think this is?
A. Maybe these are American pagans? In Australia we are an irreverent and irreligious lot… Christianity is kind of a quiet, private pursuit, pursued by not very many… I would say it is pretty obviously to do with their discomfort around sexuality, and may just get tacked onto pagans (or anyone else that they see as flouting their own comfort levels). But also, it is important to respect individuals’ levels of tolerance to such things as public nudity or overt sexuality. I think there is a place for different levels of sexuality within different settings, and these should always be made clear, with non-obligatory participation.
Q Have you ever worked, spiritually, ritualistically, with pagan sex workers.
A. Well, this is a tricky question – certainly not as a group, I have never worked with a group of pagan sex workers. Yet.
Q What would be your advice to a sex worker looking at Paganism as a spiritual path?
A. The same as anyone else? Get together with a friend, read a few books, try out different things, see what works for you… try moon rituals and guided visualisations and casting a circle and chanting and calling on one of the many aspects of Goddess or God and exploring a myth, maybe playing around with Tarot cards or dream work or trance… Keep records, keep doing what works, keep exploring, join groups or public rituals if you feel like it…
Q Myself and Aphrodite Phoenix (an American based sex worker, Pagan and writer) talk about the very positive experience, physically and emotionally, that we have enjoyed as sex workers and we have also both written and spoken about our spiritual journey within our sex worker experiences. Many outsiders and even some sex workers find this hard to understand. I think that perhaps this is because the media more usually portray sex workers as victims and so many sex workers simply think about the money and not the art or skills involved in sex work. Also as you probably know, trafficking has recently dominated, negatively, the sex worker debate.
I wonder; what are your feelings as a Pagan looking at sex work and seeing, hearing such diverse experiences. How do you think a Pagan path can reflect both people like my self, who love our work and think of our work as an act of worship and alternatively, help those sex workers who have obviously had very bad experiences? I know of Pagans who work with survivors of sexual abuse for instance. Can you comment?
A It’s not simple, certainly. I would think that money-for-sex is not the basic issue. The basic issues are perhaps more around: Are you making choices? Who is in charge of your life? Is your work fulfilling? Do you enjoy it? Is it safe? Does what you do for a living offer meaning to you, beyond its income? Could you choose to do something else if you wanted?
I really don’t feel in a position to comment deeply, as I am not working in the sex industry. I think sacred prostitution has a long and varied history and is pretty difficult to achieve consistently in this current context. That’s not to say that individuals, or groups, can’t experience themselves and their work that way, of course they can. But because it is not supported or understood in a wider context and there is other sex work that is patently not spiritually based or motivated… Good luck!
Q Men are they the enemy? I ask this slightly tongue in cheek, although for some feminists you would think this was true. As a Pagan man; who is also gay, I often feel that men are side lined a little within paganism and that the male God also is given little reference. Can you comment just a little on the role of men within the Pagan movement, of the role of Gods and masculinity? Perhaps you may also want to mention sexual orientation as well as gender within your work within the Paganism
A. I can comment on this, but I also don’t really think it’s my place, since I’m a woman. I think plenty of pagan men are reinventing/rediscovering/reclaiming masculinity in a whole lot of different ways. There tend to be less men in mixed pagan groups – but also, I am sure, there are less men in most Church groups, personal development courses, in therapy, in book groups and adult education groups…. Plenty of pagan groups honour the God and Goddess equally, or to different degrees at different times of the year. Some, especially some women’s-only groups, only invoke the Goddess. In large sections of paganism there is the understanding that to refocus on the feminine (in answer to the last several thousand years) is important for re-thinking and re-balancing our relationships to the divine, to the earth and to each other.
I think paganism is very open to different sexual orientations, and also gender orientations. I work with Reclaiming, which is completely open to all genders and sexual orientations, but usually calls to the Goddess as creatrix and the God as her son/lover – which is in keeping with many ancient traditions from different cultures. There is also definitely a point ‘beyond gender’ in divinity; beyond all the Goddesses, one Goddess; beyond all the Gods, one God and beyond this, only one. Reclaiming, in particular, makes a bit of a point of crossing gender roles, having men invoke the Goddess, or women the God (for example) – and men as well as women, in Reclaiming, call themselves Priestesses.
There are many issues here, including language, context and intention – but broadly I think paganism, and Reclaiming in particular, works with points of difference rather than points of sameness. In fact, they are celebrated!
I think it is the responsibility of men to find ways of celebrating, invoking divinity (etc) that are relevant to them, while being aware of the discourse of feminism and its critiques of our current society. Being sidelined is of course an interesting place to reflect on power dynamics and one possibly learns much more there, than while in the centre. Paganism is very evolving – potentially very dynamic and responsive as well to the needs and wishes of its participants. Its overwhelming importance currently, I would say, is in what it has to say about humans relationship to the earth. Men undoubtedly have an important part to play in this, as they currently hold so many powerful positions and control so much of the world’s wealth. It’s also impossible for women, alone, to raise children with fundamentally different and responsible world views. Men also act as role models for other men, when they speak out, act differently and take on issues.
Q And finally, feminism within Paganism, how important a role d you think feminism is. Do you identify as a feminists yourself for example. I was quite shocked once, when speaking to a well known so called feminist, who is also a leading campaigner against sex worker rights, at how little she knew about the feminist/women’s spiritual movement. Do you have any comments to make regarding feminism, the women’s spiritual movement as it is to day?
A. I am a feminist. Reclaiming also comes from a feminist and activist history. Feminism offers an analysis of power, both in personal and political contexts and as such is useful for any disempowered group. Of course, in the interpretation of any such broad field as feminism, individuals will arrive at different conclusions. It’s a common enough belief that sex work oppresses and further marginalises those in the industry, particularly women and particularly poorer or working class women. I don’t think we can discount that, or pretend that everyone doing this work is empowered and making conscious choices. There are also sex workers who are trafficked and basically slaves, and in some countries many under-age sex workers. It’s a complex issue. So I think many feminists may be broadly opposed to the sex industry, seeing it as an extreme example of the oppression of women within the patriarchy. But this is very different than opposing sex worker rights. And I think one can safely judge people more by their actions than what they happen to call themselves…
Again, I think the cutting edge is, can we save the planet? Eco-feminism, deep green feminism, eco-activism – I think these owe a lot to the original analyses of feminism, and that paganism can come beautifully and powerfully into those arenas. Paganism says we are not separate from the earth, not in dominion over it, but we are responsible for its well being. Paganism offers immediate identification with nature and with the natural cycles – it could well be a (very disorganised and de-centralised) religion for the future…
Well thank again for this interview. I hope that your book sells well and of course Harlots will be pleased to review any of your future work.
Thank you. You might like to look at Aphrodite’s Magic: Celebrate and Heal Your Sexuality, which is my earlier book.
Meredith’s webpage is available “HERE”
I offer you the brightest blessings and the best wishes of our readers.