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The New Temple Prostitution

Laurelei Black

Temple prostitute. The phrase is evocative and provocative, dredging up dark feelings of
ownership and abuse that are co-mingled with powerful desires and tantalizing scenes of
ancient mystery. Our modern sensibilities would have us believe that all prostitution is an
abhorrent, ugly institution of exploitation and degradation. The modern lens, though,
might be a bit murky. This “oldest profession” has long been rooted in the sacred places
of the ancient world, and it is poised to make a spectacular transformation in
contemporary thought and practice.

Just a Little History

The word “prostitute” comes from the Latin prostituere, meaning “to stand for.” The
earliest prostitutes didn’t sell services for tête-à-tête trade. They were, in fact, stand-ins
for the specific Goddesses. Ishtar, Inanna, Astarte and Aphrodite all had sacred
prostitutes in their service, many of whom served in roles that contemporary critics might
not even view as fitting under the umbrella term of prostitution.

“En” priestesses, such as Enheduanna, the earliest extent writer, engaged in the sacred
marriage rite once per year with the king. Only the En priestess could fill the role of the
Goddess Inanna, divine force of feminine fertility. And this priestess’s only partner was
the God Damuzi, who came to her through the king. Their sacred union brought fertility
to a dry and barren land, to the animals of the field, and to the men and women who
celebrated this heavenly consummation with conjugal rites of their own.

The sacred union eventually became more available to the common person when priests
(qadeshat) and priestesses (qadishti) of sacred loving multiplied in number and function.
These were joyful, honorable and holy expressions of divine love and ecstasy, and certain
cultures experienced widespread enjoyment of sacred prostitution.

As cultures traded goods, they also traded customs. While sexual worship of Goddesses
of Love found its way to Greece, so, eventually, did an aspersion of physical pleasure
make its way through the Mediterranean and Levantine cultures that had once had
temples the size of cities. The rise and eventual decline of Aphrodite’s star can be traced
through the histories and mythologies with painful clarity.

Contemporary Temple Prostitutes

Temple prostitutes, however, are not merely icons of a faded and crumbled past.
Increasingly, they are a part f our future. As contemporary priests and priestesses of
sacred loving, dedicated to specific Deities or simply to the ideals of sexual-spiritual re-
integration and healing, continue to engage in energy exchange, physical teachings,
hands-on celebration and erotic spiritualism, the broader Pagan and non-Pagan
communities will find themselves faced with new options in worship.

Priests and priestesses of love and sex tend to work in a variety of milieus. There are no
absolute leaders within the sacred sexuality movement, though certain approaches are
beginning to rise up to greater publicity and practice. Tantra has been a visible path even
within popular culture for quite some time, but its study tends to be cost-prohibitive as
gurus charge tidy sums for instruction. Furthermore, the approach itself, which
emphasizes restraint and control, is more Apollonian than many contemporary
Westerners can appreciate.

The Qadishti Movement, a sacred sexuality movement based more on Mesopotamian

practice than on the Far Eastern roots of tantric yoga, is one of the newest and most
adaptable approaches for Western seekers. “Qadishti” is plural for “qadishtu,” the term
given to female sacred prostitutes in Canaan. Contemporary qadishti are men and women
from a multitude of backgrounds who facilitate sacred acts of love.

The work looks a little different from one qadishtu to the next, as all practitioners have
different talents and interests. Where one qadishtu may have a focus on scholarly,
historical research, and approach her clients (devotees, patrons, seekers) from a
perspective deeply rooted in past practice, another may take an eclectic, hands-on,
“whatever works right now” approach. Some feel strongly that healing is the focus of the
qadishtu’s work, and they help individuals heal hurts that have happened to them
physically, emotionally and sexually through love, touch and companionship. Others feel
that society’s hurts can be healed by teaching people to come into a healthier relationship
with their bodies, with sex, and with their emotions.

“I think the Qadishtu's role, in addition to having sex in a sacred manner, is also to
remind people of the sacredness of sex in all situations,” says Inara de Luna, founder of
the Temple of the Red Lotus in Georgia. “Once you learn to view and experience sex as
sacred, it's very difficult to treat it as anything other than sacred. We are here to help
people remember or realize that fact. Part of that mission encompasses teaching people
about the possibilities of tapping into a universal, limitless capacity for love and

No matter the particular temple affiliation, all of today’s temple prostitutes share a few
basic principles of belief and practice.
1. All agree that sex is a divine gift to be celebrated, enjoyed and shared. It isn’t a
source of shame. As Manor of the Temple of Venus Erycina says, “We believe
love, including sexual love, to be the most powerful force for good in the
Universe and Sacred Marriage (ritualized sexual intercourse) to be the highest
human sacrament. We are sacred guides leading people back to Paradise where
lovemaking is innocent and sacred.”
2. Integrity and honesty are as important within the sacred sexuality community as
they are outside of it. Betrayal of whatever conjugal agreements a seeker has
made isn’t endorsed or encouraged. In most cases, it isn’t even tolerated. After all,
trust is a critical component of intimacy.
3. Ultimately, all people are values and loved within the sacred bedchamber.
Society’s rules don’t apply here. However unlovely and unloved the outside world
may find an individual, a Priest or Priestess of Love is capable of giving and
receiving pleasure, joy, love, passion, tenderness and intimacy with a seeker in an
authentic, genuine manner. As Inara de Luna of the Temple of the Red Lotus
says, “A Qadishtu is known for her capacity to impart loving touch, for her ability
to be a physical expression of the Divine, for her sacred approach to sexuality,
and her ability to share that with countless others, all without diminishing herself
or denying her own needs.”

Qadishtu Training

Becoming a priest or priestess of love and sex is not necessarily a simple matter of
hanging a shingle and finding a bed. This is a priesthood like any other, after all, and it
requires a certain calling, training and willingness to serve on the part of the qadishtu.

From the Temple of Venus Erycina, based in Cincinnati, Michael Manor says that,
“nothing replaces face-to-face experience. Sacred Sexuality is something you do,
something you share. We are all furry little creatures yearning to be touched and to touch
others. It's part of our nature. So we share the big three: healing, celebrating, and
exploring. Sure, we also teach in classes, workshops and will be adding intensives and
private mentoring in various aspects of the path, but our main work rests in the giparu
(gee-pah-roo), our sacred space.”

Terra Incognita in Chicago offers everything from live-in apprenticeships to personal

mentoring. David Torrey, one of TI’s founding members, says, “The length of study is
lifelong for all of us, but the basics can be mastered relatively quickly by those who are
passionate about the qadishti calling. Qadishti Arts require some formal training, but
are also somewhat intuitive for those who feel called to perform them.”

Other temples, like the Temple of the Red Lotus in Atlanta and Aphrodite’s Temple in
Texas, offer distance-learning opportunities via online forums or printed training manuals
that follow modules or levels designed by their founders.

Legal Definition of Prostitution

The legal definition of prostitution varies from state to state, so all qadishti are
encouraged to become familiar with their local laws. Seekers should do the same in order
to avoid inadvertently placing their loving Priest or Priestess in an awkward legal
situation. Check out for a listing of the current
prostitution laws by state.

Because quid pro quo sex for money is illegal in most places in the US, most qadishti
elegantly side-step this issue in whatever way seems best, on an individual basis. Some
offer sexual counseling but never engage in sex with clients. Many teach classes, offer
massage, perform psychic reading, or offer other services on a paid basis but only engage
in sexual acts: a) outside of the time or conditions for which payment was received, and
b) with the understanding that their choice to engage sexually with any partner has little
or nothing to do with the type or amount of compensation received for other services. A
few qadishti don’t accept any money for any of their services, in an effort to avoid legal
snarls. The rarest qadishti are those who actually charge a monetary fee for sex.

Of course, whether or not a qadesh or qadishtu is involved in any sort of financial

exchange, almost all agree that the United States’ current anti-prostitution laws are
antiquated and unnecessary. Qadishti believe that men and women should be able to
charge for consensual, adult sexual service without fear of criminal prosecution.

Inara of the Temple of the Red Lotus has very strong feelings about the laws surrounding
prostitution. “Personally, I feel that the criminalization of prostitution is, itself, criminal,”
she says. “Why is it that consensual sex is the only thing which becomes illegal once
money is exchanged? That makes no sense. I do not support human trafficking or coerced
prostitution, but consensual prostitution should be legal and protected. It's important to
distinguish these two - as both the intent and the effect are completely different.”

“We encourage our priestesses and priests to work for change,” says Manor, “but to abide
existing laws and therefore not to engage in sex for money. We appreciate the courage
and commitment of those who challenge existing laws in their own ways.”


Priests and Priestesses of Love and Sex are not merely relics from antiquity. Throughout
the United States and abroad, pioneering men and women are embracing ancient
principles of sacred sexuality in a contemporary context. They are coming together in
tents, bedrooms, hotels and pavilions at lifestyle events, Pagan festivals, and sex-therapy
conferences. They are teaching the world, once again, that sexuality is not the opposite of
spirituality, but that it may be its highest form of expression.


Qadishti Community
Based in Cincinnati and led by Michael and Lissa Manor, the Qadishti Institute
sponsors this community of sacred sex practitioners, and it values practice over
theory in sacred sexual workings. QI offers a program of training that includes
mini-tracks at festivals and celebrations. QI is associated with the Roman
Caesarean Church and the Temple of Venus Erycina, and it hosts the website and
forum listed above.

Temple of the Red Lotus
Based in Atlanta, GA, this temple recognizes and promotes the sanctity of sex, the
body, love, relationships and more. The Temple and Inara de Luna, its founder,
present workshops throughout the Southwest, and they also sponsor live chats
with pioneers in sacred loving. Finally, Red Lotus offers comprehensive qadishtu
training for those interested in exploring that calling.

Terra Incognita
Terra Incognita doesn’t have an online face for the temple, but its founders can be
reached via e-mail, and they participate actively in the sacred sexuality
community. TI is a qadishtu temple, training temple harlots and temple dogs (a
term sometimes used for male priests/guards). They engage with seekers in
everything from sincere non-sexual counsel to deeply connected courtesan-like
relationships. Their goal is to help integrate a seeker’s mind, body and spirit in a
healthy way.

Aphrodite’s Temple
This particular temple of Aphrodite is located in central Texas and run by Gigi
Raven Wilbur. It is a sacred sexuality temple that offers training opportunities to
priest/ess prostitutes and integrated healing opportunities to seekers.