Also known as the hieros gamos, the Sacred Marriage is the perfect union of male and female within alchemy to create a spiritually and physically perfected whole.
Or at least a whole that approaches the perfect, since some alchemists would say that the only perfect being is the Christian God.
Carl Jung avidly studied historical alchemy since he related the terms and beliefs in alchemy to his own beliefs about the inner mind, the female soul or anima, the male soul or animus, the sub-conscious, the shadow self, the death wish or Thanatos.
Modern writers can be expected to be influenced by Carl Jung’s concepts. After all, psychologists and psychiatrists write prolifically in mostly ordinary language while alchemists wrote in code.
The term Sacred Marriage can also refer to the (usually sexual) union of two gods. In Wicca, the Sacred Marriage is the symbolic combination of the Goddess and the God (or her Consort) as a dagger is placed into a chalice.
Sometimes, with full mutual consent, the High Priestess and High Priest have sex to represent the Goddess and the God ritually.
How Does a Sacred Marriage Work?
In prehistoric societies, the cult of the feminine creative principle thrived through various myths and initiation rites that celebrated the generative and creative forces of nature. Hierogamy was one of the rites that exalted the power of giving and illuminating life within these archaic societies, such as the Minoan civilization.
However, as patriarchal societies emerged, the concept of the sacred marriage was distorted and misused. The Ieros Gamos lost its genuine function of sacred union between man and woman and was co-opted by autocratic rulers to legitimize their authority. In these instances, the king or sovereign would engage in a union with a priestess representing the ancient goddess to obtain divine blessings for governing the state.
In such cases, the priestess became a mere instrument for the rise of patriarchal power, neglecting any trace of the feminine.
A modern example of this distortion can be seen in the case of the Japanese emperor in 1990. While the sexual union’s occurrence is uncertain, the emperor aimed to symbolically communicate with the spirit of the Sun Goddess through a secret ceremony in the temple, seeking the goddess’s blessing to confirm his reign’s legitimacy.
The Symbolism of the Sacred Marriage
The symbolism of the sacred marriage has persisted throughout history in both Western and Eastern mystical traditions, adapting to the prevailing societal connotations. However, with the rise of monotheistic and patriarchal religions, the concept of the sacred marriage was significantly misrepresented.
Phallocentric societies minimized and even erased the significance of the female partner in the sacred marriage and effaced symbols associated with the Goddess. This led to an imbalance in the portrayal of divine and sacred connections, perpetuating a patriarchal view of spirituality.
The Sacred Marriage in Different Cultures
The sacred marriage has been represented differently in various cultures and belief systems throughout history. In Christianity, rather than a sacred marriage between a man and a woman, there exists a “mystical marriage” between a man and his male god, emphasizing an unequal and asymmetrical union that denies female sacredness.
Examining mythological material, few couples truly exemplify the ancient synergy of marriage between male and female, particularly in the western world. One such example is the legendary couple, Isis and Osiris, from ancient Egyptian mythology. Their union was seen as a perfect bond of great love and erotic joy.
Together, they brought civilization’s arts and techniques to the people. The tragic event of Osiris’ death and dismemberment in the myth seems to deny the sexuality of their love, but it also provides an opportunity for resurrection and sexual reintegration, symbolized by Isis reconstructing Osiris’ virile member.
In modern times, the sacred marriage has evolved to become the pinnacle of the sacralization of sexuality and fatherhood, aspects that played a lesser role in the matrifocal ecumenical societies of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.
It now represents the apotheosis of patriarchal cultures, serving three main functions: the sacralization of fertility, the legitimization of the king’s rule, and the sacralization of the potential heir to the throne.
The emergence of male divinities and the concept of male sacredness were artificial constructions necessary to establish new patriarchal societies.
Understanding the significance of the sacred marriage can provide insights into the origins of our modern societies and allow us to reconnect with ancient beliefs that were rooted in a deeper and more spiritual sense of connection.
By exploring these historical practices, we can gain a broader perspective on the evolution of human culture and spirituality.