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What is a Sacred Marriage: the Hieros Gamos

Updated on:

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

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.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The concept of the Sacred Marriage, known as the Hieros Gamos, traces its roots back to ancient Mesopotamia, where it symbolized the union of the goddess Inanna with the shepherd-king Dumuzid, reflecting the seasonal cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

A priestess representing the goddess and a priest embodying the god engage in symbolic sexual acts, often in a sacred temple, to invoke fertility, prosperity, and spiritual enlightenment.

The Sacred Marriage symbolizes the cosmic and divine forces coming together, creating a synergy that transcends the physical realm. It highlights the importance of balance, harmony, and the interconnectedness of all aspects of existence.

While most famously associated with ancient Mesopotamia, variations of the Sacred Marriage can be found in other cultures, such as the Egyptian marriage of Isis and Osiris, and even in Hinduism with the union of Shiva and Shakti.

Origins

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.

Modern Times

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.

Conclusion

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.

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

6 thoughts on “What is a Sacred Marriage: the Hieros Gamos”

    • It may be heteronormative, but it is also the definition. The idea behind Sacred Marriage is about opposing forces uniting based on the hermetic Principle of Gender using the symbolism of the phallus and womb. It originated with male-dominated ceremonial magick traditions and was adapted by early 20th Century Witchcraft traditions under the guise of feminism. Women could strap on a sword and represent the male principal, but men could not represent the female principal.

      The idea of the Principle of Gender and all of the rituals associated with it have always been problematic and sources of discussion and debate throughout the modern magical era.

      Reply
      • I was just kinda shocked it was even on here considering that this website seems pretty tactful about respecting sacred cultural practices/avoiding cultural appropriation. I kind of expected it to also be a bit more mindful toward focusing on magic that’s inclusive toward trans and nonbinary folks. Especially considering how many of us practice magic.

        Reply
        • I am open to suggestions as to how I can describe this practice in a more sensitive way. I am presenting just the facts here as I know them. Is this term applied to additional practices that are more inclusive that I am not aware of?
          It is important to include it so that when someone says “Hey, will you come to our Sacred Marriage ceremony this weekend” you know what to expect or at least what questions to ask. Removing it entirely because it is offensive would leave anyone not familiar with this term in the dark and possibly in an uncomfortable and even dangerous situation.

          Reply
          • So you’re saying it was added for informative purposes without necessarily personally agreeing with the concept? The only reason I spoke up is because I was concerned the website was excluding LGBTQ+ members of the witchcraft community.

          • Yes, all of the information is here for informational purposes. The definitions are here are so that people can engage with the community without being confused by jargon, which is often used as a gatekeeping tactic. I don’t agree with all of the concepts presented. I try to include multiple definitions and viewpoints as well as historical and cultural context. If there is more information, or more updated information or evolution or debate that I can also include, I would like to. I am sure that there has been more activity on this subject since this article was written and it is definitely due a rewrite. The Witchipedia has existed in some form for the majority of my adult life and I spend more time rewriting articles as new information becomes available and new discussions are had than I do writing new articles these days. I always welcome new viewpoints and references to help me in that direction. But as there are hundreds of articles, I don’t always know what needs attention until someone points them out. So thank you for doing that.

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