From Pure Joy springs all creation; by Joy it is sustained,
towards Joy it proceeds and to Joy it returns.
—TANTRA ASANA By Ajit Mookerjee

Apsara from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, c. 12th century c.e.
Apsara, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, c. 12th century c.e.

Sing, feast, make music and love, all in My presence, for I am the ecstasy of the spirit and joy on earth. For My law is love unto all beings. I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters, I call upon your soul to arise and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe. From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return. Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And you who seek to know Me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire. —THE CHARGE OF THE STAR GODDESS, Adapted from Doreen Valiente

The essence of the Goddess is joy and love of life, particularly life as we experience it through the Earth and her cycles. The sight of sunrise or sunset reflected in water, the smell of gardenias, a loved one’s touch, the music of windchimes, the taste of the first ripe fruit—all these are part of our birthright, our natural heritage. So also is pleasure in simply existing, in enjoying the small and large movements of our bodies, in everyday tasks as well as in exuberant dance. One of the reasons animals are so important to us is that they remind us of the joy of living and of natural movement.

When we live close to Nature, when we are not cut off from or afraid of life, we feel our true identity as part of the vast web of being. Then we experience the true nature of the erotic, the life force flowing through us and all of creation. I use the term “erotic” as defined by poet Audre Lorde: “an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our lives.” Our eroticism can express itself in a variety of ways, in our passion for life, for a project or for a person. Living erotically is being open to life in all its manifestations. Living erotically is being alive.

Aphrodite, Europe, 3rd Century B.C.E.
Aphrodite, Europe, 3rd Century B.C.E.

This openness to life is beautifully expressed by Luisah Teish. Speaking of the Orisha Oshun, Teish says: With Her we learn to love ourselves. We paint ourselves as brightly as the birds that fly. Through Her we learn to love the gifts of the Earth, brass and amber, and to become one with them.. We place them on our bodies and share substance with them through our sweat. She brings us in contact with the essence of flowers. We make perfume and become one with the plant spirits by rubbing them on our bodies, into our skin. They are absorbed in our pores and we make love to them and with them…Our mouths utter sounds, we cry out ancient rhythms, haunting and sweet. We feed the hunger, heal the wounds, and give birth to outrageous beauty.

The power of the erotic is acknowledged in many cultures. Shakti is the Sanskrit term for the female life force from which all existence originates. Sexuality, an important expression of this life force, may be expressed in a great variety of ways. We can be sexual alone or with other people or with Nature herself. Depending on the culture, we are sexual in order to share love, give and receive pleasure, communicate deeply with one another, make babies, connect with spirit, make art, change the weather or generate healing power.

The Cosmic Yoni, India, 19th Century C.E.
The Cosmic Yoni, India, 19th Century C.E.

When we are able to feel the life force flowing through us and all of creation, we recognize our true nature and are able to free ourselves from the narrowness of our usual limited, alienated viewpoint. The suppression of our expressions of shakti and female sexuality has been an integral part of woman’s political, economic and social exploitation. Women who fully and freely express their sexuality are, in the patriarchy, termed promiscuous, wanton or lascivious. The other extreme is represented by a thirteenth century Hindu writer who stated that a woman’s virtue is proportionate to the number of lovers she has had. Either way, women are constrained by “ideals” set up and enforced by others.

The story of the exile of Lilith for her sexual independence is emblematic of the Judeo-Christian suppression of women. Similarly, in an Australian Aboriginal story women originally held all power because they were the keepers of ritual as well as the most sacred object, a representation of the womb of the Great Mother Waramurunnggoindju, until it was stolen by the men. In the Aboriginal Djanggawo myth, the females, who have clitorises so long they drag on the ground, are the most active characters. Eventually the men steal the women’s sacred objects and, winning power, shorten women’s genitalia.

The Goddess As Yogini, Asia, 3rd Millennium

The link between violence against women, particularly sexual violence, and the destruction of the natural world is shown in the myths of the Greek Goddesses Persephone and Demeter and of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Interestingly, in both of these myths it is the erotic humor of the aged Crone Goddess which lures the Earth and Sun Goddesses back to the world, that life might continue.

In Euro-Western culture, celebration and pleasure have been denigrated and relegated to so few areas of life that their remaining expressions have become overloaded and distorted. No one area of life can channel all our creative life force. For instance, sexuality cannot fulfill all our desire for or all our expressions of the erotic. As a result, our sexual relationships tend to become unsatisfying, obsessive and addictive. Only when we are freely creative in all parts of our lives can our sexuality be fulfilling. Yet as we see with many of the Goddesses of Celebration, sexuality, when regarded as sacred and as part of the worship of the whole of life, can be an important avenue to wholeness.

The eroticism of many of the images in this book might seem incongruous to those who separate sexuality from spirituality. As with other forms of celebration, our culture approaches sexuality in a dualistic way by isolating it from spirituality and either obsessing about it or rejecting it. The Goddesses of Celebration embody a sexuality which is fully integrated into the rest of reality. They teach us the wisdom and necessity of allowing the life force, including sensuality and sexuality, to flow freely. I feel that we can survive only if we honor such sacredly erotic Goddesses—and Gods. For as long as our belief systems reject the body and sexuality, we will continue to systematically destroy the world-body in which we live.

Ochun, Contemporary, Courtesy of Asungi
Ochun, Contemporary, Courtesy of Asungi

Other stories in this book celebrate the passion and life-force of the Goddess and the integration of sexuality with death and rebirth. The legends of the Sumerian Inanna tell of her descent, death and re-emergence. Significantly, her songs also contain some of the most erotic, female and eros-positive literature known. They also describe her as the patron Goddess of masturbation and, as Starhawk points out, the words of her female attendants reflect the women’s intimate and possibly sexual relationship with the Goddess’s body.

We can help restore the life-force on the planet by honoring sexuality—in particular, female sexuality—and all other forms of celebrating our life here on Earth. Re-establishing the sacred in life is an inevitable part of this process, for when we revere the erotic, we celebrate the body, Nature and all of physical and spiritual existence. Interestingly, the clitoris is the only organ whose sole function is pleasure. It seems that pleasure for its own sake is an important aspect of a culture which honors women.

I have selected images which I feel are female and eros-positive,those which revere and celebrate Goddesses of sensuality and passion—for these are the very basis of physical and spiritual life. I portray Goddesses who are virgin —that is, whole unto themselves —for I believe that our sexual autonomy and our capacity for joy are a direct reflection of our spiritual and political freedom. Such sacred eroticism is an essential part of leading a celebratory and creative life. When our thoughts and feelings are aligned with our bodies and when we view one another and all of creation as aspects of the divine, then we can begin to fulfill our true destiny as celebrants of the Earth.

A circle of women dancing around a woman with a lyre.  Crete, c. 1500 b.c.e.
A circle of women dancing around a woman with a lyre. Crete, c. 1500 b.c.e.

Art, Myth and Meditations of the World's Sacred Feminine