Sex in Ancient Cultures

According to some of the early thinkers and philosophers the key to the mysteries of the universe lay hidden in the mysteries of sex. On the one hand there existed the fiery, active, male generative power, and on the other the gentle, passive, receptive, female power. Out of these two powers all else was created. Most of what we would call the polytheistic religions also ran along these lines, their male Gods supplying the generative powers and the Goddesses the receptive. Occasionally there would be those that crossed over and the Fire Goddesses such as Vesta, Pele, Sekmet, and Kali emerged, while to complement them there came about the less aggressive Gods such as Mercury the Messenger, Thoth the Scribe, and Aesculapius the Healer.

The Ancient World

Sex pervaded every aspect of life in ancient times. It was considered an important part of humanity's existence. The genitals were not considered to be obscene and in some countries they were barely covered. The decorations on Greek pottery have left us with what amounts to a film show of what life was like. Much of it is highly sexual in content: satyrs and nymphs cavort naked under the olive trees, young men and women pass by, bathing, dancing, and making love, drawn from life as the artists saw it happen. The Greeks fought their battles either naked or nearly so and saw nothing strange in it.

The Romans were less inclined to nudity but still had their festivals at which all pretence to modesty and shyness were abandoned. In fact their Bacchanalian festivals became so bad, so obscene and violent, that finally they were banned.

Meanwhile in Egypt, under the fierce heat, the women wore little more than a shift of transparent linen, while female slaves seldom wore anything more than beads and the men of the household wore a brief pleated kilt of the same material. A woolen cloak might be added at night if it grew chilly.


The Phoenicians called their chief God Asshur, or Asher, meaning the penis, the happy one (note the similarity to Eheieh Asher Eheieh, given as a name by Yaweh to Moses in his exile). Another of their Gods was Dagon. Represented as half-fish and half-man, he was a teacher of mankind who came up out of the sea each day and returned at night. The fish was worshipped as a fertility symbol because of the female fish's ability to lay many thousands of eggs and because it lived in the live-giving ocean. The practice of young women impaling themselves on the stone phallus of Asshur prior to their wedding night was commonplace.


The Land of the Pharaohs has drawn the imagination of everyone at some time or another. Its religion was complex in the extreme with many Gods. It breaks down roughly into two groups of deities, those headed by Ra and those headed by Osiris. The Osirian group is the one with which most people are familiar. To the Star Goddess Nuit and the Earth God Geb were born two sets of twins: Osiris and Isis, Nephthys and Set, one set with a light skin and the other dark.

Osiris and his sister/wife took human form as the king and queen of Khem, the ancient name of Egypt. Osiris was the symbol of the generative power of nature. In fact he was basically a corn God. To show his power to rise again after being cut down, he was sometimes depicted with three phalloi. The creation myth of the Egyptians speaks of Atum the Creator masturbating into his clenched fist, and there are many representations of Atum and other Gods in this position. Some carry rods or sceptres with a phallic head, others are shown with an erect penis, being adored by worshippers and anointed with oils and perfumes. Herodotus described a religious procession in which small statues with movable sex organs attached to a cord were carried to the temple.

The worship of the Apis bull was a part of the Egyptians' sacred rites and the French traveller Vivant Denon speaks of the finding of the embalmed phallus of a bull interred with a female mummy. Their rituals were, however, much more rigid and stylized than those of the exuberant Hellenes: they opted for dignity rather than excess.


Zeus was the king of the Greek pantheon, and his origin can be traced from the Vedic Dyaus pitar. He was a sky God and as such most of his 'amours' (and there were plenty) were with human women. (We can see an echo in this of the biblical story of the Sons of God and the Daughters of Men and their intermarriage . ) The children that were born of these women were the demi-gods, the heroes who were deified after death. It is also of some significance that Zeus was called the Aegis-Bearer, as was his daughter Athena, who was born without a mother, from the head of Zeus. The aegis was a ritual goat pelt worn by a chieftain or ruler and was the totem of the Aegidae, a tribe that moved into Greece in its early history. The goat, like Zeus himself, was exceptionally prolific and this may have accounted for the aegis being part of his symbology. The worship of the goat as a giver of fertility was widespread over many lands and religions, extending from India in the north to the famous Temple of Mendes in the Nile Delta. Zeus was also given to what was styled even in ancient times as Greek love, i.e. homosexuality. His abduction of the beautiful youth, Ganymede, in the form of an eagle has been the subject of many paintings.

Hermes was, like his father, much given to the pursuit of women and even his famous staff, the caduceus, depicted the male and female snakes twined about the upright staff or lingam. His pillars, or Herms, could once be seen everywhere in Greece, by the roadside and in the villages and cities. Each showed a head and an erect phallus which was adored and anointed with wine and oils by the local people. Occasionally young women would offer their virginity on them, a remnant of the same ritual prevalent in earlier Phoenicia.

Hades, the dark and silent God of the Greek underworld abducted his own niece, the daughter of his sister Demeter, and took her to be his queen. This cycle of events became the basis of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Hades has often been interpreted as a Greek form of Satan ruling over Hell, but this is not true. He simply ruled over those who had died and his kingdom held no punishments.

Probably the most sexual of all Greek Gods was Dionysius, the God of wine and sexual pleasure. His mysteries were celebrated with orgiastic rituals and drunkenness. His Roman counterpart Bacchus was worshipped by women with wild and excessive behavior. The Bacchantes were dangerous to meet when they were in the power of their rite, as Pentheus found to his cost.

Pan or Priapus was worshipped mainly in country areas and especially at harvest time. He was seen as the protector of flocks and wild animals. At the same time he was noted for his wanton behavior with human women and nymphs.


All forms of worship gradually slide into decline and decay - nothing lasts forever. Rome became the most decadent of all the ancient civilizations - as great as it had been, so as low did it fall. By the end, the early purity of the festivals in honor of the phallus and the vulva had gone for good. The debaucheries of its rulers became a top-heavy weight and Rome fell, dragging with it the then civilized world and opening the doors to the Dark Ages.

Rome had always been a city where prostitution flourished fed by the appetites of both men and women. There were many different grades of this ancient profession and the women who practiced them were by no means all from the lower levels of society. The highest grade was that of the Delicatue, the kept women of the wealthy and prominent men. Next were the Famos' usually the daughters and even the wives of wealthy families who simply enjoyed sex for its own sake. Then there were the Dor' who habitually went naked even in the town and by contrast the Lup', or she-wolves, who plied their trade under the fornices or arches of the old temples, bridges, and the Colosseum. It is from this word that we get 'fornication' as an expression of debased sex. It was one of these lup', called Laurentia, who found the twins Romulus and Remus and fed them saving their lives. The Elicari' were the bakers' girls who sold the phallus-shaped cakes m the markets and earned a little extra on the side. Cop' were the serving girls in taverns and inns who could be hired as bedmates for the night by travelers, and the Noctili' were the nightwalkers. Add to these the Bustuari', Blitid', Forari' and Gallin', and you will get some idea of how low Rome sank.


The Triple God of India is the Trimurti, consisting of Brahma Vishnu and Shiva. Each God is one with his consort, forming not three but six deities. This links back to the Hebrew symbol of the six-pointed star as being the universe in total balance. For the Indians sex was the highest form of worship and their Gods used it to maintain the balance between the universe and chaos.

Sex in the Modern World

Today sex is a paradox. In many ways it is flaunted in full view, in others it is hidden away as if it were something shameful. Our society is divided into several groups: the prudes, the shameless, and those for whom sex is meat and drink. For a very few, it is still the sacred fire of life.


Modern clothing varies from month to month; what is in fashion today has disappeared in a few weeks. Always it has followed the way that men see women.

In medieval times, women shaved their eyebrows, plucked out their lashes, and wore heavy dresses that made them look desirably pregnant. For the men, the fashion was decorated codpieces that (usually) lied about their owner's attributes! Sixteenth-century women had panniered skirts and wooden corsets for a narrow waist and a wide hip line, matching the men's padded doublets and tight-fitting hose. The seventeenth century lowered the neckline for women almost, and in some cases, right to the nipples, while the men wore silk and lace and periwigs. By contrast the Puritans covered everything up to the neck!

The 1800s brought high-waisted, neo-classical dresses in fine silks and cottons, worn with little underneath and wetted with lavender water to make them outline the body. Men wore tight pantaloons, knee breeches and make up! By the nineteenth century, men made do with suits not too far removed from our own day, but the ladies had changed shape again and were now in crinolines, one of the most awkward shapes ever invented for sitting in. Edwardian times saw the arrival of the full-busted lady with a bustle and hats the size of carriage wheels, then the First World War brought all that to an end and the twenties saw in the 'flapper' with knee-high skirts, flat chests, and a diabolical line in underwear known as directoire knickers. From there, it was a short step to mini skirts and the constantly changing fashions of today. Bosoms and hips have disappeared and returned with bewildering rapidity, but underneath there is still woman.


To induce people to buy anything today it seems it has to be sold with sex as a carrot - soft drinks, perfume, soap, cars, houses, and even insurance. The phallic emblem has returned and the connotation is unmistakable as the young nubile girl tips her head back and drinks from a bottle. Chocolate is sold with the aid of a beautiful woman in her underwear suggestively sliding a bar of the merchandise between her lips. The soap and deodorant and toothpaste ads make sure you get the message that unless you use their product you cannot win a mate. Even coffee and liqueurs are sold by appealing to the romantic in us that longs for the two performers in a British advertisement to get it together. Smell different, taste sweeter, look slimmer, travel further, live faster - we can have it all so long as we buy what the advert people tell us to buy, and sex is the motivation.


The horse was once the preferred method of abducting your woman, now it is the Porsche, the Ferrari, and the Lamborghini, if you are really into wish-fulfillment. If not, then any small(er) car will do. Either will be an unconscious extension of your lover's physical attributes. Other items also serve this purpose: a woman's lipstick advertises a second and hidden mouth; her handbag is a symbol of her self, her secret womb where her private and personal treasures are kept. Even if you are a modern feminist with the ability to make your own way in the world, even if you are an independent man not looking for a wife and mother for your children, all these ancient impulses are working inside you. Fight against them and you end up with enough neuroses to choke a cat. Work with them, acknowledge them, but set them aside, and they will lie quietly and sleep.

If you do not enjoy sex, well that's too bad, it's good for you, like spinach, but your creative power will not go away. Use it in another manner, but always creatively. You cannot get rid of it with cold showers, but if you turn to a creative outlet, it will get used up safely. How about trying painting, writing, photography, gardening, sewing, embroidery, cookery, bricklaying, burnt poker work, and/or taxidermy?!

We live in a world so different from that of the ancient peoples that their reaction if they were brought up to our time cannot possibly be imagined. Faced with a car, a train, a jet, or even something totally simple like a bar of soap or a toothbrush, they just would not be able to cope. The simplicity of their time has been lost forever and with it a kind of innocence. Their idea of sex was, like their lives, simple. It was there, it was immensely enjoyable, you used it, often. What a lot we have lost.

Throughout the recorded history of the world and its religions, the power of sex has been a motivating force, even if not recognized as such. It has been lifted high and cast down to the lowest point by humanity, but it has never ceased to be, of itself, the supreme gift of the Creator.

The Tree of Ecstasy: An Advanced Manual of Sexual Magic by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki.This article is excerpted with permission from:

The Tree of Ecstasy: An Advanced Manual of Sexual Magic
by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki.

Published by Samuel Weiser, York Beach, ME. ©1999.

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About The Author

Dolores Ashcroft-NowickiDolores Ashcroft-Nowicki travels the world lecturing on all aspects of the occult and is the author of many books, including "The Ritual Magic Workbook".

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