translated by Giovanna Costa and Cassia Tavares

The Serpent Goddess, worshiped by societies from 2000 to 1800 b.C., in Crete, one of the most important centers of matriarchal civilization.

This story starts in a distant past when the only gods that existed wore women’s clothes (or none) and were way less moralists. Way before the world was ruled by patriarchal societies. Even before the existence of male chauvinism. It starts in the period we now call prehistory – could it be a coincidence that we consider that History only starts with the advent of male domination? – in which worshiping the Goddess was the rule among human beings.

When women organized matriarchal clans and collected between 65 and 80% of all the food consumed by the society. When they gave birth without men knowing that they had any participation in the perpetuation of the species. When this power was considered as some kind of magic that connected them with the sacred and turned them into the true representation of the Goddess that created life. And when sex wasn’t morally condemned by religion, but consecrated as a mean to spiritual elevation.

The Venus of Willendorf, found in Austria, belongs to the Paleolithic period and is understood as evidence of the existence of the European matriarchal societies. Furthermore, it challenges our contemporary beauty standards.

The reign of the Goddess, forgotten by our History or relegated as a collection of “weird fertility cults”, actually lasted 25 thousand years, as told by the historian Nickie Roberts in “Whores in History: Prostitution in Western Society”. That is, it starts at some point of the Paleolithic and continues towards the organization of the patriarchy with the help of the greek philosophers – yes, it was our beloved Aristotle who coined in “Politics”, for example, the idea that “an intelligent woman is a counter natural fact”.

But before that, whores were sacred.

They were shamanic priestess in nomad societies, and organized sex rituals in which the whole community participated. Later, when humankind learned the art of agriculture, they moved this practices to temples. Sex was their form to lead the world into accessing the divine. This was their job.

American researcher Melissa Farley cuts off into this part of Nickie’s story: “I studied matriarchal societies. But the sacred whores didn’t receive any money, that’s the difference! The main matter there was to have fun, to be fun to everybody. When money gets on the scene, a power unbalance is created”.

In fact, in that period, the notion of money didn’t even exist – people used a system of barter – and sex with the congregation was only one of the assignments of these priestess craft, but it was work. And it was the possession idea itself that ended the reign of the sacred whores – and women in general.

It was about 3 thousand years b.C. when men from the first communities started to understand that they participated of pregnancy and, gradually through the centuries, started to want to make sure that the kid they were raising was, in fact, theirs. They didn’t want the property built during a lifetime to end in the hands of another man’s kid.
It didn’t happen overnight. The goddesses, in the beginning, lived with gods… until they were defeated by them. Aristotelian philosophy settles. And that’s when society starts controlling women’s sexuality. Our bodies turn into objects.

Yes, we are sold as sexual slaves, but also as wives in deals made by men.

Whores and wives

“If the man’s wife has not borne him children but a harlot from the public square has […] the children which the harlot has borne him shall be his heirs, and as long as his wife lives the harlot shall not live in the house with the wife.”, said the sumerians 2 thousand years b.C.’s Lipit Ishtar Code. This is one of the oldest known registers in which whores and wives get differentiated statuses – the first ones mentioned, of course, in the low hierarchy.
Nickie says that while societies created laws that stigmatized whores even more, they also developed means to make sure wives were submissive. Sex worker’s life starts becoming miserable and shameful but, even so, some preferred to be whores instead of wives.
Nowadays, when governments condemn whore coaxing and make whorehouses illegal, it’s hard to believe, but one of the biggest and first pimps in history was the State, according to the historian. Solon, who governed Athenes in the end of the 6th century b.C., realized how profitable this business was and created state-owned whorehouses.

Furthermore, during all history, reminds Nickie, laws that restrained or prohibited prostitution were used by officers and cops to take bribes or sexual favours from the sex professionals.

This paint by Henryk Siemiradzki shows Pryne, one of the most famous whores in History, who symbolized Aphrodite in religious rituals held in Athens, in the Classical period. She was a hetairae, a kind of prostitute that was known for their high cultural level and intelligence. Some of them had prostitution schools (gynaceums) and saw this craft as a way to free themselves of marriage oppressions. Even though, in the same period, another group of women, the hierodule, were slaves forced into prostitution and, even though they had sacred status (they still were considered some kind of goddess incarnation), they had no freedom. It was a transitioning period to the absolute oppression of women. Photo: Reproduction

[caption id="attachment_11346" align="aligncenter" width="1002"] This painting by Jean-Leon Gerome shows what is supposed to be the sexual slaves market in Ancient Rome, where women who would be forced into prostitution were sold. They were the major part of the population in that time, even though a small fraction of elite women chose the craft after the emperor Augustus created laws that forced women to get married and have children.

The religions

The monotheist God, once and for all, condemned whores to hell – the living one and in the afterlife. He instituted the notion of sin, condemned the pleasure of sexuality. Don’t think, however, that this condemnation was so clear.
King Henry II, for example, made sure that, in the 400 years after 1161, the british bishopric had the right to get a percentage of the whorehouse’s profit – and with the whores effort, many of the beautiful cathedrals in London were built.
French seminarist François Villon registered in Middle Age poems the “wonders” of his second job as a pimp: “When a client arrives, I fill pots of wine and bring them (…) In this whorehouse we make a roaring business (…) But when she comes home without money (…) I can’t stand her and she will shed blood”.
Even the most sainted preached that prostitution should be allowed so it would save the chastity of the maidens. After all, as said by Saint Augustine:

“Suppress prostitution and eccentric luxuries will take over society.”

It was declared: to the eyes of gods and men, women were bound to two papers: hell’s whore or heavenly wife.

This painting by Brunswick Monogrammist shows an European whorehouse in 1537, where violence against whores is registered. Photo: Reproduction

Criminalization

In the 12th century, provided with Christian condemnation to prostitution, the European States started to create the first laws that restrained or criminalized prostitution, starting in France. In some cases, whores were impeded to make accusations against people who caused them harm, and in others, raping whores was legalized. Alfonso IX, from Castile, created a model, by the way, similar to the one we now call “swedish model” and criminalized all who got involved in sex commerce, except for prostitutes.
But the most original of all these men who tried to legislate on the lives of whores was the cleric Thomas of Chobham.

In the 13th century, he created a manual to confessors in which he described that whores had the right to sell sex – but if they reached the climax, they had the moral obligation to not get paid for it.

Christian faith continued to punish whores – many times, literally. Not just reformist protestants but also catholics from the counter reformation condemned the practice. For three centuries, starting in 1484, they were pursued along with the called “witches”. “Correction houses” and various punishments, like branding their faces with hot iron, spread over Europe.

19th century brought the industrial revolution and a tough reality to women: as they became cheap manpower in factories, with paychecks always smaller than men’s, many workers could only pay the bills with prostitution. A way too similar world to the ones of contemporary whores: between choice and the lack of it.

Criminalization, partial or complete, continued to be the rule between the 20th and 21th centuries in most countries. But there are other law shapes around the world.

Undoubtedly, nowadays, the prostitution craft is not a romantic novel. While interviewing 854 whores from nine countries, historian Milena Farley discovered that 95% of the women in the field would change jobs if they could.

“One time, I met a woman that had about 45 encounters a day”, she tells.

In an extensive report on prostitution published last year, Amnesty International declared: “Sex workers are a heterogeneous group (…) for some it (the profession) can offer more flexibility and control over working hours or a higher rate of pay than other options available for them. For many, the decision to engage in sex work is a reflection of limited livelihood options”.
And completes: “They experiment high levels of human rights violations all over the globe”.
A sad journey to those who, someday, connected men to the supernatural.

 

 


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