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Hieros Gamos (Greek ιερός γάμος, "holy wedding") or Hierogamy (Greek ιερογαμία, again "holy wedding") means a coupling (sometimes marriage) of a god and a man or a woman, often having a symbolic meaning and generally conducted in the spring. It is an ancient ritual in which participants believed that they could gain profound religious experience through sexual intercourse. Participants assumed characteristics of deities, often channeling the deities in question, and by their union provided symbolic and literal fertility for themselves, the land, and their people. This was often done by the monarch and hierodule of the dominant religion.
In some cases, such as the "Sacred Marriage" of the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, it served a more practical purpose: since commoners frequently took this opportunity to have sex with their own spouses, it coordinated the births of children so that they would be born in the winter, when there was more time to take care of them.
A possible modern example of hierogamy is in the religion of Wicca, in which participants engage in what is called the Great Rite. Most often done on Beltaine night (May 1), a man and a woman, assuming the identities of God and Goddess, engage in sexual intercourse to celebrate the union of the deities as lovers and the conception of the new God who will be born at Yule. It is essentially a fertility rite, meant to symbolize the planting of seed into Mother Earth, which will come to fruition in the fall.
The etymology is from Greek: "hieros" = holy and "gamos" = marriage, coupling.
- The Hierosgamos Theme in the Images of the Rosarium Philosophorum, Karen-Claire Voss
- Ivory statuette of hieros gamos (found at Delphi)
- Sculptural relief of hieros gamos from a temple to Hera in Sicily
- Sculptural relief of hieros gamos from Parthenon (temple of Athene) at Athens
- Wall-painting of hieros gamos from Roman period Pompeii