Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by Nancy Qualls-Corbett, foreword by Marion Woodman, part of the Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts series.
This entry in the Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts series of monographs is a quick read with some useful information. Its allegedly “historical” picture is, however, deeply flawed. While I wouldn’t necessarily expect the level of skepticism occasioned by more recent work like Budin’s Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity, even in the 1980s there were more reliable materials than the ones Qualls-Corbett chose as her sources of “fact.” Her first chapter, which concerns itself with this “historical background” is frankly embarrassing — and unnecessarily so, since the data of myth and legend are even more apposite to the psychological concerns of the book than any putative historical origins.
Another problem is the patently theological sensibility exhibited by the author when she treats “the goddess” as an entity of objective consensus in antiquity and universal relevance in modernity. The vague sort of positive associations with “life” and “love” and “the body” advanced in such passages serve only to solicit the reader’s enthusiasm for this theological project, without really giving it much coherence or specificity. In the course of the book, the “sacred prostitute” is reduced to the “priestess of the goddess,” and the term is applied quite freely to any female figure who is sanctified and/or sexual, so that the book seems rarely to realize its title by getting to the whore at the core.
The third and fourth chapters treat the sacred prostitute as an image of the Jungian anima archetype, with exploration of anima development in men and women respectively. These sections are leavened with a great deal of case-study material, most of which consists of the dreams of analysands, along with Qualls-Corbett’s interpretations. Mixed in with these, and offered as data of the same level of salience, are several literary excerpts, including two passages from D.H. Lawrence.
In the second and fifth chapters the emphasis is on comparative mythology and religion, and these contain some interesting reflections, although they also exhibit some notable blind spots. (The author seems unaware that Beauty and the Beast is a conscious reworking of the fable of Cupid and Psyche, for example.) There is a helpful high-level gloss of Wagner’s Parsifal, some reasonable hypotheses about pagan survival in European Mariolatry, and other intriguing details.
A short book, The Sacred Prostitute can certainly repay the slight bother of reading it for an informed, critical reader. But I don’t know that I’d recommend it to the more general inquirer to whom Qualls-Corbett seems to be addressing her writing here.