Tag Archives: Women’s Studies

The Sacred Prostitute

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.

Qualls-Corbett Woodman the Sacred Prostitute

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.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jane Brox.

Brox Slience

The “social history” promised by the subtitle of Silence is pretty limited in scope. Author Jane Brox focuses particularly on two environments: prisons and monasteries. Despite a brief engagement with Thoreau and some short tangential passages about the development of silent reading, silence in Quakerism, and so forth, institutional penitence dominates the account.

The fourth of the five parts is dedicated especially to the social effects of gender on expectations of silence. An extensive discussion of female silencing and related judicial punishments leads into the women’s particulars of incarceration and monasticism. Implicitly, silence is given to be a sign of obedient virtue in women for the history treated, but there is no clear sign of how any masculine silence compares or contrasts with it (let alone the silences imposed on exceptional gender and gender resistance).

Brox’s prose is generally lucid and occasionally beautiful. The history is leavened with reflexive anecdotes regarding her research experience and significant digressions about architecture. A considerable portion of the book is given over to thoughts from and accounts of the twentieth-century celebrity monk Thomas Merton.

I learned some history in the course of this reading. It was surprising that I was a little less ignorant of the ancient and medieval aspects of monasticism than I was of the modern evolution of the US penitentiary. But in any case, I never really arrived at the understanding of the social role of silence that the subtitle indicated would be on offer.