Hieros gamos or Hierogamy (Ancient Greek ιερός γάμος, ιερογαμία "holy marriage") refers to marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities. It is the harmonization of opposites.

The notion of hieros gamos does not presuppose actual performance in ritual, but is also used in purely symbolic or mythological context, notably in alchemy and hence in Jungian psychology.

Historical polytheism

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. [1]

Greek mythology

In Greek mythology the classic instance is the wedding of Zeus and Hera celebrated at the Heraion of Samos,[2] and doubtless its architectural and cultural predecessors. Some scholars[3] would restrict the term to reenactments, but most accept is extension to real or simulated union in the promotion of fertility: such an ancient union of Demeter with Iasion, enacted in a thrice-plowed furrow, a primitive aspect of a sexually-active Demeter reported by Hesiod,[4] is sited in Crete, origin of much early Greek myth. In actual cultus, Walter Burkert found the Greek evidence "scanty and unclear": "To what extent such a sacred marriage was not just a way of viewing nature, but an act expressed or hinted at in ritual is difficult to say"[5] the best-known ritual example surviving in classical Greece is the hieros gamos enacted at the Anthesteria by the wife of the Archon basileus, the "Archon King" in Athens, originally therefore the queen of Athens, with Dionysus, presumably represented by his priest or the basileus himself, in the Boukoleion in the Agora.[6]

The brief fertilizing mystical union engenders Dionysus, and doubled unions, of a god and of a mortal man on one night, result, through telegony, in the semi-divine nature of Greek heroes such as Theseus and Heracles among others.

Alchemy and Jungian psychology

The hieros gamos is one of the themes that Carl Jung dealt with, in his book Symbols of Transformation.


In Wicca, the Great Rite is a sexual ritual based on the Hieros Gamos. It is generally enacted symbolically by a dagger being placed point first into a chalice, the action symbolizing the sexual union of the male and female divine in the the Hieros gamos. In British Traditional Wicca, the Great Rite is sometimes carried out in actuality by the High Priest and High Priestess.

See also


  1. Larry Gonick (1990). The Cartoon History of the Universe: From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great. Doubleday, 368. ISBN 0393324036.
  2. Walter Burkert warns that "the Hera festival is much too complicated to be understood simply as Hera's wedding" (Burkert, Greek Religion, J. Raffan, tr. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985) §II.7.7 "Sacred Marriage" 108.
  3. For example 'H. Sauer, in Der Kleine Pauly, s.v.
  4. Hesiod, Theogony 969f.
  5. Burkert 1985:108.
  6. S.M. Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite (Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 1969); Karl Kerenyi, Zeus und Hera. Urbild des Vaters des Gatten und der Frau (Leiden:Brill 1972) 83-90.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Hieros gamos. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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