There it sits at the heart of so many of our mystery temples - a couple making love. Is it an actual physical and sexual act - an ancient goddess ritual from Sumeria or the Great Rite of Wiccan Paganism - that connects us to the life force and the renewal of earth at spring?
Or are we to understand it philosophically and psychologically - the sacred marriage of Jungian psychology, the unio mystica of alchemy, the binary code of mathematics?
Or is it the symbol of a spiritual reality - the divine fire in the Ark of the Covenant between the two cherubs, the union of wisdom and compassion in Tantric Buddhism, Shiva and Shakti in the Hindu cosmology?
Perhaps the answer is yes, yes, and yes! The power of the archetype is that it lies at the centre of all these levels of relationship and therefore is capable of unifying and synthesising them. In fact all these levels are necessary - the temple is multidimensional and the tree of life links them like pearls on a golden thread.
Yes, the outer act by itself without all the deeper levels can be mundane. But it carries profound possibilities - amongst them the possibility of the creation of life itself and that is never a trivial thing. And yes, the deep Self-Realisation of the Godhead by the soul can be profound. But unless that realisation is embodied and enacted in the world it leaves the body and the physical earth untouched and unredeemed.
So it is not a question of whether the image should be enacted, understood symbolically, or realised at the core of awareness - the image itself provides the answer - it is the coming together of all polarities and the recognition of their already ever present unity that is pointed to. It is both sexual and psychological and spiritual. It has inner and outer significance. It is earthy and transcendent. It is masculine and feminine. It is individual and it is universal. It is life revealing itself and generating itself at the core of all manifestation.
It IS whether we understand it or not, however what has changed significantly in the last hundred years on the planet is just this capacity to understand - the development and integration of consciousness - so that we can add a new dimension of awareness and conscious participation in this deepest of all rites and mysteries.
In the temples of ancient times men and women came together as part of a distinct gender duality. The man represented the masculine and the woman, the feminine face of the divine. The act of lovemaking representing a harmonisation, a balance that reflected a deeper order of things in cosmos. Identity was deeply linked to gender. And gender was political. Either the great goddess ruled or the great god but seldom both together.
What has changed since then is the gradual shifting of identity from the gender of the body to the life force itself, which contains within it both masculine and feminine as well as all other dualities. The psychological component of this shift expressed itself in the Great Work of alchemy and the paths of initiation in different spiritual and philosophical traditions. In Western Psychology it expressed in Jung's work with the anima and animus and in mass psychology, as the whole movement since the sixties that includes civil rights, women's liberation, environmental awareness and so on. The anima of the earth has been rising to be integrated with a psychology that had primarily identified itself with the masculine, or rather the immature expression of the masculine (see Return of The Phallus: https://www.facebook.com/notes/bruce-lyon/the-return-of-the-phallus/10151523541435272)
Men have been encouraged to get in touch with their feminine side and women with their masculine and that journey has led to a chaotic upheaval in the realms of relationship, marriage and gender. The gay and transgender movements can also be partly understood as a rejection of identity being defined by gender. The movement towards outer gender equality in the world will never fully take place however, until that equality occurs in the heart and soul of each individual. This is a gradual process that is picking up speed in the world one heart at a time. Women are gradually accepted into the traditionally masculine domains of politics and business but they largely have to enter via their masculine side and often at the expense of their femininity. Men are gradually being accepted into the traditionally feminine domains of relationship, home and childcare but they largely have to enter via their feminine side and often must sacrifice their masculinity to do so. This outer process reflects the incompleteness of the inner marriage process. As long as men are not understood to have an 'inner feminine' and women an 'inner masculine' then these inner parts will experience diminishment - the inner and outer require at-one-ment as much as the masculine and feminine.
When the sacred union of these two principles takes place in a human being then real equality begins and the birth of the authentic self takes place, and this self will express totally uniquely in each individual. The identity shifts into the life force itself - the Self-Realisation that the nondual traditions speak of. Then the minimum conceptual framework to talk about gender and identity is the understanding that each person is a whole being - part of the life force itself, which
has both masculine and feminine energies & qualities - who is expressing through a male, female or sometimes, a hermaphroditic body. This does not deny the very real differences that arise (and can affect the psyche) from being embodied in different genders but it transcends and includes them.
In the modern expression of the Temple rite, men and women will come together, not as Shivas looking to engage a Shakti or vice versa but as whole beings, as Shiva/Shaktis meeting and celebrating their 'already present unity'. They will not so much be coming together as a couple, but as a foursome around a singularity. As a foursome they will also be integrating and at-oning the vertical as well as the horizontal dimension of relationship.
In the past the feminine was not only associated more frequently with the left in the horizontal duality but also with below or the earth and body in the vertical duality. This meant that the 'sexual mysteries' were primarily the domain of the goddess while the 'spiritual mysteries' were primarily the domain of the god. This bias is still present in many current expressions of the re-emerging temple mysteries. We need both our gods and our goddesses deeply grounded and present in our bodies as well as able to soar into the most transcendent and subtle spheres.
There are many ways that the eternal sacred Temple rite of Hieros Gamos is re-emerging and recreating itself in the modern world. Here is one image: A circle of men and women in a forest glade around a fire. For eyes that can see the circle is really a sphere that includes the lives and kingdoms within the earth as well as those who have gathered in the subtle worlds to celebrate the rite. The sphere dances with life force - from time to time calling one or more individuals from the perimeter towards the central fire where they dance, sit, sing, orate, meditate, make love, alone, in pairs or in groups. Men with women, men with men, women with women, couples, threesomes, foursomes. Whole beings encountering whole beings, the same life force pulsating and reverberating at the core of each. Polarities appear, engage each other and reverse in easy flow. Sometimes the atmosphere is filled with eros and bodies passionately engage. Other times the pure presence becomes palpable and draws everyone into stillness and contemplation. The best times are when the deep stillness and wild abandon are present in the same moment, where the spirit, soul and body dance together seamlessly and the whole of creation is soaked in the bliss of being.
Equinoxes, solstices, full moons, new moons, weekends, month long retreats, residential communities; the Temple doors open and close, the vortex descends and ascends, we rhythmically grow our capacity to stay in the core and listen together to what is streaming through the centre of all worlds. Then the doors disappear, the whole earth is revealed as the Garden of Eden it always was, rocking and rolling through space, a bold and beautiful experiment in the ever present and evolving life we ARE.
"When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]. I shall choose you, one from a thousand and two from ten thousand, and they will stand as a single one." Gospel of St Thomas