Skip to main content

Prostitution (Sacred)


A rite or form of worship connected with certain fertility cults. It is first attested historically for ancient Babylonia, where it appears in a fully developed form in the Code of Hammurabi and is assumed as a traditional institution in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The practice is to be explained as an act of acknowledgment for the blessings of fertility to the great Mother Goddess or Goddess of Love and as an expression of a desire for their continuance. It is necessary to distinguish two forms of sacred prostitution. Every Babylonian woman was expected before marriage to serve at least once as a prostitute in a temple. After fulfilling this obligation, she was free to return home and was held in esteem for having offered her virginity to the goddess. The more typical prostitutes were the hierodules who engaged more or less permanently in their profession within the temple precincts and whose earnings were a source of temple revenue. However, their service was regarded as an essential part of the cult.

Imitative magic was combined with religion in this fertility cult and was evident especially in the annual sacred marriage between the king or high priest and a priestess. The priestess, however, should not be identified with the ordinary hierodules; she had a special status. This marriage was intended to symbolize in a realistic way, and to guarantee, the reawakening of the great cosmic forces of nature and their promotion of fertility in plants, animals, and men.

Sacred prostitution had a wide distribution in the area influenced by Babylonian civilization, in Canaanite religion, in Egyptian religion, in the cult of the Great Mother of Asia Minor, and in the cult of Aphrodite at Corinth. Male prostitution of this kind is also found, but to a rather limited degree. There is a survival of sacred prostitution connected with certain temples in modern India.

Bibliography: b. thum, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 3:104142. w. von soden, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 5:642643. d. g. hogarth and g. a. barton, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings (Edinburgh 190827) 6:672676. w. j. woohdouse and w. crooke, ibid. 10: 404408.

[m. r. p. mcguire]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Prostitution (Sacred)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 21 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Prostitution (Sacred)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (February 21, 2019).

"Prostitution (Sacred)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 21, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.