|WARNING: Article below contains explicit material on sexuality and controversial spiritual practices|
|The Church of the Most High Goddess sought to revive the sacred-sexuality|
of Ancient Egypt
Sometimes for new religions, timing is everything.
Appear too early or too late on the spiritual scene, and you might get totally ignored. Or worse still, be persecuted into obscurity or oblivion.
Perhaps if the Church of the Most High Goddess had emerged in 1967 instead of 1987, it might have been fondly remembered as just one of the self-consciously outrageous sects that shook American Puritanical sensibilities during the countercultural explosion.
Perhaps if it had appeared in 2007, it might have joined the erotic-freedom wing of the Goddess Spirituality movement, and been treated like any other quasi-Tantric or “sacred-sex” group.
It was Mary Ellen and Will Tracy’s misfortune to have formed their latter-day Temple of Sacred Prostitution in the late 1980s – too late to share the hippie-culture cachet of sex-sects like the Psychedelic Venus Church, but too early for “Third Wave feminism” and its message of divine female empowerment through sexuality.
During its brief life, the Church of the Most High Goddess managed to promote the sex-based worship of a feminine Deity via national-TV talk shows, initiate an estimated 2,000 worshippers into its erotic mysteries, and start a genuine legal and theological debate about how far one could stretch the First Amendment protections in the name of religious freedom. But it lost its battle to survive, and became yet another defunct Californian ecclesiastical curiosity, a victim of both bad timing and legal persecution.
|Mary Ellen and Will Tracy, Church of the Most High Goddess|
Founders Mary Ellen and Will Tracy were themselves adherents of that quintessentially American new religion, Mormonism, and raised seven children in that faith. At least, they did until Mary Ellen announced to the local LDS Bishop’s Council that she’d discovered that certain obscure Church teachings allowed married women to have extramarital sex. After all, polygamy had been a core doctrine of the Church for the first fifty years of its existence – why would God have not provided women a similar dispensation? Not surprisingly, the Mormon authorities disagreed, and excommunicated the couple for heresy.
Will Tracy was also courting trouble, albeit from secular authorities. In 1984 he sued his employer, the City of Santa Monica, over a conflict-of-interest dispute, and also tried to take ownership of a local nude-dancing club. Unsuccessful in both ventures, the onetime folk singer and movie producer quit his job as a building inspector, and looked for other work.
“What I experienced was beyond my conception, while my perception was completely distorted by what I had been taught was enlightenment. It was only when I set aside my prejudices--those beliefs which I had been conditioned to accept as fact, but which were in fact false--that I began to understand the experience.”
As Mormons, the Tracys had been raised to accept that an ordinary individual could have earth-shaking divine revelations. But what they gained from the experience wasn’t exactly what Joseph Smith and his successors might have wanted. Following Mary Ellen’s insight about polyandry, they began to research the history of sexuality and spirituality, and soon decided that the first and purest form of religions was Goddess spirituality, where a female Deity was worshipped, and sexuality was a sacrament. They believed that the ancient Egyptian cult of Isis best embodied this path, and sought to revive her worship, with Mary Ellen as her priestess.
Although the “Goddess Revival” movement was gaining steam during this period, the Tracys had no initial contact with the Dianic Wiccans, or other sects that promoted feminine spirituality. Independently, they formed The Church of the Most High Goddess in 1987, incorporating it the following year in Nevada (albeit not as a tax-free religious group). Then Mary Ellen took the sacred name of “Sabrina Aset,” rented a four-bedroom house in West Los Angeles as a temple, adorned it with Egyptian symbols and a large nude portrait of herself, and began to seek communicants.
The Church advertised in The Hollywood Express, an adult-oriented weekly tabloid where Sabrina/Mary Ellen wrote a regular column. Ads featured nude photos of the 40-something Isian priestess, explained Church beliefs about sacred sexuality, and promised “hedonistic religious rituals” to interested parties. Mary Ellen also publicized the Church on her public-access talk show, Sabrina On, where she discussed subjects ranging from religious freedom to gender-changing, and occasionally danced on camera clad in nothing but in Egyptian-style jewelry.
|Mary Ellen Tracy as Church Priestess/porn-star Sabrina Aset|
Prospective Church initiates were invited to the Temple. Here’s how one source described what went on there:
There are four parts to the ritual: Confession, Dedication, Sacrifice and Purification/Negation. Confession is much like you'd expect confession to be and the supplicant is expected to make restitution in such cases as is possible before continuing with the ritual. Once the confession has been performed, the Dedication ritual takes place and this ritual is performed by both women and men. The Dedication simulates the birth position of the supplicant who places his/her head between the legs of the priestess...and performs [cunnilingus].
Having completed successfully the Confession and Dedication stages, the supplicant is then asked to make a Sacrifice which is generally considered to be a tithe (10%) of their time or worth. Once the Sacrifice is made, the male supplicant then proceeds to the Purification/Negation section of the ritual which consists of vaginal intercourse with the priestess.... The explanation of this is that the Egyptian word for semen is pronounced 'negation' and means essence of the man. In order for the male supplicant to cleanse himself and prepare himself for Godhood in the after world, he must be willing to give up his essence to the personification of the Goddess, or the priestess.
…[A]ccording to Lady Sabrina, women supplicants undergo the same stages, yet the Purification/Negation process is different, preparing the woman for becoming a Goddess in the 'afterworld'. Qualification for initiates involves religious instruction and an assessment of their readiness to undergo the rites.
The “Sacrifice” – a mandatory $100-$200 cash offering – was what triggered a raid on the Church. After a series of articles in their local paper, as well as the Sally Jesse Raphael TV show, profiled the Tracys and their revival of sacred prostitution, the LAPD set up a sting against the Church.
In April 1989, an undercover officer visited the Temple. He testified that Mary Ellen solicited him for oral sex there in exchange for a $150 donation. When he refused to pay and was asked to leave, Vice officers stormed the temple, and charged Mary Ellen with prostitution, and Will with pimping. Four months later, the Tracys were convicted of the charges, and sentenced to one year and six months’ in jail, respectively.
In May 1990, they appealed the conviction, claiming religious persecution and violation of their civil and Constitutional rights. US District Judge William M. Byrne, Jr. dismissed their case, saying that the Church of the Most High Goddess “has no basis to it other than sexual conduct,” remarking that its rituals “were also planned, conceived and put into operation…to make detection of actual plans more difficult.” Judge Byrne also noted that Mary Ellen had been arrested for prostitution two times before the Church was formed, and opined that its ads and publicity efforts weren’t genuine appeals to religious devotion but rather, “invitations – enticements if you will – to the effect that ‘I love sex.’”
Still fighting the convictions, Mary Ellen found time to not only continue her cable-TV show, but to also appear on national TV. In January 1992, she was interviewed on the Phil Donahue and Montel Williams shows, where she explained Goddess-oriented sacred prostitution and defended her practice of the same. She also starred in two adult films of the era, Club Head 2 and Positively Pagan 6.
In one interview, Mary Ellen/Sabrina claimed to be the 537th High Priestess in a line of temple courtesans going all the way back to 3200 BC in Egypt (Cleopatra had been #469). She testified to her work thusly:
In my calling as a priestess, I have sex with men of all sizes, shapes, colors, backgrounds, professions -- an infinite variety -- every day, several times a day (and even more often would be better). To date I've had vaginal sex with over 2,779 different men, oral sex with over 4,000 different men, and being bisexual, I have eaten a couple of hundred pussies along the way. Since I'm a very sexual person, I've had sex, not just in the religious rituals, but in a wide variety of places in addition to the usual bedrooms, sofas, chairs and back and front seats of cars - like doctor's examination tables, college professor's offices, faculty lounges, dormitories, showers, swimming pools, Jacuzzi, beaches, woods, tents, campers, business offices, back rooms of stores, warehouses, rest rooms, government offices, parking lots, trucks, elevators, on the hood of cars, in adult films--on and off camera. I've even sucked cocks through the open window of my car and through a hole in a wall. No! I hadn't met the men before. Men hit on me everywhere I go and I'm not one to pass up an opportunity to enjoy myself sexually.
Her flamboyance, as well as the Church’s pay-to-play policy, disturbed more orthodox Goddess worshippers and neo-Pagans. On an Internet discussion group sponsored by the Covenant of the Goddess, some posters noted that “name” Pagans like Aidan Kelly had appeared alongside Mary Ellen on the Montel Williams show, lending her what they felt was an undeserved legitimacy. The Tracys, they believed, were just middle-aged neurotics working out their Mormon sexual repression – look at the quasi-Christian “Confession” aspect of their ritual, they said. Others defended their practices, saying that, aside from the Church’s commercial aspect, it was a legitimate revival of Goddess-based sacred sex, and that the Tracys deserved some consideration for their efforts.
After serving five and two-and-a-half months of their respective jail sentences, Mary Ellen and Will Tracy fought one more legal battle to clear their names, and establish sacred prostitution as a protected religious practice. In Sabrina Aset v. Garcetti, they took the Los Angeles County District Attorney to court, demanding that they be granted a legal exemption to the anti-prostitution laws.
According to the Tracys, they were training new priestesses for the Church. Each priestess was required to have sex with 100 different men before she could be fully initiated into the sect, and they feared that their new charges would also be arrested and jailed if modern temple courtesanship remained illegal. Once again, the Tracys lost their suit; when they appealed to the state Supreme Court two years later, the justices refused to hear the case.
By that time, ironically enough, professional sacred sexuality was coming into its own via the Internet, and the advent of more sex-positivity in both Feminist spirituality and the mass culture. Web-based “Tantric Priestesses” and “Dakinis” openly advertised their services as sacred courtesans, often showing video clips of themselves and their worshippers performing the same acts that landed Mary Ellen in the Sybil Brand women’s jail. In conservative Arizona, the Phoenix Goddess Temple’s “Mystic Sisters” offered “full-body healing services” for offerings from $200-800 out of a suburban home far more opulently appointed than the Tracy’s rented edifice. It was apparent that the Church, like so many other offbeat spiritual groups, had been ahead of its time.
Few traces of the Church of the Most High Goddess remain today save for a Web site, www.goddess.org. Therein are collected the Tracy’s writings on Goddess spirituality, sexuality, and the intersection of the same. Perhaps because of their experiences at the hands of the State, many of the essays have a distinctly bitter tone, excoriating patriarchal civilizations and the Abrahamic religions for destroying the sacred erotic culture of the ancient world and instilling 5,000 years of repressive, anti-sex, anti-pleasure attitudes in the human race. Yet a hopeful note is sounded in another one, where the author speaks of the long-awaited return of “The Lady of the New Dawn” and her sex-positive faith, and concludes with “I have arrived.”
And She seems to have arrived indeed—at least, for the countless thousands of Tantric priestesses, Goddess-worshipping neo-bacchantes, and others whose sacred-sexuality practices have dodged the sad fate of the Church of the Most High Goddess.
Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1989. "Is Church Old-Time Religion or Prostitution? Arrested Canyon Country Couple Claim Beliefs Involve Sex for Sacrifices"
"Report on Neopaganism: Sexuality and Spirituality," by Tyagi NagaSiva.
New York Times, May 2, 1990. "Religion Based on Sex Gets a Judicial Review"