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Image © Copyright J.B. Hare 1999, All Rights Reserved Sacred Sexuality

Tantra  Kama Sutra
Ancient Sacred Sexuality  Other Texts 

The dominant world religions treat sexuality as (at best) a distraction from the spiritual path. On the other hand, some spiritual traditions integrate sexuality into their spiritual practice. Some regard sexuality as an integral part of life, a gift to be honored and enjoyed. This section contains classic texts which discuss the sacred nature of sexuality and affirm the postive aspects of sex. Some of these texts (the Tantric) are esoteric and touch on the intersection of the spiritual and the physical. Others (such as the Kama Sutra material) are more rooted in the physical world.

Kama Sutra

In addition to Tantra, which attributes a spritual dimension to sexuality, India has produced a rich literature of sophisticated sex manuals. In spite of their practical nature, they demonstrate how Indian culture integrated sexuality into everyday life, (including religion and spirituality). This knowledge was supposed to be part of the repetoire of any intelligent and well-educated adult. Several of these were translated in the Victorian Era by freethinking Orientalists.

Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana
This is the earliest and best known of the Indian sex manuals. It has been variously dated from 300 B.C. to 400 A.D. This translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society in 1883.

The Ananga Ranga This book was written by the Indian poet Kalyan Mall much later than the Kama Sutra, in the sixteenth century A.D. This translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society in 1885.

About these translations

These translations (as well as the Perfumed Garden and the Priapeia) were produced by Sir Richard Burton and Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot and published by the Kama Shastra Society (founded 1882).

Sir Richard Burton [1821-1890] (not to be confused with the screen actor) was an orientalist and daring explorer. Fluent in Arabic and Islamic culture, Burton was the first Westerner to enter Mecca (in disguise). He is also known for his unexpurgated translation of the Arabian Nights.

F.F. Arbuthnot did most of the actual work of the translations of the Indian works, while working for the Indian Civil Service in Bombay from 1868 to 1879. He was able to consult original texts of the Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga and discuss their contents with Indian scholars.

The texts were printed 'for private circulation only' -- a disclaimer required in the stifling atmosphere of Victorian England.

Sacred Sexuality in the Ancient World

In the late 18th century, classical scholars began to take note of a phenomena which they termed 'Priapus worship'. This was a complex of religious ideas in antiquity including phallic votive objects, fertility ceremonies, sacred prostitution, female and hermaphroditic creator deities, and other heterodox aspects of ancient religion. Much of this information had been surpressed or ignored.

The Royal Museum at Naples, Being Some Account of The Erotic Paintings, Bronzes, and Statues Contained in that Famous "Cabinet Secret", by Stanislas Marie César Famin [1871]
Sixty lithographs of erotic Roman art and artifacts.

A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus/Worship of the Generative Powers

A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus By Richard Payne Knight [1786]
One of the first studies of 'Phallic worship'.

The Worship of the Generative Powers By Thomas Wright [1866]
This study is interesting because it attempts to connect the dots between the 'Witch cult' and phallic worship.

The Masculine Cross and Ancient Sex Worship by Sha Rocco (pseud. Abisha S. Hudson) [1874]

Influence of the Phallic Idea in the Religions of Antiquity By C. Staniland Wake [1870]

Phallic Worship By Hodder M. Westropp [1870]

The Priapeia
(Latin and English) Translated by L.C. Smithers, notes by Sir Richard Burton [1890] This is an anonymous collection of bawdy epigrams to the phallic garden-god Priapus. This edition is notable for an extensive tour de force appendix by Sir Burton, which discusses in explicit detail the sexual practices of the classical Pagans, including a vocabulary of dozens of Latin terms for male and female genitalia and short essays about classical references to anal and oral sex, bestiality, exotic dancers, masturbation, sex positions, and the lascivious behavior of the Gods and Goddesses. These appendices were so shocking that Burton disavowed any connection with the book, in spite of obvious internal evidence that he is the co-author.

Other texts

The Perfumed Garden
This work was written in the 16th century A.D. by the Shaykh Umar ibn Muhammed al-Nefzawi. The translation is by Burton. This translation was published by the Kama Shastra Society in 1886.


The Poems of Sappho
The famous poetess whose romantic and erotic love poetry transcended gender in the worship of the Goddess Aphrodite.

The Love Books of Ovid
Ovid discusses the fine points of the Art of Love.

The Satyricon of Petronius
A satirical trip through the underbelly of Neros' Rome, with many details of the classical pagan religious treatment of sexuality.