Anatomy of an Icon

This is the second of the trilogy launched with Woman in the 21st Century: Journey to the Hieros Gamos.


The source of emotional unrest today runs deep. Half a century after the dawn of the sexual revolution, men and woman are still struggling to break free of social conditioning. We are caught in the polarity of love and hate without even truly experiencing the power of these emotions to transform our daily existence. Refusing to give into our feelings, we nonetheless let them rule our lives unconsciously, addicting us to unobtainable desires and thwarting everyday happiness.

My own journey of erotic discovery began with an investigation into the interpersonal dynamic that continually thwarted my passions in love affairs. The search delivered me into a literary exploration of the roots of my erotic attractions and beyond, to the mystical source of the marriage ceremony. Clearly a personal exploration into the heart of creativity is repressed by the patriarchy, for only Eros, born from Chaos, can deliver deep rooted inner joy, a true emotional liberation, to lives increasingly programmed by the 24/7 rigors of globalization.

Despite the ridiculous amount of self-help books, improvement workshops, drugs, personal coaches, therapies, plastic surgeries and unparalleled access to pornography and money spent seeking a partner, the majority of people on the planet remain sexually unfulfilled.  Meanwhile, a surge in religious fundamentalism threatens to curtail the search for sexual satisfaction that has redefined modern culture ever since Alfred Kinsey yanked sex out of the closet and into the halls of academia. 

As the sexual revolution began in the early 1960’s, Betty Friedan arrived on the scene with The Feminine Mystique, a landmark book that interpreted a pervasive societal malaise reflected by her own personal crisis as a female intellectual.  Similarly, women today creating from their most authentic female selves cannot find their place in the hyper masculine consumer culture of today.  Many of them are responding to personal crisis by turning further inward to uncover an archetypal energy that is liberating the body into a bold new form of sexuality based on the most ancient of sexual traditions – the Sacred Marriage Rite.   After building slowly through the collective unconscious for forty years, the raising of the flag over this annual public New Year’s festival of fertility came in the unexpected form of Monica Lewinsky’s semen stained blue dress.  The White House Oval Office gave birth to the re-introduction to public lovemaking as a foundation of the power structure, thereby signaling a return to collaborative co-rulership.

Two years after the scandal over the spilling of seed in the Oval Office, the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 changed the world forever.  At first, the shock of this vengeful act of destruction seemed to give way to a global leap into a new paradigm. The epicenter of the world’s media culture came to a standstill, causing people to reflect on their immediate environment and share an instinctual understanding of an interconnected universe.  Yet, three years later, the world is polarized by a growing tide of fundamentalism undermining the democratic ideals that provided America with the moral authority leading to a unified global culture based on liberty for all.

The greatest irony of our time is this; the very soil that contains the knowledge of humanity’s healing is soaking up blood from an ideological war.  This place happens to be Iraq, where culture was born in the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates.  The patriarchal religions are fighting a losing battle on the very land that gave birth to the icon of gender equality known as the Sacred Marriage, where the balance of masculine and feminine reflected faith in an equal partnership between god and goddess.  The joy of sexual union that once served to integrate the polarities of heaven and earth is repressed along with the feminine power integral to its expression.

The only way out of our erotic dilemma is right through it.  Instead of running from the icon of gender balance when it makes its mysterious appearance in our body, we must embrace it with every fiber of our being.  For me, this path has never been a matter of choice.  Fate forced me to strip the icon down to its basic components and journey step by step through its anatomy as a form of personal embodiment. 

As a young child, I slept in my father’s dark wood paneled office where he consulted his patients on my bed.  On those nights when I couldn’t sleep on account of the psychic disturbances in the room, I attempted to combat the darkness by reading his reference books.  The most forbidding was a large book on sexual pathology.  I would flip through pictures of grossly enlarged or discolored genitalia with a mix of horror and fascination, for I was to young to know anything about sex, never mind its abnormalities.  There seemed to be many forbidding things to learn about that subterranean world of human sexuality.   

I was just a year old when my father suffered a severe psychotic break that caused him to be hospitalized in the very mental ward where he had been a healer.  He recovered and eventually became a leading scholar on the primitive female energy present in all creation, known in the east as the kundalini.   My father’s shamanic ability to travel on the other side of consciousness and return to tell the tale was a trait I sought to develop in myself.  Life didn’t seem to be worth living if it wasn’t lived on the razor edge.  I was determined to avoid my mother’s fate of committing to such a dangerous partner.  “You can create your own excitement,” she used to tell me by way of explanation for her choice of marriage partner. 

What other choice did I have but to make the journey on my own?

Yet, I always felt subject to forces beyond my control.  The transparency of my skin gave away my secret.  On my vulnerable days, I was affected by light.  Horrible unsightly rashes would appear on my arms, my legs and chest if I spent any time in the sun.  I lived in fear of having my skin flare up.  A chemical attraction could destabilize me completely.  

It was many years before I understood that the conscious embodiment of this serpent power in the body was an essential prerequisite to the joy to be found in a passionate partnership where love and friendship are freely exchanged between equals. 

This idealized image of the Sacred Marriage experienced in my first encounter group was the end goal.  The means of getting there was personal freedom.  Yet, it gradually dawned on me that this joyous destination meant crossing into new terrain; masculine and feminine could not joyfully dance in a holistic partnership as long as the authentic female power remained underground.  Along the way to the conscious embodiment re-created in this book, I gained an inner wisdom regarding the Sacred Marriage that has never been transcribed in five thousand years of history.   How can we recognize the icon?  What practical form does it take in a relationship?  Can it exist independently of a physical union?  There are so many questions to be asked about the Sacred Marriage and this book is only the beginning of the struggle to answer them.

In 1985, I was staying in an apartment on the far edge of the East Village when I initially wrote the words describing my agony at having my vision of the Sacred Marriage thwarted in love.  Twenty years later, I was staying in the same building when I saw the icon taking the form of this book.  In coming to this full circle, I created a new role for myself as art critic, thereby assuming the authority to give this icon a name as it emerged into the collective consciousness.

In 1997, my first art assignment was to write a preview for an upcoming Open Studios in the old Yale Town factory, the center of my hometown’s art community.

As I entered the freight elevator, I was surrounded by a group of artists eager to guide me through their mysterious underworld.  The unexpected treasures I discovered in this underground art were vital signs of a millennial artistic renaissance fueled by erotic energy arising from within the body of the artist.

Inside the very last studio was a lone genius whose sculpture was exquisitely hand molded from clay.  Yet, the figure that caught my eye was a deviation from this classical perfection.  It was a wooden sculpture created out of found objects exquisitely crafted into a female figure mounted on a wooden base.  There was no head, only a generous and shapely neck attached to a sleek oak body formed from a curved peg.  A pair wings were attached at the shoulder and two silver doorbells served as breasts.  I fell in love with this figure, knowing I had found a critical marker on my underground journey.  “It’s perfect!” I cried but the artist insisted it wasn’t done.  What was missing?  He wouldn’t tell me. 

A few months later, the sculptor made a public appearance at my birthday party.  He brought his toolbox.  Inside was a sculpture wrapped in a cloth.  When he removed the figure from the box, I gasped and cheered in the same breath, for I immediately knew her identity.  Her appearance was transformed by an addition to her anatomy: a penis protruding from the base. I took her in my arms as my heart sung with joy, for I had at last come heart to heart with Inanna, the self-declared Queen of Heaven and Earth from ancient Sumer. 

Anatomy of an Icon is an authentic account of a personal sexual history that parallels a much larger global phenomenon of the revival of an ancient universal archetype. The only proper way to relate this tale is the way it was lived, step by step, through the body. Inanna’s proactive feminine spirit is capable of integrating and healing the polarization of global politics bent on destruction. We can only hope that some day the looted temples of ancient Sumer, unprotected by the United States military during the invasion of Iraq, may one day be the global destination for the world’s spiritual pilgrims. Yet my story reveals how the holistic sexual identity at the dawn of civilization gave birth to the 21st century woman. We can therefore take comfort in the icon of Sacred Marriage as an ever present origin serving as a universal destination for our time.

—Dr. Lisa Streitfeld, 2005

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