In my last blog about scourging, I discussed the tradition of Lupercalia, where runners flogged women to impart fertility (sort of like a drive-by—but on foot!). Another Roman tradition related to fertility scourging and purification is the legend of the rape of the Sabine women.
|The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna|
When Rome was first founded, there were more men than women, as is often the case in new colonies and settlements. To bring in potential mates, the Romans invited the Sabines to a festival, and then they raped the women and held them hostage. The Sabine men, of course, took offense, attacked Rome and recaptured their ravished womenfolk. There was a catch. The women were now infertile.
The Sabine women appealed to Juno, who told them that if they made love to a sacred billy goat or a ram (we’re not sure because the leaves were rustling) that they would regain their fertility. They found this remedy unappealing. An oracle was consulted, and the dilemma was solved. Instead of sleeping with the goat, they would kill the goat and make a scourge out of it. By submitting to the goat scourge and by extension Juno, the women were being purified from the scourge of infertility.
The whip served a duel purpose here: fertility and purification. It’s been recently explained to me that in some traditions the handle of the scourge represents the feminine while the falls of the scourge represent the masculine. Some scholars have linked the story of the Sabine women to Lupercalia, but others dispute that claim. Spring fertility/purification festivals using scourges and scourge-like implements still continue today all over the world, particularly in Eastern Europe and South Korea. Evidently it’s not just a Roman notion.
The scourge has also been used in many cultures as a tool for initiation. Pain can be the ordeal that many folks are looking for when seeking a “real” initiation (ie fraternity paddlings) because it does prove something, if not to the outside world then at least to the initiate. The rhythm of the blows and the brain chemicals released when the body is in pain can also lead to deep meditative states that are necessary to a good initiation experience. Many of the Greek mystery cults realized this and utilized the scourge in this way.
|This is Nemisis but pretend that it’s Telete|
The goddess Telete, Dionysus’ daughter and the goddess in charge of initiations, was often portrayed holding a whip or a scourge.
The scourge also makes an appearance in the myth of Inanna, in her descent into the Underworld. This myth is seen by many to represent initiation at its best and is used as the basis for many Wiccan and Pagan initiation rites today.
There are many versions of the Descent myth and they give different reasons for her descent, but in all of them, Inanna must give up seven symbols of power as she proceeds through the seven gates of the underworld. Eventually she arrives in the underworld naked and seemingly powerless. In the ancient myths she dies at the hands of her sister Ereskigal and is hung on a hook (sounds a lot like suspension). In Wiccan interpretations that some suspect to be Gardner’s embroidery on the fabric of older myths, she is scourged by Death as a punishment, perhaps, for refusing his advances.
|Death and his scourge|
The Inanna descent, regardless of which version you go by, represents for many people facing their inner demons and fears–which is one of the aims of initiation. The myth also symbolizes not only death and rebirth but purification of soul and spirit by being broken down and built back up. This is another aim of initiation and is a continuing cycle within life.