The Oldest Swingers in Town
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While the reality of swinging
accepted in modern life
through the mushrooming
of swinging clubs,websites
and other contemporary
wondered about its
source. SS Bal
to a dark
past - and
My high field that which is well watered,
My own nakedness, a wellwatered,
a rising mound,
I, the maiden - who will plough it?
Young lady, may the king plough it
May Dumuzi, the king, plough it
This extract by Sefati, author of Love Songs in
Sumerian Literature, recounts the sacred
nuptials of the high priestess of the Goddess
Inanna to the new king, Dumuzi.
This 'Hieros Gamos' or sacred marriage
ritual has been traced back several thousand
years to ancient Sumeria, but certain variants
of it can be linked to the swinging clubs of
England today. SH readers who enjoy the
attentions of voyeurs charging their sex play
will empathise with the king Dumuz, whose
marriage ritual saw him engaging in heated
sex with Inanna's high priestess - reportedly
in full view of their marriage congregation!
The use of religion and deity worship as
a catalyst (or excuse?) for wild sexual
abandon pervades ancient civilisations.
Indeed, the Roman festival of Saturnalia, in
homage to Saturn, translates into 'orgy'. The
word 'orgy' itself derives from the Greek
'orgia' signifying 'worship'.
As the clock ticks towards midnight
in swingers' clubs across the UK,
witness the bottles of wine behind the bar decrease the loss of inhibitions
increases. Then cast your mind back to the
legendary wild parties of Bacchus and
Dionysius (probably the only time anyone
ever paid attention to history lessons at
school). Ancient Roman tributes to Bacchus,
the god of wine, saw music, intoxication and
uninhibited sexual frenzy merge in the divine
spirit of Bacchanalia.
These days, it's just a Saturday
night at your local club. Less divine
and more 'the wine' - but the parallels are
there. So, one hopes, is the 'sacred lunacy' of
Dionysius signified by deep, carnal bliss.
The pre-Roman festival of Lupercalia
paid homage to the shepherd god, Lupercus.
Subsequently sanitised and repackaged by
Christianity, we now know it as Valentine's
Day, but the original version was a far racier
affair featuring wine, whipping and whim.
Women and whimmin' went hand-in-hand
during this pagan holiday, with the girls
putting their names in a vase to be picked
randomly by the men. Many years later,
swinging couples were doing the much same
thing - but now with car keys in glass bowls.
Engaging in public sex seemed very
much the historical norm until religious
crusaders decreed otherwise.
The Etruscan era saw the emergence of the
emancipated Italian woman. Etruscan women
were portrayed as wine-drinking girls who
thought nothing of fucking in public and swapping partners. They were later vilified by
Roman writers as prostitutes. 'Among the
Etruscans who had become extravagantly
luxurious, it is customary for the slave girls
to wait on the men naked,' whinged Timaeus.
His 4th Century BC sympathiser,
Theopompus of Chios, also had mixed
feelings about these apparently wanton
lushes. 'Sharing wives is an established
Etruscan custom,' he wrote. 'Etruscan women
take particular care of their bodies and
exercise often... it is not a disgrace for them
to be seen naked. They are expert drinkers
and very attractive. It is no disgrace for them
to do anything in the open, or to be seen
having it done to them, for they consider it a
native custom. They sometimes make love
and have intercourse while people are
watching them... and are keen on making
love to women.'
Exhibitionism, multiple fuck-buddies,
and bi tendencies - go, Etruscan girl, go!
Art frescoes of the time depict all
manner of exhibitionist and homosexual
frolics. In Pompeii, gay sex, group sex and its
varieties were performed with gusto and
perceived as normal. Babylonian babes also
faced negative PR for the ancient custom of
having sex with strangers in temples without
refusal and, in return, being bestowed with
holiness by their Goddess.
It's a spiritual thing
This cult of sexual rites and religious
ideology was cross-cultural and famously
apparent in the East. Sacred sexuality forms
a common link between the social history of
India, China and the Middle East as well as
Europe. The concept of sexuality as a channel
to the spiritual is widely recognised in the
Indian religion of Tantra, which evolved into
the Chinese belief-system of Taoist alchemy.
The 'sacred lunacy' of Dionysius alluded
to earlier has obvious resonance with the
system of sacred sexuality in which the
participants enter into a hallucinatory state
to mover closer to the divine.
Polyamory, the practice of being in
multiple and consensual relationships with
others, is an acknowledged branch of this
family tree. Polyandry, big in ancient India,
allowed women to have many husbands at a
time, as documented in the literature of the
Puranas. Here, the queen, Madhavi, bore
children from several different fathers. The
Kunala-Jataka (Sacred Books of the
Buddhists) recounts how Princess Kavita
chose five husbands at a time. The Konarak
Temple on the Bay of Bengal displays the
energy of a man fornicating with several
women. Meanwhile, a girl in a cluster with
many men is portrayed in the Shiva temple
of Jagan Nath in Kathmandu. In the
Khajuraho complex of temples
(built between 950-1150 CE) in
India, sculptures of couples in the
flush of group sex and Tantric yoga
positions are displayed.
The so-called 'dakinis' of the Hindu and
Buddhist Tantra, are often present in the
sexual fray. These semi-divine women act as
the sexual helpers of coupled couples - a
kind of spiritual fluff girl to the couple. But in
Tantric ritual mode, that familiar spirituoreligious
ecstasy surfaces once more, earning
the dakinis the status of time-transcending
Not quite swinging
Modern incarnations of sexual freedom and
religion prevail in the practice of polyamory.
Polyamory and swinging share certain ideals
in that both concern multiple sexual partners
with consent among participants. The
departure point is that polyamory is more
concerned with sustaining relationships while
swinging is, well, casual fun.
Swinging also shares the concept of
'compersion' with polyamory. This is the
pleasure that swingers derive from watching
their partner sexually engaging with another
individual. This contemporary sexual 'giving'
of one's partner strikes chords with the
sexual 'donations' of the ancients to their
gods. Paradoxically, sexual indulgence
becomes sexual selflessness.
If compersion has a copyright, then this
probably belongs to the Kerista Commune in
San Francisco, which espouses the cult of
polyamory. Its modern twist on ancient
practice saw the Commune adopt the singer
Joan Jett as its 'Matron Saint'.We love your
brand of rock 'n' roll too, Joan.
Staying in the modern world, the Church
of All Worlds (CAW) markets itself as one of
the oldest incorporated Neo-Pagan churches
in the US, with a properly constituted board
of directors and an ordained priesthood of
men and women. CAW is often said to have
been inspired by Robert Heinlein's Sci Fi
novel, Stranger in a Strange Land which
explores alternative spiritual pathways.
Although this article has traversed
thousands of years across the
anthropological ages - from the ancient
Sumerians to the contemporary American -
one principle is recurrent, and CAW roots this
in its philosophy that sexuality is an
expression of the divine. CAW advances the
concept of 'positive sexuality', which adopts
consensual sex with the aim of social
bonding. It also supports the practice of
sacred sexuality and its accompanying
rituals. Full circle - or linear development?
In concluding a social 'fit', the swinging
community is but one branch of alternative
views on sexuality and the social code.
However, whether your perspective is
informed by swinging, Neo-Paganism or
the variants of polyamory, perhaps all
branches would concur with the
opinion of George Bernard Shaw:
with morality has done
more to destroy the
conscience of the
human race than any