Hieros Gamos or Hierogamy means a coupling (sometimes marriage) of a deity and a man or a woman, often having a symbolic meaning and generally conducted in the spring. It is an ancient ritual in which participants believed that they could gain profound religious experience or an exchange of knowledge through sexual intercourse. Participants assumed characteristics of deities, often channeling the deities in question, and by their union provided symbolic and literal fertility for themselves, the land, their people and the good of the Polis. This was often done by the monarch and hierodule of the dominant religion.
In some cases, such as the "Sacred Marriage" of the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, it served a more practical purpose: since commoners frequently took this opportunity to have sex with their own spouses, it coordinated the births of children so that they would be born in the winter, when there was more time to take care of them.
A possible modern example of hierogamy is in the religion of Wicca, in which participants engage in what is called the Great Rite. Most often done on Beltane night (May 1), a man and a woman, assuming the identities of God and Goddess, engage in sexual intercourse to celebrate the union of the deities as lovers and the conception of the new God who will be born at Yule. It is essentially a fertility rite, meant to symbolize the planting of seed into Mother Earth, which will come to fruition in the autumn.
The Great Rite is more often celebrated in a purely symbolic context within Wicca and Neo-Paganism where a ritual dagger is placed point first into a challice, symbolizing the divine union of the Hieros gamos. This symbolic right is practiced at many Sabbats and Esbats.
It is furthermore one of the themes that Carl Jung dealt with, in his book Symbols of Transformation. The etymology is from Greek: "hieros" = holy and "gamos" = marriage, coupling.
This article is based on "Hieros gamos" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hieros+gamos&action=history