Summary: Sophie finally tells Langdon about the secret ritual in which she saw her grandfather involved, although Langdon has already surmised that it was Heiros Gamos, or “sacred marriage,” sexual intercourse as a means of achieving divine knowledge and a whole spirit—the physical and spiritual union of the masculine and the feminine.
Analysis: Although Langdon speaks eloquently about the true nature of the Heiros Gamos ritual—it “is not a perversion” but “a deeply sacrosanct ceremony” (p. 335), the “use of sex to commune directly with God” (p. 336)—readers may wonder whether his explanation fully honors the reality he purports to convey. If, as the novel argues throughout, the true object of the Grail quest is the mutually complementary union of the masculine and the feminine, does not Langdon’s explanation of Heiros Gamos fall short? Note that Langdon says, “The ability of the woman to produce life from her womb made her sacred. A god. Intercourse was the revered union of the two halves of the human spirit… through which the male could find spiritual wholeness and communion with God” (p. 335). In other words, could it not be argued that Heiros Gamos, as Langdon details it, is—like the other, organized, traditional religions he and Teabing critique—ultimately about the male’s satisfaction, the male’s self-realization—in effect, the male’s power? Heiros Gamos allows “the male [to] find spiritual wholeness”—is this true, also, for the woman? The novel may imply that the answer is positive, but the text does not explicitly affirm such to be the case. Does Heiros Gamos, as Langdon frames it, truly unite men and women—or does it merely subordinate women to men’s ongoing spiritual quest? As Langdon tells his male students in tis chapter’s flashback, “Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine” (p. 337). Perhaps Langdon’s female students would not have “smiled knowingly” (p. 337—and perhaps Brown’s subtle allusion to the mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa?) had they realized their professor’s statement essentially subordinates their interest in sex to that of their male counterparts.
Heiros Gamos is, of course, not Brown’s invention—although, according to some, it refers not to an actual, ritualistic practice (complete with chanted responses, as outlined by Brown, pp. 337-339) but to a powerful archetype of religion and literature. The depth psychologist Carl Jung, for instance, described heirosgasmos as an alchemical motif, a symbolic representation of the union of the ego and the self which results in the imagination, or the “transcendent function.” (For more information on Jung’s treatment of heirosgasmos, see Dr. Remo F. Roth, “The Archetype of the Holy Wedding in Alchemy and in the Unconscious of Modern Man,” http:www.psychovision.ch/hknw/
holy_wedding_alchemy_modern_man_contents.htm). The novel identifies a common thread of sacred sexuality that runs through many world religions (although some biblical scholars would take issue with Langdon’s contention that normative ancient Israel theology understood Solomon’s Temple as housing “not only God but also His powerful female equal, Shekinah,” p. 336—scholarly consensus indicates that the Shekinah was understood to be the glorious presence of YHWH rather than a divine consort, although later Jewish mysticism and kabbalistic tradition has interpreted the term in various ways). According to The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (ed. John Bowker, Oxford University Press, 1997), for many religions, “the union of a man and a woman, transcending the union of male and female in a biological sense, has seemed religiously to be the nearest one can come on earth to the final union with God” (p. 879). Further, a study of religious history bears out Langdon’s contention that organized, usually patriarchal (i.e., male-controlled) religion has a shameful track record of “demon[izing]” (p. 336), suppressing and defaming normal human sexuality: “the subordination of sex, and the attempt to make it in effect synonymous either with sin or with reproduction, became, within Christianity, a particular strategy through which men kept control and gave to control a new meaning” (Bowker, p. 880).
Incidentally, this chapter offers yet another example of Brown’s skillful use at relating previously unknown, large-scale concepts to already familiar, smaller realities with which readers can relate: the mention of Eyes Wide Shut, the 1999 film directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, gives readers a purported reference point to the ancient practice of Heiros Gamos—even if “the filmmakers had gotten most of the specifics wrong” (p. 336)!