A Farewell to “ISIS”–and Welcome to the Dancing Goddess
In 2004, I began using ISIS as an acronym for my nationwide survey “Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality.” Eventually, ISIS also stood for the four-dimensional clinical approach that developed from my earlier survey findings that sexual experience is multidimensional, once you factor in thoughts, emotions, and meanings as well as physical sensations. This survey is the first large-scale sex research to explore the notion that sex is more than physical–it also includes our thoughts, emotional feelings, and spiritual connections. You can find a link to the original survey HERE
Three of my books feature the ISIS survey, the ISIS approach, and the ISIS Wheel of Sexual Experience, along with references to the “ISIS Network:” our growing international group of clinicians who practice and teach this approach. A major reason I resonated to the name ISIS is that it placed this work directly in the lineage of the Egyptian goddess Isis, famously known as “Initiator into the Sexual Mysteries,” which lent a mythic relevance to our deeply nuanced and integrative approach to sexual issues.
The Story of Isis
In ancient Egypt, Isis was honored as the Great Mother. She is still recognized today as an archetype of higher consciousness and generative sexuality, especially as an embodiment of women’s power, inventiveness, and fertility. Her story goes that her husband Osiris was hacked into 13 pieces by his evil brother Seth and scattered to the corners of the world. Isis sprouted wings and flew all over the globe to find his fragments. She found 12 of them, but could not find the 13th. This was his penis, which had been thrown into the Nile and eaten by a fish. So Isis reached into the Egyptian clay and fashioned the world’s first dildo, or “herm” (as in hermaphrodite). She gathered the pieces of Osiris together and reconstituted him, complete with his dildo-penis, breathed him back to life, mounted him, and ultimately bore their child, the sky god Horus.
This Isis story has uncanny parallels to our contemporary human sexual condition. Like the ritual dismemberment of Osiris, our sexual stories have been hacked apart over the centuries and scattered—by religion, science, the media, you name it. The result is dysfunction, and dismemberment–physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The core function of our 4-D work is to help our clients, and ourselves, find those missing pieces of our stories, gather them back together, breathe new life into them, and rebirth our sexual relationships—along with our relationships to sex.
Where parts of our stories are irrecoverably lost, the ISIS process invites us to imagine them: make them up, improvise, just as Isis created a surrogate penis for Osiris so long ago. On this issue of imagination, I take heart from author Alice Walker’s assertion that history is much more than just a series of recorded facts, which leave out essentials such as feelings and meanings, along with the entire story of marginalized people. So, the history we invent often turns out to be the most powerful and healing, and closest to the spirit of the truth.
The story of Isis locates us in myth and history. It offers a metaphor to connect us to our own sexual disconnection. It encourages us to tap into creative practices we can offer as therapists to help our clients invoke helpful energies. It is an invitation for women, men, and the rest of us. It is about seeking what we want, and valuing connection and love over competition and violence. It’s about calling on the breath, the imagination, and the powers of creativity to do what seems impossible.
Enter the ISIS Jihadists.
The ISIS jihadists began wreaking global havoc in 2014. At first, it seemed crucial for us doing our therapeutic work not to capitulate to them by giving up our treasured name and association with the sacred Initiator into the Sexual Mysteries. But it’s become increasingly misleading to speak to colleagues and clients of ISIS methods, and the ISIS Wheel, and particularly the ISIS Network, because the acronym links our healing work to a political movement focused on violence and destruction. Last fall, we called on our practitioners for advice. We sadly agreed that we needed to rename our work and our Network. So we have opted to retire the name ISIS and send it securely underground where it can continue to grow its roots in the dark earth. We have renamed the ISIS Wheel the “Four-dimensional Wheel,” or “4-D Wheel.” Our Network is the “4-D Network.” You’ll still see ISIS written in my earlier books, and hear it referred to by colleagues. Please know that it’s the same approach, just a different name. The truth is, the power of the ancient Isis mysteries lives on, and I have every hope that the name ISIS will again be recognized as a transformative force for integrating sexuality and spirituality.
Enter the Dancing Goddess
The Dancing Goddess shown here is a spontaneous Being that we created on the lawn at Esalen Institute during a 4-D Retreat, when we needed to express the Shadow parts of our stories. Isn’t it remarkable that Shadow work with a group of women can manifest as a dancing goddess–instead of, say, a monster? Or an organization dedicated to destruction and death? I offer her here as a reminder that darkness can exist beyond the cultural polarity of evil and good….and can in fact give birth to movement and pleasure! For me, it represents that the Goddess is in all of us–women, men, and the entire panoply of diverse sexual and spiritual identities. All we have to do is breathe and move. And remember that shadows can’t exist without the sun.