The reports of virgin goddesses who produced numerous children on Mt. Olympus and elsewhere has been a cause of considerable confusion. The reason for the confusion is the ambiguity, linguistic as well as ethnographic of the term “virginity.” Whereas in modern Euro-American cultures the term virgin refers, except in Catholic theory, to a female with unruptured hymen, in other cultures it may refer to an unmarried woman even though she be a prostitute, or to a married woman who has had no children. This ambiguity in the concept of what a virgin is has led to further ambiguities in the reports of observers who have not informed themselves as to which theory of virginity is accepted by the culture they are describing.
The Greek Artemis, symbol of fierce virginity, was too modest to approach Endymion while he was awake, but nevertheless arranged that he become the father of her fifty daughters; and the priestesses of the Roman Vesta whose virginity was strictly guarded referred to her as the Mother Goddess and used phalli as ritual objects. Children of unmarried mothers in Greece were regularly referred to as born of Virgins, and, although conclusions about the Aegean cultures must be cautious, it seems probable that the goddesses in the Aegean cult-centers taken over by the Greeks were thought of as virgins in the sense that they were unmarried though not inexperienced. Similarly, though the Babylonian Ishtar, who had among her other attributes that of love and procreation, was at one time the goddess of the morning star and wife of the moon god, she was generally referred to as the Holy Virgin and the Virgin Mother. She was also referred to as the “prostitute” and in a hymn says of herself that she is a compassionate prostitute. The women who prostituted themselves in her temples were also called virgins. The Brythonic moon goddess Arianrhod had children and indulged in scandalous amours. The Valkyries who entertained the heroes in Valhalla were virgins and were forbidden to marry. De Groot reports from Amoy, China, that the virgin goddess there is the patroness of prostitutes. Priestesses in Tahiti were greatly respected though not strictly guarded. Temple prostitutes, whether appointed to serve th god, the priests, ro strangers, were somewhat ambiguously called virgins. The reports refer to the Akamba, the Uganda, Mexico, Peru. Pausanias was somewhat amazed to note that at Sicyon the priestesses of Aphrodite were vowed to chastity.