I lost my virginity at 23 (yes, I have always been a late bloomer) in Paris to a boy who didn’t love me--or at least not in the way I wanted him to. We recently broke, but still had tickets for a trip we planned together to Paris and Cannes (I wanted to revisit the places I lived in college). We decided to take the trip as friends and even though he moved on, I somehow believed that if I had sex with him he would fall in love with me again. Of course it didn’t work and I returned to home with a broken heart and a bladder infection.
Recently I returned to Paris/The City of Love for the first time in a decades to reclaim my virginity, possibly my dignity, and a part of my heart I seemed to have lost back then. I was there to reunite one of my closest friends (whom I call my lover and pictured to the right) and her boyfriend (my lover’s lover who took the picture above) who were living in Paris for the next month. We visited my favorite spots: Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur (of course), Luxembourg Gardens, and a place I seemed to keep missing my other visits—the Middle Ages Museum/Cluny Museum.
Le Musee de Cluny houses the famous, mysterious series of tapestries called Le Dame et le Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn). They were acquired by the museum in 1882, a hundred years before I was born, and have enchanted many (including one of my favorite writers Rainer Maria Rilke).
Seeing the six tapestries for the first time took my breath away as I could feel their mystery and familiarity. The woman in the images is as Rilke describes, “Never the same exactly, nor exactly different.” And in each image with her is a unicorn, lion, and coat of arms (with crescent moons). (Of course for me the unicorn stole the show.) Each tapestry describes a sense and they are displayed from left to right in the hierarchy of the senses in the Middle Ages--touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.
And then there is the final tapestry shrouded in mystery and devoted to a 6th sense that is simultaneously utterly confusing and yet perfectly clear. While the other five tapestries are devoid of words, the last includes the description “Mon Seul Desir," which translates to "my only/sole desire." (While there is an "A," before the words, I am more inclined to believe that “a” is representing something else other than “to” as it doesn't have an accent aigu.)
The lady is standing in front of a tent (above is me standing in front of her with an image from Ian) with the flaps held open by the lion and unicorn. She seems to be taking off a necklace (rather than putting it on, as Rilke has suggested) or preparing to undress. Initially, I took this to mean she was renouncing the physical world to unite with the divine.
Now, I believe the undressing and tent is not for her to renounce herself of the physical world, but to become more of it. I imagine she will take off her clothes to unite with herself. As Meggan Watterson points out in Reveal, the tent represents the mediator between the sacred and profane, human and divine, and also the sacred marriage. It is a place of receiving, and in this case, she seems to be receiving herself--becoming a virgin.
Before "virginity" was used to refer to chastity it had a much different meaning. In many Greek translations, the word virgin meant “one unto herself.” Latin translations add to the confusion as the word virgo means “unmarried” and virgo intacta refers specifically to a lack of sexual experience. Our modern day definition of virginity identifies closely with the phrase virgo intacta instead of virgo.
The Latin and Greek etymologies refer to a virgin as not belonging to any man, but instead to herself.
(I wrote a whole article on Elephant Journal about virginity here.)
This particular tent is covered in gold flames and to me represents the flames of desire. In the Middle Ages the heart was the seat of love and also erotic desire. Even the word virginity speaks to this paradox being both belonging to oneself and also another as we cannot know wholeness without the feeling of fragmentation, often that that comes with heartbreak.
Yet, there is another clue to me that this 6th sense is about the heart. On her dress in the middle of her chest is a large stone with four smaller ones. In Kabbalah and other esoteric traditions, four is the number of wholeness and represents Malkuth--the Sephirot of the Earth. In astrology the symbol for Earth (looks somewhat like a cross) is with four chambers, as well as the Native American medicine wheel. In numerology the number four is associated with material completeness/wholeness and perfection. It also seems no mistake we have four chambers of the heart.
Watterson says it beautifully, "The Cluny tapestries, especially the sixth, could suggest that it is only through the human senses that the Divine aperture of the heart is opened." This going inside (of the tent) represents a return to herself and this feminine act "allows a woman to quietly, triumphantly turn within and love even what before had been deemed unworthy of love."
As Woodman warns, "...until a woman can receive herself, she will unconsciously force others to reject her, despite the fact that her most conscious desire is to be loved." This is my sole/soul desire, to receive and love myself and know that I am whole and perfect. To unite with myself before uniting with another. To know fully that my virginity can never been given away as it is a state of my being, a part of me that belongs to no one, but myself. The 6th tapestry to me speaks to me of love and desire. We yearn for others often as a sign of yearning for more of ourselves. Reclaiming virginity is our way back inside.
In the Middle Ages unicorns were believed to be dangerous and only the innocence of a virgin could tame them. Unicorns symbolized truth, purity, and honor. They are often seen along side a lion (as with these tapestries) as they are also deeply associated with the moon and the lion with the sun.
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved unicorns. I was always puzzled when people told me they weren’t real as I could feel in my very being that they existed, not just in fantasy. They were too much a part of history and mythology to be merely a vision.
In one of my favorite books, The Pregnant Virgin by Marion Woodman, she points out that in Medieval times the unicorn represented "the creative power of the spirit" and an "allegory of Christ." (Jung also believed this and Meggan Watterson mentions it in her book as well.) In my new favorite book, The Wonder of Unicorns, by Diana Cooper, she describes the unicorns as existing as a part of the angelic realm and therefore closely associated with Christ consciousness. And I can't think of anything more Christ-like than virginity as it relates to wholeness as an expression of the divine.
Ten years ago in a hotel room in Paris I had sex for the first time, but I didn't lose my virginity nor a piece of my heart, I only remembered what was missing...myself. I am whole unto myself and always have been. My virginity is both a longing and a fulfillment of desire and union. This is our one desire, to know that we are divine love whole, perfect, and complete (virginity) and in that we often desire another to understand our wholeness. This is the sacred union, the sacred and profane, the ultimate paradox of love.
My 6th sense and sole/soul desire of virginity was reclaimed when I entered the sacred tent/chamber of my own heart and I found my desire for another, and with it...my wholeness.