Norse goddesses (such as Frigg) had handmaidens, . The biblical Mary referred to herself as "the handmaid of the Lord" in acceptance of becoming pregnant by the Holy Ghost. A man might use a handmaiden as a concubine to bear his child if his wife was infertile. For example, the biblical Rachel, the childless wife of Jacob, gave her handmaid Bilhah to her husband to produce children for her. Jacob's first wife Leah later did the same.
In Ancient Egypt, the role of handmaiden was important to Egyptian religious practices. One of the early gods, Atum, was supposed to have brought the world into being through self-fornication. In subsequent ritual, a priestess would assist the priest in the ceremony, through the use of a carving representing Atum's penis. These female priests were important within the ritual for they assisted in the creation of the world.
There are numerous references to prostitutes near or within the religious buildings. This is a mistaken representation of their role, for the priestesses were, as well as of being 'handmaidens', performed 'sex magic' rituals related to sacred prostitution in the goddess temples. It was believed that the culmination of the process of sex brought the participants closer to the higher plane where they could gain enlightenment. In this role, these handmaidens were essential to the religious practices