Tracy Elise, often garbed in gauzy dresses, jewel-hued scarves, and traditional bindi glued over her third eye, was known as the Mystic Mother to the priestesses of her coven. A 55-year-old mother of three, Elise would invite men and women to her temple to heal them through sensual massage and therapeutic tantric sex sessions. She considers herself a priestess and healer; a jury in Arizona just convicted her of being a pimp.
Elise was found guilty on 22 prostitution-related charges and faces up to 70 years in prison. She has already put in a request for leniency.
Throughout her four-month trial, prosecutors for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix accused Elise of essentially running a brothel behind a thin veil of semantics at the temple: Customers were called “Seekers” instead of Johns; the women who made appointments and negotiated payments were called “gatekeepers” instead of madams; and those who performed sex acts were called “goddesses” and “practitioners.”
Elise had hoped that her constitutional right to freedom of religion would protect her from conviction. Citing her affiliations with the controversial Oklevueha Native American Church, which is based in Utah and mainly famous for using peyote in religious ceremonies, she argued during her trial that the acts of “sacred sexual healing” performed by her “goddesses” were expressions of her religion.
“This is my religion; this is my church,” Elise said at an April 8 court appearance. “I am taking a stand for all of this.”
The temple’s operations were based on Tantra, a sexual ritual that dates back to ancient India. Tantra seeks to unite mind, body, and spirit through creating a unique bond between sex partners; Elise believes the impact can be so powerful that people are healed of emotional scars built up throughout their lives. She worships a female deity and views women as guides to sexual healing and happiness. But after stripping away what they consider Elise’s mystic veneer, prosecutors described the sex acts in more blunted, familiar terms: erotic massages, genital touching, manual masturbation, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal penetration.