On a brisk Sunday morning in mid-January, Wayne Clayton arrives at work at Phoenix Goddess Temple wheeling a brown piece of luggage.
"These are all my healing tools," he says.
Among them are a clear plastic bag stuffed with white latex gloves and a bottle of lubricant. He will use them later in one of his "trauma healing" sessions. But first, he'll receive his own session with a temple "goddess" who calls herself Aphrodite. Clayton says it's common for practitioners at Phoenix Goddess Temple to do sessions for each other. It helps "recharge energy" and maintains an all-important balance.
Practitioners at this self-styled church near 24th Street and Thomas Road say that what they do is sacred work to balance energy and heal people, and Clayton really seems to believe it — at least enough to let New Times watch two of his all-too-revealing sessions.
Clayton's title is "touch healer." He's in his 50s, about 5-foot-8, heavyset, with glasses and salt-and-pepper hair. Aphrodite is one of about 14 women who work at the temple. Like the majority of the goddesses, she appears to be in her late 30s to early 40s. She's tan, blond, and blue-eyed, with faint crow's feet in the corners of her eyes. She says she conducts up to three sessions per day.
Just what is a "session," you ask? Step into the "Persian Room" with Aphrodite and Clayton.
This room is light blue, with accents that include billowy white curtains tacked across the ceiling. Books by Persian poet Rumi adorn the end tables, and sounds drift from a boom box — mostly birds chirping, combined with the sound of a sitar. A stick of Nag Champa incense fills the room with an earthy, spicy smell.
Clayton gets butt-naked and belly-down on a massage table. Aphrodite runs her hands over his back, then takes off her sarong and drapes it over him. She's wearing only a black G-string that reads "I O French ." She tells him she's going to run the sarong across his body a few times, and each time, he should imagine some pain he's had going away. She rubs coconut oil on him while saying things like, "We're all deserving of pleasure."
About 40 minutes into the session, Clayton turns over on his back. He doesn't have an erection. Aphrodite proposes a prostate massage. She puts on a "finger condom" and inserts a finger into his anus, while simultaneously gripping and stroking his penis.
Five minutes of this, and Clayton's whole body starts shaking. He lets out several loud moans, and Aphrodite cleans him up with a wet towel.
After he's dressed, Clayton tries to explain his session from a spiritual perspective.
"The start with the sarong was awakening my skin," he says. "We were developing a relationship, when I started to feel tingling sensations of yin-yang balance. Then she sent meridians up and down my spine to move internal energy better, and we had chakra-to-chakra contact."
Aphrodite's interpretation of what happened sounds less ethereal. She says what New Times witnessed is typically what she does in a session, but regarding the prostate massage, she says, "I don't always do it. Some guys are uncomfortable or they're already erect. Usually, once I rub my breasts on that area, it's over. But if it's a little limp, I'll ask to do the prostate."
"The prostate is a sacred male spot," Clayton adds. "I had stuff there I needed to release."
Phoenix Goddess Temple claims to offer "touch healing" to the sexually wounded and disenfranchised. But really, it appears to be nothing more than a New Age brothel practicing jack psychology techniques.
Licensed psychologists say the "healing" could be damaging, and legal experts say the touching could be illegal. But the temple has been operating mostly trouble-free for almost three years and raking in an estimated $20,000 a month in "donations."
Women at the temple take names like Magdalena, Shakti, and Devima. There's also a high priestess named Gypsy, and a tall, lithe blonde named Leila, who advertises her measurements (36-26-37) on her page at the temple website, which includes photo galleries of each goddess.
The goddesses practice techniques that include genital touching for a "religious offering" of money that generally ranges from $204 to $650. Their advertisements go in the adult sections of local newspapers, including New Times, but Phoenix Goddess Temple founder Tracy Elise says the temple is not a brothel — it's a church, and the services offered are religious rituals to enrich people's lives.