THROUGHOUT the Christian period, we find cropping up again and again, like subordinate themes in a symphony, three elements — preoccupation with fertility and a sense that fertility is a divine gift; the belief that health depends upon a periodic discharge or catharsis; and attempts to establish charitic groups, which groups are constantly accused of licentious acts, cathartic festivals or even actual elevation of sex to a sacrament.
The story of how these ideas are interconnected has never been told; this is not for lack of evidence, for there is a great deal available, scattered under different headings, but it has never been systematized. Such a task cannot be attempted here — it would call for a complete book — yet it seems essential to try to convey at least an impression of the singular nature of the material and the many significant links between the various elements. This is the more necessary since Christian distortion and suppression have succeeded in creating the impression that survivals of the sacramental conception of sex were but occasional wrong headed eccentricities. No account of sexual history which failed to convey that this was a substantial and fully developed theme, continuously counter-pointing the sinful conception of sex, could be anything but hopelessly misleading. Since this countermovement, of its nature, could have no central organization and no dogma, its manifestations are naturally scattered and various, and it could never begin to compete, as a political force, with hierarchical power organizastions, such as the Church. This does not make it any the less important as a phenomenon, nor even — since the test of a religion is not political power — as a religion.
The sacramental view of sex persisted in two main forms: as fully fledged manifestations of phallic worship, and as attempts to combine phallicism with Christian teaching. At first the phallic worship survived quite openly. Bede says that King Redwald had two altars, one for Christ, one for "devils". In the seventh century, Sighere, King of Essex, and his people threw off Christianity openly. The early penitential books and the edicts of Church councils often refer to the persistence of phallic worship. An eighth century ordinance, for instance, prescribes a penance of bread and water for three Lents for addressing prayers to a fascinum, while in the ninth century the council of the Church at Chelmsford issued an edict forbidding such prayers. Burchard's twelfth century penitentials include many penances for the magical use of sex: thus there was a penalty of forty days on bread and water for covering oneself with honey, placing corn on the ground, rolling in it, making a cake from the corn thus picked up, and giving it to one's husband to eat, and for other practices of a more unprintable character. In the same century Cnut (or Canute) issued a general edict banning heathen worship.
Such practices persisted until late in the Middle Ages: they became so popular that even ecclesiastics began to be influenced. In the thirteenth century, the minister of the church at Inverkeithing was presented before his bishop for leading a fertility dance round a phallic figure in the churchyard at Easter; in the fourteenth, the Bishop of Coventry was accused before the Pope of "homage to the devil". The statutes of the church of Le Mans and the church of Tours, two important sources of mediaeval Church documents, include repeated edicts on the matter in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. But, as we have seen in Chapter VI, the machinery of the Inquisition was finally brought in, in an attempt to fight this revival, and instances of phallic worship in this period appear chiefly under the heading of witchcraft, where they are confused with other manifestations of a sexual nature in the way already described.
There is plentiful evidence that those witches who were in fact the celebrants of a sex-centred religion experienced the sense of rapture associated with theolepsy. For example, Marie de la Ralde, a beautiful girl of 28, said that she went to the sabbat as to a wedding; she went not for the liberty and licence in which she declared that she had taken no part, but because this god "had so ensnared their hearts and wills". Jeanne Dibasson, 29, said that the sabbat was the true paradise — one had such pleasures there that one could not describe them. Another girl declared it to be "the supreme religion". The Inquisitor de Lancre exclaims in exasperation that, instead of being ashamed and blushing or weeping, they describe their experiences
"freely and with gaiety, as if they gloried in it, and they take a singular pleasure in retelling it".
Observers note that such witches as these went to the stake with the same calm assurance as early Christians, and died without remorse or terror.
It is this, incidentally, which I think explains the rather extraordinary charge levelled at the devil by the authors of the Malleus: they say that he wished to be to his dependents the only source of good. He
"wished and asked that the blessedness and goodness of all the inferior creatures should be derive from him".
Usually such phallic worship was quite consciously opposed to Christianity. Thus Boudin, in his "Etudes Anthropologiques", describes how, until the twelfth century, the inhabitants of Slavonia worshipped Priapus under the name Pripegala. (244) The Saxon princes appealed to the prelates of France and Germany for help against them, complaining that they used to cry:
"Let us rejoice today. Christ is vanquished, and our invincible Pripegala is his conqueror."
On the other hand, from the earliest days of the Christian era, attempts were made to assimilate important Christian figures to the old religion by attributing to them the power to grant fertility. In the fourth century, for instance, we find complaints that certain women were offering cakes and honey to the Virgin — that is, they were making to her the offerings traditionally appropriate to Ceres. (71) Such a development was probably encouraged rather than hindered by the Church's policy of adopting pagan deities into its calendar. Thus in England and Scotland we find St. Bridget acting as patroness of the fertility of crops — Brigit having been the Celtic mother deity; in a characteristic ceremony, a sheaf of corn was put to bed and watched over all night, and this continued at least until the Reformation. (122) The harvest festival which forms one of the most likeable of Church festivals today derives directly from this, and there is no reason to suppose that the spirit in which thanks are given to God for His bounty on such occasions differs from the spirit of corresponding ceremonies in the worship of the Corn Mother. Nor has awareness that this deity was indeed a mother altogether vanished, for in a few villages the Corn Dolly is still set up at the end of harvest, or a pretty girl is elected Harvest Queen. Brand quotes Hutchinson as saying:
"I have seen, in some places, an image apparelled in great finery, crowned with Rowers, a sheaf of corn placed under her arm, and a scythe in her hand, carried out of the village in the morning of the conclusive reaping day, with musick and much clamour of the reapers, into the field, where it stands fixed to a pole all day, and when the reaping is done, is brought home in like manner. This they call the Harvest Queen, and it represents the Roman Ceres."
But the worshippers felt that if God could control the fertility of crops and the soil, He could also bestow fertility on human beings. We have already seen how the Virgin Mary was made the special patron of fertility. Phallic saints were also created, for instance St. Foutin, by assimilation of the name of Pothin, first bishop of Lyons, to the verb foutre. There were many others, such as St. Guerlichon, or Greluchon, at Bourg Dieu — whose name has become a synonym for prostitute; St. Gilles at Cotentin; St. Rene in Anjou (by-a confusion with reins, kidneys — the supposed seat of sexual power) and St. Guignole, who was the first abbe of Landevenec, and who acquired his priapic attributes by confusion of his name with gignere (Fr. engendrer, to beget). His chapel was not closed until 1740.
The statues of these saints were usually equipped with large phalli: when the Protestants took Embrun in 1585, they found the people worshipping the phallus of St. Foutin and pouring wine on it, whence his sobriquet, le saint vinaigre. Women wishing to conceive would make use of the phallus in the same way that Roman wives would, before entering the marriage bed, make use of the wooden phallus of Mutunus Tutunus. A large wooden phallus covered with leather was found in 1562 when the Protestants destroyed the church at Orange, which was doubtless used for similar purposes. (71)
It is easy to fall into the error of thinking of all these ceremonies as having been simply quaint survivals, as we should now regard them today. But it cannot be doubted that they were perfectly real and extremely important at the time. Only if we accept the fact that there was a persistent conviction that phallic religion was the true religion, and that, in the last resort, the phallic deities were more powerful and more beneficent than the upstart Christian god, can we understand such things as the belief that one could avoid the plague by committing incest on the altar: for this was evidently an act which asserted in the strongest imaginable form one's adherence to phallicism and mother worship, and at the same time one's contempt for the cruel father-deity who had sent the plague.
Phallic practices continued long after the end of the Middle Ages. In 1786, the British Minister in Naples wrote to the president of the Royal Society explaining how, in a little explored part of Isernia, he had found the peasants worshipping "the great toe of St. Cosmo" (i.e. the phallus) with appropriate rites. During the three-day feast, peasants, chiefly women, would present waxen ex votos, kissing them before giving them to the priest and saying "Santo Cosimo benedetto, cosi lo voglio" (Blessed St. Cosmo, that's how I want it to be). Men would present their afflicted members to the priest to be anointed with oil, and 1,400 flasks of oil were consumed every year for this purpose. (148)
In modern times, in the big cities, science has replaced religion, and the preoccupation with fertility expresses itself by the numerous aphrodisiac devices exposed for sale. It is also said that a great part of the sale of vitamin pills is due to a belief in their aphrodisiac effects. But in more backward parts, peasants still hope for fertility from deities which are barely distinguishable from those of the pagan world. Frazer says that the Virgin is worshipped under the title Panaghia Aphroditessa, and Hogarth records that the peasants of Kuklia in Cyprus until recently did, and perhaps still do, anoint the corner stones of the temple of Aphrodite in honour of the Virgin, and pass symbolically through perforated stones to remove the curse of barrenness from the women, or to increase the manhood of the men.
Equally persistent has been the idea of the importance of a periodic cathartic discharge of repressed desires and aggressions. The extraordinary ceremony known as the Feast of Fools, or sometimes as the Feast of Asses, perhaps represents an attempt by the Church to tame the demand for a Saturnalia by adopting it as a church feast. This took place on the Feast of Circumcision or of Epiphany. It is certainly of early origin, since we find the Council of Toledo condemning it as early as 635: it continued to be popular until at least the seventeenth century. In 1414, the Theological Faculty of the University of Paris sent out a circular letter, addressed to all prelates and chapters in the Kingdom of France, condemning it, from which we may derive a detailed account of the Festival. It starts by pointing out that "this filthy custom" has been derived from the pagans, who, deceived by devils, were spurred on by passions. During it the people of the Church relapse into open and unpunished lewdness and harlotry. The priests and clergy themselves take part, appearing at divine service in masks, or in women's clothes or dressed as panders or minstrels. They dance, play dice, eat bread and black pudding from the altar and sing indecent songs while the celebrant is saying Mass. Leaping and Jumping, they course through the church without shame. Finally they drive about the town and its theatres and cause laughter with infamous performances, scurrilous verses and indecent gestures. In this way, it says, they celebrate the rites of Janus, and thus profane the holy place. To lead the revels a bishop, or in some places, a pope of fools was elected. The Mass was "farced", or sung with howls.
From about the thirteenth century there was introduced into the ceremony an ass, or in some cases the leader may have worn an ass's head. We have a fifteenth century account of this version from du Tilliot, based on a document from Sens. The most startling feature was the singing during the celebration of Mass of The Song of the Ass, during which the congregation chanted "Hee-haw, hee-haw", by way of refrain. The words of one of these songs are revealing: the song is addressed to a Satyr, who is identified with the Shepherd of the Herd, that is, the priest, and ends
"Let us clap the Satyr, to the pleasing sound of song, and to string and drums".
According to du Tilliot, after the service the congregation danced in the choir, often throwing off their clothes. The bishops were powerless to stop these festivities, and contented themselves with attempting to moderate them. Thus a ruling of the Chapter of Sens in 1444 says that "Not more than three buckets of water are to be poured over the precentor stultorum at Vespers", and another requests those who wish to copulate to go outside the church before doing so.
There are many features of this festival which connect it beyond doubt with the fertility religions we have been discussing. First, the occasion, which corresponds to the feast of Janus, the consort of Diana, the goddess of fertility; and the many kinds of sexual licence. Also significant are the flowers with which the clergy were in some cases wreathed. More important are the evidences of castration: not only did men put on women's clothes but, Alcuin adds, those who did so "lost their strength". Moreover at Sens (where we fortunately have unusually full details of the ceremony) the Vespers were sung falsetto. It is also significant that it was held on the Feast of Circumcision, since this is a vestigial form of castration. it is probably also to the point that it was in January that the worship of the Horned God took place: the connection with this branch of fertility religion is also shown by the fact that the celebrants often wore animal masks.
Ducange adds that after the ceremony the priests would parade the town in dung-carts, pelting the passers-by with ordure and singing indecent songs. (Bourke suggests that the "black pudding" which was eaten in church was in fact ordure, since boudin can mean excrement as well as black pudding.) "Fescennine jests" and the pelting of the crowd with ordure were features of the Roman fertility ceremonies.
In England, the Feast of Fools was finally suppressed in the time of Elizabeth, but was supplanted by the secular ceremony of the election of a Lord of Misrule, or Abbot of Unreason. Stubbes describes how upon election he chooses "twenty, sixty or an hundred lustiguts to serve him". These dress in gay clothes, decorated with jewels, ribbons and kerchiefs "borrowed for the moste part of their pretie Mopsies and loovying Bessies for bussying them in the darcke". They then set out for the churchyard, mounted on hobby horses, and accompanied by pipers and drummers, where they set up bowers and feast and dance all that day and, peradventure, all that night too. But, Stubbes adds sourly, if they knew that in so doing they were really sacrificing to the Devil and Sathanas, they would repent. This comment, and the fact that the churchyard was felt to be the proper venue, establish the underlying sense of the religious character of the occasion.
In France, also, the Feast of Fools was replaced by a secular festival. Participants formed themselves into a Societe Joyeuse, headed by an Abbe Malgouverne, or, more significantly, a Mere Folle. Thus in Dijon, the Mere Folle was a man dressed as a woman: his task was to keep up a running commentary on the sexual proclivities of his followers. (In Sastrow's account of a German equivalent, the part of the fool is actually played by the priest.) The chant proper to the occasion has the refrain: La femme est mise au monde, afin qu'on la courtise. (238)
The Puritans condemned these festivals because they saw the connection with the pagan rites. Thus Prynne, in Histriomastix quotes Polydor Vergil as expressly saying that the Christmas Lords of Misrule
"are derived from the Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian festivals; which (concludes he) should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them".
But the people themselves recognized their value as means of catharsis. A special petition was addressed to the Theological Faculty of the University of Paris, asking for the retention of the Feast of Fools, saying,
"We do this according to ancient custom, in order that folly, which is second nature to man and seems to be inborn, may at least once a year have free outlet. Wine casks would burst if we failed sometimes to remove the bung and let in air. Now we are all inbound casks and barrels which would let out the wine of wisdom if by constant devotion and fear of God we allowed it to ferment." (76)
In the Renaissance, as we have seen from Anthony Munday's account, the Saturnalia was revived in the form of the Carnevale or farewell to meat, held before Lent, together with many other signs of paganism; and in modern times, it continues in Germany in the pre-Lenten Fasching, where the exchange of clothes between men and women still remains a notable feature.
The existence of a spontaneous urge for these cathartic outbursts may also be detected in many Early Church edicts against dancing, and the close kinship with phallicism is often evident. (9) For example, the Council of Avignon in 1209 ruled that
"in night watches for the saints there shall not be performed in churches play-acting, hopping dances, indecent gestures, ring dances, neither shall there be sung love-songs or ditties".
Regino of Pröm ordered that
"Nobody shall on such occasions sing devilish songs or play games or dance. All these are pagan inventions of the Devil."
In the thirteenth century the synod of Exeter ruled:
"It is ordered that there shall be no wrestling, ring dances, or other forbidden games in churchyards, especially at night watches and the festivals of the saints, because by the performance of such play-acting and indecent games the dignity of the Church is dragged in the mire."
A few years later the Bishop of London issued a similar edict concerning the dissolute behaviour in the churchyard at Barking. The reason why the churchyard was chosen for these activities is almost certainly that the Christian missionaries made a practice of building their churches on the site of pagan altars, so that these were precisely the spots where the pagan worshippers felt that the old deities still had their habitation, and where their supernatural influence might best be felt.
How popular these dances were is shown by the reply of the people to the Bishop of Noyon, Eligius, when he condemned dancing at the feast of St. Paul.
"However much you, a Roman, may preach," they said, "you will never succeed in eradicating our ancient customs. Nobody can forbid us these ancient games, which give us such immense pleasure."
Backman has shown that the "ring dances" referred to in these edicts were originally dances which formed part of the ceremonies of the Church — in all probability the very ring-dance in which, according to the Acts of John, Christ led the disciples. It may have been as much because of their use of the dance as because they were seized with the spirit in the quasi-epileptic way which we associate with modern revivalism, that the Persians called the earliest Christians tarsa, or shakers. (In view of the fact that this theoleptic form of Christianity was particularly associated with the Apostle John, it is striking that, in the great dance manias of the Middle Ages, the dancers sang a chant which went, "Oh, Lord St. John. Thus, thus, whole and happy, Lord St. John.")
Thus a continuous line of descent can be traced from the Johannine Christians, through the mediaeval dancers and the post mediaeval Shakers and Quakers, down to the shaking and dancing sects of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And against this ecstatic tradition can be placed the continuous opposition of the puritan groups, mediaeval, reformation and modern, to dancing. It is not merely because it is a sign of spontaneity that the guilt-ridden depressive group rejects it: it is actually the mechanism through which theolepsy is brought about.
The concept of the charitic group, in which shall be possible a loving personal relationship in which sexual desire shall be transcended, has also survived as a persistent complementary theme throughout the Christian era in much the same way as phallicism has survived. We have already seen in an earlier chapter how this idea was preserved by the Cathars, the Beghards and, in a special form, by the troubadours. But the ideal did not die out with the decline of mediaevalism: the four and a half centuries since the Reformation have seen a score of attempts to found groups of this kind. They have varied in character, to be sure, according to the preferences of the founders: some have stressed the pasonal relationship, others the group character of the experience; some have stressed the theoleptic element and have been marked by prophecy and the almost epileptic physical seizures we now call revivalism. But all have stressed love, charity, peaceableness, good works.
The sixteenth century, for instance, saw the foundation in Munster by Niclaes of the Family of Love. Under persecution they fled to England and were active in Cambridgeshire in the following century. (124) The seventeenth century also saw the foundation of the Quakers, the Ranters, the Shakers and other sects who, as their names imply, stressed the theoleptic element in charitism. Sometimes the connection with mediaeval attempts to restore apostolic simplicity is evident. For instance, the first bishop of the Moravian Church was ordained by a bishop of the Waldenses, and the Moravians preserved the three "orders of membership" under the same names as the Waldenses had used .They called themselves not Moravian (this was a name given to them later by others) but Jednota Bratrska, or the Church of the Brotherhood. Similarly the sect founded by Ebel early in the nineteenth century derived many of its ideas from the mediaeval Brethren of the Free Spirit.
These sects were constantly accused by the orthodox of sexual licence, and sometimes of actual phallic worship. For instance a broadsheat was published in 1641 attacking the Family of Love, about a hundred of whose members were living in Bagshot "at the sign of the buck". (206) The author declares that they have days devoted to various saints, such as Ovid, who taught men to love, and "Priapus, the first bawdy butcher that ever did stick pricks in flesh and make it swell". A certain Susanna Snow, who joined their company for a time, reported (he says) that the leader gave a powerful address on the theme that Cupid (i.e. Eros) was not dead. The pamphleteer says that Miss Snow was seduced, but similar accusations have often been made by disappointed virgins, and the facts remain obscure. Very similar accusations were made against the Brethren of the Free Spirit, but Hepworth Dixon says:
"They had lodged in the same barn, slept under the same tree. They had been in each others' society day and night; yet the most searching quest into their ways of life by the spiritual police, who followed them with a deadly zeal and hate, could bring to light no circumstances implying moral blame. With what appears to have been deep regret and wonder, the Inquisitors report that though these heretics had cast themselves away from God, had given themselves up to evil imaginings, and were utterly lost to the sense of shame, they had contrived to preserve their bodies chaste."
These repeated accusations of licence make it difficult to distinguish between charitism and phallic worship, but it seems pretty clear that they spring from nothing more than the prurience of those who, obsessed by sex as they were, could not imagine that two persons of opposite sex could pass a night together without sexual dalliance. The likelihood of such an interpretation would evidently be even greater if the persons concerned were married but not to each other; and in fact there emerged the concept of a spiritual marriage which was independent of any pre-existing legal marriage. (The kinship with the ideas of the Romantics is obvious.) In the Ebelian sect, such marriages could apparently be polygamous. Ebel's spiritual household comprised three women, to one of whom he was legally married, and one of whom was married to someone else. He seems to have had fleshly relations with none of them, and the three ladies are described as having felt towards each other a peculiar love and tenderness. Ebel held that
"man must be purged of the lust of the heart and the pride of the eye . . . in the presence of a living woman he must be trained to feel as if he were standing by a wall of stone".
Nevertheless he was charged with immorality by the husband of one of his flock, and was condemned after a lengthy trial to be degraded from his office of Archdeacon and to be confined in an institution. On appeal to the supreme court, Ebel was cleared of the charges of immorality, but his removal from office was confirmed, presumably because he was felt to be a disturbing influence by the Church. (66)
Such sects have continued to be founded and refounded up to recent times. In 1832 there was a religious revival in New York State and New England, based on a doctrine commonly called Perfectionism, the main tenets of which were the leadership of women, chastity and spiritual wifehood. The "innocent endearments" which the Rev. Simon Lovett first practised with Mary Lincoln and Maria Brown received the name of "bundling" from the practice (which had been brought to New England from Scotland) of permitting unmarried couples to do their courting in the wall-bed with the lower part of their bodies secured in sacks. Father Noyes quotes one Elizabeth Hawley as saying,
"Simon Lovett first brought the doctrine of spiritual wifehood among the New Haven perfectionists, after his bundling with Maria Brown and Mary Lincoln at Brimfield. He claimed Abby Fowler as his spiritual wife . . ."
Because it was recalled that St. Paul had travelled on his missionary journeys with a "wife who was a sister to him", the movement adopted the name of 'the Pauline Church'. And the dim figure of St. Brendan arises in our minds when we discover Dr. Gridley boasting that he could
"carry a virgin in each hand without the least stir of passion". (66)
Subsequently Father Noyes founded the Oneida community, where was developed a form of group association under the name "Complex Marriage". In America there were also numerous sects where the revivalist element was more marked, such as the Shakers of Ann Lee, the Holy Rollers and the Angel Dancers. This last was a Methodist sect founded about 1890 in New Jersey: they received this title from the local people because of a religious frenzy which usually came on — shades of the Agape! — after saying grace at meals. They became known throughout the district for their great charity, but were accused of "free love", and the leader was taken to court for keeping a disorderly house. (124)
In England, in the middle of the nineteenth century, a renegade parson named H. J. Prince founded a sect which became known as the Agapemonites. He received support from a large number of wealthy converts and bought a large country house near Spaxton, where supporters could live in brotherly amity. Prince lived chastely with both his first and second wives, but local gossip promptly accused the sect of irreligion and "free love". The sect was reportedly still in existence just before the second World War. (170)
In the nature of things, the attempt to preserve a spiritual relationship must sometimes have broken down, and no doubt enemies were quick to exploit such lapses, even though the orthodox Church also had its weaker brethren. But there is perhaps a more serious danger inherent in charitism. The sense of union with the divine may lead psychologically unstable persons to the belief that they are themselves divine, in some personal sense. Among the Quakers, Nayler fell into this error; Brothers, who claimed to be God Almighty's Nephew, and J. N. Tom, known as the Peasants' Saviour, had also been under Quaker influence. Prince, the founder of the Agapemonites, ended by claiming divinity, as did Schönherr, from whom Ebel derived some of his ideas, while Father Divine provides an example in our own day.
Psychologically the claim to be divine can usually be interpreted as a form of compensation for feelings of rejection and inferiority: Matthews, in his English Messiahs, has analysed a number of cases of this type. Other reactions are possible: one of them is a retreat to infantilism, and it is probably relevant that such a retreat took place, at one stage, in the Moravian Church, after it had taken refuge from persecution under the protection of Count Zinzendorf. Diminutive endings were attached to almost every noun. Zinzendorf became Daddykins, Christ was called the Lambkin, while the members of the group called themselves Little Fools, cross wood splinterkins, a blessed troop of cross-air birds, and so on. (134) Joanna Southcott's letters show an infantile repetitiousness, and the quietist, Mme. Guyon, provides another example. Some degree of regression is usual in loving relations — most lovers use pet names for instance. But when we find this being carried to excess — as in some of Swift's letters to Stella for example — we are entitled to begin thinking about psychosis. Psychiatrically, such a retreat is more serious than are paranoiac delusions of importance, for in its extreme form it leads to dementia praecox.
Apart from this risk, the sense of divinity sometimes leads to the belief that one is no longer subject to the normal rules of civilized behaviour. H. J. Prince, who had preached and practised chastity all his life, after he came to think himself divine, felt entitled to take into his bed the daughter of one of the members of his group; when she was found to be pregnant, the community was no less scandalized than was the outside world, and several members withdrew. Many of the charitic groups have been accused of holding the belief that all is permitted. Thus Baxter says of the Ranters (who seem to have been an offshoot of the Brethren of the Free Spirit), that they taught
"the cursed doctrine of Libertinism, which brought them to all abominable filthiness of life. They taught that to the pure all things are pure (even things forbidden). And so, as allowed by God, they spake most hideous words of Blasphemy."
A hostile Pamphlet, quoted by Belfort Bax, depicts their meetings as a sort of witches' sabbat, at which they danced naked together.
It will be remembered that Custance, in the manic phase of his insanity, likewise felt that he was freed from subservience to ordinary moral laws. In particular, he felt the impulse to throw off all his clothes — and this is also a thing we sometimes find among the charitic sects. The primitive Adamites went naked, and the faithful were especially shocked by the fact that they administered and received communion in this Paradisal condition. The Quakers frequently ran naked through the streets, especially in Yorkshire, where it became something of a public issue. (Sometimes they also smeared themselves with filth, presumably because, like Custance, they found that this intensified their sense of deity.) (149)
Custance's observations provide, I think, an essential clue to the understanding of these charitic groups, and why they were so often accused of licence. It may be that they did, sometimes, pass from a real chastity to a licence which would not easily be distinguished from actual phallic worship. But I believe that it also throws an important light on the character of the relationship between the two opposed attitudes to life which we inadequately call "pagan" and "Christian". The battle was not simply between two structures of personality — patrist and matrist; it was also a battle between two mental states — euphoria and depression. In the euphoric or manic state, there is no sense of guilt, the individual feels united with God, and sex is seen as a sacred phenomenon which cannot be a cause of shame. In the depressive state, there is a deep sense of guilt, the individual feels himself remote from God, and sex is seen as vile and shameful.
In the Classical world, as we have seen, it was not usual to attempt to maintain either state continuously; and, on the whole, if one was to abandon the ideal of balance or measure, then it was the euphoric state which was felt to be attractive. Early Christianity, as I have argued, attempted to institutionalise the euphoric state, but Christianity, as developed by the Church, not only condemned the euphoric state altogether, but held out the depressive state as a permanent ideal. Consequently those groups which went into reaction attempted to maintain euphoria as a continuous ideal. If permanently maintained, both states are, of course, insanities. In euphoria there is an imminent danger of loss of contact with reality in the direction of delusions of grandeur and divinity; in depression, the delusion is likely to be one of unworthiness and persecution. In euphoria, controls on instinctual impulses may be so relaxed as to lead to actions which may prove to have regrettable consequences. In depression, the controls may be so rigid that all spontaneity is lost.
By the same token, Christianity, which regards pleasure as wicked, sees in euphoria the incontrovertible sign of evil. It was clearly this sense of euphoria which led many to be condemned as witches. As one of them put it, "I feel myself to be continually caressed."
What the Puritans and Calvinists achieved at the Reformation, was the re-establishment of the depressive, guilt-ridden; attitude as the whole source of religion, where the Catholic Church, more realistically, had held out the possibility, however narrowly limited, of passing through depression into euphoria, provided that this euphoria was based on approved Christian imagery. This explains why the Reformation produced not only Calvinism, but many pietist and mystic movements, such as Jansenism, which endeavoured to construct a Protestant mysticism.
On the evidence, it would seem that the lifting of superego control necessary to produce euphoria is more easily attained by matrists, although detailed research would be necessary to establish whether charitic groups were always matrist in character. Dixon, for example, describes the Ebelians as "a female church" and notes Ebel's somewhat feminine appearance, while a visitor comments on the fact that Prince moved with the grace of a woman. The Cathars, the Adamites, the Beghards, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, all allocated an important place to women. On the other hand, the Quakers and some other sects show a certain patrist strain.
But it would be too much of an over-simplification to distinguish only between excessive superego control and too little. It is more useful to point out that there are three ways of dealing with the sexual instinct: repression, catharsis and sublimation. The Dionysiacs dealt with sex by catharsis — that is, by a periodic wholesale discharge which left them washed out, purified and at peace. The Church attempted to repress sex almost completely; the Charitists the much more difficult task of transcending it.
Just as today the Russians treat all their enemies as one, levelling the same accusations at democracy and fascism alike, so the Church branded both the indulgent phallic and the transcendent charitic groups with the same accusations of licence. It is rather striking how bodies like the Waldenses and the Moravians, which always regarded themselves as within the body of the Church, and whose tenets as far as dogma went were substantially orthodox, were persecuted with just as much fury as phallic worshippers. It would seem that the Church felt that to treat sex as unimportant was just as serious as to treat it as divine.
The striking thing about all these charitic sects is the universal agreement of the unbiased that by the test of behaviour they were what people today often call "Christian in the true sense of the word". The Quakers' reputation for piety and charity is well known, and we have already seen in what high repute the Cathars stood. The modern groups receive an equally favourable verdict. Thus Hastings's Encyclopaedia says of the Agapemonites that they are a blameless company whose praise is sung throughout the whole neighbourhood for their unquestioned piety and fervent charity. Van Arsdale, in the same work, says of the Angel Dancers, that they are noted for their industry, scrupulously honest dealing and immense charity. Orthodox Church members have rarely gained so good a reputation. It should be noted, however, that it has never been the view of the Church that Christianity was to be defined by behaviour: the Protestant Church most specifically rejected the doctrine of "justification by works" in favour of "justification by faith" — belief in the truth of certain propositions — and has never agreed that a man could call himself Christian just because he behaved in an honourable and kindly manner. Quite to the contrary, it has always persecuted such people when they did not subscribe to all the articles of the Christian credo, whenever it has had the power to do so.