16. The Rule Of The Dead
From Sex In History by Gordon Rattray Taylor (1954)

THE pathological eccentricities of the Middle Ages may seem remote today, the product of ignorance and bigotry, and few believe that a repressive code of morality could ever return, although history reminds us that it took only a generation to convert eighteenth-century licence into nineteenth century prudery.

In point of fact, however, these macabre events can always recur whenever the psychological conditions are provided; and as a matter of fact they have persisted in odd corners down to the present day, in just the same way that ecstatic practices persisted throughout the patrist periods. Witchcraft cases continued to be tried almost annually in Britain throughout the nineteenth century, and as late as the second decade of the present century. De Givry has spoken to four living witches who were using traditional methods, in France. Widespread sorcery was reported from Friesland in 1953. Even today, there are still firms which do a thriving trade in chastity belts.(64) There are still persons who invest political problems with the character of a demonic attack. The Rev. Montague Summers, in his introduction to an edition of the Malleus, writes of Communism precisely as if it were a form of witchcraft, and lumps together diverse revolutionary groups and diverse heretic groups without distinction, regretting that "that most excellent tribunal", the Inquisition, no longer exercises its "salutary powers". Perhaps the American Government imitates the mediaeval Church in associating sexual abnormality with political heresy, since it discharges communists and homosexuals under the same rubric. Nothing would be more naive than to assume that the strange events described in earlier chapters were the eccentricities of a brutal and ignorant past. Though they often survive translated into a modern idiom, where the appropriate conditions exist, they preserve exactly their mediaeval form. Carmelite nuns still feel themselves to be buffeted by the devil or embraced by the Virgin— in 1816, Marie Ange received not only kisses from Jesus and the Virgin, but also bon-bons and a good liqueur besides.(57) Just how closely they can parallel mediaeval experience can be shown by a quotation from the devotional works of Therese Martin, a Carmelite nun who died in 1898 and who was canonized in 1925

"on account of her transcendent devotion to her spiritual spouse". "Ah, how sweet is the first kiss of Jesus!" she exclaims "indeed it is a kiss of love. I felt myself beloved by him, and I said to him 'I love you, I give myself to you forever.' Jesus and I have understood one another for a long time. Our coming together was a fusion of our being.... My heaven is no other than that of Love. I have felt that nothing could detach my ardour from the divine being who has ravished me."

These are words that might have been written in the thirteenth century.(32)

In society at large, though we flatter ourselves that we are free from superstition, we do not have the courage openly to abandon supernatural fears. For instance, we still maintain laws against blasphemy, and in England in 1929 a proposal to repeal these laws was abandoned. To believe in the possibility of blasphemy is to believe in the magical power of words. This is not a question of rationalism: one can very well believe in the existence of a Deity, without believing that He will be so human as to feel His dignity injured by what men say about Him. To a Deity who knows what men think before they say it, it must surely be immaterial whether they put it into words or not.

Furthermore, there is still a strong patrist group, comprising many distinguished individuals, whose outlook resembles that of mediaeval patrists with amazing closeness. For instance, Dr. Lyttleton, headmaster of Eton, once declared:

"All exercise of a bodily faculty for the sake of pleasure and except for the purpose for which the faculty was given is wrong"

— a dictum which not only rules out all forms of sport but also excludes all sexual intercourse, except for the purpose of begetting children, and thus revives the most extreme doctrine of the Middle Ages.

Just as in the past, patrists do not merely condemn sexual freedom as immoral, they also assert that it is destructive to society.(19) For instance, in 1935, Canon Bickersteth wrote to The Times, apparently in complete seriousness, to say,

"The increase in adultery and the breaking of the marriage laws are greater dangers to national safety than bombing from the air."

(Similarly, in the first World War, French army chaplains attributed military reverses to sexual promiscuity, just as, more than two millennia previously, the Israelites attributed their defeat by the Philistines to the same cause.) Historically, of course, this is a ridiculous claim: as we have seen, periods such as the Renaissance and the eighteenth century, which were periods of unusual sexual freedom, were periods of great achievement and expansion. What the patrist means in making this claim is not that a permissive code will destroy society, but that it will destroy the sort of society he desires. With these forebodings, the patrist usually couples laments about "the decay of family life", which he likewise feels to be a threat to the whole social structure. He claims the sanction of religion for this view, conveniently forgeting that Jesus repeatedly urged people to forsake their parents, as He did himself. Here, too, though the patrist's fears make nonsense — sociologically, he intuitively perceives that the paternal family is the microcosm in which patrist standards are inculcated, so that its preservation is essential to his morality.

The patrist, of course, claims the sanction of Christianity for his whole code of morality. But, quite aside from the fact that the ecclesiastical code has little relation to Christ's teaching as we know it, it is not even true that there is a consistent code of Christian behaviour which has always been taught by the Church. The authorities have repeatedly changed their minds about what was, and what was not, sinful, and in no sphere has this inconsistency been greater than in that of sex. As we have seen, at various times the Church has accepted polygamy, while at others it has declared monogamy essential; it has permitted divorce for many reasons and has also prohibited divorce completely; it has accepted trial marriage and has also insisted on complete premarital inexperience. It has held that priests may marry and that they may not. It has held that if a priest's wife dies, he may not marry again, and also that he may. It has held that it is better for a priest to fornicate than to marry, and also the reverse.

One may thus wonder what patrists have in mind when they appeal— as The Times did, for instance, just after the Coronation of Elizabeth II— for a return to Christian morality. Perhaps it is easier divorce ? For in England today, fewer causes are admitted for divorce than was the case in the tenth century. What they really mean by this phrase, one suspects, is the morality of about one generation earlier than their own— in this case that of late Victorian England. Certainly no one would be more taken aback than those who make such an appeal if they really found themselves subject to the mediaeval code, with its fasts and flagellations, or to Puritanism, with its ban on Sunday walking and its seventeen compulsory weekly sermons.

We have seen how patrism gives rise to violence and neurosis. But the extreme patrist is not interested in the social and psychological costs of his attitude: since he maintains that sex is a sin— and one which evokes penalties after death so severe that earthly misery does not matter— he draws the conclusion that all attempts to minimize and suppress it are justified. It is therefore an interesting point that even this argument for repression can be controverted. For today it is clear to anyone who studies the subject that sexual energy cannot be reduced or annihilated; if denied outlet in one form, it soon finds it in another. Moreover, in these substitute forms it is more insistent and obsessive in character than when normally expressed. This was the problem which the fifteenths and sixteenth century popes began to apprehend, when they found sex emerging in convulsions and dreams of incubi, and which they then tried to stop by the threat of burning, declaring that it was a sin to remember a lascivious dream. Thus, even if we accept the Christian assumption that sex is inherently wicked, so that the most moral age is that which reduces its expression to a minimum, it still remains true that restrictive periods are more immoral, because more sex-ridden, than permissive ones.

The only mechanism by which crude sexual activity can be reduced is sublimation, which converts libido into creative activity. The periods in which sublimation of libido seems to occur most readily are those in which there is a satisfactory balance between father and mother Projections: hence even the most orthodox would be justified in regarding them as more moral than fully patrist periods, not less so. In contrast, extremely repressive standards tend to make sex into an obsession. The supposedly greater morality of patrist periods is an illusion created by turning a blind eye to the wealth of perversion and neurosis which distinguished them.

In thus indicting patrism, it is perhaps as well to stress that matrism also has defects, though not, I think, as serious ones. Since matrists turn their aggression inward, they harm only themselves. Socially, matrist societies seem to lack the driving energy and discipline which make for discovery and achievement: they tend to a happy-go-lucky philosophy of enjoying the present. Like the Trobrianders, they may be happy in the sun, but they are unlikely to excel in research. The alternative to patrism, therefore, is not matrism, but a judicious balance between the two extremes.

But the problem is not simply one of maintaining a balance between too much repression and too little: it is much more a problem of how, with whom and in what spirit. If we believe (as many people now do, including some modern religious philosophers, such as Martin Buber) that the social task of man is to create sincere and rewarding personal relationships between individuals, then it would seen} to follow that sexual relations are good in proportion as they support and contribute to such relationships. By this standard we must regard a marriage which has deteriorated to the point where the two partners hate each other as a bad thing, and a fruitful relationship, involving sexual relations, as a good thing, irrespective of whether it has been blessed by marriage or not. This is not to say that we should abolish the institution of marriage: quite to the contrary, there are overwhelming arguments for encouraging a public declaration of intention to attempt this difficult but worthwhile venture, and for protecting both partners by putting it on a legal footing. But it does imply that we should cease to regard marriage as an indissoluble ceremony, magically sanctioning and decontaminating sexual congress; and that dissolution of the marriage should be permitted whenever the relationship has deteriorated beyond repair. To say that sexual congress between persons who are married to each other is "moral" and between all other persons is "immoral" — regardless of all other circumstances — is delightfully simple. Unfortunately, life is not simple, and it is a sign of immaturity to oversimplify it; the time has come to attempt a more adult standard. Christian morality was placed by the Church on a quantitative basis: the less sex the better. The task of today is not, as some appear to think, to substitute a policy of "the more sex the better" but to change over from a quantitative standard to a qualitative one.

At the same time, the problem is something much vaster than that of finding convenient social forms for the satisfaction of a natural appetite, and it would be an error to imagine that sexual matters could be ordered with no more difficulty than culinary ones. Eros is a tremendous positive force, deriving from the deepest layers of the unconscious, and the problem, in the last analysis, is how to come to terms with it. Bottle it up, and there will be a catastrophic explosion. Free it, and it will dissipate itself uselessly or harmfully. The task is to transmute it to a constructive form, for only when it is transmuted into forms of social and artistic value can civilization survive. But even this metaphor breaks down, for the force is part of ourselves, and the test of success is not simply the creative works it produces, but also the satisfaction we derive in producing them. The problem of sexual control is the problem of what we do with our creative powers. The society which provides adequate outlets will have few sexual problems.

Today, men, having long pretended that the unconscious forces did not exist, are hesitantly admitting their existence: they have not yet reached the point where they can accept them and adjust their social institutions to permit them effective expression If today, in a permissive age, we still have countless problems of sexual adjustment, it is partly because society offers far too few outlets for the creative and manipulative drives in man, for fantasy, for the free flow of soul into movement and feeling. People grope for opportunities to satisfy their deepest needs through institutions with which they are familiar, under such names as sport and entertainment, but because their Psychological functions are not recognized and understood, these institutions are perverted and emasculated. For a considerable part of the population life remains subtly frustrating.

The danger of such a situation is that there are always persons who are ready to exploit these resentments and to tap the dark unconscious forces of Thanatos in order to make others the servants of their own irrational needs.

Before the Christian era, there existed two royal roads into the unconscious: religion (meaning group experience) and sex, and these two were commonly combined. With the establishment of the Christian Church, the road of sex was closed to traffic, and the road of religion was heavily policed. The Protestant Church, without opening the road of sex, gradually denatured the religious ceremonies until they offered little appeal to the unconscious. Today, the position has been substantially reversed: many people have abandoned the pursuit of religious experience, so that sex remains for them the only route to the unconscious. It is this which gives sex its disproportionate importance in our films, books and newspapers, and as a subject of gossip; this is why the perverted and anti-social manifestations today emerge as sexual crimes rather than in forms sanctioned by religion, such as flagellation. Always coupled with Eros we find Thanatos, for the penalty of failure to love and create is the irresistible need to hate and destroy.

Today, it is true, there is a new factor in the situation: we have a more thorough understanding than ever before of the nature and origin of the irrational forces which lie behind our convictions and a wider knowledge of the variety of forms which sexual mores can take. Perhaps for the first time in history, it becomes possible to see our own moral code in a comparatively detached manner, and the possibility of devising a rational ethic dawns.

The same knowledge also discloses, unfortunately, how very difficult the task of introducing a more rational ethic must always be. There are some who accept the present confused heritage merely because they have never thought about it: to change their attitude it is only necessary to focus their attention on the facts. But if we take a longer view we see that tolerant and rational codes are only maintained by tolerant and rational human beings: and history shows us how easily intolerant individuals can be produced, and how easily they can arouse the buried resentments and desires which lie beneath the surface of even the most urbane personality. Hence to propose the task of introducing a more rational, less biased sexual code implies the task of decreasing the number of intolerant and obsessive individuals in society. The problem therefore becomes one of social therapy in its broadest sense.

Psychiatry has taught us that the source of sexual guilt and intolerance is the experiences of earliest childhood. It is not so much that we inherit from the past institutional forms and obstinate beliefs— for, as we have just noted, both matrist and patrist conceptions have at times been accommodated within Christian institutional forms and expressed in terms of Christian beliefs. It is rather that we transmit to our children systems of irrational anxieties which, however much they change, always prevent them from approaching their problems with sufficient detachment. It is primarily in this sense that we are, as Ibanez once said, ruled by the dead.

Unfortunately, the prospects of such a rational treatment of the problem are far from rosy. Today we have to think on a world scale, and taking the world as a whole, one notes many signs that the application of reason to the problems of human happiness is being abandoned in favour of a frenzied projection of aggressive feelings against others, under the sanction of a myth. Humanism is giving way to fanaticism, under the pressure of irrational fears, just as it did in the days of the Greeks. And, just as was the case two thousand years ago, the fanatics have adapted for their purpose the doctrines of an obscure teacher, creating out of them a powerful myth, with which to defeat the myths of their rivals. Five centuries ago people were encouraged to blame all their misfortunes on witches, and to discharge their hatreds in putting them to death. Today our heresies are political, and— as in the case of the Cathars— fanatics are prepared to put whole populations to the sword rather than permit them to exist. Thus it is true in a very profound sense that the Catholic Church and the Kremlin are natural opponents. Each is battling to secure control of the human unconscious with rival myths, or organized systems of beliefs. The depth of their enmity is a measure of the similarity of their aims.

We, born amid the wreckage of the old myth, regard the new with precisely the same feelings of horror which animated the Romans when they saw the growing popularity of the Christian myth. The Romans were not accustomed to persecute people for their religious beliefs, but they made an exception and persecuted the Christians because they were horrified by the Christians' intolerance and fanaticism, their readiness to justify the most appalling means by the end to be attained, and because they felt that they presented a threat to the whole established order. Marcus Aurelius, that great Pattern of morality, sought to crush Christianity as "without question immoral".(76) As Dill says:

"Christianity was from the Roman viewpoint a renunciation not only of citizenship but of all the hard-won fruits of civilization and social life."

We in the West may also contemplate the oncoming of a millennium of barbarism under the new myth with the same despair and horror, for the Christian Church is patently as incapable of revising its own dogmas in the light of new knowledge and new needs as were the Roman authorities The inertia of tradition is too great. Nor should we benefit if we could exchange the tyrannies of modern dialectical materialism for those of mediaeval ecclesiasticism. Unfortunately, the constructive solution of restoring a charitic religion, based not on dogma but on experience, and the redesigning of the culture in harmony with such a religion, seems even further beyond our powers. We seem unable to escape from the tyranny of our obsessive demands, to serve which we have created a mode of life wherein the direct satisfaction of instinctual needs has become increasingly difficult. Like a river flowing through an alluvial plain, we continue to follow the course which, aeons ago, the water once carved out— only, with the passage of the years, the original inequalities of the channel become exaggerated, the course more and more elaborately curved, the rate of movement slower and slower. The river does not change: it only becomes more and more characteristically itself. In the same way, we in the West seem incapable of finding new modes for the expression of our fundamental needs to love and hate, to build and destroy; we can only express them in a manner which is ever more characteristic of what we have always done. We are ruled by the dead.