THE two foregoing chapters have given us the broad picture of medieval sexuality, the ideal and the reality. We have observed two strongly contrasted attitudes to sexual matters — one inhibited, ascetic and sex denying, the other spontaneous, indulgent and permissive. We have seen how the advocates of asceticism attempted to impose their notions on a people who had previously had few sexual inhibitions. In the ensuing chapters we shall see that the further history of sexual standards is determined by a continuous conflict between these two attitudes. So, although there is still much to add before even this roughly sketched picture of medieval sexuality can be completed, it is worth pausing for a while to analyse the psychological origins of these attitudes.
The customary explanation of this remarkable revolution in sexual codes is to the effect that persons with high moral standards, derived from Christianity, imposed these standards upon a barbarous people. But, as we have seen, the standards which they proclaimed were not in fact part of early Christian teaching, but were introduced into it some hundreds of years after the death of Christ; and the ecclesiastics who devised these codes were, for the most part, not dispassionate philosophers but rather haggard neurotics tormented by a quite obsessive horror of sex. Nor were the standards they imposed always as admirable ethically as their followers represented.
Today, we know a good deal about the extreme puritanical attitude and the psychological mechanisms which create it, and can recognize it as an unhealthy distortion of personality. Psychologists have made it clear how feelings of guilt, often quite irrational in origin, tend to take on an all pervasive and excessive character once they are repressed from conscious awareness; and how persons obsessed with unconscious guilt seek to relieve it by compulsive actions or by self punishment; and how they intolerantly seek to punish in others what they most fear in themselves. We know how such persons generalize their fear of sexual pleasure until it becomes a jealousy of all forms of pleasure and enjoyment, and are familiar with their readiness to censure and punish. We have already seen, in discussing the medieval sexual ideal, how this pervading fear of pleasure formed the basis of medieval morality .
But it has also been noticed that the "killjoy" is especially perturbed by those forms of enjoyment which call for a spontaneous release of impulse, with a minimum of conscious control, such as music, sport and, above all, dancing. It is as if he could not take the risk of lifting his conscious control of his instinctive impulses even for a moment, in case the dammed up impulses burst out so strongly that he could no longer control them. Teetotal tracts harp continually upon the theme that a single drink may — almost certainly will — lead to complete ruin. It is this fear which drives the puritan to see danger in the most innocent of situations, and to introduce the most extraordinary precautions — for instance, to segregate the sexes even in church.
Were it not for this, it would be difficult to explain the extraordinary persistence with which reformers condemn the age-old activity of dancing. Very recently, the Convocation of the Church of Scotland issued a statement condemning dancing; in doing so they merely echoed the repeated condemnations of the medieval Church. Thus Burchard of Worms, in the eleventh century, instructed all priests, when hearing confession, to ask:
"Have you danced and hopped as the Devil taught the pagans to do?"
And it seems to be by some extension of this fear of spontaneity that the reformer opposes music and all other arts.
Anthropologists have recently made a distinction between "shame cultures" and "guilt cultures". By shame cultures they mean societies where the main pressure for conformity to social rules is fear of public scorn: the Japanese, for instance, feel deeply about "loss of face" and, as is well known, will often commit ceremonial suicide rather than face public criticism for having behaved in an improper manner. In our own society, on the other hand, people frequently act for reasons of conscience — even when it means flying in the face of majority opinion, as in the case of conscientious objectors. And, although few people are quite immune from a dislike of public scorn, yet, at a pinch, many will brave it in order to carry out some plan which is dear to them. It looks as if the process by which the individual adopts principles of behaviour and makes them his own — and so forms a conscience as we know it — is by no means universal.
On this basis, then, we must observe that the pre-Christian Celts constituted a shame culture. Fear of loss of public approval was of great importance: approval was, as it happened, granted chiefly for bravery and physical valour: a girl would not accept as a lover, still less marry, a man who was not a warrior with great feats to his credit —conversely, the outstanding warriors were besieged by women and could take their pick. (This was a crude standard, of course; it does not mean that the standards of shame cultures are necessarily crude, as the examples of China and Japan serve to show.) In such societies, while there may be much sense of humiliation among those who fail to shine in the approved sphere, there cannot be guilt. In contrast, the Christian reformers were outstandingly dominated by guilt; they cared nothing for the opinion of others which they constantly defied, but were tortured by the pangs of their own conscience. They attempted, and to some extent they managed, to impose a guilt to culture upon the whole Society, even though they occasionally made use of public humiliation as an additional means of securing their ends.
But the existence of irrational guilt does not, by itself, provide us with a sufficiently comprehensive explanation of the changes in sexual attitudes which we are about to see. For instance, it does not sufficiently explain the authoritarian character of puritans, nor the low status which they assign to women. Here psychoanalytical theory can help us, for Psychoanalysts have shown how children form their ideals of behaviour, in the first instance, by modelling themselves on their parents; and how these ideals are appreciably different, according as they imitate the father or the mother, or both. Since we tend to adopt the standards of those we love, and reject those of people we hate, the course of the child's development depends very much on the nature and direction of the love, relationships which he or she develops towards the parents. These may depend upon how the parents themselves behave, but they can also be affected by external factors, such as the prolonged absence of a parent because of illness or military service.
In copying parents, it must be remembered, children do not see them as they really are. The father is likely to appear wiser, more powerful, more authoritarian, than he would seem to adults, while the mother, however ineffective she may really be, is likely to seem supportive, a source of love and help and sustenance.
Thus there are broadly two extremes between which personality is liable to vary. The male child who models himself on his father, to the exclusion of his mother, is likely to develop a system of values, and a pattern of behaviour, marked by the masculine virtues; the child who models himself on his mother is likely to be quite different in type. We recognize this rather simple fact when we speak of a child as being "a mother's boy", and psychoanalysis claims no credit for the discovery. What it has done, however, is to work out the consequences of these two alternatives in much more detail than has been done before.
Independently of psychoanalysis, students of personality had noted that certain attitudes tend to be found in association with one another. For instance, those men who accorded women a low status, seemed to favour authoritarian methods of handling political and organisational problems, and to set a high value on female chastity, but a low value on creature comforts. They also tended to be conservative or traditional in their approach to practical problems. In contrast, there is another type of Personality which takes just the contrary view. This type of person is progressive and ready to try new experiments, expects people to settle their problems by mutual discussion, or at any rate persuasion, and accords women a high status. In his approach to sexual matters this type of person is much more permissive than the authoritarian and is lenient to sexual irregularities; for him the important issues are not those of morality but of ensuring physical welfare and providing support for those in need. It was but a short step to link this up with the theory of parental identifications, and to say that the authoritarian, with the restrictive attitude to sex, was a man who had identified himself too exclusively with his father, while the progressive, with the permissive attitude to sex, was a person who had identified himself with his mother.
It will be my thesis in this book, that the various changes and contrasts in European sexual behaviour can be systematically accounted for in terms of these two identifications — that at certain periods there was a predominating tendency for male children to model themselves on their fathers, and so to produce an authoritarian and restrictive attitude in society as a whole, while at others there was a tendency to model on the mother, producing a very different attitude. (With the identifications of the female child I shall not deal, to avoid complicating the issue unduly.) But I shall also assume that here are two other possibilities: first, that the prevailing mode is at some periods to accept both parents as models and to produce a more balanced type of personality, in which spontaneous productiveness is subject to a moderate degree of discipline, and sexual behaviour is subject to modified control Second, that there may be a total rejection of both parents; since the adoption of parental standards is the first step in the formation of conscience, this leads to failure to form a satisfactory conscience, and completely ruthless and self-centred behaviour.
Though I am no great lover of jargon, it would be tedious to refer continually to persons who have modelled themselves on their fathers. I shall therefore speak of them as patrists, while those who have modelled themselves on a mother figure I shall call matrists. (225)
If the theory here put forward is correct, not only will attitudes to sexual matters change, as society changes from patrism to matrism, or vice versa, but attitudes to many other things will change at the same time.
The data already presented certainly fit quite appropriately into the two categories here proposed. Those who made the Medieval moral system show all the signs of father identification. They had a restrictive attitude to sex, depressed the status of women and attempted to impose their views by force. In contrast, the pre-Christian Celts were permissive about sex and accorded a high status to women; they did not, however, attempt to impose these views on those who differed from them. Significantly enough, the first group worshipped a father deity (and also called their spiritual superior "father") while the second worshipped a mother deity, variously known as Anu or Brigit. They had no spiritual superiors, for the existence of a hierarchal system of control is typical of patrism, but it is noticeable that Anu was served by priestesses, not by priests. It seems reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the Christian moralists were dominated by father identification, while the pre-Christian Celts provide an example of mother identification.
These two identifications represent, of course, two alternative solutions to the Oedipus conflict. The child may cleave to its mother and hate its father as an interloper — this is the situation which gives rise to mother identification — or it may cleave to its father, in which case it will hate its mother as a betrayer. This, of course, is the basis of father identification. This is why the father identifier betrays a characteristic resentment of women, and tends to see in them the source of sexual sin. We can see the process at work quite openly in some of the Christian zealots, notably the great eleventh century Christian writer and preacher, Peter Damiani. He was totally obsessed by the perfidy and unfaithfulness of women, and devoted his life to compelling as many as possible of them to be virgins. For example, he strongly pressed the Pope to degrade any priests who were living with their wives, and proposed that the offending women should be seized by the Church and forcibly immured in nunneries. He asserted as a cardinal principle that
"Since Christ was born of a Virgin, He could only be served by Virgins."
He was especially concerned about whores, and spent the whole of his life attempting to stamp out prostitution and in forcibly reforming individual whores by his personal efforts. (Custance did likewise.)
All this becomes understandable when we learn that he was himself the son of a whore. The initial shock of the Oedipal "betrayal" was reinforced by numerous other betrayals and confirmed his infantile resentments so effectively that the later rational discovery that his own circumstances were actually exceptional could no longer modify the attitude already set up.
These are the processes which, in a less obvious form, lead the father identifier to restrict the freedom of women and to set a high value on female chastity. In contrast, the matrist assigns a high status to women. To this can be attributed the second consequence: matrists tend to attach importance to the function of supplying food and shelter, to the succour and help of others — for this is precisely the function which the woman performs with regard to the infant — and he tends to regard interference with this function as a crime. It is therefore significant that today, in an age which (as I shall show later in more detail) has moved far in the direction of matrism, we find a great pre-occupation with schemes of social welfare and insurance, and especially with the assuring of an adequate supply of food, combined with a considerable toleration for crimes of unchastity, provided they are not accompanied by violence, but are performed by mutual consent.
Per contra, the role of the father in the family is to act as the final authority: the matrist, who has directed his resentments at the father, denies this authority. We should expect him to be opposed to tyranny, perhaps even a revolutionary, and as we shall later see, this is often the case. Furthermore, the patrist tends to be conservative — that is, he wishes to leave things as his father had arranged them, for to alter them would be a challenge to his authority. Conversely, the matrist, who wishes to overturn the father's authority, we should expect to be an innovator or a progressive. These differences were amusingly demonstrated at the time when the National Gallery cleaned a number of pictures by Old Masters. In the controversy which followed, persons known to hold progressive views were uniformly in favour of the cleaning; those who opposed the cleaning seemed to be persons whose position in life suggested an authoritarian or conservative attitude. One of them, after producing a number of unconvincing reasons for not cleaning the pictures finally admitted that he did not think
"we should touch anything which our forefathers had done, even if it were to improve it".
This attitude, as can readily be understood, might well contribute to another characteristic of patrists — a dislike of research and enquiry. To them, enquiry is a thing which may well uncover what would much better be kept dark. Freud suggested that the roots of the desire for knowledge consist in a desire for sexual knowledge, and in particular a desire to confirm the Oedipal suspicion; so it is not difficult understand why the patrist — generalising his unconscious determined attitudes in the customary way — should regret the pursuit of knowledge with suspicion. Here again, whether one accepts the Freudian explanation or not, the facts of Christian history demonstrate with what ferocity the medieval Church opposed scientific enquiry. Roger Bacon, though a friar, was imprisoned for many years as a result of his impious enquiries. Cecco d'Ascoli, who suggested that the earth was round and cast the horoscope of Jesus Christ, was burned alive. Peter d'Abano only escaped a like fate by dying in prison. As early as the fourth century Eusebius had attacked scientific enquiry, expressing his contempt for this "useless labour"; by the eighth century, when Vergil of Salzburg revived the idea that on the other side of the earth might be found the Antipodes, Boniface condemned it as "iniquitous and perverse". By the fourteenth century, things had reached the point at which the Church induced the rulers of France, Spain and other territories to forbid all physical experimentation. (247)
Finally, I must come to a topic which will recur throughout the book, and from which we can derive some very significant clues: this is the regular variation in public attitudes towards incest and homosexuality. We shall find that in matrist periods, incest is a common pre-occupation and seems invested with a peculiar horror; while in patrist periods homosexuality seems to dominate men's thoughts and appears to them as the unspeakable sin.
Whenever an act is invested with supernatural horror, we can diagnose the presence of unconscious processes. This is not the place to enter into a complete examination of the psychological processes underlying these attitudes, but it seems essential to make two points.
The reason why patrists should be preoccupied with homosexuality and matrists with incest, is to be found in the Oedipus situation. As already noted, the small child deals with the Oedipus situation in one of two ways. In order to retain exclusive rights to his mother's love and to eliminate the paternal rival, the child may identify himself with the father, at the cost of suppressing his love for him. This is the patrist solution, with heterosexual love preserved and homosexual love suppressed. The alternative solution is to identify with the mother and take her place, retaining the father's love. This produces, if not outgrown, the state known as inversion, or homosexuality as the word is popularly used. The individual concerned thinks of himself as a woman, and devotes all his erotic feeling to men.
But it is obviously much easier for a boy to identify with his father, since he is in fact a male, than it is for him to identify with his mother. We therefore get a third possibility: the individual who has retained his love for his mother without identifying with his father.
Now, just as the boy's love for his father is in the strict sense homosexual, so his love for his mother is in the strict sense incestuous. And just as, if he suppresses the first, homosexuality becomes a preoccupation, so, if he suppresses the second, incest becomes his preoccupation, and seems to him the most awful of sins. Here we have the case of the matrist, the person who, while remaining sexually normal, models himself upon his mother rather than his father, tends to see his relationship with a woman as a mother son relation, and feels incest to be the unforgivable sin.
In short, homosexuality is present as a component in the personality of everyone. The practical problem is how this component is to be handled. The father identifier is a man who attempts to deny this homosexual component: he forces it down into the unconscious, where it festers. Because he denies this aspect of his personality, homosexuality alway seems to him a serious temptation. He suspects the presence of homosexuality in others because he is aware of it in himself. He cannot allow himself any expression, however pure, of love for a member of the same sex, for fear that, once admitted, it might get out of control, in just the same way that the puritan feels that a single drink is liable to lead to dipsomania. For just the same reason, he regards close masculine friendships as unhealthy because he feels there is a constant danger of their becoming tinged with overt homosexuality. But since people always work unconsciously to create situations in which they can indulge their unconscious desires, the father identifier is generally to be found in schools, barracks, prisons and other places where, owing to the absence of women, the temptation to express a homosexual love is strong.
So far, the evidence seems to support these conclusions, far fetched as they may seem to anyone who comes across this line of reasoning — familiar enough in psychoanalysis — for the first time. We have noted how the penitential books devoted quite disproportionate amount of their space to the subject of homosexuality: the penalties for incest were severe, but the space devoted was much less. We also noted that priests, being deprived of normal outlets for their sexual impulses, we sometimes driven back on homosexuality.
A further consequence of this conflict seems to be a tendency to exaggerate the difference between the sexes, whereas in matrist periods, the difference seems to be minimized: this appears most clearly in clothing, the use of cosmetics, and such matters. In patrist periods, men dress in a style quite different from that adopted by women; while in matrist periods it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart. It is as if the patrist was so determined not to be taken for a woman that he exaggerates all his masculine attributes and minimizes all his feminine ones. Furthermore, he forces his womenfolk into an exaggerated femininity, magnifying their relative weakness into complete helplessness their emotionality into hysteria and their sensitivity into a delicacy which must be protected from all contact with the world. We can see this contrast at work in the Middle Ages, but it emerges still more clearly in the Victorian era. It was, for instance, John Hunter, the surgeon, a man of great good sense, who nevertheless said that insanity was so horrible that not only should all lunatics be shut up where they could not be seen, but that "the sex" — meaning, of course, women, for to whom else was sexuality to be attributed? — the sex should be kept from all knowledge of its existence. (118)
To sum up, then, we may expect to find as limiting cases two distinct alternative systems of attitudes, the main features of which can be expressed in tabular form as follows:
|1||Restrictive attitude to sex||Permissive attitude to sex|
|2||Limitation of freedom for women||Freedom for women|
|3||Women seen as inferior, sinful||Women accorded high status|
|4||Chastity more valued than welfare||Welfare more valued than chastity.|
|5||Politically authoritarian||Politically Democratic|
|6||Conservative: against innovation||Progressive: revolutionary|
|7||Distrust of research, enquiry||No distrust of research|
|8||Inhibition, fear of spontaneity||Spontaneity: exhibition|
|9||Deep fear of homosexuality||Deep fear of incest|
|10||Sex differences maximised(dress)||Sex differences minimised|
|11||Asceticism, fear of pleasure||Hedonism, pleasure welcomed|
To these twelve points, others of a more derivative character could be added, such as a tendency for patrists to favour plain and sombre clothing, and for matrists to prefer rich, colourful and extravagant clothes, but these explain themselves.
It must be stressed that these two patterns are extremes: when society is changing from patrism to matrism, or vice versa, there will be an intervening period in which the patterns will become confused. Moreover, there may be some happy periods in which people succeed in introjecting both parental figures in harmonious balance — but, owing to the pressure of the Oedipal conflict, there is a natural tendency to fall off the fence on one side or the other. Again, in individual cases, much will depend upon the parent's own psychological history. The child who models himself on a father who has himself identified with his father will obviously turn out differently from one whose father had introjected a mother figure. But we are not concerned with particular cases, only with general trends.
The hypothesis of contrasting patristic and matristic patterns is in no way original: Professor Flugel published a rather similar list in his book Man, Morals and Society, in 1945. I have adopted it as a useful device for introducing order into a historical survey which, when treated by more casual methods, seems to produce a very confusing impression; and also because it will help me to show that attitudes to sex are not random products, but are closely integrated with attitudes to political and religious matters, and indeed with the culture as a whole. If this is true, it follows that we are not free to change our sexual laws and customs except in proportion as we are willing to change the character of our whole society. The converse is also true: we cannot change society without changing sexual attitudes — but, since it is the sexual attitudes which are fundamental, it would be truer to say, that we cannot change our society unless we have already started to change our personalities. If these propositions are correct, the implications for practical politics and personal happiness are enormous, and the justification of the basic hypothesis has much more than a professional or academic interest.
The suggestion that social ideals are influenced by parental introjections is not an explanation, it is only a convenient method of analysis. To provide an explanation we should have to ascertain why, in some periods, one figure was introjected more often than another. One obvious reason comes to mind: if one parent is absent, and no substitute is available, there is little chance of introjecting his or her image. Situations in which fathers are absent for long periods are not uncommon, and either parent may die. But no doubt there are other reasons, and one day historians will have to explore the differences in the nursing and upbringing of children at different periods to throw light on them, thus supplementing the enquiries of the psychologists and anthropologists in contemporary societies.
Nor need we accept the Freudian analysis which has been offered, if we do not wish. If enquiry shows that social ideals do tend to fall into two contrasting patterns, in the way described, then useful inferences can be drawn, and the understanding of history simplified, even if the underlying mechanisms should one day prove to be quite other than is now supposed.
If, then, we apply the hypothesis to the material thus far presented, we seem entitled to conclude that the impact of Christianity on Celtic and Saxon society represents the impact of a father-identifying, guilt ridden group upon a mother-identifying, guilt free group; the patrists had the energy to build up an organization designed to help them in imposing their standards upon the matrists, but they by no means succeeded in turning all the matrists into patrists, so that a great part of the population continued, as far as they could, to indulge their sexual appetites, and even to conduct research, produce works of art, respect women and so forth. The patrist has one great advantage over the matrist: the stored-up energy which results from his sexual inhibition seeks another outlet. It creates in him a restlessness, and if he is a man of ability, it helps him to impose his views on others. The patrist is always a proselytizer for his own views. The matrist, on the other hand, believes in "live and let live". A comparatively small number of patrists can therefore markedly influence the character of a whole society, in a way which is impossible for matrist.
In course of time, the persistent pressure and propaganda of the Christian reformers began to affect the whole character of society; probably it was the tabooing of masturbation which increased the number of guilt ridden personalities in society and produced that atmosphere of despair which marked the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. But before this took place matrism burst out in a new form and challenged the whole medieval Christian conception. In the next two chapters I shall attempt to show the nature of this matrist outburst and the diabolic measures which the Church took to cope with it.