Edward Carpenter.

Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

. (page 14 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 14 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

its early and pathetic clinging to the tradition of the Eden-
garden, its careless and vigorous boyhood, its meditative
youth, with consciousness of sin and endless expiatory
ritual in Nature's bosom, its fleeting visions of salvation, and
finally its complete disillusionment and despair in the world-
slaughter and unbelief of the twentieth century!

Leaving Wordsworth, however, and coming back to our


main line of thought, we may point out that while early
peoples were intellectually mere babies — with their endless
yarns about heroes on horseback leaping over wide rivers
or clouds of monks flying for hundreds of miles through the
air, and their utter failure to understand the general con-
catenations of cause and effect — yet practically and in their
instinct of life and destiny they were, as I have already
said, by no means fools; certainly not such fools as many
of the arm-chair students of these things delight to represent
them. For just as, a few years ago, we modern civilizees,
studying outlying nations, the Chinese for instance, rejoiced
(in our vanity) to pick out every quaint peculiarity and ab-
surdity and monstrosity of a supposed topsyturvydom, and
failed entirely to see the real picture of a great and eminently
sensible people; so in the case of primitive men we
have been, and even still are, far too prone to catalogue
their cruelties and obscenities and idiotic superstitions,
and to miss the sane and balanced setting of their actual

Mr. R. R. Marett, who has a good practical acquaintance
with his subject, had in the Hibbert Journal for October 19 18
an article on "The Primitive Medicine Man" in which he
shows that the latter is as a rule anything but a fool and
a knave — although like 'medicals' in all ages he hocuspo-
cuses his patients occasionally! He instances the medicine-
man's excellent management, in most cases, of childbirth,
or of wounds and fractures, or his primeval skill in trepanning
or trephining — all of which operations, he admits, may
be accompanied with grotesque and superstitious cere-
monies, yet show real perception and ability. We all
know — though I think the article does not mention the mat-
ter — what a considerable list there is of drugs and herbs which
the modern art of healing owes to the ancient medicine-man,
and it may be again mentioned that one of the most up-to-
date treatments — the use of a prolonged and exclusive diet of
milk as a means of giving the organism a new start in severe


cases — ^has really come down to us through the ages from
this early source.^ The real medicine-man, Mr. Marett
says, is largely a 'faith-healer' and 'soul-doctor'; he believes
in his vocation, and undergoes much for the sake of
it: "The main point is to grasp that by his special
initiation and the rigid taboos which he practises — not
to speak of occasional remarkable gifts, say of trance and
ecstasy, which he may inherit by nature and have improved
by art — ^he has access to a wonder-working power. . . .
And the great need of primitive folk is for this healer of
souls." Our author further insists on the enormous play
and influence of Fear in the savage mind — a point we have
touched on already — and gives instances of Thanatomania,
or cases where, after a quite slight and superficial wound,
the patient becomes so depressed that he, quite needlessly,
persists in dying! Such cases, obviously, can only be coun-
tered by Faith, or something (whatever it may be) which
restores courage, hope and energy to the mind. Nor need
I point out that the situation is exactly the same among
a vast number of 'patients' to-day. As to the value, in
his degree, of the medicine-man many modern observers and
students quite agree with the above.- Also as the present
chapter is on Ritual Dancing it may not be out of place
to call attention to the supposed healing of sick people in
Ceylon and other places by Devil-dancing — the enormous
output of energy and noise in the ritual possibly having the
effect of reanimating the patient (if it does not kill
him), or of expelling the disease from his organism.

With regard to the practical intelligence of primitive
peoples, derived from their close contact with life and

1 Milk ("fast-milk" or vrata) was, says Mr. Hewitt, the only diet
in the Soma-sacrifice. See Ruling Races of Prehistoric Times (pre-
face). The Soma itself was a fermented drink prepared with ceremony
from the milky and semen-like sap of certain plants, and much used
in sacrificial offerings. (See Monier-Williams. Sanskrit Dictionary.)

2 See Winwood Reade {Savage Africa), Salamon Reinach {Cults,
Myths and Religions), and others.


nature, Bishop Colenso's experiences among the Zulus may
appropriately be remembered. When expounding the Bible
to these supposedly backward 'niggers' he was met at all
points by practical interrogations and arguments which he
was perfectly unable to answer — especially over the recorded
passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites in a single night.
From the statistics given in the Sacred Book these naughty
savages proved to him absolutely conclusively that the num-
bers of fugitives were such that even supposing them
to have marched — men, women and children — five abreast
and in close order, they would have formed a column loo
miles long, and this not including the baggage, sheep
and cattle! Of course the feat was absolutely impossible.
They could not have passed the Red Sea in a night or a
week of nights.

But the sequel is still more amusing and instructive.
Colenso, in his innocent sincerity, took the side of the Zulus,
and feeling sure the Church at home would be quite glad to
have its views with regard to the accuracy of Bible statistics
corrected, wrote a book embodying the amendments needed.
Modest as his criticisms were, they raised a storm of protest
and angry denunciation, which even led to his deposition
for the time being from his bishopric! While at the same
time an avalanche of books to oppose his heresy poured
forth from the press. Lately I had the curiosity to look
through the British Museum catalogue and found that
in refutation of Colenso's Pentateuch Examined some 140
(a hundred and forty) volumes were at that time published!
To-day, I need hardly say, all these arm-chair critics and
their works have sunk into utter obscurity, but the argu-
ments of the Zulus and their Bishop still stand uimioved
and immovable.

This is a case of searching intelligence shown by 'savages,'
an intelligence founded on intimate knowledge of the needs
of actual life. I think we may say that a similarly instinctive
intelligence (sub-conscious if you like) has guided the tribes


of men on the whole in their long passage through the Red
Sea of the centuries, from those first days of which I
speak even down to the present age, and has in some strange,
even if fitful, way kept them along the path of
that final emancipation towards which Humanity is inevitably



In the course of the last few chapters I have spoken more
than once of the solidarity and continuity of Christianity,
in its essential doctrines, with the Pagan rites. There is,
however, one notable exception to this statement. I refer
of course to Christianity's treatment of Sex. It is
certainly very remarkable that while the Pagan cults gen-
erally made a great deal of all sorts of sex-rites, laid
much stress upon them, and introduced them in what
we consider an unblushing and shameless way into the
instincts connected with it. I say 'the Christian Church,'
on the whole took quite the opposite line — ignored sex,
contemned it, and did much despite to the perfectly natural
instincts connected with it. I say 'the Christian Church,'
because there is nothing to show that Jesus himself (if we
admit his figure as historical) adopted any such extreme
or doctrinaire attitude; and the quite early Christian teachers
(with the chief exception of Paul) do not exhibit this bias
to any great degree. In fact, as is well known, strong
currents of pagan usage and belief ran through the Christian
assemblies of the first three or four centuries. "The Chris-
tian art of this period remained delightfully pagan. In the
catacombs we see the Saviour as a beardless youth, like a
young Greek god; sometimes represented, like Hermes the
guardian of the flocks, bearing a ram or lamb round



his neck; sometimes as Orpheus tuning his lute among
the wild animals."^ The followers of Jesus were at times
even accused — whether rightly or wrongly I know not —
of celebrating sexual mysteries at their love-feasts. But
as the Church through the centuries grew in power and scope
— with its monks and their mutilations and asceticisms, and
its celibate clergy, and its absolute refusal to recognize the
sexual meaning of its own acclaimed symbols (like the
Cross, the three fingers of Benediction, the Fleur de Lys
and so forth) — it more and more consistently defined itself
as anti-sexual in its outlook, and stood out in that way in
marked contrast to the earlier Nature-religions.

It may be said of course that this anti-sexual tendency
can be traced in other of the pre-Christian Churches, es-
pecially the later ones, like the Buddhist, the Egyptian,
and so forth; and this is perfectly true; but it would seem
that in many ways the Christian Church marked the cul-
mination of the tendency; and the fact that other cults par-
ticipated in the taboo makes us all the more ready and anxious
to inquire into its real cause.

To go into a disquisition on the Sex-rites of the various pre-
Christian religions would be 'a large order' — larger than
I could attempt to fill; but the general facts in this con-
nection are fairly patent. We know, of course, from the
Bible that the Syrians in Palestine were given to sexual
worships. There were erect images (phallic) and "groves"
(sexual symbols) on every high hill and under every green
tree;^ and these same images and the rites connected
with them crept into the Jewish Temple and were popular
enough to maintain their footing there for a long period from
King Rehoboam onwards, notwithstanding the efforts of
Josiah^ and other reformers to extirpate them. Moreover
there were girls and men (hierodouloi) regularly attached
during this period to the Jewish Temple as to the heathen

^ Angels' Wings, by E. Carpenter, p. 104.

* I Kings xiv. 22-24. ^ 2 Kings zziii.


Temples, for the rendering of sexual services, which were
recognized in many cases as part of the ritual. Women
were persuaded that it was an honor and a privilege to be
fertilized by a 'holy man' (a priest or other man con-
nected with the rites), and children resulting from such
unions were often called "Children of God" — an appella-
tion which no doubt sometimes led to a legend of miraculous
birth! Girls who took their place as hierodouloi in the
Temple or Temple-precincts were expected to surrender
themselves to men-worshipers in the Temple, much in the
same way, probably, as Herodotus describes in the temple
of the Babylonian Venus Mylitta, where every native
woman, once in her life, was supposed to sit in the
Temple and have intercourse with some stranger.^ Indeed
the Syrian and Jewish rites dated largely from Babylonia.
"The Hebrews entering Syria," says Richard Burton,^
"found it religionized by Assyria and Babylonia, when the
Accadian Ishtar had passed West, and had become Ashtoreth,
Ashtaroth, or Ashirah, the Anaitis of Armenia, the Phoe-
nician Astarte, and the Greek Aphrodite, the great Moon-
goddess who is queen of Heaven and Love." The word
translated "grove" as above, in our Bible, is in fact Asherah,
which connects it pretty clearly with the Babylonian Queen
of Heaven.

In India again, in connection with the Hindu Temples and
their rites, we have exactly the same institution of girls
attached to the Temple service — the Nautch-girls — whose
functions in past times were certainly sexual, and whose
dances in honor of the god are, even down to the
present day, decidedly amatory in character. Then we
have the very numerous Ungatns (conventional representa-
tions of the male organ) to be seen, scores and scores of
them, in the arcades and cloisters of the Hindu Temples —

1 See Herodotus i. 199; also a reference to this custom in the apo-
cryphal Baruch, vi. 42, 43.

2 The Thousand Nights and a Night (1886, edn.), vol. x. p. 229.


to which women of all classes, especially those who wish to
become mothers, resort, anointing them copiously with
oil, and signalizing their respect and devotion to them in
a very practical way. As to the lingam as representing
the male organ, in some form or other — as upright stone
or pillar or obelisk or slender round tower — it occurs all
over the world, notably in Ireland, and forms such a mem-
orial of the adoration paid by early folk to the great emblem
and instrument of human fertility, as cannot be mistaken.
The pillars set up by Solomon in front of his temple were
obviously from their names — Jachin and Boaz^ — meant to
be emblems of this kind; and the fact that they were
crowned with pomegranates — the universally accepted sym-
bol of the female — confirms and clinches this interpre-
tation. The obelisks before the Egyptians' temples were
signs of the same character. The well-known T-shaped
cross was in use in pagan lands long before Christianity, as
a representation of the male member, and also at the same
time of the 'tree' on which the god (Attis or Adonis or Krishna
or whoever it might be) was crucified; and the same
symbol combined with the oval (or yoni) formed the
Crux Ansata o of the old Egyptian ritual — a figure which
is to-day sold in Cairo as a potent charm, and con-
fessedly indicates the conjunction of the two sexes in one
design.^ MacLennan in The Fortnightly Review (Oct. 1869)
quotes with approval the words of Sanchoniathon, as saying
that "men first worship plants, next the heavenly bodies,

1 "He shall establish" and "In it is strength" are in the Bible the
marginal interpretations of these two words.

2 The connection between the production of fire by means of the
fire-drill and the generation of life by sex-intercourse is a very obvious
one, and lends itself to magical ideas. J. E. Hewitt in his Rulihg
Races of Prehistoric Times (1894) says (vol. i, p. 8) that "Magha,
the mother-goddess worshipped in Asia Minor, was originally the
socket-block from which fire was generated by the fire-drill." Hence
we have, he says, the Magi of Persia, and the Maghadas of Indian
Histor>', also the word 'Magic."


supposed to be animals, then 'pillars' (emblems of the
Procreator), and last, the anthropomorphic gods."

It is not necessary to enlarge on this subject. The
facts of the connection of sexual rites with religious ser-
vices nearly everywhere in the early world are, as I say, suffi-
ciently patent to every inquirer. But it is necessary to try
to understand the rationale of this connection. To dis-
patch all such cases under the mere term "religious prosti-
tution" is no explanation. The term suggests, of
course, that the plea of religion was used simply as an
excuse and a cover for sexual familiarities; but though
this kind of explanation commends itself, no doubt, to
the modern man — whose religion is as commercial as his
sex-relationships are — and though in cases no doubt it
was a true explanation — yet it is obvious that among people
who took religion seriously, as a matter of life and death,
and who did not need hypocritical excuses or covers for
sex-relationships, it cannot be accepted as in general the
right explanation. No, the real explanation is — and I
will return to this presently — that sexual relationships are
so deep and intimate a part of human nature that from
the first it has been simply impossible to keep them out
of religion — it being of course the object of religion to bring
the whole human being into some intelligible relation with
the physical, moral, and if you like supernatural order of
the great world around him. Sex was felt from the first
to be part, and a foundational part, of the great order of the
world and of human nature; and therefore to separate
it from Religion was unthinkable and a kind of contradiction
in terms.^

If that is true — it will be asked — how was it that that
divorce did take place — that the taboo did arise? How was
it that the Jews, under the influence of Josiah and the
Hebrew prophets, turned their faces away from sex and

1 For further development of this subject see ch. xv (pp. 244-248)


strenuously opposed the Syrian cults? How was it that
this reaction extended into Christianity and became even
more definite in the Christian Church — that monks went
by thousands into the deserts of the Thebaid, and that
the early Fathers and Christian apologists could not find
terms foul enough to hurl at Woman as the symbol (to them)
of nothing but sex-corruption and delusion? How was it
that this contempt of the body and degradation of sex-
things went on far into the Middle Ages of Europe, and
ultimately created an organized system of hypocrisy, and
concealment and suppression of sex-instincts, which, act-
ing as cover to a vile commercial Prostitution and as a
breeding ground for horrible Disease, has lasted on even
to the edge of the present day?

This is a fair question, and one which demands an answer.
There must have been a reason, and a deep-rooted one, for
this remarkable reaction and volte-face which has char-
acterized Christianity, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, other
both earlier and later cults like those of the Buddhists, the
Egyptians, the Aztecs,^ and so forth.

It may be said — and this is a fair answer on the sur-
face of the problem — that the main reason was something in
the nature of a reaction. The excesses and corruptions of
sex in Syria had evidently become pretty bad, and that very
fact may have led to a pendulum-swing of the Jewish
Church in the opposite direction; and again in the same way
the general laxity of morals in the decay of the Roman empire
may have confirmed the Church of early Christendom in its
determination to keep along the great high road of asceticism.
The Christian followed on the Jewish and Egyptian Churches,
and in this way a great tradition of sexual continence and
anti-pagan morality came right down the centuries even into
modern times.

This seems so far a reasonable theory; but I think we
shall go farther and get nearer the heart of the problem if

1 For the Aztecs, see Acosta, vol. ii, p. 324 (London, 1604).


we revert to the general clue which I have followed already
more than once — the clue of the necessary evolution of hu-
man Consciousnss. In the first or animal stage of hu-
man evolution, Sex was (as among the animals) a per-
fectly necessary, instinctive and unself-conscious activity. It
was harmonious with itself, natural, and unproductive of
evil. But when the second stage set in, in which man
became preponderantly 5e//-conscious, he inevitably set
about deflecting sex-activities to his own private pleasure
and advantage; he employed his budding intellect in
scheming the derailment of passion and desire from tribal
needs and Nature's uses to the poor details of his own
gratification. If the first stage of harmonious sex-instinct
and activity may be held as characteristic of the Golden
Age, the second stage must be taken to represent the Fall
of man and his expulsion from Paradise in the Garden of
Eden story. The pleasure and glory of Sex having been
turned to self-purposes. Sex itself became the great Sin. A
sense of guilt overspread man's thoughts on the subject. "He
knew that he was naked," and he fled from the voice
and face of the Lord. From that moment one of
the main objects of his life (in its inner and newer activities)
came to be the denial of Sex. Sex was conceived of as the
great Antagonist, the old Serpent lying ever in wait to
betray him; and there arrived a moment in the history
of every race, and of every representative religion, when
the sexual rites and ceremonies of the older time lost their
naive and quasi-innocent character and became afflicted with
a sense of guilt and indecency. This extraordinarily in-
teresting and dramatic moment in human evolution was
of course that in which self-consciousness grew powerful
enough to penetrate to the centre of human vitality, the sanc-
tum of man's inner life, his sexual instinct, and to deal
it a terrific blow — a. blow from which it has never yet
recovered, and from which indeed it will not recover, until
the very nature of man's inner life is changed.


It may be said that it was very foolish of Man to
deny and to try to expel a perfectly natural and sensible
thing, a necessary and indispensable part of his own nature.
And that, as far as I can see, is perfectly true. But some-
times it is unavoidable, it would seem, to do foolish things —
if only to convince oneself of one's own foolishness. On
the other hand, this policy on the part of Man was certainly
very wise — wiser than he knew — for in attempting to drive
out Sex (which of course he could not do) he entered into
a conflict which was bound to end in the expulsion of
something; and that something was the domination, within
himself, of self-consciousness, the very thing which makes and
ever has made sex detestable. Man did not succeed in
driving the snake out of the Garden, but he drove him-
self out, taking the real old serpent of self-greed and self-
gratification with him. When some day he returns to
Paradise this latter will have died in his bosom and
been cast away, but he will find the good Snake there as
of old, full of healing and friendliness, among the branches
of the Tree of Life.

Besides it is evident from other considerations that
this moment of the denial of sex had to come. When
one thinks of the enormous power of tliis passion, and its
age-long hold upon the human race, one realizes that once
liberated from the instinctive bonds of nature, and backed
by a self-conscious and self-seeking human intelligence it was
on the way to become a fearful curse.

A monstrous Eft was of old the Lord and Master of Earth;
For him did his high sun flame, and his river billowing ran.

And this may have been all very well and appropriate in
the carboniferous Epoch, but we in the end of Time have
no desire to fall under any such preposterous domination,
or to return to the primal swamps from which organic nature
has so slowly and painfully emerged.


I say it was the entry of self-consciousness into the sphere
of Sex, and the consequent use of the latter for private
ends, which poisoned this great race-power at its root.
For above all, Sex, as representing through Childbirth the
life of the Race (or of the Tribe, or, if you like,
of Humanity at large) should be sacred and guarded from
merely selfish aims, and therefore to use it only for such
aims is indeed a desecration. And even if — as some main-
tain and I think rightly^ — sex is not merely for child-birth
and physical procreation, but for mutual vitalizing and invig-
oration, it still subserves union and not egotism; and to use
it egotistically is to commit the sin of Separation indeed. It
is to cast away and corrupt the very bond of life and fel-
lowship. The ancient peoples at any rate threw an illu-
mination of religious (that is, of communal and public)
value over sex-acts, and to a great extent made them into
matters either of Temple-ritual and the worship of the gods,
or of communal and pandemic celebration, as in the
Saturnalia and other similar festivals. We have certainly
no right to regard these celebrations — of either kind — as in-
sincere. They were, at any rate in their inception, genuinely
religious or genuinely social and festal; and from
either point of view they were far better than the
secrecy of private indulgence which characterizes our mod-
ern world in these matters. The thorough and shameless
commercialism of Sex has alas! been reserved for what is
called "Christian civilization," and with it (perhaps as
a necessary consequence) Prostitution and Syphilis have
grown into appalling evils, accompanied by a gigantic degra-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 14 of 25)