Part 13 (1/2)

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 s.e.x, and the consequent use of the latter for private ends, which poisoned this great race-power at its root. For above all, s.e.x, 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 maintain and I think rightly (1)--s.e.x is not MERELY for child-birth and physical procreation, but for mutual vitalizing and invigoration, 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 fellows.h.i.+p. The ancient peoples at any rate threw an illumination of religious (that is, of communal and public) value over s.e.x-acts, and to a great extent made them into matters either of Temple-ritual and the wors.h.i.+p of the G.o.ds, 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 insincere. 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 modern world in these matters. The thorough and shameless commercialism of s.e.x has alas!

been reserved for what is called ”Christian civilization,” and with it (perhaps as a necessary consequence) Prost.i.tution and Syphilis have grown into appalling evils, accompanied by a gigantic degradation of social standards, and upgrowth of petty Philistinism and niaiserie.

Love, in fact, having in this modern world-movement been denied, and its natural manifestations affected with a sense of guilt and of sin, has really languished and ceased to play its natural part in life; and a vast number of people--both men and women, finding themselves barred or derailed from the main object of existence, have turned their energies to 'business' or 'money-making' or 'social advancement' or something equally futile, as the only poor subst.i.tute and pis aller open to them.

(1) See Havelock Ellis, The Objects of Marriage, a pamphlet published by the ”British Society for the Study of s.e.x-psychology.”

Why (again we ask) did Christianity make this apparently great mistake?

And again we must reply: Perhaps the mistake was not so great as it appears to be. Perhaps this was another case of the necessity of learning by loss. Love had to be denied, in the form of s.e.x, in order that it might thus the better learn its own true values and needs. s.e.x had to be rejected, or defiled with the sense of guilt and self-seeking, in order that having cast out its defilement it might return one day, transformed in the embrace of love. The whole process has had a deep and strange world-significance. It has led to an immensely long period of suppression--suppression of two great instincts--the physical instinct of s.e.x and the emotional instinct of love. Two things which should naturally be conjoined have been separated; and both have suffered.

And we know from the Freudian teachings what suppressions in the root-instincts necessarily mean. We know that they inevitably terminate in diseases and distortions of proper action, either in the body or in the mind, or in both; and that these evils can only be cured by the liberation of the said instincts again to their proper expression and harmonious functioning in the whole organism. No wonder then that, with this agelong suppression (necessary in a sense though it may have been) which marks the Christian dispensation, there should have been a.s.sociated endless Sickness and Crime and sordid Poverty, the Crucifixion of animals in the name of Science and of human workers in the name of Wealth, and wars and horrors innumerable! Hercules writhing in the Nessus-s.h.i.+rt or Prometheus nailed to the rocks are only as figures of a toy miniature compared with this vision of the great and divine Spirit of Man caught in the clutches of those dread Diseases which through the centuries have been eating into his very heart and vitals.

It would not be fair to pile on the Christian Church the blame for all this. It had, no doubt, its part to play in the whole great scheme, namely, to accentuate the self-motive; and it played the part very thoroughly and successfully. For it must be remembered (what I have again and again insisted on) that in the pagan cults it was always the salvation of the CLAN, the TRIBE, the people that was the main consideration; the advantage of the individual took only a very secondary part. But in Christendom--after the communal enthusiasms of apostolic days and of the medieval and monastic brotherhoods and sisterhoods had died down--religion occupied itself more and more with each man or woman's INDIVIDUAL salvation, regardless of what might happen to the community; till, with the rise of Protestantism and Puritanism, this tendency reached such an extreme that, as some one has said, each man was absorbed in polis.h.i.+ng up his own little soul in a corner to himself, in entire disregard to the d.a.m.nation which might come to his neighbor. Religion, and Morality too, under the commercial regime became, as was natural, perfectly selfish. It was always: ”Am _I_ saved?

Am _I_ doing the right thing? Am _I_ winning the favor of G.o.d and man?

Will my claims to salvation be allowed? Did _I_ make a good bargain in allowing Jesus to be crucified for me?” The poison of a diseased self-consciousness entered into the whole human system.

As I say, one must not blame the Christians too much for all this--partly because, AFTER the communal periods which I have just mentioned, Christianity was evidently deeply influenced by the rise of COMMERCIALISM, to which during the last two centuries it has so carefully and piously adapted itself; and partly because--if our view is anywhere near right--this microbial injection of self-consciousness was just the necessary work which (in conjunction with commercialism) it HAD to perform. But though one does not blame Christianity one cannot blind oneself to its defects--the defects necessarily arising from the part it had to play. When one compares a healthy Pagan ritual--say of Apollo or Dionysus--including its rude and crude sacrifices if you like, but also including its whole-hearted spontaneity and dedication to the common life and welfare--with the morbid self-introspection of the Christian and the eternally recurring question ”What shall I do to be saved?”--the comparison is not favorable to the latter. There is (at any rate in modern days) a mawkish milk-and-wateriness about the Christian att.i.tude, and also a painful self-consciousness, which is not pleasant; and though Nietzsche's blonde beast is a sufficiently disagreeable animal, one almost thinks that it were better to be THAT than to go about with one's head meekly hanging on one side, and talking always of altruism and self-sacrifice, while in reality one's heart was entirely occupied with the question of one's own salvation. There is besides a lamentable want of grit and substance about the Christian doctrines and ceremonials.

Somehow under the s.e.x-taboo they became spiritualized and etherealized out of all human use. Study the initiation-rites of any savage tribe--with their strict discipline of the young braves in fort.i.tude, and the overcoming of pain and fear; with their very detailed lessons in the arts of war and life and the duties of the grown man to his tribe; and with their quite practical instruction in matters of s.e.x; and then read our little Baptismal and Confirmation services, which ought to correspond thereto. How thin and attenuated and weak the latter appear! Or compare the Holy Communion, as celebrated in the sentimental atmosphere of a Protestant Church, with an ancient Eucharistic feast of real jollity and community of life under the acknowledged presence of the G.o.d; or the Roman Catholic service of the Ma.s.s, including its genuflexions and mock oblations and droning ritual sing-song, with the actual sacrifice in early days of an animal-G.o.d-victim on a blazing altar; and I think my meaning will be clear. We do not want, of course, to return to all the crudities and barbarities of the past; but also we do not want to become attenuated and spiritualized out of all mundane sense and recognition, and to live in an otherworld Paradise void of application to earthly affairs.

The s.e.x-taboo in Christianity was apparently, as I have said, an effort of the human soul to wrest itself free from the entanglement of physical l.u.s.t--which l.u.s.t, though normal and appropriate and in a way gracious among the animals, had through the domination of self-consciousness become diseased and morbid or monstrous in Man. The work thus done has probably been of the greatest value to the human race; but, just as in other cases it has sometimes happened that the effort to do a certain work has resulted in the end in an unbalanced exaggeration so here. We are beginning to see now the harmful side of the repression of s.e.x, and are tentatively finding our way back again to a more pagan att.i.tude.

And as this return-movement is taking place at a time when, from many obvious signs, the self-conscious, grasping, commercial conception of life is preparing to go on the wane, and the sense of solidarity to re-establish itself, there is really good hope that our return-journey may prove in some degree successful.

Man progresses generally, not both legs at once like a sparrow, but by putting one leg forward first, and then the other. There was this advantage in the Christian taboo of s.e.x that by discouraging the physical and sensual side of love it did for the time being allow the spiritual side to come forward. But, as I have just now indicated, there is a limit to that process. We cannot always keep one leg first in walking, and we do not want, in life, always to put the spiritual first, nor always the material and sensual. The two sides in the long run have to keep pace with each other.

And it may be that a great number of the very curious and seemingly senseless taboos that we find among the primitive peoples can be partly explained in this way: that is, that by ruling out certain directions of activity they enabled people to concentrate more effectually, for the time being, on other directions. To primitive folk the great world, whose ways are puzzling enough in all conscience to us, must have been simply bewildering in its dangers and complications. It was an amazement of Fear and Ignorance. Thunderbolts might come at any moment out of the blue sky, or a demon out of an old tree trunk, or a devastating plague out of a bad smell--or apparently even out of nothing at all! Under those circ.u.mstances it was perhaps wise, wherever there was the smallest SUSPICION of danger or ill-luck, to create a hard and fast TABOO--just as we tell our children ON NO ACCOUNT to walk under a ladder (thereby creating a superst.i.tion in their minds), partly because it would take too long to explain all about the real dangers of paint-pots and other things, and partly because for the children themselves it seems simpler to have a fixed and inviolable law than to argue over every case that occurs. The priests and elders among early folk no doubt took the line of FORBIDDAL of activities, as safer and simpler, even if carried sometimes too far, than the opposite, of easy permission and encouragement. Taboos multiplied--many of them quite senseless--but perhaps in this perilous maze of the world, of which I have spoken, it really WAS simpler to cut out a large part of the labyrinth, as forbidden ground, thus rendering it easier for the people to find their way in those portions of the labyrinth which remained. If you read in Deuteronomy (ch. xiv) the list of birds and beasts and fishes permitted for food among the Israelites, or tabooed, you will find the list on the whole reasonable, but you will be struck by some curious exceptions (according to our ideas), which are probably to be explained by the necessity of making the rules simple enough to be comprehended by everybody--even if they included the forbiddal of some quite eatable animals.

At some early period, in Babylonia or a.s.syria, a very stringent taboo on the Sabbath arose, which, taken up in turn by the Jewish and Christian Churches, has ruled the Western World for three thousand years or more, and still survives in a quite senseless form among some of our rural populations, who will see their corn rot in the fields rather than save it on a Sunday. (1) It is quite likely that this taboo in its first beginning was due not to any need of a weekly rest-day (a need which could never be felt among nomad savages, but would only occur in some kind of industrial and stationary civilization), but to some superst.i.tious fear, connected with such things as the changes of the Moon, and the probable ILL-LUCK of any enterprise undertaken on the seventh day, or any day of Moon-change. It is probable, however, that as time went on and Society became more complex, the advantages of a weekly REST-DAY (or market-day) became more obvious and that the priests and legislators deliberately turned the taboo to a social use. (2) The learned modern Ethnologists, however, will generally have none of this latter idea. As a rule they delight in representing early peoples as totally dest.i.tute of common sense (which is supposed to be a monopoly of us moderns!); and if the Sabbath-arrangement has had any value or use they insist on ascribing this to pure accident, and not to the application of any sane argument or reason.

(1) For other absurd Sunday taboos see Westermarck on The Moral Ideas, vol. ii, p. 289.

(2) For a tracing of this taboo from useless superst.i.tion to practical utility see Hastings's Encycl. Religion and Ethics, art. ”The Sabbath.”

It is true indeed that a taboo--in order to be a proper taboo--must not rest in the general mind on argument or reason. It may have had good sense in the past or even an underlying good sense in the present, but its foundation must rest on something beyond. It must be an absolute fiat--something of the nature of a Mystery (1) or of Religion or Magic-and not to be disputed. This gives it its blood-curdling quality.

The rustic does not know what would happen to him if he garnered his corn on Sunday, nor does the diner-out in polite society know what would happen if he spooned up his food with his knife--but they both are stricken with a sort of paralysis at the very suggestion of infringing these taboos.

(1) See Westermarck, Ibid., ii. 586.

Marriage-customs have always been a fertile field for the generation of taboos. It seems doubtful whether anything like absolute promiscuity ever prevailed among the human race, but there is much to show that wide choice and intercourse were common among primitive folk and that the tendency of later marriage custom has been on the whole to LIMIT this range of choice. At some early period the forbiddal of marriage between those who bore the same totem-name took place. Thus in Australia ”no man of the Emu stock might marry an Emu woman; no Blacksnake might marry a Blacksnake woman, and so forth.” (1) Among the Kamilaroi and the Arunta of S. Australia the tribe was divided into or clans, sometimes four, sometimes eight, and a man of one particular clan was only marriageable with a woman of another particular clan--say (1) with (3) or (2) with (4), and so on. (2) Customs with a similar tendency, but different in detail, seem to have prevailed among native tribes in Central Africa and N. America. And the regulations in all this matter have been so (apparently) entirely arbitrary in the various cases that it would almost appear as if the bar of kins.h.i.+p through the Totem had been the EXCUSE, originating perhaps in some superst.i.tion, but that the real and more abiding object was simply limitation. And this perhaps was a wise line to take. A taboo on promiscuity had to be created, and for this purpose any current prejudice could be made use of. (3)