Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Nevertheless, while there are advantages in providing ceremonies in which such drives may be given outlet, so that their consequences can be limited, there is also a danger that such Ceremonies will suffer a steady deterioration. By late Roman times, the Dionysiac worship seems to have deteriorated into a secret society engaged in practices of a revoltingly sexual and sadistic kind. (145)

As I have indicated, this idea of periodical self-abandonment to Eros and Thanatos, which had at the same time the character of a religious act, was primarily associated with the worship of a mother figure. In this pure form, it also betrayed another feature worthy of note: a tendency to direct violence against the self. The mother religions all exhibit self-flagellation in various forms, and also the gashing of the body with knives; flagellation, in an attenuated form, also formed part of the Greek Thesmophoria, and the association of flagellation with fertility ceremonies is a commonplace of modern folklore. In part, this may be explained by saying that flagellation is a sexual stimulant, but the more significant feature is that, whereas in father religions violence is chiefly turned outward, sadistically, in mother religions it seems to be turned inward, masochistically.

It is an interesting question how this self-flagellation should be compared with the self-flagellation of the mediaeval period. Both clearly represent a turning of destructive impulses against the self, but there is also a certain difference: the mediaeval form was accompanied by intense feelings of guilt, whereas the earlier does not seem to have been. Moreover, mediaeval masochism was more obsessive; it was often continued for long periods. The masochism of the mother religions was usually an annual event; frequently it shrank to mere symbol; I think it is fair to say that its character was primarily that of a cathartic discharge of aggressive impulses. Nevertheless, it is characteristic of mother identification that the discharge should take a masochistic, not a sadistic form. It would therefore be extremely interesting to try to discover whether those who practised self-flagellation in the mediaeval period were biased towards mother-identifications for it may be that the Church encouraged self-flagellation as part of its attempt to deal with the persistent metrist trend and to keep within its ranks many who might, without this outlet, have seceded to the matrist heresies which we discussed in Chapter V.

Furthermore, this attack- on the self took a specific sexual form, in that it led, in certain cases, to self-castration . Lucian’s account (220) is informative:

On certain days a multitude flocks to the temple, and the Galli in great numbers, sacred as they are, perform the ceremonies of the men and gash their arms and turn their backs to be lashed. Many bystanders play on the pipes, while many beat drums; others sing divine and sacred songs. All this performance takes place outside the temple… As the Galli sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on some of them, and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act. I shall narrate what they do. Any young man who has resolved on this action, strips off his clothes and with a loud shout burst into the midst of the crowd and picks up a sword from number of swords which I suppose have been kept ready for many years for this purpose. He takes it and castrates himself and runs wild through the city bearing in his hands what he has cut off. He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women’s raiment and ornaments.