Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

But the people themselves recognized their value as means of catharsis. A special petition was addressed to the Theological Faculty of the University of Paris, asking for the retention of the Feast of Fools, saying,

“We do this according to ancient custom, in order that folly, which is second nature to man and seems to be inborn, may at least once a year have free outlet. Wine casks would burst if we failed sometimes to remove the bung and let in air. Now we are all inbound casks and barrels which would let out the wine of wisdom if by constant devotion and fear of God we allowed it to ferment.” (76)

In the Renaissance, as we have seen from Anthony Munday’s account, the Saturnalia was revived in the form of the Carnevale or farewell to meat, held before Lent, together with many other signs of paganism; and in modern times, it continues in Germany in the pre-Lenten Fasching, where the exchange of clothes between men and women still remains a notable feature.

The existence of a spontaneous urge for these cathartic outbursts may also be detected in many Early Church edicts against dancing, and the close kinship with phallicism is often evident. (9) For example, the Council of Avignon in 1209 ruled that

“in night watches for the saints there shall not be performed in churches play-acting, hopping dances, indecent gestures, ring dances, neither shall there be sung love-songs or ditties”.

Regino of Pröm ordered that

“Nobody shall on such occasions sing devilish songs or play games or dance. All these are pagan inventions of the Devil.”

In the thirteenth century the synod of Exeter ruled:

“It is ordered that there shall be no wrestling, ring dances, or other forbidden games in churchyards, especially at night watches and the festivals of the saints, because by the performance of such play-acting and indecent games the dignity of the Church is dragged in the mire.”