Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

A few years later the Bishop of London issued a similar edict concerning the dissolute behaviour in the churchyard at Barking. The reason why the churchyard was chosen for these activities is almost certainly that the Christian missionaries made a practice of building their churches on the site of pagan altars, so that these were precisely the spots where the pagan worshippers felt that the old deities still had their habitation, and where their supernatural influence might best be felt.

How popular these dances were is shown by the reply of the people to the Bishop of Noyon, Eligius, when he condemned dancing at the feast of St. Paul.

“However much you, a Roman, may preach,” they said, “you will never succeed in eradicating our ancient customs. Nobody can forbid us these ancient games, which give us such immense pleasure.”

Backman has shown that the “ring dances” referred to in these edicts were originally dances which formed part of the ceremonies of the Church — in all probability the very ring-dance in which, according to the Acts of John, Christ led the disciples. It may have been as much because of their use of the dance as because they were seized with the spirit in the quasi-epileptic way which we associate with modern revivalism, that the Persians called the earliest Christians tarsa, or shakers. (In view of the fact that this theoleptic form of Christianity was particularly associated with the Apostle John, it is striking that, in the great dance manias of the Middle Ages, the dancers sang a chant which went, “Oh, Lord St. John. Thus, thus, whole and happy, Lord St. John.”)

Thus a continuous line of descent can be traced from the Johannine Christians, through the mediaeval dancers and the post mediaeval Shakers and Quakers, down to the shaking and dancing sects of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And against this ecstatic tradition can be placed the continuous opposition of the puritan groups, mediaeval, reformation and modern, to dancing. It is not merely because it is a sign of spontaneity that the guilt-ridden depressive group rejects it: it is actually the mechanism through which theolepsy is brought about.