Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Subsequently Father Noyes founded the Oneida community, where was developed a form of group association under the name “Complex Marriage“. In America there were also numerous sects where the revivalist element was more marked, such as the Shakers of Ann Lee, the Holy Rollers and the Angel Dancers. This last was a Methodist sect founded about 1890 in New Jersey: they received this title from the local people because of a religious frenzy which usually came on — shades of the Agape! — after saying grace at meals. They became known throughout the district for their great charity, but were accused of “free love“, and the leader was taken to court for keeping a disorderly house. (124)

In England, in the middle of the nineteenth century, a renegade parson named H. J. Prince founded a sect which became known as the Agapemonites. He received support from a large number of wealthy converts and bought a large country house near Spaxton, where supporters could live in brotherly amity. Prince lived chastely with both his first and second wives, but local gossip promptly accused the sect of irreligion and “free love“. The sect was reportedly still in existence just before the second World War. (170)

In the nature of things, the attempt to preserve a spiritual relationship must sometimes have broken down, and no doubt enemies were quick to exploit such lapses, even though the orthodox Church also had its weaker brethren. But there is perhaps a more serious danger inherent in charitism. The sense of union with the divine may lead psychologically unstable persons to the belief that they are themselves divine, in some personal sense. Among the Quakers, Nayler fell into this error; Brothers, who claimed to be God Almighty’s Nephew, and J. N. Tom, known as the Peasants’ Saviour, had also been under Quaker influence. Prince, the founder of the Agapemonites, ended by claiming divinity, as did Schönherr, from whom Ebel derived some of his ideas, while Father Divine provides an example in our own day.

Psychologically the claim to be divine can usually be interpreted as a form of compensation for feelings of rejection and inferiority: Matthews, in his English Messiahs, has analysed a number of cases of this type. Other reactions are possible: one of them is a retreat to infantilism, and it is probably relevant that such a retreat took place, at one stage, in the Moravian Church, after it had taken refuge from persecution under the protection of Count Zinzendorf. Diminutive endings were attached to almost every noun. Zinzendorf became Daddykins, Christ was called the Lambkin, while the members of the group called themselves Little Fools, cross wood splinterkins, a blessed troop of cross-air birds, and so on. (134) Joanna Southcott’s letters show an infantile repetitiousness, and the quietist, Mme. Guyon, provides another example. Some degree of regression is usual in loving relations — most lovers use pet names for instance. But when we find this being carried to excess — as in some of Swift’s letters to Stella for example — we are entitled to begin thinking about psychosis. Psychiatrically, such a retreat is more serious than are paranoiac delusions of importance, for in its extreme form it leads to dementia praecox.