Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Apart from this risk, the sense of divinity sometimes leads to the belief that one is no longer subject to the normal rules of civilized behaviour. H. J. Prince, who had preached and practised chastity all his life, after he came to think himself divine, felt entitled to take into his bed the daughter of one of the members of his group; when she was found to be pregnant, the community was no less scandalized than was the outside world, and several members withdrew. Many of the charitic groups have been accused of holding the belief that all is permitted. Thus Baxter says of the Ranters (who seem to have been an offshoot of the Brethren of the Free Spirit), that they taught

“the cursed doctrine of Libertinism, which brought them to all abominable filthiness of life. They taught that to the pure all things are pure (even things forbidden). And so, as allowed by God, they spake most hideous words of Blasphemy.”

A hostile Pamphlet, quoted by Belfort Bax, depicts their meetings as a sort of witches’ sabbat, at which they danced naked together.

It will be remembered that Custance, in the manic phase of his insanity, likewise felt that he was freed from subservience to ordinary moral laws. In particular, he felt the impulse to throw off all his clothes — and this is also a thing we sometimes find among the charitic sects. The primitive Adamites went naked, and the faithful were especially shocked by the fact that they administered and received communion in this Paradisal condition. The Quakers frequently ran naked through the streets, especially in Yorkshire, where it became something of a public issue. (Sometimes they also smeared themselves with filth, presumably because, like Custance, they found that this intensified their sense of deity.) (149)

Custance’s observations provide, I think, an essential clue to the understanding of these charitic groups, and why they were so often accused of licence. It may be that they did, sometimes, pass from a real chastity to a licence which would not easily be distinguished from actual phallic worship. But I believe that it also throws an important light on the character of the relationship between the two opposed attitudes to life which we inadequately call “pagan” and “Christian“. The battle was not simply between two structures of personality — patrist and matrist; it was also a battle between two mental states — euphoria and depression. In the euphoric or manic state, there is no sense of guilt, the individual feels united with God, and sex is seen as a sacred phenomenon which cannot be a cause of shame. In the depressive state, there is a deep sense of guilt, the individual feels himself remote from God, and sex is seen as vile and shameful.