Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

16. The Rule Of The Dead

THE pathological eccentricities of the Middle Ages may seem remote today, the product of ignorance and bigotry, and few believe that a repressive code of morality could ever return, although history reminds us that it took only a generation to convert eighteenth-century licence into nineteenth century prudery.

In point of fact, however, these macabre events can always recur whenever the psychological conditions are provided; and as a matter of fact they have persisted in odd corners down to the present day, in just the same way that ecstatic practices persisted throughout the patrist periods. Witchcraft cases continued to be tried almost annually in Britain throughout the nineteenth century, and as late as the second decade of the present century. De Givry has spoken to four living witches who were using traditional methods, in France. Widespread sorcery was reported from Friesland in 1953. Even today, there are still firms which do a thriving trade in chastity belts.(64) There are still persons who invest political problems with the character of a demonic attack. The Rev. Montague Summers, in his introduction to an edition of the Malleus, writes of Communism precisely as if it were a form of witchcraft, and lumps together diverse revolutionary groups and diverse heretic groups without distinction, regretting that “that most excellent tribunal”, the Inquisition, no longer exercises its “salutary powers“. Perhaps the American Government imitates the mediaeval Church in associating sexual abnormality with political heresy, since it discharges communists and homosexuals under the same rubric. Nothing would be more naive than to assume that the strange events described in earlier chapters were the eccentricities of a brutal and ignorant past. Though they often survive translated into a modern idiom, where the appropriate conditions exist, they preserve exactly their mediaeval form. Carmelite nuns still feel themselves to be buffeted by the devil or embraced by the Virgin— in 1816, Marie Ange received not only kisses from Jesus and the Virgin, but also bon-bons and a good liqueur besides.(57) Just how closely they can parallel mediaeval experience can be shown by a quotation from the devotional works of Therese Martin, a Carmelite nun who died in 1898 and who was canonized in 1925

“on account of her transcendent devotion to her spiritual spouse”. “Ah, how sweet is the first kiss of Jesus!” she exclaims “indeed it is a kiss of love. I felt myself beloved by him, and I said to him ‘I love you, I give myself to you forever.’ Jesus and I have understood one another for a long time. Our coming together was a fusion of our being…. My heaven is no other than that of Love. I have felt that nothing could detach my ardour from the divine being who has ravished me.”

These are words that might have been written in the thirteenth century.(32)