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Title: Religion & Sex - Studies in the Pathology of Religious Development
Author: Cohen, Chapman, 1868-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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        RELIGION & SEX



_Published October 1919_

_Printed by_ MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED, _Edinburgh_


     I. SCIENCE & THE SUPERNATURAL              _page_ 1



    IV. SEX & RELIGION IN PRIMITIVE LIFE              89

         STATES ON RELIGIOUS BELIEF                  120

    VI. THE STREAM OF TENDENCY                       145

   VII. CONVERSION                                   169

  VIII. RELIGIOUS EPIDEMICS                          205

    IX. RELIGIOUS EPIDEMICS--(_concluded_)           226

     X. THE WITCH MANIA                              243

    XI. SUMMARY & CONCLUSION                         269


In spite of all that has been done in the way of applying scientific
principles to religious ideas, there is much that yet remains to be
accomplished. Generally speaking science has only dealt with the subject
of religion in its more normal and more regularised forms. The last
half-century has produced many elaborate and fruitful studies of the
origin of religious ideas, while comparative mythology has shown a close
and suggestive relationship between creeds and symbols that were once
believed to have nothing in common. But beyond these fields of research
there is at least one other that has hitherto been denied the attention
it richly deserves. When the anthropologist has described those
conditions of primitive culture amid which he believes religious ideas
took their origin, and the comparative mythologist has shown us the
similarities and inter-relations of widely separated creeds, religious
beliefs have yet to submit to the test of a scientific psychology, the
function of which is to determine how far the same principles apply to
all phases of mental life whether religious or non-religious. Moreover,
in addition to the normal psychical life of man, there is that vast
borderland in which the normal merges into the abnormal, and the healthy
state into a pathologic one. That there is a physiology of religion is
now generally admitted; but that there is also a pathology of religion
is not so generally recognised. The present work seeks to emphasise this
last aspect. It does not claim to be more than an outline of the
subject--a sketch map of a territory that others may fill in more

From another point of view the following pages may be regarded as an
attempt more completely to apply scientific principles to religious
beliefs. And it would be idle to hope that such an attempt could be made
without incurring much hostile criticism. In connection with most other
subjects the help of science is welcomed; in connection with religion
science is still regarded as more or less of an intruder, profaning a
sacred subject with vulgar tests and impertinent enquiries. This must
almost inevitably follow when one has to face the opposition of
thousands of men who have been trained to regard themselves as the
authorised exponents of all that pertains to religion, but whose
training fails to supply them with a genuine scientific equipment. It
should, however, be clear that an attitude of hostility to science,
veiled or open, cannot be maintained. Mere authority has fallen on evil
days, and in all directions is being freely challenged. There is
increasing dislike to systems of thought that shrink from examination,
and to conclusions that cannot withstand the most rigorous
investigation. And if science really has anything of value to say on
this question it cannot be held to silence for ever. Sooner or later the
need for its assistance will be felt, and the self-elected authority of
an order must give way. It is, moreover, impossible for science with its
claim, sometimes avowed, but always implied, to cover the whole of life,
to forego so large a territory as that of religion. For there can be no
reasonable question that religion has played, and still plays a large
part in the life of the race. Whatever be the nature of religion,
science is bound either to deal with it or confess its main task to be

Whether or not it is possible to apply known scientific principles to
the whole of religion will be a matter of opinion; but the attempt is at
least worth making. So much that appeared to be beyond the reach of
science has been ultimately brought within its ken, so many things that
seemed to stand in a class by themselves have been finally brought under
some more comprehensive generalisation, and so become part of the
'cosmic machine,' that one is impelled to believe that given time and
industry the same will result here. And it should never be forgotten
that one aspect of scientific progress has been the taking over of large
tracts of territory that religion once regarded as peculiarly its own;
and just as psychology and pathology were found to hold the key to an
understanding of such a phenomenon as witchcraft, so we may yet realise
that a true explanation of religious phenomena is to be found, not in
some supernatural world, but in the workings of natural forces
imperfectly understood.

The defences set up by theologians against the scientific advance may be
summarised under two heads. It is claimed that the 'facts' of the
religious life belong to a world of inner experience, to a state of
spiritual development which brings the subject into touch with a
super-sensuous world not open to the normal human being, and with which
science, as ordinarily understood, is incompetent to deal. In essence
this is a very old position, and contains the kernel of 'mysticism' in
all ages, from the savage state onward. This position involves a very
obvious begging of the question at issue. It assumes that all attempts
to correlate religious phenomena with phenomena in general have failed,
and that all future attempts are similarly doomed to failure. Of course
nothing of the kind has been shown. On the contrary, the aim of the
present work is to show that no dividing line can be drawn between those
states of mind that have been and are classed as religious, and those
that are admittedly non-religious. For various reasons I have dealt
almost entirely with those conditions that are admittedly pathological,
but I believe it would be possible to prove the same of all normal
frames of mind and emotional states. Any human quality may be enlisted
in the service of religion, but there are none that are specifically
religious. It is a pure assumption that the religious visionary
possesses qualities that are either absent or rudimentary in other
persons. Human faculty is everywhere identical although the form in
which it is expressed differs according to education, the presence of
certain dominating ideas, and the general influence of one's
environment. To admit the claim of the mystic is to surrender all hope
of a scientific co-ordination of life. It is quite fatal to the
scientific ideal and involves the re-introduction into nature of a
dualism the removal of which has been one of the most marked advantages
of scientific thinking.

Moreover, whatever views we may hold as to the ultimate nature of 'mind'
the dependence of all frames of mind upon the brain and nervous system
is now generally accepted. We may hold various theories as to the nature
of mind, we may, with the late William James, treat the brain as merely
a 'transmissive' organ, but even on that assumption--on behalf of which
not a shred of positive evidence has been offered--the frames of mind
expressed are determined by the nervous mechanism, and thus the laws of
mental phenomena become ultimately the laws of the operation of the
nervous system. The 'facts' of the religious life thus become part of
the facts of psychology as a whole. Its 'laws' will form part of
psychological laws as a whole, and religious experiences must be handed
over for examination and classification to the psychologist who in turn
relies for help and understanding on various associated branches of

Closely allied to the claim of the 'mystic' that his experiences bring
him into touch with a world of super-sensuous reality, is the attempt to
prove that science is incapable of dealing with anything but "in the
first place, the endless ascertainment of facts and the physical
conditions under which they occur, and in the second place to the
criticism of error." Well, no one denies that it is part of the work of
science to ascertain facts, or even that its work consists in
ascertaining facts and framing 'laws' that will explain them. But why
are we to limit science to _physical_ facts only? All facts are not
physical. If I have a head-ache, the unpleasant feeling is a fact. If I
feel hot or cold, angry or pleased, think one thing ugly or another
beautiful, my feelings are as much 'facts' as anything else that exists.
Nay, if I fancy I see a ghost, or a vision, these also are 'facts' so
far as my mental state at the time is concerned. So also are my beliefs
about all manner of things, and often the most important facts with
which I am connected. Facts may be objective or subjective. They may
exist in relation to all minds normally constituted, or they may exist
in relation to my own mind only; or, yet again, they may exist only in
relation to certain states of mind, but they do not, nevertheless, cease
to be facts.

Now the business of science is to collect facts--all facts--classify
them, and frame generalisations that will explain their groupings and
modes of operation. It talks of the facts of the physical world, the
facts of the biological world, the facts of the psychological world, and
so forth. This last group comprises all sorts of feelings and ideas,
beliefs and experiences. Some of these facts it calls false, others it
calls true--that is, they are true when they hold good of all men and
women normally constituted, they are not true when they hold good of
isolated individuals only, and can be seen to be the product of
misinterpreted experience, or arise from a derangement--permanent or
temporary--of the nervous system. But true or false they remain facts of
the mental life. They must be collected, grouped, and explained exactly
as other facts are collected, grouped, and explained. They fall within
the scope of science, to be dealt with by scientific methods.

There is really no escape from the position that so far as religious
'facts' are parts of mental life, religion becomes logically a
department of psychology. The substantial identity of all mental facts
is quite unaffected by their being directed to this or that special
object. As mental facts they are part of the material that it is the
work of science to reduce to order. And as mental facts religious
phenomena are seen to follow the same 'laws' that govern mental
phenomena in general. It is perfectly true that we cannot test and
measure the material of psychology with the same definiteness and
accuracy that the chemist applies to the subject-matter of his
department; but that may be due to want of knowledge, or to the extreme
complexity and variability of the matter with which we are dealing. And
if it were true that the same tests could not be applied in psychology
that are applied elsewhere, this would be no cause for scientific
despair. It would only mean that fresh tests would have to be devised
for a new group of facts, as every other science has already, as a
matter of fact, created its own special standard of value.

The second of the two lines of defence consists in the bold assertion
that the religious interpretation of subjective phenomena is itself in
the nature of a true scientific induction. The methods of science are
not repudiated, but welcomed. But it is argued that the non-religious
explanation of religious phenomena breaks down hopelessly, while the
religious explanation fully covers and explains the facts. If this were
true, nothing more remains to be said, and we must accept this dualistic
scheme, however repugnant it may be to orthodox scientific ideas. But is
it true? Is it a fact that the non-religious explanation breaks down so
completely? Hitherto the course of events has been in the contrary
direction. It is the religious explanation that has, over and over
again, been shown to be unreliable, the non-religious explanation that
has been finally established. Insanity and epilepsy, once universally
ascribed to a supernatural order of being, have been reduced to the
level of nervous disorders. All the phenomena of 'possession' are still
with us, it is only our understanding of them that has altered. And
before it is admitted that the phenomena described as religious can
never be affiliated to the phenomena described as non-religious, it must
be shown--beyond all possibility of doubt--that their explanation in
terms of known forces is impossible. As I have said in the body of this
work, the question at issue is essentially one of interpretation. The
'facts' of the religious life are admitted. Science no more questions
the reality of the visions of the medieval mystic than it questions the
visions of the non-mystic admittedly suffering from neural derangement.
The crucial question is whether we have any good reason for separating
the two, and while we dismiss the one as hallucination accept the other
as introducing us to another order of being? I do not think there is the
slightest ground for any such differentiation, and I have given in the
following pages what I conceive to be good reasons for so thinking. And
I hope that the fact of the explanations there offered running counter
to the traditional one will not prevent readers weighing with the utmost
care the proofs that are offered.




Accepting Professor Tylor's famous minimum definition of religion as
"the belief in Spiritual Beings," it is safe to say that religious
belief constitutes one of the largest facts in human history. No other
single subject has occupied so large a share of man's conscious life, no
other subject has absorbed so much of his energy. In very early stages
of culture religious belief is universal in the fullest sense of the
word. It shapes all primitive institutions; it dominates life from the
cradle to the grave, and creates a shadow-land beyond the grave from
which the dead continue to influence the actions of the living. At a
later stage of culture we see a distinction being drawn between the
natural and the supernatural, the secular and the spiritual, and the
beginning of an antagonism that is still with us. Of all antagonisms
conceived by the brain of man this is the deepest and the most
irreconcilable. Each feels that the growth of the other threatens its
own supremacy, with the result that advance from either side has been
contested with the greatest obstinacy and determination. And although it
is true that at present the supernatural is very largely "suspect," it
is still powerful. Nor is its influence confined to the lower strata of
European society. It has very many representatives among the higher
culture, disguised it may be under various pseudo-philosophic forms.
Altogether we may say that the supernatural has never been without its
"cloud of witnesses." At all times there have been individuals, or
groups of individuals, who have believed themselves, and have been
believed by others, to be in touch with another order of existence than
that with which people are normally in contact. And apart from these
specially favoured persons, the wide vogue of the belief in good and
evil portents, in lucky and unlucky days, the attraction of the "occult"
in fiction and in fact, all serve as evidence that belief in the
supernatural is still a force with which one has to reckon.

To what causes are we to attribute the persistence of this belief in the
supernatural? It is useless replying that its persistence is evidence of
its truth. That clearly begs the whole question at issue. Mere social
heredity will doubtless count for much in this direction. Men do not
start their thinking afresh with each generation. It is based upon that
of preceding generations; it follows set forms, and is generally
influenced by that network of ideas and beliefs into which we are born
and from which none of us ever completely escapes. Still that is hardly
enough in itself to account for the persistence of supernaturalism.
Assuming that originally there existed what was accepted as good
evidence for the existence of a supernatural, it is hardly credible that
every subsequent generation went on accepting it merely because one
generation received evidence of its existence. As organs atrophy for
want of exercise, so do beliefs die out in time for want of proof. Some
kind of evidence must have been continually forthcoming in order to keep
the belief alive and active. It is not a question of whether the
evidence was good or bad. All evidence, it is important to bear in mind,
is good to some one. The "facts" upon which thousands of people were put
to death for witchcraft would not be considered evidence to anyone
nowadays, but they were once accepted as good ground for conviction.

What kind of evidence is it, then, that has been accepted as proof of
the supernatural? Or, to return to Tylor's definition of religion,
seeing that the belief in spiritual beings has persisted in every
generation, upon what kind of evidence has this belief been nourished?
Various replies might be given to this question, all of which may
contain some degree of truth, or an aspect of a general truth. In the
present enquiry I am concerned with one line of investigation only, one
that has been strangely neglected, but which yet, I am convinced,
promises fruitful results. In other directions it has been established
that a great aid to an understanding of the human organism in times of
health is to study its activities under conditions of disease. Abnormal
psychology is now a recognised branch of psychology in general, and a
glance through almost any recent text-book will show that the two form
parts of a natural whole. The normal and the abnormal are in turn used
to throw light on each other. And it appears to the present writer that
in the matter of religious beliefs a much clearer understanding of their
nature, and also of some of the conditions of their perpetuation, may be
gained by a study of what has happened, and is happening, in the light
of mental pathology.

To some, of course, the bare idea of there being a pathology of religion
will appear an entirely unwarrantable assumption. On the other hand, the
scientific study of all phases of religions having made so great headway
it is hoped that a larger number will be prepared for a discussion of
the subject from a point of view which, if not quite new, is certainly
not common. Of course, such a discussion, even if the author quite
succeeds in demonstrating the truth of his thesis, will still leave the
origin of the religious idea an open question. For the present we are
not concerned directly with the origin of the religious idea, but with
an examination of some of the causes that have served to perpetuate it,
and to trace the influence in the history of religion of states of mind,
both personal and collective, that are now admittedly abnormal or
pathological in character. The legitimacy of the enquiry cannot be
questioned. As to its value and significance, that every reader must
determine for himself.

One may put the essential idea of the following pages in a
sentence:--Given the religious idea as already existing, in what way,
and to what extent has its development been affected by forces that are
not in themselves religious, and which modern thought definitely
separates from religion?

Under civilised and uncivilised conditions we find religious beliefs
constantly associated with various forces--social, ethical, and
psychological. Very seldom is there any serious attempt to separate them
and assign to each their respective value; nor, indeed, is the task at
any time an easy one. The difficulty is made the greater by the way in
which writers so enlarge the meaning of "religion" that it is made to
include almost everything for which one feels admiration or respect.
This practice is neither helpful nor accurate. Human nature under all
aspects of intellectual conviction presents the same fundamental
characteristics, and a definition to be of value, while of necessity
inclusive, must also be decisively exclusive. It must unite, but it must
also separate. And many current definitions of religion, while they may
bear testimony to the amiability of those who frame them, are quite
destitute of scientific value. In any case, the association of the
religious idea with non-religious forces is a fact too patent to admit
of denial; and the important task is to determine their reciprocal
influence. In actual life this separation has been secured by the
development of the various branches of positive thought--ethics,
psychology, etc., all of which were once directly under the control of
religion. What remains to be done is to separate in theory what has
already been separated in fact, with such additions as a more critical
knowledge may suggest as advisable.

Far more suggestive, however, than the association of religion with what
we may call the normal social forces, is its connection with conditions
that are now clearly recognised as abnormal. From the earliest times we
find the use of drugs and stimulants, the practice of fasting and
self-torture, with other methods of depressing or stimulating the action
of the nervous system, accepted as well-recognised methods of inducing a
sense of religious illumination, or the feeling that one is in direct
communion with a supernatural order of existence. Equally significant is
the world-wide acceptance--right up to recent times--of purely
pathological states as evidence of supernatural intercourse. About these
two sets of facts there can be no reasonable doubt. Over and over again
we can observe how the promptings of disease are taken for the voice of
divinity, and men and women who to-day would be handed over to the care
of the physician hailed as an incarnation of deity. In modern asylums
we find one of the commonest of delusions to be that of the insane
person who imagines himself to be a specially selected instrument of
deity. In such instances the causal influence of pathological conditions
is admitted. On the other hand, we have belonging to the more normal
type the person who claims a supernatural origin for many of his actions
and states of mind. And between these two extremes lie a whole series of
gradations. They exist in all stages of culture, and it is difficult to
see by what rule of logic or of experience one can say where the normal
ends and the abnormal begins. If we assume the inference of the normal
person concerning the origin of his mental states to be correct, it
seems difficult to deny the possibility of those of the insane person
having a similar origin, although distorted by the influence of disease.
If, on the other hand, we say the insane person is wholly wrong as to
the origin of his mental states, may we not also assume that the normal
person has likewise erred as to the cause of his emotions or ideas?

Two considerations may be urged in support of this conclusion. In the
first place, there is the fact of the fundamental identity of human
qualities under all conditions of their manifestation. It is too often
assumed--sometimes it is explicitly claimed--that one with what is
called "a strong religious nature" possesses some quality of mind absent
or undeveloped in those of an opposite type. This assumption is quite
unwarrantable. The religious man is marked off from the non-religious
man, not by the possession of distinct mental qualities, but solely by
holding different ideas concerning the cause and significance of his
mental states. There is no such thing as a religious "faculty," but
only qualities of mind expressed in terms of the religious idea. If I am
conscious of a strong desire to work on behalf of the social betterment
of my fellows, I may account for this either by attributing it to having
inherited a nature modified by generations of social intercourse, or on
the hypothesis that I am an instrument in the hands of a superhuman
personality. But in either case the qualities manifested remain the
same. Love and hatred, fear and courage, honesty and roguery, with all
other human qualities, may be expressed in terms of religion, or they
may be expressed in non-religious terms. It is the cause to which they
are attributed, or the object to which they are directed, that marks off
the religious from the non-religious person.

The second point is that the whole issue arises on a conflict of
interpretations. If I question the reality of the visions or states of
illumination experienced by Santa Teresa, I am not questioning that, so
far as the saint herself was concerned, these states of exaltation were
real. All mental states--whether arising under normal or abnormal
conditions--are quite real to those who experience them. The visions of
the hashish-eater are real, while they last; so are those of the victim
of delirium tremens. All I question is their genuineness as
corresponding to an objective reality. Over the mind of the subject
these visions may exercise an absolute sway. As to their occurrence, he
or she is the final and absolute authority. There can be no question
here. But when we proceed from the occurrence of these visions to the
question of their causation, then we are on entirely different ground.
Here it is not a question of their genuineness, or of their power, but
a question of how we are to interpret them. The honesty and
singlemindedness of these "inspired" characters may be admitted, but
honesty or singlemindedness is no guarantee of accuracy. We do not need
to ask whether the peasant girl of Lourdes experienced a vision of the
Madonna, but we do need to ask whether there was anything in her mental
history, social surroundings, or nervous state that would account for
the vision. All the "facts" of the religious life may be admitted; the
sole question at issue is whether an adequate interpretation of at least
some of them may not be found in terms of a purely scientific

Taking, then, the religious idea as already existing, the following
pages will be devoted to an examination of the extent to which this idea
has been associated with forces and conditions that were plainly
pathological. In very many individual cases it will not be difficult to
trace a vivid sense of the supernatural to the presence of abnormal
nervous states, sometimes deliberately induced, at other times arising
of themselves. And it is a matter of mere historical observation that
such individual cases have operated most powerfully to strengthen the
belief in the supernatural with others. The example of Lourdes is a case
in point. All Protestants will agree that the peasant girl's vision was
a sheer hallucination. And yet there can be no question that this vision
has served to strengthen the faith of many thousands of others in the
nearness of the supernatural. And it needs but little effort of the
imagination to realise how powerful such examples must have been in ages
when medical science was in its infancy, and the more subtle operations
of the nervous system completely unknown.

This question, I repeat, is distinct from the much larger and wider
enquiry of the origin of religion. A fairly lengthy experience of the
capacity of the general mind for missing the real point at issue
prevents my being too sanguine as to the efficiency of the most explicit
avowal of one's purpose, but the duty of taking precautions nevertheless
remains. And in elaborating an unfamiliar view of the nature of much of
the world's so-called religious phenomena, the possibility of
misconception is multiplied enormously. Still, a writer must do what he
can to guard against misunderstanding, and in the most emphatic manner
it must be said that it is not my purpose to prove, nor is it my belief,
that religion springs from perverted sexuality, nor that the study of
religion is no more than an exercise in pathology. Nothing is further
from the writer's mind than so essentially preposterous a claim. Neither
sexuality, no matter how powerful, nor disease, no matter how
pronounced, can account for the religious idea. That has an entirely
separate and independent origin. This should be plain to anyone who has
but a merely casual acquaintance with the history of religion. It is,
however, a very different thing to enquire as to the part played in the
history of religion by morbid nervous states or perverted sexual
feeling. That is an enquiry both legitimate and desirable; and it is one
that promises to shed light on aspects of the subject otherwise very
obscure. And certainly, if so-called religious feelings do not admit of
explanation in terms of a scientific psychology, nothing remains but to
recognise religion as something quite apart from normal life, to hand
it over to the custody of word-spinning "Mystics," and so surrender all
possibility of a rational understanding of either its nature or its

In saying what I have concerning the probability of misconception, I
have had specially in mind the attack made by the late Professor William
James on what he called the "medical materialists." In that remarkable
piece of religious yellow-journalism, _The Varieties of Religious
Experience_, Professor James says of those who take up the position that
a great deal of what has been accepted by the world as religious
inspiration or exaltation can be accounted for as the products of
disordered nervous states or perverted sexual feeling, "We are surely
all familiar in a general way with this method of discrediting states of
mind for which we have an antipathy. We all use it in some degree in
criticising persons whose states of mind we regard as overstrained. But
when other people criticise our own exalted soul-flights by calling them
'nothing but' expressions of our organic disposition, we feel outraged
and hurt, for we know that, whatever be our organism's peculiarities,
our mental states have their substantive value as revelations of the
living truth; and we wish that all this medical materialism could be
made to hold its tongue." Again, "Few conceptions are less instructive
than this re-interpretation of religion as perverted sexuality.... It is
true that in the vast collection of religious phenomena, some are
undisguisedly amatory--_e.g._ sex deities and obscene rites in
polytheism, and ecstatic feelings of union with the Saviour in a few
Christian Mystics. But then why not equally call religion an aberration
of the digestive functions, and prove one's point by the worship of
Bacchus and Ceres, or by the ecstatic feelings of some other saints
about the Eucharist?" Or, seeing that the Bible is full of the language
of respiratory oppression, "one might almost as well interpret religion
as a perversion of the respiratory function." And if it is pointed out
that active interest in religion synchronises with adolescence, "the
retort again is easy.... The interest in mechanics, physics, chemistry,
logic, philosophy, and sociology, which springs up during adolescent
years along with that in poetry and religion, is also a perversion of
the sexual instinct."[1]

Excellent fooling, this, but little else. I do not know that anyone has
ever claimed that religion took its origin in sexual feeling, or that
this would alone provide an explanation of historical religion. All that
anyone has ever urged is that a deal of so-called religious feeling,
past and present, can be shown to be due to unsatisfied or perverted
sexual feeling--which is a very different statement, and one of which
the truth may be demonstrated from Professor James's own pages. But
between saying that certain feelings are wrongly interpreted in terms of
an already existing idea, and saying that the idea itself is nothing but
these same feelings transformed, there is an obvious and important
difference. In every case the religious idea is taken for granted. Its
origin is a quite different subject of enquiry. But once the idea is in
existence there is always the probability of evidence for its truth
being found in the wrong direction. The analogy of the digestive and
respiratory organs is clever, but futile. The belief that much which
has passed for religious feeling is perverted sexuality is not based
merely upon the language employed. The language is only symptomatic. The
terminology of respiration and digestion when used in connection with
religion is frankly and palpably symbolic. That of sexual love is as
often frankly literal, and can be correlated with the actual state of
the person using it. Digestion and respiration must go on in any case;
but it is precisely the point at issue whether with a different sexual
life these so-called religious ecstatic states would have been
experienced. When we find religious characters of strongly marked
amorous dispositions, but leading an ascetic life, using toward the
object of their adoration terms usually associated with strong sexual
feeling, it does not seem extravagant to find here a little more than
what may be covered by mere symbolism. Would the medieval monk have been
tempted by Satan in the form of beautiful women had he been happily
married? Would Santa Teresa or Catherine of Sienna have used the
language they did use to express their relations to Jesus had they been
wives and mothers? Such questions admit of one answer, which is, in its
way, decisive. Professor James admits that modern psychology holds as a
general postulate "there is not a single one of our states of mind, high
or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some organic process as its
condition."[2] The 'medical materialist' can ask for no more than this.
But this being granted, on what ground are we to be forbidden finding in
these same organic processes the condition of the visions and ecstatic
states with which _The Varieties of Religious Experience_ is so largely

Again, it may be granted that adolescence brings with it an awakening of
the whole mental life, not of religion alone. But the analogy goes no
further, and, in any case, it begs the question. The full significance
of the connection will be seen when we come to deal with initiation in
primitive times and conversion in the modern period. At present it
suffices to point out that the interest in art, in science, in
literature, in sociology, are ends in themselves, and one need go no
further than the developing mental life for an explanation. But the
essential question here is whether this growing life can or cannot find
complete satisfaction quite apart from religion. A developing interest
in the larger social life is common to all, and to some extent this is
secured by the pressure of forces that are simply inescapable. On the
other hand, an interest in religion only exists with some, and then it
may usually be traced to a conscious direction of their energies.
Moreover, those who show no special interest in religion evince no lack
of anything--save in religious terms. In every respect they exhibit the
same mental and emotional qualities as their fellows. The only
discernible difference is that while in the one case adolescent nature
is expressed in terms of religion, in the other case it is expressed in
terms of a larger social life.

The question here might be put thus: Given a generation not taught to
express its growing life in terms of religion, could adequate and
satisfactory expression be found in the social life to which adolescence
is unquestionably an introduction? Many would answer unhesitatingly,
yes. They would argue that what are called the religious feelings, are
normal social feelings exploited in the interests of the religious idea.
They would deny that there is any such thing as a religious quality of
mind. Any mental quality may be directed to a religious end, but all may
find complete expression and satisfaction in a non-religious social
life. This is the real question at issue, and yet Professor James never
once, in the whole of his 500 pages, addresses himself to it.

Apart from sex, there is the important question of the relation between
abnormal and morbid nervous states and religious illumination. How far
has the one been mistaken for the other? To what extent have people
accepted the outcome of pathological conditions as proofs of intercourse
with an unseen spiritual world? There is no doubt that among uncivilised
people this is usually, if not invariably, the case. And our knowledge
of the relations between the nervous system and mental states--imperfect
as it still is--is so recent, that it is not surprising that fasting,
self-torture, solitary meditation, etc., because of the states of mind
to which they give rise, have been universally valued as aids to the
religious life. Dr. D. G. Brinton says:--

"When I say that all religions depend for their origin and continuation
directly upon inspiration, I state an historic fact. It may be known
under other names, of credit or discredit, as mysticism, ecstasy,
rhapsody, demoniac possession, the divine afflatus, the gnosis, or, in
its latest christening, 'cosmic consciousness.' All are but expressions
of a belief that knowledge arises, words are uttered or actions
performed not through conscious ideation or reflective purpose, but
through the promptings of a power above or beyond the individual

The connection between very many, at least, of these inspirational moods
and pathological states is too obvious to be ignored. Professor James
admits that "we cannot possibly ignore these pathological aspects of the
subject." His notice of them, however, reminds one of the preacher who
advised his hearers to look a certain difficulty boldly in the face--and
pass on. No serious attempt is made to deal with them. A huge mass of
"religious experiences" is thrown at the reader's head without any
adequate explanation. It is a glorified revival meeting in an expensive
volume. The testimony of a crowd of religious enthusiasts of all ages is
accepted at practically face value. Thus, a religious writer who
experiences the fairly common feeling of exaltation during a storm at
sea, and explains his carelessness of danger as resulting from his
"certainty of eternal life,"[4] is gravely cited as evidence of the
working of the religious consciousness. What, then, are we to make of
those who experience a similar feeling, but who are without the
certainty of eternal life? The declaration of St. Ignatius that a single
hour of meditation taught him more of the truth of "heavenly things than
all the teachings of the doctors" is given as evidence of mystic
illumination.[5] So with numerous other cases. We are even informed that
"nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently
diluted with air, stimulate the mystical consciousness in an
extraordinary degree."[6] There seems no reason why the same claim
should not be made on behalf of whisky. If one were not assured to the
contrary, one might conclude that Professor James wrote this volume to
poke fun at the whole tribe of mystics and their followers.

The use made by Professor James of his long list of cases is the more
remarkable, since he quite correctly points out that there are no
religious feelings, only feelings directed towards a religious end. But
if this be so, how are we justified in taking the accounts of religious
visionaries as correct descriptions of the nature of their own mental
states? Clearly, we need a study of these cases quite apart from the
mystical interpretation of them. Instead of a study Professor James
presents us with a catalogue--useful from a documentary point of view,
but useless to any other end. And he is so averse to subjecting his
examples to analysis that, when the extravagance of certain cases are
glaring, he warns us that it is unfair to impute narrowness of mind as a
vice of the individual, because in "religious and theological matters he
probably absorbs his narrowness from his generation."[7] Granted; only
one would like to know what reason there is for not deriving virtues as
well as vices from the same source? And, deeper enquiry still, may not
the religious interpretation itself be a product of the special
environment of the period?

The study of religious phenomena from the point of view above indicated
is of first-rate importance. But although much has been said,
parenthetically and inferentially, on the subject by various writers,
the enquiry has never been exhaustively or systematically pursued. This
is not due to any lack of material; that is abundant among both savage
and civilised peoples. Perhaps it is because, while it has been
considered permissible to point out that certain individuals have
mistaken their own morbid states for evidence of divine illumination,
too much ill-will would have been aroused had the powerful part played
by this factor in religious development as a whole been pointed out.
Still less admissible would it have been to point out, as will be done
in succeeding chapters, that the deliberate culture of abnormal states
of mind has been a part of the ritual of religions from the most
primitive to the most recent times. In this connection it is worth
noting that a very clear and shrewd essay on the connection between love
and religious devotion by Isaac d'Israeli, which appeared in the first
issue of the _Miscellanies of Literature_, was quietly eliminated from
subsequent editions.

My purpose, therefore, is to give Professor James's query--"Under just
what biographic conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their
contributions to the holy volume? and what had they exactly in their
several individual minds, when they delivered their utterances?"[8]--a
wider scope. What are the conditions, biographic and social, under which
certain persons have imagined themselves, and have been believed by
others, to be specially favoured with divine illumination? The majority
of people, it may safely be said, are conscious of no such experience.
In what respect, then, do the favoured few differ from their fellows?
Must we assume that by some rare quality of natural endowment, or by
some unusual development of faculty, they are brought into touch with a
wider and deeper reality? Or are we to seek a less romantic explanation
with the aid of known tendencies and forces in human nature? And,
further, as this minority are not conscious of divine illumination all
the time, what is it that differentiates their normal state from their
abnormal condition?

These are pertinent questions, and demand answer. But no answer of real
value will be found in ordinary religious writings. Rhapsodical eulogies
of religion tell us nothing; less than nothing that is useful, since
theories that obtain in such quarters are based upon the absolute
veracity of the phenomena under consideration. We may gather from this
direction what religious people say or do, but not why they say or do
these things. A description of the states of mind of religious people,
such as is given by Professor James, is interesting enough, but it is
their causation that is of fundamental importance. And their causation
is only to be understood by associating them with other and more
fundamental processes. Within recent years psychology owes much of the
advance made to a closer study of the physiology of the nervous system,
and if genuine advance is to be made in our understanding of religious
phenomena we must adopt the same plan of investigation. We do not, for
example, understand the nature of demoniacal possession by a mere
collation of cases. It is only when we put them side by side with
similar cases that now come under the control of the physician, and
associate them with certain peculiar nervous conditions, and a
particular social environment, that we find ourselves within sight of a
rational explanation. Without adopting this plan we are in the position
of one trying to determine the nature of a locomotive in complete
ignorance of its internal mechanism. Yet this is precisely the position
of the professional exponent of religion. As a student the budding
divine has his head filled with historic creeds, and texts, and dogmas,
and doctrines, none of which can possibly tell him anything of the real
nature of religion. On the contrary, they act as so many obstacles to
his acquiring real knowledge in later life. And it is a striking fact
that while the professional astronomer, biologist, or physicist each
adds to our knowledge of the subject that falls within his respective
department, we owe little or nothing of our knowledge of the nature of
religion to the professional theologian.

To put the whole matter in a sentence, the study of religion must be
affiliated to the study of life as a whole. If possible, we must get at
the determining factors that lead one person to expend his energy on
religion and see supernatural influence in a thousand and one details of
his life, while another person, with apparently the same mental
qualities, finds complete satisfaction in another direction, and is
conscious of no such supernatural influence. It is scientifically
inadmissible to posit a "religious faculty" organically ear-marked for
religious use. Something of this kind is evidently in the minds of those
who explain Darwin's agnosticism as due to atrophy of his religious
sense, consequent on over-absorption in scientific pursuits, and who
also argue that the "religious faculty," like a physiological structure,
increases in efficiency with use and atrophies with disuse. There is no
reason for believing that, had Darwin been profoundly religious, his
mental qualities would have been different to what they were. They would
have been expressed in a different form, that is all. As I have already
said, there are no such things as specifically religious qualities of
the mind. There may be hope or fear or love or hatred or terror or
devotion or wonder in relation to religion, but they are precisely the
same mental qualities that meet us in relation to other things. The old
"faculty" psychology is dead, and the religious faculty must go with
it.[9] Mental qualities may be roused to activity in connection with a
belief in the supernatural, or they may be expressed in connection with
mundane associations. Even the belief in the supernatural is only an
expression of the same qualities of mind that with fuller knowledge
result in a scientific generalisation. Whatever be the exciting cause,
mental qualities themselves remain unchanged.

In the present enquiry we are not concerned with a disproval of the
religious idea, but with an examination of the conditions of its
expression; less with the varieties of religious experience than with
the nature of its manifestations. How far may religious experience be
explained as a misinterpretation of normal non-religious life? To what
extent have pathological nervous states influenced the building up of
the religious consciousness? There can be no question that the
last-named factor is an important one. This is admitted by Professor
James in the following passage:--

"You will in point of fact hardly find a religious leader of any kind in
whose life there is no record of automatisms. I speak not merely of
savage priests and prophets, whose followers regard automatic utterance
and action as by itself tantamount to inspiration, I speak of leaders of
thought and subjects of intellectualised experience. St. Paul had his
visions, his ecstasies, his gifts of tongues, small as was the
importance he attached to the latter. The whole array of Christian
saints and heresiarchs, including the greatest, the Bernards, the
Loyolas, the Luthers, the Foxes, the Wesleys, had their visions, voices,
rapt conditions, guiding impressions, and 'openings.' They had these
things because they had exalted sensibility, and to such things persons
of exalted sensibility are liable."[10]

The fact is unquestionable, but the question remains, In what sense were
these people exalted? Did their exalted sensibility really bring them
into touch with a form of existence hidden from persons of a coarser
fibre? Or did it belong to a class of cases which in a more violent form
comes within the province of the physician? The subjects, says Professor
James, "actually feel themselves played upon by powers beyond their
will. The evidence is dynamic; the god or spirit moves the very organs
of their body.... We have distinct professions of being under the
direction of a foreign power, and serving as its mouthpiece." Of course
we have, but for diagnostic purposes such professions are quite
valueless. What these people are conscious of, and all they are
conscious of, is a series of feelings of a more or less unusual kind.
Equally convinced was the medieval demoniac that a spirit moved the very
organs of his body. Equally convinced is the modern spiritualist medium
that his body is controlled by a disembodied spirit. It is not a
question of the actuality of certain states, but of their origin. The
intense conviction of the subject of the seizure is, as evidence, quite
irrelevant. The subjective state is always real, whether it belongs to a
saint in ecstasy or a drunkard in delirium tremens. There are no states
of mind more "real" while they last than those due to opium or hashish.
But it is never suggested that this is evidence of their veracity. In
such cases the testimony of a skilled outsider is of far greater value
than the conviction of the visionary. We are bound to appeal to Paul,
and Loyola, and Fox, and Wesley to know what their feelings were,
because here they are the supreme authorities. But we must consult
others to discover why they experienced these feelings. An illusion is
no more than a false interpretation of a real subjective experience;
although many are inclined to treat the rejection of the interpretation
as equivalent to a charge of imposture or deliberate lying.

It is also a matter of demonstration that these religious experiences
are strictly determined by environmental conditions. Thousands of
Christians have been favoured with visions of Jesus or of the Christian
heaven in their dying moments. Millions of Jews and Mohammedans have
lived and died without any such experience--the very persons to whom,
from an evidential point of view--such visions would be most useful. The
spiritual experience is determined by the pre-existing religious belief.
When belief in a personal devil was general, visions of Satan were
common. The evidence for personal conflicts with Satan is of precisely
the same nature and strength as is the evidence for intercourse with
deity. When the belief in Satan died out, visions and conflicts with him
ceased. How can we discriminate between the two classes of cases? Why
should the testimony of a great Christian character that he is conscious
of intercourse with deity be more authoritative than the testimony of,
perhaps, the same person on other occasions, of conflict with a personal
devil? Moreover, visions and a sense of contact with a super-normal
world are not peculiar to the religious character. It is a common
feature of a general psychopathic condition. Medical works are filled
with such instances. And it is only to be expected that when the
psychopath is of a deeply religious nature the affection will find a
religious expression. What is clearly needed is an explanation that will
cover the phenomenon as it appears in both a religious and a
non-religious form.

We may take as illustrative of what has been said the following case as
given by Dr. W. W. Ireland. It is that of a Berlin bookseller who placed
on record a clear description of his impressions while in ill-health,
and which entirely ceased on recovery. His delusions mostly took the
form of human figures; of these he says:--

"I saw, in the full use of my senses, and (after I had got the better of
the fright which at first seized me, and the disagreeable effects which
it caused) even in the greatest composure of mind, for almost two
months, constantly and involuntarily, a number of human and other
apparitions--nay, I even heard their voices. For the most part I saw
human figures of both sexes; they commonly passed to and fro, as if they
had no connection with each other, like people at a fair where all is
bustle. Sometimes they appeared to have business with one another. Once
or twice I saw amongst them persons on horseback, and dogs and birds;
these figures all appeared to me in their natural size, as distinctly as
if they had existed in real life, with the several tints on the
uncovered parts of the body, and with all the different kinds and
colours of clothes."[11]

Here we have the case of a man who was under no misconception as to the
nature of his visions. But it is safe to say that had he been of a less
practical and analytic turn of mind, had he been, moreover, deeply
interested in religious matters, we might have had an altogether
different presentation of the facts.

In the next instance, also given by Dr. Ireland, we have a religious
explanation given of somewhat similar experiences:--

"A poor woman complained to me that she was continually persecuted by
the devils who let loose at her all sorts of blasphemies, and, indeed,
all the worse the more she exerted herself not to attend to them; but
often, also, when she was talking and active. She had already been to a
clergyman who should exorcise the devil, and who had judiciously
directed her to me. I asked in which ear the devil always talked to her.
She was surprised at the question, which she had never started for
herself, but now recognised that it always occurred in the left ear. I
explained to her that it was an affection of the ear which now and then
occurs, but she was doubtful."[12]

Here we have a distinctly physical affection ascribed to supernatural
agency. In this case the inference is promptly corrected by the
physician. But given a different environment, an atmosphere permeated
with a belief in the supernatural, an absence of adequate scientific
advice, and the more primitive explanation is certain to prevail. In the
next instance--that of Martin Luther--we have just this conjuncture of
circumstances, with the inevitable result. Writing of his experience in
1530, Luther says:--

"When I was in Coburg in 1530, I was tormented with a noise in my ear,
just as though there was some wind tearing through my head. The devil
had something to do with it.... When I try to work, my head becomes
filled with all sorts of whizzing, buzzing, thundering noises, and if I
did not leave off on the instant I should faint away. For the last two
or three days I have not been able to even look at a letter. My head has
lessened down to a very short chapter; soon it will be only a paragraph,
then only a syllable, then nothing at all. The day your letter came from
Nuremberg I had another visit from the devil.... This time the evil one
got the better of me, drove me out of my bed, and compelled me to seek
the face of man."[13]

There is no need to quote more of this class of cases, at least for the
present. Their name is legion. One could, in fact, construct an
ascending series of cases, all agreeing in their symptom, and differing
only in the explanation offered. The series would commence with the
explanation of a possessing spirit, and end with that of a deranged
nervous system. Ignorant of the nature, or even of the existence, of a
nervous system, primitive man explains abnormal mental states as due to
a malignant spirit. Martin Luther, George Fox, or John Bunyan, living at
a time when the activity of evil spirits was a firmly held doctrine,
attribute their infirmities to satanic influence. We are in the true
line of descent. To-day we have with us every one of the phenomena on
which the satanic theory rested, but they are described, and prescribed
for, in medical works instead of manuals of exorcism. The
supernaturalist theory gives way to that of the expert neurologist. The
exorcist is replaced by the physician. Instead of expelling an intruding
demon, we have to repair a deranged system. We cannot argue that while
these affections remain constant in character their causes may have been
different in other ages from what they are now. That is pure absurdity.
To claim that the religious mystic is in moments of exaltation brought
into contact with a "deeper reality" is to invite the retort that one
might make a similar claim on behalf of the inmates of a lunatic asylum.
We cannot, with any pretence to rationality, accept the verdicts of both
the neurologist and the exorcist. If we agree that certain states of
mind to-day have their origin in neural disorder, on what ground can we
believe that similar mental states occurring a thousand or two thousand
years ago were due to supernatural stimulation? We may be told that
there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our
philosophy. This may be true, and while it is an observation that would
not occur to a fool, it needs no supreme wisdom for its excogitation,
and as generally used it is an excuse for idle speculation and grotesque
theory. Far more useful is the lesson, sadly needed, that there are few
things in heaven or earth that will not yield their secret to a method
of investigation that is sanely conceived and diligently employed.

The utter uselessness of accepting at its face value anyone's
explanation of the nature of his subjective experience, is well shown by
the once universal belief in witchcraft. If there is a single belief on
behalf of which a mass of apparently unimpeachable evidence could be
produced, it is this one. It has run its course throughout the whole
world. It is still accepted by probably half the human race. In our own
country eminent men, not alone theologians, but doctors, lawyers,
statesmen, and men of letters, have given their solemn testimony in its
favour. Thousands of people have been bewitched, and their symptoms
described by thousands of others. More remarkable still, those accused
have often enough confessed their guilt. Every possible corroboration
has been given to this belief, and yet it is now scouted by educated
persons all over the civilised world. Even religious teachers accept the
explanation that these witchcraft cases were due to distinctly
pathological conditions, and to the power of suggestion operating upon
uninformed minds during an unenlightened age. But communications with
spiritual beings rest on no better foundation than communication with
Satan. Whether the alleged illumination be diabolic or angelic, the
evidence for either, or both, is the same. The testimony of a man like
the Rev. R. J. Campbell that he is conscious of a divine influence in
his life is of no greater value than that of the medieval peasant who
felt himself tormented by Satan. The one person is no better authority
than is the other on such a topic. Both are the heirs of the ages,
inheritors of a superstition that goes back to the most primitive ages
of mankind, only modified in its expression by the culture of
contemporary life.

There is nothing new under the sun, and human nature remains
substantially unchanged generation after generation. All the phenomena
on which the belief in witchcraft was based, remain. Cases of delusion
are common, and the power of suggestion is an established fact in
psychology. All that has happened is this: taking the facts on which the
belief was based, modern science has shown them to be explainable
without the slightest reference to the supernatural. And this is the
principle that must be applied in other directions. Old occurrences must
be explained in the light of new knowledge. This is the accepted rule in
other directions, and it is of peculiar value in relation to religious
beliefs. To know what religious people have thought and felt and said
gives us no more than the data for a scientific study of the subject. To
know _why_ they thought and felt and spoke thus is what we really need
to understand. But if we are to do this we must relate phases of mind
that are called religious to other phases of a non-religious character.
I believe it is quite possible to do this. From medical records and from
numerous biographies it is possible to parallel all the experiences of
the religious mystic. We can see the same sense of exaltation, the same
conviction of illumination, the same belief that one is the tool of a
superior power. Take, as merely illustrative of this, the case of J.
Addington Symonds, as narrated by Professor James, who cites it as an
example of a "mystical experience with chloroform." Symonds tells us
that until he was twenty-eight years of age he was liable to extreme
states of exaltation concerning the nature of self. (It is worth while
pointing out that Sir James Crichton-Browne expresses the opinion that
Symonds's higher nerve centres were in some degree enfeebled by these
abnormal states.) In addition to this confession he placed on record an
interesting experience while under the influence of chloroform. He

"After the choking and stifling had passed away, I seemed at first in a
state of utter blankness; then came flashes of intense light,
alternating with blankness, and with a keen sense of vision of what was
going on in the room around me, but no sensation of touch. I thought
that I was near death; when suddenly my soul became aware of God who was
manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak, in an intense
personal reality. I felt him streaming in like light upon me.... I
cannot describe the ecstasy I felt. Then, as I gradually awoke from the
influence of the anæsthetic, the old sense of my relation with the world
began to return, the new sense of my relation to God began to fade....
Only think of it. To have felt for that long dateless ecstasy of vision
the very God, in all purity, tenderness, and truth, and absolute love,
and then to find that I had after all had no revelation, but that I had
been tricked by the abnormal excitement of my brain."

With a slight variation of expression this confession might have come
direct from the lips of the most pronounced mystic. There is no question
of the intense reality of the experience. That was as vivid as anything
that ever occurred to any saint in the calendar. Still, no one will
dream of claiming that the way to get _en rapport_ with the higher
mysteries is by way of a dose of chloroform. The distinction here is
that Symonds knew and described the cause of his experience. And no one
will question that the phrase "tricked by the abnormal excitement of my
brain" covers the ground. Of course, there is always the easy retort
that saints and mystics did not use chloroform to produce their visions.
True, but chloroform is not the only agent by means of which a person
may be thrown into an abnormal state. Other means may be used; and as a
matter of fact, the use of herbs and drugs, as methods of producing
ecstatic states, have obtained in religious ceremonies from the most
primitive times. As we shall see later, tobacco, hashish, coca, laurel
water, and similar agents have been largely utilised for this purpose.
And when this plan is not adopted--although very often the two things
run side by side--we find fasting and other forms of self-torture
practised because of the abnormal conditions produced.

It is not argued or implied that in all this there was of necessity
deliberate imposture. That would imply the possession of greater
knowledge than actually existed. But it was known that ecstatic states
followed the use of certain drugs, or were consequent on certain
austerities, and they were valued because they were believed to bring
people into communion with a hidden spiritual world. In this way there
has always been going on a more or less deliberate culture of the
supernatural, in more primitive times by crude and easily recognisable
means, later by methods that are more subtle in character and more
difficult of detection. But the method of inducing a sense of
"spiritual" illumination by means of practices alien to the normal life
of man remains unchanged throughout. The collation of the conditions
under which mystical states of mind are experienced among savages with
similar experiences among the higher races, proves at once that this
statement contains no exaggeration of the facts.

The continuity of the phenomena is, indeed, of profound significance,
and is too often ignored. It is often asserted that we have to explain
the lower by the higher, and we can only understand the significance of
religion in its lower forms by bearing in mind the higher
manifestations. This is sheer fallacy. In nature the higher develops out
of the lower, of which it is compounded. In biology, for example, it is
now generally conceded that the secret of animal life lies in the cell.
This may be modified in all kinds of directions, the resulting organic
structure may be of the utmost complexity, but the basis remains
unchanged. So, too, with a great deal of so-called religious phenomena.
The story is not only continuous, but the same elements remain unchanged
with only those modifications initiated by a changed environment. And
just as we are driven back to the cell to explain organic structure, so
for an understanding of the phenomena under consideration we must study
their primitive elements. Analysis must precede synthesis here as

A survey of the subject is not at all exhausted by a study of abnormal
conditions, so far as these have entered into the life of religion.
There still remains the study of perfectly normal frames of mind that
are misinterpreted and diverted into religious channels. The importance
of this will be seen more clearly when we come to deal with the subject
of conversion. That "conversion" is a phenomenon of adolescence is now
settled beyond all reasonable doubt. Statistics are conclusive on this
point. But the advocate of revivalism quite misses the true significance
of the fact. Current religious literature is full of quite meaningless
chatter concerning the change of view, the larger and more unselfish
activities, that arise as a consequence of conversion. There is really
no evidence that the changes indicated have any connection with
conversion. All that does happen can be more simply and more adequately
explained as resulting from physiological and psychological changes in
terms of racial and social evolution. The whole significance of
adolescence lies in the bursting into activity of feelings hitherto
dormant, and the quickening of a desire for communion with a larger
social life. The individual becomes less self-centred, more alive to,
and more responsive to the claims of others; he displays tendencies
towards what the world calls self-sacrifice, but which mean, in the
truest sense, self-realisation. That these changes are often expressed
in terms of religion is undeniable. This, however, may be no more than
an environmental accident, quite as much so as was the case when
epilepsy was explained in terms of possession.

So far as one can see, there are no feelings or impulses characteristic
of adolescence that could not receive complete satisfaction in a
rationally ordered social life. To-day it usually happens that the
strongest expressed influences brought to bear upon the individual are
of a religious kind, with the result that adolescent human nature is
most apt to express itself in religious language. It must always be
borne in mind that we are all as dependent upon our environment for the
form in which our explanation of things is cast, as we are for the
language in which we express those ideas. The whole enquiry opened is a
very wide one, with which I can only deal parenthetically. It is really
an enquiry as to how far the religious theory of human nature rests upon
a wrong interpretation of perfectly normal feelings, or to what extent
supernaturalistic ideas are perpetuated by the exploitation--innocent
exploitation, maybe--of man's social nature. It is extremely probable
that a deeper knowledge, a more accurate analysis of human qualities,
will disclose the truth that man is a social animal in a much more
profound sense than has usually attached to that phrase, and the
expression of these qualities in terms of religious beliefs, or in terms
of non-religious beliefs, is wholly determined by the knowledge current
in the society in which he moves.

I conclude this chapter with one more attempt to avoid misunderstanding.
For purposes of clarity it will be necessary to consider various factors
out of relation to other factors. But it should hardly need pointing out
that in actual life such a separation does not obtain. The organism
functions as a whole; each part acts upon and is acted upon by every
other part. Life in action is a synthesis, and one resorts to analysis
only for the purpose of more adequate comprehension. It is not,
moreover, pretended that any one of the factors described in the
following pages will explain religion, nor even that all of them
combined will do so. The origin of the religious idea is a quite
different enquiry, and is adequately dealt with in the writings of men
like Tylor, Frazer, Spencer, and other representatives of the various
schools of anthropologists. My present purpose is of a more restricted
kind. It is that of tracing the operation of various processes, some
normal, but most of them abnormal, that have in all ages been accepted
as evidence for the supernatural. That the religious idea has been
associated with these processes, and that for multitudes they have
served as strong evidence of its truth, cannot be denied. And an
examination of this aspect of the history of religion ought not to be
ignored, however unpalatable such a study may be to certain
supersensitive minds.


[1] _Varieties of Religious Experience_, pp. 11-3.

[2] _Varieties_, p. 14.

[3] _Religions of Primitive Peoples_, p. 50.

[4] Page 288.

[5] Page 410.

[6] Page 387.

[7] Page 370.

[8] _Varieties_, p. 4.

[9] "The hypothesis of faculties ... must be regarded as productive of
much error in psychology. It has led to the false supposition that
mental activity, instead of being one and the same throughout its
manifold phases, is a juxtaposition of totally distinct activities,
answering to a bundle of detached powers, somehow standing side by side,
and exerting no influence on one another. Sometimes this absolute
separation of the parts of mind has gone so far as to personify the
several faculties as though they were distinct entities."--Sully,
_Outlines of Psychology_, p. 26.

[10] _Varieties_, p. 478.

[11] _The Blot upon the Brain_, p. 4.

[12] _The Blot upon the Brain_, p. 16.

[13] Cited by Dr. Ireland, p. 49.



Ever since the time of Aristotle it has been an accepted truth that man
is a social animal. Not only is individual human nature such that it
craves for intercourse with its kind, but it can only be effectively
understood in the light of those thousands of generations of associated
life that lie behind us all. As an isolated object, considered, that is,
apart from his fellows, man is more or less of a myth. At any rate, he
would not be the man we know and so may well be left out of account. Man
as we know him is essentially a member of a group; he is a part of a
really organic structure inasmuch as the characteristics of each part
are determined by its relations to the whole, and the characteristics of
the whole determined by a synthesis of the qualities of the parts.

But while there is agreement in the fact, there is a considerable
divergence of opinion as to its nature. What is the nature of this fact
of sociability? What is the character of the force that binds the
members of a group so closely together? By some, the cause of
sociability is found in the pressure exerted upon all by purely external
forces. The need for protection, it is said, drives human beings
together, and thus in course of time the feeling of sociability is
developed. This seems much like mistaking a consequence for a cause. It
certainly leaves unanswered the question _Why_ should people have drawn
together in the face of danger? Most certainly collective action
strengthens the capacity for defence; and it also increases the
certainty of obtaining the means of subsistence. Such consequences
furnish a justification, so to speak, of group life, but they disclose
neither its nature nor its cause. And most certainly they do not bring
us into touch with the fundamental qualities of _human_ society. The
need for food, shelter, or protection will not differentiate the
gregarious from the non-gregarious forms of life, nor the social from
the merely gregarious. All forms of life require food, protection, and
shelter; they are part of animal economics. There is nothing
specifically human about them.

We may reach what I conceive to be the truth in another way. Environment
is to-day almost a cant word. It is very largely used, and, as one might
expect, largely misunderstood. Without actually saying it in so many
words, a vast number of people seem to conceive the environment as
consisting of the purely material surroundings of man. This is to
overlook a most important fact. Even in the lowest stages of human
society, where man's power over natural forces is of the poorest kind,
it is not an exact statement of the case, and it is profoundly untrue
when we take society in its higher developments. If we take the lowest
existing savage race we find that its attitude towards life, what it
does, and what it refrains from doing, is the product of a certain
mental attitude, which is itself the outcome of a number of inherited
ideas and customs. A number of white people, placed in exactly the same
material environment and faced with exactly the same external
circumstances, bring a different psychological inheritance into play,
and act in an entirely different manner. If we transport a Chinaman into
England, or an Englishman into China, we find that both of them possess
the same biological and material needs whether in their native country
or elsewhere. Yet this community of needs does not make the Chinaman a
member of English society, nor an Englishman a member of Chinese
society. They are one in virtue of certain broad human characteristics;
they are divided by certain qualities characteristic of their special
groups. Each society is marked by the possession of certain
psychological characteristics--a number of specific beliefs and
emotional developments--without which its distinctive group character
disappears. This is true of groups within the State; it is true of the
State as a whole; it is true, on the most general scale of all, of the

In other words, the distinguishing feature of human society is the
possession of a psychological medium. The adaptations that the human
being must make are mainly of a psychological character. Their _form_
may be partly determined by external conditions, but this does not
affect the general truth. Whether we take man in a civilised or in an
uncivilised state we find the important thing about him to be his
relations to his fellows. He is not merely a member of a tribe or a
society, but he thinks that society's thoughts, he feels their emotions,
his individual life is an expression of the psychical life of the group
to which he belongs. And his transactions with nature are an expression
of the ideas and beliefs current in the society of which he is a part.

The recognition of this truth was one of the outstanding contributions
of Herbert Spencer to the science of sociology. Whereas other writers
had stressed the power of the environment, as a purely material thing,
in shaping human institutions, Spencer placed chief stress upon the
emotional and intellectual life of primitive man as determining their
beginnings. He showed how man's feelings and beliefs about himself, and
about his fellows, and about the world of living forces with which he
believed himself to be surrounded, were the all-important factors of
social evolution. And the subsequent history of society has been such
that scientific sociology is very largely the study of the growth and
elaboration of an essentially psychical environment. The lower animal
world--except so far as we allow for the operation of instincts--has,
broadly, only the existence of other animals and the physical
surroundings for its environment. With man it is vastly different. Owing
primarily to language, the environment of the man of to-day is made up
in part of the ideas of men who lived and died thousands of years ago.
The use of clothing and the invention of tools would alone make mind a
dominant fact in human life. But apart from these things, the great fact
of social heredity, in virtue of which one generation enjoys the
acquired culture of preceding generations, and without which
civilisation would have no existence, is a great and dominant _mental_
fact. Our institutions, our customs, are transmitted to us as so many
psychic facts. Every new invention, every fresh culture acquisition, is
helping to strengthen and broaden the psychical environment of man. Each
newcomer is born into it; it moulds his nature and determines his life,
as his own career and his own acquisition help to mould the life of his
successors. Whether the phenomena be simple or complex, whether we are
dealing with man in a civilised or in an uncivilised state, there is no
escape from the general truth that man is everywhere under the
domination of his mental life.

So far as this enquiry is concerned, we need only deal with one aspect
of the psychological medium in which primitive human life moves. And so
far as primitive mankind seeks to control the movements of social life,
there can be no question that this is done under the impulsion of that
class of beliefs which we call religious. The operation of religious
belief in savage society is neither spasmodic nor local. It is, on the
contrary, universal and persistent. It influences every event of daily
life with a force that the modern mind finds very difficult to
appreciate. In almost every action the savage feels himself to be in
touch with a supersensual world of living beings that exert a direct and
inescapable influence. And any study of human evolution that is to be of
real value must take this circumstance into consideration to a far
greater extent than is usually done. Professor Frazer, dealing with the
origin of various social institutions, rightly observes that "we are
only beginning to understand the mind of the savage, and therefore the
mind of our savage forefathers who created these institutions and handed
them down to us," and warns us that "a knowledge of the truth may
involve a reconstruction of society such as we can hardly dream of." He
also warns us that we have at all times, in dealing with social origins,
to "reckon with the influence of superstition, which pervades the life
of the savage and has contributed to build up the social organism to an
incalculable extent."[14]

In emphasising this it must not be taken to imply that because social
institutions and human actions are in primitive times moulded by
religious beliefs, they stand to them in a relation of complete
dependence. It only means that the psychological medium is of such a
character that supernaturalistic reasons are found for doings things
that are susceptible to a totally different explanation. The facts of
life are expressed in terms of supernaturalism. Birth, marriage, death,
social cohesion, leadership, health and disease, are all natural facts,
and the mere play of social selection determines the weeding out of
practices that are sufficiently adverse to tribal well-being to threaten
its security. But in primitive times all these facts are allied with
religious beliefs, and to the primitive mind the religious belief
becomes the chief feature connected with them. As a matter of fact, this
is far from an uncommon feature of social life to-day. The amount of
supernaturalism current is still very large; and one still finds people
explaining some of the plainest facts of social life in terms of
supernaturalistic beliefs. It is all part of the truth that man is
always under the domination of the psychological forces.

This being granted, the enquiry immediately presents itself, How comes
it that the facts of social life should be expressed in terms of
supernaturalism? Why do these facts not immediately present themselves
in their true nature? To answer this question one must bear in mind a
yet further truth. This is that the explanation which man offers to
himself or to others of phenomena must always be in terms of current
knowledge. A modern called upon to explain a storm, an eclipse, or a
disease, does so in terms of current physical or biological science.
This is done in virtue of a mass of prepared knowledge, slowly
accumulated by preceding generations, and which forms part of his social
heritage. Primitive man likewise explains things in terms of current
knowledge, but in his case the amount of reliable information is of a
very scanty and generally erroneous description. The inherited knowledge
which enables a modern schoolboy to start life with what would have been
an outfit to an ancient philosopher, had yet to be created. Instead of
finding, as we find, tools ready to hand, replies prepared to questions
that may arise, primitive mankind must create its own tools and prepare
its own answers. And in consequence of this the social environment,
which at all times determines the form of man's mental output, is with
primitive man radically different from our own. But however the form
varies there is agreement on this one point--in both cases phenomena are
explained in terms of known forces; the reasoning of each is determined
by the knowledge of each. The laws of mental life remain the same in all
stages of culture. The brain functions identically whether we take the
savage or the scientist. In a general way the savage intelligence is as
rational as that of a modern thinker. The difference is dependent upon
the accuracy and extent of the information possessed by each. Hence the
vital difference in the conclusions reached. Hence, too, the dominance
of supernaturalism in primitive times.

The great distinction between primitive and scientific thinking may be
expressed in a sentence--the modern mind explains man by the world,
primitive thought explained the world by man. In the one case we move
from within outward, in the other from without inward. We are not now
concerned with semi-metaphysical idealistic theories that would reduce
the "whole choir of heaven and furniture of earth" to the creation of
mental activity, but with the plain, understandable truth that the
human organism is fashioned by the environment in which it dwells. And
there is amongst those capable of expressing an authoritative
opinion--an agreement supported by evidence that has simply nothing
against it--that the world of primitive man is overpoweringly animistic.
In the absence of that mass of scientifically verified knowledge which
forms part of our social heritage, humanity commences its intellectual
career by endowing natural forces with the qualities possessed by
itself. The forces conceived are living ones. They are to be dreaded
exactly as human beings are to be dreaded; to be appeased or
circumvented by the same methods that man applies to his fellows. The
problem before the savage is thus a very real one. In essence it is the
problem that is ever before humanity--that of subjugating forces to its
own welfare. Primitive man is not, however, concerned with the
elaboration of theories; nor is he consumed with vague 'spiritual
yearnings.' His difficulty is how to control or placate those invisible
but very real powers upon which he believes everything depends. He would
willingly ignore them if he could, and would cheerfully dispense with
their presence altogether if he believed that things would proceed as
well in their absence. But there they are, inescapable facts that have
to be reckoned with.

The general outlook of the primitive mind is well put by Miss Mary
Kingsley in the following passage:--

"To the African the Universe is made up of matter permeated by spirit.
Everything happens by the direct action of spirit. The thing he does
himself is done by the spirit within him acting on his body ...
everything that is done by other things is done by their spirit
associated with their particular mass of matter.... The native will
point out to you a lightning-stricken tree and tell you that its spirit
has been killed. He will tell you, when the earthen cooking pot is
broken, it has lost its spirit. If his weapon fails him, it is because
someone has stolen its spirit or made it weak by means of his influence
on spirits of the same class.... In every action of his life he shows
you how he lives with a great spirit world around him. You see him
before he starts out to fight rubbing stuff into his weapon to
strengthen the spirit that is in it; telling it the while what care he
has taken of it.... You see him leaning over the face of the water
talking to its spirit with proper incantations, asking it when it meets
an enemy of his to upset his canoe and destroy him.... If a man is
knocked on the head with a club, or shot by an arrow or a bullet, the
cause of death is clearly the malignity of persons using these weapons;
and so it is easy to think that a man killed by the falling of a tree,
or by the upsetting of a canoe in the surf, or in a whirlpool in the
river is also a victim of some being using these things as weapons. For
a man holding this view, it seems both natural and easy to regard
disease as a manifestation of the wrath of some invisible being, and to
construct that intricate system which we find among the Africans, and
agree to call Witchcraft, Fetish, or Juju."[15]

Miss Kingsley is here dealing specifically with West Africa, but her
description applies in a general way to uncivilised people all over the
world. There is much closer resemblance between the beliefs of
uncivilised peoples than between civilised ones, because the conditions
are much more alike. And under substantially identical conditions the
human mind has everywhere reached substantially identical conclusions.
The philosophy of the savage is simple, comprehensive, and, given the
data, logical. He does not divide the world into the natural and the
supernatural; it is all one. At most, he has only the seen and the
unseen. The supernatural, as a distinct category, only appears when a
definite knowledge of the natural has arisen to which it can be opposed.
He has no such distinction as that of the material and the immaterial;
so far as he thinks of these things, the invisible is only a finer form
of the visible. Of one thing, however, he is perfectly convinced, and
this is that he is at all times surrounded by a host of invisible
agencies to which all occurrences are due, and with whom he must come to
terms. Even death wears a different aspect to the primitive mind from
that which it presents to the modern. To us death puts a sharp and
abrupt termination to life. To the primitive mind death involves no such
ending.[16] Death is no more of a break than is sleep; and at all times
the conception of an annihilation of personality requires a marked
degree of mental power. So with the savage--the 'dead' man simply goes
on living. He may be incarnated in some natural object, or he may simply
go on living as one of the innumerable company of tribal ghosts. But he
remains a force to be reckoned with, and the need for dealing with these
ghostly personages is one of the ever-present problems of primitive
sociology, and brings us very near the beginnings of all religious
beliefs and ceremonies--if it does not form their real starting-point.

On one point all modern schools of anthropologists are agreed. This is
that man's first conception of the supernatural--or what afterwards
ranks as such--is derived from a purely mistaken interpretation of
natural phenomena. In this they have returned to the standpoint of
Hobbes, that "fear of things invisible" forms the "natural seed of
religion." One source of origin of this belief in a supernatural world
is certainly found in the phenomena of dreaming. To the savage his
dreams are as real as his waking experiences. He does not _dream_ he
goes to distant places; he goes there during his sleep. He does not
_dream_ that people visit him; they actually come. If a West African
wakes up in the morning with a tired, bruised feeling, this arises, as
Miss Kingsley says, from his 'soul' having been out fighting and got
ill-treated. The only philosophy of dreaming amongst savage races is
that of the excursions and incursions of a 'soul' or double.

Another powerful factor in the development of belief in the supernatural
is that of man's attempt to explain natural happenings. Why do things
happen? Why does the sun rise and set, why does rain fall, thunder
crash, rivers flow? Note the way in which a child answers similar
questions, and one is on the track of the primitive intelligence. If
man's own movements are caused by a 'soul' or double, then other things
must also move because they possess a 'soul.' If an answer is to be
found at all, it is only along these lines that the primitive mind is
able to find it. And, once the answer is given, there are a thousand
and one things occurring that lend it apparent support. Resemblances in
nature, coincidences, echoes, shadows, etc., all give their support to
this primitive hypothesis--the only one possible in the circumstances,
and the one still endorsed by the majority of the world's population.

Particularly strong endorsement of this belief is supplied by disease
and abnormal nervous states. Instances to illustrate this are
innumerable, but from the numerous cases cited by Spencer I select the
following: Among the Amazulus convulsions are believed to be caused by
ancestral spirits. With Asiatic races epileptics are regarded as
possessed by demons. With the Kirghiz the involuntary muscular movements
of a woman in childbirth are believed to be caused by a spirit taking
possession of the body. The Samoans attribute all madness to possession.
The Congo people have the same notion of epilepsy. The East Africans
believe that falling sickness is due to spirits.[17] In Rajputana, says
Mr. W. Crooke, disease is generally attributed to Khor or the agency of
offended spirits. The Mahadeo Kolis of Ahmadnagar believe that every
malady or disease that seizes man, woman, or child, or cattle, is caused
either by evil spirits or by an angry god. The Bijapur Veddas have a
yearly feast to their ancestors to prevent the dead bringing sickness
into the house.[18] "A Catholic missionary," says Professor Frazer,
"observes that in New Guinea the _nepir_, or sorcerer, is everywhere....
Nothing happens without the sorcerer's intervention; wars, marriage,
death, expeditions, fishing, hunting, always and everywhere the

In Ancient Egypt, Chaldea, and Assyria there is ample evidence that the
same belief flourished. Everywhere we find the exorcist and the
witch-doctor existing as natural consequents of the belief that disease
has a supernatural origin. We see it in both the teaching and practice
of the early Christian Church. That great father of the Church, Origen,
says: "It is demons which produce famine, unfruitfulness, corruption of
the air, and pestilence." St. Augustine said that "All diseases of
Christians are to be ascribed to demons." The Church of England still
retains in its Articles an authorisation for the expulsion of demons;
and a number of charms yet in wide use amongst civilised nations show
how persistent is this belief. For centuries there existed all over
Europe sacred pools, wells, grottos, etc., all bearing eloquent witness
to the deep-seated belief that disease was of supernatural origin, and
was to be conquered by supernatural means.

Enough has been said to indicate the kind of environment in which
primitive man moves, and also to understand why ideas concerning the
supernatural exert such an enormous influence in early society. In a
world where everything was yet to be learned, man's first attempts at
understanding himself and his fellows were necessarily blundering and
tentative. His first attempts at explanation are expressed in terms of
his own nature. He sees himself, his own passions, strengths, and
weaknesses reflected in the nature around him. This is the outstanding,
dominating fact in primitive life. Leave out this consideration and
primitive sociology becomes a chaos. Admit it, and we see the reason why
social institutions assumed the form they took, and also a key to much
that happens in subsequent human history. In primitive life religious
beliefs are not something separate from other forms of social life; so
far as man seeks consciously to shape that life they are to him an
essential part of it. And the mistake once made is perpetuated. The
initial blunder once committed, daily experience seems to give it
constant justification. In the absence of knowledge concerning natural
forces every event,--particularly if unusual,--every case of disease,
endorses and strengthens the mistake made. A psychological fatality
drives the human race along the wrong path of investigation, and only
very slowly is the mistake rectified. One cannot see how it could have
been otherwise. The only corrective is knowledge, and knowledge is a
plant of slow growth. This psychological first step was man's first
attempt to frame a theory of things satisfactory to his intellect--an
attempt that, beginning in the crude animism of the savage, ends in the
verifiable laws of modern science.

From the point of view of our present enquiry two things are to be
noted. The first is that man's conviction of the nearness of a
supernatural world began in his lack of knowledge concerning the nature
of natural forces. Of this there can be little doubt. One can take all
the facts upon which primitive mankind built, and still builds, its
theories of supernaturalism, and show that they may be explained in a
quite different manner. The movements of the planets, the rush of
comets, the presence of disaster, the thousand and one operations of
natural forces no longer suggest to educated minds the action of
personal beings. The whole data of the primitive theory of things have
been rejected. The premises were false, and the conclusions necessarily
false also.

The second point is that from the earliest times one of the strongest
proofs of human contact with a supernatural world has been found in the
existence of abnormal or pathological states of mind. These may have
sometimes arisen quite naturally; at other times they have been
deliberately induced. How much the perpetuation of religious beliefs as
a whole owes to this factor has never yet been adequately realised. That
it has had a very great influence seems beyond dispute. For it seems
certain that had not "proofs" of a supernatural world been offered in
the shape of visions, ecstatic states, etc., religious beliefs would
hardly have exercised the power that has been theirs. The number of
people who are able to maintain a strong consciousness of the truth of
religion, merely looking at it as a philosophy of existence, is
naturally very few. The great majority require more tangible evidence if
their belief is to be kept alive and active. And curiously enough, the
very growth of a naturalistic explanation has driven a great many to
find the evidence they desired in those abnormal states of mind that
seemed to defy scientific analysis. In succeeding chapters evidence will
be given to show to what extent this kind of evidence for the
supernatural has been offered and accepted. It will be seen, as
Professor Tylor points out, that the line of religious development is
continuous. The latest forms stretch back in an unbroken line to the
earliest. And if this proves nothing else, it at least proves that
consequences do not always die out with the conditions that gave them
birth. It was the world of the savage that gave birth to the
supernatural. But the supernatural is still with us, even though the
world that gave it birth has disappeared. We retain conclusions based on
admittedly false premises.


[14] _Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship_, pp. 36-7.

[15] _West African Studies_, pp. 394-6.

[16] See an interesting article on this point by W. H. R. Rivers on "The
Primitive Conception of Death," in _The Hibbert Journal_ for Jan. 1912.

[17] _Principles of Sociology_, vol. i.

[18] _Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India_, i. p. 124.

[19] _Golden Bough_, 3rd ed., i. 337.



"It is an interesting problem," says Professor J. H. Leuba, "to
determine what influences have led theologians to anchor their beliefs
upon the proposition that religious experience differs from other forms
of consciousness in that it gives one an _immediate_ knowledge of the
external existence of certain objects of belief, although they do not
fall under the senses, and an immediate knowledge of the truth of
certain historical facts."[20] This is, indeed, an interesting problem,
and, we may add, one of growing importance, since there is a pronounced
tendency on the part of present-day exponents of religion to rest their
case almost entirely upon the immediacy of their religious
consciousness. This conception of a certain order of experience,
however, is not and cannot have always existed. A belief may be so
widely and so generally diffused that it is accepted without resistance,
and, as it would almost seem, in the absence of evidence. But its
intuitive character is only superficial, and disappears on careful
examination. The mere vogue of a belief constitutes in itself a kind of
evidence, and for many people the most powerful kind of evidence. But
the conviction itself has a history, and it is in the unravelling of
that history, in the discovery of the class of facts upon which the
conviction has been built, that the work lies. And when this is done it
will be found that our intuitions are invariably based upon a
continuous--even though partly unconscious--appeal to facts. Sometimes
it will, of course, be found that a renewed and deliberate appeal to the
facts in question will justify the conviction. At other times it will
be found that the facts demand an altogether new interpretation. For
centuries all the observed facts supported a conviction that the earth
was flat. It was a fresh scrutiny of the facts in the light of a new
conception that revolutionised human opinion on the subject.

What, then, is the history, and what are the facts upon which the belief
that religious experience brings man into contact with a kind of
existence not given in ordinary experience, is based? The kind of answer
that will be given to this question has already been indicated.
Religious beliefs are in their origin of the nature of an induction from
an observed order. The induction is not the result of that careful
collection of facts, leading up to an equally careful generalisation and
subsequent verification, which is a characteristic of modern science,
but it is an induction none the less. The primitive mind is not so much
engaged in seeking an explanation of certain experiences, as it has an
explanation forced upon it. To picture the savage as inventing a theory
in the sense in which Darwin propounded the theory of Natural Selection
is to quite misconceive the nature of the savage intelligence. But to
conceive the savage as having a certain explanation suggested by the
pressure of repeated experiences, and that this explanation subsequently
assumes the character of a fixed belief, is well within the scope of the
facts known to us. In this stage of culture the existence of
supernatural beings is as much a deduction from experience as any modern
scientific generalisation. Certain things are seen, certain feelings are
experienced, and the conclusion is that they are the products of
supernatural agency. From this point of view religion is no more than a
primitive science. It is the first stage of that long series of
generalisations which, beginning with crude animism, ends with the
discoveries of a Copernicus, a Newton, a Darwin, or a Spencer. It is a
history that begins with vitalism and ends with mechanism. We commence
with a world in which there exists a chaotic assemblage of independent
personal forces, and end with a universe that is self-acting,
self-adjusting, self-contained, and in which science makes no allowance
for the operation of intelligence save such as meets us in animal

Now amongst the facts that suggest to the primitive intelligence the
operation of 'spiritual' forces are those connected with the human
organism itself in both its normal and abnormal states. But it is
important to note--particularly so for the understanding of the part
played by ecstatic religious phenomena in comparatively recent
times--that once the occurrence of a certain state of mind is conceived
as the product of intercourse between man and spirits, there is every
inducement to cultivate these frames of mind whenever renewed
intercourse is desired. This does not imply, at least in the earlier
stages, conscious imposture. Generally the operator imposes on himself
as much as he imposes on others. Noting that privation of body, or
torture of mind, or the use of certain herbs is followed by visions or
ecstasy, it is believed, not that the vision is the product of the
practice, but that the practice is the condition of illumination.

This attitude of mind is fairly paralleled by what takes place at the
ordinary spiritualistic _seance_. Those attending are advised that the
chief condition of a communication with the inhabitants of the other
world is a passive state of mind. This passivity cannot exclude
expectancy, since it is only assumed in order that something may occur.
If nothing occurs, if no communications are received, it is because the
requisite conditions have not been fulfilled, and the sceptic is met
with much semi-scientific jargon as to conditions being necessary to
every scientific investigation. The fact that this passivity and
expectancy, with other attendant circumstances, not the least of which
is the contagious influence of a number of people with a similar mental
disposition, opens the way to self-delusion is ignored. Then when the
expected and desired result follows, the mental attitude cultivated is
taken as the condition of communication with the spiritual world,
instead of its being, in all probability, the true cause of what is
experienced. In this way the story of supernatural intercourse runs
clear and unbroken from primitive savagery to its survival in modern
civilisation. When Professor Tylor says, "The conception of the human
soul is, as to its most essential nature, continuous from the philosophy
of the savage thinker to that of the modern professor of theology,"[21]
he makes a statement that is true of the whole story of supernatural
intercourse in all its varied manifestations.

The chief distinction between primitive and modern man lies in the
consideration that in the first case the blunder is inevitable, in the
latter case the remedy lies to hand. How could primitive man be aware of
the real connection between the use of certain drugs or herbs and an
excitation or depression of the activities of the nervous system? He
does observe consequences, but he is quite ignorant of causes. Even
to-day their full consequences are unknown; and it is absurd to expect
that savage humanity should have been better informed. And even when a
more rational theory exists, the practice persists under various forms.
This is a principle that receives vivid illustration from the history of
religions. The modern believer in mystical states of consciousness no
longer advocates the use of drugs, and even fasting is going out of
fashion. But we still have a continuation of the primitive practice in
the shape of insistence on the cultivation of abnormal frames of mind if
we are to experience a consciousness of communion with an alleged
supersensible reality. That is, we are to achieve by a mental discipline
what the savage or the medieval monk achieved by coarser and more
obvious methods. To withdraw the mind from the normal influence of
everyday life is to expose it to the play of hallucination and delusion.
There is really no vital difference between unhealthy, solitary brooding
on a given subject and drugging the mind with hashish. This class of
modern mystic is one with the savage in an inability to recognise that
the illumination is the product of the discipline, not the mere
condition of its possession. Between the drug of the savage, the fasting
and self-torture of the medieval monk and the prayerful meditation of
the modern mystic, the difference is only that of changed times and
altered conditions. The method is the same throughout.

The truth of this has been well put by Tylor:--

"The religious beliefs of the lower races are in no small measure based
on the evidence of visions and dreams, regarded as actual intercourse
with spiritual being. From the earliest stages of culture we find
religion in close alliance with ecstatic physical conditions. These are
brought on by various means of interference with the healthy action of
body and mind, and it is scarcely needful to remind the reader that,
according to philosophic theories antecedent to those of modern
medicine, such morbid disturbances are explained as symptoms of divine
visitation, or at least of superhuman spirituality. Among the strongest
means of disturbing the functions of the mind so as to produce ecstatic
vision, is fasting, accompanied, as it usually is, with other
privations, and with prolonged solitary contemplation in the desert or
in the forest. Among the ordinary vicissitudes of savage life, the wild
hunter has many a time to try involuntarily the effects of such a life
for days together, and under these circumstances he soon comes to see
and talk with phantoms which are to him invisible spirits. The secret of
spiritual intercourse thus learnt, he has thence-forth but to reproduce
the cause in order to renew the effects."[22]

As a means, then, of strengthening and perpetuating a consciousness of
intercourse with the spiritual world, we have to reckon with, not merely
the accidental occurrence of abnormal nervous conditions, but with their
deliberate cultivation. The practice is world-wide, and persists in some
form or other in all ages. Thus we find the Australians and many tribes
of North American Indians use tobacco for this purpose. In Western
Siberia a species of fungi, the 'fly Agaric,' so called because it is
often steeped and the solution used to destroy house flies, is used to
produce religious ecstasy. Its action on the muscular system is
stimulatory, and it greatly excites the nervous system.[23] An early
Spanish observer says of the ancient Mexicans that they used a kind of
mushroom, "which are eaten raw, and on account of being bitter, they
drink after them, or eat with them a little honey of bees, and shortly
after they see a thousand visions."[24] The mushroom was called the
"bread of the gods." The Californian Indians give children tobacco, in
order to receive instruction from the resulting visions. North American
Indians held intoxication by tobacco to be supernatural ecstasy, and the
dreams of men in this state to be inspired. The Darien Indians use the
seeds of the Datura Sanguinea to induce visions. In Peru the priests
prepared themselves for intercourse with the gods by partaking of a
narcotic drink from the same plant. In Guiana the priest was prepared
for his functions by fasting and flagellation, and was afterwards dosed
with tobacco juice.[25] In India the Laws of Manu give explicit
instructions as to the means of producing visions. Chief of these is the
use of the 'Soma' drink. This is prepared from the flower of the lotus.
The sap of this, says De Candolle, would be poisonous if taken in large
quantities, but in small doses merely induces hallucination. Opium and
hashish, a preparation of the hemp plant, have been in general use among
Eastern peoples, as a means of producing ecstasy from remote antiquity.
Opium, it is well known, produces an extraordinary state of exaltation,
intensifying the sense of one's personality, and inducing a pleasurable
consciousness of mental strength and clarity. Under its influence, as De
Quincey said, time lengthens to infinity and space swells to
immensity.[26] Belladonna, a drug much used by medieval witches and
sorcerers, has also had its vogue for purely religious purposes. With
the Greeks the laurel was sacred to Æsculapius. Those who wished to ask
counsel of the god appeared before the altar crowned with laurel and
chewing its leaves. Before prophesying, the Greek priestesses drank a
preparation of laurel water. This contains, although it was, of course,
unknown to them, two toxic substances--prussic acid and the volatile oil
of laurel. The first would induce convulsions, the second, hallucinatory
visions. The two combined were calculated to produce with both subject
and observer a profound impression of spiritual illumination and

It is unnecessary to multiply examples of the action of various drugs or
herbs on the nervous system, or to cite the people who use them. Enough
has been said to indicate how widespread is the practice, and the
consequences are not hard to foresee. A very moderate development of
intelligence would enable men to associate certain consequences with the
use of particular drugs, but a very considerable amount of knowledge
would be required to explain why these consequences were produced. In a
social environment saturated with superstition the explanation lies
ready to hand, and is accepted without question. A people that sees
spiritual agency in all the familiar phenomena of nature are certainly
not less likely to trace its influence in the mysterious and
unaccountable effects of narcotics and stimulants. And each repeated
experiment provides additional proof. Man thus not only believes himself
to be surrounded by a spiritual world; he is actually able to enter into
communication with it by methods that are defined in the clearest
possible manner. Every repetition strengthens the delusion and even
when the delusion, as such, is exploded, the temper of mind induced by
it persists.

Various other methods are employed to induce a feeling of religious
exaltation. Prominent among these are dancing and singing. Dancing in
connection with religious ceremonies is now generally outgrown in the
civilised world, but singing is still the vogue. That is, singing is
not, it must be remembered, practised from any desire to cultivate a
love of music, although it may appeal to music-lovers. Still, its avowed
purpose is to induce a feeling of devoutness in the congregation. The
hypnotic consequences of a body of people singing in unison, or the
soothing, mystical effect of certain airs from a choir upon a
congregation, are recognised in practice if not in theory. This is a
phenomenon that is not, of course, exclusively associated with religion.
In this as in other instances religion only utilises the ordinary
qualities of human nature. But in all cases the purpose and the result
are the same. That is, the subject is placed for the time being in a
supernormal condition, and the mild state of passivity or enthusiasm
created makes him more susceptible to the influence brought to bear upon
him. This is true of religious singing and chanting, from the forest
gatherings of the primitive savage down to the more sedate and elaborate
assemblages in church or chapel.

Primitive dancing had both a sexual and religious significance,
although, as will be seen later, in the primitive mind the sexual
functions themselves are very closely associated with supernatural
agency. Tylor is of opinion that originally men and women dance in order
to express their feelings and wishes,[27] but it is certain it very
early and universally became associated with religious ceremonies, and
that because of the ecstasy induced. In some cases drug-taking and
dancing go together. In others, reliance is placed on dancing alone.
This latter is the case with the 'devil dancers' of Ceylon. In Africa
the witch doctor discovers who has been guilty of sorcery by the aid of
inspiration furnished during a dance. The whirling dance of the Eastern
dervish is well known. Dancing also figures in the Bible. The Jews
danced around the golden calf (Ex. xxxii. 19) in a state of nudity.
David, too, danced naked before the Lord. Dancing was also part of the
religious ceremonies attendant on the worship of Dionysos or
Bacchus.[28] Along with the drinking of certain vegetable decoctions,
dancing formed an important part of the witches' saturnalia during the
medieval period. When in a state of frenzy, partly drug induced and
partly the product of exhilaration caused by wild dancing, visions of
Satan followed. In the dancing mania of the fourteenth century, the
sufferers saw visions of heaven opened, with Jesus and the Virgin
enthroned. Dancing was one of the prominent characteristics of the
French Convulsionnaires in the eighteenth century. In more recent times
we have the dancing and singing connected with the Methodist revival. In
modern instances the dancing seems to have been consequent on religious
excitement rather than precedent to it, but in earlier times there is no
doubt that it was deliberately practised as a means of producing a state
of exaltation.

Among the commonest methods of inducing a sense of religious exaltation
is the practice of fasting. In various guises, this is the most
persistent form of religious self-torture. Amongst more civilised people
the reason given for fasting is that it is a form of repentance, the
genuineness of which is attested by voluntary punishment. But originally
there seems little reason to doubt that it was adopted for a different
purpose. It was valued not because the fasting person felt that he had
done anything for which it was necessary to repent, but because it was
believed to bring people into closer touch with the spiritual world.
There is, of course, a very obvious reason for this belief. A lowered
vitality is favourable to hallucinations of every description. A
shipwrecked sailor is placed, by no act of his own, in precisely the
same condition as is the primitive medicine man or the medieval saint by
his own volition. It has always been recognised, and by none more
readily than by the great religious teachers of the world, that a
well-nourished body is inimical to what they chose to term "spiritual
development." The historic Christian outcry against fleshly indulgence
has much more in it than a revolt against mere sensualism. A well-fed
body has been deprecated because it closed the avenue to spiritual
illumination. Hence it is that fasting has found such favour in all
religious systems. The ascetic saw more because, by reducing the body to
an abnormal state, he provided the conditions for seeing more. The Zulu
maxim, "A stuffed body cannot see secret things," really expresses in a
sentence the philosophy of the matter.

Among the Blackfoot Indians of North America, when a boy reaches puberty
he is sent away from his father's lodge in search of a spiritual
protector or totem. Seeking a secluded spot, he abstains from food until
he is favoured in a dream with a vision of some animal or bird, which is
at once adopted by him.[29] This custom obtains with most of the North
American tribes. Among these tribes, also, the soothsayer prepares
himself by fasting for the ecstatic state in which the spirits give
their messages through him. The ordinary member of the tribe who wants
anything will fast until he is assured in a dream that it will be
granted him. Similarly, the Malay, to procure supernatural intercourse,
retires to the jungle and abstains from food. The Zulu doctor prepares
for intercourse with the tribal spirits by spare diet or solitary fasts.
Fasting is part of the ordinary regimen of the Hindu yogi. Of certain
Indian tribes we are told that before proceeding on an expedition they
"observe a rigorous fast, or rather abstain from every kind of food for
four days. In this interval their imagination is exalted to delirium;
whether it be through bodily weakness or the natural effect of delirium,
they pretend to have strange visions. The elders and sages of the tribe,
being called upon to interpret these dreams, draw from them omens more
or less favourable to the success of the enterprise; and their
explanations are received as oracles, by which the expedition will be
faithfully regulated."[30] Amongst the Samoans, when rain was required,
the priests blackened themselves all over, exhumed a dead body, took the
skeleton to a cave and poured water over it. They had to fast and remain
in the cave until it rained. Sometimes they died under the experiment,
but they generally chose the showery months for their rain-making.[31]

In both the Old and New Testaments fasting figures largely. The
encounter of Jesus with Satan is preceded by a forty days' fast. St.
Catherine of Sienna began regular fasts at a very early age. Santa
Teresa kept lengthy fasts every year. The fasting of the monks and nuns
during the epidemic period of monasticism is too well known to call for
more than a mere reference. Perhaps the most curious religious reason
given for fasting is that cited by a writer from a monkish chronicler:--

"As a coach goes faster when it is empty, a man by fasting can be better
united to God; for it is a principle with geometers that a round body
can never touch a plane except in one point.... A belly too well filled
becomes round, it cannot touch God except in one point; but fasting
flattens the belly until it is united with the surface of God at all

George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, confesses that he
"fasted much" and "walked abroad in solitary places," and "frequently in
the night walked about mournfully by myself." After much brooding and
fasting, he heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Jesus Christ,
that can speak to thy condition." Such an experience is not at all
surprising, seeing the method pursued to acquire it. Less fasting and
brooding, with more genial intercourse with his fellows, might easily
have prevented Fox, as it has prevented others, hearing heavenly voices
proffering him counsel. Such an experience is well within the reach of
anyone who cares to acquire it. Tylor has well said that "So long as
fasting is continued as a religious rite, so long the consequences in
morbid mental exaltation will continue the old savage doctrine that
morbid phantasy is supernatural experience. Bread and meat would have
robbed the ascetic of many an angel's visit; the opening of the
refectory door must many a time have closed the gate of heaven to his
gaze." No one will question the truth of this principle, so long as we
are dealing with uncivilised mankind. Many, however, shrink from
acknowledging that the practices current in more civilised times are
disguised illustrations of the same principle of interpretation, which
descends direct from savages, and but for them would never have existed.

Commenting on the practices of certain savage medicine-men, a missionary

"It always appeared probable to me that these rogues, from long fasting,
contract a weakness of brain, a giddiness, a kind of delirium, which
makes them imagine that they are gifted with superior wisdom, and give
themselves out for physicians. They impose upon themselves first, and
afterwards upon others."[33]

This is shrewdly said, and is a good example of the readiness with which
obvious truths are recognised when they do not clash with religious
prepossessions. The difficulty for others is to discern any real line of
demarcation between the practices of civilised and uncivilised. So far
as one can see, the only real distinction is that the method employed by
savages is open. That followed by civilised people is more or less
disguised. But derangement of function is derangement of function, no
matter how produced. And if we decline to believe that a savage holds
genuine intercourse with a spiritual world, as a consequence of this
derangement, in what way are we justified in accepting the testimony of
a Christian visionary to similar intercourse, when the derangement is in
his case no less clear? It is a case of accepting both, or neither. The
sane and scientific conclusion seems to lie in the following from Dr.
Henry Maudsley:--

"Now that the mental functions are known to be inseparably connected
with nervous substrata, disposed and united in the brain in the most
orderly fashion, superordinate, co-ordinate, and subordinate--the whole
a complex organisation of confederate nerve centres, each capable of
more or less independent action--a natural interpretation presents
itself. The extraordinary states of mental disintegration evince the
separate and irregular function of certain mental nerve tracts, or
grouped nerve tracts with which goes necessarily a coincident
suspension, partial or complete, of the functions of all the rest; the
supernatural incubus, therefore, neither demoniac nor divine, only
morbid. Thus the strange nervous seizures, with their mental
concomitants, not being outside the range of positive research, but
interesting events within it, become useful natural experiments to throw
an instructive light upon the intricate functions of the most complex
organ in the world--the human brain. Steadily are the researches of
pathology driving the supernatural back into its last and most obscure
retreat; for they prove that in the extremest ecstasies there is neither
_theolepsy_ nor _diabolepsy_, nor any other _lepsy_ in the sense of
possession of the individual by an external power; what there is truly
is a _psycholepsy_."[34]

States of exaltation produced by the aid of drugs, fasting, or other
forms of self-torture come naturally under the category of deliberately
induced states of mind, owing to the conviction that spiritual knowledge
may be gained in this way. But there are other states that arise
naturally and which foster the same conviction. It has already been
pointed out that the generally accepted theory with uncivilised peoples
is that all disease is due to the action of malevolent spirits. There is
no need now to repeat proof of this, and in any case it lies to hand in
any work that deals with uncivilised life. Nor need we go back to
uncivilised times for evidence. One requires only to look but a very
little way into the history of any country to find the supernaturalistic
theory of disease in full swing, and even to-day one may discover
indications of its once general rule. Its importance to the present
enquiry lies in the part it has played in building up in the religious
consciousness a general conviction of religious truth that does not
disappear even when it is seen that the evidence upon which it rests is
faulty. Just as the inhabitants of a Welsh village have their general
belief in religion strengthened by the semi-hysterical speeches of an
Evan Roberts, and the convulsive capers of a whole congregation, so in
all ages people have found endorsement of their belief in a supernatural
world in the existence of cases the pathological nature of which admits
of no doubt. Belief in the supernatural character of specific nervous
conditions or mental states may disappear, but the fact that this
belief has been general for a time leaves behind a certain psychological
residuum in favour of supernaturalism in general.

The connection between the priest and the physician is naturally a very
ancient one. The priest, indeed, is the primitive physician, the belief
that diseases are supernaturally caused indicating him as the agent of
their cure. And it is only to be expected that when the attempt is made
to divert the treatment of disease from priestly hands the effort should
be met with determined opposition. Quite naturally, too, the first
gropings after a scientific theory of disease show a curious mixture of
rationalism and superstition. Thus, in Greece, the temple hospitals
devoted to the mythical Æsculapius, which were situated at Epidaurus,
Pergamus, Cyrene, Corinth, and many other places, served as colleges,
hospitals, and places of worship. Sufferers slept in the temples in the
hopes of receiving messages from the gods, and the priests themselves
professed to have ecstatic visions which enabled them to prescribe for
those afflicted.[35] Great emphasis was placed on bathing, light, air,
and food, and it is pretty clear that the priests had begun to mix both
faith and physic in a most perplexing manner.

The definite separation of medicine from magic and religion begins with
Hippocrates. His theory of disease was simple. He did not deny that
there might be a supernatural side to disease; he insisted that there
was always a natural one, and that this was the side with which we
should be concerned. Each disorder, he said, had its own physical
conditions, and he laid down the rule that we "ought to study the nature
of man, what he is with reference to that which he eats and drinks, and
to all his other occupations and habits, and to the consequences
resulting from each."[36] In Egypt, also, very considerable advance was
made in the same direction. Probably a good deal of their knowledge
resulted from the practice of embalming, in spite of the priestly
interdict on dissection. At all events, there is no doubt that
considerable advance had been made. Herophilus and Erasistratus wrote of
the structure of the heart, and described its connection with the veins
and arteries. The two kinds of nerves, motor and sensory, were
described, and the influence of foods, etc., as influencing health,
dwelt on. Insanity was also dealt with as due to natural and
controllable causes, and the effects of colour and music in dealing with
mania noted.[37] Had this advance been followed, the history of European
civilisation might have been different from what it was. Plagues,
epidemics, and diseases, with their far-reaching social and political
consequences,--consequences that are too little noted, or even
understood, by historians,--might have met with adequate resistance, and
some would never have occurred.

The Pagan schools of medicine came to an untimely, although in some
cases a lingering, end. "The introduction of Christianity," says a
medical writer, "had an undoubted influence on the course of medical
science; for the Christian was taught to recognise, in every bodily
infirmity, the dispensation of the Almighty, and in the calm, abstracted
pursuits of those holy men who passed their time in prayer and
meditation, a propitiation: hence medicine fell into the hands of monks
and anchorites, who assumed to themselves, exclusively, the power of
interpreting all natural phenomena as indications of the Divine Will,
and pretended to possess some occult and supernatural means of curing
disease."[38] Reversing the natural order of things, the physician was
replaced by the priest. The supernaturalistic theory was revived, and
held its own for well on a thousand years. For every complaint the
Church provided a specific in the shape of a charm, an incantation, or a
saint. St. Apollonia for toothache, St. Avertin for lunacy, St. Benedict
for stone, St. Clara for sore eyes, St. Herbert for hydrophobia, St.
John for epilepsy, St. Maur for gout, St. Pernel for agues, St.
Genevieve for fevers, St. Sebastian for plague, etc.[39] The height of
absurdity was reached when, in spite of the monopoly of the treatment of
disease by the priesthood, the Council of Rheims (1119) actually forbade
monks to study medicine. This was followed by the Council of Beziers
(1246) prohibiting Christians applying for relief to Jewish physicians,
at a time when practically the only doctors of ability in Christendom
were Jews. In 1243 the Dominicans banished all books on medicine from
their monasteries. Innocent III. forbade physicians practising except
under the supervision of an ecclesiastic. Honorius (1222) forbade
priests the study of medicine; and at the end of the thirteenth Century
Boniface VIII. interdicted surgery as atheistical. The ill-treatment and
opposition experienced by the great Vesalius at the hands of the Church,
on account of his anatomical researches, is one of the saddest chapters
in the history of science.[40]

When the sight of bodily disease strengthened and confirmed belief in
the supernatural, mental disease must have offered still more convincing
evidence. Among uncivilised people we know that this is so. To quote
again from the indispensable Tylor:--

"The possessed man ... rationally finds a spiritual cause for his
sufferings.... Especially when the mysterious unseen power throws him
helpless on the ground, jerks and writhes him in convulsions, makes him
leap upon the bystanders with a giant's strength and a wild beast's
ferocity, impels him with distorted face and frantic gesture, and voice
not his own nor seemingly even human, to pour forth wild incoherent
raving, or with thought and eloquence beyond his sober faculties to
command, to counsel, to foretell--such a one seems to those who watch
him, and even to himself, to have become the mere instrument of a spirit
which has seized him or entered into him, a possessing demon in whose
personality the patient believes so implicitly that he often imagines a
personal name for it, which it can declare when it speaks in its own
voice and character through his organs of speech."[41]

It was this conception of insanity, universally current in the
uncivilised world, that was revived with fearful intensity in the early
Christian Church, and which certainly served its purpose in intensifying
the genuine belief in supernaturalism. Jesus had given His followers
power to expel demons "In My name," and this power of exorcism was one
upon which the early Christians specially prided themselves. It is with
unconscious sarcasm that Dean Trench puts the question, If one of the
disciples "were to enter a madhouse now, how many of the sufferers there
he might recognise as 'possessed'?"[42] One may safely say that he would
regard all as under the dominion of evil spirits. No other cause of
insanity appears to have been recognised, and the Church devised the
most elaborate formulæ for casting out demons. The assumed demoniac was
prayed over, incensed, and evil-smelling drugs burned under his nose. A
set form of objurgation then followed:--

"Thou lustful and stupid one.... Thou lean sow, famine-stricken and most
impure.... Thou wrinkled beast, of all beasts the most beastly.... Thou
bestial and foolish drunkard.... Thou sooty spirit from Tartarus.... I
cast thee down, O Tartarean boor, into the infernal kitchen....
Loathsome cobbler ... filthy sow ... envious crocodile.... Malodorous
drudge ... swollen toad ... lousy swineherd," etc. etc.[43]

Then followed the exorcism proper:--

"By the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God hath given to make known
unto His servants those things which are shortly to be ... I exorcise
you, ye angels of untold perversity.... May all the devils that are thy
foes rush forth upon thee and drag thee down to hell!... May the Holy
One trample on thee and hang thee up in an infernal fork, as was done to
the five kings of the Amorites!... May God set a nail to your skull, and
pound it with a hammer as Jael did to Sisera!... May Sother break thy
head and cut off thy hands, as was done to the cursed Dagon!... May God
hang thee in a hellish yoke, as seven men were hanged by the sons of

Marcus Aurelius mentions as one of his debts to the philosopher
Diognetus that he had taught him "not to give credit to vulgar tales of
prodigies and incantations, and evil spirits cast out by magicians or
pretenders to sorcery, and such kind of impostors."[45] What would have
been the thoughts of the great emperor, could he have revisited the
earth two centuries after his death and seen the then civilised world
enveloped in a mental atmosphere in which such ideas as those above
described could live?

All over Europe for centuries lunatics were whipped, and otherwise
ill-treated, in the hopes of expelling the demons that were troubling
them. The seventy-second Canon of the Church of England still provides
that no unlicensed person shall "cast out any devil or devils" under
pain of penalties prescribed. A Bishop of Beauvais, in the fifteenth
century, not only caused five devils to come out of one person, but
actually induced them to sign a document promising not to molest this
particular sufferer again. Tremendous, again, were the labours of the
Jesuit Fathers of Vienna, who boasted that they had cast out no less
than 12,652 'living devils.' Such arithmetical exactitude silences all
hostile comment. In some parts of Scotland, as late as 1783, lunatics
were left all night in the churchyard, with a holy bell over their
heads. In Cornwall, St. Nun's pool was famous for the cure of lunatics.
The poor devils were tied hand and foot and doused in the water until
they were cured--or killed. Even the embraces of prostitutes, for some
peculiar reason, were recommended as a cure for insanity.[46] In 1788,
in Bristol, a drunken epileptic, one George Larkins, was brought into
church, and seven clergymen solemnly set themselves to the task of
exorcising the possessing demon. Whereupon Satan swore 'by his infernal
den'--an oath, says the chronicler, nowhere to be found but in Bunyan.
Under date of October 25, 1739, John Wesley also relates how he was sent
for and assisted at the expulsion of a demon from the body of a young

Of all nervous diseases that of epilepsy appears to have been most
favourable to the encouragement of a belief in spiritual agency. One
medical authority whose experience enables him to speak with a peculiar
degree of authority has pointed out that with epilepsy there is often an
exaltation of the religious sentiments.[47] A more recent writer, Dr.
Bernard Hollander, asserts that epileptics are "highly religious."[48]
Sir T. S. Clouston also points out that strong religious emotionalism
often accompanies epilepsy.[49] Another eminent physician, while
pointing out that "a high degree of intelligence, amounting even to
genius, has in some cases been associated with epilepsy," observes that
"the epileptic is apt to be influenced greatly by the mystical and
awe-inspiring, and he is disposed to morbid piety."[50]

Every medical man is acquainted with the close relation that exists
between epilepsy and all kinds of hallucinations and delusions, and it
would be more than surprising if in an environment where the religious
interpretation of things is paramount, or with a patient of strong
religious convictions, these delusions did not take a religious form.
And of all nervous disorders epilepsy seems most favourable for
producing this. Under its influence hallucination attacks every one of
the senses with a varying degree of intensity. "The patient hears
voices, and generally words expressing definite ideas, though he is
often unable to properly refer them to any speaking person. Sometimes
instead of external sounds or voices, the patient has a consciousness of
an internal voice that may be as real to him as any external auditory
perception. At first the voices may be indistinct, but upon constant
repetition and evolution from sub-conscious thought they acquire
intensity, eventually dominating the life of the individual."[51] Dr.
Ball says: "One patient perceives at the beginning of the attack a
toothed wheel, in the middle of which there appears a human face making
strange contortions; another sees a series of smiling landscapes. In
some cases it is the sense of hearing which is affected;--the patient
hears voices or strange noises. Others are warned by the sense of smell
that the fit is going to commence."[52]

Sometimes these hallucinations of sight and hearing are in curious
contrast with each other. "Not rarely," says Dr. Conolly Norman, "a
patient has visual hallucinations of a cheering kind--as of God or
angels; yet his auditory hallucinations are full of blasphemy, mockery,
and insult."[53]

Dr. Maudsley thus describes the general symptoms accompanying an
epileptic attack:--

"The patient's senses are possessed with hallucinations, his ganglionic
central cells being in a state of what may be called convulsive action;
before the eyes are blood-red flames of fire, amidst which whoever
happens to present himself appears as a devil or otherwise horribly
transformed; the ears are filled with a terribly roaring noise, or
resound with a voice imperatively commanding him to save himself; the
smell is one of sulphurous stifling, and the desperate and violent
actions are the convulsive reaction to such fearful hallucinations."[54]

If anyone will bear in mind the numerous descriptions of religious
visions, written in all good faith, and the behaviour of many an assumed
'inspired' character, he will have little difficulty in realising how
easily, to a people unacquainted with the real character of such
phenomena, epilepsy lends itself to a religious interpretation. It must
also be borne in mind that the consequences of vivid hallucinations
experienced during epilepsy do not always disappear with the attack to
which they were originally due.

It is certain that from the earliest times cases of what are undoubtedly
epilepsy have been taken as positive indications of supernatural
influence. "There is," says Emanuel Deutsch, "a peculiar something
supposed to inhere in epilepsy. The Greeks called it a divine disease.
Bacchantic and chorybantic furor were God-inspired stages. The Pythia
uttered her oracles under the most distressing signs. Symptoms of
convulsion were ever needed as a sign of the divine."[55] Much of the
evidence for the supernatural in the New Testament rests upon cases that
are obviously pathological in character. A man brings his son to Jesus
and describes how "ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the
water" (Matt. xvii. 15), and in another place (Mark ix. 18) the same
patient is described as having a dumb spirit, "and wheresoever he taketh
him, he teareth him; and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and
pineth away." The response to the father's appeal for help is an
exorcism of the possessing spirit such as one meets with in all savage
culture. Between possession by a malignant spirit and domination by a
god, the difference is clearly one of terminology alone. And at the
side of the New Testament case just cited one may place this account
from Polynesia, written by a very competent observer, and a

"As soon as the god was supposed to have entered the priest, the latter
became violently agitated and worked himself up to the highest pitch of
apparent frenzy; the muscles of the limbs seemed convulsed, the body
swelled, the countenance became terrific, the features distorted, the
eyes wild and strained. In this state he often rolled on the earth,
foaming at the mouth, as if labouring under the influence of the
divinity by whom he was possessed, and in shrill cries, and often
violent and indistinct sounds, revealed the will of the god."[56]

Advancing to a higher culture stage than that indicated in the last
passage, there is much evidence that Mohammed was subject to
hallucinations, and many authorities have indicated epilepsy as their
source. There is a tradition that someone who saw Mohammed while he was
receiving one of his revelations observed that he seemed unconscious and
was red in the face. Mohammed himself said:--

"Inspiration descendeth upon me in two ways. Sometimes Gabriel cometh
and communicateth the revelation unto me, as one man unto another, and
this is easy; at other times it affecteth me like the ringing of a bell,
penetrating my very heart, and rending me as it were in pieces; and this
it is which grievously afflicteth me."

Emanuel Deutsch, although, in a passage already cited, recognising the
religious significance attached to epilepsy, has the following curious

"Mohammed was epileptic; and vast ingenuity and medical knowledge have
been lavished upon this point as explanatory of Mohammed's mission and
success. We, for our own part, do not think that epilepsy ever made a
man appear a prophet to himself or even to the people of the East; or,
for the matter of that, inspired him with the like heart-moving words
and glorious pictures. Quite the contrary. It was taken as a sign of
demons within--demons, 'Devs,' devils to whom all manner of diseases
were ascribed throughout the antique world."

This seems very largely to miss the point at issue. Of course, no one
would claim that Mohammed's success was due to epilepsy, or even that
the very severe forms of epilepsy were favourable to inducing a
conviction of revelation. But the disease assumes various forms, and in
some cases it is expressed in the form of a period of mental excitement
and general irritability. All that is claimed is that, given the
complaint in its less severe forms in one with whom religious beliefs
are strong, there are present all the conditions for attributing the
resulting hallucinations to personal revelation or ecstatic vision. And
it is also true that while some patients after emerging from a fit of
epilepsy are in a dazed or confused condition, others have a very clear
recollection of all they have seen and heard. Mohammed simply took the
current explanation of cases of nervous derangement, and being a man of
strong religious feeling, naturally gave his visions a religious
interpretation. All the rest has to be explained in terms of the innate
genius of the man and of the circumstances of his time.

A similar case to the above is that of Emanuel Swedenborg. His followers
naturally resent the ascription of his visions and voices to a
pathologic origin, and point to his pronounced mental ability. And
certainly no one who is at all acquainted with the writings of
Swedenborg will question his great mental power, amounting at times to
positive genius. But here, again, we have strong religious conviction in
alliance with pathological conditions. Swedenborg's communications with
celestial beings were of a more frequent and more ordered character than
Mohammed's, but there is the same general likeness between them. Of his
first revelation he writes:--

"At ten o'clock I lay down in bed and was somewhat better; half an hour
after I heard a clamour under my head; I thought that then the tempter
went away; immediately there came over me a rigor so strong from the
head and the whole body, with some din, and this several times. I found
that something holy was over me. I thereupon fell asleep, and at about
twelve, one, or two o'clock in the night there came over me so strong a
shivering from head to foot, as if many winds rushed together, which
shook me, was indescribable, and prostrated me upon my face. Then, while
I was prostrated, I was in a moment quite awake, and saw that I was cast
down, and wondered what it meant. And I spoke as if I was awake, but
found that the word was put into my mouth, and I said, 'Omnipotent Jesus
Christ, as of Thy great grace Thou condescendest to come to so great a
sinner, make me worthy of this grace!' I held my hands together and
prayed, and then came a hand which squeezed my hands hard; immediately
thereupon I continued in prayer."[57]

Swedenborg confessed to repeated walks and talks with celestial
visitants, and, of course, all thought of imposture must be put on one
side. What one has to consider is whether we are to accept these
experiences as hallucinations or not. On the one side no further
evidence seems possible than the profound faith of the man himself, his
recognised mental ability, and the belief of his followers. And against
this it must be urged that the most complete honesty is no guarantee
against self-deception, while ability and even genius are not at all
incompatible with a pathologic strain. And in addition it must be borne
in mind that these hallucinations are, after all, part of a very large
class. Men of very little ability and influence experience substantially
the same visions; they occur all over the world, under all conditions of
culture, and always express the personal idiosyncrasies of the subject
and reflect the character of his social environment. One may safely say
that had Swedenborg lived a century later, while he might still have
gone through the same mental and physical experiences, he himself would
have given a very different interpretation of them.

St. Paul, Professor James points out, "certainly had once an epileptoid,
if not an epileptic seizure." One needs to add to this that the seizure
occurred at the one critical moment of his life which eventuated in his
conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Mary Magdalene, the first who
brought tidings of the resurrection, had been delivered of seven
devils. Luther's religious opinions were, of course, quite apart from
his physical state, sound or unsound. Still, even with him the reality
of supernatural intercourse became intensely vivid as a result of
nervous affections. His latest biographer points out that as a youth
while in the monastery he was seized with something that might well have
been an epileptic fit, and that although there is no record of a return
of this, he did suffer from ordinary fits of fainting.[58] He confesses
to have been much troubled, at twenty-two years of age, with giddiness
and noises in the ear, which he attributed to the devil. And right
through his life he attributed similar experiences to the same source.
Bunyan confesses that even during childhood the Lord "did scare and
affright me with fearful dreams, and did terrify me with dreadful
visions." George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, describes how,
in the middle of winter, when approaching Lichfield, "the Word of the
Lord was like a fire in me," and as he went through the town, "there
seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the
market-place appeared like a pool of blood." Reflecting on the meaning
of the vision, he remembered that, "In the Emperor Diocletian's time a
thousand Christians were martyred at Lichfield. So I was to go without
my shoes through the channel of their blood in the market-place, that I
might raise up the blood of these martyrs which had been shed above a
thousand years before."[59]

In none of these cases could it be fairly claimed that the religious
conviction, as such, was the consequence of the hallucinations
experienced. But it can scarcely be questioned that these served to
strengthen it to an enormous extent. These trances, ecstasies, visions,
were accepted by the subjects as proofs of their 'divine mission,' and
were so accepted by multitudes of their followers. In their absence
religion would most probably have failed to be the fiercely irruptive
force in life that it has been. The religious idea has, so to speak
given hallucination a standing and an authority in life it would not
have possessed in its absence. In the case of men of ordinary capacity
these visions possess little authority. But in the case of men of
extraordinary capacity, men like Luther, Mohammed, Fox, Swedenborg,--who
must in any case have stood superior to their fellows,--these
hallucinations are then under favouring social conditions invested with
enormous authority. And there is no doubt about the fact that religious
leaders have been peculiarly subject to these psychical variations. This
is pointed out by Professor James in the following passage:--

"Even more perhaps than other kinds of genius, religious leaders have
been subject to abnormal psychical visitations. Invariably they have
been creatures of exalted emotional sensibility. Often they have led a
discordant inner life, and had melancholy during a part of their career.
They have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas;
and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen
visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily
classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these pathological features in
their career have helped to give them their religious authority and

Well, in what way are we to discriminate between the visions of a
religious person, admittedly of an abnormal disposition, subject to fits
of melancholy, etc., and presenting "all sorts of peculiarities
ordinarily classed as pathological," and the hallucinations of an
admittedly pathologic subject? Why should the ordinary classification
break down at this point? Dr. Granger, dealing with this aspect of the
question, says: "The religious genius is not proved to be morbid by the
extent to which he diverges from the average type."[61] Quite so, genius
_must_ depart from the average type in order to be genius. But the
statement is quite beside the point at issue. It is not a mere
divergence from the average type that warrants one in assuming that much
passing for divine illumination owes its origin to pathological
conditions, but the fact that it is possible to affiliate certain cases
of religious exaltation with these conditions. Hallucinations are common
to all forms of ecstasy, and ecstasy is not confined to religion. Given
a one-sided mental activity, intense concentration on one or a few
analogous ideas, combined with a lowered nervous sensibility, and we
have all the conditions present favourable to hallucination.[62] These
hallucinations may occur in connection with any topic that engrosses the
subject's mind. In every other direction their true nature is recognised
and admitted. In connection with religious belief alone, it is held that
they bring the subject into touch with a supersensual world of reality.
What possible scientific warranty is there for any such distinction?

Let us take, as an example, one of James's own cases, which he admits is
'distinctly pathological,' but without allowing this admission to
disturb his general conclusion. The case is that of Suso, a famous
fourteenth-century mystic. As a young man he wore a hair shirt and an
iron chain next the skin. Later he had made a leathern garment studded
with one hundred and fifty nails, points inward. The garment was made
very tight, and he used it to sleep in. To prevent himself throwing it
off during sleep he procured a pair of leather gloves studded with
tacks, so that if he attempted to get rid of the dress the tacks would
penetrate his flesh. Next he had made a wooden cross, with thirty
protruding nails, to emulate the sufferings of Jesus. He procured an old
door to sleep on. In winter he suffered from the frost. His feet were
full of sores, his legs became dropsical, his knees bloody and seared,
his loins covered with scars, his hands tremulous. During twenty years
he fed scantily upon the coarsest food, slept in the most uncomfortable
places, and during the whole of the time never took a bath. No wonder
that after his fortieth year he was favoured with a series of visions
from God. Would not one be surprised if any other result than this had
been achieved? And Suso's case is only one of thousands, many of not so
extreme a character, others quite as bad.

In the case of Catherine of Sienna the austerities began earlier than
with Suso. As a child she flogged herself, and was favoured with visions
before she reached her teens. Santa Teresa, as a young woman, prayed to
God to send her an illness, and describes how she remained for days in a
trance, during which time her tongue was bitten in many places. She
describes how, during these trances, her body became to her light, and
she remained rigid. "It was altogether impossible for me to hinder it;
for my world would be carried absolutely away, and ordinarily even my
head, as it were, after it."[63] These are typical examples from a very
large number of cases. The annals of monasticism are filled with
accounts of self-inflicted tortures, with the one end in view, and in
serious belief that their experiences brought them into touch with a
reality denied them under normal conditions. The practice not only
quickened their own sense of the reality of religion, it served the same
purpose for thousands of others pursuing the course of ordinary social
existence. "Religious teachers," says Francis Galton, "by enforcing
celibacy, fasting, and solitude, have done their best towards making men
mad, and they have always largely succeeded in inducing morbid mental
conditions among their followers."[64]

The phenomenon is thus continuous and, in its essentials, unchanging.
From the most primitive times there has been a close association between
the belief in divine illumination and spiritual intercourse, and mental
states that are unquestionably pathological. Following this there has
been a more or less deliberate cultivation of these states in the desire
to renew communion with a spiritual world hidden from man's normal
senses. In this there need be no deliberate imposture. When imposture
does occur, it would be at a later culture stage. At the beginning
there is nothing but misunderstanding. First in order of time comes the
crude animistic interpretation of almost every phase of human activity.
So far as primitive life is concerned, the evidence of this is simply
overwhelming. Next, as Tylor has pointed out, from believing that the
occurrence of certain mental states provides the conditions of
communication with an unseen world to the deliberate creation of those
states is a natural and an easy step. There is thus set on foot a
deliberate culture of the supernatural. This cultivation of abnormal
states of mind once initiated persists, now in one form, now in another,
but is substantially the same throughout. Whether we are dealing with
the crude practices of the savage, the less crude, but still obvious
methods of solitary living and bodily maceration of the medieval monk,
or the morbid and unhealthy dwelling upon a single idea which remains
one of the conditions of 'illumination' to-day, we are confronted with
the same thing. In every case the object--unconscious, maybe--is the
provision of conditions that render hallucination and illusion a
practical certainty. In connection with non-religious matters the
unhealthiness of mind, distortion of vision, and unreliability of
judgment induced by methods akin to those named is now generally
recognised. We have yet to see the same thing as generally recognised in
connection with religious beliefs. We see in addition that a great many
of those experiences, once accepted as clear evidence of supernatural
communication, are more properly explainable in terms of nervous
derangement. In such cases there is neither celestial illumination nor
diabolic communion, neither--to use Maudsley's phrase--theolepsy nor
diabolepsy, only psycholepsy. In the present chapter we have been
striving to apply this principle to a little wider field than is usual.
We have been studying the misinterpretation, in terms of religion, of
abnormal or pathological states of mind, and observing how far these
have contributed to building up and perpetuating a conviction of the
possibility of supernatural intercourse. We have yet to trace the same
principle of misinterpretation in the sexual and social life of mankind.


[20] _A Psychological Study of Religion_, p. 234.

[21] _Primitive Culture_, i. p. 501.

[22] _Primitive Culture_, ii. p. 410.

[23] Some very curious information concerning the use of this and other
fungi is given by Dr. J. G. Bourke in his _Scatologic Rites_, pp. 69-75.

[24] Cited by Bourke, p. 90.

[25] Tylor, ii. pp. 417-9.

[26] For a clear account of the effects of hemp preparations, calculated
to produce a feeling of religious ecstasy, the reader should consult Dr.
Hale White's _Text-Book of Pharmacology_, 1901, pp. 318-22. The effects
of opium are thus described by another writer: "Opium, in those who are
capable of stimulation by it, gives rise to a pleasurable feeling,
something like that which is produced by wine in not excessive doses;
but the excitement derived from it, instead of tending to some highest
point, remains stationary for hours, and in place of the slight
incoherence of thought always present in those who are exhilarated with
wine, the most perfect harmony is established among all the conceptions.
There is an extraordinary stimulation of the pure intellect, and not
merely of the power of expression. The opium-eater seems to have had the
eyes of his spirit opened, to have acquired a gift of insight into
things that to mere mortals are inexplicable. The most remote parts of
consciousness come into clear light; the finer shades of personality,
those that had been unknown even to the opium-eater himself, are brought
into view and become distinct; the smallest details of the things around
take new significance, and are seen to be profoundly important; their
analogies with other phenomena of nature are revealed. It is the same
with the moral as with the intellectual being; that also becomes
indefinitely exalted. An absolute balance of the faculties seems to have
been attained. The whole man _is_ what in his ordinary state he only
tends to be; he has realised the highest perfection of which he is
capable; only his 'best self' now remains; his lower self has been left
behind without need of the purgatorial fire of contention with the
environment to destroy it."--T. Whittaker, _Essays and Notices,
Psychological and Philosophical_, p. 367.

[27] _Anthropology_, p. 296.

[28] For a general account of religious dances, see Major-General
Forlong's _Faiths of Man_, art. "Dancing."

[29] Catlin, _North American Indians_, i. p. 36.

[30] Cited by Frazer, _Taboo and the Perils of the Soul_, p. 161.

[31] Turner's _Samoa_, p. 345-6.

[32] Brady, _Clavis Calendaria_, vol. i. p. 223.

[33] Cited by Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, ii. pp. 412-3.

[34] _Natural Causes and Supernatural Seemings_, p. 277.

[35] A very good account of the methods followed in these places will be
found in Miss Hamilton's _Incubation, or the Cure of Diseases in Pagan
Temples and Christian Churches_, 1906.

[36] Grote, _History of Greece_, vol. i. p. 359 and vol. v. p. 232.

[37] "The ancient Egyptians and Greeks," says Dr. Maudsley, "used humane
and rational methods of treatment; it was only after the Christian
doctrine of possession by devils had taken hold of the minds of men that
the worst sort of treatment, of which history gives account, came into
force" (_Pathology of Mind_, p. 523). For a general account of Egyptian
medicine see the chapter on Egypt in Dr. Berdoe's _Origin and Growth of
the Healing Art_.

[38] Meryon, _The History of Medicine_, vol. i. p. 67.

[39] _Ibid._, vol. i. p. 104.

[40] See Sir Michael Foster's _Lectures on the History of Physiology_,
chap. i.

[41] _Primitive Culture_, ii. 124.

[42] _On the Miracles_, p. 168.

[43] Cited by White, who gives original authorities, _Warfare of Science
with Theology_, ii. 107.

[44] White, ii. 108.

[45] _Meditations_, bk. i.

[46] Fort's _Medical Economy during the Middle Ages_, p. 345.

[47] Dr. Howden, Medical Superintendent of the Montrose Lunatic Asylum,
in _Journal of Mental Science_, 1873.

[48] _First Signs of Insanity_, p. 293.

[49] _Clinical Lectures on Mental Diseases_, p. 428. The whole of
chapter xi. is very pertinent.

[50] Dr. R. Jones, in Allbutt's _System of Medicine_, vol. viii. p. 335

[51] Dr. Hollander, _First Signs of Insanity_, pp. 64-5.

[52] Cited by Ireland, _The Blot on the Brain_, p. 39.

[53] Allbutt's _System of Medicine_, viii. 395.

[54] _Physiology of Mind_, p. 251. See also Dr. Mercier's _The Nervous
System and the Mind_, p. 55.

[55] _Literary Remains_, p. 83.

[56] W. Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, ii. 235-6.

[57] Dr. H. Maudsley has gone fully into the case of Swedenborg in an
article in the _Journal of Mental Science_ for July and October 1869,
since reprinted in his _Body and Mind_.

[58] See _Luther_, by H. Grisar, 1913, vol. i. pp. 16-7.

[59] For other cases, and a general account of the relations between
pathologic states and religious delusion, see Lombroso, _Man of Genius_,
chap. iv. pt. iii.

[60] _Varieties of Religious Experience_, pp. 6-7.

[61] _The Soul of a Christian_, p. 13.

[62] See Parish's _Hallucinations and Illusions_, pp. 38-9.

[63] _Saint Teresa_, by H. Joly, pp. 25, 26, and 58.

[64] _Inquiries into Human Faculty_, 1883, p. 68.



The connection between sexual feeling and religious belief is ancient,
intimate, and sustained. It has impressed itself on many observers who
have approached the subject from widely different points of view. Some
have treated the connection as purely accidental, and as having no more
than a mere historical interest. Others have used it as illustrating the
way in which so sacred a subject as religion may suffer degradation in
degenerate hands. Others of a more scientific temper have dealt with the
relations between sexualism and religion as illustrations of a mere
perversion. A deal may be said in favour of this last point of view. We
know, as a matter of fact, that such cases of perversion do exist, in
what form and to what extent will be discussed later. We are also aware
that strong feeling which cannot find vent in one direction will secure
expression in another. The annals of Roman Catholicism contain accounts
of numerous persons who have sought refuge in a monastery or a nunnery
as the result of disappointment in love, and it would be foolish to
conclude that strong amorous feelings are annihilated because there is a
change in the object to which they are directed. Paul was not a
different man from the Saul of pre-conversion days, but the same person
with his energies directed into a new channel. Protestantism is without
the obvious outlets for unsatisfied sexual feeling such as is provided
by Roman Catholicism, but it provides other outlets. Religious service
as a whole remains, and intense religious devotion may very often owe
its origin to sources undreamt of by the devotee.

Between religious beliefs and sexual feelings the connection is,
however, wider and deeper, than the relation expressed by mere
perversion. Neither is the relation one of mere accident. An examination
of the facts in the light of adequate scientific knowledge, combined
with a due perception of primitive human psychology and sociology, have
shown that the two things are united at their source. One eminent
medical writer asserts that "in a certain sense, the history of religion
can be regarded as a peculiar mode of manifestation of the human sexual
instinct."[65] Another writer substantially endorses this by the remark
that "in a certain sense the religious life is an irradiation of the
reproductive instinct."[66] How easily one glides into the other very
little observation of life or study of history will show. The language
of devotion and of amatory passion is often identical, and seems to
serve equally well for either purpose. The significance of this fact is
often obscured by our having etherealised the conception of love, and so
losing sight of its physiological basis. And, having hidden it from
sight, we, not unnaturally, fail to give it due consideration. This is,
in its way, a fatal blunder. The sex life of man and woman is too large
a fact and too pervasive a force to be ignored with safety. Ignorance
combined with prudery conspires to perpetuate what ignorance alone
began; and the sex life, in both its normal and abnormal manifestations,
has been perpetually exploited in the interests of supernaturalism.

The evidence that may be adduced in favour of what has been said is
vast, and covers a wide range. Historically it covers such facts as the
relations between primitive religious beliefs and the sexual life, and
the multiplication of sects of a markedly erotic character during
periods of religious enthusiasm. "Even the most casual students of
religion," says Professor G. B. Cutten, "must have observed an
apparently intimate connection between religious and sexual emotions,
and not a few have read with amazement the abnormal cults which have had
the sexual element as a foundation for their denominational
dissent."[67] A phenomenon so striking as to force itself on the notice
of the most 'casual students' raises the presumption that the relation
between the two sets of facts is rather more than that of 'apparent'
intimacy. When in the course of history two things appear together over
and over again, one is surely justified in assuming that there is some
underlying principle responsible for the association. The search for
this principle leads to the next class of evidence--the psychological.
In this we are concerned with the relation between the sexual feelings
and the religious idea, an association not always expressed through the
comparatively harmless medium of language. And, finally, we have the
evidence derived from pathology, where we are able to discern a
perverted sexuality masquerading as religious fervour.

In a previous chapter there has been pointed out the kind of mental
environment in which primitive man moves. As one of the earliest forms
of systematised thinking, religion dominates all other forms of mental
activity. In savage culture there is hardly a single event into which
religious considerations do not enter. The savage does not merely
believe in a supernatural world, he lives in it; it is as real to him as
anything around him, and far more potent in its action. Above all, it is
important to bear in mind that although one is compelled to speak of the
natural and the supernatural when dealing with early beliefs, no such
separation is present to the primitive intelligence. The division
between the natural and the supernatural in the external world is the
reflection of a corresponding division in the world of thought, and this
arises only at a subsequent stage. What is afterwards recognised as the
supernatural pervades everything. In a sense it is everything, since
most of what occurs is by the agency or connivance of animistic forces.

In such a world, where even the ordinary events of life have a
supernatural significance, the strange and sometimes terrifying
phenomena of sexual life carry peculiarly strong evidences of
supernatural activity. Events which are to the modern mind the most
obvious consequences of sex life are to the primitive mind proofs of
supernatural or ghostly agency. Nothing, for example, would appear less
open to misconception than the connection between sexual relations and
the birth of children. Yet, on this head, Mr. Sidney Hartland has
produced a mass of evidence, gathered from all parts of the world, and
leading to the conclusion that in the most primitive stages of human
culture, conception and birth are ascribed to direct supernatural
influence. Setting out from a study of the world-wide vogue of the
belief in supernatural birth--contained in the author's earlier work,
_The Legend of Perseus_--Mr. Hartland finds in this a survival of a
culture stage in which all birth is believed to be supernatural.
Survivals of this belief that birth is a phenomenon independent of the
union of the sexes are found in the existence of numerous semi-magical
devices to obtain children, still practised in many parts of Europe, and
which were practised on a much more extensive scale during the medieval
period; in the ignorance of man concerning physiological functions in
general, the existence of Motherright which appears to have universally
antedated Fatherright--the origin of which he traces to economic causes,
and to the animistic nature of primitive beliefs in general.[68]

Such a conclusion is not without verification from the beliefs of
existing savages. The Bahau of Central Borneo have no notion of the real
duration of pregnancy, and date its commencement only from the time of
its becoming visible. The Niol-Niol of Dampier Land in North-Western
Australia hold birth to be independent of sexual intercourse. It is
engendered by a pre-existing spirit through the agency of a medicine
man. The North Queenslanders have a similar belief. They believe a child
to be sent in answer to the husband's prayer as a punishment to his wife
when he is vexed with her. On the Proserpine River the Blacks believe
that a child is the gift of a supernatural being called Kunya. In South
Queensland the Euahlayi believe that spirits congregate at certain spots
and pounce on passing women, and so are born. On the Slave Coast of West
Africa the Awunas say that a child derives the lower jaw from the
mother; all the rest comes from the spirits. Among these people and
others that might be named paternity exists in name, but it implies
something entirely different to what it afterwards connotes. Mr.
Hartland gives numerous instances of this curious fact, and points out
that "the attention of mankind would not be early or easily fastened
upon the procreative process. It is lengthy, extending over months
during which the observer's attention would be inevitably diverted by a
variety of objects, most of them of far more pressing import.... The
sexual passion would be gratified instinctively without any thought of
the consequences, and in an overwhelming proportion of cases without the
consequence of pregnancy at all. When that consequence occurred it would
not be visible for weeks or months after the act which produced it. A
hundred other events might have taken place in the interval which would
be likely to be credited with the result by one wholly ignorant of
natural laws."

There seems, therefore, fair grounds for Mr. Hartland's conclusion

"for generations and æons the truth that a child is only born in
consequence of an act of sexual union, that the birth of a child is the
natural consequence of such an act performed in favouring circumstances,
and that every child must be the result of such an act and of no other
cause, was not realised by mankind, that down to the present day it is
imperfectly realised by some peoples, and that there are still others
among whom it is unknown."

This, however, is but one of the ways in which supernatural beliefs
become associated with sexual phenomena. In truth, there is not a stage
of any importance in the sexual life of men and women where the same
association does not transpire. There is, for example, the important
phenomenon of puberty--important from both a physiological and
sociological point of view. Pubic ceremonies of some kind are found all
over the world, and in all forms, from those current amongst savages up
to the contemporary practice of confirmation in the Christian Church. At
all stages the period of puberty is the time of initiation. With
uncivilised peoples a very general rule is the separation of the sexes,
with fasting. Mr. Stanley Hall in his elaborate work on _Adolescence_
has dealt very exhaustively with these customs, with which we shall be
more closely concerned when we come to deal with the subject of
conversion. At present it is only necessary to point out that the
governing idea is that at puberty the boy and the girl are brought into
special relationship with the tribal spirits, the proof of which
relationship lies in the sexual functions originated.

With boys, once puberty is attained, the sexual development is orderly
and unobtrusive. In the case of girls certain recurring phenomena make
the essential fact of sex much more impressive to the primitive mind,
with far-reaching sociological consequences. "Ignorance of the nature of
female periodicity," says A. E. Crawley, "leads man to consider it as
the flow of blood from a wound, naturally, or more usually,
supernaturally produced."[69] In Siam an evil spirit is believed to be
the cause of the wound. Amongst the Chiriguanas the girl fasts, while
women beat the floor with sticks in order to drive away "the snake that
has wounded the girl." Similar beliefs are found very generally among
people in a low stage of culture, and customs and beliefs still
surviving among people more advanced point to the conclusion that
convictions of the same kind were once fairly universal. It is this
function, combined with the function of childbirth, that brings woman
into close contact with the supernatural world, makes her an object of
fear and wonder to primitive man, accounts for a number of the customs
and beliefs associated with her, and finally helps to determine her
social position. It is because her periodicity is taken as evidence of
her communion with spiritual forces that special precautions have to be
taken concerning her. She becomes spiritually contagious. Thus, the
natives of New Britain, while engaged in making fish-traps, carefully
avoid all women. They believe that if a woman were even to touch a
fish-trap, it would catch nothing. Amongst the Maoris, if a man touched
a menstruous woman, he would be taboo 'an inch thick.' An Australian
black fellow, who discovered that his wife had lain on his blanket at
her menstrual period, killed her, and died of terror himself within a
fortnight. In Uganda the pots which a woman touches while the impurity
of childbirth or menstruation is on her, are destroyed. With many North
American Indians the use of weapons touched by women during these times
would bring misfortune. A menstruating woman is with them the object
they dread most. In Tahiti women are secluded. In some cases she is too
dangerous to be even touched by others, and food is given her at the end
of a stick. With the Pueblo Indians contact with a woman at these times
exposes a man to attacks from an evil spirit, and he may pass on the
infection to others.[70]

It is needless to multiply instances; the same general reason governs
all, and this has been clearly expressed by Dr. Frazer:--

"The object of secluding women at menstruation is to neutralise the
dangerous influence which is supposed to emanate from them at such
times. The general effect of these rules is to keep the women suspended,
so to say, between heaven and earth. Whether enveloped in her hammock
and slung up to the roof, as in South America, or elevated above the
ground in a dark and narrow cage, as in New Zealand, she may be
considered to be out of the way of doing mischief, since being shut off
both from the earth and from the sun, she can poison neither of these
great sources of life by her deadly contagion. The precautions thus
taken to isolate and insulate the girl are dictated by regard for her
own safety as well as for the safety of others.... In short, the girl is
viewed as charged with a powerful force which, if not kept within
bounds, may prove the destruction both of the girl herself and all with
whom she comes in contact. To repress this force within the limits
necessary for the safety of all concerned is the object of the taboos in

The savage is far too logical in his methods to allow such an idea to
end here. If a woman is so highly charged with spiritual infection as to
be dangerous at certain frequently recurring periods, she may be more or
less dangerous between these periods. As Havelock Ellis says: "Instead
of being regarded as a being who at periodic intervals becomes the
victim of a spell of impurity, the conception of impurity becomes
amalgamated with the conception of woman; she is, as Tertullian puts it,
_Janua diaboli_; and this is the attitude which still persisted in
medieval days."[71] This is to be expected from what one knows of the
workings of the primitive intelligence, but it is surprising to find Mr.
Ellis continue by saying, on apparently good grounds, that "the belief
in the periodically recurring impurity of women has by no means died out
to-day. Among a very large section of the women of the middle and lower
classes of England and other countries it is firmly believed that the
touch of a menstruating woman will contaminate; only a few years since,
in the course of a correspondence on this subject in the _British
Medical Journal_ (1878), even medical men were found to state from
personal observation that they had no doubt whatever on this point.
Thus, one doctor, who expressed surprise that any doubt could be thrown
on the point, wrote, after quoting cases of spoiled hams, etc., presumed
to be due to this cause, which had come under his own personal
observation: 'For two thousand years the Italians have had this idea of
menstruating women. We English hold to it, the Americans have it, also
the Australians. Now, I should like to know the country where the
evidence of any such observation is unknown.'" Evidently animism is a
more persistent frame of mind than most people are inclined to believe.

It is certain, however, that this conception of woman's nature is
dominant in the lower stages of culture. She is spiritually dangerous,
and the principle of 'taboo' is made to cover a great many of her
relations to man. In Tahiti a woman was not allowed to touch the weapons
or fishing implements of men. Amongst the Todas women are not permitted
to touch the cattle. If a wife touches the food of her husband, among
the Hindus, the food is unfit to be eaten. An Eskimo wife dare not eat
with her husband. In New Zealand wives were not allowed to eat with the
males lest their taboo should kill them. Many tribes are careful to
refrain from contact with women before going to fight. They believe that
this would rob them and their weapons of strength. Other practices
followed by savages before going to war forbid one assuming that this
abstention is due to any rational fear of dissipating their energies.
Instead of conserving their strength they weaken themselves by the many
privations they undergo before fighting, in order to ensure victory.
Professor Frazer well says:--

"When we observe what pains these misguided savages took to unfit
themselves for the business of war by abstaining from food, denying
themselves rest, and lacerating their bodies, we shall probably not be
disposed to attribute their practice of continence in war to a rational
fear of dissipating their bodily energies by indulgence in the lusts of
the flesh."[72]

The conception of woman as one heavily charged with supernatural
potentialities, and, therefore, a source of danger to the community,
seems to lie at the basis of the widespread belief in the religious
'uncleanness' of women. The real significance of the word 'unclean' in
religious ritual has been obscured by our modern use of it in a hygienic
or ethical sense. In reality it is but an illustration of the principle
of 'taboo,' and 'taboo' may extend to anything, good or bad, useful or
useless, hygienically clean or unclean. The primary meaning of 'taboo,'
a Polynesian word, is something that is set aside or forbidden. The
field covered by this word among savage and semi-savage races is, as
Robertson Smith points out, "very wide, for there is no part of life in
which the savage does not feel himself surrounded by mysterious agencies
and recognise the need of walking warily."[73] Anything may thus become
the object of a 'taboo.' Weapons, food, animals, places, special
relations of one person to another at certain times and under certain
conditions. It is enough that some special or particular degree of
supernatural influence is associated with the object in question. The
ancient Jews, for example, in prohibiting the eating of swine's flesh,
were as far as possible removed in their thought from any connection
with dietetics. They were simply following the well-known savage custom
that the totem of a tribe is sacred. The pig was a totem with many of
the Semitic tribes, and must not, therefore, be eaten.[74] It was not an
unclean animal, in the modern sense, it was a 'holy' animal. With the
Syrians the dove was so holy that even to touch it made a man 'unclean'
for a whole day. No North American Indian will eat of the flesh of an
animal that is a tribal totem, except under grave necessity, and even
then with elaborate religious ceremonies. So, "a prohibition to eat the
flesh of an animal of a certain species, that has its ground not in
natural loathing but in religious horror and reverence, implies that
something divine is ascribed to every animal of the species. And what
seems to us to be a natural loathing often turns out, in the case of
primitive peoples, to be based on a religious _taboo_, and to have its
origin not in feelings of contemptuous disgust, but of reverential

The real significance of 'unclean' in connection with religious ritual
is 'holy', something that partakes in a special manner of supernatural
influence and therefore involves a certain danger in contact. As the
writer just cited observes:--

"The acts that cause uncleanness are exactly the same which among savage
nations place a man under taboo.... These acts are often involuntary,
and often innocent, or even necessary to society. The savage,
accordingly, imposes a taboo on a woman in childbed, or during her
courses ... simply because birth and everything connected with the
propagation of the species on the one, and disease and death on the
other hand, seem to involve the action of supernatural agencies of a
dangerous kind. If he attempts to explain, he does so by supposing that
on these occasions spirits of deadly power are present; at all events
the persons involved seem to him to be sources of mysterious danger,
which has all the characters of an infection, and may extend to other
people unless due precautions are observed.... It has nothing to do with
respect for the gods, but springs from mere terror of the supernatural
influences associated with the woman's physical condition."[76]

It is interesting to observe the manner in which this notion of the
sacramentally 'unclean' nature of woman has affected her religious
status, and by inference, her social status likewise. Among the
Australians women are shut out from any part in the religious
ceremonies. In the Sandwich Isles a woman's touch made a sacrifice
unclean. If a Hindu woman touches a sacred image the divinity is
destroyed. In Fiji women are excluded from the temples. The Papuans have
the same custom. The Ainus of Japan allow a woman to prepare the
sacrifice, but not to offer it. Women are excluded from many Mohammedan
mosques. Among the Jews women have no part in the religious ceremonies.
In the Christian Church women were excluded from the priestly office. A
Council held at Auxerre at the end of the sixth century forbade women
touching the Eucharist with their bare hands, and in various churches
they were forbidden to approach the altar during Mass.[77] In the
gospels Jesus forbids the woman to touch Him, after the resurrection,
although Thomas was allowed to feel His wounds. "The Church of the
Middle Ages did not hesitate to provide itself with eunuchs in order to
supply cathedral choirs with the soprano tones inhering by nature in
women alone."[78] The 'Churching' of women still in vogue has its origin
in the same superstition that childbirth endows woman with a
supernatural influence which must be removed in the interests of others.
This ceremony was formerly called "The Order of the Purification of
Women," and was read at the church door before the woman entered the
building. Its connection with the ideas indicated above is obvious. The
Tahitian practice of excluding women from intercourse with others for
two or three weeks after childbirth, with similar practices amongst
uncivilised peoples all over the world, led with various modifications
up to the current practice of churching. They show that in the opinion
of primitive peoples "a woman at and after childbirth is pervaded by a
certain dangerous influence which can infect anything and anybody she
touches; so that in the interests of the community it becomes necessary
to seclude her from society for a while, until the virulence of the
infection has passed away, when, after submitting to certain rites of
purification, she is again free to mingle with her fellows."[79] The
gradual change of this ceremony, from a getting rid of a dangerous
supernatural infection to returning thanks for a natural danger passed,
is on all fours with what takes place in other directions in relation to
religious ideas and practices.

The important part played by this conception of woman's nature may be
traced in the fierce invective directed against her in the early
Christian writings. Of course, by that time society had reached a stage
when the primitive form of this belief had been outgrown, but ideas and
attitudes of mind persist long after their originating conditions have
disappeared. In this particular case we have the primitive idea
expressed in a form suitable to altered circumstances, and the primitive
feeling seeking new warranty in ethical or social considerations. But in
the main the old notion is there. Woman is a creature threatening
danger to man's spiritual welfare.[80] In this connection we may note
an observation of Westermarck's during his residence among the country
people of Morocco. He was struck, he says, with the superstitious fear
the men had of women. They are supposed to be much better versed in
magic, and therefore one ran greater danger in offending them. The
curses of women are, generally, much more feared than those of men. To
this we have a parallel in Christianity which so often revived and
strengthened the lower religious beliefs. During the witch mania an
overwhelming proportion of those charged with and executed for sorcery
were women. As a matter of fact, women were more prone than men to
credit themselves with possessing supernatural power. But the
theological explanation was that the devil had more power over women
than men. This was, obviously, a heritage from the primitive belief
above described.[81]

Another way in which religion becomes closely associated with sexualism
is through the widely diffused phallic worship. The worship of the
generative power in the form of stones, pillars, and carved
representations of the male and female sexual organs plays an
unquestionably important part in the history of religion, however hardly
pressed it may have been by some enthusiastic theorisers. "The farther
back we go," says Mr. Hargrave Jennings, "in the history of every
country, the deeper we explore into all religions, ancient as well as
modern, we stumble the more frequently upon the incessantly intensifying
distinct traces of this supposedly indecent mystic worship."[82] On the
lower Congo, says Sir H. H. Johnston:--

"Phallic worship in various forms prevails. It is not associated with
any rites that might be called particularly obscene; and on the coast,
where manners and morals are particularly corrupt, the phallus cult is
no longer met with. In the forests between Manyanga and Stanley Pool it
is not rare to come upon a little rustic temple, made of palm fronds and
poles, within which male and female figures, nearly or quite life size,
may be seen, with disproportionate genital organs, the figures being
intended to represent the male and female principle. Around these carved
and painted statues are many offerings, plates, knives, and cloth, and
frequently also the phallic symbol may be seen dangling from the
rafters. There is not the slightest suspicion of obscenity in all this,
and anyone qualifying this worship of the generative power as obscene
does so hastily and ignorantly. It is a solemn mystery to the Congo
native, a force but dimly understood, and, like all mysterious natural
manifestations, it is a power that must be propitiated and persuaded to
his good."[83]

The Egyptian religion was permeated with phallicism. In India phallic
worship is widely scattered. In Benares, the sacred city, "everywhere,
in the temples, in the little shrines in the street, the emblem of the
Creator is phallic." Symbols of the male and female sexual organs, the
Lingam and the Yoni, have been objects of worship in India from the
earliest times. With the Sakti ceremonies, Hindu religion dispenses with
symbols, and devotion is paid to a naked woman selected for the
occasion.[84] This worship of a nude female is a very familiar
phenomenon in the history of religion. Some of the early Christian sects
were said to have practised it, and it is a feature of some Russian
religious sects to-day. The subject will be dealt with more fully

In ancient Rome, in the month of April, "when the fertilising powers of
nature begin to operate, and its powers to be visibly developed, a
festival in honour of Venus took place; in it the phallus was carried in
a cart, and led in procession by the Roman ladies to the temple of Venus
outside the Colline gate, and then presented by them to the sexual part
of the goddess."[85] In the Greek Bacchic religious processions huge
phalli were carried in a chariot drawn by bulls, and surrounded by women
and girls singing songs of praise. Phallic worship was also associated
with the cults of Dionysos and Eleusis. It is met with among the ancient
Mexicans and Peruvians, and also among the North American tribes. The
famous Black Stone of Mecca, to which religious honours are paid, is
also said by authorities to be a phallic symbol. The stone set up by
Jacob (Gen. xxviii. 18-9) falls into the same category. References to
phallic worship may be found in many parts of the Bible, and
authoritative writers like Mr. Hargrave Jennings and Major-General
Forlong have not hesitated to assert that the god of the Jewish Ark was
a sexual symbol. Seeing the extent to which phallic worship exists in
other religions, it would be surprising did this not also exist in the
early Jewish religion.

In Christendom we have evidence of the perpetuation of the phallic cult
in the decree of Mans, 1247, and of the Synod of Tours, 1396, against
its practice. Quite unsuccessfully, however. Indeed, the architecture of
medieval churches bear in their ornamentation numerous evidences of the
failure at suppression. Of course, much of this ornamentation may have
been due to mere imitation, but often enough it was deliberate. "The
scholar," says Bonwick, "who gazed to-day at the roof of Temple Church,
London, had the illustration before him. A symbol there, repeatedly
displayed, is the popular Hindu one to express sex worship."[86] The
belief found expression in other ways than ornamentation. When Sir
William Hamilton visited Naples in 1781 he found in Isernia a Christian
custom in vogue which he described in a letter to Sir William Banks, and
which admitted of no doubt as to its Priapic character. Every September
was celebrated a festival in the Church of SS. Cosmus and Damianus.
During the progress of the festival vendors paraded the streets offering
small waxen phalli, which were bought by the devout and placed in the
church, much as candles are still purchased and given. At the same time,
prayers are offered to St. Como by those who desire children. In
Midlothian, in 1268, the clergy instructed their flock to sprinkle water
with a dog's phallus in order to avert a murrain. The same practice
existed in Inverkeithing, and in Easter week priest and people danced
round a wooden phallus.[87] Mr. Westropp, quoting an eighteenth-century
writer,[88] says: "When the Huguenots took Embrun, they found among the
relics of the principal church a Priapus, of three pieces in the ancient
fashion, the top of which was worn away from being constantly washed
with wine." The temple of St. Eutropius, destroyed by the Huguenots, is
said to have contained a similar figure. From Mr. Sidney Hartland's
collection of practices for obtaining children I take the following:--

"At Bourg-Dieu, in the diocese of Bourges, a similar saint" (similar to
the priapean figure previously described) "was called Guerlichon or
Greluchon. There after nine days' devotions women stretched themselves
on the horizontal figure of the saint, and then scraped the phallus for
mixture in water as a drink. Other saints were worshipped elsewhere in
France with equivalent rites. Down to the Revolution there stood at
Brest a chapel of Saint Guignolet containing a priapean statue of the
holy man. Women who were, or feared to be, sterile used to go and scrape
a little of the prominent member, which they put into a glass of water
from the well and drank. The same practice was followed at the Chapel of
Saint Pierre-à-Croquettes in Brabant until 1837, when the archæologist
Schayes called attention to it, and thereupon the ecclesiastical
authorities removed the cause of scandal. Women have, however, still
continued to make votive offerings of pins down almost, if not quite, to
the present day. At Antwerp stood at the gateway to the Church of Saint
Walburga in the Rue des Pêcheurs a statue, the sexual organ of which
had been entirely scraped away by women for the same purpose."[89]

From what has been said, it will not be difficult to understand the
existence of the custom of religious prostitution. Considering the
sexual impulse as specially connected with a supernatural force, man
pays it religious honour, and comes to identify its manifestations as an
expression of the supernatural and also as an act of worship towards it.
In India the practice existed, when most temples had their 'bayadères.'
In ancient Chaldea every woman was compelled to prostitute herself once
in her life in the temple of the goddess Mylitta--the Chaldean Venus.
This custom existed elsewhere, and by it the woman was compelled to
remain within the temple enclosures until some man chose her, from whom
she received a piece of money. The money, of course, belonged to the
temple.[90] In Greece, Carthage, Syria, etc., we find the same custom.
Among the Jews, so orthodox a commentary as Smith's _Bible Dictionary_
admits that the 'Kadechim' attached to the temple were prostitutes. The
frequent references to the service of the 'groves' surrounding the
temple irresistibly suggest their likeness to the groves around the
temples of Mylitta, and their use for the same purpose.

There is no necessity to prolong the subject,[91] nor is it necessary to
my purpose to discuss the origin of phallic worship. It is enough to
have shown the manner in which, from the very earliest times, religious
belief and sexual phenomena have been connected in the closest possible
manner. In this respect it is only on all fours with the relation of
religion to phenomena in general, but here the attitude of mind is
accentuated and prolonged by the startling facts of sexual development.
The connection becomes consequently so close it is not surprising to
find that the association has persisted down to the present time, and
moods that have their origin in the sexual life are frequently
attributed to religious influences. The primitive intelligence, frankly
seeing in the phenomena of sex a manifestation of the supernatural, sees
here a continuous endorsement of religious life. The more sophisticated
mind raised above this point of view continues, with modifications, the
primitive practices, and in ignorance of the physiological causes of its
own states is only too ready to interpret ebullitions of sex feeling as
evidence of the divine.


      It is strange that so little attention has been paid to
      these primitive beliefs as important factors in determining
      the social position of women. It is too generally assumed
      that because woman is physically weaker than man it is her
      weakness that has determined her subordination. Both the
      advocates and the opponents of 'Woman's Rights' appear to
      have reached a common agreement on this point. During some
      of the debates in the House of Commons, for example, it was
      openly stated by prominent politicians, as an axiom of
      political philosophy, that all laws rest upon a basis of
      force, and if men say they will not obey woman-made laws
      there is no power that can compel them to do so. On the
      other side, women, while appealing to what they properly
      call higher considerations, themselves dwell upon the
      physical weakness of woman as the reason for her
      subordination in the past. Both parties are helped in their
      arguments by the facile division of social history into two
      periods, an earlier one in which club law plays the chief
      part, and a later period when mental and moral qualities
      assume a dominating position. The consequence is, runs the
      argument, that each sex has to battle with the dead weight
      of tradition and custom. The woman is oppressed by the
      tradition of subordination to the male; the man is inspired
      by that of dominance over the female.

      It is when we ask for evidence of this that we see how
      flimsy the case is. Social phenomena in either civilised or
      uncivilised society furnishes no proof that institutions
      and customs rest upon a basis of physical force. The
      rulership of a tribe often rests with the old men of a
      tribe; with some tribes the women are consulted, and
      invariably custom and tradition plays a powerful part. The
      notion that the primitive chief is the primitive strong man
      of the tribe is as baseless as the belief in an original
      social contract, and owes its existence to the same kind of
      fanciful speculation. As Frazer says, "it is one of those
      facile theories which the arm-chair philosopher concocts
      with his feet on the fender without taking the trouble to
      consult the facts." The primitive chief may be a strong
      man. The tribal council or chief may use force or rely upon
      physical force to enforce certain decrees, just as the
      modern king or parliament may call on the help of policeman
      or soldier, but this no more proves that their rule is
      based upon force than Mr. Asquith's premiership proves his
      physical superiority to the rest of the Cabinet.

All political life, and to a smaller degree all social life, involves
the direction of force, but neither appeal to force for an ultimate
justification, nor do social institutions originate in an act of force.
It is one of the commonplaces of historical study that when an
institution is actually forced upon a people it very quickly becomes
inoperative. Other things equal, one group of people may overcome
another group because of physical superiority, but the conquest over,
the question as to which group shall really rule, or which set of
institutions shall survive, is settled on quite different grounds. The
history of almost any country will give examples of the absorption of
the conqueror by the conquered, and the bringing of imported
institutions into line with native life and feeling. Fundamentally the
relations binding people together into a society are not physical, but
psychological. Society rests upon the foundations of a common mental
life--upon sympathy, beliefs, the desire for companionship, etc. As
Professor J. M. Baldwin puts it, the fundamental social facts are not
_things_, but _thoughts_.[92] As a member of a social group man is born
into an environment that is essentially psychological, and his attitude
not only towards his fellow human beings, but towards nature in general,
is determined by the psychological contents of the society to which he

Now if the relation of one man to another is not determined by physical
superiority and inferiority, if the relations of classes within a
society are not determined in this manner, why should it be assumed that
as a sex woman's position is fixed by this means? It seems more
reasonable to assume that some other principle than that of club law, a
principle set in operation very early in the history of civilisation,
fixed the main lines upon which the relations of the sexes were to
develop, however much other forces helped its operation. I believe this
desired factor is to be found in the superstitious notions savages
develop concerning the nature and function of woman, and which society
only very slowly outgrows. For, as Frazer says: "The continuity of human
development has been such that most, if not all, of the great
institutions which still form the framework of a civilised society have
their roots in savagery, and have been handed down to us in these later
days through countless generations, assuming new outward forms in the
process of transmission, but remaining in their inmost core
substantially unchanged."

In considering the play of primitive ideas as determining the lines of
human evolution several things must be kept clearly in mind. One is that
the course of biological development has made woman, as a sex, dependent
upon man, as a sex, for protection and support. This is true quite apart
from economic considerations or from those arising from the relative
physical strength of the sexes. The prime function of woman,
biologically, is that of motherhood. She is, so to speak, mother in a
much more important and more pervasive sense than man is father. In the
case of woman, her functions are of necessity subordinated to this one.
With man this is not the case. It is with the woman that the nutrition
of the child rests before birth, and a large portion of her strength is
expended in the discharge of this function. The same is true for some
period immediately after birth. Again to use a biological illustration,
during the period of child-bearing and child-rearing the relation of the
man to the woman may be likened to that which exists between the germ
cells and the somatic cells. As the latter is the medium of protection
and the conveyer of nutrition in relation to the former, so it falls to
the male to protect and in some degree to provide for the woman as
child-bearer. It would not, of course, be impossible for woman to
provide for herself, but it would detract so considerably from social
efficiency that any group in which it was done would soon disappear. It
is the nature and supreme function of woman that makes her dependent
upon man. And even though the dreams of some were realised, and society
as a whole cared for woman in the discharge of this function, the issue
would not be changed. It would mean that instead of a woman being
dependent upon one man she would be dependent upon all men. Nor are the
substantial facts of the situation changed by anyone pointing out that
all women do not and cannot under ordinary circumstances become wives
and mothers. Human nature will always develop on the lines of the normal
functions of men and women, and there can be no question in this case as
to what these are.

I have used the word 'dependence,' but this does not, of necessity,
involve either subordination or subjection. It may provide the condition
of either or of both, but the dependence of the woman on the man is, as
I have said, biologically inescapable. Her subjection is quite another
question. Dependence may be mutual. One class of society may be
dependent upon another class, but the two may move on a perfect level of
equality. And with uncivilised peoples the evidence goes to prove that,
while the spheres of the sexes are more clearly differentiated than with
us, this difference is seldom if ever expressed in terms of superior and
inferior. Savages would say, as civilised people still say, there are
many things that it is wrong for a woman to do, and they would add there
are also things that a man must not do. They would be as shocked at
woman doing certain things as some people among ourselves were when
women first began to speak at public meetings. Their disapproval would
not rest on the ground that these things were 'unwomanly', nor upon any
question of weakness or strength, of inferiority or superiority, but for
another and, to the savage, very urgent reason.

One can very easily exaggerate the extent of the subjection of women
among uncivilised people. As a matter of fact, it usually is
exaggerated. Not all travellers are capable of accurate observation, and
very many are led astray by what are really superficial aspects of
savage life. They are so impressed by the contemplation of a state of
affairs different from our own that they mistake mere lines of
demarcation for a moral valuation. Many travellers, for example,
observing that women are strictly forbidden to do this or that, conclude
that the woman has no rights as against the man. As in nearly all these
cases the man is as strictly forbidden to encroach on the woman's
sphere, one might as reasonably reverse the statement and dwell upon
male subjection. As a matter of fact, both furnish examples of the
all-powerful principle of 'taboo.' Some things are taboo to the man,
others to the woman. And the key to the problem lies in the nature and
origin of these taboos. But taboo does not extinguish rights; it
confirms them. Under its operation, far from its being the truth that
women are without status or rights or power, her position and rights are
clearly marked, generally recognised, and quickly enforced. Some
examples of this may be noted.

A Kaffir woman when ill-treated possesses the right of asylum with her
parents, and remains there until the husband makes atonement. The same
thing holds of the West African Fulahs. In the Marquesas a woman is
prohibited the use of canoes; on the other hand, men are prohibited
frequenting certain places belonging to the women. In Nicaragua no man
may enter the woman's market-place under penalty of a beating. With most
of the North-American tribes a woman has supreme power inside the lodge.
The husband possesses no power of interference. In most cases the
husband cannot give away anything belonging to the lodge without first
getting the consent of his wife. With the Nootkas, women are consulted
on all matters of business. Livingstone relates his surprise on finding
that a native would not accompany him on a journey because he could not
get his wife's consent. He found this to be one of the customs of the
tribe to which the man belonged. Among the Kandhs of India nothing
public is done without consulting the women. In the Pellew Islands the
head of the family can do nothing of importance without consulting the
oldest female relative. Among the Hottentots women have supreme rule in
the house. If a man oversteps the line, his female relatives inflict a
fine, which is paid to the wife. With the Bechuanas the mother of the
chief is present at all councils, and he can hardly decide anything
without her consent. These are only a few of the cases that might be
cited, but they are sufficient to show that the common view of women
among savages as without recognised status, or power, needs very serious
qualification. Of course, ill-treatment of women does occur with
uncivilised as with civilised people, and she may suffer from the
expression of brutal passion or superior strength, but an examination of
the facts justifies Starcke's opinion that "we are not justified in
assuming that the savage feels a contempt for women in virtue of her

In primitive life, in short, the dominant idea is not that of
superiority in relation to woman, but that of difference. She is
different from man, and this difference involves consequences of the
gravest character, and against which due precautions must be taken.
Superiority and inferiority are much later conceptions; they belong to a
comparatively civilised period, and their development offers an
admirable example of the way in which customs based on sheer
superstitions become transformed into a social prejudice, with the
consequent creation of numerous excuses for their perpetuation. What
that initial prejudice is--a prejudice so powerful that it largely
determines the future status of woman--has already been pointed out. Her
place in society is marked out in uncivilised times by the powerful
superstitions connected with sexual functions. Not that she is
weaker--although that is, of course, plain--nor that she is inferior, a
thought which scarcely exists with uncivilised peoples, but that she is
dangerous, particularly so during her functional crises and in
childbirth. And being dangerous, because charged with a supernatural
influence inimical to others, she is excluded from certain occupations,
and contact with her has to be carefully regulated. I agree with Mr.
Andrew Lang that in the regulations concerning women amongst uncivilised
people we have another illustration of the far-reaching principle of
taboo (_Social Origins and Primal Law_, p. 239) she suffers because of
her sex, and because of the superstitious dread to which her sex nature
gives birth.

Of course, at a later stage other considerations begin to operate.
Where, for example, as amongst the Kaffirs, women are not permitted to
touch cattle because of this assumed spiritual infection, and where a
man's wealth is measured by the cattle he possesses, it is easy to see
that this would constitute a force preventing the political and social
equality of the sexes. The pursuits from which women were primarily
excluded for purely religious reasons would in course of time come to be
looked upon as man's inalienable possessions. And here her physical
weakness would play its part; for she could not take, as man could
withhold, by force. Even when the primitive point of view is discarded,
the social prejudices engendered by it long remains. And social
prejudices, as we all know, are the hardest of all things to destroy.

A final consideration needs to be stated. This is that the customs
determined by the views of woman (above outlined) fall into line, in a
rough-and-ready fashion, with the biological tendency to consecrate the
female to the function of motherhood and conserve her energies to that
end, leaving other kinds of work to the male. It would be an obvious
advantage to a tribe in which woman, relieved from the necessity of
physical struggle for food and defence, was able to attend to children
and the more peaceful side of family life. Children would not only
benefit thereby, but the home with all its civilising, humanising
influences would develop more rapidly. Assuming variations in tribal
life in this direction, there is no question as to which tribe that
would stand the better chance of survival. The development of life has
proceeded here as elsewhere by differentiation and specialisation; and
while the tasks demanding the more sustained physical exertions were
left to man, and to the performance of which his sexual nature offered
no impediment, woman became more and more specialised for maternity and
domestic occupations. This, I hasten to add, is not at all intended as a
plea for denying to women the right to participate in the wider social
life of the species. I am trying to explain a social phase, and neither
justifying nor condemning its perpetuation.


[65] Dr. Iwan Bloch, _The Sexual Life of Our Time_, p. 97.

[66] E. D. Starbuck, _The Psychology of Religion_, p. 401.

[67] _The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity_, p. 419.

[68] _Primitive Paternity_, 2 vols., 1909-10.

[69] _The Mystic Rose_, p. 191.

[70] See Frazer's _Taboo and the Perils of the Soul_, pp. 145-63, and
Crawley's _Mystic Rose_.

[71] _Man and Woman_, p. 15.

[72] _Taboo_, pp. 163-4.

[73] _Religion of the Semites_, p. 142.

[74] A long list of animals that were sacred to various Semitic tribes
has been compiled by Robertson Smith, _Kinship and Marriage in Early
Arabia_, pp. 194-201.

[75] Robertson Smith, _Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia_, pp. 306-7.

[76] _Religion of the Semites_, pp. 427-9. For a fuller discussion of
the subject, see _Studies in the Psychology of Sex_, by Havelock Ellis,

[77] Westermarck, _Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas_, p. 666.

[78] Westermarck, p. 666.

[79] Frazer, _Taboo_, p. 150.

[80] See the Rev. Principal Donaldson's _Woman: her Position and
Influence in Ancient Greece and Rome, and among the Early Christians_,
bk. iii.

[81] For the general influence of these beliefs about woman in
determining her social position, see note at the end of this chapter.

[82] _The Worship of Priapus_, Pref. p. 9.

[83] _The River Congo_, p. 405.

[84] A description of the Sakti ceremony is given by Major-General
Forlong, _Faiths of Man_, iii. pp. 228-9.

[85] Westropp, _Primitive Symbolism_, p. 30.

[86] _Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought_, p. 256.

[87] Forlong, _Faiths of Man_, iii. p. 66.

[88] _Primitive Symbolism_, p. 36.

[89] _Primitive Paternity_, i. pp. 63-4.

[90] Major-General Forlong agrees with many other authorities in tracing
our custom of kissing under the mistletoe to this ancient practice. "The
mistletoe," he says, "marks in one sense Venus's temple, for any girl
may be kissed if caught under its sprays--a practice, though modified,
which recalls to us that horrid one mentioned by Herodotus, where all
women were for once at least the property of the man who sought them in
Mylitta's temple."--_Rivers of Life_, i. p. 91.

[91] Those who desire further and more detailed information may consult
Forlong's great work, _The Rivers of Life_, Payne Knight's _Worship of
Priapus_, Westropp and Wake's _Phallicism in Ancient Religion_, Brown's
_Dionysiak Myth_, Westropp's _Primitive Symbolism_, R. A. Campbell's
_Phallic Worship_, Hargrave Jennings's _Worship of Priapus_, etc.

[92] A good discussion of the topic will be found in this author's
_Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development_.



In the preceding chapter we have been concerned with the various ways in
which the phenomena attendant on the sexual life of man and woman become
associated with religious beliefs. As a force that arises in the life of
each individual, and intrudes, as it were, into consciousness, the
phenomena of sex fill primitive man with an amazement that is not
unmixed with terror. In strict accord with primitive psychology sexual
phenomena are conceived as more or less connected with the supernatural
world, and becoming thus entwined with religious convictions are made
the nucleus of a number of superstitious ceremonies. The connection is
close and obvious so long as we restrict our survey to uncivilised
humanity. The only room for doubt or discussion is the exact meaning of
certain ceremonies, or the order of certain phases of development. It is
when we take man in a more advanced stage that obscurity gathers and
difficulties arise. The sexual life is no longer lived, as it were,
openly. Symbolism and mysticism develop; a more complex social life
provides disguised outlets for primitive and indestructible feelings.
Sexualism, instead of being something to be glorified, and, so to speak,
annotated by religious ceremonies, becomes something to be hidden or
decried. Ignored it may be. Decried it may be; but it will not be
denied. That is a practical impossibility in the case of so powerful and
so pervasive a fact as sex. We may disguise its expression, but only too
often the disguise is the equivalent of undesirable and unhealthy

The modern history of religion offers a melancholy illustration of the
truth of the last sentence, and it is quite clearly exhibited in the
history of Christianity itself. From the beginning it strove to suppress
the power of sexual feeling. It was an enemy against whom one had to be
always on guard, one that had to be crushed, or at least kept in
subjection in the interests of spiritual development. And yet the very
intensity of the efforts at suppression defeated the object aimed at.
With some of the leaders of early Christianity sex became an obsession.
Long dwelling upon its power made them unduly and unhealthily conscious
of its presence. Instead of sex taking its place as one of the facts of
life, which like most other facts might be good or bad as circumstances
determined, it was so much dwelt upon as to often dwarf everything else.
Asceticism is, after all, mainly a reversed sensualism, or at least
confesses the existence of a sensualism that must not be allowed
expression lest its manifestation becomes overpowering. Mortification
confesses the supremacy of sense as surely as gratification. Moreover,
mortification of sense as preached by the great ascetics does not
prevent that most dangerous of all forms of gratification, the
sensualism of the imagination. That remains, and is apt to gain in
strength since the fundamentally healthful energies are denied
legitimate and natural modes of expression. Thus it is that we find
developing social life not always providing a healthy outlet for the
sexual life, and thus it is that the intense striving of religious
leaders against the power of the sexual impulse has often forced it into
strange and harmful forms of expression. So we find throughout the
history of religion, not only that a deal of what has passed for
supernatural illumination to have undoubtedly had its origin in
perverted sexual feeling, but the constant emergence of curious
religio-erotic sects whose strange mingling of eroticism and religion
has scandalised many, and offered a lesson to all had they but possessed
the wit to discern it.

Although there is an understandable disinclination, amounting with some
to positive revulsion, to recognise the sexual origin of much that
passes for religious fervour, the fact is well known to competent
medical observers, as the following citations will show. More than a
generation since a well-known medical authority said:--

"I know of no fact in pathology more striking and more terrifying than
the way in which the phenomena of the ecstatic--which have often been
seized upon by sentimental theorisers as proofs of spiritual
exaltation--may be plainly seen to bridge the gulf between the innocent
foolery of ordinary hypnotic patients and the degraded and repulsive
phenomena of nymphomania and satyriasis."[93]

Dr. C. Norman also observes:--

"Ecstasy, as we see in cases of acute mental disease, is probably always
connected with sexual excitement, if not with sexual depravity. The same
association is seen in less extreme cases, and one of the commonest
features in the conversation of acutely maniacal women is the
intermingling of erotic and religious ideas."[94]

This opinion is fully endorsed by Sir Francis Galton:--

"It has been noticed that among the morbid organic conditions which
accompany the show of excessive piety and religious rapture in the
insane, none are so frequent as disorders of the sexual organisation.
Conversely, the frenzies of religious revivals have not infrequently
ended in gross profligacy. The encouragement of celibacy by the fervent
leaders of most creeds, utilises in an unconscious way the morbid
connection between an over-restraint of the sexual desires and impulses
towards extreme devotion."[95]

Dr. Auguste Forel, the eminent German specialist, points out that--

"When we study the religious sentiment profoundly, especially in the
Christian religion, and Catholicism in particular, we find at each step
its astonishing connection with eroticism. We find it in the exalted
adoration of holy women, such as Mary Magdalene, Marie de Bethany, for
Jesus, in the holy legends, in the worship of the Virgin Mary in the
Middle Ages, and especially in art. The ecstatic Madonnas in our art
galleries cast their fervent regards on Jesus or on the heavens. The
expression in Murillo's 'Immaculate Conception' may be interpreted by
the highest voluptuous exaltation of love as well as by holy
transfiguration. The 'saints' of Correggio regard the Virgin with an
amorous ardour which may be celestial, but appears in reality extremely
terrestrial and human."[96]

Another German authority remarks:--

"I venture to express my conviction that we should rarely err if, in a
case of religious melancholy, we assumed the sexual apparatus to be

Dr. Bevan Lewis points out how frequently religious exaltation occurs
with women at puberty, and religious melancholia at the period of sexual
decline. And Dr. Charles Mercier puts the interchangeability of sexual
and religious feelings in the following passage:--

"Religious observances provide an alternative, into which the amatory
instinct can be easily and naturally diverted. The emotions and
instinctive desires, which finds expression in courtship, is a vast body
of vague feeling, which is at first undirected.... It is a voluminous
state of exaltation that demands enthusiastic action. This is the state
antecedent to falling in love, and if an object presents himself or
herself, the torrent of emotion is directed into amatory passion. But if
no object appears, or if the selected object is denied, then religious
observances yield a very passable substitute for the expression of the
emotion. Religious observances provide the sensuous atmosphere, the call
for self-renunciation, the means of expressing powerful and voluminous
feeling, that the potential or disappointed lover needs. The madrigal is
transformed into the hymn; the adornment of the person that should have
gone to allure the beloved now takes the shape of ecclesiastical
vestments; the reverence that should have been paid to the loved one is
transformed to a higher object; the enthusiasm that would have expanded
in courtship is expressed in worship; the gifts that would have been
made, the services that would have been rendered to the loved one, are
transferred to the Church."[98]

Dr. Krafft-Ebing, after dwelling upon the substantial identity of sexual
love and religious emotion, summarises his conclusions by saying:--

"Religious and sexual hyperæsthesia at the acme of development show the
same volume of intensity and the same quality of excitement, and may,
therefore, under given circumstances interchange. Both will in certain
pathologic states degenerate into cruelty."[99]

Even so orthodox a writer as the Rev. S. Baring-Gould points out that--

"The existence of that evil, which, knowing the constitution of man, we
should expect to find prevalent in mysticism, the experience of all ages
has shown following, dogging its steps inevitably. So slight is the film
that separates religion from sensual passion, that uncontrolled
spiritual fervour roars readily into a blaze of licentiousness."[100]

No useful purpose would be served by lengthening this list of citations.
Enough has been said to show that the point of view expressed is one
endorsed by many sober, competent, and responsible observers. There
exists among them a general, and one may add a growing, recognition of
the important truth that the connection between religious and sexual
feeling is of the closest character, and that one is very often mistaken
for the other. Asceticism, usually taken as evidence to the reverse, is
on the contrary, confirmative. The ascetic often presents us with a
flagrant case of eroto-mania, expressing itself in terms of religion.
It is highly significant that the biographies of Christian saints should
furnish so many cases of men and women of strong sensual passions, and
whose ascetic devotion was only the reaction from almost unbridled
sensualism. No wonder that in the temptations experienced by the monks
the figures of nude women so often appeared before their heated
imaginations. Sexual feeling suppressed in one direction broke out in
another. Feelings, in themselves perfectly normal, became, as a
consequence of repression and misdirection, pathologic. And one
consequence of this was that many of the early Christian writers brought
to the consideration of the subject of sex a concentration of mind that
resulted in disquisitions of such a nature that it is impossible to do
more than refer to them. The sexual relation instead of being refined
was coarsened. Marriage was viewed in its lowest form, more as a
concession to the weakness of the flesh than as a desirable state for
all men and women. Nor can it be said, after many centuries, that these
ideas are quite eradicated from present-day life.

A field of investigation that yields much illuminating information is
the biographies of the saints and of other religious characters. In many
of these cases the acceptance of sexual feeling for religious
illumination is very clear. Thus of St. Gertrude, a Benedictine nun of
the thirteenth century, we read:--

"One day at chapel she heard supernaturally sung the words, '_Sanctus,
Sanctus, Sanctus_.' The Son of God, leaning towards her like a sweet
lover, and giving to her soul the softest kiss, said to her at the
second _Sanctus_, 'In the _Sanctus_ addressed to My person, receive with
this all the sanctity of My divinity and of My humanity.'... And the
following Sunday, while she was thanking God for this favour, behold the
Son of God, more beauteous than thousands of angels, takes her to His
arms as if He were proud of her, and presents her to God the Father, and
in that perfection of sanctity with which He had endowed her."[101]

Of Juliana of Norwich, who was granted a revelation in 1373, we are told
that she had for long 'ardently desired' a bodily sight of the Lord upon
the cross; and that finally Jesus appeared to her and said, "I love thee
and thou lovest Me, and our love shall never be disparted in two."[102]
So, again, in the case of Sister Jeanne des Anges, Superior of the
Convent of Ursulines of Loudun, and the principal character in the
famous Grandier witchcraft case, we have a detailed account, in her own
words, of the lascivious dreams, unclean suggestions, etc.--all
attributed to Satan--and alternating with impressions of bodily union
with Jesus.[103] Marie de L'Incarnation addresses Jesus as follows:--

"Oh, my love, when shall I embrace you? Have you no pity on the torments
that I suffer? Alas! alas! My love! My beauty! My life! Instead of
healing my pain, you take pleasure in it. Come, let me embrace you, and
die in your sacred arms."[104]

Veronica Juliani, beatified by Pope Pius II., took a real lamb to bed
with her, kissed it, and suckled it at her breasts. St. Catherine of
Genoa threw herself on the ground to cool herself, crying out, "Love,
love, I can bear it no longer." She also confessed to a peculiar
longing towards her confessor.[105]

The blessed Mary Alacoque, foundress of the Sacred Heart, was subject
from early life to a number of complaints--rheumatism, palsy, pains in
the side, ulceration of the legs--and experienced visions early in her
career. As a child she had so vivid a sense of modesty that the mere
sight of a man offended her. At seventeen she took to wearing a knotted
cord drawn so tightly that she could neither eat nor breathe without
pain. She compressed her arms so tightly with iron chains that she could
not remove them without anguish. "I made," she says, "a bed of
potsherds, on which I slept with extreme pleasure." She fasted and
tortured herself in a variety of ways, and the more her physical
disorders increased the more numerous became her visions. Before she was
eighteen years of age, in 1671, she entered a nunnery. From the time she
donned the habit of a novice she was 'blessed' with visions. "Our Lord
showed me that that day was the day of our spiritual wedding; He
forthwith gave me to understand that He wished to make me taste all the
sweetness of the caresses of His love. In reality, those divine caresses
were from that moment so excessive, that they often put me out of
myself." "Once," says one of her biographers, "having retired into her
chamber, she threw off the clothes with which she had bedecked herself
during the day, when the Son of God showed Himself to her in the state
in which He was after His cruel flagellation--that is, with His body all
wounded, torn, gory--and He said to her that it was her vanities that
had brought Him into that condition." In one of these visions Jesus
took the head of Mary, pressed it to His bosom, spoke to her in
passionate words, opened her side and took out her heart, plunged it
into His own, and then replaced it. He then explained His design of
founding the Order of the Sacred Heart. Ever after, Mary was conscious
of a pain in her side and a burning sensation in her chest--two plain
symptoms of hysteria.[106]

Santa Teresa, who died at the early age of thirty-three, and in whose
family more than one case of well-developed neurasthenia can be traced,
was favoured with 'messages' at a very early age. She believed some of
these were temptations from the devil suggesting an 'honourable
alliance.' A nervous breakdown followed directly after entrance into a
convent. She was then twenty years of age, was subject to fainting fits
and longed for illness as a sign of divine favour. She was subject to
convulsions, and soon after taking the veil fell into a cataleptic
trance, which lasted three days. She was thought to be dead, but at the
end of the time sat up and told those around that she had visited both
heaven and hell, and seen the joys of the blessed and the torments of
the damned. It is at least suggestive that, in spite of the longing for
personal communion with Jesus, her first experience of the ecstasy of
divine love was experienced after discovering a 'very realistic' picture
of a martyred saint--St. Joseph. The significance of the intense
contemplation of a tortured body--possibly made by one whose sexual
nature was undergoing a process of suppression--is unmistakable.[107]

On these and similar cases Professor William James makes the following

"To the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested
hypnoid states, on an intellectual basis of superstition, and a
corporeal one of degeneration and hysteria. Undoubtedly these
pathological conditions have existed in many and possibly in all the
cases, but that fact tells us nothing about the value for knowledge of
the consciousness which they induce. To pass a spiritual judgment upon
these states, we must not content ourselves with superficial medical
talk, but enquire into their fruits for life."[108]

Now the question is really not what these ecstasies suggest to the
'medical mind,' as though that were a type of mind quite unfitted to
pass judgment. It is a question of what the facts suggest to any mind
judging the behaviour of a person under the influence of strong
religious emotion exactly as it would judge anyone under any other
strong emotional pressure. And if it be possible to explain these states
in terms of known physiological and mental action, what warranty have we
for rejecting this and preferring in its stead an explanation that is
both unprovable and unnecessary? And one would be excused for thinking
that cases which certainly involve some sort of abnormal nervous action
are precisely those in which the medical mind should be called on to
express an opinion. What is meant by passing 'a spiritual judgment'
upon these states is not exactly clear, unless it means judging them in
terms of the historic supernatural interpretation. But that is precisely
the interpretation which is challenged by the 'medical mind.'

I do not see how any enquiry "into their fruits for life" can affect a
rational estimate of the nature of these mystical states. Mysticism adds
nothing to the native disposition of a person. It merely gives their
energies a new turn, a new direction. What they were before the
experience they remain, substantially, afterwards. That is why we find
religious mystics of every variety. Some energetically practical; others
dreamily unpractical. Professor James admits this in saying that "the
other-worldliness encouraged by the mystical consciousness makes this
over-abstraction from practical life peculiarly liable to befall mystics
in whom the character is naturally passive and the intellect feeble; but
in natively strong minds and characters we find quite opposite
results."[109] And when it is further admitted that "the mystical
feeling of enlargement, union, and emancipation has no specific
intellectual content whatever of its own," but "is capable of forming
matrimonial alliances with material furnished by the most diverse
philosophies and theologies, provided only they can find a place in
their framework for its peculiar emotional mood," mysticism seems
reduced to an emotional development on all fours with emotional
development in other directions. It is not peculiar to religious minds
because "it has no specific intellectual content." It is amorphous, so
to speak. And it may form diverse 'matrimonial alliances' precisely
because it does not point to a hidden world of reality, but is merely
indicative of tense emotional moods. In the face of nature the
non-theistic Richard Jeffries experiences all the feelings of mental
enlargement and emotional transports that Mary Alacoque or Santa Teresa
experienced in their visions of the 'Risen Christ.'

It is idle, then, to sneer at 'medical materialism,' and stigmatise it
as superficial. Many people are constitutionally afraid of words, and
there is nothing that arouses prejudice so quickly as a name. But it is
really not a question of materialism, medical or non-medical. It is a
mere matter of applying knowledge and common sense to the cases before
us. Are we to take the subject's explanation of his or her mental states
as authoritative, so far as their nature is concerned; or are we to
treat them as symptoms demanding the skilled analysis of the specialist?
If the former, how can we differentiate between the mystic and the
admittedly hysterical patient? If the latter, what ground is there for
placing the mystic in a category of his own? Rational and scientific
analysis will certainly take far more notice of the nature of the
feelings excited than of the object towards which they are directed.
Here is the case of a young lady, given by Dr. Moreau, in his _Morbid

"During my long hours of sleeplessness in the night my beloved Saviour
began to make Himself manifest to me. Pondering over the meditations of
St. François de Sales on the _Song of Songs_, I seemed to feel all my
faculties suspended, and crossing my arms upon my chest, I awaited in a
sort of dread what might be revealed to me.... I saw the Redeemer
veritably in the flesh.... He extended Himself beside me, pressed me so
closely that I could feel His crown of thorns, and the nails in His feet
and hands, while He pressed His lips over mine, giving me the most
ravishing kiss of a divine Spouse, and sending a delicious thrill
through my entire body."[110]

Get rid of the narcotising effect of theological associations by
eliminating the name of Jesus and other religious terms from this case,
and from the others already cited, and no one would have the least doubt
as to their real nature. Given a condition of physical health in these
cases, with conditions that favoured social activity, healthy
intercourse with the opposite sex, culminating in marriage and
parenthood, can there be any doubt that this species of religious
ecstasy would have been non-existent? If, as Tylor says, the refectory
door would many a time have closed the gates of heaven, happy family
life would in a vast number of cases have prevented those religio-erotic
trances which have played so powerful a part in the history of
supernaturalism. Most people will agree with Dr. Maudsley:--

"The ecstatic trances of such saintly women as Catherine Sienne and St.
Theresa, in which they believed themselves to be visited by their
Saviour and to be received as veritable spouses into His bosom, were,
though they knew it not, little better than vicarious sexual orgasm; a
condition of things which the intense contemplation of the naked male
figure, carved or sculptured in all its proportions on a cross, is more
fitted to produce in young women of susceptible nervous temperament than
people are apt to consider. Every experienced physician must have met
with instances of single and childless women who have devoted
themselves with extraordinary zeal to habitual religious exercises, and
who, having gone insane as a culmination of their emotional fervour,
have straightway exhibited the saddest mixture of religious and erotic
symptoms--a boiling over of lust in voice, face, gestures, under the
pitiful degradation of disease.... The fanatical religious sects, such
as the Shakers and the like, which spring up from time to time in
communities and disgust them by the offensive way in which they mingle
love and religion, are inspired in great measure by sexual feeling; on
the one hand, there is probably the cunning of a hypocritical knave, or
the self-deception of a half-insane one, using the weaknesses of weak
women to minister to his vanity or his lust under a religious guise; on
the other hand, there is an exaggerated self-feeling, often rooted in
the sexual passion, which is unwittingly fostered under the cloak of
religious emotion, and which is apt to conduct to madness or to sin. In
such cases the holy kiss owes its warmth to the sexual impulse, which
inspires it, consciously or unconsciously, and the mystical religious
union of the sexes is fitted to issue in a less spiritual union."[111]

Many manuals of devotion will be found to furnish the same kind of
evidence as biographical narratives concerning the intimate relations
that exists between sexuality and religious feeling. What has just been
said may be repeated here, namely, that if the religious associations
were dispelled, there would be no mistaking the nature of feelings that
originated much of this class of writing, or the feelings to which they
appeal. The serious fact is that the appeal is there whether we
recognise it or not, and it is a question worthy of serious
consideration whether the unwary imagination of the young may be not as
surely debauched by certain books of devotion as by a frankly erotic
production. It is not without reason that d'Israeli the elder, in an
essay omitted from all editions of his book after the first, remarked
that "poets are amorous, lovers are poetical, but saints are both."[112]
Take, for example, the following from a collection of old English
homilies, dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries:--

"Jesus, my holy love, my sure sweetness! Jesus, my heart, my joy, my
soul-heal! Jesus, sweet Jesus, my darling, my life, my light, my balm,
my honey-drop!... Kindle me with the blaze of Thy enlightening love. Let
me be Thy leman, and teach me to love Thee.... Oh, that I might behold
how Thou stretchedst Thyself for me on the cross. Oh, that I might cast
myself between those same arms, so very wide outspread.... Oh, that I
were in Thy arms, in Thy arms so stretchedst and outspread on the

Or this, from the same collection:--

"Sweet Jesus, my love, my darling, my Lord, my Saviour, my balm, sweeter
is the remembrance of Thee than honey in the mouth. Who is there that
may not love Thy lovely face? Whose heart is so hard that may not melt
at the remembrance of Thee? Oh! who may not love Thee, lovely Jesus?
Jesus, my precious darling, my love, my life, my beloved, my most worthy
of love, my heart's balm, Thou art lovesome in countenance, Thou art
altogether bright. All angels' life is to look upon Thy face, for Thy
cheer is so marvellously lovesome and pleasant to look upon.... Thou art
so bright, and so white that the sun would be pale if compared to Thy
blissful countenance. If I, then, love any man for beauty, I will love
Thee, my dear life, my mother's fairest son."[113]

The language of erotic piety figures much more prominently in Roman
Catholic medieval writings than in Protestant literature. This is not
because an appeal to the same feelings is absent from the religious
literature of Protestantism, it is mainly due to the fact that more
modern conditions leads to a less intense religious appeal, while the
broadening of social life encourages a more natural outlet for all
aspects of human nature. Still, the following expression of a young lady
convert of Wesley's offers a fair parallel to the specimen given above.
It is taken from Southey's _Life of Wesley_:--

"Oh, mighty, powerful, happy change! The love of God was shed abroad in
my heart, and a flame kindled there with pains so violent, and yet so
very ravishing, that my body was almost torn asunder. I sweated, I
trembled, I fainted, I sang. Oh, I thought my head was a fountain of
water. I was dissolved in love. My beloved is mine, and I am His. He has
all charms; He has ravished my heart; He is my comforter, my friend, my
all. Oh, I am sick of love. He is altogether lovely, the chiefest among
ten thousand. Oh, how Jesus fills, Jesus extends, Jesus overwhelms the
soul in which He lives."

The _Imitation of Christ_ has been described by more than one writer as
a manual of eroticism, and certainly the chapters "The Wonderful Effects
of Divine Love," and "Of the Proof of a True Lover," might well be cited
in defence of this view. In the following canticle of St. Francis of
Assisi it does not seem possible to distinguish a substantial difference
between it and a frankly avowed love poem:--

    "Into love's furnace I am cast,
     Into love's furnace I am cast,
     I burn, I languish, pine, and waste.
     Oh, love divine, how sharp thy dart!
     How deep the wound that galls my heart!
     As wax in heat, so, from above,
     My smitten soul dissolves in love.
     I live, yet languishing I die,
     While in thy furnace bound I lie."[114]

It would certainly be possible to furnish exact parallels from volumes
of secular verse that would be strictly 'taboo' among those who fail to
see anything objectionable in verses like the above when written in
connection with religion. Such people fail to recognise that their
attractiveness lies in the hidden appeal to amatory feeling, and owe
their origin to the suppressed or perverted sexual passion of their
author. We must not allow ourselves to be blinded by the consideration
as to whether the object of adoration be an earthly or a heavenly one.
Men and women have not distinct feelings that are aroused as their
objective differs, but the same feelings directed now in one direction,
now in another. The direction of these feelings, their exciting cause,
are sheer environmental accidents. How can one resist the implications
of the following, from a devotional work widely circulated amongst the
women of France:--

    "Praise to Jesus, praise His power,
     Praise His sweet allurements.
     Praise to Jesus, when His goodness
     Reduces me to nakedness;
     Praise to Jesus when He says to me,
     My sister, my dove, my beautiful one!
     Praise to Jesus in all my steps,
     Praise to His amorous charms.
     Praise to Jesus when His loving mouth
     Touches mine in a loving kiss.
     Praise to Jesus when His gentle caresses
     Overwhelm me with chaste joys.
     Praise to Jesus when at His leisure
     He allows me to kiss Him."[115]

Against this we may place the following hymn, sung at an American camp
meeting of some thousands of persons between the ages of fourteen and

    "Blessed Lily of the Valley, oh, how fair is He;
            He is mine, I am His.
     Sweeter than the angels' music is His voice to me;
            He is mine, I am His.
     Where the lilies fair are blooming by the waters calm
     There He leads me and upholds me by His strong right arm.

     All the air is love around me--I can feel no harm;
            He is mine, I am His."[116]

Special significance is given to this reference by the age of those who
composed the gathering. This period embraces the years during which
sexual maturity is attained, and the organism experiences important
physiological and psychological changes. The consequence is that the
atmosphere is, so to say, charged with unsuspected sex feeling, and it
is not surprising that many complaints have been made of immorality
following such gatherings. The organism is then peculiarly liable to
suggestion in all forms. Along with the imitativeness of early years
there is something of the decisive initiative of maturity. These
qualities wisely guided might be turned to the great advantage of both
the individual and of the community. Mere incitement by religious
revivalism can result in little else than misdirection and injury. It
should be the most obvious of truths that the attractiveness of hymns
such as the one given, with the keen delight in the suggested pictures,
lies in their yielding--all unknown, perhaps, to those participating--
satisfaction to feelings that are very frequently imperious in their
demands, and are at all times astonishingly pervasive in their

Much valuable light is thrown upon this aspect of the subject by a
study of human behaviour under the influence of actual disease. Of late
years much useful work has been done in this direction, and our
knowledge of normal psychology greatly helped by a study of abnormal
mental states.[117] This is mainly because in disease we are able to
observe the operation of tendencies that are unobscured by the
restraints and inhibitions created by education and social convention.
And one of the most striking, and to many startling, things observed is
the close relation existing between erotic mania and religious delusion.
The person who at one time feels himself under direct religious
inspiration, or who imagines himself to be the incarnation of a divine
personage, will at another time exhibit the most shocking obscenity in
action and language. Sir T. S. Clouston furnishes a very striking case
of this character, which he cites in order to show "the common mixture
of religious and sexual emotion."[118] I do not reproduce it here
because of its grossly obscene character; but, save for coarseness of
language, it does not differ materially from illustrations already
given. Almost any of the text-books will supply cases illustrating the
connection between sexualism and religion, a connection generally
recognised as the opinions cited already clearly show.

Dr. Mercier, in dealing with the connection between sexualism and
religion, which he says "has long been recognised, but never accounted
for," traces it to a feeling of, or desire for self-sacrifice common to
both. Certainly sacrifice in some form--of food, weapons, land, money,
or bodily inconvenience--is a feature present in every religion more or
less. And it is quite certain that not merely the fact, but the desire
for some amount of sacrifice, forms "an integral, fundamental, and
preponderating element" in the sexual emotion. Dr. Mercier further
believes that the benevolence founded on religious emotion has its
origin in sexual emotion, which is, again, extremely likely. This
community of origin would allow for the transformation of one into the
other, and supplies a key to the language of lover-like devotion and
self-abnegation which is so prominent in religious devotional
literature. The importance attached to dress is also very suggestive;
for here, again, the element of sacrifice expresses itself in the
cultivation of a studied repulsiveness to the normal attractiveness of
costume. "Thus," says Dr. Mercier, "we find that the self-sacrificial
vagaries of the rejected lover and of the religious devotee own a common
origin and nature. The hook and spiny kennel of the fakir, the pillar of
St. Simeon Stylites, the flagellum of the monk, the sombre garments of
the nun, the silence of the Trappists, the defiantly hideous costume of
the hallelujah lass, and the mortified sobriety of the district visitor,
have at bottom the same origin as the rags of Cardenio, the cage of Don
Quixote de la Mancha, and the yellow stockings and crossed garters of

Professor Granger, who at times comes very near the truth, says:--

"There is something profoundly philosophical in the use of _The Song of
Songs_ to typify the communion of the soul with its ideal. The passion
which is expressed by the Shulamite for her earthly lover in such
glowing phrases becomes the type of the love of the soul towards

One fails to see the profoundly philosophic nature of the selection. The
_Song of Songs_ is a frankly erotic love poem, written with no other aim
than is common to such poetry, and its spiritualisation is due to the
same process of reinterpretation that is applied to other parts of the
Bible in order to make them agreeable to modern thought. Had it not been
in the Bible, Christians would have found it neither profoundly
philosophical nor spiritually illuminating; and, as a matter of fact,
similar effusions are selected by Christians from non-Christian writings
as proofs of their sensual character. The real significance of its use
in religious worship is that it gives a marked expression to feelings
that crave an outlet. And the lesson is that sexual feeling cannot be
eliminated from life; it can only be diverted or disguised. Some
expression it will find--here in open perversion resulting in positive
vice, there in obsession that leads to a half-insane asceticism, and
elsewhere the creation of the unconsciously salacious with an unhealthy
fondness for dabbling in questions that refer to the illicit relations
of the sexes.

"One of the reasons why popular religion in England," says Professor
Granger, "seems to be coming to the limits of its power, is that it has
contented itself so largely with the commonplace motives which, after
all, find sufficient exercise in the ordinary duties of life." Here,
again, is a curious obtuseness to a plain but important truth. With
what else should a healthy religion associate itself but the ordinary
motives or feelings of human life? With what else has religion always
associated itself? Far from that being the source of the weakness of
modern religion, it is its only genuine source of strength. If religion
can so associate itself with the ordinary facts and feelings of life
that these are unintelligible or poorer without religion, then religious
people have nothing to fear. But if it be true, as Professor Granger
implies, that life in its normal moods can receive complete
gratification apart from religion, then the outlook is very different.
From a merely historic point of view it is true that as men have found
explanations of phenomena, and gratifications of feelings apart from
religion, the latter has lost a deal of its power. This is seen in the
growth of the physical sciences, and also, although in a smaller
measure, in sociology and morals.

This, however, opens up the enquiry, previously indicated, as to how far
the whole range of human life may be satisfactorily explained in the
complete absence of religion or supernaturalism. And with this we are
not now directly concerned. What we are concerned with is to show that
from one direction at least supernaturalism has derived strength from a
misinterpretation of the facts. These facts, once interpreted as clear
evidence for supernaturalism, are now seen to be susceptible to a
different explanation. But they have nevertheless played their part in
creating as part of the social heritage a diffused sense of the reality
of supernatural intercourse. It is not, then, a question of religion
losing power because it has contented itself with commonplace motives,
and because these have now found satisfaction in ordinary life. It is
rather a question of the adequacy of science to deal with facts that
have been taken to lie outside the scientific order. Has science the
knowledge or the ability to deal with the extraordinary as well as with
the ordinary facts of life? I believe it has. The facts we have passed
in review _are_ amenable to scientific treatment, for the reason that
they belong to a class with which the physician of to-day finds himself
in constant contact. And it is too often overlooked that the belief in
the existence and influence of a supersensible world is itself only a
theory put forward in explanation of certain classes of facts, and like
all theories it becomes superfluous once a simpler theory is made


[93] Article in _The Lancet_, Jan. 11, 1873.

[94] Article in Tuke's _Dictionary of Psychological Medicine_.

[95] _Inquiries into Human Faculty_, pp. 66-7.

[96] _The Sexual Question_, pp. 354-5.

[97] Cited by Havelock Ellis, _Psychology of Sex_, pp. 233-4.

[98] _Conduct and its Disorders_, pp. 368-9.

[99] _Psychopathia-Sexualis_, pp. 9-11.

[100] _Lost and Hostile Gospels_, Preface.

[101] Cited by James, _Varieties_, pp. 345-6.

[102] Inge, _Christian Mysticism_, pp. 201-9.

[103] See Ellis, _Psychology of Sex_, pp. 240-2.

[104] Parkman's _Jesuits in North America_, p. 175.

[105] Krafft-Ebing, _Psychopathia-Sexualis_, p. 8.

[106] See L. Asseline's _Mary Alacoque and the Worship of the Sacred
Heart of Jesus_.

[107] See _St. Teresa of Spain_, by H. H. Colvill, and _Saint Teresa_,
by H. Joly.

[108] _Varieties_, p. 413.

[109] _Varieties_, p. 413.

[110] Cited by J. F. Nisbet, _The Insanity of Genius_, p. 248.

[111] _Pathology of Mind_, p. 144. Also Mercier, _Sanity and Insanity_,
pp. 223, 281.

[112] _Miscellanies_, 1796, p. 365. From the same essay I take the
following: "Even the ceremonies of religion, both in ancient and in
modern times, have exhibited the grossest indecencies. Priests in all
ages have been the successful panders of the human heart, and have
introduced in the solemn worship of the divinity, incitements,
gratifications, and representations, which the pen of the historian must
refuse to describe. Often has the sensible Catholic blushed amidst his
devotions, and I have seen chapels surrounded by pictures of lascivious
attitudes, and the obsolete amours of saints revived by the pencil of
some Aretine.... Their homilies were manuals of love, and the more
religious they became, the more depraved were their imaginations. In the
nunnery the love of Jesus was the most abandoned of passions, and the
ideal espousal was indulged at the cost of the feeble heart of many a
solitary beauty" (pp. 369-70).

[113] From a collection published by the Early English Text Society,
1868, pp. 182-4, 268.

[114] G. A. Coe, _The Spiritual Life_, p. 210.

[115] _Les Perles de Saint François de Sales_, 1871. Cited by Bloch, p.

[116] Davenport's _Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals_, p. 29.

[117] See, for example, _Conduct and its Disorders_, by Dr. C. Mercier;
_Psycho-Pathological Researches_, by Dr. Boris Sidis; and _Abnormal
Psychology_, by I. H. Coriat.

[118] _Clinical Lectures on Mental Diseases_, p. 584.

[119] _Sanity and Insanity_, chap. viii.

[120] _The Soul of a Christian_, p. 178.



It should hardly need pointing out that the facts presented in the last
chapter are not offered as an attempt at the--to use Professor William
James's expression--"reinterpretation of religion as perverted
sexuality." Nor, so far as the present writer is aware, has anyone ever
so presented them. The expression, indeed, seems almost a deliberate
mis-statement of a position in order to make its rebuttal easier.
Obviously the idea of religion must be already in existence before it
could be utilised for the purpose of explaining any group of phenomena.
But if the biographic and other facts described have any value whatever,
they are at least strong presumptive evidence in favour of the position
that in very many cases a perverted or unsatisfied sexuality has been at
the root of a great deal of the world's emotional piety. Of course, the
strong religious belief must be in existence before-hand. But given
this, and add thereto a sexual nature imperious in its demands and yet
denied legitimate outlet, and we have the conditions present for its
promptings being interpreted as the fruits of supernatural influence. It
is not a reinterpretation of _religion_ that is attempted, but a
reinterpretation of phenomena that have been erroneously called
religious. And on all sides the need for this reinterpretation is
becoming clear. Over sixty years ago Renan wrote, "A rigorous
psychological analysis would class the innate religious instinct of
women in the same category with the sexual instinct,"[121] and since
then a very much more detailed knowledge of both physiology and
psychology has furnished a multitude of data for an exhaustive study of
the whole question.

In the present chapter our interest is mainly historical. And for
various reasons, chief amongst which is that interested readers may the
more easily follow up the study should they feel so inclined, the survey
has been restricted to the history of that religion with which we are
best acquainted--Christianity. Moreover, if we are to form a correct
judgment of the part played in the history of religions by the
misinterpretations already noted, it is necessary to trace the extent to
which they have influenced men and women in a collective capacity. For
the striking fact is that, in spite of the purification of the sexual
relations being one of the avowed objects of Christianity, in spite,
too, of the attempts of the official churches to suppress them, the
history of Christianity has been dogged by outbreaks of sexual
extravagance, by the continuous emergence of erotico-religious sects,
claiming Christian teachings as the authority for their actions. We need
not discuss the legitimacy of their inferences. We are concerned solely
with a chronicle of historic facts so far as they can be ascertained;
and these have a certain significance of their own, as events, quite
apart from their reasonableness or desirability.

A part cause of the movements we are about to describe may have been a
violent reaction against an extravagant asceticism. Something may also
be due to the fact that over-concentration of mind upon a particular
evil is apt to defeat its end by the mere force of unconscious
suggestion in the contrary direction. But in all probability much was
due to the presence of certain elements inherited by Christianity from
the older religions. At any rate, those whose minds are filled with the
idea that sexual extravagance on a collective scale and under the cloak
of religion is either a modern phenomenon, or was unknown to the early
history of Christianity, would do well to revise their opinions in the
light of ascertainable facts. No less a person than the Rev. S.
Baring-Gould has reminded us that criticism discloses "on the shining
face of primitive Christianity rents and craters undreamt of in our old
simplicity," and also asserts "that there was in the breast of the
newborn Church an element of antinomianism, not latent, but in virulent
activity, is a fact as capable of demonstration as any conclusion in a
science which is not exact."[122]

There would be little value in a study of these erotico-religious
movements if they involved only a detection of individual lust
consciously using religion as a cloak for its gratification. Such a
conclusion is a fatally easy one, but it does little justice to the
chief people concerned, and it is quite lacking in historical
perspective. In most cases the initiators of these strange sects have
put forward a philosophy of religion as a justification of their
teaching, and only a slight knowledge of this is enough to prove that we
are face to face with a phenomenon of much greater significance than
mere immorality. This may be recognised even in the pages of the New
Testament itself. It is not a practice that is there denounced; it is a
teaching that is repudiated. And one sees the same thing at later
periods. The conviction on the one side that certain actions are
unlawful, is met on the other side with the conviction that they are
perfectly legitimate. Conviction is met with conviction. Each side
expresses itself in terms of religion; the ethical aspect is incidental
or subordinate. It is a contest of opposing religious beliefs and

The real nature of the conflict is often obscured by the fact of social
opinion and the social forces generally being on the side of the more
normal expression of sexual life. This, however, is no more than a
necessity of the situation. The continuance of a healthful social life
is dependent upon the maintenance of a certain balance in the relations
of the sexes, and anything that strikes at this strikes at social life
as a whole. In such cases we have, therefore, to allow for the operation
of social selection, which is always on the side of the more normal
type. From this it follows that although a small body of people may
exemplify a variation that is in itself socially disastrous, the main
forces of social life will prevent its ever assuming large dimensions.
Moreover, a large body of people, such as is represented by a church
holding a commanding position in society, will be forced to come to
terms with the permanent tendencies of social life, and will either
suppress undesirable variations or expel them. It thus happens that
while the larger and more dominant churches have been on the side of
normal, regularised expressions of the sexual life, abnormal variations
have constantly arisen and have been denounced by them. But the
significant feature is that they have arisen within the churches, and
most commonly during periods of great religious stress or excitement.

These tendencies, as the Rev. S. Baring-Gould has pointed out, existed
in the very earliest days of Christianity. It is quite apparent from
Paul's writings that as early as the date of the First Epistle to the
Corinthians some of the more objectionable features of the older Pagan
worship had shown themselves in the Church. The doctrine of 'spiritual
wifehood' appeared at a very early date in the Church, and its teachers
cited even St. Paul himself as their authority. Their claim was based
upon Paul's declaration (1 Cor. ix. 5) that he had power to lead about
"a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the
Lord and Cephas." Curiously enough, commentators have never agreed as to
what Paul meant by this expression. The word translated may mean either
wife, or sister, or woman. Had it been wife in the ordinary sense, it
does not appear that at that date there would have been any room for
scandal. The clear fact is, however, that others claimed a like
privilege; the privilege was not always restricted to one woman, and the
practice, if not general, became not uncommon, and furnished the ground
for scandal for a long period. Two epistles, wrongly attributed to St.
Clement of Rome, and dating from some time in the second century,
condemn the practice of young people living together under the cloak of
religion, and specially warns virgins against cohabiting with the clergy
and so giving offence. That the practice was difficult to suppress is
shown by its being condemned by several church councils--Antioch in 210,
Nicea in 325, and Elvira in 350.[123] At a later date a much more
elaborate theory has been built on Paul's claim. The Pauline Church has
found several expressions both in England and America within recent
times.[124] These sects have claimed that both St. Paul and the woman
with whom he travelled were in a state of grace, and, therefore, above
all law. We do not mean the maintenance of an ascetic relationship, but
the normal relation of husband and wife. It is really the doctrine of
'Free Love' with a spiritual warranty instead of a secular one.

This doctrine of religious 'Free Love' rests upon a twofold basis.
First, it was held that, apart from a wife after the flesh, one might
also have a wife after the spirit, and this spiritual union might exist
side by side with the fleshly one, and with different persons. A great
impetus appears to have been given to this theory from Germany, many of
the originators of the American sects of Free Lovers being Germans.
Secondly, it was held that a Christian in a state of grace was absolved
from laws that were binding upon other people. His actions were no
longer subject to the categories of right and wrong; as it was said, to
one in a state of grace all things were lawful, even though all things
might not be expedient. Some went the length of teaching that not only
were all things lawful, but all things were desirable. Separating by a
sharp division things that influenced the soul from things that
influenced the body, it was openly taught by some of the early sects
that nothing done by the body could injure the soul, and so could not
affect its salvation. Reversing the practice of asceticism, which sought
to crush bodily passions by a course of deprivation, it was taught that
all kinds of forbidden conduct might be practised in order to
demonstrate the soul's superiority. There is no question whatever that
this tendency was very prominent in the early Christian Church. It was
not there as something hidden, something of which men ought to be
ashamed; it was an avowed teaching, claiming full religious sanction.
"The Church," says Baring-Gould, "trembled on the verge of becoming an
immoral sect." The same writer also says:--

"This _teaching_ of immorality in the Church is a startling feature, and
it seems to have been pursued by some who called themselves apostles as
well as by those who assumed to be prophets. In the Corinthian Church
even the elders encouraged incest. Now, it is not possible to explain
this phenomenon except on the ground that Paul's argument as to the Law
being overridden had been laid hold of and elevated into a principle.
These teachers did not wink at lapses into immorality, but defiantly
urged on the converts to the Gospel to commit adultery, fornication, and
all uncleanness ... as a protest against those who contended that the
moral law as given on the tables was still binding upon the

A certain detachment from modern conditions, and from modern frames of
mind, is essential to an adequate appreciation of what has been said.
Looking at these events through the distorting medium of an altogether
different social atmosphere, one is apt to attribute them to the
operation of lawless desire, and so have done with it. This, however, is
to overlook the fact that we are dealing with a society in which sexual
symbols were common in religious worship, and in which theories of the
religious life were propounded and accepted which to-day would be
regarded as little less than maniacal. Unquestionably even then, once
the situation had established itself it would be utilised by those of a
coarser nature for mere sensual gratification. But practices such as we
know existed, on the scale we have every reason for believing they were,
could never have been had they not taken the form of an intense
conviction. To assume otherwise is equal to arguing that because men
have entered the Church from mere love of power or lust for wealth, the
Church owed its establishment to the play of these motives. It is true
that those who opposed these religio-erotic sects accused them of
immorality, but it is the form these teachings assumed to the members of
the impeached sects, not how they appeared to their enemies, that is
important. Eroticism taught and practised as a religious
conviction--that is the essential and significant feature of the
situation. Not to grasp this is to fail to realise the vital fact
embodied in the phenomena under consideration. We are not dealing with
mere sensualists, even though we may be dealing with what is largely an
expression of sensualism. It is sensualism expressed as, and sanctioned
by, religious conviction that is the vital fact of the situation.

One of the earliest Christian institutions around which scandals
gathered was that of the Agapæ, or love-feasts. From the outset the
Pagan writers asserted that these love-feasts were new versions of
various old orgiastic practices, some of which were still current,
others of which had been suppressed by the Roman government. There is no
doubt that they were the grounds of very serious accusations against the
Christians. On the other hand, it must be remembered that, at the outset
at least, these charges were indignantly rejected by the Christians. The
Agapæ were called indiscriminately Feasts of Love and Feasts of
Charity. Each member, male and female, greeted each other with a holy
kiss, and the institution was described by Tertullian as "a support of
love, a solace of purity, a check on riches, a discipline of weakness."
These love-feasts were held on important occasions, such as a marriage,
a death, or the anniversary of a martyrdom. Some churches celebrated
them weekly. From the Acts of the Apostles we learn that the feasts
began about nightfall, and continued till after midnight, or even till
daybreak. It was only natural that mixed assemblies of men and women
that gathered in this manner, and where there was eating and drinking,
should create scandal. It is absolutely certain that some of this
scandal had a basis in fact. The Rev. S. Baring-Gould confesses that "at
Corinth, and certainly elsewhere, among excitable people, the wine, the
heat, the exaltation of emotion, led to orgiastic ravings, the jabbering
of disconnected, unintelligible words, to fits, convulsions, pious
exclamations, and incoherent ravings." And unless St. Paul was
deliberately slandering his fellow-believers worse things than these

Generally, even by non-Christian writers, it has been assumed that the
Agapæ commenced as a perfectly harmless, even admirable institution, and
afterwards degenerated, and so gave genuine cause for scandal. It is not
easy to see that this opinion rests on anything better than a mere
prejudice. It is true that there is no unmistakable evidence to the
contrary, but no clear evidence is to be found in its behalf. The Agapæ
was not, after all, an essentially Christian institution. Similar
gatherings existed among the Pagans, more or less orgiastic in
character. And even though at first some of the more extreme forms were
avoided amongst the Christians, it is not improbable, on the face of it,
that some kind of sexual extravagance or symbolism was present from the
outset. At any rate, as I have said, the charges were made, first by
Pagans, afterwards by Christians against other Christians. The charges
were persistent, and were made in districts far removed from each other.
Says Lecky: "When the Pagans accused the Christians of indulging in
orgies of gross licentiousness, the first apologist, while repudiating
the charge, was careful to add, of the heretics, 'Whether or not these
people commit those shameful acts ... I know not.' In a few years the
language of doubt and insinuation was exchanged for that of direct
assertion; and if we may believe St. Irenæus and St. Clement of
Alexandria, the followers of Carpocrates, the Marcionites, and some
other gnostic sects habitually indulged, in their secret meetings, in
acts of impurity and licentiousness as hideous and as monstrous as can
be conceived, and their conduct was one of the causes of the persecution
of the orthodox."[126] Tertullian accused some of the sects of
practising incestuous intercourse at the Agapæ. Ambrose compared the
institution to the Pagan Parentalia. Clement says, probably referring to
the Agapæ, "the shameless use of the rite occasions foul suspicion and
evil reports." The first epistle on Virginity by the Pseudo-Clement
(probably written in the second century) admits the existence of
immorality by saying, "Others eat and drink with them (_i.e._ the
virgins) at feasts, and indulge in loose behaviour and much uncleanness,
such as ought not to be among those who have elected holiness for
themselves." Justin Martyr, referring to certain sects, says more
cautiously: "Whether or not these people commit these shameful acts (the
putting out of lights, and indulging in promiscuous intercourse) I know
not." Others are more precise in their charges. That the Agapæ became
the legitimate cause of complaint is admitted by all. The only question
is whether it was the institution itself or the public mind in relation
to it that underwent a change. Eventually, on the avowed ground of evil
conduct, the Agapæ were forbidden by the Council of Carthage, 391, of
Orleans, 541, and of Constantinople, 680.

The whole subject is obscure, but the one certain and significant thing
is that charges of licentiousness were connected with the Agapæ from the
outset. These may at first have been unfounded or exaggerated. On the
other hand, it is quite probable that just as Christianity continued
Pagan ceremonies in other directions, so there was also a carrying over
into the Church of some of the sexual rites and ceremonies connected
with earlier forms of worship. And we know that the principle of
Antinomianism, a prolific cause of evil at all times, was active amongst
the Christians from the outset.

It is almost impossible to say at this distance how many sects
exhibiting marked erotic tendencies appeared in the early Christian
centuries. Many must have disappeared and left no trace of their
existence. But there can be no question that they were fairly numerous.
The extensive sect, or sects, of the gnostics contained in its teachings
elements that at least paved the way for the conduct with which other
Christians charged them, although the charges made may not have been
true of all. To some of the gnostic sects belongs the teaching--quite in
accord with the doctrine of the evil nature of the world, that
liberation from the 'Law' was one of the first conditions of spiritual
freedom. From this came the teaching, subsequently held by numerous
other sects, that those born of the Spirit could not be defiled by any
acts of the flesh, and that so-called vicious actions were rather to be
encouraged as providing experience useful to spiritual welfare. Some
branches of the gnostics had 'spiritual marriages,' similar to what
existed in India in the Sakti rites already described. Thus the
Adamites, a rather obscure gnostic sect of the second century, attempted
to imitate the Edenic state by condemning marriage and abandoning
clothing. Their assemblies were held underground, and on entering the
place of worship both sexes stripped themselves naked, and in that state
performed their ceremonies. They called their church Paradise, from
which all dissentients were promptly expelled. The Adamites themselves
claimed that their object was to extirpate desire by familiarising the
senses to strict control. Their religious opponents gave a very
different account of the practice, and it is not difficult to realise,
whatever may have been the motive of the founders, the consequences of
such a practice. It is curious, by the way, to observe how strong
religious excitement seems to lead people to discard clothing. Thus,
during the Crusade of 1203-42 the women crusaders rushed about the
streets in a state of nudity.[127] During the wars of the League in
France, men and women walked naked in procession headed by the
clergy.[128] Other examples of this curious practice might be given.

The Nicolaitanes, a second-century sect referred to in the New Testament
(Rev. ii. 14), were accused of practising religious prostitution. So
also were the Manichæans, a very numerous sect, against whom the charges
were of a much more detailed character. With them the ceremonial
violation of a virgin is said to have formed a part of their regular
ritual, and that their meetings frequently ended in an orgy of
promiscuous intercourse.[129] As both these acts are found in connection
with other religious ceremonies, and, as will be seen later, have
persisted until recent times, the story does not sound so incredible as
otherwise it might. The difficulty of deciding definitely is intensified
by the fact of the Manichæans being split into a number of sects, and
statements true of some might be untrue of others. So we find St.
Augustine, who had been a Manichæan, declaring that if all did not
practise licentious rites, one sect (the Catharists) did, believing that
they could only mortify the flesh by the exercise of bad instincts,
since the flesh proceeded from demons. St. Augustine himself confesses
to have taken part in various phallic ceremonies before his conversion.
"I myself," he says, "when a young man used to go sometimes to the
sacrilegious entertainments and spectacles; I saw the priests raving in
religious excitement, and heard the choristers; I took pleasure in the
shameful games which were celebrated in honour of gods and goddesses, of
the Virgin Coelestia, and of Berecynthia, the mother of all gods. And
on the day consecrated to her purification, there were sung before her
couch productions so obscene and filthy to the ear--I do not say of the
mother of the gods, but of the mother of any senator or honest man--nay,
so impure that not even the mother of the foul-mouthed players
themselves could have formed one of the audience."[130]

The Carpocratians, who claimed to be a branch of the Gnostics, taught
that faith and charity were alone necessary virtues: all others were
useless. There is nothing evil in itself, and life only becomes complete
when all so-called blemishes are fully displayed in conduct. Their
leader "not only allowed his disciples a full liberty to sin, but
recommended a vicious course of life as a matter of obligation and
necessity; asserting that eternal salvation was only attainable by those
who had committed all sorts of crimes.... It was the will of God that
all things should be possessed in common, the female sex not

A little later we have the sect of the Agapetæ. They rejected marriage
as an institution, and permitted unrestrained intercourse between the
sexes. St. Jerome, alluding to this sect, says: "It is a shame even to
allude to the true facts. Whence did the pest of the Agapetæ creep into
the Church? Whence is this new title of wives without marriage rites?
Whence this new class of concubines? I will infer more. Whence these
harlots cleaving to one man? They occupy the same house, a single
chamber, often a single bed, and call us suspicious if we think anything
of it. The brother deserts his virgin sister, the virgin despises her
unmarried brother, and seeks a stranger, and since they pretend to be
aiming at the same object, they ask for the spiritual consolation of
each other that they may enjoy the pleasures of the flesh."[132]

This form of extravagance does not appear to have been limited to a
single sect. It was more or less general during the ascendancy of
asceticism. Tertullian says that the desire to enjoy the reputation of
virginity led to much immorality, the effects of which were concealed by
infanticide. The Council of Antioch lamented the practice of unmarried
men and women sharing the same room. In 450, the Anchorites of Palestine
are described as herding together without distinction of sex, and with
no garments but a breech-clout.[133] The practice of priests travelling
about with women, mothers and wives, and the scandals created thereby,
is referred to in regulation after regulation. Although legislated
against, it never entirely disappeared, and eventually led to a
recognised priestly concubinage--recognised, that is, by public opinion,
although condemned by the Church.

There is no need to go over even the names of all the numerous sects
that appeared during the early centuries manifesting curious features
concerning sexual relations. When suppressed in one form they reappeared
in another, and were unusually prominent during seasons of religious
unrest. Many of the teachings already noted made their appearance again
with the "Brethren of the Free Spirit" in the thirteenth, fourteenth,
and fifteenth centuries. Some of these sects took their stand on the
Pauline teaching, "The law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ hath
made me free from the law of sin and death," and claimed freedom from
sin, no matter what their actions. The "Brethren of the Free Spirit"
carried women about with them, held midnight assemblies, and, according
to Mosheim, attended these meetings in a state of nudity. The Ranters,
the Spirituels of Geneva, the Berghards, the Flagellants, the Molinists,
were all accused of sexual misconduct in their assemblies. One of the
specific teachings of the last-named body, as condemned by the
Inquisition, ran as follows: "God, to humble us, permits in certain
perfect souls that the devil should make them commit certain acts. In
this case, and in others, which without the permission of God, would be
guilty, there is no sin because there is no consent. It may happen, that
this violent movement, which excites to carnal acts, may take place in
two persons, a man and a woman, at the same instant."[134]

It has been pointed out that the dominant Church made continuous efforts
to suppress these sects, but the remarkable thing is that they should so
often reappear, and always with strong claims to existence on the basis
of religious conviction. That a number of men and women should seek
gratification of their sensual feelings in ways not countenanced by the
laws of normal life need not excite surprise. There always have been and
always will be such. But to do this in the name of religion, and with a
persistency as great as that of the religious idea itself, is a
phenomenon that surely deserves more attention than it ordinarily
receives. Nor can it be said with justice that these sects began in mere
conscious lust. They ended there, true; more or less disguised, it may
always have been present, but those who initiated them believed that
they were justified in doing so by religious principles, and appealed to
those principles to justify their conduct. Why should this have been the
case? Why should conduct of which men and women are ashamed in the
social sphere, and which their social sense promptly condemns, in the
religious sphere be crowned with the dignity of lofty principles and
fought for with the fervour of intense conviction? So long as
theologians leave that question unanswered, their arguments are simply
wide of the real issue.

Naturally, the closer we get to our own day, and to times when religious
feeling is more vigorously controlled by purely social forces, these
manifestations of sexuality become less frequent, less widely spread,
and more transient in character. Still they do occur. For reasons that
do not concern us here, America has in recent years been a favourable
ground for these religio-sexual developments. A sympathetic account of
many of these American sects will be found in Hepworth Dixon's
_Spiritual Wives_, with accounts of similar sects in Germany and
England. In some cases many of the features of the early Christian sects
were reproduced, even to the length of young women sharing the bedrooms
of their spiritual guides. All took Paul as their principal authority.
J. H. Noyes, one of the best known and most representative of these
teachers, laid down the main principles of his teachings thus:--

"When the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven, there will be
no marriage. The marriage supper of the Lamb is a feast at which every
dish is free to every guest. Exclusiveness, jealousy, quarrelling, have
no place there, for the same reason as that which forbids the guests at
a thanksgiving dinner to claim each his separate dish, and quarrel with
the rest for his rights. In a holy community there is no more reason why
sexual intercourse should be restrained by law, than why eating and
drinking should be; and there is as little occasion for shame in the one
case as in the other.... The guests of the marriage supper may have each
his favourite dish, each a dish of his own procuring, and that without
the jealousy of exclusiveness. I call a certain woman my wife; she is
yours; she is Christ's; and in Him she is the bride of all saints. She
is dear in the hands of a stranger, and according to my promise to her I

In a letter to Mr. Hepworth Dixon, J. H. Noyes claims the "right of
religious inspiration to shape society and dictate the form of family
life," and with probable accuracy says that the origin of these American
sects is to be found in revivals:--

"The philosophy of the matter seems to be this: Revivals are theocratic
in their very nature; they introduce God into human affairs.... In the
conservative theory of revivals, this power is restricted to the
conversion of souls; but in actual experience it goes, or tends to go,
into all the affairs of life.... Religious love is very near neighbour
to sexual love, and they always get mixed in the intimacies and social
excitements of revivals. The next thing a man wants, after he has found
the salvation of his soul, is to find his Eve and his Paradise.... The
course of things may be restated thus: Revivals lead to religious love;
religious love excites the passions; the converts, finding themselves
in theocratic liberty, begin to look about for their mates and their

With regard to the beginnings of these modern movements of "Spiritual
Wifehood," all involving the abrogation of the normal relations of the
sexes, Hepworth Dixon writes:--

"It has not, I think, been noticed by any writer that three of the most
singular movements in the churches of our generation seem to have been
connected, more or less closely, with the state of mind produced by
revivals; one in Germany, one in England, and one in the United States;
movements which resulted, among other things, in the establishment of
three singular societies--the congregation of Pietists, vulgarly called
the Mucker, at Königsberg; the brotherhood of Princeites at Spaxton; and
the Bible Communists at Oneida Creek.... They had these chief things in
common: they began in colleges, they affected the form of family life,
and they were carried on by clergymen; each movement in a place of
learning and of theological study: that in Germany at the Luther-Kirch
of Königsberg, that in England at St. David's College, that in the
United States at Yale College.... These three divines, one Lutheran, one
Anglican, one Congregational, began their work in perfect ignorance of
each other.... Each movement was regarded by its votaries as the most
perfect fruit of the revival spirit. In truth, the change which came
upon the saints from their close experience of revival passion, was
regarded by themselves as in some degree miraculous, equal in divine
significance to a new creation of the world."[137]

For an almost exact replica of the erotic extravagances of some of the
early Christian sects, one may turn to Russia. The difficulties and
dangers of political life in Russia are doubtless responsible for having
made religion such a power among the mass of the people, and this will
also explain the diversion into religious channels of energy that under
more favourable conditions is expended in social agitation and activity.
Many of these sects are, of course, of a harmless character, mostly
originating in an even greater love for the past and a more slavish
adherence to ancient formulas than is displayed by the orthodox Church.
Some, however, present the wildest excesses of sexual theory and
practice. Nothing seems too wild or too extravagant to become the
originating point of a new sect. Theories of marriage and sexual
relations generally are developed with a logical fearlessness peculiarly
Russian. Among the Bezpopovtsi, a numerous sect split up into several
branches, opinions on marriage vary between regarding it as a mere
conventional affair, and denouncing it as a hindrance to spiritual
development. "Between these two extremes," says Mr. Heard, "there is
room for the wildest and most repulsive theories. Carnal sensuality is
allied in monstrous union with religious mysticism. Free love,
independence of the sexes, possession of women in common, have been
preached and practised. Debauchery, as an incidental weakness of human
nature, has been advocated as the lesser evil; libertinism as preferable
to concubinage, and the latter as better than marriage. One of their
most austere teachers cynically declares that 'it is wiser to live with
beasts than to be joined to a wife; to frequent many women in secret,
rather than to live with one openly.'"[138]

Another sect called 'Eunuchs' take their stand on Matt. xix. 12: "There
are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there
are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs,
which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He
that is able to receive it, let him receive it." This sect believes in
and practises emasculation as the surest way of attaining perfection.
Man, they say, should be like the angels, without sex and without
desire. This practice reminds one of an early Christian sect, the
Valesians, which not only emasculated members of their own sect, but
performed the same operation forcibly on those who fell into their
hands.[139] The Khlysti, a sect which derives its name from the practice
of flagellation, denounce marriage as unclean, and part of their
religious ritual is, according to some writers, the worship of a naked
woman. Baron Von Haxthausen, writing in 1856, gives the following
description of their ceremonies on Easter night:--

"On this night the Khlysti all assemble for a great solemnity, the
worship of the mother of God. A virgin, fifteen years of age, whom they
have induced to act the part by tempting promises, is bound and placed
in a tub of warm water; some old women come, and first make a large
incision in the left breast, then cut it off, and staunch the blood in a
wonderfully short time. During the operation a mystical picture of the
Holy Spirit is put into the victim's hand, in order that she may be
absorbed in regarding it. The breast which has been removed is laid upon
a plate and cut into small pieces, which are eaten by all the members of
the sect present; the girl in the tub is then raised upon an altar which
stands near, and the whole congregation dance wildly round it, singing
at the same time. The jumping then grows madder and wilder, till the
lights are suddenly extinguished and horrible orgies commence."[140]

The 'Jumpers,' an offshoot of the Khlysti, are much more pronounced in
their sexual extravagances. They openly profess debauchery, for the
usual reason, that of conquering the flesh by exhaustion and satiety.
They meet usually by night, and after prayers are chanted and hymns
sung, the leader commences a slow jumping movement, keeping time with a
song. Then:--

"The audience, arranged in couples, engaged to each other in advance,
imitate his example and join the strain; the bounds and the singing grow
faster and louder as it spreads, until, at its height, the elder shouts
that he hears the voices of angels; the lights are extinguished, the
jumping ceases, and the scene that follows in the darkness defies
description. Each one yields to his desires, born of inspiration, and
therefore righteous, and to be gratified; all are brethren in Christ,
all promptings of the inner spirit are holy; incest, even, is no sin.
They repudiate marriage, and justify their abominations by the Biblical
legends of Lot's daughters, Solomon's harem, and the like."[141]

There are many other curious sects in Russia, many of which bring us
back to the religious atmosphere of the European dark ages. But without
pursuing a description of these to any greater extent, enough has been
said to show the persistence of the stream of sexualism in the history
of Christianity. Of course, this feature did not enter religion with
Christianity. On the contrary, I have shown that it was present from the
earliest times. The association of religion with sexual phenomena does
not commence as a sexual aberration; it only assumes that form at a
comparatively late stage in religious history. The origin of the
connection has to be found in that atmosphere of the supernatural which
envelops primitive life, moulds primitive conceptions, and more or less
fashions all primitive institutions. The sexual side of religious belief
and religious symbolism only becomes abnormal, and even morbid, when the
development of social life makes possible a truer view of sexuality. In
this the great churches have, perhaps, unconsciously assisted. Their
position of social control has compelled them to set their faces against
the sexual symbolism which is so closely associated with early religious
history, while at the same time countenancing religious fervour in
general. The consequence has been that small bodies of men and women,
freed from the restraining influence of social responsibility, have
developed to extravagant length certain phases of religious belief that
have been generally discountenanced elsewhere. Their so doing certainly
helps the present-day student to make a more complete survey of all the
factors that have played their part in religious history than would
otherwise have been possible. Repulsive as some of these features now
are, they have helped in their time to nourish the general belief in a
supernatural order, and so to strengthen the general idea to which they
were affiliated.


[121] _The Future of Science_, p. 465.

[122] _Lost and Hostile Gospels_, Preface, p. 7.

[123] See Baring-Gould's _Study of St. Paul_, pp. 450-1.

[124] See Hepworth Dixon's curious work, _Spiritual Wives_, 1888, 2

[125] _Study of St. Paul_, p. 458.

[126] _History of European Morals_, i. p. 417.

[127] Cutten, _Psychological Christianity_, p. 157.

[128] Sanger, _History of Prostitution_, p. 116.

[129] See Blunt's _Dictionary of Sects_, art. "Manichæans."

[130] _De Civitate Dei_, ii. 4.

[131] Mosheim, _Cent. 2_, chap. v. sec. 4.

[132] _Dictionary of Sects_, p. 13.

[133] Lea, _Hist. of Sacerdotal Celibacy_, 1884, p. 42.

[134] Cited by Michelet, _Priests, Women, and Families_, p. 130.

[135] _Spiritual Wives_, ii. pp. 55-6.

[136] _Spiritual Wives_, pp. 176-7, 181.

[137] _Ibid._, pp. 84-6.

[138] _The Russian Church and Russian Dissent_, p. 201.

[139] Lea, _Hist. of Sacerdotal Celibacy_, p. 40.

[140] _Visit to the Russian Empire_, i. p. 254. Merejkowski, in his
historical novel, _Peter and Alexis_, gives a more detailed account of
the sexual ceremonies of this sect. See also Heard's description,
_Russian Church_, p. 258.

[141] _Russian Church and Russian Dissent_, p. 262.



From what has been already said, it should be clear that a complete
understanding of religious phenomena--whether legitimately or wrongly so
called--involves acquaintance with a number of factors that are not
usually called religious. Man's religious beliefs are usually a very
composite product; they are built up from a number of states of feeling
and mental convictions, some of which have only an accidental connection
with the religious idea itself. Unfortunately, the training given to
professional religious teachers rarely equips them for dealing with
religion from the scientific point of view. Their training gives them a
knowledge of several ancient languages, makes them acquainted with the
rise and fall of certain doctrines, the nature of Church ritual and the
like, all of which, while interesting enough in themselves, give little
more genuine enlightenment than a knowledge of the dates of English
monarchs provides of the character of genuine historic processes. One
writer pertinently asks:--

"What does the ordinary seminary graduate know of the histology,
anatomy, and physiology of the soul? Absolutely nothing. He must stumble
along through years of trying experience and look back over countless
mistakes before he understands these things even in a general way. What
does the ordinary graduate understand about doubt? It is all classed
together, whether in adolescents or in hardened sinners, and one dose is
applied. What does the graduate know about sexuality, so closely allied
with certain forms of religious manifestations? What about ecstasy, in
its various forms, the numerous methods of faith cure thrust upon an
illiterate but credulous people, or the significance or insignificance
of visions and dreams?"[142]

It is, indeed, not too much to say that a theological training tends to
prevent a rational comprehension of religion in both its normal and
abnormal manifestations. Religious phenomena are not affiliated to
phenomena as a whole; they are treated as quite distinct from the rest
of life, possessing both an independent origin and justification. The
consequence is that what are usually called studies of religion move
round and round the same circle of ideas, and a revolution is mistaken
for progress. Genuine enlightenment has come to us from men who have
attacked the subject from a quite different point of view. They
recognised that whether the religious idea was accepted as true or
rejected as false, it could not be separated from that host of ideas and
beliefs which make up the psychological side of the social structure. It
was to be studied as a piece of natural history first of all. Whether it
involved more than this they left to be settled later. It cannot be said
that they belittled the _power_ of religion; on the contrary, the
investigations showed it to be one of the most potent of the forces that
shape social institutions. But they demonstrated the absurdity of
placing religion in a category of its own. As an objective fact, they
showed that religion was subject to the same forces that determine the
form of other objective facts. As a culture fact, they traced its
connection with corresponding phases of social development; and as a
psychological fact, they demonstrated its workings to be in harmony with
workings of normal psychological laws. Five thousand years of
theological study had left the world as ignorant of the nature of
religious phenomena as it was in the days of ancient Chaldea. Fifty
years of scientific study has served to make at least a broad path
through what was hitherto an impenetrable jungle.

What has been said holds with peculiar force of the subject of
conversion. This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Christianity, for
initiation and conversion accompanies religion in all its phases. I do
not think that it is peculiar to religion even as a whole. A sudden
discharge of feeling in a special direction leading to a changed
attitude, more or less permanent towards life, may be seen in connection
with the non-religious life, although it fails to receive the attention
bestowed on changes that are connected with religion. But if conversion
is not a peculiarly Christian phenomenon, one school of theologians, at
least, has raised it to a position of peculiar eminence in connection
with Christianity. They have taken it to be the mark of a person who has
attained spiritual manhood, and have laid down elaborate rules for its
achievement. Many theologians will agree that this has been almost
wholly disastrous. On the one side, conversion has been dwelt upon as a
cataclysmal epoch in a person's life, produced, negatively, by an act of
self-surrender, and, positively, by a supernatural act of grace. This
has had the effect of blinding people to the real nature of the process,
and has led to certain evil consequences that must always accompany
attempts at wholesale conversion. On the other hand, it has given rise
to a class of professional evangelists who count their trophies in
'souls' as a Red Indian might count scalps, and who are ignorant of
nearly everything except the art of working upon the emotions of a crowd
of more or less uncultured people. Here, for instance, is an account of
an American evangelist and ex-prize fighter, and evidently a great
favourite with certain sections of the religious public in America. The
account is cited by Dr. Cutten from a local paper, Illinois:--

"5843 converts, 683 in a day. Total gift to Mr. Sunday, $10,431.
Greatest revival in history. Will attract the attention of the religious
world. Sermon on 'Booze,' the great effort of the revival! These are all
headlines to the report of the meeting, which covers six
columns--evidently a response to the interest shown in 'Billy' Sunday's
meetings. The sermon on 'Booze' is given in full, and the physical
exertions of the preacher described in detail. He began with his coat,
vest, tie, and collar off. In a few moments his shirt and undershirt
were gaping open to the waist, and the muscles of his neck and chest
were seen working like those in the arm of a blacksmith, while
perspiration poured from every pore. His clothing was soaked, as if a
hose had been turned on him. He strained, and twisted, and reached up
and down. Once he was on the floor for just a second, in the attitude of
crawling, to show that all crime crawled out of the saloon; then he was
on his feet as quickly as a cat could jump. At the end of forty-five
minutes he mounted a chair, reached high, as he shouted, then again was
on the floor, and dropped prostrate to illustrate a story of a drunken
man, bounded to his feet again as if steel springs filled that lithe,
slender, lightning-like body. He generally breaks a common kitchen chair
in this sermon, and this came after a terrible effort, with eyes
flashing, face scowling, the picture of hate. He whirled the chair over
his head, smashed the chair to the platform floor, whirled the shattered
wreck in the air again, and threw it to the ground in front of the
pulpit. In two minutes men from the front row were tearing the wreck to
pieces and dividing it up--a round here, a leg there, a piece of the
back to another, and so on. Later, men carried away in cheering could be
seen in the audience waving those chair fragments in the air."

This is, of course, an extreme case, although it is but an exaggeration
of methods in common use among these professional revivalists. The whole
aim and purpose of these men is to arouse in the audience a high
emotional tension, and any means is acceptable that succeeds in doing
this. On the part of the congregation a large portion go for the express
purpose of indulging in an emotional debauch. Many attend revival after
revival, living over again the debauch of the last, and treasuring
lively expectations of the next. Between these and the victim of alcohol
tasting again his last 'burst,' and seeking opportunities for another,
there is really little moral or psychological distinction. The social
consequences of these engineered revivals have never been fully worked
out, but when it is done by some competent person, the conclusions will
be a revelation to many. One thing is certain: to expect really useful
social results from such methods is verily to look to gather grapes from

During recent years the phenomena of religious conversion have been
studied in a more scientific spirit.[143] Statistics have been compiled
and analysed, the frames of mind attendant on conversion arranged and
studied, with the result that the salient features are to be discerned
by all who approach the study of the subject with a little detachment of
mind. One outstanding feature of this more scientific enquiry into the
nature of conversion has been to demonstrate that it is almost
exclusively a phenomenon of puberty and adolescence. Mr. Hall has
compiled a lengthy list of the ages at which noted religious characters
experienced what is known as conversion.[144] From this I take the
following examples. Religious conviction came to St. Thekla at the age
of 18, to St. Agnes at 13, St. Antony at 18, Martin of Tours at 18,
Euphrasia at 12, Benedict at 14, Cuthbert at 15, St. Bernard at 12, St.
Dominic at 15, St. Collette at 20, St. Catherine at 7, St. Teresa at 12,
St. Francis of Sales at 11. In his _Life of Jesus_, Keim also remarks
that although some of the disciples may have been married, most of them
were probably about twenty years of age.[145]

Professor Starbuck, placing on one side both historical and
anthropological aspects, set himself the task of examining cases of the
present day. A paper was sent out asking various questions as to age,
state of health, frame of mind, before, during, and following
conversion. The questions were sent to male and female members of
different religious denominations. In reply, 1265 papers were filled up
and returned. One result of a scrutiny of these returns was to show that
the age at which religious conversion was experienced began as early as
7 or 8 years, it increased gradually till 10 or 11, then a more rapid
increase till 18 or 20, a decline increasing in rapidity to the age of
25, and its practical disappearance beyond the age of 30. In girls, the
period of conversion antedates that of boys by about two years.[146]
Starbuck's conclusion is the perfectly valid one that conversion
"belongs almost exclusively to the years between 10 and 25," and is
distinctly a phenomenon of adolescence.

This conclusion would be borne out by a study of almost any revival
crusade. Thus a few years ago--1904--England received a visit from the
American evangelist, Dr. Torrey. At the conclusion of his visit, Sir
Robertson Nicol invited opinions from ministers in the towns visited by
Torrey, and published the replies in his paper, _The British Weekly_, on
October 27. There was no attempt whatever to elicit the ages of the
reported converts; the enquiry was directed to the point of ascertaining
whether these engineered missions had a beneficial effect on church
life, or the reverse. But incidentally the ages of the converts were
given in some cases, and one may safely assume that in the reports where
no age was mentioned the facts, if disclosed, would not run counter to
the generalisation above given. The Rev. T. Towers, Birmingham, noted
that 16 out of 25 reported converts were children. Rev. A. Le Gros,
Rugby, reported: "A number of our youngest members, especially amongst
the young girls, were amongst those who professed conversion." Rev. H.
Singleton, Smethwick, says: "The bulk of the names sent to me were those
of children under thirteen years of age." Rev. W. G. Percival, Lozells
Congregational Church, says of the 'inquiry' meeting held after the
preaching: "The dear little things followed one another for inquiry
until the place was a scene of utter confusion." Reports of a similar
nature came from other places. The ages were pointed out quite
incidentally; conversions of youths of 17 or 18 would not excite comment
with these. Were the ages of all given, we should, without doubt, find
them fall into line with Starbuck's and Hall's figures.

Professor James quite accepts this view of conversion. The conclusion,
he says, "would seem to be the only sound one: conversion is in its
essence a normal adolescent phenomenon, incidental to the passage from
the child's small universe to the wider intellectual and spiritual life
of maturity."[147] Conversion, in the sense of a change from "the
child's small universe" to the large world of human society, may be a
normal fact in life, but the really essential fact in the enquiry is not
the fact of growth, but growth in a specific direction. Why should this
normal change from childhood to maturity be the period during which
_religious_ conversion is experienced? This question is not only ignored
by Professor James, it is made more confused by his method of stating
it. Of course, if all people experienced this religious conviction, as
all people undergo other changes at adolescence, the question would be
simplified. But this is obviously not the case. A large number of people
never experience it so long as they are only brought into contact with
ordinary social forces. Special circumstances seem usually to be
required to rouse this sense of religious conviction. Nearly every story
of conversion turns upon something unusual, unexpected, or dramatic
occurring as the exciting cause. The question is, therefore, why should
the line of growth, general with all at adolescence, be, in the case of
some, diverted into religious channels? A study of the subject from this
point of view will, I think, show that conversion is only normal in the
sense that in an environment where religious influences are powerful
each person is normally exposed to it. Those on whom the religious
influence fails to operate experience the change from childhood to
adolescence, on to complete maturity, without their nature evincing any
lack of completeness. This is the vital truth of which Professor James
loses sight, and it is ignored by the vast majority of writers who treat
of the subject.

Leaving, for a while, the statistical view of conversion, we may turn to
its other aspects. By the more advanced of religious teachers to-day the
developments attendant on adolescence are taken as supplying no more
than a favourable occasion for directing mind and emotion to definite
religious conviction. Here the connection is admittedly more or less
accidental. But by the great majority of theologians there is assumed a
direct supernatural influence in the states of mind developed during
adolescence. In more primitive times the connection is of a yet closer
character. Puberty does not at this stage represent what a modern would
call an awakening of the religious consciousness, but a direct
impingement of supernatural influence. From one point of view this
conception still remains part of all religious systems, however overlaid
it may be with modern ideas concerning sexual maturity. And we have, as
a mere matter of historic fact, a whole series of customs commencing
with the initiatory customs of savages and running right on to the
modern practice of confirmation.

In a previous chapter it was pointed out what is the savage state of
mind in relation to the beginnings of sex life as it is manifested in
both boys and girls. Adolescence does not, to the primitive mind, serve
as an occasion for the creation of an interest in the religious life, it
is the sign of direct supernatural influence. One consequence of this is
the rise of more or less elaborate ceremonials marking the initiation of
youth into direct communion with the spiritual forces that govern tribal
life.[148] Among the Polynesians tattooing forms part of the religious
ceremony, and during the time the marks are healing the boy is taboo to
the rest of the tribe, owing to his having been touched by the gods.
With the North American Indians the following ceremony seems

"When a boy has attained the age of fourteen or fifteen years he absents
himself from his father's lodge, lying on the ground in some remote or
secluded spot, crying to the Great Spirit, and fasting the whole time.
During this period of peril and abstinence, when he falls asleep, the
first animal, bird, or reptile, of which he dreams, he considers the
Great Spirit has designated for his mysterious protector through
life."[149] Similar ceremonies are described by Livingstone as existing
among the South African tribes. These customs are too widespread, and
bear too great a similarity to be described with reference to many
races. The variations are unimportant, and such as they are they may be
studied in the pages of Hall, Frazer, and numerous other writers. With
girls the measures adopted are of a more elaborate character than is the
case with boys, because, for reasons already stated, the occurrence of
puberty in girls gives the supernatural act a more startling and
significant character. Hence the strict seclusion of girls almost
universally practised among uncivilised peoples. The precautions taken
indicate, as Hartland points out, that they are at this period not
merely charged with a malign influence, but are peculiarly susceptible
to the onset of powers other than human. And with a modification of
language the same idea has persisted down to our time, even amongst
those who would reject with indignation the statement that savage ideas
concerning the nature of puberty form the real basis of their own mental

This truth cannot be too strongly emphasised. To ignore it is to miss
the whole significance of continuity in human institutions and ideas.
The ceremonies described do, of course, gather round the fact of sexual
development, but they are not concerned with the sexual life, as such.
It is sex as a supernatural manifestation that is the vital feature of
the situation. The governing idea is that puberty marks the direct
association of the individual with a spiritual world to the influence of
which the functional changes are due. As more accurate conceptions are
formed, the older and inaccurate one is not altogether discarded. It has
become incarnate in ceremonies, it is part of the traditional psychic
life of the people, and the change is one of transformation rather than
of eradication. In later cultural stages the physiological nature of the
changes are seen, but they are expressed in terms of religion. Such
expressions as "the soul's awareness of God," "the dawning consciousness
of religion," etc., take the place of the earlier and more direct
animistic interpretation. But the essential misinterpretation is
retained, disguised from careless or uninformed people by the use of a
modified terminology. But in substance the use made of puberty by
organised religious forces remains the same throughout. We have the same
absence of a rational explanation in both instances. In the one because
the state of knowledge makes any other impossible; in the other because
tradition, self-interest, and prejudice prevent its use. It is not only
in his physical structure that man carries reminiscences of a lower form
of life; such reminders are quite as plentiful in his mental life, and
in social institutions.

Even with many who perceive the mechanism of conversion its real
significance is often missed. For the important thing is, not that some
people express the changes incident to adolescence in terms of religion,
but that many do not, and also that these find complete satisfaction
along lines of æsthetic, intellectual, or social interest. Yet one often
finds it assumed that the difference between the two classes is
explained by assuming a certain lack of 'spiritual' development in the
non-religious class. As stated, this is often perilously near to
impertinence, and in any case is little better than the language of a
charlatan. In the same way, the use of amatory phraseology is often
treated as the intrusion of the sex element in a sphere in which it has
no proper place. Enough has already been said to furnish good grounds
for believing that there is much more than this in the phenomenon, and
that one is justified in treating it as symptomatic of the operation of
forces of the nature of which the subject is quite unaware. The only
explanation of the facts already cited is that a misinterpretation of
sexual states lies at the heart of the question. No other hypothesis
covers the facts; no other hypothesis will explain why the larger number
of people should find complete development in activities that lie
outside the field of religion.

How easy it is to see the truth and distort it in the stating may be
seen in the following passage:--

"Passing over the fact that the period of adolescence is noticeably a
period of 'susceptibility,' we may take as an example of the intrusion
or the persistence of the sexual elements in conditions of a non-sexual
kind the frequent association of sexual with religious excitement. The
appeal made during a religious revival to an unconverted person has
psychologically some resemblance to the attempt of the male to overcome
the hesitancy of the female. In each case the will has to be set aside,
and strong suggestive means are used; and in both cases the appeal is
not of the conflict type, but of an intimate, sympathetic, and pleading
kind. In the effort to make a moral adjustment, it consequently turns
out that a technique is used which was derived originally from sexual
life, and the use, so to speak, of the sexual machinery for a moral
adjustment involves, in some cases, the carrying over into the general
process of some sexual manifestations."[150]

The important questions, why religion should so powerfully appeal to
people at adolescence, why its strength should reside so largely in the
appeal to feelings associated with sexual development, and why
conversion should be so rarely experienced when the period of sexual
crisis is past, are quite ignored by Mr. Thomas. Yet it is precisely
these questions that call most loudly for answers, and which, I believe,
contain the key of the situation.

From many points of view adolescence is perhaps the most important epoch
in the life of every individual. It is a time of great and significant
organic growth, with the development of new organs and functions, and a
corresponding transformation of both the emotional and intellectual
output. So far as the brain, the most important organ of all, is
concerned, one may safely say that before puberty its main function has
been acquisition. After puberty vast tracts of brain tissue become
active, and an era of rapid development sets in. There is a rapid growth
of new nerve connections which occasions both physiological and
psychological unrest.[151] An important point to bear in mind, also, is
that all periods of rapid development involve conditions of relative
instability--one is, in fact, only the obverse side of the other. Dr.
Mercier says that with girls "more or less decided manifestations of
hysteria are the rule," and with both sexes this instability involves a
peculiar susceptibility to suggestions and impressions. Accompanying the
purely physical changes the mental and emotional nature undergoes what
is little less than a transformation. There is less direct concern with
self, and a more conscious concern with others. There is a craving for
sympathy, for fellowship, a tendency to look at oneself from the
outside, so to speak, a susceptibility to sights and sounds and
impressions that formerly had little influence. Each one is conscious of
new desires, new attractions, expressed often only in a vague feeling of
unrest, with a desire, half shy because half conscious, for the company
of the opposite sex. The childish desire for protection weakens; the
more mature desire to protect others begins to express itself.

Now, the whole significance of these changes, physical and mental, is
fundamentally sexual and social. Human life, it may be said, has a
twofold aspect. As a mere animal organism, there is the perpetuation of
the species, which nature secures by the mere force of the sex impulse.
As a human being, he is part of a social structure, cell in the social
tissue, to use Leslie Stephen's expressive phrase. And in this direction
nature secures what is necessary by the presence of impulses and
cravings as imperious as, and even more permanent than, those of mere
sex. Of course, in practice these two things operate together. By a
process of selection, the anti-social character is weeded out, and the
two sets of feelings work together in harmony for the furtherance and
the development of the life of the species. The species is perpetuated
in the interests of society; society is perpetuated in the interests of
the species. Further, it is part of the natural 'plan' that there shall
be developed impulses and capacities suitable to each phase of life as
it emerges. Thus it has been shown that the lengthening of infancy--that
is, the prolongation of the time during which the young human being is
dependent upon its parents for support and protection--is nature's
method of developing to a greater degree the capacity of the human
animal for more complex adjustment. Instead of being launched on the
world with a number of instincts practically fully developed, and so
capable of attending to its own needs almost as soon as born, man is
born with few instincts, and a great capacity for education enabling him
to adjust his conduct to the demands of an environment constantly
increasing in complexity. In the same way it has been shown that the
instinct for play, practically universal throughout the whole of the
animal world, is nature's method of preparing the young for the more
serious business of nature.[152] It is, therefore, only in line with
what is found to be true elsewhere that the changes incident to puberty
should receive their rational interpretation in the necessities of
social life. That these necessities should be met largely by the play of
unreasoning impulse is, again, quite in line with what occurs in other
directions. The insistent pressure of social life for thousands of
generations secures the emergence of needs of the true nature of which
the individual may be ignorant. In no other way, in fact, could the
persistence of the species and of human society be secured.

The whole significance, then, of puberty and adolescence is the entry of
the individual into the larger life of the race. It is, too, a statement
beyond reasonable dispute that if we eliminate religion altogether from
the environment there is not a single feeling experienced at
adolescence, not a single intellectual craving, that would not undergo
full development and receive complete satisfaction. The proof of the
truth of this is that it occurs in a large number of cases. Sacrifice,
the craving for the ideal, with every other feeling associated by many
with religion, exist in connection with non-religious phases of life. It
is idle to argue that some people have a craving for religion, and
nothing but religion will satisfy them. Where an individual is in
complete ignorance of the nature and significance of his own
development, and those around him no better informed; where, moreover,
there are others in a position of authority ready with a special
interpretation, it is not surprising if the religious explanation is
accepted as the genuine and only one. But in reality a sound judgment is
formed, not on the basis of what some declare they cannot do without,
but on the basis of what others actually do without, and suffer no
observable loss in consequence. We do not estimate the value of alcohol
on the basis of those who declare they cannot do without it. The true
test is found in those who abstain from its use. So, also, in the case
of religion. That some, even the majority, declare that religious belief
is essential to their welfare, proves little or nothing. Human nature
being what it is, and the history of society being what it is, it would
be surprising were it otherwise. There is much greater significance in
so large a number of people finding complete satisfaction in purely
secular activities.

After what has been said of the misinterpretation of mental and
emotional states in terms of religious belief, it is not surprising to
find a writer, a clergyman, and one with experience of growing boys,
express himself as follows:--

"My experience confirms the opinion of the psychologists that most boys
of the public school age have a strongly mystical tendency. This is to
be expected, on account of the great emotional development of that
period of life. But it is obscured by the fact that the boy is both
unwilling and unable to give any verbal expression to this tendency. He
is unwilling because it is something very new and curious in his
experience; he is often a little frightened of it, and he is exceedingly
frightened of other people's contempt for it. And he is unable, because
the words he is accustomed to use are valueless in this connection, and
he feels priggish if he tries to use others.... But, though unexplained,
the mystical tendency is there, and should be appealed to and

Now, clearly, all that can be reasonably meant by saying that a boy of,
apparently, from 12 to 16 has a mystical tendency, is that the
physiological changes incident to puberty are accompanied by a mass of
feeling of a vague and formless character. Naturally, his boyish
experience is unable to furnish him with the means of giving adequate
expression to his feelings. That can only come with the experience of
maturity. And with equal inevitability he is at the mercy of the
explanation furnished him by those whom he regards as his teachers and
guides. When he is told that this element of 'mysticism' is the
awakening of religion in his soul, he accepts the explanation precisely
as he accepts explanations of other things. That this 'mystical
tendency' should be appealed to and developed is a statement open to
very great doubt. It should rather be explained, not perhaps in a
brutally frank manner, but in a way that would lead the boy to see
himself as an organic part of society, with definite duties and
obligations. If this were done, adolescence might provide us with the
raw material for a much greater number of useful and intelligent
citizens than it does at present. The true nature of the process, so
elaborately misunderstood by Dr. Temple, is clearly outlined by Dr.

"In connection with normal development, a large body of vague and
formless feeling arises, and, until experience gives it shape, the
possessor remains ignorant of the source and nature of the feeling. If
the circumstances are appropriate for the natural outlet and expression
of the activities, they are expressed in affection, and are a source of
health and strength to the possessor. But if no such outlet exists, the
vague, voluminous, formless feelings are referred to an occasion that is
vague, voluminous, and wanting in definite form, they are ascribed to
the direct influence of the Deity, and assume a place in religious

Leaving this aspect of the subject for a time, let us look more closely
at the process of conversion. It has already been pointed out that one
great feature of adolescence is susceptibility to impressions and
suggestions. One is not surprised to find, therefore, that in
Starbuck's collection of cases 34 per cent. of the females and 29 per
cent. of the males described their conversion as being directly due to
imitation, social pressure, and example. If we were to add to these the
cases where unconscious imitation and suggestion is at work, the
proportion would be much greater. Religion, like dress, has its modes,
and imitation will occur in the one direction as readily as in the
other. Nothing is more striking in the records of conversion than the
monotony of the language used to describe the feelings experienced. It
is exactly as though the converts had been learning a regular catechism,
as in a way they have been. Young boys and girls will confess their
sinful state in language identical with that used by one who has
actually lived a career of vice and crime. Others of an aggressively
commonplace character will use the language of exalted mysticism
suitable to an Augustine or a Jacob Boehme. In these cases we have not
identity of feeling finding expression in identity of language; it is
pure imitation and suggestion without the least regard to the fitness of
the language employed.

The full power of suggestion would be more fitly considered in
connection with waves of religious feeling that have assumed an epidemic
form; but it will not be out of place here to call attention to this
factor in such a recent case as the outbreaks in Wales under the
leadership of persons such as Evan Roberts. Quite apart from the
suggestion and imitation operating in the gatherings themselves, it is
plain that many went to the meetings quite prepared to act in accordance
with what had gone before. Newspapers had published elaborate reports
of the 'scenes,' certain manifestations were recognised as signs of the
"workings of the Spirit," with the result that all these operated as
powerful suggestions, particularly with those of a hysterical
disposition. And behind this particular revival there were the
traditions of other revivals, all of which had created a heritage as
coercive as any purely social tradition. A crowd of people in a state of
eager expectancy, exposed to the assaults of a preacher skilled in
rousing their emotion to fever pitch, is naturally ready to see and hear
things that none would see and hear in their normal moments. No better
field for the study of crowd psychology, particularly at the point at
which it merges into the abnormal, could be imagined than the ordinary

In America these revival out breaks seem to assume a much more
extravagant form than with us. Mr. Stanley Hall, for example, thus
describes a Kentucky camp meeting in which the prevailing term of
spiritual manifestation was that of 'jerking.' Quoting from an
eye-witness, he says:--

"The crowd swarmed all night round the preacher, singing, shouting,
laughing, some plunging wildly over stumps and benches into the forest,
shouting 'Lost, lost!' others leaping and bounding about like live fish
out of water; others rolling over and over on the ground for hours;
others lying on the ground and talking when they could not move; and yet
others beating the ground with their heels. As the excitement increased,
it grew more morbid and took the form of 'jerkings,' or in others the
holy laugh. The jerks began with the head, which was thrown violently
from side to side so rapidly that the features were blurred and the
hair almost seemed to snap, and when the sufferer struck an obstacle and
fell he would bounce about like a ball. Saplings were sometimes cut
breast high for the people to jerk by. In one place the earth about the
roots of one of them was kicked about as though by the feet of a horse
stamping flies. One sufferer mounted his horse to ride away when the
jerks threw him to the earth, whence he rose a Christian. A lad, who
feigned illness to stay away, was dragged there by the spirit and his
head dashed against the wall till he had to pray. A sceptic who cursed
and swore was crushed by a falling tree. Men fancied themselves dogs,
and gathered round a tree barking and 'treeing the devil.' They saw
visions and dreamed dreams, and as the revival waned, it left a crop of
nervous and hysterical disorders in its wake."[155]

We have nothing quite so extreme as this in British revivals, but the
home phenomena are not substantially different in nature. A medical
observer of some of the earliest Methodist revivals thus describes the
symptoms of those who were subject to 'divine' seizures under the
influence of Wesley and his immediate followers:--

"There came on first a feeling of faintness, with rigor and a sense of
weight at the pit of the stomach; soon after which the patient cried out
as though in the agonies of labour. The convulsions then began, first
showing themselves in the muscles of the eyelids, though the eyes
themselves were fixed and staring. The most frightful contortions of the
countenance followed, and the convulsions now took their course
downwards, so that the muscles of the trunk and neck were affected,
causing a sobbing respiration, which was performed with great effort.
Tremors and agitations ensued, and the patients screamed out violently,
and tossed their heads from side to side. As the complaint increased, it
seized the arms, and its victims beat their breasts, clasped their
hands, and made all sorts of strange noises."

To the non-medical religious observer the scenes produced a different
impression, thus:--

"When the power of religion began to be spoken of, the presence of God
really filled the place.... The greatest number of them who cried or
fell were men; but some women and several children felt the power of the
same Almighty Spirit, and seemed just sinking into hell. This occasioned
a mixture of sounds, some shrieking, some roaring aloud. The most
general was a loud breathing, like that of people half strangled and
gasping for life; and, indeed, almost all the cries were like those of
human creatures dying in bitter anguish.... I stood on a pew seat, as
did a young man in the opposite pew, an able-bodied, fresh, healthy
countryman; but in a moment, while he seemed to think of nothing less,
down he dropt with a violence inconceivable. The adjoining pews seemed
shook with his fall. I heard afterwards the stamping of his feet ready
to break the boards as he lay in strong convulsions at the bottom of the
pew.... Among the children who felt the arrows of the Almighty, I saw a
sturdy boy, about eight years old, who roared above his fellows, and
seemed, in his agony, to struggle with the strength of a grown man. His
face was red as scarlet; and almost all on whom God laid His hand turned
either very red or almost black."[156]

In other instances connected with the same movement, a girl is described
as "lying on the floor as one dead." One woman "tore up the ground with
her hands, filling them with dust and with the hard-trodden grass";
another "roared and screamed in dreadful agony." A child, seven years
old, "saw visions, and astonished the neighbours with her awful manner
of relating them." John Wesley personally interviewed a number of the
people seized in this manner, and was quite convinced of the
supernatural nature of the attacks. He said that he had "generally
observed more or less of these outward symptoms to attend the beginning
of a general work of God," although he admitted that in some cases
"Satan mimicked God's work in order to discredit the whole work." But
whether of God or Satan there was no question of their supernatural
character. Moreover, whatever may be one's opinion of these outbreaks,
there is one fact that stands out clear and indisputable. This is that
the Methodist revival owed a great deal of its vitality--as is also the
case with other religious movements--to phenomena of a distinctly
pathologic nature. Subtract from these movements all phenomena of the
class indicated, and such phrases as 'the revival fire' become
meaningless. Right through history religious conviction has been gained
in innumerable cases by the operation of factors that a more accurate
knowledge finds can be explained without any reference whatever to
supernatural forces.

Lest the above examples be dismissed as belonging to an old order of
things, I subjoin the following account--from a missionary--of a recent
revival scene in India:--

"There were people ... on the floor fairly writhing over the realisation
of sin as it came over them.... Saturday we were favoured with a
wonderful manifestation of the Spirit. One of the older girls who had
had a remarkable experience, went into a trance, with her head thrown
back, her arms folded, and motionless, except for a slight movement of
her foot. She seemed to be seeing something wonderful, for she would
marvel at it, and then laugh excitedly.... One girl rushed to the back
of the vestibule and, lying across a bench, with her head and hands
against the wall, she fairly writhed in agony for two hours before peace
came to her."[157]

I do not know on what grounds we are justified in calling civilised
people who chronicle these outbreaks as "a wonderful manifestation of
the Spirit." Civilised in other respects, in relation to other matters,
they may be. Civilised in relation to this particular matter they
certainly are not. Their viewpoint is precisely that of the lowest tribe
of savages. Savages, indeed, could not do more; our 'civilised'
missionaries do no less. Tylor well says that "such descriptions carry
us far back in the history of the human mind, showing modern men still
in ignorant sincerity producing the very fits and swoons to which for
untold ages savage tribes have given religious import. These
manifestations in modern Europe indeed form part of a revival of
religion, the religion of mental disease."[158]

The truth is that the appeals usually made to induce conversion, and the
methods adopted, tend to develop a morbid state of mind, which very
easily passes into the pathological. A too insistent habit of
introspection is always dangerous, and the danger is heightened when it
takes the form of religious brooding. In Dr. Starbuck's collection of
cases, seventy-five per cent. of the males and sixty per cent. of the
females confessed to feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness before
conversion. This may be attributed partly to the harping upon a
conviction of sinfulness, which in itself is wholly of an unhealthy
character. It does not indicate moral health, and it is very far from
indicating physiological health. The following confessions are
pertinent, and will illustrate both points. I give in brackets the ages
of the subjects where stated:--

"I felt the wrath of God resting on me. I called on Him for aid, and
felt my sins forgiven" (13).

"I couldn't eat, and would lie awake all night."

"Often, very often, I cried myself to sleep" (19).

"Hymns would sound in my ears as if sung" (10).

"I had visions of Christ saying to me, Come to Me, My child" (15).

"Just before conversion I was walking along a pathway, thinking of
religious matters, when suddenly the word H-e-l-l was spelled out five
yards ahead of me" (17).

"I felt a touch of the Divine One, and a voice said 'Thy sins are
forgiven thee; arise and go in peace'" (12).

"The thoughts of my condition were terrible" (13).

"For three months it seemed as if God's Spirit had withdrawn from me.
Fear took hold of me. For a week I was on the border of despair" (16).

"A sense of sinfulness and estrangement from God grew daily" (15).

"Everything went wrong with me; it felt like Sunday all the time" (12).

"I felt that something terrible was going to happen" (14).

"I fell on my face by a bench and tried to pray. Every time I would call
on God something like a man's hand would strangle me by choking. I
thought I would surely die if I could not get help. I made one final
effort to call on God for mercy if I did strangle and die, and the last
I remember at that time was falling back on the ground with that unseen
hand on my throat. When I came to myself there was a crowd around
praising God."

A crowd around praising God! For all substantial purposes this last
might be the description of a state of affairs in Central Africa instead
of an occurrence in a country that claims to be civilised. It is not
surprising that so great an authority as Sir T. S. Clouston gives an
emphatic warning against revival services and unusual religious
meetings, which should "on no account be attended by persons with weak
heads, excitable dispositions, and neurotic constitutions."[159]
Unfortunately it is precisely these classes for whom they possess the
greatest attractions, and from whom the larger number of chronicled
cases are drawn. The excitement of the revival meeting is as fatal an
attraction to them as the dram is to the confirmed alcoholist; and if
the ill-consequences are neither so immediately discernible nor as
repulsive in character, they are none the less present in a large number
of cases. The emotional strain to which the organism is subjected
occurs, as the ages of the converts show, precisely at the time when it
is least able to bear it safely. The main characteristic of adolescence
is instability, physical, emotional, and intellectual. It is a time of
stress and strain, of the formation of new feelings and associations and
desires that crave for expression and gratification. The instability of
the organic conditions is evidenced by the large proportion of nervous
disorders that occur during adolescence. Adolescent insanity is a
well-known form of mania, although it is usually of brief duration. Sir
T. S. Clouston, in his _Neuroses of Development_, gives a long list of
complaints attendant on adolescence, and Sir W. R. Gowers, dealing with
1450 cases of epilepsy, points out that "three-quarters of the cases of
epilepsy begin under twenty years, and nearly half (46 per cent.)
between ten and twenty, the maximum being at fourteen, fifteen, and
sixteen." Of hysteria, the same writer points out that of the total
cases 50 per cent. occurs from ten to twenty years of age, 20 per cent.
from twenty to thirty, and only 10 per cent. from thirty to forty.[160]

The peculiar danger, then, of the modern appeal for conversion is that
it is couched in a form likely to do the minimum of good and the maximum
of harm. Where religion exists as a normally operative factor of the
environment--as in lower stages of culture--the danger is avoided,
because no special machinery is required to bring about religious
conviction. The general social life secures this. But at a later stage,
when the religious and secular aspects of life become separated, with a
growing preponderance of the latter, religion must be, as it were,
specially and forcibly introduced. Whether for good or ill, it is a
disturbing force. It strives to divert the developing organic energies
into a new channel. To effect this, it plays upon the emotions to an
altogether dangerous extent, in complete ignorance of the nature of the
passions excited. In the older form of the religious appeal, that in
which fear was the chief emotion aroused, it is now generally conceded
that the consequences were wholly bad. But under any form the emotional
appeal is fraught with danger, since the tendency is for it to bring out
unsuspected weaknesses in other directions. Sir W. R. Gowers wisely
points out that "mental emotion--fright, excitement, anxiety--is the
most potent cause of epilepsy," which is accounted for by bearing in
mind "the profoundly disturbing effect of alarm on the nervous system,
deranging as it does almost every function of the nervous system."
Persons with predispositions to nervous disorders may pass with safety
through the period of adolescence so long as their circumstances provide
opportunities for healthy occupation with no undue emotional strain. But
let the former be lacking, and the latter danger is always present. The
hidden weakness develops, and injury more or less permanent follows.
There is hardly a qualified medical authority in the country who would
deny the truth of what has been said, although many do not care to speak
out in relation to religious matters. But all would doubtless agree with
Dr. Mercier that "every revival is attended by its crop of cases of
insanity, which are the more numerous as the revival is more fervent and
long continued."[161]

Something must be said on the moral character of conversions in
general. This is, naturally, greatly exaggerated, often deliberately so.
In the first place, confessions of 'sinfulness' in a pre-conversion
state, when made by youths of both sexes, may be dismissed as quite
worthless. They are merely using the language placed in their mouths by
professional evangelists, and the similarity of the confessions carry
their own condemnation. Leading a sinful, or even a vicious life,
usually means no more than visiting a theatre, or a music hall, or
playing cards, or non-attendance at church, or not troubling about
religious doctrines. Very often the vague feeling of restlessness
incident to adolescence is interpreted as due to sin or estrangement
from God, and after conversion the convert is, for purposes of
self-glorification, given to magnify the benefits and comforts derived
from his religious convictions. The magnitude of the change increases
the value of the convert, and with well-known characters there has been
as great an exaggeration of vices before conversion as of virtues
subsequently. The way in which evangelical Christianity has created a
life of the wildest dissipation for the earlier years of John Bunyan is
an instructive instance of this procedure.

So far as older converts are concerned, everyone of balanced judgment
will regard stories of conversion from extreme vice to extreme virtue
with the greatest suspicion. Character does not change suddenly,
although there may be cases of 'sports' in the moral world as elsewhere.
Where some modification of conduct, but hardly of character, results,
the machinery is very obvious, and does not in the least necessitate an
appeal to the intrusion of a supernatural influence for an explanation.
The religious gathering opens--as any non-religious meeting may open--a
new circle of associates with different ideals and standards of value.
So long as the newcomer is desirous of retaining the respect of his
fresh associates, so long he will try to act as they act and think as
they think. There will be a change of conduct, but not, as I have said,
of character. Those who look closely will find the same character still
active. The mean character remains mean, the untruthful one remains
untruthful. The only difference is that these qualities will be
expressed in a different form. Moreover, the same thing may be seen
occurring quite apart from religion. Every association of men and women
exerts precisely the same influence. In the army, a regiment that has a
reputation for steadiness and sobriety develops these qualities in all
who enter it. Regiments with a reputation for opposite qualities do not
fail to convert newcomers. A workshop, a club, a profession, exerts a
precisely similar influence. One man finds inspiration in the Bible and
another in the Newgate Calendar. A man will usually be guided by the
ideals of his associates, whether these ideals be those of a thieves'
kitchen or of a philanthropic institution. This only means that each
individual is subject to the influence of the group spirit. For good and
evil this is one of the deepest and most pregnant facts of human nature.
The utilisation and distortion of this fact in the interests of
religious organisations has served to prevent its general recognition
and the wise use of it by the community at large.

Finally, it has to be borne in mind, in view of the data given above,
that conversion is experienced by the individual at that period of life
when the more social side of human nature is beginning to find
expression. In this way the natural growth from the small world of
childhood to the larger world of adult humanity is taken advantage of by
religion, and the process of inevitable growth is attributed to the
influence of religious belief. In itself the phenomenon is in no degree
religious, but wholly social. The process is well enough described by
Starbuck in the following passage--although there are certain quite
unnecessary theological implications:--

"Conversion is the surrender of the personal will to be guided by the
larger forces of which it is a part. These two aspects are often
mingled. In both there is much in common. There is a sudden revelation
and recognition of a higher order than that of the personal will. The
sympathies follow the direction of the new insight, and the convert
transfers the centre of life and activity from the part to the whole.
With new insight comes new beauty. Beauty and worth awaken love--love
for parents, kindred, kind, society, cosmic order, truth, and spiritual
life. The individual learns to transfer himself from a centre of
self-activity into an organ of revelation of universal being, and to
live a life of affection for and oneness with the larger life outside.
As a necessary condition of the spiritual awakening is the birth of
fresh activity and of a larger self-consciousness, which often assert
themselves as the dominant element in consciousness."[162]

Adolescence is the golden period of life, because it is the age in which
the formative influences effect their strongest and most permanent
impressions. But this susceptibility, while pregnant with promise, is
because of this susceptibility likewise fraught with the possibilities
of danger. The developing qualities of mind need to be wisely and
carefully guided; and it is little short of criminal that at this
critical juncture so many young people should be handed over to the
ignorant ministrations of professional evangelism. The true sociological
significance of the development is ignored, and it is small wonder that,
having wasted this impressionable period, so many people should go
through life with a quite rudimentary sense of social responsibility and
duty. An American author, speaking of the connection between certain
brutal manifestations in social life in the United States and religious
teaching, says:--

"It is well known that lynching in the South is carried on largely by
the ignorant and baser elements of the white population. It is also well
known that the chief method of religious influence and training of the
black man and the ignorant white man is impulsive and emotional
revivalism. It is a highly dangerous situation, and deserves the earnest
consideration of the ecclesiastical statesmen of all denominations which
work in the South. It will be impossible to protect that part of the
nation, or any other, from the epidemic madness of the lynching mob if
the seeds of it are sown in the sacred soil of religion.... Their
preachers are great 'soul-savers,' but they lack the practical sense to
build up their emotionalised converts into anything that approaches a
higher life."[163]

The truth of this passage has a very wide implication. It is not alone
true that so long as the lower kind of revivalism is encouraged, we are
unconsciously perpetuating certain very ugly manifestations of social
life; it is also true that while we give a supernaturalistic
interpretation of phenomena that are wholly physiological and
sociological in character, we can never make the most of the human
material we possess. On the one side we have a deplorable encouragement
of unhealthy emotionalism, and on the other a sheer misdirection and
misuse of human faculty. The increase of self-consciousness, the craving
for sympathy and communion with one's fellows, the impulse to service in
the common life of the State, have no genuine connection with religion,
although all these qualities are classified as religious, and are
utilised by religious organisations. Actually and fundamentally they
belong to the social side of human nature. As our hands are developed
for grasping, and the various organs of the body for their respective
functions, so mental and emotional qualities are developed in their due
course for a rational social life. Biologically and psychologically,
male and female are at adolescence entering into a deeper and more
enduring relationship with the life of the race. There is no other
meaning to the process.

Naturally enough, the vast majority of people express their developing
nature in accordance with the fashion of their environment. If this
environmental influence were rationally non-religious, the language
would be that of a non-religious philosophy. As, however,
supernaturalism, in some form or other, is still a potent force we have
a contrary result. It is only here and there that one is found with the
inclination or the wit to analyse his or her impulses, and few possess
enough knowledge to make the analysis profitable. There is no wonder
that concerning many of the most important phenomena of human life we
are still little above the level of the fetish worshipper. We may have a
more elaborate phraseology, but the old ideas are still operative. The
consequence is that each newcomer finds certain ideas and forms of
speech ready for his acceptance, and is handed over, bound hand and
foot, to influences that are the least capable of sane direction. We do
not merely sacrifice our first-born; we immolate the whole of our
progeny. The ignorant past plays into the hands of the designing
present; the present conspires with the past to rob the future of the
good that might result from the growth of a wiser and a better race.

Were society really enlightened and genuinely civilised, the truth of
what has been said would be recognised as soon as stated. It would,
indeed, be unnecessary to labour what would then be a generally
recognised truth. But the mass of the people are not genuinely
enlightened, our civilisation is largely a veneer, and numerous agencies
prevent our reaping the full benefit of our available knowledge. Thus it
happens that in place of an explanation of human qualities in terms of
biologic and social evolution, we find current an explanation that is
based upon pre-scientific ideas. Because our less instructed ancestors
accounted for various manifestations of human qualities as due to a
supernatural influence, we continue to perpetuate the delusion. We teach
youth to express itself in terms of supernaturalism, and then treat the
language and the fact as inseparable. In this respect, sociology is
passing through a phase from which some of the sciences have finally
emerged. In physics and astronomy, for instance, the fact has been
separated from the supernatural explanation, and shown to be
independent of it. An exploitation of social life in the interests of
supernaturalism is still in active operation. It is this that is really
the central truth of the situation. And in ignoring this truth we expose
a growing generation to the worst possible of educative influences, at a
time when a wiser control would be preparing it for an intelligent
participation in the serious and enduring work of social organisation.


[142] Dr. G. B. Cutten, _The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity_,
pp. 7-8.

[143] The most elaborate study of this character known to the present
writer is Mr. G. Stanley Hall's _Adolescence_, in two volumes. The bulk
of the work is, however, terrifying to some, and the cost prohibitive to
many. For the general reader of limited leisure and means, Professor
Starbuck's smaller volume, _The Psychology of Religion_, presents the
salient facts in a brief and satisfactory manner. It is lacking,
however, on the anthropological side, a view that is well presented by
Dr. Stanley Hall.

[144] See _Adolescence_, i. p. 528.

[145] Vol. iii. p. 279.

[146] _Psychology of Religion_, chap. iii. Hall's figures are given in
the second volume of his work, pp. 288-92.

[147] _Varieties_, p. 199.

[148] An elaborate list of these ceremonies in both the savage and
civilised worlds has been compiled by Mr. Hall, ii. chap. xiii.

[149] Catlin, _North American Indians_, i. p. 36; see also ii. p. 347.

[150] W. I. Thomas, _Sex and Society_, pp. 115-6.

[151] For a good summary, see Donaldson's _Growth of the Brain_, pp.

[152] See on this subject the two fine works by Karl Groos, _The Play of
Animals_, _The Play of Man_.

[153] W. Temple, _Repton School Sermons_.

[154] _Sanity and Insanity_, p. 281.

[155] _Adolescence_, ii. pp. 286-7.

[156] Southey's _Life of Wesley_, chap. xxiv.

[157] From _The Examiner_ of September 6, 1906, cited by Cutten, p. 185.

[158] _Primitive Culture_, ii. p. 422.

[159] _Clinical Lectures_, p. 39.

[160] _Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System_, 1893, pp. 732 and 785.

[161] _Sanity and Insanity_, p. 282.

[162] _Psychology of Religion_, pp. 146-7.

[163] _Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals._



Under pressure of scientific analysis the old distinction between the
individual and society bids fair to break down, or to maintain itself as
no more than a convenience of classification. It is now being recognised
that a society is something more than a mere aggregate of self-contained
units, and that the individual is quite inexplicable apart from the
social group. It is the latter which gives the former his individuality.
His earliest impressions are derived from the life of the group, and as
he grows so he comes more and more under the influence of social forces.
The consequence is that the key to a very large part of the phenomena of
human nature is to be found in a study of group life. We may abstract
the individual for purposes of examination, much as a physiologist may
study the heart or the liver apart from the body from which it has been
taken. But ultimately it is in relation to the whole that the true
significance and value of the part is to be discerned.

In this corporate life imitation and suggestion play a powerful part.
With children, by far the larger part of their education consists of
sheer imitation, nor do adults ever develop beyond its influence.
Suggestion is a factor that is more operative in youth and maturity than
in early childhood, and is exhibited in a thousand and one subtle and
unexpected ways. Both these forces are essential to an orderly, and to a
progressive, social life; but they may just as easily become the cause
of movements that are retrogressive, and even anti-social in character.
An epidemic of suicide or of murder is as easily initiated as an
epidemic of philanthropy. Let a person commit suicide in a striking and
unusual manner, and there will soon be others following his example.
Given a favourable environment, there is no idea, however unreal, that
will not find advocates; no example, however strange or disgusting, that
will not find imitators. The more uniform the society, the more powerful
the suggestion, the easier the imitation. That is why a crowd, acting as
a crowd, is nearly always made up of people drawn from the same social
stratum, each unit already familiar with certain ideals and belief.
Under such conditions a crowd will assume all the characteristics of a
psychological entity. As Gustave Le Bon has pointed out, a crowd will do
collectively what none of its constituent units would ever dream of
doing singly.[164] It becomes capable of deeds of heroism or of savage
cruelty. It will sacrifice itself or others with indifference. Above
all, the mere fact of moving in a mass gives the individual a sense of
power, a certainty of being in the right that he can--save under
exceptional circumstances--never acquire while alone. The intellect is
subdued, inhibition is inoperative, the instincts are given free play,
and their movement is determined in turn by suggestions not unlike those
with which a trained hypnotist influences his subject.

In the phenomena of contagion words and symbols play a powerful part.
They are both a rallying-point and an outlet for the emotions of a
crowd. These words or symbols may be wholly incongruous with the real
needs of a people, but provided they are sufficiently familiar they will
serve their purpose. And the more primitive the type of mind represented
by the mass of the people the more powerfully these symbols operate.
Shakespeare's portrayal of the crowd in _Julius Cæsar_ remains eternally
true. The skilled orator, playing on old feelings, using familiar terms,
and invoking familiar ideas, finds a crowd quite plastic to his hands.
It is for these reasons that there is so keen a struggle with political
and social parties for a monopoly of good rallying cries, and a
readiness to fix objectionable titles on their opponents. Patriotism,
Little Englander, Jingo, The Church in Danger, Godless Education, etc.
etc. Causes are materially helped or injured by these means. There is
little or no consideration given to their justice or reasonableness; it
is the image aroused that does the work.

Psychological epidemics may in some cases be justly called normal in
character. That is, they depend upon factors that are always in
operation and which form a part of every social structure. A war fever
or a commercial panic falls under this head. In other instances they
depend upon abnormal conditions, upon the workings, perhaps, of some
obscure nervous disease, and are of a pathological description. In yet
other cases they represent a mixture of both. In such cases, for
example, as that of the Medieval Flagellants or of the Dancing Mania,
the presence of pathological elements is unmistakable. But neither of
these epidemics could have occurred without a certain social
preparation, and unless they had called into operation those principles
of crowd psychology to which science has within recent years turned its
attention, and which are normal factors in every society. These three
classes of epidemics may be found in connection with subjects other than
religious, but I am at present concerned with them only in that
relation, and to point out that, in spite of their undesirable or
admittedly pathologic character, they have yet served to keep
supernaturalism alive and active.

During the Christian period of European history by far the most
important of all epidemics, as it was indeed the earliest, was
monasticism. This takes front rank because of its extent, the degree to
which it prepared the ground for subsequent outbreaks, and because of
its indirect, and, I think, too little noticed, social consequences. It
may safely be said that no other movement has so powerfully affected
European society as has the monasticism of the early Christian
centuries. It cannot, of course, be urged that Christianity originated
monasticism. India and Egypt had its ascetic practices and celibate
priesthood long before the birth of Christianity, and indeed gave
Christianity the pattern from which to work. But the main stream of
social life remained unaffected to any considerable extent by this
asceticism. The social and domestic virtues received full recognition
from the upholders of the monastic life, and there is no evidence that
asceticism ever assumed an epidemic form. It has often been the lot of
the Christian Church to give a more intense expression to religious
tendencies already existing, and this was so in the case before us. At
any rate, it was left for the Christian Church to give to monasticism
the character of an epidemic, to treat the purely social and domestic
virtues as a positive hindrance to the religious life, seriously to
disturb national well-being, and to come perilously near destroying

The origin of ascetic practices has already been indicated in a previous
chapter. It has there been pointed out that the deliberate torture of
mind and body arose from the belief that the induced states brought man
into direct communion with supernatural powers, and that this element
has continued in almost every religion in the world. Says

"The ascetic instinct is intimately united with the religious instinct.
There is scarcely a religion of ancient and modern times, certain forms
of Protestantism excepted, that does not recognise asceticism as an
element in its system.... Brahmanism has its order of ascetics....
Mohammedanism has its fakirs, subduing the flesh by their austerities,
and developing the spirit by their contemplation and prayers. Fasting
and self-denial were observances required of the Greeks, who desired
initiation into the mysteries.... The scourge was used before the altars
of Artemis and over the tomb of Pelops. The Egyptian priests passed
their novitiate in the deserts, and when not engaged in their religious
functions were supposed to spend their time in caves. They renounced all
commerce with the world, and lived in contemplation, temperance, and
frugality, and in absolute poverty.... The Peruvians were required to
fast before sacrificing to the gods, and to bind themselves by vows of
chastity and abstinence from nourishing food.... There were ascetic
orders for old men and nunneries for widows among the Totomacs, monastic
orders among Toltecs dedicated to the service of Quetzalcoatl, and
others among the Aztecs consecrated to Tezcatlipoca."[165]

It was argued by Bingham, a learned eighteenth-century ecclesiastical
historian, that although asceticism was known and practised in
individual cases from the earliest period of Christian history, it did
not establish itself within the Church until the fourth century. It is
not a matter of great consequence to the subject under discussion
whether this be so or not. It is at least certain that Christian
teaching contained within itself all the elements for such a
development, which was bound, sooner or later, to transpire. The
antithesis between the flesh and the spirit, the conception of the world
as given over to Satan, the ascetic teaching of Paul, with the value
placed upon suffering and privation as spiritually disciplinary forces,
could not but create in a society permeated with a special type of
supernaturalism, that asceticism which became so marked a feature of
medieval Christianity. And it is certain also that in no other instance
has asceticism proved itself so grave a danger to social order and
security. Allowing for what Lecky calls the 'glaring mendacity' of the
lives of the saints, a description that applies more or less to all the
ecclesiastical writings of the early centuries, it is evident that the
number of monks, their ferocity, and general practices, were enough to
constitute a grave social danger. It is said that St. Pachomius had 7000
monks under his direct rule; that in the time of Jerome 50,000 monks
gathered together at the Easter festival; that one Egyptian city
mustered 20,000 nuns and 10,000 monks, and that the monastic population
of Egypt at one time equalled in number the rest of the inhabitants. At
a later date, within fifty years of its institution, the Franciscan
Order possessed 8000 houses, with 200,000 members. In the twelfth
century the Cluniacs had 2000 monasteries in France. In England, as late
as 1546, Hooper, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester, declared that there
were no less than 10,000 nuns in England. Every country in Europe
possessed a larger or smaller army of men and women whose ideals were in
direct conflict with nearly all that makes for a sane and progressive

The general character of the monk during the full swing of the ascetic
epidemic has been well sketched by Lecky. His summary here will save a
more extended exposition:--

"There is perhaps no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper
and more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic. A hideous, sordid,
and emaciated maniac, without knowledge, without patriotism, without
natural affection, passing his life in a long routine of useless and
atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his
delirious brain, had become the ideal of the nations which had known the
writings of Plato and Cicero, and the lives of Socrates and Cato. For
about two centuries, the hideous maceration of the body was regarded as
the highest proof of excellence. St. Jerome declares, with a thrill of
admiration, how he had seen a monk, who for thirty years had lived
exclusively on a small portion of barley bread and of mouldy water;
another who lived in a hole and never ate more than five figs for his
daily repast; a third who cut his hair only on Easter Sunday, who never
washed his clothes, who never changed his tunic till it fell to pieces,
who starved himself till his eyes grew dim, and his skin like a pumice
stone.... For six months, it is said, St. Macarius of Alexandria slept
in a marsh, and exposed his naked body to the stings of venomous
flies.... His disciple, St. Eusebius, carried one hundred and fifty
pounds of iron, and lived for three years in a dried-up well.... St.
Besarion spent forty days and nights in the middle of thorn bushes, and
for forty days and nights never lay down when he slept.... Some saints,
like St. Marcian, restricted themselves to one meal a day, so small that
they continually suffered the pangs of hunger.... Some of the hermits
lived in deserted dens of wild beasts, others in dried-up wells, while
others found a congenial resting-place among the tombs. Some disdained
all clothes, and crawled abroad like the wild beasts, covered only by
their matted hair. The cleanliness of the body was regarded as a
pollution of the soul, and the saints who were most admired had become
one hideous mass of clotted filth. St. Athanasius relates with
enthusiasm how St. Antony, the patriarch of monachism, had never, to
extreme old age, been guilty of washing his feet.... St. Abraham, the
hermit, however, who lived for fifty years after his conversion, rigidly
refused from that date to wash either his face or his feet.... St. Ammon
had never seen himself naked. A famous virgin, named Sylvia, though she
was sixty years old, and though bodily sickness was a consequence of her
habits, resolutely refused, on religious principles, to wash any part of
her body except her fingers. St. Euphraxia joined a convent of one
hundred and thirty nuns, who never washed their feet, and who shuddered
at the mention of a bath."[166]

It is difficult to realise what it is exactly that some writers have in
their minds when they praise the purity of the ascetic ideal, and lament
its degradation as though society lost something of great value thereby.
The examples cited realised that ideal as well as it could be realised,
and its anti-social character is unmistakable. If it is intended to
imply that an element of self-denial or self-discipline is essential to
healthy development, that is admitted, but this is not the ascetic
ideal; it is that of temperance as taught by the best of the ancient
philosophers. What the ascetic aimed at was not self-development, but
self-suppression. The discipline of the monk was only another name for
the cultivation of a frame of mind unhealthy and anti-social.
Eventually, the rapidity with which this mania spread, the fact that for
several centuries it raged as a veritable epidemic, carried with it the
germs of a corrective. The more numerous monks and nuns became, the more
certain it became that many of them would develop passions and
propensities they professed to despise. The love of ease and wealth, the
lust of power and pride of place, was sure to find expression, and if by
the degradation of the ascetic ideal is meant the fact that the
preachers of poverty, and humility, and meekness, became the wealthiest,
the most powerful, the most corrupt, and the most tyrannical order in
Christendom, the reason is that not even monasticism could prevent
ordinary human passions from finding expression. They might be
suppressed in the case of a few; it became impossible with a multitude.
That they found expression in so disastrous a form was due to the fact
that the disciplinary agent of these passions, a developed social
consciousness, played so small a part in the life of the monk.

It is no part of my present purpose to trace the full consequences of
the ascetic epidemic. Some of these consequences, however, have a more
or less direct bearing upon this enquiry, and it is necessary to say
something upon them. One enduring and inevitable consequence of
monasticism has not, I think, been adequately noted by many writers.
This is its influence on the ideal of marriage, on the family, and on
the domestic virtues. In India and Egypt celibacy had been closely
associated with the religious life, but the ascetic was regarded as a
man peculiarly apart from his fellows, and the family continued to be
held in great honour, even by religious writers. Christianity provided
for the first time a body of writers who made a direct attack upon
marriage as obstructing the supreme duty of spiritual development. The
Rev. Principal Donaldson, in his generally excellent book on _Woman_,
professes to find some difficulty in accounting for the growth among the
early Christians of the feeling in favour of celibacy. He remarks that
"no one with the New Testament as his guide could venture to assert that
marriage was wrong." Not wrong, certainly; but anyone with the New
Testament before him would be justified in asserting marriage to be
inferior to celibacy. It is at most taken for granted; it is neither
commended nor recommended, and of its social value there is never a
glimpse. And there is much on the other side. Paul's teaching is
strongly in favour of celibacy, and marriage is only advised to avoid a
greater evil. In the Book of _Revelation_ there is a reference to the
144,000 saints who wait on "the Lamb," and who "were not defiled with
women, but were virgins." Certainly the New Testament does not condemn
marriage, but it is idle to pretend that those who preached the celibate
ideal failed to find therein a warranty for their teaching.

The historic fact is, however, that the early Christian leaders were, in
the main, ardent advocates of celibacy. The social importance of
marriage being ignored, its functions became those of ministering to
sexual passion and the perpetuation of the race. In view of the supposed
approaching end of the world, the desirability of this last was
questioned, and in the name of purity the former was strongly denounced.
It is from these points of view that Tertullian describes children as
"burdens which are to most of us perilous as being unsuitable to faith,"
and wives as women of the second degree of modesty who had fallen into
wedlock. Jerome said that marriage was at best a sin, and all that could
be done was to excuse and purify it. Epiphanius said that the Church was
based upon virginity as upon a corner-stone. Augustine was of opinion
that celibates would shine in heaven like dazzling stars. Married people
were declared, by another authority, to be incapable of salvation. The
most powerful and most influential of writers concurred that the sexual
relation was an almost fatal obstacle to religious salvation.

Hardly any movement ever struck so hard against social well-being as
did this teaching of celibacy. Wives were encouraged to desert their
husbands, husbands to forsake their wives, children their parents.
Parents, in turn, were exhorted to devote their children to the monastic
life; and although at first children who had been so condemned were
allowed to return to the world, should they desire it, on reaching
maturity, this liberty was taken from them by the fourth Council of
Toledo in 633.[167] Some few of the Christian writers protested against
children being taught to forsake their parents in this manner, but the
general spirit of the time was in its favour.

"Children were nursed and trained to expect at every instant more than
human interferences; their young energies had ever before them examples
of asceticism, to which it was the glory, the true felicity of life, to
aspire. The thoughtful child had all his mind thus preoccupied ...
wherever there was gentleness, modesty, the timidity of young passion,
repugnance to vice, an imaginative temperament, a consciousness of
unfitness to wrestle with the rough realities of life, the way lay
invitingly open.... It lay through perils, but was made attractive by
perpetual wonders. It was awful, but in its awfulness lay its power over
the young mind. It learned to trample down that last bond which united
the child to common humanity, filial reverence; the fond and mysterious
attachment of the child and the mother, the inborn reverence of the son
to the father. It is the highest praise of St. Fulgentius that he
overcame his mother's tenderness by religious cruelty."[168]

The full warranty for Dean Milman's stricture is seen in the following
passage from St. Jerome:--

"Though your little nephew twine his arms around your neck; though your
mother, with dishevelled hair, and tearing her robe asunder, point to
the breast with which she suckled you; though your father fall down on
the threshold before you, pass on over your father's body. Fly with
tearless eyes to the banner of the cross. In this matter cruelty is the
only piety.... Your widowed sister may throw her gentle arms around
you.... Your father may implore you to wait but a short time to bury
those near to you, who will soon be no more; your weeping mother may
recall your childish days, and may point to her shrunken breast and to
her wrinkled brow. Those around you may tell you that all the household
rests upon you. Such chains as these the love of God and the fear of
hell can easily break. You say that Scripture orders you to obey your
parents, but he who loves them more than Christ loses his soul. The
enemy brandishes a sword to slay me. Shall I think of a mother's

Gibbon said of the ascetic movement that the Pagan world regarded with
astonishment a society that perpetuated itself without marriage.
Unfortunately this perpetuation was secured by the sacrifice of some of
the dearest interests of the race. For, in general, one may say that
idealistic teaching of any kind appeals most powerfully to those who are
least in need of it. The world would at any time lose little, and might
possibly gain much, were it possible to restrain a certain class from
parentage. But there is no evidence that monasticism ever had its effect
on that kind of people; the presumption is indeed in the contrary
direction. The careless and brutal hear and are unaffected. The more
thoughtful and desirable alone are influenced. And there can be little
doubt that the Church in appealing to certain aspects of human nature
dissuaded from parentage those who were most fitted for the task. There
was a practical survival of the unfittest. Nothing is more striking, in
fact, in the early history of Christianity than the comparative absence
of home life and of the domestic ideals. Dean Milman remarked that in
all the discussion concerning celibacy he could not recall a single
instance where the social aspects appear to have occurred to the
disputants. The Dean's remark applies to some extent to a much later
period of Christian history than the one to which he refers. That
much-admired evangelical classic, Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_, for
example, shows a curious obliviousness to the value of family and social
life. But neglect of the socialising and refining influence of family
life leads inevitably to a hardening of character and a brutalising of
life in general. The ferocious nature of the theological disputes of the
early Christian period never fail to arouse the comments of historians.
But there was really nothing to soften or restrain them. Everything was
dominated by the theological interest. And we owe it in no small measure
to the vogue of the monk that the tolerance of Pagan times, with its
widespread respect for truth-seeking, was replaced by the narrow
intolerance of the medieval period, an intolerance which has never
really been eradicated from any part of Christian Europe.

In counting this as one of the consequences of the Christian preaching
of celibacy, I am supported by no less an authority than the late Sir
Francis Galton. In his epoch-marking work, _Hereditary Genius_, this
writer says:--

"The long period of the Dark Ages under which Europe has lain is due, I
believe, in a very considerable degree, to the celibacy enjoined by the
religious orders on their votaries. Whenever a man or woman was
possessed of a gentle nature that fitted him or her to deeds of charity,
to meditation, to literature, or to art, the social condition of the
time was such that they had no refuge elsewhere than in the bosom of the
Church. But she chose to preach and exact celibacy. The consequence was
that these gentle natures had no continuance, and thus by a policy so
singularly unwise and suicidal that I am hardly able to speak of it
without impatience, the Church brutalised the breed of our forefathers.
She acted precisely as if she had aimed at selecting the rudest portion
of the community to be alone the parents of future generations. She
practised the arts that breeders would use, who aimed at creating
ferocious, currish, and stupid nature. No wonder that club law prevailed
for centuries over Europe; the wonder rather is that enough good
remained in the veins of Europeans to enable their race to rise to its
very moderate level of natural morality."[170]

The consequences of asceticism on morals were almost wholly disastrous.
There is no intention of endorsing the vulgar Protestant prejudice of
every convent being a brothel, and all monks and nuns as given over to a
vicious life, but there is no question that a very widespread
demoralisation existed amongst the religious orders, that this existed
from the very earliest times, and that it was an inevitable consequence
of so large a number of people professing the ascetic life. This is not
a history of morals, and it is needless to enter into a detailed account
of the state of morality during the prevalence of asceticism. But the
absence of any favourable influence exerted by asceticism on conduct is
well illustrated in the description of Salvianus, Bishop of Marseilles
at the close of the fifth century, of the condition of society in his
day. Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Africa are depicted as sunk in an
overmastering sensuality. Rome is represented as the sewer of the
nations, and in the African Church, he says, the most diligent search
can scarce discover one chaste among thousands. And this, it must be
borne in mind, was the African Church, which under the care of Augustine
had been specially nurtured in the most rigid asceticism. Four hundred
years later the state of monastic morals is sufficiently indicated by a
regulation of St. Theodore Studita prohibiting the entrance of female
animals into monasteries.[171] A regulation passed in Paris at a Council
held in 1212 enforces the same lesson by forbidding monks or nuns
sleeping two in a bed. The avowed object of this was to repress offences
of the most disgusting description.[172] In 1208 an order was issued
prohibiting mothers or other female relatives residing with priests, on
account of the frequent scandals arising. Offences became so numerous
and so open that it was with relief that laymen saw priests openly
select concubines. That at least gave a promise of some protection to
domestic life. In some of the Swiss cantons it actually became the
practice to compel a new pastor, on taking up his charge, to select a
concubine as a necessary protection to the females under his care. The
same practice existed in Spain.[173]

There is, as Lea rightly says, no injustice in holding the Church mainly
responsible for the laxity of morals which is characteristic of medieval
society. It had unbounded and unquestioned power, and this with its
wealth and privileges might have made medieval society the purest in the
world. As it was, "the period of its unquestioned domination over the
conscience of Europe was the very period in which licence among the
Teutonic races was most unchecked. A church which, though founded on the
Gospel, and wielding the illimitable power of the Roman hierarchy, could
yet allow the feudal principle to extend to the _jus primæ noctis_ or
_droit de marquette_, and whose ministers in their character of temporal
seigneurs could even occasionally claim the disgusting right, was
evidently exercising its influence, not for good, but for evil."

On civic life and the civic virtues the influence of asceticism was
equally disastrous. "A candid examination," says Lecky, "will show that
the Christian civilisation has been as inferior to the Pagan ones in
civic and intellectual virtues as it has been superior to them in the
virtues of humanity and chastity." One may reasonably question the
latter part of this statement, bearing in mind the facts just pointed
out, but the first part admits of overwhelming proof. Celibacy is not
chastity, and it is difficult to see how the coarsening of character
described by Lecky himself can be consistent with a heightened
humanity. But there can be small doubt that the growth of the Christian
Church spelt disaster to the civic life and institutions of the Empire.
Nothing the Romans did was more admirable than their organisation of
municipal life. They avoided the common blunder of imposing on all a
uniform organisation, and so gave free play to local feeling and custom
so far as was consistent with imperial order and peace. Civic life
became, as a consequence, well ordered and persistent. It was far less
corrupt than administration in the capital, and freedom persisted in the
provincial towns for long after its practical disappearance in Rome
itself. Indeed, but for the antagonism of Christianity, it is probable
that the urban municipalities might have provided the impetus for the
rejuvenation of the Empire.[174]

From the outset, the early Christian movement stood as a whole apart
from the civic life of the Empire, while the ascetic waged a constant
warfare against it. "According to monastic view of Christianity," says
Milman, "the total abandonment of the world, with all its ties and
duties, as well as its treasures, its enjoyments, and objects of
ambition, advanced rather than diminished the hopes of salvation." The
object was individual salvation, not social regeneration. When people
were praised for breaking the closest of family ties in their desire for
salvation, it would be absurd to suppose that social duties and
obligations would remain exempt. The Christian ascetic was ready enough
to risk his own life, or to take the life of others, on account of
minute points of doctrinal difference, but he was deaf to the call of
patriotism or the demands of civic life. Theology became the one
absorbing topic; and as monasticism assumed more menacing proportions,
the monk became the dominating figure, paralysing by his presence the
healthful activities of masses of the people. Speaking of the Eastern
Empire, although his words apply with almost equal truth wherever the
Church was supreme, Milman says:--

"That which is the characteristic sign of the times as a social and
political, as well as a religious, phenomenon, is the complete dominion
assumed by the monks in the East over the public mind.... The monks, in
fact, exercise the most complete tyranny, not merely over the laity, but
over bishops and patriarchs, whose rule, though nominally subject to it,
they throw off whenever it suits their purposes.... Monks in Alexandria,
monks in Antioch, monks in Constantinople, decide peremptorily on
orthodoxy and heterodoxy.... Persecution is universal; persecution by
every means of violence and cruelty; the only question is in whose hands
is the power to persecute.... Bloodshed, murder, treachery,
assassination, even during the public worship of God--these are the
frightful means by which each party strives to maintain its opinions and
to defeat its adversary. Ecclesiastical and civil authority are alike
paralysed by combinations of fanatics ready to suffer or to inflict
death, utterly unapproachable by reason."[175]

Against such combinations of ignorance, fanaticism, and ferocity, the
few remaining lovers of secular progress were powerless. Patriotism
became a mere name, and organised civic life an almost forgotten
aspiration. What the Pagan world had understood by a 'good man' was one
who spent himself in the service of his country. The Christian
understood by it one who succeeded in saving his own soul, even at the
sacrifice of family and friends. Vampire-like, monasticism fed upon the
life-blood of the Empire. The civic life and patriotism of old Rome
became a mere tradition, to inspire long after the men of the
Renaissance and of the French Revolution.

Finally, asceticism exerted a powerful influence on religion itself.
That it served to strengthen and perpetuate the life of religion there
can be little doubt. However strongly some people may have resented the
monastic ideal, it nevertheless gave increased strength and vitality to
the religious idea. To begin with, it offered for centuries a very
powerful obstacle to the development of those progressive and scientific
ideas that have made such advances in all centres of civilisation during
the past two or three centuries. To the common mind it brought home the
supremacy of religion in a way that nothing else could. The mere sight
of monarch and noble yielding homage to the monk, acknowledging his
supremacy in what was declared to be the chief interest in life, the
interference of the monk in every department of life, saturated society
with supernaturalism. And although at a later period the rapacity,
dissoluteness, and tyranny of the monkish orders led to revolt, by that
time the imagination of all had been thoroughly impressed with the value
of religion. Even to-day current theology is permeated with the monkish
notions of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and contempt of the world's
comfort and beauty as belonging to the essence of pure religion. The
lives of the saints still remain the storehouse of ideals for the
religious preacher. In spite of their absurd practices and disgusting
penances, later generations have not failed to hold them up as examples.
They have been used to impress the imagination of their successors, as
they were used to impress the minds of their contemporaries. The fact of
Thomas à Beckett wearing a hair shirt running with vermin has not
prevented his being held up as an example of the power of religion.
People fear ghosts long after they cease to believe in them; they pay
unreasoning homage to a crown long after intellectual development has
robbed the kingly office of its primitive significance; all the recent
developments of democracy have not abolished the Englishman's
constitutional crick in the neck at the sight of a nobleman. Nor is
supernaturalism expunged from a society because the conditions that gave
it birth have passed away. A religious epidemic is not analogous to
those physical disorders which deposit an antitoxin and so protect
against future attacks. It resembles rather those disorders that
permanently weaken, and so invite repeated assaults. The ascetic
epidemic passed away; but, before doing so, it thoroughly saturated with
supernaturalism the social atmosphere and impressed its power upon the
public mind. It gave supernaturalism a new and longer lease of life, and
paved the way for other outbreaks, of a less general, but still of a
thoroughly epidemic character.


[164] See _The Psychology of Peoples_ and _The Crowd_.

[165] _Origin and Development of Religious Belief_, i. pp. 343-8.

[166] _History of European Morals_, ii. pp. 107-10. For a careful
description of the monastic discipline in its more normal aspects, see
Bingham's Works, vol. ii. bk. vi. Gibbon gives his usual brilliant
summary of the movement in chapter xxxvii. of the _Decline and Fall_. A
host of facts similar to those cited by Lecky will be found in _The Book
of Paradise_, 2 vols., trans. by Wallis Budge. Lea's _History of
Sacerdotal Celibacy_ gives the classical and authoritative account of
the moral consequences of the practice of celibacy. For a vivid picture
of the psychology of the ascetic, see Flaubert's great romance, _St.

[167] Cited by Lecky, ii. p. 131.

[168] Dean Milman, _Hist. of Latin Christianity_, ii. pp. 81-2.

[169] Lecky, ii. pp. 134-5.

[170] _Hereditary Genius_, 1869, p. 357.

[171] Lea, p. 109.

[172] Lea, p. 332.

[173] See Lea, pp. 353-4.

[174] For a fine sketch of Roman municipal life, see Dill's _Roman
Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius_, chap. ii.

[175] _Hist. of Latin Christianity_, i. pp. 317-8.



It is not easy to overestimate the influence of monasticism on
subsequent religious history. The lives of its votaries provided
examples of almost every conceivable kind of self-torture or
semi-maniacal behaviour. It had made the world thoroughly familiar with
extravagance of action as the symptom of intense religious conviction.
And its influence on social development had been such that the
susceptibility of the public mind to suggestions was as a raw wound in
the presence of a powerful irritant. Such an institution as the
Inquisition could only have maintained itself among a people thoroughly
familiar with supernaturalism, and to whom its preservation was the
first and most sacred of duties.

A society habituated to the commanding presence of the monk, fed upon
stories of their miraculous encounters with celestial and diabolic
visitants, and so accustomed to regard the priesthood as in a very
peculiar sense the mouthpiece of divinity, was well prepared for such a
series of events as the crusades for the recovery of the Holy Land.
Pilgrimages to the burial-places of saints, and to spots connected, by
legend or otherwise, with Christian history, had long been in vogue, and
formed a source of both revenue to the Church and of inspiration to the
faithful. As early as 833 a guide-book had been prepared called the
_Itinerary from Bordeaux to Jerusalem_, and along the route marked
convents and shelters for the pilgrims were established. A lucrative
traffic in relics of every description had also been established, and
any interference with this touched the Church in its tenderest point.
Added to which the expected end of the world in the year 1000 had the
effect of still further increasing the crowd of pilgrims to the Holy
Land, where it was firmly believed the second advent would take place.

In the eleventh century a tax was imposed on all Christians visiting
Jerusalem. There were also reports of Christian pilgrims being
ill-treated. Recent events in Europe have shown with what ease Christian
feeling may be roused against a Mohammedan power, and it was
considerably easier to do this in the eleventh century. Between them,
Pope Urban II. and Peter the Hermit--the former acting mainly from
political motives; the latter from a spirit of sheer fanaticism--
succeeded in rousing Europe to a maniacal desire for the recovery
of the Holy Land. And for nearly two hundred years the world saw
a series of crusades on as absurd an errand as ever engaged the
energies of mankind. Every class of society participated, and it is
calculated that no less than two millions of lives were sacrificed.

Ordinary histories lean to representing the crusades as a series of
armed expeditions, led by princes, nobles, and kings. But this gives a
quite inaccurate conception of the movement, during its early stages, at
all events. In reality it was a true psychological epidemic. No custom,
however ancient, no duty, no law, was allowed to stand before the
crusading mania. In every village the clergy fed the mania, promising
eternal rewards to all who took up the burden of the cross. Old and
young, the strong and the sick, the rich and the poor were enrolled.
Urban had told them that "under their General, Jesus Christ," they would
march to certain victory. Absolution for all sins was promised to all
who joined; and, as Gibbon says, "at the voice of their pastor, the
robber, the incendiary, the homicide, arose by thousands to redeem their
souls by repeating on the infidels the same deeds which they had
exercised against their Christian brethren." Until experience had taught
them better, little precautions were taken to provide food or arms. Huge
concourses of people,[176] some led by a goose and a goat, into which it
was believed the Holy Ghost had entered, set out for the Holy Land, so
ignorant that at every large town or city they enquired, "Is this Zion?"
Although a religious expedition, small regard was paid to decency or
humanity. Defenceless cities _en route_ were sacked. Women were
outraged, men and children killed. The Jews were murdered wholesale.
Almost universally the slaughter of Jews at home were preparatory to
crusading abroad. Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria, although providing
contingents for the crusading army, suffered heavily by the passage of
these undisciplined, lawless crowds. As one writer says:--

"If they had devoted themselves to the service of God, they convinced
the inhabitants on their line of march that they had ceased to regard
the laws of man. They considered themselves privileged to gratify every
wish and every lust as it arose. They recognised no rights of property,
they felt no gratitude for hospitality, and they possessed no sense of
honour. They violated the wives and daughters of their hosts when they
were kindly treated, they devastated the lands of friends whom they had
converted into enemies, they resorted to wanton robbery and destruction
in revenge for calamities which they had brought upon themselves. They
believed that they proved their superiority to the Mohammedans by
torturing the defenceless Jews; and this was the only exploit in which
the first divisions of the crusaders could boast of success.... To the
leaders, who could not write their own names, deception and treachery
were as familiar as force; to their followers rapine and murder were so
congenial that, in the absence of Saracens, Jews, or townsfolk, it
seemed but a professional pastime to kill or to rob a companion in

And of the behaviour of the crusaders on the first capture of Jerusalem,
1099, Dean Milman writes:--

"No barbarian, no infidel, no Saracen, ever perpetrated such wanton and
cold-blooded atrocities of cruelty as the wearers of the Cross of Christ
(who, it is said, had fallen on their knees and burst into a pious hymn
at the first view of the Holy City) on the capture of that city. Murder
was mercy, rape tenderness, simple plunder the mere assertion of the
conqueror's right. Children were seized by their legs, some of them
plucked from their mother's breasts, and dashed against the walls, or
whirled from the battlements. Others were obliged to leap from the
walls; some tortured, roasted by slow fires. They ripped up prisoners to
see if they had swallowed gold. Of 70,000 Saracens there were not left
enough to bury the dead; poor Christians were hired to perform the
office. Everyone surprised in the Temple was slaughtered, till the reek
from the dead drove away the slayers. The Jews were burned alive in
their synagogue."[178]

The most remarkable of all the crusades, and the one that best shows
the character of the epidemic, was the children's crusade of 1212. It
was said that the sins of the crusaders had caused their failure, and
priests went about France and Germany calling upon the children to do
what the sins of their fathers had prevented them accomplishing. The
children were told that the sea would dry up to give them passage, and
the infidels be stricken by the Lord on their approach. A peasant lad,
Stephen of Cloyes, received the usual vision, and was ordered to lead
the crusade. Commencing with the children around Paris, he collected
some 30,000 followers, and without money or food commenced the march. At
the same time an army of children, 40,000 strong, was gathered together
at Cologne. The result of the crusade may be told in a few words. About
6000 of the French contingent, having reached Marseilles, were offered a
passage by some shipowners. Several of the ships foundered, others
reached shore, and the boys were sold into slavery. The girls were
reserved for a more sinister fate. Thousands of the children died in
attempting a march over the Alps. A mere remnant succeeded in reaching
home, ruined in both mind and body. Well might Fuller say: "This crusade
was done by the instinct of the devil, who, as it were, desired a
cordial of children's blood, to comfort his weak stomach, long cloyed
with murdering of men."[179]

On both the social and the religious side the consequences were
important. For the first time large bodies of men, taught to regard all
those who were outside Christendom as beneath consideration, came into
contact with a people possessing an art, an industry, a culture far
superior to their own. As Draper says: "Even down to the meanest camp
follower, everyone must have recognised the difference between what they
had anticipated and what they had found. They had seen undaunted
courage, chivalrous bearing, intellectual culture far higher than their
own. They had been in lands filled with prodigies of human skill. They
did not melt down into the populations to whom they returned without
imparting to them a profound impression destined to make itself felt in
the course of time."[180] Hitherto Mohammedan culture had only
influenced Christendom through the medium of the Spanish schools and
universities. Now the influence became more general. A taste for greater
comfort developed. Commerce grew; literature improved. We approach the
period of the Renaissance, and to that new birth the crusades, despite
their intolerance and brutality, offered a contribution of no small

On the other hand, and for a time, the power of the Church grew greater.
The impetus given to superstitious hopes and fears made on all hands for
the wealth of the Church. Much was made over to the Church as a free
gift. Much was pawned to it. Much also was entrusted by those who went
to the Holy Land, never to return, in which case the Church became the
designated or undesignated heir. "In every way the all-absorbing Church
was still gathering in wealth, encircling new land within her hallowed
pale, the one steady merchant who in this vast traffic and sale of
personal and of landed property never made a losing venture, but went on
accumulating and still accumulating, and for the most part withdrawing
the largest portion of the land in every kingdom into a separate
estate, which claimed exemption from all burthens of the realm, until
the realm was compelled into measures, violent often and iniquitous in
their mode, but still inevitable."[181]

Next, the crusades set their seal upon the justice of religious wars,
and established an enduring alliance between militarism and religion.
The military profession became surrounded with all the ceremonies and
paraphernalia of religion, without being in the least humanised by the
alliance. The knight received his arms blessed by the Church, he was
sworn to defend the Church, and he was as ready to turn his weapons
against heretics in Europe as against infidels in Syria. Military
persecutions of heretics assumed the form of a mania. There were
crusades against the Moors in Spain, against the Albigenses, and against
other heretics. As Bryce remarks: "The religious feeling which the
crusades evoked--a feeling which became the origin of the great orders
of chivalry, and somewhat later of the two great orders of mendicant
friars--turned wholly against the opponents of ecclesiastical claims,
and was made to work the will of the Holy See, which had blessed and
organised the project."[182] The expedition against King John by Philip
of France was undertaken at the behest of the Pope, and was called a
crusade. The attempt of Spain to crush the Netherlands was called a
crusade. So was the Armada that was fitted out against England.

More than all, a stamp of permanency was given to popular superstition.
For two centuries people had seen expedition after expedition fitted out
to accomplish an avowedly religious purpose. They had been taught that
to die in defence of religion, or in the attempt to achieve a religious
object, was the noblest of deaths. They had seen the greatest in Europe
setting forth at the command of the Church. Signs and wonders had
abounded to prove the heaven-blessed character of the crusades. They had
seen the Church growing steadily in power, and every possible means had
been utilised to increase the flame of religious fanaticism. Expeditions
might fail, but failure did not cure fanaticism. It fed it; the
crusaders returned, chastened in some respects, but still sufficiently
full of religious zeal to be ready to battle against the unbeliever and
the heretic at the behest of the Church. And it was not the policy of
the Church to allow this fanaticism to remain unemployed. Even though it
might ultimately lose, the Church and superstition profited enormously
by the crusading spirit. It strengthened the general sense of the
supernatural, even while creating tendencies that were destined to limit
its sway. Above all, it prepared the way for other religious epidemics.
These were more circumscribed in area, and less lengthy in their
duration; but their existence was made possible and easy by the
centuries during which, first monasticism, and later the crusading
mania, had dominated the public mind.

The crusades had hardly been brought to a close before continental
Europe witnessed an outbreak, in epidemic form, of a practice that had
been long associated with monastic discipline. The use of the whip as a
form of religious discipline had always played a part in conventual and
monastic life. On the one hand, it formed part of that insensate desire
to torture the body which went to make up the ascetic ideal; on the
other hand, the fondness for whipping bare flesh and for being whipped
has a distinctly pathologic character. The subject is rather too
unsavoury to dwell upon, but it has long been established that there is
a close connection between the whipping of certain parts of the body and
the production of intense sexual pleasure.[183] And it is also clear
that the life led by monks and nuns was such as to encourage sexual
aberrations of various forms. Moreover, when once the practice of
whipping became a public spectacle, and assumed an epidemic form,
imitation, combined with intense religious faith, would operate very

In the fourteenth century Europe was visited by the Black Plague. In
countries utterly devoid of sanitation, where baths were practically
unknown and personal habits of the filthiest, the plague found a
fruitful soil. Nearly a quarter of the population died, and corpses were
so numerous that huge pits were dug and hundreds buried together. It was
amid the general terror and demoralisation caused by this visitation
that the sect of the Flagellants arose. Calling themselves the
Brotherhood of the Flagellants, or the Brethren of the Cross, wearing
dark garments with red crosses front and back, they traversed the cities
of the Continent carrying whips to which small pieces of iron were
fixed. England appears to have been the only country in which they
failed to establish themselves. Elsewhere their numbers grew with
formidable rapidity. At Spires two hundred boys, under twelve years of
age, influenced probably by the example of the children's crusade,
formed themselves into a brotherhood and marched through some of the
German cities. In Italy over 20,000 people marched from Florence in one
of these processions; from Modena, over 25,000. Some of them professed
to work miracles. Everywhere, while the mania lasted, they were warmly
welcomed, the inhabitants of towns and cities ringing the bells and
flocking in crowds to hear the preaching and witness the whippings.

The proceedings of the Flagellants in all countries were very similar.
They marched from town to town, men and women and children stripped to
the waist--sometimes entirely naked--praying incessantly and whipping
each other. "Not only during the day, but even by night, and in the
severest winter, they traversed the cities with torches and banners, in
thousands and tens of thousands, headed by their priests, and prostrated
themselves before the altars." At other times they proceeded to the
market-place, arranged themselves on the ground in circles, assuming
attitudes in accordance with their real or supposed crimes. After each
had been whipped, "one of them, in conclusion, stood up to read a
letter, which it was pretended an angel had brought from heaven to St.
Peter's Church, at Jerusalem, stating that Christ, who was sore
displeased at the sins of man, had granted, at the intercession of the
Holy Virgin and of the angels, that all who should wander about for
thirty-four days and scourge themselves should be partakers of the
Divine grace." In the end the movement became so obnoxious to the
Church, and so troublesome to the civil authorities, that both combined
to secure its suppression.

Equally significant in the history of religion is the dancing mania,
which broke out as the mania for flagellation was subsiding. The
function of dancing in primitive religious ceremonial has been pointed
out in a previous chapter. It is there a common and obvious method of
both creating and expressing a high state of nervous excitability. In
later times religious dancing becomes more purely hypnotic in character,
and suggestion plays a powerful part. During the medieval period the
conditions were peculiarly favourable to the prevalence of psychological
epidemics. Plagues, more or less severe, were of frequent occurrence.
Between 1119 and 1340, Italy alone had no less than sixteen such
visitations. Smallpox and leprosy were also common. The public mind was
morbidly sensitive to signs and portents and saturated to an almost
incredible degree with superstition. The public processions of the
Church, its penances, and practices were all calculated to fire the
imagination, and produce a mixed and dangerous condition of fear and
expectancy. Moreover, dancing mania, on a small scale, had made its
appearance on several previous occasions, and the public mind was thus
in a way prepared for a more serious outbreak.

The great dancing mania of 1374 occurred immediately after the revels
connected with the semi-Pagan festival of St. John. Bacchanalian dances
formed one of the accompaniments of the festival of St. John, and made,
so to speak, a natural starting-point for the epidemic. Hecker, who
gives a very elaborate account of the dancing mania as it appeared in
various countries, thus describes the behaviour of those afflicted:--

"They formed circles, hand in hand, and, appearing to have lost control
over their senses, continued dancing, regardless of all bystanders, for
hours together, in wild delirium, until at length they fell to the
ground in a state of exhaustion.... While dancing, they neither saw nor
heard, being insensible to external impressions, but were haunted by
visions, their fancies conjuring up spirits whose names they shrieked
out; and some of them afterwards asserted that they felt as if they had
been immersed in a stream of blood, which obliged them to leap so high.
Others, during the paroxysm, saw the heavens open and the Saviour
enthroned with the Virgin Mary."[184]

At Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne, and Metz, says the same writer:--

"Peasants left their ploughs, mechanics their workshops, housewives
their domestic duties, to join the wild revels. Secret desires were
excited, and but too often found opportunities for wild enjoyment; and
numerous beggars, stimulated by vice and misery, availed themselves of
this new complaint to gain a temporary livelihood. Girls and boys
quitted their parents, and servants their masters, to amuse themselves
at the dances of those possessed, and greedily imbibed the poison of
mental infection. Above a hundred unmarried women were seen raving about
in consecrated and unconsecrated places, and the consequences were soon

Once attacked, the hypnotic character of the complaint was shown by its
annual recurrence. Again to quote Hecker:--

"Most of those affected were only annually visited by attacks; and the
occasion of them was so manifestly referable to the prevailing notions
of that period that, if the unqualified belief in the agency of saints
could have been abolished, they would not have had any return of the
complaint. Throughout the whole of June, prior to the festival of St.
John, patients felt a disquietude and restlessness which they were
unable to overcome. They were dejected, timid, and anxious; wandered
about in an unsettled state, being tormented with twitching pains, which
seized them suddenly in different parts, and eagerly expected the eve of
St. John's Day, in the confident hope that by dancing at the altars of
this saint they would be freed from all their sufferings. This hope was
not disappointed; and they remained, for the rest of the year, exempt
from any further attack."[186]

In addition to John the Baptist, the dancing disease was also connected
with another saint--St. Vitus. He is said to have been martyred about
303, and a body, reputed to be his, was transported to France in the
ninth century. It is said that just before he was killed he prayed that
all who would commemorate the day of his death should be protected from
the dancing mania. Whereupon a voice from heaven was heard to say,
"Vitus, thy prayer is accepted." The fact that the prayer was offered a
thousand years before the dancing mania appeared is a circumstance that
to the eye of faith merely heightened its value.

Within recent times epidemics of dancing have been more local, less
persistent, and of necessity not so public in their display, but nearly
always their appearance has been in connection with displays of
religious fervour. In most cases the dancing has tended more to a
species of 'jumping,' and--although this may be due to more careful
observation--has been accompanied by actions of a clearly epileptoid
nature. One of the most famous of these outbreaks was that of the French
Convulsionnaires, which lasted from 1727 to the Revolution. In 1727, a
popular, but half-crazy priest, François de Paris, died. During his life
Paris had fasted and scourged himself, lived in a hut that was seldom or
never cleansed, showed the same lack of cleanliness in his person, and
often went about half naked. Very shortly after his death, it was said
that miracles began to take place at his grave in the cemetery of St.
Médard. People gathered round the tomb day after day, and one young girl
was seized with convulsions. (She is called a girl in the narrative, but
she was a mature virgin of forty-two years of age.) Afterwards other
miracles followed in rapid succession. Some fell in fits, others
swallowed pieces of coal or flint, some were cured of diseases. From the
description of the behaviour of some of these devotees there seems to
have been a considerable amount of sexual feeling mixed up with the
display. Sometimes, we are told, those seized "bounded from the ground
like fish out of water; this was so frequently imitated at a later
period that the women and girls, when they expected such violent
contortions, not wishing to appear indecent, put on gowns made like
sacks, closed at the feet. If they received any bruises by falling down,
they were healed with earth taken from the grave of the uncanonised
saint. They usually, however, showed great agility in this respect; and
it is scarcely necessary to remark that the female sex especially was
distinguished by all kinds of leaping, and almost inconceivable
contortions of body. Some spun round on their feet with incredible
rapidity, as is related of the dervishes. Others ran with their heads
against walls, or curved their bodies like rope dancers, so that their
heels touched their shoulders."

Women figured very prominently among the Convulsionnaires, particularly
when the epidemic passed from convulsive dancing to prophecy, and thence
to various forms of self-torture. Women stretched themselves on the
floor, while other women, and even men, jumped upon their bodies. Others
were beaten with clubs and bars of iron. Some actually underwent
crucifixion on repeated occasions. They were stretched on wooden
crosses, and nails three inches long driven through hands and feet. Some
of the occurrences remind one of what is now seen to take place under
hypnotic influence. People labouring under strong excitement, it is
known, become insensible to pain.

Outbreaks of jumping and dancing followed the introduction of Methodist
preachers into country districts in the eighteenth century. In Wales, a
sect of 'Jumpers' originated from this cause, and many of the American
'Jumpers' and 'Dancers' seem to have had their origin from this Welsh
outbreak. In all such cases the spread of the mania was helped, if not
made possible, by the preachers. They themselves looked upon these
exhibitions as manifestations of the power of God, and so encouraged
their hearers in their behaviour. Not every minister has the common
sense of the Shetland preacher cited by Hecker. An epileptic woman had a
fit in church, which a number of others hailed as a manifestation of
the power of God. Sunday after Sunday the same thing occurred with other
women, the number of the sufferers steadily increasing. The thing
threatened to assume such proportions, and to become so great a
nuisance, he announced that attendants would be at hand who would dip
women in the lake who happened to be seized. This threat proved a most
powerful form of exorcism. Not one woman was affected. Similar conduct
might have been quite as efficacious in preventing many religious
manifestations that have assumed epidemic proportions.

Unfortunately, the influence of preachers and religious teachers was
most usually cast in the other direction. Very often, of course, they
were no better informed than their congregations; at other times they
undoubtedly encouraged the delusion for interested reasons. The most
striking recent illustration of this latter behaviour was seen in the
Welsh revival led by Evan Roberts. Of this man's mental condition there
could be little doubt. Just as little doubt could there be that the
behaviour of the congregations was wholly due to the power of
suggestions upon weak and excitable natures. Yet scarcely a preacher in
Britain said a word in disapproval. Hundreds of them used the outbreak
to illustrate the power of religion. Many prominent preachers travelled
down to Wales and returned telling of the great manifestations of
'spiritual power' they had witnessed. How little removed such behaviour
is from that of the savage watching with awe the actions of one
suffering from epilepsy or insanity, readers of the foregoing pages will
be in a position to judge.

From the middle of the third century onward, Europe had been subject to
wave after wave of religious fanaticism. All along, religious belief had
been verified and strengthened by the occurrence of phenomena that now
admittedly fall within the purview of the pathologist. And from one
point of view the secularisation of life served but to emphasise the
dependence of religion upon the occurrence of these abnormal conditions.
For the more surely the phenomena of nature and of social life were
brought within the scope of a scientific generalisation, the more people
began to look for the life of religion in conditions that were removed
from the normal. But, above all, this long succession of waves of
fanaticism served to permeate the general mind with supernaturalism.
Each one cleared the way for a successor. And in the next chapter we
have to deal with one that, in some respects, is the most remarkable of
all, viz., that of the belief in witchcraft.


[176] It is estimated that 275,000 people formed the van of the first

[177] L. O. Pike, _History of Crime in England_, i. pp. 164-9.

[178] _History of Latin Christianity_, iv. p. 188.

[179] _History of the Holy War_, bk. iii.

[180] _Intellectual Development of Europe_, 1872, p. 425.

[181] Milman, iv. p. 199.

[182] _Holy Roman Empire_, p. 164.

[183] See Bloch, _Sexual Life of our Time_, pp. 568-74.

[184] _Epidemics of the Middle Ages_, pp. 87-8.

[185] Hecker, p. 91.

[186] _Epidemics_, p. 105.



In all stages of religious history the witch and the wizard are familiar
figures. It is of no importance to our present enquiry whether magic
precedes religion or not. It is at all events certain that they are very
closely connected, and that conditions which foster the belief in magic
likewise serve to strengthen religious belief. Witchcraft, as Tylor
says, is part and parcel of savage life. Death is very frequently
attributed to the magical action of wizards, and the savage lives in
perpetual fear lest some of his belongings, or some part of his person,
should be bewitched by malevolent sorcerers. Sir Richard Burton says
that in East Africa his experience taught him that among the negroes,
what with slavery and what with black magic, no one, especially in old
age, is safe from being burnt at a day's notice. When from savage life
we mount to societies enjoying a higher culture, we still find the witch
and the wizard in evidence. Both in Greece and Rome the belief in
witchcraft existed. There were made direct laws against its practice,
although neither the Greeks nor the Romans stained their civilisation
with the judicial murder of thousands of victims such as occurred later
in Christian Europe.

But the belief in witchcraft is continuous. So also are the methods
practised, and the modes of detection. The proofs offered in support of
sorcery in the seventeenth century are precisely similar to those
credited by savages in the lowest stage of human culture. The power of
transformation possessed by the accused, the ability to bewitch through
the possession of hairs belonging to the afflicted person, the making of
little effigies and driving sharp instruments into them, and so
affecting the corresponding parts of people, transportation through the
air, etc., all belong to the belief in and practice of witchcraft
wherever found. Had a Fijian been transported to a seat on the judicial
bench by the side of Sir Matthew Hale, when that judge condemned two old
women to death for witchcraft, he would have found himself in a quite
congenial atmosphere. Allowing for difference in language, he would have
found the evidence similar to that with which he was familiar, and he
would have been able to endorse the judge's remarks with tales of his
own experience. On this point, the level of culture attained by savages,
and that of the inhabitants of the overwhelming majority of European
countries little more than two hundred years ago, were substantially the
same. Even to-day cases are continually occurring which prove that
advances in knowledge and civilisation have not left this ancient
superstition without supporters.

In subscribing to the belief in witchcraft, the Christian Church thus
fell into line with earlier forms of religious belief. The peculiar
feature it represents is that it came into existence when the belief in
witchcraft was losing its hold on the more cultured classes. Had it not
allied itself with this tendency, no such thing as the witch mania of
the medieval period could have existed. In sober truth, it brought about
a veritable renaissance of the cruder theories of demonism, while its
intolerance of opposition succeeded in stifling the voice of criticism
for centuries. The primitive theory which holds that man is surrounded
by hosts of spiritual agencies, mostly of a malevolent nature, was
revived and fully endorsed by all Christian teachers. In the commonest,
as well as in the rarest events of life, this supernatural activity was
manifest. In both the Old and New Testament the belief in demoniacal
agency was endorsed. Moreover, the fact that Christianity was not a
creed seeking to live as one of many others, but a religion struggling
for complete mastery, gave further impetus to the belief. An easy
explanation for the miracles and marvels that occurred in connection
with non-Christian beliefs was that they were the work of demons. The
Christian felt himself to be fighting not so much human antagonists as
so many embodiments of satanic power. And after the establishment of
Christianity it is probable that much that went on under cover of witch
assemblies, a more detailed knowledge than we possess would prove to be
really the clandestine exercise of prescribed forms of faith. The old
saying, "The sin of witchcraft is as the sin of rebellion," has more in
it than meets the eye. There is little real difference between the magic
that appears as piety and the magic that is denounced as sorcery, except
that one is permitted and the other is not. And it is almost a law of
religious development that the gods of one religion become the demons of
its successor.

But while witchcraft has existed in all ages, it existed in a much
milder form than that which we find in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. First of all, there is the fact to which attention has
already been directed, namely, the concentration of the public mind upon
various forms of supernaturalism. Every aspect of life was more or less
under the direct influence of the Church, and no teaching was tolerated
that conflicted with her doctrines. And it was to the interest of the
Church perpetually to emphasise the reality of either angelic or
diabolic activity. Even in the case of those who showed a tendency to
revolt against Church rule there was no exception to this. If anything,
the belief was more pronounced. Next, the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries saw a rising tide of heresy against which the Church was
compelled to battle; and to ascribe this alleged perversion of Christian
doctrines to the malevolence of Satan offered the line of least
resistance--just as the heretics attributed the power of the Church
itself to the same source. Whatever diminution ensued in the general
flood of superstition, as a consequence of the quarrel between
Protestant and Catholic, was, so far as the disputants were concerned,
incidental and even undesired. On the one point of demonism there
existed complete unanimity, and the sceptic fared equally hard with both
parties. In such an environment the wildest tales of sorcery became
credible; and nothing illustrates this more forcibly than the fact that
many of those tortured and condemned for sorcery actually believed
themselves capable of performing the marvels laid to their charge. Added
to these factors, we have to note that social conditions were also
extremely favourable. Moral ties were as loose as they could reasonably
be; and the attitude of the Church towards the sexual relation had
forced both the religious and the non-religious mind into wholly
unhealthy channels. This last aspect of the subject has been little
dealt with, but it is unquestionably a very real one. A German writer

"Whilst in the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries,
as those well acquainted with the state of morals during this period can
all confirm, a most unbounded freedom was dominant in sexual relations,
the State and the Church were desirous of compelling the people to keep
better order by the use of actual force, and by religious compulsion. So
forced a transformation in so vital a matter necessarily resulted in a
reaction of the worst kind, and forced into secret channels the impulse
which it had attempted to suppress. This reaction occurred, moreover,
with an elemental force. There resulted widespread sexual violence and
seduction, hesitating at nothing, often insanely daring, in which
everywhere the devil was supposed to help; everyone's head was turned in
this way; the uncontrolled lust of debauchees found vent in secret
bacchanalian associations and orgies, wherein many, with or without
masquerade, played the part of Satan; shameful deeds were perpetrated by
excited women and by procuresses and prostitutes ready for any kind of
immoral abomination; add to these sexual orgies the most widely diffused
web of a completely developed theory of witchcraft, and the systematic
strengthening of the widely prevalent belief in the devil--all these
things, woven in a labyrinthine connection, made it possible for
thousands upon thousands to be murdered by a disordered justice and to
be sacrificed to delusion."[187]

To those who look closely into the subject of medieval witchcraft the
presence of a strong sexual element is undeniable. When we examine
contemporary accounts of the 'Sabbath,' some of which are so gross as to
be unprintable, we find a portion of the proceedings to be of a marked
erotic character. The figure of Satan often enough reminds one of the
pagan Priapus, and the ceremonies bear a strong resemblance to the
ancient ones, with the mixture of Christian language and symbolism
inevitable under such circumstances. Promiscuous intercourse between the
sexes was said to occur at the witches' gatherings; and, indeed, unless
some sort of sexual extravagance occurred, it is hard to account for
both the persistency of the gatherings and of the reports concerning
them. The most probable theory is, as I have just said, that these
gatherings were covers for a continuance of the older sex worship. Many
customs connected therewith lingered on in the Church itself, and it is
not a wild assumption that they existed in a less adulterated and more
extravagant form outside.

Universal as the belief in witchcraft has been, it was not until the
close of the fifteenth century that it assumed what may be justly called
an epidemic form. The famous Bull of Pope Innocent VIII. was not
unconnected in its origin with the growth of heresy. This precious
document, issued in 1484, declares:--

"It has come to our ears that very many persons of both sexes, deviating
from the Catholic Faith, abuse themselves with demons, Incubus and
Succubus; and by incantations, charms, and conjurations, and other
wicked superstitions, by criminal acts and offences, have caused the
offspring of women and of the lower animals, the fruits of the earth,
the grape, and the products of various plants, men, women, and other
animals of different kinds, vineyards, meadows, pasture land, corn and
other vegetables of the earth, to perish, be oppressed, and utterly
destroyed; that they torture men and women with cruel pains and
torments, internal as well as external; that they hinder the proper
intercourse of the sexes, and the propagation of the human species.
Moreover, they are in the habit of denying the very faith itself. We,
therefore, willing to provide by opportune remedies, according as it
falls to our office, by our apostolical authority, by the tenor of these
presents, do appoint and decree that they be convicted, imprisoned,
punished, and mulcted according to their offences."

It was this Pope who commissioned the inquisitor, Sprenger, to root out
witches. Sprenger, with two others, acting on the authority of the
Popes, drew up the famous work, _The Witch Hammer_, which provided the
basis for all subsequent works on the detection and punishment of
witches.[188] The folly and iniquity of the book is almost unbelievable,
although it is quite matched by subsequent productions. It even provides
for the silence of people under torture. If they confess when tortured,
the case is complete. But if they do not confess, this diabolic
production lays it down that this is because witches who have given
themselves up to the devil are insensible to pain. Even the evidence of
children was admitted. And although in ordinary trials the evidence of
criminals was barred, it was to be freely allowed in trials for sorcery.
Everything that ingenuity could suggest or brutality execute was
provided for.

From the issue of _The Witch Hammer_ until the middle of the seventeenth
century, a period of about one hundred and fifty years, an epidemic of
witchcraft raged. People of all ages and of all classes of society
became implicated, and for some time, at least, accusation meant
conviction. An almost unbelievably large number were executed. Says

"In almost every province of Germany, but especially in those where
clerical influence predominated, the persecution raged with a fearful
intensity. Seven thousand witches are said to have been burned at
Trèves, six hundred by a single bishop in Bamberg, and nine hundred in a
single year in the bishopric of Würzburg.... At Toulouse, the seat of
the Inquisition, four hundred persons perished for sorcery at a single
execution, and fifty at Douay in a single year. Remy, a judge of Nancy,
boasted that he put to death eight hundred witches in sixteen years....
In Italy, a thousand persons were executed in a single year in the
province of Como; and in other parts of the country the severity of the
inquisitors at last created an absolute rebellion.... In Geneva, which
was then ruled by a bishop, five hundred alleged witches were executed
in three months; forty-eight were burned at Constance or Ravensburg, and
eighty in the little town of Valery in Saxony. In 1670, seventy persons
were condemned in Sweden, and a large proportion of them burnt."[189]

In England, from 1603 to 1680, it is estimated that seventy thousand
persons were put to death for sorcery.[190] Grey, the editor of
_Hudibras_, says that he had himself seen a list of three thousand who
were put to death during the Long Parliament. The celebrated
witch-finder, Mathew Hopkins, hung sixty in one year in the county of
Suffolk. In Scotland, for thirty-nine years, the number killed annually
averaged about two hundred. This, of course, does not take into account
the number who were hounded to death by persecution of a popular kind,
or whose lives were made so wearisome that death must have come as a
release. But the most remarkable, and the most horrible, of witchcraft
executions occurred in Würzburg in February 1629. No less than one
hundred and sixty-two witches were burned in a succession of
_autos-da-fé_. Among these, the reports disclose that there were
actually thirty-four children. The following details give the actual
ages of some of them:--

  | Burning. | Number. |      Children.                  |
  |   7th    |   7     |  1 Girl, aged 12.               |
  |  13th    |   4     |  1 Girl of 10 and another.      |
  |  15th    |   2     |  1 Boy of 12.                   |
  |  18th    |   6     |  2 Boys of 10, girl of 14.      |
  |  19th    |   6     |  2 Boys, 10 and 12.             |
  |  20th    |   6     |  2 Boys.                        |
  |  23rd    |   9     |  3 Boys, 9, 10, and 14.         |
  |  24th    |   7     |  2 Boys, brought from hospital. |
  |  26th    |   8     |  Little boy and girl.           |
  |  27th    |   7     |  2 Boys, 8 and 9.               |
  |  28th    |   6     |  Blind girl and infant.[191]    |

The vast majority of those executed for sorcery were women. At all times
witches have been more numerous than wizards, owing to their assumed
closer connection with the world of supernatural beings. It was said,
"For one sorcerer, ten thousand sorceresses," and Christian writers were
ready to explain why. Woman had a greater affinity with the devil from
the outset. It was through woman that Satan had seduced Adam, and it
was only to be expected that he would employ the same instrument on
subsequent occasions. _The Witch Hammer_ has a special chapter devoted
to the consideration of why women are more given to sorcery than men,
and quotes freely from the Fathers to prove that this follows from her
nature. James I. in his _Demonologia_ follows Sprenger in accounting for
the number of witches. "The reason is easy. For as that sex is frailer
than man is, so it is easier to be entrapped in the gross snares of the
devil, as was over-well proved to be true by the serpent's deceiving of
Eve at the beginning, which makes him the homelier with the sex
sensine." To be old, or ugly, or unpopular, to have any peculiar
deformity or mark, was to invite persecution, and, in an overwhelming
majority of instances, conviction followed accusation.

It is a significant comment upon the popular belief that Protestantism,
as a form of religious belief, was the product of an enlightened
rational life, that it was only with the advance of Protestantism that
the belief in witchcraft assumed an epidemic form. This may be partly
due to the greater direct dependence upon the Bible, in which satanic
influence--particularly in the New Testament--plays so large a part. In
the Roman Church, exorcism remained a regular part of the functions of
the priest; the Church was filled with accounts of satanic conflicts,
but diabolic intercourse seems to have been mainly limited to saintly
characters and priests. Protestantism which, theoretically, made every
man his own priest, raised the belief in satanic agency to an obsession.
And wherever Protestantism established itself there was an immediate
and marked increase in the number of cases of witchcraft. In England, if
we omit a doubtful law of the tenth century, there existed no regular
law against witchcraft until 1541. It remained a purely ecclesiastical
offence. Seventeen years later, the year of Elizabeth's accession,
Bishop Jewell, preaching before the Queen, drew attention to the
increase of sorcery. "It may please Your Grace," he said, "to understand
that witches and sorcerers, within these last few years, are
marvellously increased within Your Grace's realm. Your Grace's subjects
pine away even to the death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth,
their senses are bereft. I pray God they never practise further than
upon the subject." And he added, "These eyes have seen most evident and
manifest marks of their wickedness." A measure was passed through
Parliament the same year, making enchantments and witchcraft felony. The
first year of James I. saw the passing of the 'Witch Act,' under which
subsequent executions took place, and which remained in force until
nearly the middle of the eighteenth century.

With scarce an exception, the leaders of Protestantism encouraged the
belief in witches and urged their extermination as a religious and civil
duty. With Luther, in spite of the sturdy common sense he manifested in
some directions, belief in the activity of Satan amounted to an
obsession. He saw Satan everywhere in everything. The devil appeared to
him while writing, disturbed his rest by the rattling of pans, and
prevented his pursuing his studies by hammering on his skull. When a
storm arose, Luther declared, "'Tis the devil who has done this; the
winds are nothing else but good or bad spirits." Suicides, he said, were
often those strangled by the devil. Moreover, "The devil can so
completely assume the human form when he wants to deceive us, that we
may very well lie with what seems to be a woman of real flesh and blood,
and yet all the while 'tis only the devil in the shape of a woman." The
devil could also become the father of children. Luther says that he knew
of one such case, and added, "I would have that child thrown into the
Moldau at the risk of being held its murderer."[192]

In America, Protestantism manifested the same influence. Of course, the
settlers took the superstition of witchcraft with them, but it underwent
no diminution in a new land. Increase Mather and his celebrated son,
Cotton Mather, were the principal agents in stirring up the belief to
frenzy point, and a commission was appointed to rout out witches and
suppress their practices. There was soon a plentiful supply of victims.
One woman was charged with "giving a look towards the great
meeting-house of Salem, and immediately a demon entered the house and
tore down part of it." It seems that a bit of the wooden wainscotting
had fallen down. In the case of Giles Corey, who refused to plead
guilty, torture was used. He was pressed to death, and when his tongue
protruded from his mouth the sheriff thrust it back with his
walking-stick. Many people were executed, and the ministers of Boston
and Charlestown drew up an address warmly thanking the commission for
its zeal, and expressing the hope that it would never be relaxed.

Certainly the commission did what it could to earn the thanks given. A
shipmaster making for Maryland with emigrants encountered unusually
rough weather. An old woman, one Mary Lee, was accused of raising the
storm, and drowned as a witch. A woman walked a long distance over muddy
roads without soiling her dress. "I scorn to be drabbled," she said, and
was hanged as a reward. George Burroughs could lift a barrel by
inserting his finger in the bunghole. He was hanged for a wizard.
Bridget Bishop was charged with appearing before John Louder at midnight
and grievously oppressing him. Louder's evidence against the woman also
included the fact that he saw a black pig approach his door, and when he
went to kick it the pig vanished. He was also tempted by a black thing
with the body of a monkey, the feet of a cock, and the face of a man. On
going out of his back door he saw the said Bridget Bishop going towards
her house. The evidence was deemed quite conclusive. Another witness
said that being in bed on the Lord's Day, he saw a woman, Susanna
Martin, come in at the window and jump down on the floor. She took hold
of the witness's foot, and drawing his body into a heap, lay upon him
for nearly two hours, so that he could neither move nor hear. In most of
these cases torture was applied, and confessions were obtained. These
confessions often implicated others, but when the witches took to
accusing those in high places, and even ministers of religion, the need
for discrimination was realised. Once a critical judgment was aroused,
the mania began to subside--Cotton Mather fighting manfully for the
belief to the end.

The impetus given by Protestantism to witch-hunting in Scotland was most
marked. Scotch witchcraft, says Lecky, was the offspring of Scotch
Puritanism, and faithfully reflected the character of its parent. The
clergy nowhere possessed greater power, and nowhere used it more
assiduously to fan the flame against witchcraft. Buckle says:--

"Of all the means of intimidation employed by the Scotch clergy, none
was more efficacious than the doctrines they propounded respecting evil
spirits and future punishments. On these subjects they constantly
uttered the most appalling threats. The language which they used was
calculated to madden men with fear, and to drive them to the depths of
despair.... It was generally believed that the world was overrun by evil
spirits, who not only went up and down the earth, but also lived in the
air, and whose business it was to tempt mankind. Their number was
infinite, and they were to be found in all places, and in all seasons.
At their head was Satan himself, whose delight it was to appear in
person, ensnaring or terrifying everyone he met. With this object he
assumed various forms. One day he would visit the earth as a black dog;
another day, as a raven; on another, he would be heard in the distance
roaring like a bull. He appeared sometimes as a white man in black
clothes, and sometimes he appeared as a black man in black clothes, when
it was remarked that his voice was ghostly, and that one of his feet was
cloven. His stratagems were endless. For, in the opinion of divines, his
cunning increased with his age, and, having been studying for more than
5000 years, he had now attained to unexampled dexterity."[193]

Witchcraft was declared by the Scotch Parliament in 1563 to be
punishable by death. And, naturally, the more zealous and active the
search for witches, the more numerous they became. In the search the
clergy and the kirk-sessions led the way. In 1587 the General Assembly,
having before them a case of witchcraft in which the evidence was
insufficient, deputed James Melville to travel on the coast side and
collect evidence in favour of the prosecution. It also ordered that the
presbyteries should proceed in all severity against such magistrates as
liberated convicted witches. As in England so here, a body of men came
into existence whose business it was to travel the country and detect
witches. Anonymous accusations were invited, the clergy "placing an
empty box in church, to receive a billet with the sorcerer's name, and
the date and description of his deeds."[194] In 1603 "at the College of
Auld Abirdene" every minister was ordered to make "subtill and privie
inquisition," concerning the number of witches in his parish, and report
the same forthwith. Nothing that could whet the appetite for the hunt
was neglected. William Johnston, baron, bailie "of the regalitie and
barronie of Broughton," was awarded the goods of all who should be
"lawfullie convict be assyses of notorious and common witches, haunting
and resorting devilles and witches."[195] The lives of thousands of
people were rendered unbearable, and the complaint of one, Margaret
Miall, that "she desyres not to live, because nobody will converse with
her, seeing she is under the reputation of a witch," must have
represented the feelings of many.

It was not only for working ill that people were accused of witchcraft
and executed; ill or well made little difference. In Edinburgh in 1623
it was charged against Thomas Grieve that he had relieved many
sicknesses and grievous diseases by sorcery and witchcraft. "He took
sickness off a woman in Fife, and put it upon a cow, which thereafter
ran mad and died." He also cured a child of a disease "by straiking back
the hair of his head, and wrapping him in an anointed cloth, and by that
means putting him asleep," and thus through his devilry and witchcraft,
cured the child. Other charges of a similar kind were brought against
Grieve, who was found guilty and hanged on the Castle Hill.[196] At the
same place, a year previous, Margaret Wallace was also sentenced to be
hanged and burned, on the same kind of charge, and for "practising
devilry, incantation, and witchcraft, especially forbidden by the laws
of Almighty God, and the municipal laws of this realm."

The following bill of costs for burning two women, Jane Wischert and
Isabel Cocker, in Aberdeen, has a certain melancholy interest:--

                                              £  _s._ _d._

  Item for 20 loads of Peatts to burn them    2    0   0
    "  for ane boll of colles                 1    4   0
    "  for four tar barrells                  0    6   8
    "  for fir and win barrells               0   16   8
    "  for a staick and the dressing of it    0   16   0
    "  for four fathoms of towis              4    0   0
    "  to Jon Justice for their execution     0   13   4

In England, no less than in Scotland, America, and on the Continent,
much learned testimony might be cited in defence of witchcraft. The
great Sir Thomas Browne said in the most famous of his writings: "For my
part I have ever believed, and do now know, that there are witches. They
that doubt of these do not only deny them, but spirits; and are
obliquely and upon consequence, a sort, not of infidels, but
atheists."[197] Henry More, the great Platonist, asserted that they who
deny the agency of witches are "puffed up with nothing but ignorance,
vanity, and stupid infidelity." Ralph Cudworth, one of the greatest
scholars of the latter part of the seventeenth century, said that they
who denied the possibility of satanic intercourse "can hardly escape the
suspicion of some hankering towards atheism."[198] Writing nearly a
century later, when the English law merely prosecuted as rogues and
vagabonds those who pretended to witchcraft, Blackstone thought it
necessary to point out that this alteration did not deny the possibility
of the offence, and added:--

"To deny this would be to contradict the revealed word of God in various
passages both of the Old and New Testaments; and the thing itself is a
truth in which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne
testimony; either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory
laws which at least suppose the possibility of a commerce with evil

About the same time Wesley gave the world his famous declaration on the

"It is true likewise that the English in general, and indeed most of the
men of learning in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and
apparitions as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it, and I
willingly take this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against
this violent compliment which so many who believe the Bible pay to those
who do not believe it. I owe them no such service. I take knowledge
that these are at the bottom of the outcry which has been raised and
with such insolence spread through the land in direct opposition, not
only to the Bible, but to the suffrage of the wisest and best of men in
all ages and nations. They well know (whether Christians know it or not)
that the giving up of witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible."[200]

The evidence upon which the convictions for witchcraft rested were
almost incredibly stupid, as the punishments were almost unbelievably
brutal. If the crops failed, or the milk turned sour; if the head of a
local magnate ached, or a minister of the gospel fell sick; if a woman
was childless, or a child taken with a fit; if a cow sickened, or sheep
died suddenly, some poor woman was pretty certain to be seized, and
tortured until she confessed her alleged crime. A mole or wart on any
part of the body was a sure sign of commerce with the devil. It was
believed that on the body of every witch was a spot insensible to pain.
To discover this she was stripped, pins were run into the body, and when
excess of pain had produced numbness, some such spot was pretty certain
to be found. Men regularly took up with this work in both England and
Scotland, and their fame as 'prickers' depended upon the number of
witches they unearthed. If a suspected witch kept a black cat, did not
shed tears, or could not repeat the Lord's Prayer correctly, these were
pretty sure signs of guilt. A more serious test was the ordeal by water.
This was a favourite and general test, and was highly recommended by
that learned fool, James the First. In this the right hand was tied to
the left foot, the left hand to the right foot. She was then thrown
into a pond. If she floated she was a witch, and was either hanged or
burned. If she sank, she was innocent--and was drowned. Another test was
to tie a woman's legs across, and she was so seated on them that they
bore the entire weight of her body. In this position she was kept for
hours, and on the first sign of pain condemned as a witch.

If none of these tests were adopted, torture was used. There was the
boot--a frame of iron or wood in which the leg was placed and wedges
driven in until the limb was smashed. A variation of this was to place
the leg in an iron boot and slowly heat it over a fire. There was the
thumbscrew, an instrument which smashed the thumb to pulp by the turning
of a screw. More barbarous still was the bridle. This was an iron hoop
passing over the head, with four prongs, two pointing to the tongue and
palate, and one to either cheek. The suspected witch was then chained to
the wall, and watchers appointed to prevent her sleeping. The slightest
movement caused the greatest torture, and in the vast majority of cases
a confession was secured. In obstinate cases pressing between heavy
stones was adopted.

One of the most famous of these witch-finders was the celebrated Mathew
Hopkins before referred to. He was appointed to the work by Parliament
during the time of the Commonwealth, and styled himself 'witch-finder
general.' Hopkins travelled round the country, much like an assize
judge, putting up at the principal inns, and at the expense of the local
authorities. His charge was twenty shillings a visit, whether he found
witches or not. If he discovered any, there was a further charge of
twenty shillings for every witch brought to execution. His favourite
method of detection was that of floating. But another of Hopkins's tests
was the following: The suspected witch was placed cross-legged on a
stool in the centre of the room. She was closely watched and kept
without food for four-and-twenty hours. Doors and windows remained open
to watch for the entrance of some of the devil's imps. These might come
in the form of a fly, a wasp, a moth, or some other insect. The work of
the watchers was to kill every insect that came into the room. But if
one escaped, it was clear proof that this was one of the witch's

Wherever Hopkins travelled numerous convictions followed. These were so
numerous that suspicion was aroused, not of the genuineness of the
convictions, but of Hopkins's knowledge concerning the locality of the
witches. In defence he published in 1647 a tract entitled "The Discovery
of Witches; in answer to several Queries lately delivered to the Judge
of Assize for the County of Norfolk; and now published by Mathew
Hopkins, Witchfinder, for the benefit of the whole Kingdom." The charge
against Hopkins was that he had been supplied by the devil with a
memorandum of all the witches, and so was able to find them where others
failed. Absurd as the charge was, it found credence, and although his
end is wrapped in obscurity, it is said that he was finally seized
himself on a charge of sorcery, tried by his own favourite water
test--and floated. One cannot but hope that tradition is in this case

It is difficult, nowadays, to realise the gravity with which these
trials were undertaken. An outline of a very famous witch trial, before
an eminent judge in the latter part of the seventeenth century, will
best serve as an illustration. Before me there lies a little tract of
some sixty pages, printed "for William Shrewsbury at the Bible in Duck
Lane," and bearing on the title page the following description:--

"At the Assizes and general gaol delivery, held at Bury St. Edmunds for
the County of Suffolk, the Tenth day of March, in the Sixteenth Year of
the Reign of our Sovereign, Lord King Charles II., before Mathew Hale,
Knight, Lord Chief Baron of His Majesties Court of Exchequer; Rose
Callender and Amy Duny, Widows, both of Leystoff, in the county
aforesaid, were severally indicted for bewitching Elizabeth and Anne
Durent, Jane Bocking, Susan Chandler, William Durent, Elizabeth and
Deborah Pacy and the said Callender and Duny, being arrainged upon the
same indictments, pleaded not guilty; and afterwards upon a long
evidence, were found guilty, and thereupon had judgment to dye for the

Both the women charged were old. The charges were as follows: The mother
of the infant, William Durent, sworn and examined in open court, deposed
that about the 10th of March, having special occasion to go from home,
left her child in the care of Amy Duny, giving her special occasion not
to give her child the breast. Nevertheless, Amy Duny did acquaint her
mother on her return that she had given the child the breast, and on
being reprimanded "used many high expressions and threatening speeches
towards her; telling her that she had as good have done otherwise than
to have found fault with her ... and that very night her son fell into
strange fits of swounding ... and so continued for several weeks." Much
troubled, the mother consulted a Dr. Jacob, of Yarmouth, who advised
her to hang up the child's blanket, at night to wrap the child in it,
and if she found anything therein to throw it in the fire. A very large
toad was found, which on being put in the fire "made a great and
horrible noise, and after a space there was a flashing in the fire like
gunpowder ... and thereupon the toad was no more seen or heard." More
wonderful still, "the next day there came a young woman and told this
deponnent that her aunt (meaning the said Amy) was in a most lamentable
condition, having her face all scorched with fire." And on the mother
enquiring of Amy Duny how this had happened, Amy replied, "she might
thank her for it, for that she was the cause thereof, but that she
should live to see some of her children dead, or else upon crutches." It
was further alleged "that not long after this deponnent was taken with
lameness in both her legges, from the knees downwards, and that she was
fain to go upon crutches ... and so continued till the time of the
Assizes, that the witch came to be tried."

Concerning the bewitching of Elizabeth and Deborah Pacy, aged eleven and
nine, their father declared that Deborah was suddenly taken with
lameness. One day while the girl was resting outside the house, "Amy
Duny came to the deponnent's house to buy some herrings; but, being
denied, she went away discontented.... But at the very same instant of
time, the said child was taken with most violent fits, feeling extreme
pain in her stomach, like the pricking of pins, and shrieking out in a
dreadful manner like unto a whelp." As the result of this and other
ailments from which the child suffered, the father accused Amy Duny of
being a witch, and she was placed in the stocks. Being placed in the
stocks, further threats were uttered, and both children were afflicted
with fits. Upon recovery they "would cough extremely, and bring up much
phlegm and crooked pins, and one time a twopenny nail with a very broad
head; which pins (amounting to forty or more), together with the
twopenny nail, were produced in court, with the affirmation of the said
deponnent that he was present when the said nail was vomited up, and
also most of the pins.... In this manner the said children continued for
the space of two months, during which time, in their intervals, this
deponnent would cause them to read some chapters from the New Testament.
Whereupon he observed that they would read till they came to the name of
Lord or Jesus or Christ, and then, before they could pronounce either of
the said words, they would suddenly fall into their fits. But when they
came to the name of Satan or Devil, they would clap their fingers upon
the book, crying out, 'This bites, but makes me speak right well!'"

Much more evidence of a similar kind was offered during the course of
the trial, with details of a too indelicate character for reproduction
concerning the search made on the women's bodies for devil's marks.
During the whole of the trial there were present in court a number of
distinguished people, amongst them Sir Thomas Browne. The latter, being
"desired to give his opinion, what he did conceive of him; was clearly
of opinion that the persons were bewitched, and said that in Denmark
there had lately been a great discovery of witches, who used the very
same way of afflicting persons, by conveying pins into them, and crooked
as these pins were, with needles and nails. And his opinion was that
the devil in such cases did work upon the bodies of men and women as on
a natural foundation, to stir up and excite such humours superabounding
in their bodies to a great excess, whereby he did in an extraordinary
manner afflict them with such distempers as their bodies were most
subject to, as particularly appeared in these children."

Sir Mathew Hale, one of the greatest lawyers of his day, in directing
the jury, told them "he would not repeat the evidence unto them, lest by
so doing he should wrong the evidence one way or the other. Only this
acquainted them. First, whether or no these children were bewitched?
Secondly, whether the prisoners at the bar were guilty of it? That there
were such creatures he made no doubt at all. For, first, the Scriptures
had affirmed as much. Secondly, the wisdom of all nations had provided
laws against such persons, which is an argument of their confidence of
such a crime. And such had been the judgment of this kingdom, as appears
by that Act of Parliament which had provided punishments proportionable
to the quality of the offence. And desired them strictly to observe
their evidence, and desired the great God of Heaven to direct their
hearts in this weighty thing they had in hand; for to condemn the
innocent and let the guilty go free were both an abomination before the
Lord." The jury took no more than half an hour to consider their
verdict, and brought in both women guilty upon all counts. The judge
expressed his complete satisfaction with the verdict, and sentenced them
to be hanged--a sentence duly carried out a fortnight later.

This is the last notable trial in English history. A witch was burned
later than the date of this trial, and the last one actually condemned
was in 1712. But in this case, on the representation of the judge who
tried the issue, the verdict was formally set aside. By that time people
were beginning to realise the wisdom of Montaigne's counsel, written at
the commencement of the witch epidemic:--

"How much more natural and more likely do I find it that two men should
lie than one in twelve hours should pass with the winds from east to
west? How much more natural that our understanding may, by the
volubility of our loose, capering mind, be transported from its place
than one of us should, flesh and bones as we are, by a strange spirit be
carried upon a broom through a tunnel or a chimney."

In England the Witch Act of 1604 was not formally repealed until 1736.
In Scotland the last witch legally executed was in 1722. Captain Ross,
Sheriff of Sutherland, has the doubtful honour of having condemned her
to the stake. But fifty years later than this--1773--the Associated
Presbytery passed a resolution deploring the fact that witchcraft was
falling into disrepute. In Germany the last witch was executed in 1749,
by decapitation. The last trial for witchcraft in Massachusetts was as
late as 1793. These dates refer, of course, to legal proceedings.
Examples of the existence of this belief are continually being recorded
in newspapers, although they now only rank as solitary reminiscences of
one of the most degrading and brutalising beliefs that European history

I have not aimed at giving a history of the witch mania--indeed, a
scientific history of witchcraft, one that will make plain the nature of
the various factors involved, has yet to be written. I have only dwelt
upon it for the purpose of enforcing the lesson of how materially such
an epidemic must have contributed to give permanence to religious belief
in general. It is certain that such an epidemic could not occur save in
a society saturated with supernaturalism. It is equally certain that
once such an epidemic occurs it must in turn strengthen the tendency
towards supernaturalistic beliefs. Thanks to the long reign of the
religious idea, and to the overwhelming influence of the Church, the
people of Europe were prepared for such an outbreak. And it should be
clear that the prevalence of such beliefs, even though they may be
afterwards discarded, favours the perpetuation of religious belief as a
whole. The particular form of a belief that is prevalent for a time may
disappear, but the temper of mind induced by its reign remains. And
absurd as the belief in witches capering through the air on broomsticks,
changing themselves into black cats, raising storms, and causing
sickness--absurd though all this may be, it yet serves to keep alive the
temper of mind on which supernaturalism lives.


[187] Cited by Bloch, _Sexual Life of our Time_, p. 120. Michelet has
also dealt with this matter in his vivid and picturesque work, _The

[188] A lengthy account of this work is given by Ennemoser in his
_History of Magic_, vol. ii.

[189] _Rise and Influence of Rationalism_, i. pp. 3-6.

[190] H. Williams, _The Superstitions of Witchcraft_, p. 214.

[191] T. Wright, _Narratives of Sorcery and Magic_.

[192] Michelet, _Life of Luther_, chap. vi.

[193] _History of Civilisation_, chap. xix.

[194] Dalyell, _Darker Superstitions of Scotland_, p. 623.

[195] Dalyell, p. 628.

[196] Pitcairn's _Criminal Trials_, vol. iii.

[197] _Religio Medici_, pt. i. sec. 30.

[198] _True Intellectual System_, ii. p. 650.

[199] _Commentaries_, Stephen's Edition, i. p. 238.

[200] _Journal_, 1768.



The study of religion falls naturally and easily into two parts. The
first is a question of origin. Under what conditions did the hypothesis
that supernatural beings control the life of man come into existence? We
know that in civilised times religious beliefs are in the nature of an
inheritance. A member of any civilised society finds them here when he
is born, he grows up with them, generally accepting them without
question, or effecting certain modifications in the form in which he
continues to hold them. If we treat religion as a hypothesis, advanced
as other hypotheses are advanced, to account for a certain class of
facts, then we can safely say that religion is one of the earliest in
the history of human thought. And its antiquity and universality
preclude us from seeking an explanation of its origin in the mental life
of civilised humanity. Whether the religious hypothesis can or cannot be
justified by an appeal to civilised intelligence, it is plain it did not
begin there. Its beginnings are earlier than any existing civilisation;
and in its most general form may be said to be as old as mankind itself.
Consequently, if any satisfactory explanation of the origin of the
religious idea is to be found, it must be sought amid the very earliest
conditions of human society.

Now whatever the differences of opinion concerning matters of detail,
there is substantial agreement amongst European anthropologists upon one
important point. They all agree that the conception of supernatural, or
'spiritual,' beings owes its beginning to the ignorance of primitive man
concerning both his own nature and the nature of the world around him.
The beginnings of human experience suggest questions that can only be
satisfactorily answered by the accumulated experience of many
generations. These questions do not materially differ from those that
face men to-day. The why and wherefore of things are always with us;
life propounds the same problem to all; it is the replies alone that
vary, and the nature of these replies is determined by the knowledge at
our disposal. The difference is not in nature but in man. The answers
given by primitive man to these eternal questions are a complete
inversion of those of his better informed descendants. The conception of
natural force, of mechanical necessity, is as yet unborn, and the
primitive thinker everywhere assumes the operation of personal beings as
responsible for all that occurs. This is not so much the product of
careful and elaborate philosophising, it is closer akin to the _naive_
thinking of a child concerning a thunderstorm. Primitive thought accepts
the universal operation of living and intelligent forces as an
unquestionable fact. Modern thought tends more and more surely in the
direction of regarding the universe as a complex of self-adjusting,
non-conscious forces. Primitive thought assumes a supernatural agency as
the cause of disease, and seeks, logically, to placate it by prayer or
coerce it by magic. Modern thought turns to test-tube and microscope,
searches for the malignant germ, and manufactures an antitoxin. The
history of human thought is, as Huxley said, a record of the
substitution of mechanical for vitalistic processes. The beginning of
religion is found in connection with the latter. A genuine science
commences with the emergence of the former.

With this aspect of the matter I have not, however, been specially
concerned. It has been left on one side in order to concentrate
attention upon another and a more neglected aspect of the subject--that
of the conditions that have served to perpetuate the religious idea.
Grant, what cannot be well denied in the face of modern investigation,
that ideas of the supernatural began in primitive delusion. How comes it
that this idea has not by now disappeared from civilised society? What
are the causes that have given it such a lengthy lease of life?
Experience has shown that all really verifiable knowledge counts as an
asset of naturalism, and is so far opposed to supernaturalism. Moreover,
the history of science has been such that one feels justified in the
assumption that, given time and industry, there are no phenomena that
are not susceptible to a naturalistic explanation. Why, then, has not
supernaturalism died out? Even the religious idea cannot persist without
evidence of some kind being offered in its behalf. This evidence may be
to a better instructed mind inconclusive or irrelevant, but evidence of
some sort there must have been all along, and must still be. Granted
that the religious idea began with primitive mankind, granted also that
it was based on a mistaken interpretation of natural phenomena, these
reasons are quite insufficient to explain why thousands of generations
later that idea is still with us. "Our fathers have told us" offers to
the average mind a strong appeal, but surely the children will require
some further proof than this. What kind of evidence is it that
throughout the ages religious people have accepted as conclusive? A
study of primitive psychology shows clearly enough how the religious
idea vitalised the facts. What we next have to discern is the class of
facts that have kept the religious idea alive.

The foregoing pages constitute an attempt to answer this question. The
need for some such investigation was clearly shown by the publication of
the late Professor William James's _Varieties of Religious Experience_
and its reception by the religious press of the country as an
epoch-marking work. As a mere collection of documents, the work is
interesting enough. But its critical value is extremely small. How
religious visionaries have felt, or what has been their experiences, can
only furnish the mere data of an enquiry, and _their explanation of the
cause of their experiences is a part of the data_. This, apparently,
Professor James overlooked; and it will be noted by critical readers of
his book that it proceeds on the assumption that the statements of
religious visionaries are to be taken, not only as true concerning their
subjective experiences at a given time, but also as approximately true
as to the causes of their mental states. This, of course, by no means
follows. A scientific enquiry cannot separate mental conditions from the
subject's interpretation of their causation. Whether this interpretation
is genuine or not must be decided finally by an appeal to what is known
of the laws of mental life, under both normal and abnormal conditions.
If these are adequate to explain the "Varieties of Religious
Experience," there is no need whatever to assume the operation of a
supernatural agency. Nor does calling this agency 'transcendent' or
'supermundane' make any substantial difference. For, in this connection,
these are only names that serve to disguise a visitant of a highly
undesirable character.

The evidence on behalf of a naturalistic explanation of religious
phenomena has been purposely stated in a suggestive rather than in an
exhaustive manner. The main lines of evidence are threefold. First,
there is the indisputable fact that in the lower stages of culture all
mental and bodily diseases are universally attributed to spiritual
agency. This explanation holds the field; it is the only one possible at
the time, and it is not replaced until a comparatively late stage of
human history. But of special importance is the fact that a belief does
not die out suddenly. It is only destroyed very slowly, and even after
the facts upon which the belief was originally based have been otherwise
interpreted, the attitude of mind engendered by the long reign of a
belief remains. It has by that time become part of the intellectual
environment. Theories of a quasi-philosophic or quasi-scientific
character are elaborated, and give to the original belief something of a
rational air. Even to-day the extent to which superstitious practices
still gather round the subject of disease is known only to the curious
in such matters. Not that the original reason is given for the practice.
In nearly every case a different one is invented. To take only a single
example. We still find saffron tea largely used in cases of measles. All
medical men are aware that it possesses not the slightest curative
value. Students of folklore are aware that it has its origin in the
theory of sympathetic cures. Its redeeming feature is that it is
harmless; so we find it still in common use, and the recovery of a child
from measles is often enough attributed to the potency of the
concoction. So with the relation of disease to the persistence of the
belief in the supernatural. The conclusion that disease--whether bodily
or mental--is due to the agency of spirits is one that follows from the
existence of the religious idea; but in turn the observed facts react
and strengthen the religious belief. Every case of disease becomes to
the primitive mind an unanswerable proof in favour of the original
hypothesis. The disease is there, and the only explanation possible is
in terms of the animistic idea. And all the time the religious idea is
becoming more deeply embedded in the social consciousness, more firmly
established as a social fact.

The next line of evidence is that furnished by what I have called the
culture of the supernatural. By some means or other--probably by
accident in the first instance--it is discovered that certain herbs and
vegetable drugs have a peculiar effect on one's mental state. Those who
use them see or hear things other people do not normally hear or see.
Abstention from food and other bodily privations produce similar
results. What is the inevitable conclusion? The only one possible under
the existing conditions is that communication has been set up with an
invisible world from which one is shut off under normal conditions. From
this to the next step is obvious and easy. If a drug, or a fast, brings
one into communication with the supernatural world, one has only to
repeat the conditions in order to repeat the experience. And repeated
they are in all religions, with, at most, those modifications induced by
changed times and circumstances. This is why fasting and other forms of
'fleshly mortification' play so large a part in the history of religion.
The savage medicine man, the Hindu fakir, the medieval saint, all create
their ecstasies by the simple plan of disturbing the normal operations
of the nervous system. It is not, of course, implied that this is done
with a full consciousness of all that is involved in the practice. The
derangement is to them the condition of the supernatural manifestation,
not the physiological and psychological cause of the experience.

The third main line of evidence is connected with the phenomena of
sexuality. It has been shown that in early stages of culture man
everywhere connects the phenomena of the sexual life with the activity
of supernatural forces. Following the lines of investigation indicated
by Mr. Sidney Hartland, we saw reason to believe that the primitive
conception of procreation is not that afterwards prevalent, but that of
assuming the birth of a child to be due to the direct action of
spiritual beings on the mother. Proofs of this are found in existing
beliefs among primitive peoples, in the magical practices so widely
current to obtain children, and in numerous other customs connected with
childbirth. The phenomenon of puberty in the male and of menstruation in
the female gives a terrifying reality to this belief. But still more
important is the fact that a great deal of assumed religious feeling is
found on analysis to be little more than masked sexuality. The
connection between eroticism and piety has been noted over and over
again by medical observers in the cases that have been brought
professionally under their notice. And it is hardly less marked in a
large number of instances that are usually classed as normal. Thus great
religious teachers have often emphasised the value of a celibate life as
a means of furthering religious devotion, and nearly all have treated it
with marked respect. The reason given for this is that marriage involves
a greater absorption in material or worldly cares, while celibacy
leaves one free to full devotion to the spiritual. But the bottom reason
for it is that sexual and domestic feelings, lacking their proper outlet
in marriage and family life, run with greater force in the outlet
provided by religion. So it happens that we find unmarried men and
women, devoted to the religious life, expressing themselves towards
Jesus or the Virgin in language which, separated from its religious
associations, leaves no doubt as to its origin in unsatisfied sexual
feeling. In these cases we are dealing with a perversion of one of the
deepest of human instincts. And it is one of the commonest of
observations in psychology that when a feeling is denied outlet through
its proper channel it finds vent in some other direction, and is to that
extent masked or disguised.

Allied to the fact of perversion is that of misinterpretation. In the
chapter on _Conversion_ we have seen how largely this occurs at the
period of adolescence. The significant features of adolescence are a
development of the sexual nature and an awakening of a consciousness of
race kinship. Connected with these, and flowing from them, is a more or
less rapid development of what are called the altruistic feelings, the
individual becoming less self-centred and more concerned for the
well-being of others. From an evolutionary point it is easy to read the
fundamental meaning of these transformations, although in the course of
social development they have become overlaid with a number of secondary
characteristics. Still, in a completely rationalised social life, with
adequate knowledge concerning the nature of adolescence, every care
would be taken to direct these developing energies into purely social
channels. Adolescence is the great formative period; it is then that
imitation and suggestion play their most important parts, and it is then
that the foundations may be laid of a really good and useful
citizenship. If we fail then, we fail completely.

In a society where supernaturalism still exerts considerable power
another, and a more disastrous, policy is pursued. Every endeavour is
made by religious organisations to exploit adolescence in their own
interest. Thousands of priests, often, no doubt, with the best of
motives, are engaged in impressing upon the youthful mind an entirely
erroneous notion of the character and the direction of the feelings
experienced. The sense of restlessness, consequent upon a period of
great physiological disturbance, is utilised to create an unhealthy
'conviction of sin,' or the need of 'getting right with God.' Social
duties and obligations are made incidental rather than fundamental.
Activities that should be consciously directed to a social end are
diverted into religious channels, and one consequence of this, as we
have seen, is a large crop of nervous disorders that might be avoided
were a healthier outlet provided. In this the modern priest is acting
precisely as his savage forerunner acted. As the savage medicine man
associates sexual phenomena with the activity of the tribal ghosts, so
the modern priest often associates the psychological conditions that
accompany adolescence with a supernatural influence. The distinction
between the two is a purely verbal one. In neither case is there a
recognition of the nature of the processes actually at work; in both
cases the phenomena are used to emphasise the reality and activity of
the supernatural. In both cases the social feelings are disguised by
the religious interpretation given, with the result that instead of
adolescence being, as it should be, the period of a conscious entry into
the larger social life, it only too often marks the beginning of a
lifelong servitude to retrogressive forces.

These are the main lines along which, I conceive, the study of the
pathologic elements that enter into the history of religion must be
studied. And so long as we restrict our study to the lower culture
stages the evidence is clear and unmistakable. It is when we reach the
higher stages of civilisation that the problem becomes more difficult.
For although it is possible to detect the same factors at work they are
expressed in a different way, and affiliated to current philosophic and
even scientific ideas. Thus, it would be readily admitted by most people
nowadays that visions seen by a fasting man, or by a taker of drugs, or
by one suffering from some nervous disorder, were wholly inadmissible as
evidence. So far we have advanced beyond the point of view of primitive
races. But the testimony of one who by constantly dwelling upon a single
idea, and by excluding rational and corrective influences, has brought
about a quite abnormal state of mind, is still counted of value by
theologians. Much of the current cant concerning 'mysticism' may be
cited in illustration of this. Exactly what mysticism is no one appears
to know. Definitions are numerous and varied. So far as most mystics are
concerned the definition of Harnack--"Mysticism is rationalism applied
to a sphere beyond reason"--appears to hit the mark, although how reason
can be used in a sphere to which it does not apply is precisely one of
those unintelligible statements that so delights those with yearnings
after the ineffable. The normal mind will probably find more
satisfaction in John Stuart Mill's description of mysticism as being
"neither more nor less than ascribing objective existence to the
subjective creations of the mind, and believing that by watching and
contemplating these ideas of its own making, it can read what takes
place in the world without."

But the general claim of 'mystics,' and, indeed, of supernaturalists
generally, is that they are, in virtue of the exercise of certain
qualities or 'faculties,' either inoperative at certain times, or absent
in the case of normal folk, able to perceive a truth not perceptible to
people less fortunately endowed. And these claims, I have no hesitation
in saying, are wholly false. There are all degrees of development of
human faculty, but it is substantially the same with all. There is no
royal road to truth in this direction more than in others. Truth is
reached in the same way by all, and although an induction may in the
case of certain well-dowered individuals be so rapid as to rank as an
'intuition,' a careful analysis destroys the illusion.

When we clear away from the claims of the 'mystic' all the superfluities
of language that are there, and so reduce these claims to their lowest
and plainest terms, we find ourselves face to face with the claim of the
supernaturalist as it has existed from savage times onward. The method
remains true to itself. In the first instance, we have the claim to
illumination based upon direct interference with the normal workings of
the mind. In the next stage, we find this interference still marked, but
less direct. Finally, we have the unhealthy operation of fixed ideas,
and the exclusion of all conditions that would prevent the operation of
hallucination or illusion. But the method remains the same throughout,
and it is equally sterile throughout. In all history these mystical
states of illumination have discovered no verifiable truth; they have
never at any time advanced human knowledge in the smallest degree. And
the reason for this is plain: The brain of the mystic, like that of the
non-mystic, can only work on the basis of its acquired knowledge or
experience. It can create nothing new; it can declare no truth that is
not in the nature of an induction from existing knowledge. All that the
religious mystic can accomplish after brooding upon inherited religious
beliefs is to create new combinations, or effect certain modifications
or developments of them, and by continued contemplation endow his
subjective creations with an objective existence. That is why the
Christian mystic remains a Christian. The Mohammedan mystic remains a
Mohammedan. The 'supersensible reality' is always of the kind consonant
with their inherited beliefs and their social environment. That is also
why mysticism has its fashions like all other forms of religious
extravagance. And as he is "applying rationalism to a sphere above
reason," the mystic may give full vent to his imaginative powers. That
which is above reason may defy reasonable disproof. To some, however, it
has the disadvantage of not admitting of reasonable verification. There
is nothing here but the primitive delusion operating under changed

In addition, to the lines of investigation followed in the foregoing
pages, a great deal might be said as to how far the religious idea has
been perpetuated by an exploitation of purely social qualities. It must
be obvious to even the cursory student that a great deal of what is now
being put forward as religious is really no more than a sociology with a
religious label. The feeling for truth, beauty, justice, the desire for
social intercourse, are all treated as expressions of religious
conviction. All sorts of social reforms are urged in the name of
religion, and the degree of success achieved dwelt upon as fruits of the
religious spirit. But in no legitimate sense of the word can these
things be called religious. They may or may not be consonant with the
existing religion, but in themselves they are very clearly the outcome
of man's social nature, and would exist even though religion disappeared
entirely. The appeals made to man's moral sense, to his sense of
justice, to his sympathies, are thus fundamentally appeals made to his
social nature, and so far as the religious appeal is placed upon this
basis it becomes an exploitation of the social consciousness.
Unfortunately, the long association of religious forms with social life
and institutions, due ultimately to the immense power of supernaturalism
in early society, this, combined with early education, makes it a matter
of no small difficulty for the average man or woman to separate the two

Finally, let us imagine for a moment that the course of human history
had been different to what it actually has been. Suppose that by some
miracle humanity had started its career in full possession of that
knowledge of nature which has been so laboriously accumulated. In that
case, would the belief in the supernatural have ever existed? Would the
thousand and one 'spiritual beings' of primitive society have ever had
being? And if not called into being then, from what other source could
they have been derived? Is there anything in later scientific knowledge
that would ever have suggested the supernatural? We know there is not;
we know that the whole of modern science is an emphatic protest against
its existence. Unfortunately the scientist does not come first, but
last; and by the time he appears, the supernatural has made good its
foothold; it has permeated human institutions, and has bitten so deeply
into habits of thought as to make its eradication the most difficult of
all tasks.

Let us carry our imagining yet a step further. Imagine that even after
primitive ignorance had created the supernatural, it had come to an
abrupt stop when man had emerged from the purely savage stage. Suppose a
generation born, not without knowledge of what their progenitors
believed, but with a sufficient knowledge of their own to correct their
ancestor's errors. Suppose that generation in a position to recognise
disease, insanity, delusion, hysteria, hallucination for what they are.
Assume them to be under no delusion concerning the nature of man,
physically or mentally. Would the religious idea have persisted in the
way that it has done? Granted religion would still have continued to
exist as an ultimate philosophy of nature that appealed to some minds,
as other systems of philosophy number their disciples, would it have
been the dominating power it has been? What under such conditions would
have become of that evidence for the supernatural, accepted generation
after generation, but which is now rejected by all educated minds? Where
would have been that long array of seers, prophets, illuminants, whose
credentials have been found in states of mind that are now seen to have
been pathological in character? For remember it was not always--very
seldom, in fact--the justice, or the reasonableness of the teachings set
forth, that won support, but generally the 'signs and wonders' that were
pointed to as evidence of the divine commission of the teachers. Assume,
then, that these 'signs and wonders' had been wanting, and that for
thousands of years people had looked at natural phenomena from the point
of view of the educated mind of to-day, what would have been the present
position of the religious idea? Would it not have been like a tree
divorced from the soil?

Well, we know that the course of history has been far different from
what I have assumed to be the case. We know that the savage dies out
very slowly, and that even in civilised States to-day he is honoured in
the existence of a whole army of representatives. Each generation moves
along the road marked out by its predecessors, and broadens or lengthens
it to but a small extent. For many, many generations people went on
adopting the conclusions of the savage concerning man and the universe,
and finding proofs of the soundness of those conclusions in exactly the
same kind of experiences. The beliefs thus engendered were wild and
absurd--admittedly so, and many of such a nature that educated people
are now ashamed of them. But such as they were, they served the purpose
of perpetuating the belief in the supernatural, and so served to
strengthen the general religious idea. Of that there can be no
reasonable doubt. For the influence of beliefs that have been long held
does not end with the intellectual perception of their falsity. A belief
such as witchcraft dies out, but by that time it has done its work in
familiarising the general mind with the reality of the supernatural, and
so prepares the ground for other harvests. These long centuries of
superstitious beliefs have left behind in society a psychological
residuum that is at all times an obstacle and is sometimes fatal to
scientific thinking. We are like men who have obtained freedom after
almost a lifetime of slavery. We may be no longer in any real danger of
the lash, but fear of the whip has become part of our nature, and we
shrink without cause. So with all those now admitted delusions that have
been described in the foregoing pages, and which for generations were
asserted without question. They bit deeply in to social institutions;
the temper of mind they induced became part of our social heritage. They
perpetuated the long reign of supernaturalism, and still interpose a
serious obstacle to sane and helpful conceptions of man and the


Adolescence and Religion, 177-8, 181, 276-7.

Adolescence and Primitive Customs, 178.

Adolescence and Nervous Disorders, 196-7.

Adolescence, Social Significance of, 183-5.

Agapæ, 152.

Asceticism, 121, 125, 146, 208-13.

Asceticism and Purity, 213.

Asceticism, Influence on Religion, 224-5.

Augustine, 157.

Authority, Conflict with Science, viii.

Baring-Gould, S., 147, 153, 209.

Baring-Gould, S., on Mysticism and Sexualism, 125, 151.

Brinton, D. G., on Origin of Religion, 14.

Bryce, J., 232.

Buckle, T. H., 256.

Catherine of Sienna, 85, 129.

Celibacy, 214-5.

Celibacy, Results on Morals, 220-3.

Celibacy, Social Consequences of, 216-9, 220-3.

Clouston, Sir T. S., on Revivals, 195.

Clouston, Sir T. S., on the Connection between Sexualism and Religion,

Conversion, Pathological Nature of, 194.

Conversion and Adolescence, 32, 176-7, 276.

Conversion, Theological Notions of, 169-71.

Conversion, Ages of Converts, 174-5, 194-5.

Conversion, Statistics of, 173-5.

Conversion and Imitation, 188.

Conversion, Social Aspects of, 200.

Convulsionnaires (The), 239.

Crowd Psychology, 206.

Crusades, Character of, 227-9.

Crusades, Children's, 230.

Crusades, Consequences of, 232-3.

Cudworth, R., 259.

Dalyell, J. G., 257.

Dancing and Religious Ecstasy, 60-1.

Dancing Epidemics, 236-40.

Death, Savage Ideas of, 44.

Demoniacs, 77.

Disease, Theory of, amongst Primitive Peoples, 46.

Disease, Theory of, amongst the Early Christians, 47.

D'Israeli, I., on Sexualism and Religion, 17, 135.

Draper, J. W., 231.

Drugs, their use in the history of Religion, 57.

Environment, 36, 38.

Environment, Nature of Primitive, 39.

Epilepsy, Influence of, in fostering Supernaturalism, 74-9.

Epilepsy, Opinion of Dr. Hollander, 75.

Epilepsy, Opinion of Sir T. S. Clouston, 75.

Epilepsy, Opinion of Dr. C. Norman, 76.

Epilepsy, Opinion of Emanuel Deutsch, 77, 79.

Epilepsy in New Testament, 77.

Erotic Sects, 155-60, 165.

Eroticism and Supernaturalism, 126-8, 132, 136-9.

Evidence for the Supernatural, 2, 271.

Fasting, 61-5.

Flagellation, 234-5.

Forlong, Maj.-Gen., 109 _n._

Fox, George, Account of Visions, 82.

Frazer, J. G., 39, 46, 97, 99, 111.

Free Love--Religious, 150, 161-4.

Galton, Francis, on Religious and Morbid States, 86.

Galton, Francis, 219.

Gibbon, E., 227.

Gowers, Sir W. R., 197.

Granger, Prof., 84, 141-3.

Hallucinations, 23-4-5, 62, 84.

Hecker, J. F. C., 236-7.

Hopkins, Mathew, 261-2.

Human Qualities, Identity of, 6.

Interpretation, Growth of Scientific, xiii.

Ireland, Dr. W. W., on Hallucinations, 23-4.

James, W., 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 81, 83, 130, 131, 145, 175-6,

Kingsley, Mary, on Primitive Thought, 42.

Lea, H. C., 220-1.

Le Bon, Gustave, on Crowd Psychology, 206.

Lecky, W. E. H., 154, 212, 221.

Luther and Demonism, 25, 58, 82, 253.

Maudsley, H., on the Relation between Nervous States and Ecstasy, 66,
76, 133.

Medicine and the Church, 70-1.

Menstruation, 95-6-7-8.

Mental States, Reality of, xi, 7, 22.

Mercier, C., Connection between Sexualism and Religion, 124, 140-1, 187,

Milman, H. H., 219, 222-3, 225-6, 229, 232.

Mind, Theories of, x.

Mistletoe, Origin of Kissing under, 109 _n._

Mohammed, his Account of Inspiration, 78, 81.

Monasticism, 225.

Monasticism and the Family, 216-7, 219, 222-3.

Monasticism and Morals, 220.

Mysticism, 131, 279-80.

Mysticism and the Abnormal, 55.

Mysticism and Puberty, 186.

Mysticism, Definitions of, 278-9.

Mystics, Claims of, xi.

Opium, Effects of, 58.

Pathological States and Religious Belief, 5, 49.

Pathological Aspects of Revivals, 190-1-2-3, 201.

Pathology of Religion, Need of, 3.

Phallicism, 104-5-6-7-8-9.

Pike, L. O., on Character of Crusaders, 229.

Procreation, Primitive Beliefs concerning, 93-4.

Psychological Epidemics, 207.

Psychology, Normal and Abnormal, 3.

Psychology as a Social Force, 37-8.

Puberty, 180-6.

Puberty Customs, 62, 95, 96.

Religion, Definition of, 1.
  Association of, with Non-religious Forces, 4.
  and Intuition, 51.
  and Puberty, 180.
  and Dancing, 60-1-2.
  and Fasting, 63-4-5.
  and Environment, 199, 202.
  in Primitive Life, 40, 44-5-6, 53.
  its Connection with Pathological Conditions, 8, 14, 68-9, 70-1-2-3-4.

Religious Faculty, Fallacy of, 7, 19, 20.

Religious Idea and Modern Thought, vii.

Renan, E., 145.

Revivalistic Religion, 163, 172, 189, 190, 193, 201.

Russian Sects, 164-7.

Saints, Medical Uses of, 70.

Santa Teresa, 85.

Science, Function of, xi-xii.

Sexualism and Religious Belief, 9, 11-2, 89-90, 120, 121, 125-9, 145,

Sexualism and Religious Belief, Opinion of Dr. Norman, 122;
  of Dr. Forel, 123;
  of Dr. Mercier, 124;
  of Dr. Krafft-Ebing, 125;
  of Dr. Maudsley, 133-4.

Smith, W. R., on the Meaning of 'Unclean,' 101.

Sociability, Significance of, 35.

Social Life and Religious Theories, 13, 281.

Spencer, H., 37, 46.

Spiritual Wifehood, 148-9.

Spiritualism, 53-4.

Starbuck, E. D., on Conversion, 174, 200.

Sully, J., 20.

Supernaturalism, Causes of Persistence of, 271, 273, 277, 282.

Supernaturalism, Consequences of, 283-4.

Supernaturalism, Persistence of, 2.

Suso, Austerities of, 85.

Swedenborg, E., 80.

Symonds, J. A., Experience under Chloroform, 29.

Theologians, Attitude towards Science, ix.

Thomas, W. I., 182.

Tylor, E. B., 1, 49, 54, 55, 71, 182, 193.

Unclean, Religious Significance of, 100-1.

Whittaker, T., on the Effects of Opium, 58.

Williams, A., 250.

Witchcraft, 27, 243.
  Pathology of, 246-7.
  and Christian Church, 244.
  Bull of Innocent VIII., 248.
  Extent of Epidemic, 250.
  and Sir Thomas Browne, 265.
  and Montaigne, 267.
  and Sir M. Hale, 266.
  and John Wesley, 259.
  and Luther, 253.
  and Protestantism, 252-3.
  Scottish, 255-6-7-8, 267.
  American, 254-5.
  Children burned for, 251.
  Description of Trial, 263-6.
  Legislation in England, 253, 267.

Witches, Methods of Detection, 260-1.

Witches, Number killed, 250-1.

Woman, Christian Church and, 102.

Woman, why considered religiously unclean, 103.

Woman, a Source of Spiritual Infection, 99.

Woman, Influence of Religious Beliefs in determining her Social
Position, 102-3, 110-9.

Woman, Position among Primitive Peoples, 115.

Wright, T., 251.

[Transcriber's Note:

The following corrections were made:

p. 21: extra open quote removed (In what sense)

p. 24: Dr. W. H. Ireland to Dr. W. W. Ireland (as given by Dr. W. W.

p. 25: Nuremburg to Nuremberg (came from Nuremberg), to match cited text

p. 46: Crook to Crooke (says Mr. W. Crooke)

p. 46: Ahmadnager to Ahmadnagar (Mahadeo Kolis of Ahmadnagar)

p. 57: DeCandolle to De Candolle (says De Candolle)

p. 58 (Footnote 26): Pharmæcology to Pharmacology (Text-Book of

p. 70: Persel to Pernel (St. Pernel for agues), to match cited text

p. 75: everyone to every one (every one of the senses)

p. 76: Connolly to Conolly (Dr. Conolly Norman)

pp. 86 (Footnote 63), and 130 (Footnote 107): Joli to Joly (H. Joly)

p. 101 (Footnote 76): on to in (Studies in the Psychology of Sex)

p. 114: is to are (Nor are the substantial facts)

p. 123 (Footnote 96): Problem to Question (The Sexual Question)

pp. 125, 128 (Footnote 105), and 287 (Index): Kraft-Ebing to

p. 127: Loudon to Loudun (Convent of Ursulines of Loudun)

p. 127 (Footnote 104): of America to in North America (Jesuits in North

p. 128: Alacocque to Alacoque (The blessed Mary Alacoque)

p. 149 (Footnote 123): Life of St. Paul to Study of St. Paul

p. 166 (Footnote 140): Churches to Church (Heard's description, Russian

p. 178: tatooing to tattooing (tattooing forms part of the religious

p. 182 (Footnote 151): missing 4 added in 241 (pp. 241-48)

p. 209: Brahminism to Brahmanism (Brahmanism has its order of ascetics),
to match cited text

p. 209: missing close quote added (consecrated to Tezcatlipoca.")

p. 249 (Footnote 188): Enenmoser to Ennemoser (is given by Ennemoser)

p. 250 (Footnote 190): A. Williams, The Superstition of Witchcraft to H.
Williams, The Superstitions of Witchcraft

p. 251 (Footnote 191): History to Narratives (Narratives of Sorcery and

p. 255: Burroughes to Burroughs (George Burroughs)

pp. 263, 264: Tacy to Pacy (Elizabeth and Deborah Pacy)

p. 286 (Index): Ireland, Dr. W. H. to Ireland, Dr. W. W.

p. 286 (Index): Millman, H. H. to Milman, H. H.

Irregularities in hyphenation (e.g. supernormal vs. super-normal) and
misquotations have not been corrected. Unless it was found that the
error also occurred in the cited text, misspellings have been corrected.

Although Footnote 81 (originally on p. 104) refers to a "note at the end
of this chapter," the "NOTE TO PAGE 104" begins on p. 110, several pages
before the chapter ends. This has not been changed.

Footnotes markers have been changed from symbols (in the original) to

For the plain text versions, an oe-ligature has been changed to oe

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that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
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can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.