It is this custom of associating women and sexuality with the great principle of fertility and procreation, among ancient peoples, which led to a perversion of its original import; and the ascription of obscenity to many of the pagan rites of worship which were entirely harmless and unsexual. Thus, the priestesses of Ishtar were prostitutes only to symbolize fertility as the primitive principle of nature; and the great Tammux festival was celebrated in the spring, as the period at which the reproductive impulse is strongest in both animals and men, as well as in the vegetable world.
From their commanding position in human life, love and religion go naturally hand in hand; and the two mental states, intensified by an enthusiasm which can belong to no other, and similar in their motives, ideas and associations, may very well merge, one into the other.
Thus Landry, in the "Knight of The Towre," tells his daughters that "no young woman, in love, can serve God with that unfeignedness which she did aforetime. Such is the property of this mystery of love that it is ever at the moment when the priest is holding our Savior upon the altar that the most enticing emotions come." *
Schroder Van der Kolk very correctly observes, "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 implicated;" and Regis lays it down as a principle that " there exists a close connection between mystic ideas and erotic ideas; and most often these two orders of conception are associated in insanity."
In one of the cases of Vallon and Marie a woman masturbated herself with a crucifix., with a view to sanctifying the act;1 and Krafft-Ebing, Ball, Brouardel, and other psychologists, have dealt in detail with that peculiar mental condition which alternates, as in the case of Morel's nun, between holiness and sexual profligacy.
Felicula, the martyr, preferred death and torture to marriage with a pagan; exclaiming on the rack—"Ego non negoamatoremmeum,"etc.— I will not deny my lover, who for my sake has eaten gall, and drunk vinegar, crowned with thorns and fastened to the cross.1 And hers is only one of a thousand cases, in the lives and deaths of the early martyrs, in which the religious and sexual emotions are shown to be vicariously parallel.
Casanova observed that "devout women are more sensitive than others to carnal pleasures;" and speaks, in the same connection, of "that mingling of mysticism and concupiscence which seethes in a Spanish heart." *
Feeling all the difficulty of dissociating the sexual from the religious emotions; knowing the extreme narrowness of the line separating erotic day-dreaming from devout mysticism, and both, from absolute insanity; it is not hard to understand how the convents of the middle ages became scenes of a debauchery which eclipsed even that of Rome in the Merovingian times; and why we find the good old priest, Jean Gerson, canon of Notre Dame and Chancellor of the Church of Paris, saying—"Open your eyes, and see if these convents of female monks do not resemble haunts of prostitution;"* "impure receptacles," as another remarks, "where a youth, which no longer knows a check, abandons itself to all the tumults of luxury, in such a manner that now it is the same either to cause a young girl to take the veil, or to expose her publicly in a place of prostitution."